Saturday, December 5, 2009

Only Liberal While it Suits Them

The Swiss banned minarets, the French banned headscarves, and other countries in Europe are pushing for massive, widespread deportations of Muslims. Europeans love to pretend to be very liberal, but in many ways we are often more liberal than Europeans. I would be shocked if any main-line politician who believes in individual liberties here would vote to ban anything relating to someone's unoffensive self-expression.

The message: people are only liberal while it is convenient for them. What separates a liberal from a conservative fundamentally is that a conservative believes he is probably good enough as he is, while I liberal believes he must constantly challenge himself and his ideas to improve. This is harder than avoiding change.

In Switzerland, they decided that the 4 minarets were already too much, and that they somehow were political statements. They want the right to keep their country insular. It is amazing to me that a country that has never taken a moral or ethical stand on anything from the World Wars to the pillage of African countries by leaders with secret Swiss bank accounts decides that the first time they take a stand it will be to limit the rights and freedoms of others.

Change happens. Deal with it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The World Keeps on Turning

I have not written here in awhile. This is because I have given up my life to work in GIS and do urban planning class stuff all day. It is great, though, and I have received many blessings of late.

That said, the political world is crazier each day (though it feels less crazy now). Health care will pass, I hope leaving us better off (and it seems it will. Climate change legislation, banking regulation, and all the rest will probably too. That said, some of the biggest changes happening in government are actually below the surface. For example, for the first time in history, the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Transportation have been instructed to work together. Housing and Transportation DO need to be looked at together!

I am not really angry anymore about this stuff because, things are actually changing (and I think for the better).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Missile Shield

Today, the Obama administration ended the missile defense program in Easten Europe. Conservatives said we were surrendering to the Russians. The truth is, they are being short-sighted because it is not weakness to try and get along with them, especially when allies like Georgia really did provoke that war in S. Ossetia. Additionally, we really need their support on Iran and in making Iran fall into line.

I am often disappointed that conservatives in international affairs talk as though it is possible for us to continue acting as we have in the past, when the strategic reality is one where we can actually get along with the other rising powers. Especially since, as with China, when we do not have a choice.

A note on blog writing. I think I am almost finished with writing since I am going back to grad school now. Once I have an outlet for writing and discussion, I probably will feel compelled to write here less often.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Contrived Protests

Remember when Libya, Egypt, China, and Iran have protests how we say that they are contrived by the government in order to put pressure on opponents? We do this on a regular basis in reference to authoritarian/partly-authoritarian states.

I find that protests in this country are regularly just as contrived, especially when a massive number of people are brought to Washington in order to call the president a socialist. The truth is that protests and grass roots stuff these days are driven by money and those who have it. If you can pay the cost of bringing millions to one place, then you get to have a protest. These may be corporate and special-interest based protests, but they are just as contrived.

Friday, September 11, 2009

09/11 2001 Anniversary

I had hoped that the "We are All Americans" worldwide mentality and the unity in this country finally would spell the beginning of the remaking of America. It has sadly not. While virtually all of us were together mourning for the victims of the attack, we quickly broke apart with accusations of terrorist sympathies, war-mongering, facism, socialism, lying, etc, leveled at one another. I believe that our country has been blessed in many ways; however, each time we have the chance to remake ourselves, restore unity, and return to a moderate, rational path, we destroy it with factionalism.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Couple of Comments I Found on Van Jones

The following story has lots of comments, most of which are like the following (I read a bunch of them, but not all). The point behind posting these comments is to say that there is no way we can have a discussion when the rightful winners of the past election are called Marxist and other stuff. Also, another thing I cannot handle, is that calling the President of the United States a Marxist, socialist, and Nazi is worse than signing any petition. We are saying President Obama is AS BAD as our worst enemies of the past century. Read the following comments and PLEASE let me know if they make any sense whatsoever.

"White House Adviser Van Jones Resigns Amid Controversy Over Past Activism
Updated 10:07 a.m. 9/6/09
By Garance Franke-Ruta and Anne E. Kornblut
White House environmental adviser Van Jones resigned Saturday after weeks of controversy stemming from his past activism......... the liberal fascists at the WASHINGTON POST"

...........Yeah "after weeks" except the POST only reported on it until NOW..

WASHINGTON POST, you really showed your NAZI-like censorship over the "last several weeks" by censoring this daming story on the guy you and the rest of America's corrupt liberal MSM wolfpack press INSTALLED last November the same way Hilter was elected/installed......MASSIVE PROPAGANDA.....


Posted by: allenridge | September 6, 2009 10:33 AM

Posted by: BruceMcDougall | September 6, 2009 9:36 AM..."a gagging America." ----------I hope it is not, in fact, the early stage of death throes.

Posted by: saturdayschild123 | September 6, 2009 10:32 AM

I guess we will never get all those millions of green jobs Van Jones was supposed to create.

What brought you down Van is that the majority of people figured out what you were all about.

The only "green" job you created was yours; the only thing "green" about it was the thousands of dollars you scammed into your bank account.

Posted by: krankyman | September 6, 2009 10:32 AM

Thank you Mr. Glenn Beck for your investigating work on Mr. Van Jones. The MSM such as the Washington Post and NYTimes don't have the guts to do it. You are a great american.

Posted by: sanjose56 | September 6, 2009 10:32 AM

One down, 35 czars and a Congress to go! Appointing people like this in the first place is a total disgrace. Don't lay down now America. This should be proof positive that when the usually silent majority, properly informed by the alternative media, rises up and says we've had enough, even a corrupt administration like this one, will be forced to act. Don't back off! There is still much to do. There are still some very dangerous people in this group and with have an entire congress to take down starting in 2010. The final goal is the removal of this Marxist dictator wanna-be from the White House in 2012! Let's not forget about this rotten health care plan either! Where was the main stream media in all this?

Posted by: yankee11 | September 6, 2009 10:31 AM

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

More Republican Insanity

Obama will be addressing children to deliver an educational message sometime in September for 15 minutes of a 1-hour long program.

