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Are Cities a Political Liability?
February 15, 2012 12:24 PM   Subscribe

Obama to Cities: Drop Dead—the Life and Death of a Great American Urban Policy
posted by beisny (69 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
This morning, Obama threatened to veto any transportation bill without dedicated mass transit funding. I'm not confident enough to say that his stance won't be bargained away somehow, but the more accurate title is Congress to Cities: Drop Dead.

see also:
The Tea Party’s war on mass transit: House Republicans try to gut federal funds for subways as they extend the culture wars to urban policy issues
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 12:31 PM on February 15, 2012 [29 favorites]


In case you're wondering about the article's title.
posted by griphus at 12:31 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]



Somebody needs an editor, badly :
Part of the reason the president’s urban programs do no receive more recognition is because of their inherent subtly.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:31 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


New York Observer to World: If I use a colon instead of quotes, I can make you say anything I like!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:35 PM on February 15, 2012 [18 favorites]


It's Raining Florence Henderson to MetaFilter: Or, what griphus said.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:36 PM on February 15, 2012


This morning, Obama threatened to veto any transportation bill without dedicated mass transit funding. I'm not confident enough to say that his stance won't be bargained away somehow

I, for one, am confident that Obama will buckle like a belt.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:38 PM on February 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I, for one, am confident that Obama will buckle like a belt.

That's a really confusing image.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:40 PM on February 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


This comes up every time there is a conflict with Congress, but I don't see why people blame Obama that the Republican majority in the House blocks sensible policies.
posted by chrchr at 12:44 PM on February 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


That's a really confusing image.

Like a buckled belt, it'll all come together at the end?
posted by joe lisboa at 12:44 PM on February 15, 2012


I, for one, am confident that Obama will hold the US's pants up.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:49 PM on February 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


Man, I don't understand the Tea Party's opposition to mass transit. It's what Dagny Taggart wanted, after all, and she was angular and unpleasant and white and a Job Creator.
posted by gauche at 12:50 PM on February 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


Like a buckled belt, it'll all come together at the end?

No I think it means he'll be manhandled as part of the requisite pre-flight dumbshow.
posted by griphus at 12:51 PM on February 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I, for one, am confident that Obama will buckle like a belt.

I see these type of comments a lot on the Blue and other sites, and while I would like for Obama to be able to just push through all of his policy ideas, that's just not possible. I don't understand what is wrong with compromise. Granted, it's been mostly one one-sided thus far, but, as we are beginning to see with the payroll-tax/unemployment policy decisions, Rebublicans in congress seem to be realizing (hopefully too late) that they will have to start compromising as well or they stand a good chance of losing their House Majority in Nov because they, rightfully so, are the target of most of the blame for the Congress's collective ability to not do a god damned thing.

It's a negotiation, you have to start with what you want in an ideal world and then work your way back down to something that you can live with.
posted by holdkris99 at 12:53 PM on February 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


This comes up every time there is a conflict with Congress, but I don't see why people blame Obama that the Republican majority in the House blocks sensible policies.

I see two main classes of reasons. The first is that Obama seems quite eager to roll with the 'senseless' policies, supporting them because he actually believes that in a strong executive branch, American exceptionalism, reductions in civil liberties, etc. He's made a lot of moves that can't simply be dismissed as "Oh the Republicans!"

The second kind of complaint I keep seing boils down to the desire for public catharsis. Everyone wants to see their frustrations and their passions given vent. No one enjoys taking a deep breath and plodding forward like an adult to get an unpleasant task done. That's one of the reasons the Tea Party struck such a cord among die hard conservatives: it was a group of people willing to shout frustrations from the rooftops and demand they be satisfied. The long-term viability of the 'Political positions as catharsis' approach is questionable, though. The Tea Party's not looking so hot lately.
posted by verb at 12:54 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Man, I don't understand the Tea Party's opposition to mass transit. It's what Dagny Taggart wanted, after all, and she was angular and unpleasant and white and a Job Creator.

They don't know that yet because the second part of the movie won't come out until October.
posted by Copronymus at 12:54 PM on February 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't understand the Tea Party's opposition to mass transit.

For several years I lived in Arlington, TX which is one of the largest (if not the??) cities in the US with no public transit. The arguments were always the same: "We don't want to pay money for 'undesirables' to be able to get to our neighborhoods with greater ease."
posted by holdkris99 at 12:56 PM on February 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


This comes up every time there is a conflict with Congress, but I don't see why people blame Obama that the Republican majority in the House blocks sensible policies.

If the blame for what congress is doing immediately gets put on Obama, and that's the first impression made in people's minds, then that's what people will remember, even if they find out later that it wasn't true. That's why there's always such an immediate rush to spin these kinds of congressional moves preemptively as somehow Obama's failure.

