Sunday, May 17, 2015

Last Call For The Redline Express

As the Fair Housing Act faces being gutted by the Supreme Court this summer, the NY Times editorial board reminds us that the law was never really enforced in the first place.

George Romney served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Richard Nixon. He set out to dismantle segregation and what he described as a “high income white noose” formed by the suburbs that surrounded black inner cities. Under his Open Communities initiative, he instructed HUD officials to reject applications for sewer and highway projects from cities and states with segregationist policies. He believed that ending residential segregation was “essential if we are going to keep our nation from being torn apart.”

As Nikole Hannah-Jones reported in a 2012 investigation for ProPublica, Nixon got wind of Romney’s plan and ordered John Ehrlichman, his domestic policy chief, to shut it down.

In a memo to his aides, Nixon later wrote: “I am convinced that while legal segregation is totally wrong that forced integration of housing or education is just as wrong.”

He understood the consequences of his decision: “I realize that this position will lead us to a situation in which blacks will continue to live for the most part in black neighborhoods and where there will be predominately black schools and predominately white schools.” Nixon began to ostracize Romney and eventually drove him out of his administration. Over the next several decades, presidents from both parties followed the Nixon example and declined to use federal muscle in a way that meaningfully promoted housing desegregation.

Ronald Reagan was openly hostile to fair housing goals, as the sociologists Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton have shown in their book, “American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass.” The Justice Department under President Reagan challenged the ability of civil rights activists to sue for fair housing violations. The administration also conspired with the National Association of Realtors to undermine HUD’s already feeble enforcement authority.

Bill Clinton tried to bring pressure to bear on states and localities to further integration. But the bureaucracy at HUD resisted these efforts, and, as usual, the politics of the issue became treacherous.

Mr. Clinton’s second HUD secretary, Andrew Cuomo, tried in 1998 to retrace the path that George Romney had walked exactly 30 years earlier. He proposed rules that would have denied federal housing money to communities that flouted fair housing laws. This drew outrage and opposition from local governments that were accustomed to getting billions of dollars from HUD with no preconditions attached. Weakened by scandal and impeachment, Mr. Clinton lacked the political capital for a big fight over fair housing.

In the absence of strong federal leadership, the task of securing fair housing has largely fallen to housing and civil rights groups, which have routinely taken cities and counties and the federal government itself to court for failing to enforce anti-discrimination laws. Their lawsuits have changed the lives of many citizens who were once trapped in dismal neighborhoods.
And now, that last avenue of recourse is under fire.  The Supreme Court is expected to decide next month whether the FHA can be used to show patterns and practices of segregation as well as individual examples.  If the court decides that the FHA was never designed to cover large-scale examples of housing discrimination, then the law is effectively dead.

The Obama administration does have new proposals on the way, but will those even be enforceable if the Supreme Court wrecks the Fair Housing Act?

And yes, the NY Times does call it what it is: apartheid.

The Coming Clown Car Catastrophe

As the Washington Post notes, the combination of Tea Party primary voters, the 24/7 news cycle, a weak "frontrunner" in Jeb Bush, and the gut of Clown Car Crazy candidates is a recipe for a massive disaster heading into 2016, and the odds of an explosion are ridiculously high.

Party officials are growing worried about a wide-open nominating contest likely to feature a historically large and diverse field. At best, they say, the Republican primaries will be a lively showcase of political talent — especially compared with the relative coronation taking shape on the Democratic side. But officials also acknowledge just how risky their circumstance is for a party that hasn’t put on a good show in a long time.

With no clear front-runner and Bush so far unable to consolidate his path to the nomination — his fumbles over the Iraq war and his brother’s legacy further exposed his vulnerabilities — the GOP’s internecine battle could stretch well into the spring of 2016.

This could cost presidential aspirants tens of millions of dollars; pull them far to the right ideologically, from hot-button social issues to foreign policy; and jeopardize their general-election chances. And in such a muddled lineup — officials are planning to squeeze 10 or more contenders onto the debate stage — candidates will be rewarded for finding creative ways to gain notice.

“We’re in a danger zone,” said Doug Gross, a top Republican establishment figure in Iowa. “When the party poobahs put this process together, they thought they could telescope this to get us a nominee who could appeal to a broad cross-section of people. What we’ve got instead is a confederation of a lot of candidates who aren’t standing out — and in order to stand out, you need to scream the loudest.

Looming above the GOP show is Hillary Rodham Clinton, the dominant Democratic candidate whom Republican officials brashly dismiss as a scandal-plagued, out-of-touch relic of the past but whose early strength and political durability is nevertheless giving them a serious scare.

Republican officials are dismayed that months of relentless, negative press coverage of her use of private e-mail servers, foreign donations to her family’s charitable foundation and her six-figure paid speeches have done minimal damage to her favorability ratings.

At last week’s Republican National Committee meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., party leaders plotted their path back to power and confronted the demographic changes that have made the Electoral College more challenging for Republicans, with their heavily male, overwhelmingly white base.

To win in a presidential election year, the Democrats have to be good,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said. “As Republicans, we need to be about perfect in order to win.”

And nobody among the GOP faithful can handle that kind of pressure.  There's just going to be too many Todd Akin moments over a protracted primary mess with too many debates and too many opportunities to let the mask slip and to remind the American people that Republicans are pretty much insane.

But it'll be fun to watch.

Sunday Long Read: Poppy, The Gipper, And Haig

Dallas Morning News journalist Alan Peppard gives us this week's Sunday Long Read as he interviews Poppy Bush about the events of the last day of March, 1981, the day John Hinckley shot President Reagan, and how that turned Reagan's most bitter GOP foe into his best friend.

Accounts of the afternoon tend to be dominated by the sensational storyline of Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s declaration that “I’m in control here.” But Vice President George H.W. Bush’s pitch-perfect reaction to the crisis lies largely unexplored in the shadow of history. He had only recently been Reagan’s energetic opponent, a fact that was fresh in the memories of Reagan loyalists. The steady hand he showed after the assassination attempt would linger in the minds of his admirers as one of the defining moments of his public career.

Now 90, Bush consented to an email interview for this story. His comments, along with hours of tapes from inside the White House Situation Room, never seen photographs taken aboard Air Force Two and interviews with participants in the crisis shed new light on the day Reagan became the fifth sitting president to be shot and the only one who lived.

“I recall thinking about Nancy and the president when I first heard how bad the situation really was,” Bush told The News. “Even though it was still early in the administration, I didn’t think about them as president and first lady, but rather as friends.”

Yeah, I know.  Reagan and Bush went on to cause untold damage to the American middle class over the next eleven years.  But I also remember sending the White House a crayon picture I drew of Space Shuttle Columbia as a get well card for President Reagan when I was six.  And Al Haig tried some crazy, crazy stuff back then.

It's worth a read just from a historical perspective, at least.

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