September 17, 2021

September 17, 2021

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Can We Reverse The Cultural Death Spiral In America’s Cities

by | Jul 12, 2020 |

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We have all seen the headlines. Some of us have sifted through the vignettes in the local papers. America’s urban centers are collapsing.
Social programs to help the homeless have been a disaster. Far from fixing the problem, most cities efforts have resulted in making the homelessness problem permanent. In the City of Los Angeles, there is now a tent city adjacent to the upscale neighborhood of Brentwood, home to many of Hollywood’s elites. In Seattle and San Francisco, they roam the streets oblivious to social distancing protocols imposed on the rest of society by COVID-19.
Urban political correctness has yielded us the same disparities of rich enclaves bordering shanty towns that dot the world from Brazil to South Africa to the Philippines. Except worse. In some of our cities, the filth and drug use exceed even those of some third world calamities.
Social justice activism is causing law enforcement to abandon crime prevention initiatives and violent crime is on the rise. Americans across the entire political spectrum are discovering that the only thing in the Constitution they can still rely on is the Second Amendment. The elites hire guards. The middle class improves its marksmanship. And activist groups across the political spectrum organize militias for their causes.
Survivalism is returning to the American psyche; hoarding everything from toilet paper to ammunition, everyone’s a prepper now. In the police vacuum, criminal activity including shootings have jumped, over 100% increases in many cases. Unsatisfied, social justice activists call for even more cuts. State and local governments oblige the mob’s rule.
There is a price for this breakdown of law and order of course. Governors, county supervisors and mayors are realizing that they do not have the money to pay to sustain their once lofty agendas. Nor do they have the means to rebuild the infrastructure that they have let decay over time. They have begun to beg for aid like a bunch of third world countries pleading to a domestic version of USAID to parachute in pallets of cash to prop up their little regimes. They are hoping that the Washington Establishment will come to their rescue. I am not so sure that’s possible regardless of who wins the election in November.

In August of 2019, I wrote and article mostly centering on the homeless issue titled, “To Save America’s Cities, We Need to Let Them Fail.” Well they are.

It is Getting Worse
America’s inability to deal with COVID-19 because political division is more important than pragmatic survival is not something to be proud about.
The economic impact of a prolonged quarantine is laying waste to America’s small businesses. We are now well past the recovery holding capacity of many of these smaller companies and one only need look at how many once vibrant strip malls are now dotted with empty stores with what are clearly tearful signs in the windows. I make it a point to stop to read these “messages in a bottle”. They say how sorry the former tenants are that they just could not hang on any longer. They are artifacts of a new Trail of Tears.
The demand for commercial real estate is falling. Subject matter experts, including myself, worry that market collapse may reach a degree that could trigger a systemic risk to the US banking and finance system. The economy relies on corporate and commercial real estate lending assets not just for the value of the loans, but for the interest rate risk hedged nature of this type of lending. It protects the US financial system from domestic and global shock waves.
In plain language, it means we are living with much thinner eggshells protecting our economy from cracking. This is not a good thing. I worry that so far, no one throughout the government seems to be dealing with this uncontrolled free fall in the risk management of our country. 
I have seen this kind of Black Swan egg hatching scenario before. The last time was in 2005, three years before Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall and the 2008 financial crisis plunged America into a tailspin. And where will it hit the hardest? The largest concentrations of commercial real estate are in our biggest cities. The business decision mathematics is simple. People “walk away” from the loss leaving the banks holding the bag. The property goes into a category called Other Real Estate Owned (OREO). As the Beatles sang, “one and one and one is three”.

