City vs. Suburbs

Retiring baby-boomers are increasingly moving away from their houses in the suburbs to condos in the city.  This makes sense.  Single and just-married adults living in small apartments when just starting out, then moving to larger homes, more space, and better schools in the suburbs when their family grows.  Then, when the nest is empty, moving back to smaller, lower-maintenance apartments when they reach retirement age.  With both the young and the old liking a stimulating environment close at hand with less driving.

But this hasn’t happened all that much until lately, and it goes along with some interesting demographic changes.  Poverty is up 64% in suburbs, twice the rate as in cities.  And the crime rate is falling in cities and rising in the suburbs.

Why do you think that is?  What can be done to improve suburbs?  Or make cities habitable for families?  And where do small towns fit into all of this? [Read more...]

The mystery of the stolen masterpieces

Twenty-three years ago, thieves dressed like police officers robbed the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Boston, taking 13 masterpieces of the world’s art.  One of them is one of my favorite paintings:  Rembrandt’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.”  (I love the turmoil and struggle of the disciples who are looking away from Jesus trying to right their own ship, contrasted with the serenity of those looking to Jesus.  And the composition of the painting, in which all of the lines point through the darkness to Him.)  Anyway, if you bought this painting out of the trunk of someone’s car and have it hanging in your rec room, beware.  The FBI is saying they are close to solving the case.

 

Details about the case after the jump. [Read more...]

Whatever happened to crime as an issue?

Charles Lane says that Republicans are victims of their own success when it comes to the issue of crime.  What was once a potent issue for Republicans have faded from the public’s mind, as crime rates have fallen dramatically, due largely to Republican-initiated policies that now even Democrats support.

Americans were unhappy about many issues as 2012 began. In one area, though, contentment reigned. By a margin of 50 to 45 percent, a Gallup Poll reported, the public felt “satisfied” with the nation’s policies on crime.

It was a well-founded sentiment. In 2010, Americans were less than a third as likely to be victimized by violent crime as they had been in 1994; the murder rate had declined by roughly half. Today we are approaching the low murder rates of the 1950s.

For the Republican Party, this is a triumph — and a disaster, as the 2012 election results proved.

It is a GOP triumph, because the enormous decline in crime over the past two decades coincided with the widespread adoption of such conservative ideas as “broken windows” policing and mandatory minimum sentences.

Whether such policies actually caused the crime decline is a separate, and much-debated, social-science question. The important thing is that many people believe that they did. As a result, conservative crime doctrine remains dominant in politics, with the two parties differing mainly over how to control and punish unlawful conduct most cost-effectively.

Hence the 2012 disaster for the GOP. Beginning with Richard Nixon’s “law and order” campaign for president in 1968, Republicans pretty much owned the issue. Fear of street crime — and its association, accurate or not, with post-’60s moral license, liberal Democratic policies and the rise of an urban black population — converted many a white working-class Democrat into a Republican.

The GOP advantage on crime contributed to Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, George H.W. Bush’s defeat of Michael Dukakis in 1988 and the GOP takeover of the House of Representatives in 1994.

When Gallup asked voters in January 1995 to name their top priority for the new Congress and President Clinton, 78 percent responded “reducing crime.” Given the murder rate at the time — 9.0 per 100,000 population — this was understandable. Sixty-six percent named “reforming the welfare system.”

Clinton got the message. In 1996, he signed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, a main purpose of which was to limit death-row appeals. And, of course, he signed a historic welfare reform measure.

As the first Democratic president since Clinton, and the first African American one ever, Barack Obama has done essentially nothing to reverse Clinton’s crime and welfare policies. . . .

Indeed, Obama’s assimilation of conservative doctrine extended even to the war on terrorism, an area with which 72 percent of the public pronounced itself satisfied in last January’s Gallup Poll. Closing Guantanamo is out; drone strikes on al-Qaeda suspects are in. After four years of the Obama war on terror, you could almost summarize the two parties’ policies this way: Republicans waterboard, Democrats kill.