It's always worth bearing in mind there are a lot more congressmen in Washington than there are Obamas, and many of them have the Washington press core eating out of their hands in exchange for early access to secret congressional-eyes-only information.

So its generally much easier for members of congress to create the impression their failures should be viewed as the president's than the reverse.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:02 PM on February 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yeah the residents of Beverly Hills straight up said they didn't want a subway stop near them cause then poor people would use it to rob their houses, an argument that seems roughly the same as being worried about being attacked by angry, walking trees.
posted by The Whelk at 1:04 PM on February 15, 2012 [19 favorites]


I blame my Congressman for being a jerkass Republican drone. Good news, though! He's retiring after 25 years and he will soon be replaced by another jerkass Republican drone!

I blame one of my senators for being a DINO and the other for being in the pocket of the entertainment industry.

I blame Obama for not fighting hard enough. I'm sorry this offends you.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:07 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Now I really want to get onto the subway carrying a 72" TV and with pearl necklaces spilling out of my pockets.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:07 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah the residents of Beverly Hills straight up said they didn't want a subway stop near them cause then poor people would use it to rob their houses, an argument that seems roughly the same as being worried about being attacked by angry, walking trees.

Fangorn! What madness drove them in there?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:08 PM on February 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


To be fair, I did once escape a robbery by subway, but it was the Chicago "L", so it derailed and caught fire, and then the tracks froze.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:09 PM on February 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm not sure the article's title - "Obama to Cities: Drop Dead—the Life and Death of a Great American Urban Policy" is truly reflective of the article's substance.

First, the article did not reveal Obama has ever said anything ever remotely close to "drop dead" with regard to urban areas.

Second, what in the world is "Great American Urban Policy"? When did that exist? 50-60 years ago? If it died, it wasn't with Obama.

The article just seemed like a bunch of people who are upset by the fact that our president can't seem to cut urban policy through whatever red tape is in the way. It's more of a disillusionment of the political process, which is weird, because these people should be savvy enough to have already been disillusioned.
posted by jabberjaw at 1:10 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's really all about developing a sense of communityenclave.
posted by darkstar at 1:10 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Look at the critics who are making these allegations.

Ed Blakely -- An Australian who was appointed by President Bush to help New Orleans recover. Then when on to make statements that many felt were racist about the residents of New Orleans.
Fred Siegal -- a Giuliani biographer. Who's other writings are linked for you to read.
posted by humanfont at 1:11 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I, for one, am confident that Obama will buckle like a belt.

Will this resemble the way the House GOP is abandoning its opposition to extending the payroll tax cut? I realize that acknowledging an Obama success may be excruciatingly painful to some participants.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:14 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Yeah the residents of Beverly Hills straight up said"

One does not simply take a subway into Beverly Hills. It's glorious shops are guarded by more than just palm trees and closed circuit camera systems. There is money there that does not sleep, and the Great Negotiator has a farm nearby. It is a gilded oasis, riddled with wealth, and secrets and more palm trees, the very air you breathe is speckled with a bit of sunshine. Not with ten thousand subway cars could you do this. It is folly.
posted by Blue_Villain at 1:15 PM on February 15, 2012 [19 favorites]


"The train, in America, is not a choice. It is a punishment for, having neglected to read Weber on the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, making the mistake of remaining poor."
posted by The Whelk at 1:16 PM on February 15, 2012 [15 favorites]


For those who may not know, the "Life and Death" part of the title is in reference to the seminal Jane Jacobs book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. I highly recommend it.
posted by desjardins at 1:17 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


The long-term viability of the 'Political positions as catharsis' approach is questionable, though.

In the long term, we're dead. Political change happens by harnessing short term passions to push through changes and legislation that have long term effects.
posted by deanc at 1:19 PM on February 15, 2012


Will this resemble the way the House GOP is abandoning its opposition to extending the payroll tax cut? I realize that acknowledging an Obama success may be excruciatingly painful to some participants.

Yes, I understand how difficult it can be to get Republicans to extend tax breaks.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:23 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Since the MLK riots, "urban" is a synonym for black. Which makes this supposedly supportive quote all the more cringe-worthy:
“He is perhaps the most urban president we’ve had since Teddy Roosevelt,” Mr. Glaeser said.
The reason why the Republicans make so much noise of public transit it that it is a pure dog-whistle sounding out: "urban black looting rapists coming to get you" to their consitutuents. But, then, before you even start into the tired debate about whether the real Obama would do something different if congressional Republicans get in the way and you can (again nothing mysterious about this, it's all been out in the open) read this:
But what many Obama boosters seem to misunderstand is that the president is not built in the historical New Deal-Great Society mold of past Democratic presidents. He spent his formative years in Harlem and the South Side of Chicago, witnessing first hand the failures of many of these policies. He was shaped far more by the relatively conservative influence of Mayor Richard Daley and the Chicago School of Economics. “He’s very pragmatic. He always wants the public and private to work together” said MarySue Barrett, president of Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Council and a former Daley aide who worked with the president when he was a state senator. “He is a big believer in getting everyone on the same page.”
Like health care, the president's philosophy is more at home in the Heritage foundation than anywhere else...

tl; dr : window-dressing office on urban policy in White House is neglected after election...
posted by ennui.bz at 1:24 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I blame Obama for not fighting hard enough. I'm sorry this offends you.

