Trayvon Martin, Guns, & Race in America

zimmerman-martin-500x281-298x167I have been reluctant to speak about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, because of the high emotions such a case was generating on both sides.  However I feel the time has come to for me to weigh in with my thoughts and feelings.  I want to first say, like a lot of people have said, this entire situation is tragic: a young man lost his life,  a mother and father are without their son forever, Trayvon’s friends have been robbed of his voice and it all could have been avoided.

If only George Zimmerman had handled the situation differently. 

Now I want to be clear: I do not know George Zimmerman, but I do not believe that his motives were racially inspired or that George Zimmerman is even as racist.  I believe that he was a man doing his best to protect his property and the property of his neighbors,  something I believe to be every person’s right and a noble thing to do. He volunteered to be on his neighborhood watch, something far too few people are willing to do. I also want to go on record saying that, had I been on the jury with the evidence the Prosecutors put forward, I too would have voted to acquit George Zimmerman.  Having said that, I also believe that Trayvon Martin was a young man who was just trying to go to the store and return home; ironically he was trying to return to one of the homes that George Zimmerman was trying to protect.  I take issue with what some people on both sides of this issue have said about both George and Trayvon.  It made me sick to read and hear some folks talk about drug use and other supposed past bad behavior on Trayvon’s part. A if  these were reasons that made it okay for him to die the way he did.  This was a 17 year old young man and someone’s child who, by all accounts, was not out that night to cause any trouble–he just wanted to go to the store and go home. 

I also find equally offensive those folks who have called George Zimmerman a racist, a murderer, a buffoon, and who say he needs to be harmed or even killed for his actions.

On that terrible night both Zimmerman and Martin made wrong decisions that led to a tragic ending.  It should not be a surprise to anyone that a 17 year old made a bad decision, as teenagers often do.  I do believe Trayvon Martin was beating George Zimmerman after gaining the upper hand in a fight that ensued between the two of them; who got physical first I do not think we know for sure.  It is my opinion that at that time, George Zimmerman believed his life was in danger and he fired the deadly shot.  I equally believe that Trayvon Martin fought with Zimmerman, not out of malice, but because he felt that this man who was following him was out to do him harm.  This fact is something that in my opinion, not enough Zimmerman supporters appreciate and/or mention in their defense of what happened that night.

I believe in the right to bear arms and laws like stand your ground.  I believe that is very important that stand groundthose of us who do make sure that, when we are exercising those rights, we do so in a manner that will always protect those rights, because there are  far  too many people who would like to see us lose those rights.    I believe Zimmerman could have and should have done a better job in this regard. If he had, a young man would not have lost his life and Zimmerman’s life would not have been altered in the negative way it has.

And legions of anti-gun, anti- property rights, and soft-on-crime zealots would not be able to use a tragedy for a rallying cry.

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GUEST BLOG: The Terrorist and Me

The views expressed below are not necessarily that of Rob Fortes or the Fortes View but completely of Trent Ramsey, guest blogger.

First off, four things:

# 1: Rolling Stone is a rockstar magazine. It may want to be a news media magazine, and it may have some great news articles, but ultimately, it is a rockstar magazine.

# 2: I am angry that Jahar Tsarnaev was put on the cover of a rockstar magazine.

# 3: I am angry that a Florida jury did not convict George Zimmerman of, in the very least, manslaughter.

# 4: I know more about Jahar Tsarnaev’s life than I do Trayvon Martin’s. And I am angry about that.

Let me begin by explaining myself. I am from the South, grew up in Alabama, lived there my whole life until my family and I relocated to Boston about six years ago. Admittedly, I was very liberal for the South. My friends and I joked that we were tiny blue dots in a sea of red on the electoral map. However, regardless of labels and such, I deeply love the South, and I mourn its lack of progressiveness in everything from poor education to laws that benefit the wealthy and hold down the poor and marginal. All of that said, the South is made up of people who will always fight for what is right and noble, and in every town and city, there are people, regardless of their views, who believe that to love their neighbor is the best thing to do—the South just sometimes has a hard time of the definition of “neighbor.” But this article isn’t a commentary on the South. And this paragraph is what goes on in my mind daily as I wrestle with my roots and who I am as a person.

After relocating to the Boston area, I worked for many years as director of the Area 4 Youth Center in Cambridge. Area 4 is a great community, with a large immigrant population and many families living in poverty, but fighting to survive to give their families a good life. Area 4 is merely aROLLING-STONE-TSARNAEV-570ten blocks from Harvard Square but a world away in terms of wealth. While working in Area 4, a teenager who attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin came to the youth center for an art and activism workshop we were offering. That teenager, a well-liked and pleasant student, was Jahar Tsarnaev. I knew him for 6 weeks and he was one of my favorite students in the workshop. Everything that you have read and heard was true. Before he became a terrorist, he was a great kid. He was funny, kind, had great ideas, and pitched in with the group. He stayed after one night for several hours to help our lead youth worker spray paint t-shirts for a silent protest they were holding the following day.