Houston, Texas


Workforce Changes
Deepening this urban risk exposure, the very structure of America’s workforce is changing. It is beginning to dawn on people that some people may never see their offices again. Indeed, companies are beginning to figure out that having fewer people and smaller offices are good for the bottom line. Everything is gravitating towards the gig economy model where individuals are entrepreneurs doing piece work for companies that are less and less vertically integrated.
The process of business creation is changing too. Sales forces and deal makers that used to crisscross the county filling airliners, hotels and rental cars can no longer travel. Sustaining existing business is the order of the day. Creating new business to replace inevitable customer roll offs is an entirely other matter. It will boil down to either virtual sales, which is unlikely to satisfy the need in the long run. Or, a new form of regional sales brokers will emerge where businesses outsource sales to geographic specialists.
Depending on where the corporate headquarters migrate, as formerly pivotal cities become less necessary, we may see more corporate citizens abandoning legacy urban America. The race has already begun for where they will go.
For now, housing prices remain high because city dwellers are scrambling to get out to the suburbs and beyond. This is particularly true for those who have discovered they can work remotely. Why not go for better quality of life at the same of lower cost of living?
Add to this the high likelihood that the first attempt to reopen schools this year will probably be an exercise at learning from mistakes. Schools in America are as much babysitting operations as they are educational institutions. They enable parents to create time to focus on work. That social model changed with COVID-19 as anyone having a Zoom meeting with colleagues working from home has discovered.
But there are biological realities to accept. Trying to hang on to old educational system models that will not suffice to protect children from becoming vectors that will in turn infect their families is toying with disaster. Plastic cubicles, socially distant rules of behavior, no sports. These are placebos. This is after all a highly infectious virus with an R(0) factor well above 1. It will spread, well, “like a virus”.
Plus, school starts at the beginning of flu season and I’ve seen no provision so far in any planning to monitor or discern whether students with a sniffle have the mighty COVID-19 or one of its coronavirus influenza cousins we don’t care about. If you are an educator and you do not see this as a contingency you need to be planning for now, you need your head examined. Nature will take its course because nature does not care about our hubris. 
This issue will continue to compound the workforce problem of parents doing double duty earning a living and home schooling their children at the same time. So far, by trying to hang on to old ways, the educational system has not yet figured out how to deliver the goods safely yet. I suspect another year may be required to learn better ways to deliver education. Whether we will ever be able to deliver social babysitting to the workforce again, I am not so sure.
I have said this before and I will repeat it now, there is no such thing as a non-essential worker in America. While some Americans are not essential to the government, all are vital to the economy. We have not admitted this to ourselves yet and until we do, we will continue to fail to grasp what we need to do to save our nation from cratering.
Can We Reverse The Cultural Death Spiral?
Yes, I think this can be reversed. I do not know if we have the will to work together to do so.
We are working in the dark with not a clue about what the magnitude of our challenge actually is. For the life of me I do not understand why the richest county per capita on this planet does not have a policy of subsidizing universal anti-body testing. There are only 330 million of us and at full price a cost of $112.00 per test that is a $40 billion investment. Declared a national priority, it is probably 1/5th that cost. That will give our country clarity about the extent of the epidemic even with the 3 percent false detection factor that accompanies present methods. 
I recommend prioritizing universal testing in the cities if we wish to salvage them. These are the areas where you want a 100% census of information on what is going on; not these small samples that allow statistical models to speculate to the point that health policy is most determined by the boldness or timidity of the official guesswork. We can do better.
It’s from this that state and local government can be held accountable to the people on fact based policy making instead of the mish-mash subjectivity where officials make value judgements that are total opposites in purpose depending on whether they agree politically with what someone is doing or not. Excuse me, but that is about the stupidest way to navigate through a crisis as there is. Officials have zero credibility and the inventive is for citizens to doubt and ignore their pronouncements as politically motivated babble.

COVID-19 is not a bogey man haunting our souls. It is a bug with one-half of a DNA string inside it; one of thousands that every human will encounter over a lifetime. We need to stop imbuing it with mystical powers. It cannot rule our destiny. That is the definition of losing for all of us.