Doesn't offend me. Just seems ineffective and sort of politically naive (don't mean that as an insult; just how I see it). "Not fighting hard enough" is a much more subjective kind of phenomenon than "proposing a bill to kill funding for X" or "fillibustering Y," and that makes it more subject to the kinds of perception manipulation that makes Washington go around.

From what I've seen, you can't win the game of second-guessing the more subjective he-said-she-said kind of stuff that comes out of Washington when politically adept types start working their dark magics, so the only remote hope of finding any clarity on what's actually happening is to focus only on concrete actions and literal facts. Trying to intuit underlying political motives and attitudes and read the tea leaves isn't very profitable from my POV because politicians as a class are just more adept at manipulating the perception of exactly those fuzzier aspects of reality than the general public.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:26 PM on February 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ach--subject-verb agreement fail: "that make..."
posted by saulgoodman at 1:27 PM on February 15, 2012


Man, I don't understand the Tea Party's opposition to mass transit.

Because only "those people" ride it.

whomever they are this week.
posted by eriko at 1:33 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fine, well, the concrete actions of Obama don't impress me.

As to naivety, Obama is the first president I actually voted for enthusiastically. My favored candidates are usually eliminated by those small bumblefuck states before they even make it to the Golden State, So.. yeah, I guess I was a little emotionally invested and I feel let down. But no, in general, I don't think I am naive. I think things are not going to get better for the average person in the US until after things get a lot, lot worse.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:37 PM on February 15, 2012


Will this resemble the way the House GOP is abandoning its opposition to extending the payroll tax cut? I realize that acknowledging an Obama success may be excruciatingly painful to some participants.

Wow, he convinced Republicans to cut taxes.

I think this section from the Salon article linked above really summarizes the situation:

Defunding transit is how you smack down urbanites, environmentalists, and people of color, all in one fell swoop. It’s how you telegraph a disdain for all things European. It’s how you show solidarity with swing-state suburbanites who don’t understand why their taxes are going toward subways they don’t even use. And it’s how you subtly reassure your base that you’re not concerned about the very poor.

Mostly, conservatives will do anything to annoy liberals.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:40 PM on February 15, 2012 [14 favorites]


Yes, I understand how difficult it can be to get Republicans to extend tax breaks.

I think you know perfectly well that they had been opposing the extension of this one because it benefits low-income earners more than high-income ones, and that they had been insisting it be paid for by spending cuts elsewhere. They took this position back in December, and abandoning it seems to be most unpopular with the Tea Party types.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:43 PM on February 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Of course the Tea Party, et al. hate public transport. Public transport refutes the idea that private enterprise is always more efficient than something the public sector could whip up. It also refutes the idea that the best way to transport yourself is the individual captain of your own little boat. Public transport also helps citizens choose to not buy things, such as cars, car insurance, etc. It also represents public spending on people who have "failed" to earn so much money such that they don't have to worry about public transport options.

Many people, especially populist conservatives, have a knee-jerk fear and disgust for "technocrats" telling them what to do. The idea that their town or city did not instantaneously emerge, fully-formed like Athena from the head of Zeus, is a dirty secret. The idea that a team of professionals could design a better transportation network than Average Joes have inadvertently themselves created goes completely against the idea that "liberty" and "freedom" will, if chanted often enough, automatically generate perfect solutions to all the big problems.

Finally, public transport options come from the city, and for some, there is an inherent suspicion of everything that comes from cities. "Subways? Buses? Aren't they dirty? Aren't they dangerous? Will I look weird if I'm all dressed up on public transportation?"
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:44 PM on February 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


Man, I don't understand the Tea Party's opposition to mass transit.

Because Tea Partiers mainly live in less urban areas and mass transit doesn't really work in places like this. The cost-benefit advantage and usability of mass transit disappears in lower densities and that means that Tea Partiers never ride buses or take trains. It's hard for some people to support infrastructure that they won't be using.

..and everything furiousxgeorge quoted from the article
posted by Defenestrator at 1:45 PM on February 15, 2012


“Federal urban policy’s legacy has been terrible whether they are investing in cities or not,” Mr. Glaeser told The Observer. There is only so much that can reasonably be done, and even then, it is not often done well.

