Saturday, May 25, 2019

Saturday scenes: Financial District evolution

Does it mean anything that San Francisco's Pacific Coast Stock Exchange grew up to be a gym?

Modern office towers dwarf the original Neo-classical facade. What began as an branch office of the federal Treasury department was remodeled into a financial hub in 1930 with the addition of two monstrous granite Art Deco statues adjacent to the grand entrance.

Agriculture is evidently the the domain of women.

The bold leaders of Industry look resolute. Given the era of their creation, they probably needed to be.

Note the pigeons. They find the figures convenient.

Trading of financial instruments here ceased in 2002. What do you do with a used stock exchange? Lease it to a "luxury fitness club."

It was a season working downtown among such wonders that inspired me to be begin Walking San Francisco.

Friday, May 24, 2019

When it comes to Iran, the U.S. press fails over and over

The great stare down is on again. The pawns are likely to get bloodied. Washington is ramping up its threats against Iran. Iran has continued to observe the Obama-era agreement not to build a bomb that Trump trashed on assuming office; Europe has tried to preserve what was a pretty good bargain. Meanwhile the Trump regime seems to be doing its best through economic sanctions and bluster to push Iran to break an uneasy peace.

Yeah -- we've seen this movie before in another oil rich nation adjacent to Iran. That didn't turn out so well.

The same anticipatory helplessness so many of us felt in the run up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2002-3 is back.

(Reuters) - Half of all Americans believe that the United States will go to war with Iran "within the next few years," according to a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll [PDF] released on Tuesday amid increased tensions between the two countries.

A plurality of us (49%) disapprove, but most believe there's no stopping the dynamic at work. And most say they would rally round the flag if they believed Iran had attacked our forces in the region -- so the situation is ripe for a "Gulf of Tonkin incident" like the phony provocation used by Washington to jump into our Vietnam adventure. That didn't turn out so well either.

Meanwhile, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, who until recently headed up the Defense Department under Trump and knows something of war, had some words of warning:

"The United States should buy time to keep peace and stability and allow diplomats to work diplomacy on how to keep peace for one more hour, one more day, one more week, a month or a year," Mattis said during remarks in the United Arab Emirates.

Task and Purpose

You probably hadn't heard that. U.S. news media apparently didn't think the guy who was at the top of our military until recently had something important to say. (The report is from a specialized military newspaper.)

U.S. major media seem incapable of delivering a serious, rounded account of US-Iranian relations. This failure is so acute that Andrew Lee Butters, a former Time magazine Beirut bureau chief now teaching at Yale, shared tough conclusions about professional failures in the Columbia Journalism Review.

The broad psychological takeaway of reading the news is inevitably that Iran is a threat. Even balanced appraisals of Iran—that note, for example, that the Iranian Revolution occurred in 1979 in part as a reaction to the American antidemocratic coup there, in 1953— get lost amid the noise of buzzwords like “terror,” “mullah,” “nuclear,” “proxies,” and “militias.” ... Even though the Trump administration pulled out of the nuclear deal that Iran had negotiated with the Obama administration—a deal that stopped Iran’s nuclear enrichment program—most headlines and talking points on air tell us that Iran is “threatening” to resume the production of nuclear material.

The US, it must not be forgotten, has done its fair share to threaten Iran: encouraging Iraq to invade Iran in the 1980s and kill hundreds of thousands of Iranians, invading Iraq in 2003 and soon after eyeing Iran, selling billions of dollars worth of weapons to anti-Iranian Middle Eastern autocrats, embracing a known anti-Iranian terror cult—the MEK—in the hope of fomenting a regime change. ... The Iranian government has much to answer for, especially for its role assisting the Bashar al-Assad regime in the murderous suppression of the Syrian democracy movement, which was once peaceful. But to counter Iran’s regional military power with the application of more American military power is neither moral nor practical.

I’m pretty sure that most of the reporters and editors at CNN, the Times, and NPR know this. And I’m sure that most of them know exactly what game the Trump administration is playing. But there is some deep-seated loyalty to something like “balance” or “objectivity” that is misplaced, and ends up looking like regulatory capture. ...

Why the amnesia and partisanship from the media? Perhaps because it’s hard to tell Americans that a country full of angry-looking men with black turbans and beards who have captured our diplomats and designed bombs that kill our soldiers have real, legitimate reasons to be angry and afraid of us. And perhaps because it’s hard even for those American reporters who know the Middle East to keep that unconscious bias from slipping into our copy, especially in headlines and photo choices. Raised on American exceptionalism, it’s hard to swallow that our misdeeds in the Middle East may not be exceptions, but an extension of American rule.

We seem only to learn what a shitshow we've made in foreign regions at the cost of other peoples' lives and countries.