Listening to the Republican pundits on Fox would make one think he is trying to indoctrinate them. The movement to keep children at home from school in order to not listen to the President is truly unprecedented since the President is the leader of this country, the entire country. The reality is that we Democrats never had a Karl Rove. Even our crazy anti-war socialist types are disavowed by us. Why is it that we disown our crazies while Michael Steele had to apologize to Rush Limbaugh. These people have called Obama a racist, said they want him to fail, and are preventing the Health Care Bill from going forward so that they can defeat him. He has made rookie mistakes by not outlining his plan and fighting for it, but the truth is that the Republicans have been truly disgusting. We need to fix our health care system and yet they will not even work to come up with something! Fox News is the most inane babble I have ever spent five minutes listening to since tonight when I heard Laura Ingraham and some other crazy along with Alan Colmes talking about how he is going to indoctrinate them and make them environmentalists. Even if he was, what is it that Republicans have against the environment?

My point is, to all my Republican friends, that I try and focus on our mutual complaints: the tendency for money to dominate, lack of willingness to compromise, moral and ethical problems in society, lack of individual accountability, the list is quite extensive. The truth, however, is that I am barely able to continue trying to find common ground because when it all is said and done, I am unable to understand how the Republicans can possibly believe that they have anything right left? The health care system is in crisis! Our system's metrics are getting worse, while other countries are getting better. The lies that I have heard from everyone on the other side make no sense to me. Want to argue that we need more insurance competition? Fine. Want to argue that malpractice suits and education costs require doctors to charge a lot? Great. Want to argue that we as a society demand more care and therefore it costs more? Ok, I will discuss that and have things on which we can agree and disagree. For death panels, rationing, government control of doctors, and all the rest of the BS, I do not want to hear it. The Republicans refused to address global warming in the 1990s and now we are in crisis mode and unable to respond to it today, with China threatening to out perform us in green-tech development. The Republicans argued and fought for deregulation that led to the mess we are in now. Republicans shifted focus on our war from Afghanistan to Iraq and supported a STUPID strategy in both places, costing us hundreds of billions and we are still unable to leave. Republicans shut Democrats and others out of the legislative process for years while we tried to have a chance to talk, they politicized the judiciary, they gutted civil rights in the Justice Department, they wrecked environmental policy, and worst of all, people like Karl Rove have politicized us so much that we cannot even sit together and discuss things based on facts because we all disagree. The only problem here is that this mess is not coming equally from both sides. Our most liberal commentators like Michael Moore get listened to by some, but not by the active center-left liberals like myself, who appreciates some stuff but can, as someone who pays a lot of attention to everything, distinguish the facts from the crap. Why cannot people recognize that the past 8 years have done more to destroy our society and country than any other time and that continuing to act like petulant children who make up lies in order to further agendas based around little else than winning, and that all of this is a very BAD thing. I know enough people from all extremes and on all sides. I have discussed, argued, and I hope someday with friends (including my best friend who is more to the conservative side and is a Republican) to be able to help change the world and support this country. At this point, however, I do not know if there will be anything left to save.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Challenge to Understand the World

The great challenge I feel is to understand the world, and those living within it, taking nothing individually, but instead viewing it in context of the interconnections and causal interrelations that define us all. Lately I have forgotten this and have gotten all partisan about certain topics out of frustration and, probably, ignorance of the actual views of the 'other side.'

Everything is connected, and those connections define who we are. This is not some new-age BS, but an actual method to figure out why the Libyans welcomed the Pan Am 103 bomber, why we cannot solve the problems between Palestine and Israel, why Cheney seems so evil, etc.


When I wrote what I wrote yesterday about arrogance, I probably committed the error of oversimplifying the problem.

I forgot to note that Congress had basically given the go-ahead to the extreme levels of risk-taking seen when, during the 1990s, they removed regulations that had prevented such a crisis since the Great Depression.

Similarly, in an article in the NY Times, I read about the Homecoming of the Pan Am bomber into Libya, I was reminded just how multi-faceted that issue was, from his not entirely proven guilt, to the fact that the Libyans never believed he was guilty, to the fact that another situation a few years ago when Libya found several Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor guilty of infecting children with AIDS, Libya returned them to Bulgarian, where they were met by crowds, dignitaries, and were immediately pardoned. The truth is, we see their justice as less good than ours (and probably with good reason). The reality is, though, that we fail to realize all the interconnections between each action, and that everything that is done has a price, has people connected to all sides, and should be understood in terms of those interconnections before judgements are made.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Arrogance of Freedom Among the Wealthy and Powerful

We have seen the frustration experienced as families fail and banks and companies are saved from what would be a justified demise. We saved them because they control all of us and without them we would all be much worse off. We were helpless as banks demanded to be saved first, much like the rich were able to get the seats on the few lifeboats leaving the Titanic.

This arrogance exhibited among people who are paid enormous sums and are able to become so powerful that they ignore the society that gives them the chance to thrive is appalling. The arrogance is similarly exhibited by those who are able to take full advantage of the new freedom provided in a globalizing world. These high-flying people who move quickly, make tons of money, do so with confidence granted by a freedom from spatial constraints. They forget that all the networks, the satellites, the money, the planes, everything depends on the people who are constrained by space and who live in space, and who are used as virtual pawns by those who see themselves as spatially free.

As a geographer, I must object to the concept of Spatial Freedom. People are NOT free to do whatever they wish simply because they can move across boarders quickly. The arrogance of those who claim to command the global information flows and economies are not untouchable and I hope never will be. I believe these people must be made to account for the roles they play, to recognize that they have a role in and responsibilities for the global society in which they live. The idea that we are held hostage by banks and that the failure to save Lehman was a major failure in the recession policy of the past administration is disturbing because they are not free from spatial constraints, they just take whatever they desire and promptly beg for a savior when they have gone too far.