But one thing has become very clear to me, and let me repeat that statement: He was a great kid BEFORE he became a terrorist. Rather than figure out a helpful way to make his voice be heard, he chose violence. Rather than reaching out to people and contributing to change in our society and our world, he chose murder. Rather than being a part of the solution, Jahar chose to become the worst part of the problem.

Is it sad that he was a great kid who turned to terrorism? Yes. Is it sad that he had so much potential? Yes. But I knew Jahar. He was a smart kid. He was a good looking kid with lots of friends and opportunities. And he made his decision. His brother was overbearing. Yes. People failed him along the way. Yes. But ultimately, he made really bad decisions. And as the result of his anger, he killed an 8 year old boy and two women. And hurt hundreds of other people. Because of his anger.

And he is the one that Rolling Stone chooses to put on the cover of their rockstar magazine.

I would rather they have put Trayvon Martin on the cover. I would like to have read in Rolling Stone about Trayvon’s upbringing, and have heard from his friends and his mother and his coaches about the potential that he had before he was gunned down on that rainy February TrayvonMartinHoodednight. I would like to read about what Trayvon liked to do, and what he wanted to be when he grew up. And what his parents wanted for his life to be like, and the sacrifices that they made to give him a better life.

Instead what I hear about Trayvon is that he liked to smoke pot. And that he got into fights in school. And that he probably fought back when he was accosted by an angry man one night in February in Florida. And how, for some reason, that made it okay for a man twice his age to shoot him and kill him.

I am so interested to see who is on the cover of Rolling Stones magazine next month. I know it won’t be Trayvon Martin.

C. Trent Ramsey was the founder and executive director of YouthServe in Birmingham, Alabama for 11 years before moving to Boston. He currently works with charter schools and nonprofits in Massachusetts. He can be found @trent4gr8schls.

Hypocrisy!

The newly appointed Chairman of the Board of Roxbury Community College is being opposed because of the pigmentation of his skin.

There is a group of community activists in and around Roxbury who are opposing the appointment of Gerald Chertavian, the CEO of the nonprofit Year up, as the new chairman of the board that oversees Roxbury Community College(RCC) because Mr. Chertavian happens to be white.  Over welcomeMemorial Day weekend of all times, a group called the Friends of Roxbury Community College sent a letter to Governor Deval Patrick stating that it is “insulting for Governor Patrick to appoint a white person to head up the body that is the primary decision-maker for the college.  He is sending a message that although we are a predominantly Black institution, it will take a white person to give you the vision and leadership to take the college to the ‘promised land’ of education.  That is the ‘plantation’ type mentality.” The Friends of Roxbury Community College is headed by Sadiki Kambon, who is reported to have said the the Governor’s decision to put Mr. Chertavian in charge was the wrong move and that the people of Roxbury need to see a person who “ looks like us” in that position.

Wow. So much to say here–so many ironies and so little time. I guess I should not be surprised; after all Sadiki Kambon along with then city councilor Chuck Turner, said in 2004 they had photographic proof of U.S. soliders raping Iraqi women and the so-called evidence turned out be clips from a hardcore porn website.  Since that time Chuck Turner has been tried and convicted for political corruption. However it looks like Mr. Kambon is still making foolish statements. But before we start parsing his and his group’s latest, a quick background for those of you who may not be familiar with Roxbury Community College or RCC as we locals refer to it.

RCClogo_blackRCC is a community college located in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston which happens to be the center of the African-American community in Massachusetts.  The majority of students who attend RCC happen to be Black but certainly not the entire student body.  Not only is RCC a college but it has been the center of community activity for decades.  RCC has recently had some very embarrassing moments in its leadership, mismanagement of funds, personnel issues, and overall failures in leadership and has recently undergone restructuring in its management and executive leadership. There are both high hopes and high expectations for the future of the institution.

Now on to the foolishness of this group’s moronic and ironic position that Mr. Chertavian cannot lead the board because he is white.   For a group of Blacks to take such a position is ridiculous and the reason for that should be obvious to all butyour most hardened racist.  The fact that the so-called Friends of Roxbury Community College actually sent a letter to the first African-American Governor of Massachusetts could not be made up if you tried.  What do you think this group response would be if the 84% of Massachusetts that is white said sorry, Deval Patrick cannot lead this state because he does not ‘look like us’. How would this group have responded if they were to learn about any institution denying a Black man or woman a leadership role because they do not look like the majority of the people in that intuition’s ‘community’? I can see the protest lines forming already!  I also find it interesting that this group sent their protest letter to the Governor over Memorial Day Weekend. Think about all the brave men and women who have died to defend this country’s ideals. I think about my grandfather’s generation, the ‘Greatest Generation’ who went to war in the 40’s with many making the ultimate sacrifice, to keep a lunatic who thought along racial lines from taking over the world.   I would love to ask the Friends of Roxbury Community College just what is it about this leadership position that requires only a Black person. Now, granted, I am not an education expert, but I am a Black man with both a college degree and a graduate degree and after all that schooling, I cannot remember a single time I went to a Blacks only classroom.  I have also never run a college, but I am pretty sure the talent to do so is race neutral.  Just imagine the outcry if the Friends of Roxbury Community College were a Tea Party group! This is just another example of the type of idiocy groups on the left get to say with very little blow back.  