Friday cat blogging

Erudite Partner thinks she has laid out the fiber she plans to spin to consider the color possibilities. Morty thinks she's created a fine spot where he can display the elegance of his gray coat.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Yet another amazing woman in this Congress

Congresswoman Veronica Escobar of El Paso invites colleagues to the border. This dates from January, but seems equally relevant today. Escobar came to politics via local progressive activism.

We don't usually know the name of our own Congresscrtter, much less one from some faraway district. But such an amazing crew of accomplished women are now navigating the unfriendly halls of power in DC that the least we can do is meet some of them. Who knows what their future may bring.

Another in this series of introductions to rising women pols.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Housing scarcity is about theft from lower wage workers

The Times published this as part of its ongoing campaign to shame the San Francisco area into building more housing at higher density. Guess what? They are right. We need a lot more affordable housing.

But what ought to be equally obvious is that this illustrates that the distribution of goodies in the tech economy is out of whack. That guy in the suit is simply taking too much of the pie. (Note they make him a lawyer who presumably adds some recognizable value to the ecosystem rather than a tech bro peddling his latest brain fart.) As long as society requires janitors and gardeners and bus drivers and nurses and teachers ... the capitalist bargain has been that the winners would pay them enough to live. Not to live like the high flyers, but to live.

If you are going build an economy where new millionaires are minted every minute, you are going to have to pay the support staff enough to participate, at some level, in the necessities of life. Companies won't like that, but it is the cost of soaring entrepreneurial opportunity.

Solving the housing shortage in the Bay has to include redistributing some of the new wealth among a broader community. That should be obvious, but the chorus of critics routinely skip that part of the equation.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

White Night Riot anniversary musings

May 21, forty years ago, was indeed an interesting evening.

Like so many others, the news that a jury had let Dan White off with a slap on the wrist hit me hard. It was uncontested that the ex-cop had murdered Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in their City Hall offices the previous November. How could this miscarriage of justice have happened? Had the jury really bought the "Twinkie defense"? White's lawyers had contended that the former supervisor was depressed and had been binging on junk food, hence should win a reduced verdict of "voluntary manslaughter" because of "diminished capacity."

Thousands gathered in the Castro/Upper Market area and marched downtown. Many others rushed to Civic Center Plaza from wherever we had been working. We were angry. And we were frightened. Did this verdict mean that police officers, some of whom had fundraised for White's defense, could simply kill a "homo" with impunity? It certainly seemed that way.

And so, the crowd was not about to just listen to speakers. Besides, no one could be heard amid the shouting. First the City Hall facade was attacked; ornamental iron work which people pulled off with bare hands made great weapons for breaking glass. Then police cars lined up on the north side of Civic Center Plaza began to go up in flames; we made quite a nice little bonfire.

I wrote up the ensuing melee for the Lesbian Tide, a journal out of Los Angeles with national aspirations. I think I even got paid. Here's that story:

Monday, May 20, 2019

It's not density that city people hate; it's housing injustice

The national media is full of stories about how coastal California needs more houses, but -- for reasons pundits treat as either cupidity or stupidity -- we resist efforts to build what we obviously need. The collapse last week of this year's attempt to pass state Senator Scott Wiener's bill set off another predictable round. SB 50's essence was to allow more building near public transit lines, though there were plenty of devilish details. This, from the NY Times, is a representative specimen, irrefutable on big picture analysis, uninformed on the nitty-gritty level where politics plays out:

Over the past eight years, the San Francisco Bay Area has added about 676,000 jobs and 176,000 housing units. The entirely predictable result has been a surge in rents and home prices along with a rising homeless problem that has jetloads of tourists convinced that one of the richest places on earth is actually a dystopia of misery and destitution. Despite its reputation for all things liberal, California has the highest poverty rate in the country — about one in five people — once the cost of shelter is figured in. This is not for lack of jobs or money, but because its cities are so exclusive that they are essentially turning working-class residents into poor people.

... S.B. 50, an ambitious but divisive bill, was shelved until next year. The bill would expand the state’s housing supply by forcing cities to allow apartment buildings in the low-slung bungalow neighborhoods on which the state was built. ...

Each year state legislators go through a Groundhog Day routine in which they introduce dozens of new housing bills that are full of technicalities and minutiae but fall into two basic categories. The first are bills that make it easier to build housing so that the long-term shortage can be rectified. The second are bills that provide more money for subsidized affordable housing and expand tenant protections so that people who already have affordable homes don’t lose them. ...Where does it go? All we can count on for now is that next year will feature a renewed fight over S.B. 50. And dozens of other housing bills. And the housing problem getting worse.