And who saves them? We do, the citizens of countries in the world, forced to live and work in the place we call home, subject so often to the whims of those who have the arrogance to claim that they are spatially free.

The Importance of Winning

Republicans right now are looking to break Obama on Health Care and think they can, which I believe is the principle reason that they will NOT compromise. This is not surprising on one side-since that is how politicians make their living these days-but on the other, Obama is so incredibly moderate, that they Republicans could have almost anything provided they agree to work together.

Unfortunately, Obama could either be another Carter or another Kennedy/Johnson. It is still unclear whether he will be an idealistic but ineffectual president or or one who is politically astute, has the potential to be ruthless, and has an overarching ideal for what he wants things to become. Johnson is, in many ways, my favorite president, for reasons I will explain if asked. The thing is, I still do not know what kind of president he is going to be. I really wish he would hurry up and reveal a few of his cards.

The Republicans being unable to accept compromise and require a win to work to resolve our problems will either marginalize them or destroy us. Thankfully they are not in power in any part of the government. Compromise only works when it is actually a choice between viable policies rather than the status quo and change.

A Thought on Terrorists

A quick word. How many of us have watched a movie in which a super-villain has done evil and then said that he should be done in because we all know he will escape and destroy more lives. Another thought: how many of us would kill Hitler, Stalin, Saddam, Osama, Pol Pot, Kim Jong Il, Ismael Haniya, Mugabe, if all that it took was tossing a bomb at him and then thousands of lives would be saved (likely saved)? What if he was among a group of children? I ask this because, when it comes down to it, people who are terrorists are those who believe that the ends justify the means, even if those means result in death for many innocents. Yet, would you throw a bomb at Hitler or some of his SS men even if he was in a group of kids? I think that many people would. I do not mean to justify or humanize terrorists or terrorism at all. I do think that we should attempt to gain a clearer understanding of ourselves and try to understand what we would do in a situation where we are fighting for something we believe in and choose whether we believe that the ends justify the means, being aware that that belief is what defines terrorists.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Swiss Banking = Simpsons

To anyone who has seen a lot of Simpsons Episodes, the following dialogue will be familiar.

In the episode where Springfield bans alcohol, Duff Beer creates a new product called Duff Zero.

Duff President: We believe that people drink Duff not for its alcohol content, but for its robust taste. For this reason, we have created Duff Zero, the non-alcoholic Duff beer.

Similarly, in an interview on the BBC about this current debacle between the US IRS and the Swiss Bank UBS, the Swiss Banking official said the following when asked about the future of Swiss Banking: people use Swiss banks because they know the product and the currency is stable, people want to work with people they can know and trust. It has nothing to do with tax evasion.

Right. Do you also read them for the articles?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Marching Toward Marginalization

I am exceedingly frustrated by the current health care debate in the United States for a couple of reasons. One of these is that it has stopped me from thinking and discussing about important international issues on which the fate of our country also hangs, such as getting out of the recession like other countries are doing, improving relations with China, figuring out how to deal with Russia, and, most importantly, having a successful election in Afghanistan. I am really upset about Karzai right now who is acting like another Chalabi (remember, the guy who Bush Jr. wanted to be President of Iraq). He just invited a murdering warlord back after he was exiled. He is becoming a professional developing-world democratic leader (i.e. the election is great as long as I win).

The health care debate is frustrating because it is highlighting the issues I have been having for quite some time with our entire public discourse system. As I mentioned in previous posts, the level of fragmentation in the media has led to us all believing different "facts." People were glad to accept these "facts" without thinking, meaning that no one questioned the idiocy of the concept that the government would actually kill people's grandparents. This is absurd. If people would step back and think about it for a bit, then they would recognize that "death panels" make no sense and that something must be fishy. The reality of today is, however, that Republicans want to win and will do so at any cost. I find this frustrating, as I found it upsetting when some liberals I know were upset (implicitly, never explicitly) that Bush's "surge" worked because they had to admit he had been right. Because of the win at any cost mentality, we are finding that we are increasingly divided. The Republicans WANT to break Obama, and they see this as a way to do it. Partisanship is good for business.

It is also good for the media. I will keep this point short: Lou Dobbs repeatedly brought up issues about Obama's citizenship, even after the question was long settled. Why? Keeping debates alive keeps pundits (our hired opinion-makers). The fragmentation that exists in the media means that they and everyone around the debate benefits from people screaming at each other in town-halls. We are bringing our country to its knees because we cannot sit down and recognize that: There is a problem, we need a solution.

In closing, I would basically like to rehash a point I made earlier. America has been made great by individuals working to build themselves and their communities. Solving their problems through sweat, blood, and tears. In the past, with several notable exceptions, most of our problems could be resolved through individual work. Today, however, the problems require a vast collective effort to solve poverty, climate change, conflict issues, health care, education, falling competitiveness, etc. Our rugged individualism makes us scream angrily and in frustration falsehoods at public meeting, while countries with a collective culture began to overtake us.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Republican's Claim Anger

People in this country seem to be against anything and everything that is changed. Republicans act all holy and say that this is an example of them being right. The rediculous thing, is that we are coming off of an extremely expansive government. Republicans are acting like they have the answers when what we need now is a solution that involves us all collectively, forcing us to turn to the government to organize and coordinate our fixing of our society. Why do the Republicans appropriate the anger as theirs? It is because they truly want everything to crash and burn so they can come back to the top. The tell lies about the health reform efforts whenever a couple of years ago, they lead an effort that cost HUGE amounts of money to reform Medicare. I am babbling incoherantly because I cannot believe that people believe the lies and idiocy they are spouting. I cannot believe that we, a country that has led the world, wants to stick our collective heads in the sand. I get people are angry about how the government stepped in to help the big guys and banks-this policy may well have been unavoidable-but it makes sense that this causes anger.