This, more than anything. I'm a big supporter of public transit and sustainable development, mixed-use, etc., but I'm not sure that the Federal government has a great track record here. What some people seem to want is for the President to play "Great Leader" and set out some sort of grand plan (the details of which, perhaps, will be hashed out later) ... and I think the history of such things, frankly, sucks.

What the Federal government does seem to do well is Big Infrastructure: defined, distinct projects with concrete end goals and measurable completion criteria. Things that nobody else can or is willing to pay for, but are nonetheless achievable by focusing enough money on the problem. The Panama Canal, the Moon landing, the Transcontinental Railroad ... these were all things that the government either did directly, or directly incentivized private industry to do, and they were successful.

Open ended programs, especially of the "War on" variety (e.g. in this case, the "War on Poverty"), have been almost uniformly terrible at accomplishing their vaguely-stated goals, and also seem fiscally dangerous when they create an open-ended funding stream that can be captured through sufficient manipulation of the political process by interests who stand to gain from it.

If there are specific projects that the government has underfunded, that's a much more meaningful criticism than just accusing the President of insufficient commitment to cities generally, which is much of what I got from the article.

Similarly, although I'm a huge fan of High Speed Rail, the funding proposals which center around a dollar figure ("$x Billion for HSR") have always struck me as likely to be far less successful than the initiatives tied directly to a particular goal. "New York to Atlanta in 6 Hours" or something similar is a harder sell politically, but it's harder for the same reason that it's more meaningful -- it can't be diluted and siphoned off into a dozen or a hundred meaningless little projects that end up summing to nothing.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:52 PM on February 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


Because Tea Partiers mainly live in less urban areas and mass transit doesn't really work in places like this.

Anecdote: a few weeks ago, I went back to my old stomping grounds in the rural parts of the Capital District in Upstate New York. It was striking, how much the public transportation had improved since I'd last been there. A well-designed bus system can make a world of difference, even in an area beset with heavy sprawl. The fact that the Capital District is already well-integrated into Amtrak's Northeast Corridor is just icing on the cake.

Vancouver it ain't, but it certainly works, and it's certainly an improvement over the bare bones system that had existed before.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:52 PM on February 15, 2012


He was shaped far more by the relatively conservative influence of Mayor Richard Daley and the Chicago School of Economics. “He’s very pragmatic. He always wants the public and private to work together” said MarySue Barrett, president of Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Council and a former Daley aide who worked with the president when he was a state senator.
No offense, but that doesn't even make any sense. The Chicago School of Economics is not all about consensus-building and public-private partnerships.
posted by craichead at 2:01 PM on February 15, 2012


Similarly, although I'm a huge fan of High Speed Rail, the funding proposals which center around a dollar figure ("$x Billion for HSR") have always struck me as likely to be far less successful than the initiatives tied directly to a particular goal. "New York to Atlanta in 6 Hours" or something similar is a harder sell politically, but it's harder for the same reason that it's more meaningful -- it can't be diluted and siphoned off into a dozen or a hundred meaningless little projects that end up summing to nothing.

I hear you, but at the same time, New York to Atlanta in 6 hours will probably have less effect on people's daily lives, let alone on the salability of public transport itself, than something like helping a few well-chosen greater metropolitan areas to become navigable without cars. Federal block grants

Now I'm just talking about crap I don't know nothin' about, but frankly, if Obama had a "let's turn Detroit into a modern, awesome, well-designed, productive place" plan as his version of the moon landing, then I'd be doing backflips. Put good ideas into practice, show how proper government spending can stimulate growth, create jobs, etc. etc. etc.

Too bad most Republicans would rather literally put a base on the moon than revitalize our own post-industrial landscapes.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:06 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


But no, in general, I don't think I am naive. I think things are not going to get better for the average person in the US until after things get a lot, lot worse.

I don't mean to say you're naive generally; maybe just about the way these political cultures work and the way the press does (or fails to do its job) of accurately characterizing what's actually happening. You may be right on the last point, but I sure hope not, with a little girl on the way any minute now.

I think you're right Kadin2048--but in the current political climate, the Rs have successfully made the entire conversation when it comes to gov't programs about the dollar amounts rather than their effectiveness in achieving specific measurable goals. I see the same thing in state gov't, where you rarely see projects that provide as much funding as necessary to achieve a goal anymore; it's always about doing the most you can within the constraints of some budget that's fixed without regard to any of the underlying realities of what it might take to get the job done.

It seems to be all about money now; the notion of achieving a desired objective, cost whatever it may to get there, seems to be a hard sell at all levels of gov't these days...
posted by saulgoodman at 2:19 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


No offense, but that doesn't even make any sense. The Chicago School of Economics is not all about consensus-building and public-private partnerships.