Culture Wars Can Be Reversed
The other thing we need to do about saving urban America is to take the question raised by this summer’s social unrest more seriously. Bear in mind that we Americans are a loud and expressive people, the world’s most dysfunctional family, when we gather to discuss anything.
But, inside all that noise is a thread of reality that we should all be paying attention to. We have let our urban cities fall victim to cultural decay because of decades of neglect. That is what I hear when I see people coming out into the streets.
True, one does have to look past the bands of nut balls and knee biters that constitute the noise makers among us. Honestly, the whole communism thing is over. Newsflash. That white privileged European Marxist experiment ended in 1989. The Maoist copy of it is under distress in 2020 in China as that nation struggles to balance the forces of its industrial class exemplified by Hong Kong and its version of the Establishment, the Chinese Communist Party. 
The American version of communism is “weak sauce”. The only reason it has any semblance of traction in America is because we stopped teaching Civics and sent too many kids to college to read about comparative cultures without giving them a proper cognitive foundation to do common sense compare and contrast analysis. 
Our bad. We should have made sure our K-12 and higher education systems had more well-grounded staff than let teaching departments become over subscribed with people who could not get a job in the real world.

Chicago, Illinois


Defunding the Police
Still, there is legitimacy to the cacophony of American noise making. But you need to turn off your judgement to see the beauty of it. If you really look at the back and forth of the “defund the police” argument, you will find that what we are asking is why did we put so much burden to maintain order in society on a thin blue line that isn’t trained, equipped, or authorized to take on the burdens that state, local and even federal governments have asked of them.
Cities are pulling budgets from the police removing roles and missions from them haphazardly; something they will likely regret as people flee the chaos that their knee jerk changes will surely manifest in what analysts like me quaintly call “consequence effects”.
Ending anti-crime task forces and eliminating consequences like bail or incarceration will of course see an immediate increase in violent crime. Active criminals always take advantage of available space. Down the line, it will see that violence organize into racketeering and warlording, first as gangs, and later as syndicates and cartels. This is planet Earth and we are human; our uncivilized behavior patterns are predictable.
Ending the scope creep of social roles for the police such as community policing, school policing, mental health teams, and other innovations that law enforcement learned to create during an era when state and local governments wanted them to fill the role of social worker with a gun in society will also have consequences. 
Platitude all you like about substitute services to replace the police in these missions. Just realize that it took decades of work by these departments carefully balancing society’s expectations to get where they are today. Not well thought our alternatives will have teething pains that will hurt the very people these programs are meant to help. We are talking about academic theories replacing street smarts. What could go wrong?
The Common Interests of Black Panthers and NRA Members 
And then finally you get the people looking out for themselves. Those ordinary Americans who come to realize that when government has lost its mind, they are on their own to fend for themselves. And here I see hope. 
I am not one to be constrained by political party or dogma. The most amazing thing to me to see during this tumultuous time was the reawakening of the American spirit just after the Civil War. It was a time marked by two cultural events that characterize much of the outsiders versus the establishment battle for urban life we see today.
Just after the Civil War, the National Rifle Association was born. Around the same time, an expression by newly freed Blacks happened at a place called Colfax. Both were the voices of ordinary people recognizing that within the Constitution of the United States was this thing called the Second Amendment that gave them the power to of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The suppression of Colfax by the government would give rise to the theories of gun control that are used against Americans black and white today. In its white form, today’s NRA is vilified. In its black form, the expressions of equality and rugged independence by organizations like the Black Panthers, who are in many ways today’s manifestation of the freed men of Colfax are looked upon with doubt.
But to me, they represent the essential outsiders of American life in its urban centers that have both been rejected as too impolitic. If we are to save America’s cities from the chaos of radically defunded police forces, it is to these people and their roots of quietly demanding decorum backed up by the Constitution that we may have to turn to fill in the gaps left behind why bankrupt cities no longer are able to pay for the lofty dreams they once had.
As for me, as I observe social media, I am heartened to see that many gun owners seem to have already recognized this deeper American alliance. Perhaps, far beyond the Ivory Towers, the American Dream that we are all created equal still exists.

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Dennis Santiago is an author and commentator on national policy and global stability issues. His subject matter expertise was developed during the Cold War as a strategic warfare systems analyst, missile defense architect, and arms control analyst. He is the author of the US Imperfect Defense Theory of Strategic Missile Defense. Dennis has worked on conventional warfare, nuclear warfare, and asymmetric warfare. His expertise includes combat aircraft, ordnance, electronic warfare, command and control, campaign design, and game theory.

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