Do the Friends of Roxbury Community College really believe that you can only be a certain color to do certain jobs? I would invite any member of the group to talk to me about this–I truly want to further understand their thinking.  Because as of now I think their way of thinking is short-sighted and a giant step back for all of us.  A person’s ability and talent should be the only major consideration into whether or not they are qualified to do any job.

 

Fatherhood

As we say goodbye to May and enter June, my thoughts have turned to upcoming Fathers’ Day.  Father’s DayDCF 1.0 unlike Mother’s Day, is often overlooked and greeted with laughter.  Fathers often joke about the ‘horrible’ gifts they get; when I was young one of the fashionable gifts to your dad and/or grand dad was the ‘soap on a rope.’ Imagine getting that as a sign of appreciation.  However what should not be overlooked and what is not a joke is the importance of not just fathers but fathers who are involved with and living with their children.

Last year CNN reported on a study by the Pew Research Center that said America is quickly becoming a dual society when it comes to fatherhood.  One the one side are fathers who regularly participate in their children’s lives, and by regularly I mean “everyday in every aspect under the image.phpsame roof.”  On the other side are fathers who live apart from their children and do not have the type of relationship that would be called consistent and involved.  According to the study the good news is that the fathers that are living with their children are much more active in the lives of their kids than those same type of fathers from 50 years ago.  Parenting has evolved for fathers beyond being the providers and disciplinarians–they are now involved with all other aspects.  However the problem for our society as a whole, in my opinion, is that the percentage of fathers living apart from their children has more than doubled, going back to 1960.  The report highlighted that one out of every four fathers lives separately from their children.  This adds up to is the troubling fact that 20.3 million children don’t have a father living with them. 

My own father died shortly after I had turned 10 years old and the pain of his absence under our roof is something that is with me to this very day, so I know a little something about some of the feelings those 20.3 million children have about their particular situation.  I do not believe we need any experts or studies to tell us what we already know or should already know.  Any father or any parent for that matter that is living in the same house as his children will most likely be more involved with the lives of his children and those children will be better off for it.

The Pew Research Study was also very troubling to a subject near and dear to my heart–the plight of the African-American community.  The study found that while 21% of white fathers and 35% live away from their children, Black fathers were at 44% when it comes to living apart from their children.  Personally I believe that 44% number to be overly generous; I would not be surprised if it was actually higher. In fact I believe it probably is.  Now I must admit I have not done a study to prove that, I base it on my own experience and knowledge and also on the fact that 72 % of black babies born today are done so out of wedlock. 

The study also highlights some stark economic realities for fatherhood. It found that besides white fathers, fathers with a college education, and fathers with higher incomes are also more likely to live with their children.  The study pointed out how fathers with less than a high school diploma who lived away from their children accounted for 40% of dads not at home, compared to 7% of college educated fathers.

What is alarming about this for me is this would seem to suggest that, for the first time in our country’s history, poor families, working class families, middle income families, and high income families are becoming vastly different in not only how their families are structured but also in how they operate and I do not think I need to spell out which ones have the advantage.  While high income and middle class families have always had an economic advantage, there was a time when drawinglow income families of all ethnic and racial backgrounds were on par and sometimes better when it came to having both parents under the same roof with full time access to their children.   If high income families were and are able to give their children a head start in life through their economic advantage, there was once a time that parents in the home working together as best they could to offset any disadvantages their economic status placed on their children.  One can only imagine how much harder such a task is for such families with the father living separate from his children.  This is not to say that every two parent household is ideal and that there are not some fantastic households headed up by just mom, because there are– I grew up in one after the death of my dad–but those families and situations are not what I am discussing here.  I am simple stating my viewpoint that having fathers that live with their children is the most ideal situation for our society has a whole.  I believe any honest examination of the facts will support me in my opinion.

I would like to conclude with a shout-out to all the fathers out there who are doing it right as we approach Fathers Day. If you are active in your children’s lives and providing for them and loving them, you are a hero.  God bless you and all that you do, you are making your children, your family, your community , and your country stronger by your efforts.

Conscience of a Black Conservative

On April 29th I appeared on the WGBH talk show ‘Basic Black’, which is a program dedicated to discussing the social and economic issues of the day and how those issues pertain to the African-American community.  During the course of the show I was asked why the African-American community and other communities of color should look to the Republican Party as an effective alternative to the loyalty those communities have donkey-and-elephantbeen showing the Democratic Party.  I have to admit here that at the time my response was not some of my best work, but as I left the studio and over the next several days I began to ponder the question more and more.  I thought about my own ideological journey–how I went from being raised in a Democratic family to becoming a republican. I thought about the historical shift that Blacks have made from the party of Lincoln to Democrats–the very political party that has historically tried to block every single social advancement African-Americans have tried to make in this country.  As I thought about all of these things I started to formulate in my head the response I wish I had used on the show.