We as a country have always moved forward by being daring, strong, and forward thinking. We have been successful because of our individuality; however, we have reached a point where that ideal is sinking us into the ground. We need collective action, but we cannot get beyond our obsession with individualism.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Weirdness of Conservative Activism

NPR had a very interesting report tonight about the conservative crowds that disrupt meetings. The conservative movement fascinates me because they are refusing to deal with this with civility. They get up and say Obama is not an American citizen and yell and scream. They fight, complain, whine, and what is most fascinating, they do not know anything they are talking about. Obama is definitely an American citizen. There is clear proof. People are told weird stuff about socializing medicine which is not going to happen.

What I do not get is why there is no real discussion based on facts about different points of view on how to fix a serious problem. Conservatives have decided that it is a good idea to disrupt town hall meetings with screams, yells, boos, and false claims. They have become obstructionist, something that the Democrats did not even do while they were completely shut out of power. Most Democrats, for example, voted for Bush's appointees even though Alito should not be let anywhere near Justice in my, and many other middle-lefts, opinion. Instead they just kick and scream. If reform fails, Democrats will lose power and nothing will get done. We are teetering on the brink of oblivion as our country is in decline and has been since the 1980s. Instead of discussion, though, we just scream and shout and spout stupid things like claims that Obama is not an American citizen.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Aaaaahhhh Entitlement

A girl is suing her college in New York because she did not get a job and is claiming that she was entitled to one.

I am listening to World Have Your Say on the BBC right now and there are many people who are arguing that they have the RIGHT to a job just because they went to University.

This is one example of a society that claims entitlements and, what's worse, claims that we do things ourselves. Everyone in our hypocrite society, including myself, accepts entitlements and believes that we are entitled to many things. Believe it or not, this covers about equally conservatives and liberals, although conservatives claim more often that they are true individualists. Companies are terrible too.

I believe we need to take a long look at what we want our government to provide and have them provide it. Then, we need to decide that we accept the consequences of the government providing that service. We need to pay for that service and recognize that we receive it. I am sick and tired of people believing that they are entitled (such as the Don't Touch my Medicare lady who attacked Obama and Company's health plan) and yet do not recognize how much they receive and are dependent upon the government for service.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Israel's Attack Dog

The NY Times had an interesting article today about Israeli outposts that have been erected in protests to the Obama Administration's demand that settlement building and expansion stopped. Never mind that these guys are crazy fundamentalists, this is extremely frustrating because we have, as a country, supported Israel more than virtually any other place, and now Israel refuses to help reach peace. They fail to recognize that the whole war on terror is based fundamentally on US support for Israel against the Palestinians and without paying attention to the Palestinians. The truth is that, while supporting Israel in many ways makes sense, we allow them to do things to the Palestinians that are truly inhumane. When Israel warns us not to pressure them, I get very frustrated because we subsidize the destruction of the lives of the Palestinians and have made it possible for them to continue to exist. In today's day and age of terror, we need to get this issue resolved. There needs to be a viable Palestinian State, and it is time that it occurs. Israel's position is a threat to our National Security, but they do not want to be pressured.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Routing by Cadillac - Environmental Injustice Lives On

There is a power line being built in Idaho and Wyoming. Building something that stretches over miles of land is always hugely controversial since it impacts all types of people. When routing in eastern Wyoming, the routers came into a problem. A major land-owner had property that was in the way. The Wyoming state official working with the routers paled and said that it was not possible to go through his property. There it is, Money IS Speech after all. This is infuriating since it represents the continued existence of the same environmental injustice that puts toxic waste dumps in poor areas and uses freeway building projects as slum clearance.

Routing by Cadillac is the idea that you look at the number of Cadillac cars in the driveway of a house and base your decision on whether to put the power line through there on that. This means, in other words, richer people do not have to pay their fair share of the cost of a public good of which they nevertheless derive benefit. While in my experience this is funnier when it happens under Republicans (since they believe that all people have equal access to power and the ability to better themselves) it is more ironic when it happens to Democrats (for obvious reasons). We are, overall, ok with this since we are a mostly middle-class country and even my family successfully fought off a cell-phone tower that was going to adversely effect us, largely from political connections.

I believe that we need people who are community organizers who explain how to organize, the time commitments, why the issue is important, etc. The person must be humble and clear and have only the goal of helping the community define its own fate. In my understanding, everyone who ever approaches an issue from a position of believing that they know more than the people with whom they are working, fails to cause any real change.

Russia vs. Georgia

VP Biden spent some time in Georgia recently telling the Georgians (this is the Eurasian country, not the state) that we would back them up. This was utterly stupid in my opinion, especially given the restraint that Obama had originally shown on the issue. The problem I have with this is that had we been in Russia's shoes, we would have attacked Georgia too.

Georgia is a conglomeration of ethnic states that was left in ruins of civil war after the break-up of the Soviet Union. The Abkhaz and the South Ossetians among others had been fighting for independence and found help in Russia-due in part to Georgia's seeking more assistance from the West. Well, good for us, bad for the Russians, it is another sphere of influence battle, no big deal, right? Well, it is not that simple.

Georgia lost control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The current president came to power vowing to get them back and bring Georgia closer to the US and Europe. This violates some major principles of the Russians, mainly, why does NATO-an alliance built to fight Russia-still have to expand on their borders? The US and Europe are taking a very cold-war based mentality in their deals with the Russians. Honestly, we are restarting the rivalry as much as they are. When the Georgian army began to shell South Ossetia, the Russians who were peace keepers there to prevent just such an eventuality, struck back. We all cried foul since the Russians hit with such unnecessary force. Why did we not tell the Georgians to stop being idiots? I do not know.

My point is this: Georgia is our ally, I understand, but get them to stop forcing us into confrontation with Russia. Also, try to recognize that Russia has some very legitimate claims there that the world ignored. This will never work diplomatically since it proves that we are still into the Cold War as much as Putin is.

When You See Wrong, Fight It for No One Else Will

Several years ago during my brother's Eagle Scout ceremony, I told my brother that his receipt of the honor was a badge that required him to be the Actor, the one at whom the buck stopped because no one else will. This is something to which I also aspire. I believe, in more concise terms, that if you see wrong, fight it, for no one else will. Fight it with humility, clarity, passion, persistence, sincerity, and a goal that all will understand why you fight.

