Wednesday, August 09, 2017

DEVELOPMENT DONE RIGHT

Image result for kansas city river market night life


On Saturday morning I took a pleasant morning stroll around Kansas City's River Market with our pups. While they concentrated on the scents left by other neighborhood dogs, I focused on all the changes that have taken place in the River Market since we bought our loft in an old industrial building about 10 years ago.

As Nancy and I were considering a second place in Kansas City, we explored Westport, the Plaza, and Crown Center. While each area had its charms and appeal, we eventually decided on the River Market, in part because the price was right and in part because we were offered a fifteen year tax abatement to buy our loft. It just made sense. The planners understood that if the incentives are given to homebuyers rather than developers and other speculators, a thriving community will spring up and businesses, almost exclusively small ones with good paying jobs, will follow the people who have moved into the neighborhood.  

When we first bought our loft, there wasn't a l ot of neighborhood activity. There were what you might call the old staples of the River Market– the Steamboat Arabia, Planter's Seed, the Al Dente Café, Carollo's Italian Market. But, my, how things have changed. As the dogs and I strolled along, we passed Houundstooth, a small specialty tailor's shop, Nature's Own, a health food/grocery store, The Farm House, a delightful eatery where all the food served comes from local vendors, small restaurants like A Taste of Brazil , Beignet, Bloom Baking, the Opera House. We passed a new loft development being built on the corner of Fifth and Grand and a recently completed loft complex a block north of that. A bit further east, there's a new condominium complex.

At 6:15 A.M. I heard the clang of the streetcar making its first daily stop.  It's become a familiar sound in the River Market for a over a year now. While some residents weren't sure about the streetcar project when the issue was being debated, the referendum passed and residents and business owners have now seen that the service has been a roaring success. It's given local residents free transportation to the Power and Light District, the Crossroads and Arts districts, Union Station and Crown Center. It's also given residents from other parts of Kansas City free transportation to enjoy the River Market vibe. The project has been so successful that the residents of the city south of the River Market have just voted to approve extending the streetcar service south all the way to U.M.K.C.  

Toward the end of our walk, we went west. The development is omnipresent there as well. At the far west end of the River Market district there's a huge apartment complex and a small convenience store. As we got back to our place on Second and Main, I looked across the street at one loft complex that was completed a few years ago and another that is under construction. When it's completed, it will be totally "green," including rooftop gardens.

Ten years ago, the River Market was struggling in the aftermath of rampant crime and mafia influence. Today, it's the place to be in Kansas City. The area is overflowing with life.  The shops, cafés, and bistros are full to the gunwales.  How did that happen in such a short time? It was simply economic development done right. Incentives were given to homebuyers rather than developers and residents got to vote on other issues as development moved along. The result of this "development done right" has been beneficial for everyone – residents, the city, business owners, and even developers.  
When we got back to Emporia on Sunday evening I took the dogs for a walk downtown and spotted some hopeful signs. Lofts, with what will be small shops on the lower levels, are being built, thanks to Cory Haag, a young entrepreneur who seems to get the concept of people first. It's development done right in the right place.  

On Monday I drove  to Wal-Mart and couldn't help but notice the Hobby Lobby project in its final stages. It's a testament to what I believe is old school economic development, where few profit and many pay. Pretty soon now we'll have another big box retailer and more westward sprawl, thanks to a combination of an incentive-seeking developer and readily available land. The developer will profit, as will the landowners who sold to the developer. What will the rest of us get? A one percent bump in sales tax on any purchases we make at Hobby Lobby.  

While it's good to see a few encouraging signs in downtown Emporia, it's discouraging to see that too many of the old ways still persist. It makes me wonder if we'll ever learn.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

'STAGGER ONWARD'

Something Josh Barro recently wrote in a “Business Insider” essay struck a raw nerve with me - “Except on abortion, where public opinion remains about evenly divided, conservatives have implicitly admitted that they have lost certain parts of the cultural war.” He’s probably right. Most Conservatives can see that our culture is changing at what appears to be breakneck speed. 


As I observe the changes, the question for me as a Conservative is no longer “How do I/we stop this?” We’re well past that stage. 

Once in a while in conversations with friends I allude to the old slippery slope, which instantly makes me the target for their loving scorn. “This isn’t the slippery slope, Phil. It’s progress.” The conversation usually ends there, with me stubbornly clinging to my thoughts of humanity at the highest point of the roller coaster, poised to take the plunge straight down into the abyss.

The signs of change are becoming more and more pronounced. A case like Charlie Gard, where the State apparatus has supplanted parental rights, has become legally acceptable. At what point will society decide this arrangement is also morally acceptable? Will it become normative?