First let me say that I truly believe that the majority of Democrats and people who support the Democratic Party, have good intentions and truly want to make our country a better place.  However unlike the majority of Democrats and their supporters, I believe that is true of Republicans as well; I would not be a Republican otherwise.  For me the difference between the two parties is that the Republican Party believes the way forward for our country is to empower individuals, families, and communities to be the key decision makers of our own destinies.  Entrepreneurialship and creativity, free from stifling government regulations, overreach and control, is the best way to grow and advance our society.  A majority of Democrats on the other hand, believe the best way to advance our society is to celebrate and empower “The Group.” They believe that the machinery of government will create a more robust and justice society. 

So what does this mean for the Black community and why should it view the Republican Party as a reasonable alternative?  That’s look at the evidence.

The majority of Blacks have supported the Democratic Party since the late 1940’s and during all of that time, I would argue that we as a people have both embraced and received a disproportionate amount of the Democratic Party’s philosophy and policies, and we should now be asking where are the results?

  • Black unemployment of 13.2 percent is almost double the nation’s unemployment rate of 7.5 percent.
  • 70 percent of Black children are born out of wedlock and raised in fatherless homes.
  • Blacks live in poverty at a higher percentage rate than any other racial/ethnic subgroup.
  • A 2007 special report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, revealed that 8,000 and in some years as many as 9000 Blacks are murdered annually in our country, and 93 percent of those crimes were committed by other Blacks.  In 2005 alone Blacks were 49 percent of all homicide victims in the United States.

Let’s put those numbers into perspective: 6,400 brave men and women gave their lives for our country fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan over the course of ten years.  In 1989, 8,000 Blacks lost their lives due to Black on Black violence– that number was equal to the total number of the brave Black serviceman who lost their lives fighting for our country during the entire 10 year-long Vietnam war!  

hands_11Many studies show the high school dropout rate for Black males is close to 50 percent.  The achievement gap between Black students and their White and Asian counter parts is way too high, and the dropout rate for Black high school students, especially males, is quickly reaching red line status. 

The majority of Blacks voted for President Obama in 2008 and for re-election in 2012 out of racial pride and from the belief that a black President would address the needs of our community.  However Ben Jealous (the very liberal) President and CEO of the NAACP famously said Black Americans, “are doing far worse than when President Obama first took office.” It should also be noted that while Blacks are still casting votes for Democratic candidates, they are beginning to vote with their feet.  The latest Census shows waves of Blacks leaving blue states and moving south to red states. Many of the reasons for this reverse great migration is they are looking for better job 2012-07-05-unionbutton500opportunities, lower property and income taxes, better social conditions and better educational opportunities for their children.  What this translates to is the failure of liberal democratic social policy that has been centered on improving the lives of Blacks for the past fifty years.  Those well-intentioned programs have created nightmare situations all across our country’s inner cities. Democratic economic policies have hurt the type of creativity in the private sector that leads to jobs. The alliance between the Democratic Party and Unions has left far too many Blacks out of good paying jobs, and Blacks have responded to that by moving to red states where right to work laws prevail.

So what would be the Republican Party’s alternative to these failures?  Once again let’s look at the record and put facts with my opinions.  The Republican perspective comes with the belief in economic freedom, competition, and law and order, and those beliefs led to some of the most effective policies in making the same type of cities that Blacks are fleeing from, better places to live.  Edward L. Glaeser wrote an article for City Journal titled; The GOP and the City, and in it Glaesar points out some important facts.  He talks about how some of our greatest cities are safer today than they were twenty years ago thanks to Republican leadership, citing Los Angeles and New York as examples.  When it comes to public safety, conservatives seek effective policing policy, while liberals sought redistributive social policies because they believe poverty causes crime.  Glaeser points out that the expansive government programs of the “Great Society” coincided with rapidly rising crime rates in our urban areas, and the past decades have vindicated the conservative approach. 

275px-No_Child_Left_Behind_Act

Republicans of course, are the inventors and champions of real education reform, putting forward market-based solutions for our troubled public school system, that Black families in overwhelming numbers grave.  School choice, school vouchers, charter schools, accountability in underperforming schools, teacher testing, and The No Child Left Behind act.  Republicans also champion keeping taxes down by keeping the cost of government down, by letting private companies bid on providing public services instead of the monopoly of public workers and their unions, who drive up the cost as all monopolies do, causing taxes to go higher, instead of working families keeping more of their own hard-earned money. 

Democrats and liberals also believe themselves to be the real champions of affordable housing. Here again the facts show them following short and Republicans leading the way to true affordable housing.  In many blue affod housingstates, especially in our cities, the regulations, permitting, and zoning process is so arduous that it has created a fixed housing supply that would otherwise not exist.  When you have demand combined with a fix supply, the cost to the consumer soars.  My own state of Massachusetts, where every elected Democrat will swear on a stack of bibles that they are for affordable housing for the poor, is one of the least affordable states in the nation.  Meanwhile redder than Red Texas is booming with affordable housing. Why?  Massachusetts has regulations on top of regulations that are just pushing prices upward, but Texas follows the free market and has a healthy distaste for regulations. (See “The Texas Growth Machine”). 