Well, read Obama "JFK" books and weep; he really does believe in this stuff. The CSE in a nutshell is that decisions made with respect to a free market are maximally efficient and any attempt by government to direct things i.e. rent control, public housing, direct subsidies is destructively inefficient. So, if you are in government and believe this gospel, what is the purpose of urban policy: to make sure government doesn't destructively interfere with what the free market wants and to build consensus between people living in cities and very greedy real estate corporations.

Remember that Michelle Obama's job before she went to DC was "VP of Community Affairs" at a UC Medical Center in Chicago. Big hospitals are one of the bigger real estate players in urban cores, hungry for land and wealthy. No one likes having a big project derailed at zoning board hearings so a little "community relations" goes a long way. It's no coincidence that she comes from a big political family in Chicago. (also, I'm not alleging she did anything corrupt in her position... but the nature of her job was definitely in the rational self-interest of her nominally non-profit employer.)
posted by ennui.bz at 2:48 PM on February 15, 2012


holdkris99: I don't understand what is wrong with compromise.

It's not compromise when you're the only one doing it; that's just buckling, and it was the hallmark of Obama's presidency until campaign season started a few months back.

Too bad most Republicans would rather literally put a base on the moon than revitalize our own post-industrial landscapes.


Not surprising. They were ecstatic about providing medical care to Iraqis, but heaven forbid we give it to our own children. (See also, infrastructure.)
posted by coolguymichael at 3:01 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's a negotiation, you have to start with what you want in an ideal world and then work your way back down to something that you can live with.*

No. What you're talking about is in a negotiating with reasonable people, like jilted spouses in a divorce or two year-olds. The current GOP are political and economic nihilists who believe in nothing and are willing to tear down anything and everything simply to regain power. They operate out of fear and ego. You cannot apply normal principles of negotiation in this situation. You have to, at least temporarily, start from the extreme and move toward what you are willing to live with, because in the give-and-take of political horse-trading each side gets one move at a time. Thus, when you start out with what you want in an "ideal" world, you've already ceded ground to the other side.

* It also presumes that Obama's policy goals are in fact different than the GOP's. Given his 3 year track record on privacy, Wall Street bailouts, the war on terror, drones, foreclosure crisis, etc..., there's a plausible argument to be made that there's really not much difference.

Now, this doesn't explain why the Democrats couldn't get squat passed the first two years when they had majorities in both houses and their guy in the White House, but that's a whole 'nother story. (And don't give me that "filibuster" excuse; they had the opportunity to change it, but chose not to).
posted by webhund at 3:37 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's a negotiation, you have to start with what you want in an ideal world and then work your way back down to something that you can live with.
The problem is, that's not how Obama negotiates. He sets forth a moderate policy that's already a 'compromise' with the GOP and then backs off even further until you basically have GOP policy.

I mean I saw a little CNN the other day and they were talking about how the house republicans "Caved" to Obama on payroll taxes. Except Obama's policy was to cut payroll taxes (or extend an already existing cut), and the republicans were fighting him on it! That's right out of the playbook republican policy.

The purposes of the tax cuts was economic stimulus, but he's been totally unwilling to push any kind of 'liberal' economic stimulus, just more tax cuts. So the republicans pushed back wanting spending cuts to go along with it, and finally they gave up. So that's a "win" for Obama, but it's also a huge win for republican policy objectives.

That's what's so aggravating about Obama's 'compromises' They tend to be wins for conservative ideology.
posted by delmoi at 4:02 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Love that the first big quote comes from former New Orleans recovery czar Ed Blakely, who should have massive credibility issues after his memoirs of his brief time in NOLA, but apparently is still on the American Urban Policy Experts Rolodex for Journalists. (Note: Even the cover of Blakely's book is misleading. The shot was taken in Slidell LA, located about 20 minutes away from the far eastern sections of Crescent City.)
posted by raysmj at 4:14 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Now I'm just talking about crap I don't know nothin' about, but frankly, if Obama had a "let's turn Detroit into a modern, awesome, well-designed, productive place" plan as his version of the moon landing, then I'd be doing backflips. Put good ideas into practice, show how proper government spending can stimulate growth, create jobs, etc. etc. etc."

That would be incredible. A kind of urban moonshot. But it goes directly against the spirit of this age we seem to live in, which is about fatalism and reduced expectations, instead of optimism and faith in the future.

But yeah, use Detroit as a showcase for modern urban planning and rebuild it into a real life Delta City. Use all the latest ideas and technologies. (After consulting with the people who already live there.) That would be a great way to turn around more than just one city.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:24 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


The purposes of the tax cuts was economic stimulus, but he's been totally unwilling to push any kind of 'liberal' economic stimulus, just more tax cuts. So the republicans pushed back wanting spending cuts to go along with it, and finally they gave up. So that's a "win" for Obama, but it's also a huge win for republican policy objectives.