This was challenged last night when I encountered the website This place is horrible and I would advise that no one explore it because it basically caters to the basest of human mentalities, with pornography everywhere. I was exploring the site because they have a reputation for being internet "bad-asses" and they cultivate this ideal by wrecking sites. They think they are cool. They are self-absorbed nihilists. I never thought I would find this combination since nihilism is supposedly a philosophy in which nothing matters. Nevertheless, these people cultivate truly awful sides of us all. Included on this site was a thread by a 22 year-old guy who was trying to get tips to have sex with a 15 year-old girl who he was virtually bribing with Nintendo DS games. Who these people are I do not know. I do, however, know that I should have spoken up against this. Which brings me back to my initial point-be the person at whom the buck stops. We live in an increasingly amoral and anonymous world. For this reason, we have to all play a role in stopping evil...and I mean evil. Nihilism was always in my opinion the most dangerous of philosophies until I found that people could be self-absorbed and nihilistic simultaneously. Destruction for the sake of destruction AND pleasure. Like snuff videos or super-villains.

4chan is a place where people can be what they want in a way, I guess. Also, we have given them their power by fearing them, hating them, and by Time Magazine and other periodicals doing stories on how much power they have when they really are nothings in a universe of people fighting off oblivion and anonymity. We are facing the absurd dichotomy of people desiring more privacy and yet also seeking to differentiate themselves from an anonymous world, made so by globalization. It is clear that most of human history has been in small groups or towns. Now we are just one more individual in a huge world in which millions die every day and year from hunger, malaria, etc. So places like 4chan become havens for those who are both connected and desire some destructive semblance of power...

And yet the State marches on. China can still oppress the Tibetans and the Uighers...they just cut the internet. Twitter feeds still come mostly from people in Western countries desiring some measure of influence in this whole Iranian mess which is truly a local fight. The internet may be digital space but it requires physical location, electricity, satellites and wires. So HA!

Back to my point. Be the person who is the light and change you wish to see in the world. Be the person who fights wrong when you confront it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

City Shrinking as Urban Planning

Flint, Michigan is conducting one of the most fascinating policies for Urban Renewal. Known as "city-shrinking," this policy is designed to destroy abandoned areas/neighborhoods in order to replace them with green space and reconcentrate the population in a more central area. I really like this idea, and I believe it could be a valuable tool for recreating a vibrant feeling in a dying city and, possibly, stop its death.

This policy is not without huge ethical issues as well. In practice, I would hope that all individuals would share equally in the costs of this policy. Invariably, those with houses in areas that are to be condemned will face the greatest challenges. They will lose their houses, memories, and be forced to uproot and move elsewhere. This is a huge cost that will never be fully mitigated, even by providing people a new house, moving their current house, etc.

Nevertheless, I feel that policies like this (or even policies that reconstitute towns around multiple "nodes" instead of in one big block) are necessary in areas like Flint, where they are dying and the process of dying causes them to collapse more quickly.

Inevitably, these projects are challanged by conservative people (people who benefit/desire the status quo-this has nothing to do with political affiliation at this time) who do not want to lose their roots and consider shrinking the city to be the same thing as surrender. While I sympathize with the first point, I consider the second to be a primary reason we are so bad at renewal. Our mentality in this country is to fight on until we win or are destroyed. This is powerful when we are winning, might win, could win, should win, etc, but it is foolishness when we fail to recognize that past times are past. The nostalgia in rust-belt America is similar to the nostalgia in post-Soviet Russia, both desire something that never truly existed and now exists only in their minds, and both ideas hold up progress and moving toward a different identity.

The reality is that places like Flint had as part of their identities things that are no longer true, things like BIG city and MANUFACTURING economy. A recognition of how to succeed and why there is failure is vital since a key goal is to move on from the past. When a current candidate for mayor of Flint this morning said on NPR that he did not like the plan since it was surrender (among other thigns), I was disappointed that a potentially influential individual would fail to see that the future is not found by looking at past glory and attempting to relive it.

Turkey and Genocide

Every year a bill comes up in the US Congress (and sometimes at the UN) to declare Turkey's World War I massacres of Armenians as genocide. This always fails because, simply put, Turkey is really, really, really important.

A interesting event occurred the other day when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called China's treatment of the Uighers as a "kind of genocide."

By acknowledging something like what China is doing as a type of genocide, I believe we will see some interesting moves to call Turkey's killings a century ago genocide as well (Turkey denies that they were extensive, unjustified, or genocide).

I am just saying this is something to watch.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Crisis Response

The outpouring of support, grief, money, etc at the Michael Jackson funeral really struck me as interesting. These were people committed to the point of spending thousands or more just to get into the funeral. I sincerely wish that the passion exhibited there was also present as our country attempts to resolve the current crisis. It does not have to be this way. During the Asian financial crisis, Koreans were donating everything from jewelry to cash to their government to help stave off a complete collapse. I often wish that we were the same.

All in all, I think that our real problem is that we do not like to sacrifice, want to sacrifice, and, in fact, avoid sacrifice. Spending less on credit, paying modestly higher taxes, supporting our communities, and participating in our government a bit more would go along way to rebuilding our rapidly falling tower of national wealth and power.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Supernews! Represents my Views

The Current TV show Supernews is awesome. It overwhelmingly represents my views on tons of things from Las Vegas, NV to social networking, so conservatives, to liberals, to Christmas (mostly). That is, it sees Las Vegas as the modern-day Sodom, it sees social networking sites as absurd-especially Twitter, it is mean to conservative Limbaugh supporters, while recognizing they have a role in society, it makes fun of crazy liberals, and it was generally mean to those people trying to take away the saying, Merry Christmas.