It’s true, as many commentators have noted since Nov. 6, that liberals seem to have the upper hand in the culture wars, after years of losing to the GOP. The 2012 electorate favored liberal positions on abortion, gay rights and the role of women in society.

We’ll never know whether 2012 would have played out the same way if crime had staged a comeback during the recession, as many expected. Certainly in the past, crime was as important to the Republican brand as abortion and gay rights, if not more important.

Safer streets, though, have blunted what was once a sharp wedge issue, and, perhaps, freed the electorate to consider social and moral issues in a different light.

via Charles Lane: Republicans a victim of safer streets – The Washington Post.

Good news on the crime rate

Not everything in our society is going from bad to worse.  Over the last decade, we have seen a dramatic drop in the crime rate, and it keeps getting better.  Charles Lane gives some details:

The most important social trend of the past 20 years is as positive as it is underappreciated: the United States’ plunging crime rate.

Between 1991 and 2010, the homicide rate in the United States fell 51 percent, from 9.8 per 100,000 residents to 4.8 per 100,000. Property crimes such as burglary also fell sharply during that period; auto theft, once the bane of urban life, dropped an astonishing 64 percent. And FBI data released Dec. 19 show that the trends continued in the first half of 2011. With luck, the United States could soon equal its lowest homicide rate of the modern era: 4.0 per 100,000, recorded in 1957.

To be sure, the United States is still more violent than Europe or Canada, and that’s nothing to brag about. But this country is far, far safer than it was as recently as the late 1980s. . . .

We are reaping a domestic peace dividend, and it can be measured in the precious coin of human life. Berkeley criminologist Franklin E. Zimring has found that the death rate for young men in New York today is half what it would have been if homicides had continued unabated.

The psychological payoff, too, is enormous. Only 38 percent of Americans say they fear walking alone at night within a mile of their homes, according to Gallup, down from 48 percent three decades ago. . . .

Lower crime rates also mean one less source of political polarization. In August 1994, 52 percent of Americans told Gallup that crime was the most important issue facing the country; in November 2011, only 1 percent gave that answer. Think political debate is venomous now? Imagine if law and order were still a “wedge issue.”

Did I mention the economic benefits? Safe downtowns draw more tourists for longer stays. Fewer car thefts mean lower auto insurance rates. Young people who don’t get murdered grow up to produce goods and services.

Plunging crime rates also debunk conventional wisdom, left and right. Crime’s continued decline during the Great Recession undercuts the liberal myth that hard times force people into illegal activity — that, like the Jets in “West Side Story,” crooks are depraved on account of being deprived. Yet recent history also refutes conservatives who predicted in the early 1990s that minority teenage “superpredators” would unleash a new crime wave.

Government, through targeted social interventions and smarter policing, has helped bring down crime rates, confirming the liberal worldview. Yet solutions bubbled up from the states and municipalities, consistent with conservative theory. Contrary to liberal belief, incarcerating more criminals for longer periods probably helped reduce crime. Contrary to conservative doctrine, crime rates fell while Miranda warnings and other legal protections for defendants remained in place.

On the whole, though, what’s most striking about the crime decline is how little we know about its precise causes. Take the increase in state incarceration, which peaked at a national total of 1.4 million on Dec. 31, 2008. This phenomenon is probably a source of success in the war on crime — and its most troubling byproduct. But increased imprisonment cannot explain all, or most, of the decline: Crime rates kept going down the past two years, even as the prison population started to shrink. Crime fell in New York faster than in any other U.S. city over the past two decades — but New York locked up offenders at a below-average rate, according to Zimring’s new book, “The City That Became Safe.”

“What went wrong?” is the question that launched a thousand blue-ribbon commissions. But we also need to investigate when things go right — especially when, as in the case of crime, success defied so many expert predictions.

via Taking a bite out of crime – The Washington Post.

Any ideas for why the crime rate has been going down?


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