Nonsense. Republican policy objectives are to maintain or reduce taxes on business and capital gains, and make low- and mid-income earners pay more tax. surely it cannot have escaped your attention that the GOP are constantly complaining that the bottom 50% don't pay any income taxes. The marginal utility of a payroll tax cut is much higher to people on lower incomes, not least since it's capped at $106k/year. The money multiplier from the payroll tax cut is estimated at 1.29, a net positive for the economy. By contrast, the Bush tax cuts (as a whole) only have a multiplier of ~0.8. The MM for the payroll tax cut is not the highest (that's food stamps, IIRC) but it's unarguably a net positive. From a Keynesian perspective, the multiplier is what mattes, not whether it consists of taxing or spending.

As for an unwillingness to pursue any 'liberal' economic stimulus, I suppose the continued extensions of unemployment benefits have no stimulative value? What of the doubling of green power subsidies, or rather successful auto industry bailout? I could go on, but I'm somewhat busy and anyway we have been down this road before. It seems some people are incapable of admitting Obama ever does anything right. If a policy of his happens to align with their goals, then it was going to happen anyway and he deserves no credit, or it was too little too late, or it was a lucky accident, or...whatever.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:59 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Public transport refutes the idea that private enterprise is always more efficient than something the public sector could whip up. It also refutes the idea that the best way to transport yourself is the individual captain of your own little boat.

I don't think this follows -- and I'm a daily transit rider who certainly appreciates that transit is very useful and efficient in its place.

First, many of the most successful and long-standing transit systems were very much instruments of the private sector, and migrated to the public sector in large part only after the greater desirability of the car and suburban work opportunities reduced demand for them. All the major commuter railroads, many of the great street car lines, and the New York City subway system started out that way.

Second, when we're talking about today -- where the vast majority of Americans lives, and pretty much all Tea Partiers, public transit is defined as that means of transit which takes two, or three, or ten times longer point to point (including walking, waiting and transfers) than driving (and as such is avoided by those who can avoid it) and which requires expensive buses and even more expensive bus drivers to run, at huge taxpayer subsidy to fare-paying riders. Heck, this is true for most trips New York City that don't start or end in Manhattan!

In a lot of these places, public transit is rather openly a welfare program: a subsistence service for the poor and disabled, defended as such by the poor and disabled's advocates, and defended for more pragmatic reasons by the public employees and private contractors who make middle class livings (spent on their personal cars, among other things) from the program's budget.
posted by MattD at 5:20 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nonsense. Republican policy objectives are to maintain or reduce taxes on business and capital gains, and make low- and mid-income earners pay more tax. surely it cannot have escaped your attention that the GOP are constantly complaining that the bottom 50% don't pay any income taxes.

They bring it up to point out how unfair it is rich people pay so much tax, but they don't actually want to raise taxes on anyone. I won't get into the other stuff but the attempt to claim some great victory on getting Republicans to cut taxes in an election year is farcical. They were never going to follow through with hiking the taxes, and we already had this battle in December.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:54 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


They were never going to follow through with hiking the taxes

So they just went through a facade to hand a political victory to the Democrats/Obama? Doesn't make sense. Pretty much universally being considered an Obama victory, so I don't see why they wouldn't have just approved it in the first place if they really wanted to. Most of the TP/Libertarian types I know are against the extension.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:59 PM on February 15, 2012


So they just went through a facade to hand a political victory to the Democrats/Obama?

No, they were hoping to win spending cuts by pretending they were actually going to hike taxes. That is plainly obvious. Such phony threats have worked for them before.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:20 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think there any multi-dimensional chessmasters involved, but it seems to me that the reason Obama and the Dems are doing this so much is twofold.

One is that the Dem caucus really isn't systemically very monolithic. There are enough Blue Dogs in there that pretty much any major leftward step the Senate would like to take is thwarted by the conservative Democrats siding with the GOP. The filibuster rule is an example: I don't think the Dems could have mustered 51% of the Senate to change the rule because of Blue Dog intransigence. Hence, the rule stands and thus, the GOP is able to gum up the works.

Second, I get the sense that the Dems and Obama have been pretty effective at painting the GOP as obstructionist and extreme. Of course, the GOP has earned it. But the result is that the GOP majority in the House is now at risk and hopes for GOP taking the Senate are getting much dimmer. While it is agonizing to see how effective the GOP has been at obstructing efforts, it is more reassuring to see how their doing so is effectively ruining their ability to hold onto the power they took two years ago.