Like a lot of San Franciscans, I'm thoroughly convinced that we need more housing and that means more density. I'd go to bat for a believable plan. Yet I am not at all on board for Wiener's bill; in fact it looks like a con job to me.
  • The bill's assumptions about developer behavior are nonsense in the San Francisco context. Roll back local controls and you will merely allow more condos for rich people . Even the Times has figured that out.

    As land costs rise, developers can make more money building at the top end of the market and ignoring the middle.

  • If the state legislature is going to weigh in on urban housing and density, they need to get their feet off city's necks and repeal pre-emption measures that effectively outlaw effective rent control (Costa-Hawkins) and incentivize clearing existing apartment buildings of renters to sell them off as condos (Ellis). They also need to offer more money for public transit if they are going to dump more people into existing systems.
  • It's hard to take seriously a commitment to equity when suburbs are incentivized not to develop public transit because to do so would mean they had to house more people.
  • It's hard to take seriously a law that's been written to let Marin County off the hook for its density provisions. Look, I love all the green spaces over there, but Marin is the 13th richest county in the country according to the American Community Survey. It could do more to house more people.
  • If some sort of grand bargain between localities and the state is going to happen, it probably needs a more trusted broker than Senator Wiener. He's my rep; he's been kicking around San Francisco politics for over a decade -- and he's never seemed to meet a private builder development project that he didn't like.
Tim Redmond who has been observing these housing fights for decades laid out at 48 Hills what it might take to break the logjam on increasing density in the San Francisco Bay Area.

... Imagine the billions of dollars that will pour into the state coffers with the next round of [tech] IPOs. Why isn’t Wiener asking that all of that money go to stabilize and protect existing vulnerable communities – including the construction of a vast amount of (sure, dense) affordable housing, served by new, state-funded transit?

The [San Francisco Board of Supervisors] are asking the right questions. I doubt Wiener would accept the type of amendments that would make his bill acceptable – and if he did, I doubt the Legislature, which is under the thumb of the real-estate industry, would accept them.

For anyone who has read this far: why am I writing this? Housing policy is not one of my regular topics. But irritation with the smug superiority with which national media approach our devastating housing situation has me thoroughly pissed off. If you want to hear from people who work in this arena everyday, let me suggest San Francisco's Housing Rights Committee.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Let's start with a little information

Since our misogynist, Christianist ignoramuses are determined to preserve fetal heartbeats, it's probably worth a short explanation of what this phenomenon is that they hold so dear:

... at six weeks of pregnancy, an ultrasound can detect "a little flutter in the area that will become the future heart of the baby," said Dr. Saima Aftab, medical director of the Fetal Care Center at Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami. This flutter happens because the group of cells that will become the future "pacemaker" of the heart gain the capacity to fire electrical signals, she said.

But the heart is far from fully formed at this stage, and the "beat" isn't audible; if doctors put a stethoscope up to a woman's belly this early on in her pregnancy, they would not hear a heartbeat, Aftab told Live Science. (What's more, it isn't until the eighth week of pregnancy that the baby is called a fetus; prior to that, it's still considered an embryo, according to the Cleveland Clinic.)

It's been only in the last few decades that doctors have even been able to detect this flutter at six weeks, thanks to the use of more-sophisticated ultrasound technologies, Aftab said. Previously, the technology wasn't advanced enough to detect the flutter that early on in pregnancy.


It's not about the flutter; it's about keeping women down and punishing those who stick their heads up. It always has been.

Angry women matter.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Saturday scenes and scenery: Redwood Park

San Franciscans: does that name ring a bell? Maybe it's in Marin County or the East Bay hills? Nope. Redwood Park is the name of a private urban oasis at the base of Transamerica Pyramid adjacent to the city's financial district. Its builders even trucked in some actual redwoods from the Santa Cruz mountains.
But mostly they went in for antic delights.
There are bronze jumping frogs ...

bronze jumping children ...

and a memorial plaque for Bummer and Lazarus, dogs who romped about the area in the city's early days.

All encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Media consumption diet: podcasts

I haven't written one of these for awhile, so why not? Anyone who reads here will have noticed that I consume a lot of books in audio form. Of late, I've found myself "reading" quite a few serialized podcasts.

Serialized literature was, after all, what built the emerging magazine culture of the late 19th and early 20th century. Podcasts are another booming new form of media, still finding its potential and consequently still often imaginative. I don't go looking for serials, but the same outfits where I find weekly podcasts seem to be producing them. Obviously, their creators believe the extended format gives them additional tools with which to explore their topics.

Last year I enjoyed FiveThirtyEight's The Gerrymandering Project, which explored and explained this moderately technical subject as six podcasts over six weeks. Anyone looking for a solid explantion of an important political challenge should listen up.