Everyone should watch this show.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Uigher Protests

I found this AP article a bit earlier. It argues that the internet is once again key to the protests going on right now in Urumqi, the capital of Xinxiang, the province currently restive in far western China. I felt the need, in light of my previous post, to underline that I agree the internet is important, but we need to be aware of who has access to the internet and how that may change the message coming out of these places. The reality is that who you are-the circumstances of where you were born, your ethnicity, your family, your schooling, eveything, impacts who you become, and therefore also your point of view. I am a firm believer in knowing the demographics of every survey so as to understand results better. What I believe is needed now is an honest accounting of exactly who the internet and mobile device users are so that we can understand why they believe what they believe.

Already in July...

July is barely a week old and already it is appearing interesting.

First is this stupid Seattle is currently about 50 degrees, cloudy, and rainy. In Texas I would be hot and unhappy, but at least it would be summer.

Sarah Palin decided to be a loose cannon again this week by randomly quitting the governor's post. She then went on to say that this was the "out of the box" thinking common among Alaskans and is an important part of who she is politically. Ted Stevens thought out of the box too when he made all those deals that got him convicted for ethics violations. Why she thinks her ability to "think out of the box" by quitting her post with 18 months still to serve is a quality necessary in presidents, baffles me.

Also this week, western media is chocking up the Uigher riots in China to Twitter...never mind that this is one of the poorest and least connected areas out there and is regularly ignored by western grouiops that happily protest over Tibet. The reality is that information has always spread and it just spreads more easily now. China is proving, however, that the state, while it cannot cut off the flow of information, can meddle enough to raise concerns about the quality of any reports coming from anywhere. In the battle between freedom of expression via the internet and the state, the state is still winning. The danger of this is that, in the absence of quality news, rumors abound. And rumors are dangerous.

Republicans are also having a hard time finding candidates for President in 2012. So far, let's look at how he potential candidates stand:

Tim Pawlenty: Looking strong...we'll see if he can ruin it for himself.
Bobby Jindel: Taking speaking classes (we assume since he really could not respond effectively to Obama in his response speech several months ago).
Sarah Palin: Riiiiiiggggghhhhhtttt
Mark Sanford: Rrrrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiggggggggggggggggg0hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhtttttttttttttttt

I am sure there are others. I do not know who they are. I would appreciate suggestions.

Other news includes the overthrow of a Honduran president and Chavez supporter (who we unfortunately now have to support, but must since coups set a bad precedence), stuff on health care, stuff on climate, stuff on Russia. All that stuff seems to be chugging along, more or less.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Why Do Conservatives Hate the Environment?

I am trying to figure this out. It seems that conservatives in general take the tack of "exploit, use-up, its your right to use your property as you wish regardless of consequences to others." Reading a recent article in the NY Times, I was struck that the conservative justices always side with the companies. Once of the greatest problems with the capitalist economic system is that it is virtually incapable of regulating externalities. Attempts to regulate these externalities end up much of the time being struck down by the courts or by conservative governments. They argue that it is bad for business and violates people's property rights. I fail to recognize how making people accountable for the damage they cause violates anyone's rights, and I think that the true cost of making any product should be charged to the business. If we need to make them competitive, charge environmental tariffs to environmentally damaging goods imported here. All in all, I believe that the environment is vital for our continued health as a society (and as a species) and the constant aversion to environmental regulation based on short-term complaints is absurd.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Global Racism

I just listened to a report on the BBC about how the European Football Federation gave referees the power to suspend matches and end matches for racist behavior. This comes on the heels of several incidents in Italy and elsewhere where African-descent players were harrassed by racists in the stands.

I am also reading a book about discrimination in post-war Detroit and the lengths that white and recently immigrated white ethnic home-owners went to to keep blacks out of their neighborhoods.

The past is filled with stories of the disadvantaged (usually, but not always) members of the advantaged majority fighting to maintain their privileges. Our favorite state of all, California, even passed a Constitutional Amendment to protect homeowners' "rights" to exclude people from neighborhoods based on race in the 1960s. Even today, the Europeans seem unable to cope with immigrants or even their own citizens with whom they have had close contacts for centuries ever since they were jerks during the colonial period. People's fight to maintain priviledge is indicative of the struggles we will face as the world changes and becomes more integrated. People will fight against a loss of their standing in the world. It is something of which we must be vigilent.

Also, people are not inherently democratic or even capable of democracy in this country. They are perfectly happy to exclude people and take other's rights to create new ones for themselves, and they are perfectly happy to create a tyranny of the majority, such as what happens with Ballot Initiatives in disfunctional places like California. I admire our Founding Fathers all the more for recognizing that we must create a system that does not leave questions of rights to the everyday citizen and understands that a republic is better suited for a diverse, complex, large country than a true democracy.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Money as Speech

This coming fall, the Supreme Court is going to attempt to determine the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act. At the core of the case is the question of whether unlimited campaign donations are speech protected by the 1st Amendment of our Constitution. In other words, is money speech.

If money is speech, then one's ability to exercise free speech is contingent upon one's wealth. The richer you are, the more speech you have. If we determine that everyone should be able to donate unlimited sums, then we are saying that, while everyone is equal in the right to donate, some of us are more "equal" than others by virtue of our incomes alone. I believe that the right of someone to speak (and/or be heard) no matter of circumstances is what is protected, not the right of some to have more, freer speech than others by virtue of income.

The following equation then: If: Money=Speech, Then: More Money=More Speech. Therefore: Less Money=Less Speech=Unequal Access to Freedom of Speech.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Injustice, Planning, and the Lack of a Voice

In my preparation to enter the Urban Planning program this fall, I have been reading books about planning, past practices, and related subjects. I am struck beyond all else by two phenomena: first, the role of democracy and money-powered groups in determining the direction of a city, and second, that few people participate in planning, and that number is dropping because we are working toward an ideal of ultimate individual control that, rather then making us more diverse, will make our societies extremely homogeneous.