The GOP thought they had a hell of a mule to pull their wagon when the braying Tea Party got involved and tipped the House in 2010. I think now they're learning that the dread obstinacy and extremism of the truly mule-headed in their party is going to lead to a big problem down the road. Places like Wisconsin won't soon forget what they've seen this past year.
posted by darkstar at 7:23 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sticherbeast: "Now I'm just talking about crap I don't know nothin' about, but frankly, if Obama had a "let's turn Detroit into a modern, awesome, well-designed, productive place" plan as his version of the moon landing, then I'd be doing backflips. Put good ideas into practice, show how proper government spending can stimulate growth, create jobs, etc. etc. etc. "

Yes, but......grandiose government-backed urban planning ideas have a well-established tendency for going horribly, horribly wrong when implemented. Although I certainly think we could be doing more to support our cities, I'm not entirely sure that this is something we should be wishing for.
posted by schmod at 7:57 PM on February 15, 2012


huge taxpayer subsidy to fare-paying riders

Given the economic activity a decent transit system brings about, there's not really that much of a subsidy. It's like complaining that Amtrak, or the highway system, doesn't pay for itself.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:50 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, but if it was done right Detroit (or wherever) could be a sort of test lab for the American cities of tomorrow, where fifty years of urban planning is finally put to the test as an integrated unit - everything working together in a tabula rasa setting, like San Francisco after the earthquake, or China's Shenzhen. Make it a special economic zone with lots of public private partnerships of the kind the Obama Administration likes so much.
posted by Kevin Street at 8:57 PM on February 15, 2012


They bring it up to point out how unfair it is rich people pay so much tax, but they don't actually want to raise taxes on anyone.
Over the past few years they've been complaining more and more about the '50%' of people who pay 'no' tax. Bachman and other republicans have been saying "everyone should pay some tax" So they definitely are campaigning on the idea of raising taxes on the poor.
posted by delmoi at 9:03 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


First, many of the most successful and long-standing transit systems were very much instruments of the private sector, and migrated to the public sector in large part only after the greater desirability of the car and suburban work opportunities reduced demand for them. All the major commuter railroads, many of the great street car lines, and the New York City subway system started out that way.

They were built on the public dime, MattD. None of those large, long-term projects would have been profitable from a private-sector perspective had it not been for very generous public subsidies and government funding. Sure, the private sector played a role in building them. But those projects would never have happened in a pure free market scenario. And speaking from experience, private roads suck compared to public roads. Asking people to pay private sector tolls to use vital infrastructure is literally highway robbery.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:17 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Second, when we're talking about today -- where the vast majority of Americans lives, and pretty much all Tea Partiers, public transit is defined as that means of transit which takes two, or three, or ten times longer point to point (including walking, waiting and transfers) than driving (and as such is avoided by those who can avoid it) and which requires expensive buses and even more expensive bus drivers to run, at huge taxpayer subsidy to fare-paying riders. Heck, this is true for most trips New York City that don't start or end in Manhattan!

Driving is completely government subsidized and would not be possible without all kinds of public subsidies: from the public lands and resources that are exploited to produce oil and gas and the subsidies that go toward constructing refinery capabilities, down to literally every stretch of modern road that makes driving possible.

Hating government projects and government involvement in the markets is effectively equivalent to hating the most prominent features of modern life. Even the internet was a government subsidized good.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:23 PM on February 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's no coincidence that she comes from a big political family in Chicago.

Can anyone explain this assertion? Judging from Wikipedia her family isn't big by any stretch, and there's no evidence of politics other than that Michelle's father was a precinct captain in addition to working in a city water plant. The Robinsons aren't Daleys, or Madigans, or Hyneses, or Lyonses, or Bankses....
posted by kgander at 10:37 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, but......grandiose government-backed urban planning ideas have a well-established tendency for going horribly, horribly wrong when implemented. Although I certainly think we could be doing more to support our cities, I'm not entirely sure that this is something we should be wishing for.

Government-backed urban planning ideas? As in, the only way that cities are developed ever, outside of maybe Celebration, FL? New York, Hong Kong, Seattle, Vancouver, and Denver are four of my personal favorite cities, and they were not solely built by Randian private enterprise.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:55 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


First, many of the most successful and long-standing transit systems were very much instruments of the private sector, and migrated to the public sector in large part only after the greater desirability of the car and suburban work opportunities reduced demand for them. All the major commuter railroads, many of the great street car lines, and the New York City subway system started out that way.

In NYC, the BMT was always government-run. I don't remember the rest of the subway's history, but it is 100% flat-out wrong to say that it began as an instrument of the private sector.