Also last year, I listened to fourteen episodes of The Wilderness from Crooked Media, which offered Jon Favreau and the other Obama boys' take on how the Democratic Party lost its way before and after the 2016 election. Since this has been very much my subject over decades, I found it uneven, though ambitious and more broad than I had expected. It was meant as fodder and encouragement for mobilization for the 2018 elections and probably served its purpose well.

These days I'm on episode three of The Asset from The Moscow Project. It explains "Trump's history with Russia, from his extensive business dealings with Russian oligarchs to his presidential campaign and the investigations that have sent some of his closest associates to prison." Three episodes in, I'm appreciating the orderly narrative structure they are giving to previously reported events and connections. That's vital storytelling.

A miscellany of podcasts I often listen to:

Press the Button: National security from the point of view of people who know that war will not make us safer.

The Weeds: All policy all the time. Matt Yglesias is snotty and jaded, but insightful. Dara Lind is simply the best immigration reporter around. Jane Coaston brings genuine familiarity with right wing opinion.

Ezra Klein Show: Klein has been writing a book on what the hell is going on with our dysfunctional politics; his resulting interviews with all sorts of thinkers including conservatives who aren't mouth-breathers have been fascinating. He's very good at conversation. I don't find him so interesting when his explorations shift to woo-woo stuff, but your mileage may vary.

The Lawfare Podcast: Sometimes stuffy and pretentious, other times a thought-provoking offering from the legal website at the Brookings Institution. They are good at presenting recordings of smartly abridged Congressional testimony -- there are few experiences quite like listening to Michael Cohen while running.

Deep State Radio: Informed, charming, slightly miserable commentators commiserate about the condition our condition is in. David Rothkopf, Rosa Brooks, Kori Schake, and Ed Luce are the core.

Amicus with Dahlia Lithwick: All things Supreme Court. Informative.

Politics Podcast at FiveThirtyEight: Data guru Nate Silver, reporter Clare Malone, and a revolving cast of others kick around what can be discerned about election horseraces. They are usually dispassionate and often accurate.

The Good Fight with Yascha Mounk: A global exploration of "populism" from a European-inflected political science perspective.

Trumpcast: Yascha Mounk is here too, along with journalists Virginia Heffernan and León Krauze. Interviews about all things Trump and US politics and culture with interesting guests. Short, which sometimes entertaining, sometimes encouraging.

On the Media: Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield were in radio before podcasts were cool and these fully produced explorations of whatever catches their left-leaning, often skeptical fancies achieve unmatched journalistic professionalism -- at least in this list.

With Friends Like These: Ana Marie Cox is self-revealing, oh-so-woke -- and sometimes wise, while presenting a diverse cast of guests. I think she benefits from having escaped the nation's media hubs by decamping to Minneapolis.

Friday cat blogging

Time for a little snooze.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

A diagnosis still on the lookout for a cure

How Democracies Die by Harvard political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt is a 2018 book that already feels dated in 2019 -- and not in an encouraging way.

Their introduction describes our situation:

We know that extremist demagogues emerge from time to time in all societies, even in healthy democracies. The United States has had its share of them, including Henry Ford, Huey Long, Joseph McCarthy, and George Wallace. ... Isolating popular extremists requires political courage. But when fear, opportunism, or miscalculation leads established parties to bring extremists into the mainstream, democracy is imperiled.

These authors offer a simple list of signs they think should enable us to identify a politician whose rise endangers democracy. Donald Trump exhibits all their markers.

Four Key Indicators of Authoritarian Behavior

  1. Rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game
  2. Denial of the legitimacy of political opponents
  3. Toleration or encouragement of violence
  4. Readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including media

Trump showed all of these in 2018 and seems on a rampage this year to surpasses his previous transgressions.

We are no longer in need of diagnosis here -- Trump and his Republican enablers will eradicate democracy in order to keep power if they can get away with it. They can tolerate neither a more just multi-racial society nor demands for an equitable economy; if these advance even a little, they see only loss of their privilege. The question is now, as it has been since November 2016 is, will we, the majority, let them get away with it?

Do these wise social scientists, who have studied the historical and international evidence, have any suggestions for aroused non-elite people who need to preserve as much democratic space as possible?

That's not so clear.

The fundamental problem facing American democracy remains extreme partisan division -- one fueled not just by policy differences but by deeper sources of resentment, including racial and religious differences. America's great polarization preceded the Trump presidency, and it is very likely to endure beyond it.

We -- communities of color, queers, many women, young people who hope for a future -- are the polarization that motivates overthrow of democracy. Our freedom is Republicans' nightmare.

In 2018 we showed we can assemble the numbers to hold the line -- if we pay attention. It won't get easier until it does.
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