It is always the poor (or those perceived as poor) that cannot get credit to improve their houses, always the weak (often minorities) whose houses are bulldozed for an expressway that serves the wealthy on the outskirts of the city. The history of planning and especially now democratic planning is one where the participants are primarily in the majority ethnic group (white, usually), well off, and prejudiced against the poor. The highways go through poor neighborhoods, transportation projects are chosen based on what helps the wealthy, and people who often have no role in a service (such as with the people who think taking my Park & Ride away is a good idea because they "like the idea" of a park). Our so-called democratic process of referendums and ballot initiatives (I wish these would be ruled unconstitutional) is so undemocratic and dominated by the wealthier elites (there is that word again) that it must be abolished in favor of outreach methods of decision making that bring all people to the table. It is vital if we are not to repeat the mistakes of the past 50 some-odd years.

I have already talked about most of these things, but I am increasingly bothered (but sometimes heartened) since I usually win the arguments I have on buses or in church, etc. My enemy in this is the increased ability for people to customize their social environments. I am unable to reach many people simply because they have ear buds in (just like in Fahrenheit 451) but cannot lip-read (unlike in that book). People who are checked out of society and into their self-designed, specially controlled clique do not care. They are our ultimate challenge since they are the ones who by not caring will doom any hope we have of increasing justice, improving domestic tranquility, and securing for ourselves and our posterity the blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


Today in a bookstore, I found books on the Liberal Elite, the Wall Street Elite, the Mental Health Elite, the Intelligence Elite, the Tax Elite, the list (actually) goes on. It struck me that we have a serious issue with people we see as "Elite" in this country, while simultaneously we would like nothing better than to become one of those elites....either that or it helps to sell books by referring to a us (David) versus them (Goliath) battle. It is, to me, just more entertainment without the real substance that we could theoretically obtain from our reading.

Political books are as much fluff as any Forgotten Realms fantasy novel (these are the D&D books without much originality when it comes to fantasy). They pander, play with facts, and attempt to read like a drama. The problem is that they are incorporated into the current events section of most bookstores. The ability to separate Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken (entertainers) from actual current events reporters and authors is sorely lacking.

I too used to read political books as current events, I was foolish, and for that I am sorry.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Revolution Exaggerated

Iran is in turmoil, I get it. I am listening to the BBC World Have Your Say right now and hearing people come in an demonstrate exactly why I distrust the value of Social Media as a means of mobilizing. I would also like to call attention to the comment made by a friend of mine on the post before this one (go look at it!).

There are relatively few Twitter users in Iran, as a guest on the BBC mentioned. Also, Western Media is using Twitter and other Social Media as a primary source, defying the rule of social media which is to never trust anything unverifiable because contributers are not accountable. This Social Media revolution has caused the most radical events to float to the top. While we would likely have a clearer view of what is happening if the government would let our media report, we cannot use Twitter as a primary source. Also, Janaiha (from the previous post comments) is absolutely right that the value of online support is limited because, if for no other reason, than it is easy to bluster but hard and dangerous to walk with the protestors.

Also, check out the Basiji militia article in the NY Times. They scare the heck out of me since they represent young radicals that we see on occassion here, such as with the "Islamo-Facism Awareness Week" at my campus at George Washington University.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Twittering to Another Iranian Revolution (or not)

I sincerely dislike Twitter because I believe that breaking everything down int 140 character or less sound-bites is a terrible idea for an already maladjusted and attention span-less society. Still, I have found the arguments that Twitter is spurring on the Iranian Revolution of 2009 to be intriguing. And also wrong.

I will not disagree that Twitter, Facebook, and related social ::shudder:: media play a large role in organizing the protests. This is obvious since they are used widely, they are our generations connection pools. Twitter especially has been receiving undo, in my opinion, praise as the linking site helping to give rise to the Iranian social movements. To this, I reply, does anyone remember how Iran got like this? It was a revolution. How about China's Tienanmen Square? How about the social movements in Europe in the 1960s? All these arose suddenly and changed the world or died trying. They also did it without Twitter. In the first breath, commentators say that Twitter is bring out a revolution not seen since 1979. We did not have Twitter then, I wonder how they were able to organize and overthrow a government remarkably similar to the one they have today (not ideologically, but practically)?

Revolutions have always happened and masses of people have somehow managed to get everyone together in one place to yell and throw stones for decades if not for longer. The internet is the current method of maintaining connections, and has some very important purposes, like being able to show videos from cell phones. The truth is, though, these protests would have happened with or without the internet and Twitter. People would have just done things differently, just like they used to. We in the west tend to over estimate the role of internet communications in many countries, and Iran is no different. If anything, the internet is distorting the facts by providing so many and from unverifiable sources. Honestly, if BBC reporters were not secretly saying that this is a big deal while inside the country, then I would not even necessarily believe that this movement was more than a Tehran thing.

In sum, internet does not equal protests. Twitter did not bring about the Iranian protests.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Planning for Social Exclusion

Having just finished another book on planning and development, I am beginning to get worried. On top of all this, when I say the things I will discuss here, more and more people are agreeing with me. This topic started out as a side-note to my interest on development in the age of globalization, and instead has become a central challenge to planning and community development theory in my life.

I begin the discussion of social exclusion with technologies of social exclusion. Since then, I have come to realize that I was taking the wrong path, focusing on the enabling factor (technology) instead of on the users (people). This is kind of like blaming drugs for the addict. Our entire society has a goal of more individual social freedom. Liberal intellectuals discuss a new world of freedom. These people are those who most value "saving the world," people like Daniel Quinn, for example (I have not read his books, but I am familiar moderately with his thesis). In a used bookstore yesterday, I finally could not take it anymore. The liberal intellectual society of which I am part decries the destruction of our communities, the end of community-based projects, and champions the creation of new projects like community gardens or the building of community centers/facilities. Simultaneously, however, we are working against the "communalization" process by advocating a world where the individual is so absolutely free and powerful that every aspect of their lives is customizable. I am seeing finally the beginnings of fear in the voices and words of some people who are discussing the decline of the aquaintence and the focus of society on ways to avoid leaving the comfort zones of its members.