It wasn’t too long ago that euthanasia was almost impossible to imagine. Now, it’s becoming increasingly tolerable, even to the point where involuntary euthanasia is being practiced (NCBI/NIH abstract “The Illusion of Safeguards” – 6/2012). Polite discussions about what to do with unwanted or unhealthy children are now taking place, thanks to the work of ethicists like Princeton’s Peter Singer and evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, both of whom advance the grisly idea that killing a child is a morally sound decision. Coyne recently put it this way in a blog posting dated July 13th: “This change in views about euthanasia and assisted suicide is the result of the tide of increasing morality in the world.” 

Not to be outdone, Gary Comstock, a philosophy professor at North Carolina State University, wrote about the painful death of his newborn son. After reflecting on his agonizing experience, he decided “that the repugnant has become reasonable. The unthinkable has become the right, the good. Painlessly. Quickly. With the assistance of a trained physician….You should have killed your baby.”

How far into the abyss have we plunged? Just this morning I read a piece in the Palm Beach Post about some teenage boys in Florida who mocked and filmed Jamel Dunn, a 32 year old disabled man, as he drowned. The more Dunn pleaded for help, the more they mocked. “Get out the water, you gonna die” one teen can be heard shouting. Another yelled to the man “ain’t nobody fixing to help you, you dumb (expletive).”

According to Florida law, the teens hadn’t done anything wrong. There may be a statute they violated by not reporting a death, but mocking a dying man and making a video of his ordeal isn’t illegal. Is it immoral? It probably is now, but will we get to the point where even things like this will become morally acceptable?

I just finished reading Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option – A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.” The book is in part a tome and in part an indictment of the modern Christian Church. Dreher bores in right away, arguing that the Church, which should be a counterforce to secularism, has become “content to be the chaplaincy to a consumerist culture that was fast losing a sense of what it meant to be Christian.”

Dreher argues that Christians have some very important decisions to make. As a baseline, he cites the work of Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, who saw that “the time was coming when men and women of virtue would understand that continued full participation in mainstream society was not possible for those who wanted to live a life of traditional virtue.”
Dreher then argues, quite persuasively, that Christians need to pull away from the rest of society? He calls it the “Benedict Option.”

I think he may be right.

We Conservative Christians need to understand we have lost the culture wars. The question for us is no longer how to stop the wheels of the machine, but rather it is now a question of how those who choose to can live a meaningful, Christian life in such an environment.

The signs of the times all point to one thing. The Christian pilgrimage for many right now is difficult. Our input is neither valued nor wanted. The path is narrow; the light seems dim. Yet, in spite of the difficulties, we need to press on, in our own way. As W.H. Auden put it in his short poem “Atlantis,” we must:

“Stagger onward rejoicing
And even then if, perhaps
Having actually got
To the last col, you collapse”
 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

'THE PRESERVE OF THE POWERFUL'



“Power should not be concentrated in the hands of so few, and powerlessness in the hands of so many.”
-           Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers



I can only imagine the agony Chris Gard and Connie Yates, the parents of 11 month old Charlie Gard, must be going through right now. Their child is suffering from a rare genetic disorder that slowly saps the life out of him. His brain cells are dying and he is unable to breathe without the aid of a mechanical ventilator. The British doctors have told the parents they have done all they can and it’s now time to allow Charlie to die with dignity.

Chris and Connie believe there is still hope for Charlie. They have offers of financial support from more than 80,000 donors who have pledged $1.7 million for experimental treatment that is available here in the U.S. They’ve gotten messages of support from the Pope, Donald Trump, and even celebrities like Cher.

Unfortunately, neither the money nor the messages of support may change the outcome. While there is a slender thread of hope in the form of an appeal that is going to be heard on Monday, the 10th, it is just that, a slender thread.

Are Charlie’s parents so desperate to keep Charlie alive they are refusing to see the reality of the situation? No, not at all. They’ve told the hospital that they understand Charlie may die and if that is to be the outcome, they want to take him home to spend what little time is left surrounded by those who love him. Tragically, the hospital has told them they cannot even take Charlie home to be with the parents who love him. They’ve even refused to entertain the possibility of hospice care.

In response to the hospital’s denial of what seems to me to be a reasonable request, Chris poured out his anguish to the Daily Mail – “We want to give him a bath at home, put him in a cot which he has never slept in but we are now being denied that. We know what day our son is going to die but don't get a say in how that will happen.”

Any parent worthy of the title would, or should, feel the same way.

Chris and Connie’s grief has been compounded by the law. When the hospital decided to act without their consent, they filed a legal appeal that made its way to the European Court of Human Rights.

In a ruling that must have pierced like a sword to the heart, the Court ruled in favor of the hospital. Mr. Justice Francis, the presiding judge, put it this way: “Some people may ask why the court has any function in this process; why can the parents not make this decision on their own? The answer is that, although the parents have parental responsibility, overriding control is vested in the court exercising its independent and objective judgment in the child's best interests.”

What did the ruling mean to Chris and Connie? It meant they were powerless. In an interview with N.P.R., Dr. Claire Fenton-Glynn, a legal scholar that the University of Cambridge, explained how it works – “Under English law, we don't talk about parental rights. We talk about parental responsibility. We don't say that a parent has a right to make a decision for their child, particularly in the cases of medical treatment.” In cases where the matter is adjudicated, making the decision “doesn’t start with the presumption that the parents are right.”