Second, when we're talking about today -- where the vast majority of Americans lives, and pretty much all Tea Partiers, public transit is defined as that means of transit which takes two, or three, or ten times longer point to point (including walking, waiting and transfers) than driving (and as such is avoided by those who can avoid it) and which requires expensive buses and even more expensive bus drivers to run, at huge taxpayer subsidy to fare-paying riders. Heck, this is true for most trips New York City that don't start or end in Manhattan!

Cars are heavily taxpayer-subsidized, but people never notice it, because they feel entitled to those subsidies. We live in a world where both cars and public transport are useful. Why demand to maintain the subsidies we have for cars, without also recognizing the need for public transportation?

As for NYC, I've lived at various times in three of the five boroughs, and of the regular interborough commutes I've had, the only time where a car was significantly faster was when I lived in Astoria but went to school in Jamaica. Cars are not always faster; they're often a pain in the ass. Unless you need it for your work, keeping a car in the city is like keeping a horse.

In a lot of these places, public transit is rather openly a welfare program: a subsistence service for the poor and disabled, defended as such by the poor and disabled's advocates, and defended for more pragmatic reasons by the public employees and private contractors who make middle class livings (spent on their personal cars, among other things) from the program's budget.

Public transportation is not a "welfare program." Do you consider public parking lots to be a welfare program? A public transportation system is only a "welfare program" if we radically redefine the term to mean anything that the poor (or disabled) might like or find useful.

When more people can get to more places more quickly, more reliably, and more cheaply, they are better able to work and better able to take care of themselves as far as their health is concerned. When they are not forced to spend their money on cars, car insurance, extra health care costs stemming from car accidents, etc., then they can spend or save their money elsewhere, in ways that they find more useful. To demand that a community continue to only subsidize cars, despite the apparent economic harms that will result to the community, as opposed to spreading subsidies across both individual and public transport options, is silly, short-sighted, and hypocritical.

As for middle-class people having jobs in the public transportation sector: people having useful, in-demand jobs is a good thing. Would you rather those people worked in cars, car insurance, emergency rooms, roadwork, etc., or not at all?
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:13 AM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


In NYC, the BMT was always government-run. I don't remember the rest of the subway's history, but it is 100% flat-out wrong to say that it began as an instrument of the private sector.

The BMT took over the assets of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT), which itself was created from the bankrupt Long Island Traction Co and Brooklyn Heights Railroad, plus a number of other private railroad lines, mostly as a result of the Panic of 1893.

It becomes a very stupid semantic argument pretty fast, but the bones of the modern subway system were, in terms of track-milage, indeed mostly private enterprises, although the IRT was backed by the City from the very beginning (since they realized, correctly, that industry wasn't willing to take on the financial risk of building underground themselves). The IRT is a much better example of actual public-sector leadership, if you want one.

The BMT is still a pretty good example of government in action, though: although private industry showed initially that there was demand for, and benefit from, a particular service, when those companies started to founder (as a result of market forces over which they had little control, not because of an inherent flaw in their business), they were bought up under various public-funding schemes, typically at fire-sale prices. The end result was that the city got a bunch of infrastructure at probably far less than it would have taken to construct it using public funds directly, and the private companies' investors got out for slightly better than the market would have allowed them otherwise, at the time. Pretty close to a win-win.

For a more modern example, there's the Federal government's quasi-bailout of Motorola's Iridium satellite network. When it became clear that private industry couldn't provide for the maintenance of a rather incredible piece of infrastructure (mostly due to bad timing: 1999 wasn't a great time to be highly dependent on vast amounts of cheap financing), and it was going to go down the tubes in a spectacularly wasteful way, the government stepped in and intervened. Even under a very limited-government perspective, averting an obviously wasteful market failure seems easily defensible.

Unfortunately, such action wasn't taken with regards to the majority of privately-owned mass transit, e.g. intra and inter-urban trolley systems, when the market turned against them in the 20th century. New York (perhaps because they acquired several private systems earlier on) and a few other major cities are the exception in that these systems were preserved.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:10 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for that, Kadin2048. I had thought that IRT had begun privately, but obviously I had it all wrong in my head.

Even the BMT buying up the private assets still proves what had been my point: that the government could, and did, run the subway system better than a private company, let alone a patchwork of private companies.

As for the buy-outs of earlier public transport systems, I think we're all aware of Judge Doom's nefarious scheme against the trollies and Toon Town.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:21 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, they were hoping to win spending cuts by pretending they were actually going to hike taxes. That is plainly obvious. Such phony threats have worked for them before.

So their abandonment of this goal is still not a victory for Obama, even though the Tea Party types are utterly disgusted with the GOP leadership. Meanwhile, the consumer Finance Protection agency has trained its sights on debt collectors and credit bureaux, while Republican opposition to the recess appointment and threats of emergency legal intervention to prevent it going ahead seem to have withered away. Yep, this guy's a real loser.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:04 PM on February 16, 2012


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