There is a saying from Talmudic philosophy; “The noblest charity is to prevent a man from accepting charity; and the best alms is to show and enable a man to dispense with alms”.

At the end of the day African –Americans need to broaden their political perspective and put all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, through a true substantive test.  Being for the party with the best presentation/image or the policy that simply sounds the most altruistic, or for the party that says it is on your side, or fighting for you–without the actual effective policies to back up the rhetoric– is not going to improve our lives or our communities. 

More Laws? Or More Personal Responsibility? You Decide.

The gun control debt is once again under way across our country. In fact it could be argued that until the terrorist attack on my city during the Boston marathon, it was the biggest story.  After the horrific crime committed in Newton, Connecticut every reporter, blogger, politician, talking head, and pundit had something to say.  At the time, I chose to remain quiet, part out of respect to the victims of the crime but more so because I strongly believe that three things should never be devImageeloped from emotion: policy, opinions, and decisions. Emotions often lead to poor product from all three of them.  I can only wish that lawmakers felt the same way. Would it not be great that instead of rushing for the nearest camera to announce the filling of new legislation and policy, they would instead step back and think?  But since that is not going to happen anytime soon, I will now weigh in on a few points.

I will start with the obvious: passing laws means nothing to law breakers. If someone is willing to take a life, the ultimate crime, then they are not going to stop at breaking any of the laws that would fall under capital murder in order of severity.   When confronted with this common sense viewpoint, gun control proponents say that we should at least make it harder for criminals and terrorists to get a hold of guns, and I must confess I am not sure what the logic is here, other than logic has nothing to do with it.  The one thing we know is that the perpetrators of the mass killings that spur these knee jerk reaction-call for new laws, haveImage been planning their attacks for some time.  The key word here is planning. We make plans to deal with the challenges and obstacles to our goals.  Furthermore our country’s history and present experience tells us that making things harder for criminals just makes other criminals a whole lot richer and more powerful. After all, criminal empires are built on providing what has been prohibited to those who want it. 

The reality is that while crimes like Newton, CT capture the attention of the majority of us, there are non-headline grabbing crimes taking place on a daily basis in our country, especially in our major cities were the highest rates of gun violence are often found.  In the case of gun violence in the cities, it is more often than not, a situation where assault rifles are neither used nor high-capacity clips.  Yet I believe all thinking people would agree we have an epidemic of gun violence taking place in our inner cities.  Many of the mayors of those cities have been calling for tighter gun control for years, despite the fact that many of those cities and the states they are already located in already have some of the strictest control laws that exist.  Because of this there is a strong school of thought that says we should be enforcing the gun laws that we already have. I happen to agree with that school of thought but I would add cultural norms to the equation, at least when we are talking about inner city gun violence in the African-American community.

Last week I was on Facebook and came across a video that was posted on a friend’s timeline. The video from WordStar hipHop.com shows what they say is an unarmed man who was shot by the police while fleeing from them.  Now I while not even bother to take on whether or not that is true or the part about fleeing from the police.  Instead what I am interested in is the reaction from the bystanders.  You can see in the video that a large crowd begins to gather when word begins to spread that the police have allegedly shot an unarmed man.  The people are very angry and begin to yell and curse the police– their passion is inflamed and they want justice.  The police begin to arrive in force to control both the crime scene and the ever-growing crowd.  As I watched the crowd grew and the anger of the people rose as they demanded to know why the police shot the man.  It was at this point I began to think about every other shooting scene I have personally witnessed, either on the news or unfortunately in person, having lived a number of years in the inner-city myself.  In each and every one of those instances there were no crowds demanding why or talking to the police at all.  In fact the police are having trouble finding anyone at all to talk to them and share what has happened.  This is quite a contrast, when it is Black on Black violence there is no outrage. No one is demanding answers. However if there is the thought that the police may have shot someone, then there is outrage and marches and politicians from the community demanding justice and investigations. 

Can you imagine if the community displayed that type of involvement for the majority of shootings that take place in our community, the ones that do not involve the police?  If we just Imagedid that, we could stamp out the gun violence in our communities which in itself could result in major reduction in our country’s gun violence. Wouldn’t it be something if every time there was a shooting in the community, the community would mobilize, demand witnesses come forward, hold marches and rallies where community leaders and politicians would condemn the perpetrators and vilify such actions to the point of shaming anyone who would dare give aid and comfort to those responsible? If this were to happen would we still need new gun control laws?

The Danger of the Minimum Wage

In his 2013 state of the Union address President Obama basically stated that the American system is broken and that it is his responsibility to lead the government charge to fix it.  The president said, “It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love….It is ourpresident unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation of ours.”   The president may have no equal when it comes to using lofty words and soaring rhetoric, but what are the results exactly?  In the same speech where the president says he wants to see more job creation in our country and a thriving free enterprise system, he goes on to advocate/demand that we have a rise in the federal minimum wage to 9 dollars an hour.

