Political viewpoints from the left and right, from pen to keyboard from King Features.
Moving forward, but falling flat
Mornings are somewhat brighter, but it’s still a day of mourning. The switch from daylight saving to standard time is an admission that we can’t escape the predictable gloom of winter, with its icy weather. It might become less predictable once global warming fully wreaks its destruction — you know, the disaster that President Donald Trump and the corporate energy interests expediently choose to deny.
On the other hand, the political season is nonstop, and the climate in that world inexorably deteriorates too. While we’ve wrapped up the midterms and the creators of those incessant TV ads and robo calls, along with the social media trolls, all will go into hibernation, do not think for a moment that the campaign is behind us. On Nov. 7, we seamlessly moved from the midterms to the presidential race.
Actually, there’s nothing seamless about the unseemly Donald Trump, who presumably will be up for a second four years. That “presumably” is based on the hypothesis that Trump will be around for seconds, that the Robert Mueller probe or any of the other investigations and lawsuits that swirl around him will not have revealed something so egregious that even he can’t survive in office. Or that he will not issue an executive fiat doing away with the elections.
Assuming neither of those happens, just as our clocks were set an hour behind, we also can confidently look ahead to the near future. Don’t be surprised if rhetoric about that caravan of Central Americans — the thousands of “dangerous” invaders who were on their way to overrun the United States, to trample over our borders — quickly evaporates. They were a handy foil to fool the bigots in his base, but they aren’t needed anymore. His followers’ fears won’t need to be exploited again until the runup to Nov. 3, 2020, which is when the polls reopen. Presto-change-O, the “caravan” will miraculously disappear.
That is not to say that things will ease up with the Trumpster. Listen for what Ross Perot (look him up, kiddies) called the “giant sucking sound” of prominent members of the administration hightailing it. Some will be pushed out — like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and maybe Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Others will fly the coop. Defense Secretary Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis could bolt from the administration kennel. We shouldn’t be surprised if chief of staff John Kelly marches out at the first opportunity. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen could be nudged out the door, if for no other reason than she was brought in by Kelly.
Then we have the ones who are under ominous legal clouds, the likes of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. He soon may be former Interior Secretary Zinke.
The Democrats will scramble to find a candidate to rally around, and do it before they rip each other to shreds in their usual way.
For both parties, the various political functionaries will be hard at work plotting their strategies. For Republicans, that will include operatives foreign and domestic. So do not for a minute believe there’s a break in the action. Like switching to standard time, look for the politicians to plunge our country further backward into darkness.
Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.
(c) 2018 Bob Franken. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.
Urban America’s vagrancy outrage
It’s appropriate that the U.N. special rapporteur devoted to adequate housing has visited encampments in Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Mumbai — and San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley.
The homeless situation in those cities and others around the country is positively Third World, a blight that shows the persistence of human folly and misery, despite what we take to be our steady progress to greater enlightenment and prosperity.
San Francisco is a crown jewel of the new economy, and a sink of vagrancy. One of the more compelling pieces of reportage that The New York Times has run recently was on the dirtiest block in San Francisco, the 300 block of Hyde Street, blighted by discarded heroin needles and other filth.
In the 21st century, in the richest country on the planet, you would think that we would have figured out how to live without having to step around human feces. The experience of San Francisco says that, against all expectations, we haven’t — or at least we forgot how.
In an article for the journal National Affairs, Stephen Eide of the Manhattan Institute recounted how we got here over the past 50 years.
Cities wiped out or drastically diminished their skid rows, once a last-ditch housing recourse for men who had hit bottom. As urban renewal and regulations to improve the quality of housing eliminated these down-on-their-luck areas, the people who once lived there decamped to public places.
We “deinstitutionalized” the mentally ill, too often a euphemism for dumping them onto the streets and into jails. About 20 to 30 percent of the homeless are mentally ill.
Meanwhile, the number of single-parent families drastically increased. Women only rarely lived on skid row, but poor families headed by single mothers are a large component of the homeless.
These large-scale trends have been met with a new, more permissive legal environment. The Supreme Court in 1972 made it more difficult for city police forces to hustle along vagrants, and subsequent free-speech jurisprudence has made outlawing panhandling tricky. Civil commitment of the mentally ill has become highly restricted. The American Civil Liberties Union is a great de facto friend of vagrancy.
Not that anything is easy in this area. The hard core of the homeless population is cut off from human relationships and finds the perverse freedom of the streets more appealing than the structure that would come with assistance. Many refuse help, either because they are too sick to make rational decisions or they don’t want to deal with any rules.
But the beginning wisdom is to consider the status quo intolerable, and resist the advocates who want to normalize panhandling and camping, and the associated drug abuse, petty crime and disorder. Houston has had success with a tough-love policy of more services, coupled with a crackdown on encampments and other public nuisances.
One of the advantages of modern society is that people don’t have to live in public, or in squalor. That it is widely accepted in some of our greatest cities is an outrage of our age. It is deeply harmful to our civic life, and does no favors for the men and women living in parks and highway underpasses.
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.