Why Michael Moore needs to go away*

*Along with a lot of other ‘shoehorns’

Social media, the news media and other information outlets have lit up with discussion in the last couple of days about the tragic incident in Santa Barbara, Cal., in which a 22-year-old man killed six people, apparently selected at random, and then himself.

Need we say how predictable that discussion is?

After all, it’s largely the same discussion that we had after Newtown, after the Navy Yard, after Aurora, after Tucson … after every mass shooting we have. But let’s let Michael Moore, the left-wing provocateur and gadfly, offer the most representative sampling in a Facebook post.

It’s because of guns. Every single mass shooting ignites a new call for stronger gun control laws, just as Moore does here. This sentiment was echoed by the father of one Santa Barbara victim; he blamed the National Rifle Association.

But what’s interesting about the comments from Moore and from Richard Martinez is an almost throwaway, parenthetical thought they both added. It’s as if they both mentioned the real problem, but then chose to ignore it on the way to their other agenda.

On his way to calling for more gun control Moore notes that these shootings are carried out by “disturbed white males.”  Disturbed. White. Male. Gun. Only one pattern matters to Mr. Moore, because it’s the only one he wants to see.

On his way to calling for more gun control, Richard Martinez asked: “When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say stop this madness …?”

Of course, the “madness” and “insanity” he’s talking about are that of the NRA and the politicians who protect gun rights. That’s the only pattern of “insanity” he notices – although as a grieving father he deserves slack.

So far, I’ve seen people complain that Elliot Rodger is emblematic of the “entitlement” attitude of young people “coddled” by overindulgent parents. I’ve read Rodger referred to as “spoiled and arrogant.” I’ve read the predictable calls for more stringent gun control laws. I’ve read the blame laid at the feet of “narcissistic media culture.”

I’ve even read the mental health angle of this story dismissed. There have been reports of Rodger’s diagnosis with Asperger’s. Some writers have noted that Rodger was getting mental health treatment, and that the police visited him after his parents complained about some of his writings and videos – but thought he was fine.

And on the flip side, I’ve read comments that say his writings and videos alone should have led to him being committed. “(I)n an actual institution with actual doctors who actually care enough to try to get him back to not being a danger to society,” one comment read.

Most of these comments – in particular, the ones related to gun control and/or permissive parenting – are from what I refer to as shoehorns.  Mr. Moore is a classic example. It doesn’t matter what the shoe of the day is. He’ll find a way to shoehorn his foot into it. The only thing that would have been better for Mr. Moore would have been if the shooter had been poor and he had been bullied by rich kids – then he would have been able to fit both feet in.

All of these shootings are breakdowns of the American mental health system. But we’ll never fix it. Why? Because it’s a style of shoe nobody likes on his or her feet.

What’s even worse is that the cases that really bring home the crisis in mental health care in this country represent an incredibly small percentage of the people with mental health issues.

Twenty percent of Americans will, at one time or another in their lives, have some sort of mental health issue. Many of them will not seek treatment – because, according to most research, they would be embarrassed or ashamed to receive mental health treatment, or they fear repercussions. Just ask Thomas Eagleton.

The fourth-leading cause of death among Americans age 18 to 65 is suicide. More Americans die by suicide each year than are killed in motor vehicle accidents.

Yet what do we hear from people who have sought help for mental health issues? Probably something very similar to what Elliot Rodgers’ family is saying: we tried, but the system didn’t help us.

The system doesn’t – and can’t – help a lot of people. And that’s because too few elected officials consider it a shoe they want to spend any money on … after all, it doesn’t really fit their ideological foot.

It would be best for all of us if the policymakers – and the punditocracy – would stop being shoehorns and start to recognize the most important, obvious pattern – one that we can see not only in mass shootings, but in high rates of suicide, substance abuse, homelessness and a variety of other indicators that have a mental health component. When you recognize those patterns, it’s very easy to see that only one shoe fits.

Apparently, it’s not Mr. Moore’s style.



Untie Poverty from ‘Community Development’ Funds

National Initiative 2

Block Grant ReqirementsOne of the most powerful tools the federal government offers cities is the Community Development Block Grant program, administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Unfortunately, it is not being used to anything remotely close to its true potential.

Each year, block grants pump billions of dollars into  American municipalities. About three-quarters of that money is used for two main areas: public infrastructure and housing.

Saginaw is what’s known as an “entitlement community” – the largest city in its metropolitan statistical area. According to HUD, block grant funds for such communities are “to develop viable communities by providing decent housing, a suitable living environment, and opportunities to expand economic opportunities, principally for low- and moderate-income persons” [my emphasis].

One of its big goals is to increase the quantity and quality of “affordable housing.” That “principally for low- and moderate-income persons” translates into a requirement that “70 percent of CDBG funds must be used for activities that benefit [them].”

As a result, HUD forces cities to throw good money after bad.

In Saginaw, somewhere near 20 percent of our housing stock is vacant and abandoned; another 20 to 30 percent is rental property in decline. Like many cities, we have suffered from the concurrent blows of exurban flight and job loss through plant closures – in our case, the evaporation of several thousand General Motors jobs.

Exurban sprawl is fed by many things – subdivision laws, the hefty subsidy of the federal home mortgage income tax deduction, the needs of the home-building and real-estate development industries and the fears of the middle class, among many other factors. Either way, it has created a huge surplus of housing in America, especially in inner cities such as Saginaw. This has left no shortage of “affordable housing” in our cities.

What it has left is a shortage of people who are not low-income individuals.

This means that one aspect of HUD’s mission –  “to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities” is directly at odds with of the requirement that “70 percent of CDBG funds must be used for activities that benefit low- and moderate-income persons.”

We must, at some point, come to the realization that trying to prevent and eliminate blight by focusing spending on low- and moderate-income people is a little like trying to plug a hole in a boat by flooding the leaky compartment with water.

Rehab funds that can be used by moderate-income homeowners are little-known and underused. New construction programs add to the oversupply, and cause further decline of all the City’s property values. And you don’t want to get urban homeowners started talking about Section 8 vouchers.

To put it very plainly, the problem in cities isnot a shortage of affordable housing for low-income residents. (The quality of that housing is often a legitimate issue.) What cities need are incentives for residents of moderate and upper incomes to invest in those cities.

Because they aren’t now, and those cities are doomed without them.

My suggestion would be for HUD to put more emphasis on “urban development” and less on “housing,” by creating new programs that build safe middle-class neighborhoods.

The recent Neighborhood Stabilization Program was a start. But, at least in Saginaw, that meant rehabbing a few dozen homes to a required 5-star energy rating. Might we not have been much farther ahead rehabbing 1,000 homes to 3-star energy efficiency?

If we want the CDBG fund to live up to its potential and make more serious inroads in turning our cities around, we should drop the 70-percent requirement on CDBG funds – and make more federal money available for programs that benefit entire neighborhoods, rich and poor – such as community policing and infrastructure improvements.