The Modern American City

Events get driven by something. The motive power behind what happens in policy and politics can often lie hidden like the mass of an iceberg underneath the sea. Those who bother wondering why President Obama refuses to compromise on anything in order to avoid the “Fiscal Cliff” theorize two primary things. Barack Obama plays the PR angle to make Rethuglicans appear as the political subsumed class* of lackeys to the E-Vil Rich. Others assume he’s Richard Roundtree** and he’s sticking it to the man.


Both of these conjectures see only the tip of the iceberg. There are two possible errors in assuming either explains our President’s behavior in total. The first mistake is to assume that Barack Obama completely drives this train. The second is to assume that he reacts totally based on his ideological battles against Conservatism. Assuming a bond fealty between Barack Obama and his committed core of followers causes me to realize that President Obama (and much of the rest of the professional left in America) has strapped himself in for a ride on the tiger. He’s driving the bus from the movie “Speed.”

To view Barack Obama as a principled advocate of Inner-City America is to look upon a man who is juggling chainsaws while wearing a blindfold. He can win elections with the best of them; he can’t deliver what is needed to the people who he works for and believes in fast enough. I can almost empathize with man – until he takes a bite out of me. He will have to take a bite out you, I and anyone else with a paycheck, a bank account and a pulse. Municipal America has morphed into a fiscal and cultural shock-trauma ward.

Walter Russell Meade offers us the latest installment of his Blue Model Blues. He asks San Bernardino is Thunderdome in California. I would modify the plot to this Mad Max scenario a tad and suggest that more dependents enter so that the taxpayers rapidly leave. Dr. Meade offers his own take below.

The city filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, but its financial situation has continued to deteriorate. And now with what promises to be a heated court battle over payments to the state pension fund in the offing, further cuts are likely. Things are getting so bad that at a recent city council meeting, the city attorney advised residents to “lock their doors and load their guns” because the city could no longer afford to keep up a strong enough police force.


The police force gets cut. This is followed by the business district moving and those who fear for the safety of their families changing geography. This leaves a void of intellect, tax money, stability and cultural stability that if left unfilled will ultimately lead to fiscal and societal collapse. I tend to think Dr. Meade projects entirely too much optimism when he describes this as merely San Bernardino’s problem. Every township and suburb arrayed in concentric rings around the urban core should put one hand over their wallets and the other one over their nuts. Cities faced by existential crisis have a history of reaching out and grabbing. Examples to be studied include Memphis, TN and Detroit, MI.

In 2011, Memphis, TN ran up the white flag with respect to their school district. They were sending their kids to Heartbreak Hotel and too many of the recent graduates were doing the Jailhouse Rock. So the city of Memphis voted to disband their school system and force Shelby County to merge with it and educate their children instead.

The residents of Shelby County had no concerns. They informed Memphis they would jump right on it – after they finished eating a bug. Six localities within Shelby County attempted to organize school districts that would exclude The City of Memphis. But the courts have intervened and forced The City of Memphis into a shot-gun wedding with Shelby. Judicial Fascism Activism follows below.

U.S. District Judge Samuel Mays ruled on Tuesday that a state law that would have allowed voters in Arlington, Bartlett, Colliersville, Germantown, Lakeland, and Millington to vote to create independent school districts violates the state constitution. The ruling came after the city of Memphis and the Shelby County Commission challenged the law.


Detroit, MI may become the next city to play the “I Quit! Card.” But Detroit intends to do so on a much larger scale. A State Senator suggested bankrupting Detroit, dissolving its municipal charter and making it the Problem of Wayne County, MI. With Mayor Bing looking at putting municipal employees on unpaid furlough, we are already seeing the real-life results of whatever bankruptcy Detroit would suffer without an immediate life-line. The question of “Why Detroit should be saved?” is not one that anyone in Michigan politics seems to have the guts to ask. The weight of the poor hangs above Wayne County like a Sword of Damocles.

This brings us back to the man who recently won reelection on the backs of heavy and loyal urban turnout. A lot of very desperate people voted for Barack Obama to do something. San Bernardino, Memphis and Detroit demonstrate the lack of ability and/or will to do this for themselves. If Barack Obama defines his mandate from the 2012 Election in terms of helping to save these dying urban areas to stave off the oblivion of their old and traditional neighborhoods then he has to get the money from somewhere. That somewhere is where I live and work.

Eventually, this game will end in tears. An increasingly divided and impoverished Amerika will refuse to easily redistribute income with no perception of a future ROI. The cities will fail. The surrounding townships and counties will refuse them their annual requests for “one-time only” emergency assistance. We perhaps have a helpless and enfeebled president who hopes this occurs no sooner than five years hence. That would be a societal cliff – not just a fiscal one.


*-Our subsumed class of Daily Kos trolls should recognize this term from Kapital Vol. I.
**-If you didn’t get that reference go listen to some old Isley Brothers Records.


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