This is the long and short of it. European law ignores the parents and gives the decision making power to bureaucratic actors who may have other things besides the child’s welfare in mind.

This shift in power from the individual to the state or those acting with state approval are becoming quite common in Europe. In the Netherlands and Belgium, for example, euthanasia is legal, with supposed legal restrictions in place to protect the public. Yet, even with the so-called protections, over 400 Dutch citizens were euthanized without their consent or the consent of their loved ones in 2015 (Wesley Smith – the National Review, July 2017).

The legal door has been opened and it’s going to be almost impossible to close. As British journalist Anne Perkins recently wrote, “The Charlie Gard case is a sad reminder that the law is the preserve of the powerful.”

Thankfully, parents and individuals still have rights here in America. But, will it always be that way or will the powerful find a way to strip us of those rights? I suspect it’s a question we’ll have to one day answer and that day may be coming sooner than we care to believe.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

DEPLORABLE?

Loyal Democrats were devastated when the results to the special election in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District were certified. They had pinned their hopes on a young man named Jon Ossoff, a political neophyte. The party had spent millions, believing they could take this Deep South red seat from the Republicans. They had started the night with the old strains of Jimmy van Heusen’s “High Hopes” dancing in their heads. But, alas, victory was not in the cards. Ossoff lost. “High Hopes” gave way to the proverbial “Dirge of Defeat.” 


Defeat is never easy to swallow, and this loss was especially painful to the Democrats. It was best expressed by Hazel Hunt, a woman “The Atlantic’s” Molly Ball described as “a middle-aged drama teacher.” Ms. Hunt told Ms. Ball how the results made her feel. “It makes me very sad. It tells me that despite all the wonderful people I met in this campaign, there are still a lot of people who support the meanness and ignorance and tearing each other apart.”

There you have it. Supporters of Democratic candidates are “wonderful people.” Trump supporters are mean and ignorant. It’s become a refrain of the Democratic Party. The words change, but the sentiment doesn’t. In 2008, Presidential candidate Barack Obama described un-progressive Mid-westerners as so bitter they cling to their guns and God. In her campaign for the Presidency, Hillary Clinton described half or more of Donald Trump’s supporters as “a basket of deplorables.”

Were the remarks unfortunate Freudian slips? Were they misinterpreted? The Democrats claimed that was the case, but what else could they say?

I’ve never been a Donald Trump supporter. I’ve used some strong language in a few of my columns to describe him. My candidate was Marco Rubio. But, even though I didn’t support Donald Trump, I know a lot of people who did. I’ve disagreed with them, but I’ve never thought of them as “deplorables.” I don’t believe they’re ignorant or mean, nor do I believe they just “cling to guns or religion” to mask their hatred.

My usual custom in the morning and evening is to walk our dogs. I’ve always enjoyed walking by the Schumann’s place on the corner of 11th and Rural and occasionally taking a moment to chat with Gerald, when he was still alive, and his wife Orinne. My memories of those chats have always been pleasant.

One night, during the election season, I noticed that Orinne was uprooting some Trump-Pence campaign signs in front of her house. I’d known from our earlier chats that she was a Trump supporter and wondered whether she had changed her mind. I asked her about it and she chuckled a bit. “No,” she replied. “Every time I put them up in the morning, some angry person rips them up in the night. So, I just save them the trouble of venting their anger by taking them down myself at night and putting them back in the morning.”

Orinne and I disagreed about the election, but never disagreed on the really important things in life. We’re friends and we have a common faith. 

Orinne has never said an unkind thing to me or about me. About the only thing she ever said to me about my Presidential vote was, “Phil, I’m disappointed, but you’re still my friend.” We spoke a few times about her reasons for voting the way she did and they made good sense to me. She’s pro-life and that’s always been an important component in her decision making process. She’s also a faithful citizen. A little while ago we spoke and she said that Romans 13:1 is very meaningful to her. 

I’ve met a lot of really nice people since I’ve lived in Emporia, but I can’t thinking of anyone I’ve met who is as kind and caring as Orinne. She is one of those people who truly lives out her Christian faith. 

I don’t believe Orinne Schumann is an anomaly. There are a lot of Orinne Schumanns in this country. Like Orinne, they are loyal Americans. They love their families, their communities, and their country. Some of them serve in our military. Others have children who have done multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq while their critics spend their time sipping over-priced latte’s at Starbucks. Still others work at minimum wage to make ends meet. They’re kind, decent, people who vote based on the dictates of their conscience. They vote the way they do because they care about this country.

The Democrats can’t seem to figure out why they keep losing elections. Well, maybe if they stopped painting with such a broad brush and labelling Orinne Schumann and millions of decent, caring Americans as deplorable, hateful, or ignorant, they might be able to win them over and get their votes.