Aside from the irony of a president saying he is for free enterprise and then in the same speech talk about raising the minimum wage, we already know that state and federal minimum wage laws are about government telling individuals how much a task of minimum wagelabor in their very own business is worth.  In other words, government is deliberately interfering in the labor market to get results other than what is produced in a free labor market.  However, as I said, let us put that aside for a moment, and handle the argument that my critics and proponents of a minimum wage will make.  First, they will say how terrible anyone is who is against a minimum wage, after all what is wrong with guaranteeing the average Joe more money? Next they might say employers, out of greed, may not give a fair or decent wage unless government forces them to.  These are both reasonable points of view. After all it is altruistic to want people to have more money.

However here at the Fortes View we like to dig a little deeper and look at historical data and facts and see what that tells us about what is happening or could happen with the public policies of today, especially amongst segments of our society that can be harmed the most by bad public policy.  So it is in this regard we look at the historical effects of the minimum wage on the low skilled and minorities.

It seems to me that the folks who advocate for a minimum wage, the folks who do so out of the goodness of their hearts, not the calculating political operatives who do so as a payoff to possible union allies, do not often fully flush out what the full effects of the policy are.  After all, while Congress and many state legislatures mandate how much an act of labor is worth, those same government bodies do not mandate that a worker actually be hired or keep his/her job at the hirer rate.  If a minimum wage raises an employees pay level to a point where it exceeds his/her productivity, employers will more than likely make adjustments, eliminate positions or not hire in the first place.  These types of adjustments would produce gains for some workers but those gains would be at the expense of other workers.  In other words higher skilled workers benefit, lower skilled workers, whose population is made up with a lot of folks with limited education and minorities, would imagessuffer.  They become less employable and opportunities to upgrade their skills through on- the-job training decrease.  Black youth unemployment is skyrocketing  under the nation’s first black president.  Black youth, for a multitude of reasons, historical and otherwise, make up a large portion of our country’s lower skilled workers.  However, did you know that in 1948 black and white unemployment rates were just about equal?  Walter E. Williams professor of economics at George Mason University wrote a terrific book called, “Race & Economics; How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?”, and he states that in 1948 Black youth had an unemployment rate less than whites 9.4% compared to 10.2% from that time until mid 1960s and Blacks were just as active in the labor force as whites. Since the 1960s,  labor force participation rates and the employment rate for black youth has fallen to what it is today, which in some cities is has high as 60 percent.  Does racial discrimination account for this trend?  I do not think so. One would have to believe that blacks faced less discrimination between the 1940’s and 1970 than they do today.  Were blacks better educated than whites during this time? Of course not. I say while there are probably many factors we cannot ignore, one of those is reduced employment opportunities as a result of minimum wage laws.

In this day and age, minimum wage laws offer another danger to low skilled workers. This danger comes in the form of employers due to the increased labor cost looking for substitutes to the labor market.  These substitutes come in the form of automation and outsourcing. We already see this with automatic dishwashers replacing hand washing, automatic checkout lines in stores, self services gas stations, and fast food restaurants, and of course companies locating jobs overseas.  The theory behind minimum wage laws is that they are effective antipoverty policy, but the facts paint a much different picture, a summary of the last two decades of research from economists at the University of California-Irvine and the Federal Reserve Board found that 85 percent of the most credible studies on the minimum wage point to job loss for less-skilled employees.

The reality is the idea behind the minimum wage is a good and noble one.  If only we lived in world where just saying someone will make x amount of dollars no matter what could guarantee prosperity for all. The reality is that this type of legislation is the result of decisions that are made out of emotion instead of fact-based practicality.  The minimum wage law has imposed harm on the most disadvantaged members of our society.  The absence of work affects things beyond the size of our wallets and bills; the lack of work means the lack of the sort of lessons young people learn to make them more valuable and successful workers in the future, the lack of work can affect the family dynamic and self- esteem– this is especially true for vulnerable segments of our society, like black youth, 70 percent of whom are growing up in single parent households.  Again proponents of minimum wage will say they do not want workers stuck in low paying jobs or to be economically exploited by employers.  But they are willing to do this at the expense of low skilled workers having no jobs at all.  The problem is not underpaid jobs/worker, but the fact that there are under-skilled workers in the first place.  Developing policies to address this fact is where our energies should be, not making ourselves feel better with lofty words and policies. That is just selfish.

Scotty, We Hardly Knew Ya

In 2009 I went to work for Scott Brown in the special election to replace Ted Kennedy.  At the time I had no idea what I was getting into.  I was just coming off of running for city council at-large in Boston were I got my clocked clean thoroughly. The day after going down in flames I got a condolence call from Scott Brown that basically said good job in your run, sometimes it takes a couple of shots to win, and then he transitioned into telling me to get in touch with his people because they could use my help in Boston for his campaign.  And I did just that, taking on the responsibilities of coordinating his campaign in Boston and some of the communities in the greater Boston area; it was a glorious ride!  As a lover of politics and as someone who bleeds red literally and figuratively, I watched barack and devalwith no small amount of envy, the democrats run great campaigns for Governor in Massachusetts in 2006 and then an awe-inspiring campaign for President in 2008.   Those efforts seemed like more than political campaigns to me; they were movements with dynamic candidates leading the charge.   Those campaigns were maddening in their effectiveness. Here they were campaigning on policies that I personally believed to be incredible harmful for my state and country and they were just rolling to victory.  However the special senate election in 2009-2010, was my revenge!  Scott Brown for OPx-largeThis time my side had the movement behind us and we had the dynamic candidate with a message, and it was the democrats that were on their heels and were completely unprepared to handle what was happening.  That campaign was awesome: a real insurgency, a motivated campaign team with thousands of extremely motivated and highly effective volunteers.  Election Day was one of my favorite moments in politics as we shocked the world.

As I look around at the political landscape today, including last year’s election, I am once again depressed, as I ask myself what happened to all the hope and promise (no pun intended).

How did it go from awe-inspiring to where we are at now?  There has been a lot of talk about Republicans needing to reach out to minorities and developing infrastructure to compete with democrats in urban areas and I agree with all of that; in fact I have written about it.  But we need to do more than that; we need to develop a new message.  A message that is about improving people’s lives, and dare I say it, a message that conveys hope and change.  After all those sentiments do not belong to the Democratic Party– they stole those from Republicans.  It was Ronald Regan’s “Morning in America” theme that reaganwas the first modern-day campaign to wrap its message around hope, promise, and prosperity and that message would go on to dominate national politics for 12 years from Reagan’s two terms to Bush 41’s term.  In 1994 Newt Gingrich and congressional Republicans were the originators of talking about bringing change to Washington with the “Contract for America”, and that message allowed republicans to end the forty years of democrat control of congress.  It is time to take these themes back and develop a new playbook to win elections.  The old playbook of crime, welfare reform, and taxes is no longer enough.  Talking strictly about entitlement reform, although that very important, is not enough.  We must begin to craft our message around improving the lives of voters so that the voters will begin to understand they have a personal stake in the parties’ electoral success.

I want to be clear I am not advocating for Republicans to become “Dem-lite.” That makes no sense and is not very successful from a political stand point.  I believe in drawing stark contrast between Republicans and Democrats.  However I do believe Republicans need to do a better job showing how our policies relate to all demographics that make up the American electorate.

In 1952 Senator Robert Taft, known as “Mr. Republican”, addressed a capacity crowd of steel workers in Pittsburgh, during which he centered his message on the interest of his audience. Taft said, “We offer the American workman a return to honesty and integrity in Washington, a reduction in his tax burdens, a stimulation of the process of improved production to increase his income and standard of living and a foreign policy which will protect his security.” The senator had a message about an agenda that promised to protect the middle and working classes through economic growth and national security while also safeguarding the concerns of the business community.  The audience, which had both workers and management, gave him a standing ovation.

In Scott Brown’s first run for the Senate he had a message that supported individual freedom and opportunity over one size fits all government control and he won.  In 2012 the Dems controlled the message and they won.  Our ideas are better. When we message them right, we win!

 

The Return of Taxachusetts

They’re back…..higher taxes are returning to Massachusetts and average folks are beginning to feel the effects.   A close friend of mine called me up late one night to do some complaining about her financial situation.  My friend is a lawyer working at a very good firm and she and her husband have recently purchased their first home. I was the recipient of this late night venting because I am known among my circle of friends as the political guy who knows all about politics and how government works, and the subject of her rage that night had to do with her property taxes.  She had just found out that the city of Boston was changing the way it does its property assessments and that change will end up costing her and her family more money.  She then began to reveal how frustrated she felt in her efforts to get ahead in life financially and how the cost of living was having a negative impact.  Unfortunately it was up to me to break the news to her about the Governor’s budget and tax plans.

This month Deval Patrick, in his second term, has done what he DSC_0107.JPGprobably wanted to do in his first term: propose a huge new tax increase.  The Governor is proposing that the state’s single rate income tax go up from 5.25% to 6.25%.  The Governor’s new tax plan also calls for the elimination of 45 income-tax deductions.  Mr. Patrick seeks to eliminate such dedications for any profit people would receive for selling their homes, on adoption fees, college scholarships, T passes, and children under 12.  Massachusetts under this plan will also see a raise in business taxes, and residents will have to pay higher gas taxes, turnpike tolls, and excise taxes for our vehicles.  It all equals about 1.9 billion a year tax increasein net tax hikes.  All of this comes on the heels of Federal tax increases and Congress allowing the payroll tax reductions to expire during the fiscal cliff deal.  That payroll tax was allowing families making between $50,000 to $75,000 to save about $822 a year.  A lot of the Governor’s plan has to do with the ever-increasing cost of our state’s health care program (see the Wall Street Journal’s review & outlook article:  “The RomneyCare Bill Comes Due,”Jan. 23rd 2013).  Seeing how ObamaCare is modeled after RomneyCare one can only wonder when the Bill on the federal level comes due, how much higher will our taxes go up?

Which brings me back to my friend, whose family is the classic example of that middle class family politicians from both parties say they are fighting for.  She and her husband supported both Governor Patrick and President Obama in all of their elections.  They took great pride in watching both men on TV and cheered their speeches.  Whenever I would push her in asking just what policies of the Governor and the President she supported I would just get platitudes and general statements about them standing up for people and bringing the type of change we can all believe in…whatever that means.  My friend was also very quick to dismiss any conservative counter-opinions to the President and Democrats in general and she believed the tea party Tea Party to be just a bunch of crazy racists.  As my friend and I talked that night and she began to see how the policies of people she supported electorally were starting to affect her own personal economy, financial goals, and dreams, she began to question some previously-held conceptions.  When we ended our conversation, she began doing to some research of her own, including looking at some of the things folks from the tea party were saying about our government.  Although I am highly confident my friend will never be a tea partier, she no longer believes they are just crazy racists and that maybe, just maybe, there are people out there whose opinions may differ from ours but it may be worth actually listening to what they have to say before we make up our minds. After all, details matter even for altruistic ideas and great speeches.

 

The Tyranny of Big Government

This past Friday I was a guest on WGBH’s TV program Basic Black, a show that non-profit-basic-black3seeks to give the Black perspective of social issues and current events.   During the show the point was made that the Republican Party does not believe in government.  I, of course, counter that viewpoint and stated what the GOP in fact stands for is not “no government”, but government that is smaller, leaner, and most importantly smarter.

My friends on the left (yes, I have many friends on the left!) will say there is nothing wrong with government growing; after all, when government grows it does so out of necessity, the necessity of helping people.  Therefore if you are against big government you are against helping people who need help.  In other words you are an uncaring, selfish, brute of a human being.  However the reality is republicans do not like big government because it does the opposite of helping people; it in facts limits opportunities.  It does this mostly through its drive to fund its ever growing self.

pile of paper   I often point out to my left of center friends that I believe it is the government’s job to make life easier for its law abiding citizens and harder for the law breakers amongst us.  However if you wish to open up a legitimate business in any major city, the permitting and licensing requirements alone will most like keep you from opening your business anywhere from 8 months to a year.  Meanwhile a drug dealer, a pimp, or car theft ring can open for business immediately.  With all of the talk about our economy and high unemployment, one might think government might look to make things a little easier for entrepreneurs.

A real easy one should be for anyone who wants to start a cab company.  After all, it does not require any advance degrees in education; all one needs is a driver’s license and reliable car and liability insurance, right?  WRONG!  Taxi licenses, called medallions, that are given out by city government in order for an individual to “legally” own a taxi are outrageous!  In 2011 New York City broke all records by selling two medallions for a million dollars apiece! Here in Boston the medallion cost $285,000 apiece and the numbers are like this in big city after big city.

How about this for irony? The IRS recently imposed a sweeping new licensing program that forces tax preparers to get IRS permission before they can work.  The IRS by the way, in doing this, is exercising a power never granted to them by congress. IRS The burden of compliance will, of course, be hardest for all the independent operators and the Mom and Pop shops.  Of course the H & R Blocks of the tax world, the big boys support the new program whole-heartedly. Why not, as the Wall Street Journal explained, “Cheering the new regulations are big tax preparers like H&R Block, who are only too happy to see the feds swoop in to put their mom-and-pop competitors out of business”.

          Another big government tool that chokes business is the “Certificate of necessity”, CONs.  CONs’ laws were first used in Massachusetts to regulate railroads and public utilities.  From Massachusetts, they have spread across the country. Basically what these laws do is allow potential competitors who already operate business in the particular area you are seeking a license to operate in to object to you obtaining said license, therefore blocking you from even starting your business.  All your competitors need to say at your hearing is that your services are not needed; after all they are already offering them. And you are denied the certificate of necessity you need to operate your business.  If this sounds too farfetched look up the case of St. Louis businessman Michael Munie in the article by Timothy Sandefur “CON Job” published by the Cato Institute (Summer 2011).  Mr. Munie decided he wanted to expand his moving business to operate throughout Missouri. He had a federal license to ship from state to state already.  But when he filed his application he ran headfirst into a CON law.  The Missouri Department of Transportation was required to notify all the other moving companies in the state and allow them the opportunity to object to the application.  Four of them did indeed object, at which point he had two choices: withdraw his application or go to a public hearing and prove there was a public need for his business.  If he did manage to prove need he was told it may still take six months to a year for a final decision.

          Just think there used to be a time in this country when a business would open and the public would decide if there was a need for it by either shopping there or not.  Maybe, just maybe, if we want to start fixing our economy, we should go back to that model.store