Liberals primary failure is that they DO NOT REALIZE that people are community animals who desire to create a very specific environment, surrounded by that which comforts them. We have always done this, creating communities segregated by race, income, origin, sexual orientation, political belief, and worse. We will, if given the power, never interact with anyone with whom we do not wish. The age of true and absolute individual liberty is created by technologies and is the culmination of decades of policies. Everything we have done it seems is designed to allow more spatial auto-segregation. This includes many urban planning policies that encourage people to create barriers between themselves and their neighborhood. We destroy community links through policies that cut up communities and remove the features such as businesses, schools, or parks that tie them together. We eliminate the "sidewalk culture" by forcing houses to be set far back from the sidewalk. We create communities of individual, selfish, wasteful people living in massive, sprawling, inefficient, cold, and boring suburbs. What is more, we have decided that creating situations where people are forced to interact, such as through school integration programs, are bad. This not only further relagates the unfortunate individuals stuck in failing areas to more poverty, but it also prevents any type of mutual understanding that can begin to bridge the divides in our increasingly unequal and segregated society.

My point is that people want to customize their social and physical spaces and our entire history of planning policy and technology development assist them in this. We will never be able to build communities by merely creating the spaces that so many new development claim as selling points (just look how small they often are to know how much use they expect them to get). The liberal intellectual ideal of a more aware human is foolish since, although we are all happy to donate massive sums to disasters in Asia, we cannot fathom helping the desperately poor who are near us, in our cities and countrysides. Our world may be one of integrated information networks, but it is also one of customized contacts with the world outside of the four walls and yard of your suburban house. We want this, we work for it, and it will be the cause of more polarization and less ability to get things done. In truth, this is the real cause of our loss of moderation as a society in politics and everything else. We must recognize this. As a planner I am concerned because I see it as a threat to my goal of expanded participation in real democratic planning (i.e. where most people actually participate). People, as I have said before, will not care about their first life if they are concentrating on their "Second Life."

I am almost panicked now because I am seeing the rise of customizable social spaces as a GOAL, a REAL goal of intellectuals. I am all for freedom, I am all for increased equality through increased access to opportunity that many of these technologies can, in theory, provide. I am not for the loss of our community. I do not want to see us split apart into ever smaller factions as has happened all over the world in movements for change in society.

I hope to design an empirical study of this once I start grad school in planning this fall. I am trying at this point to get a clearer idea on the history of a process that I only recently pinpointed as a problem of "technologies of social exclusion." I failed to realize that this has historical precedence and that there are visible problems today arising from humanity's natural goal of divided communities.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Segregation of the Poor

Lately I have listened to many commentators discuss how racism is dead and how young people today are no longer inhibited by the bounds of discrimination. While I disagree with this and can pile up mountains of evidence to prove it, I feel that there is a point to be made here on the overall importance of racism in deciding people's fate. I think that, in many ways, we have moved beyond discriminating against the job applicant in our office who is well-spoken, well-dressed, but also African-American and to general dislike and distrust of elements of other cultures' dress, speaking styles, etc, which, although it presents huge challenges to people lumped into those groups and expected to behave in those ways, is in my mind less terrible that dislike of someone based on skin-color alone. I see this as a general trend to more acceptance of difference overall even as we practice intense, personal social segregation.

I believe that we have moved to a point where racism is less about race and more about where racism left your group in society. It is structural now rather than explicit. Because of past racism, people were left in ghettos and given poor schools and education. Because of our rapidly expanding belief in our supposed (though nonexistant as I have explained in previous discussions) meritocracy, those who are in the underclass today are thought of as simply lazy without reason and without the excuse of segregation.

Today, many of the policies overlooked were those that were not, at least explicitly, designed to enforce segregation. Most serious among these were the building of projects which were filled with poor people, families who would then be evicted if their income levels increased beyond a certain point. The legacy of these as well as policies such as redlining, official segregation, etc, is a highly unequal and divided society. We have created a system where success, failure, and overall access of opportunity is based on in what geographical area you were born. That is to say, a wealthy person of African descent can, in my mind, succeed in overcoming the obstacles of still-existant segregation and implicit racism and bias, even though it is more difficult. The person facing the most challenge, however, is that person born into a district already mired in poverty, crime, and bad schools/overall lack of opportunity. My view on community integration today is based on a view that communities should not exist as no-goes. A concerted effort to improve communities by improving the opportunities of their residents is key to achieving equality of all kinds, including ethnic. The past policies that led to income and racial segregation, as I mentioned above, are tough, though no insurmountable. To me, a more damaging problem is that of gentrification--the apparent improvement of a community without real change. Community redevelopment and improvement is often designed to generate higher land values as a major indicator of community redevelopment success. The problem with using this barometer, however, is that it measures location, absent from its residents. The process of gentrification that displaces poor with middle-class, pushing the poor into suburbs or other areas of the city. Often this means pushing them out of their already-weak communities, further lessening the impact of programs targeting them. They are often left in the care of new cities and counties that may lack the city-based infrastructure to deal with challenges that arise. It is for this reason, maintence of an area's original residents should be the goal. Build up, not out. Through a process designed to increase neighborhood vitality (encourage business development, assist social/religious institutions in instituting neighborhood programs, improve the schools, focus, overall, on generating opportunity for the current residents without destroying their community. Strengthen the locality rather than weaken it. Income segregation is a major cause of inequality and areas that have pursued it, such as in Santiago, Chile, have become among the most unequal on earth. On the flip side is the school district in North Carolina (one of the large cities, I do not remember which) which instituted bussing by income, a practice that vastly improved test scores and overall achievement.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Republican Playing the Race Card???

This whole new exciting world of Supreme Court confirmation hearings that are not yet even begun has once again demonstrated that the Court is a product of political ideology, not judicial vision or qualifications. Things have gone so far this time that we are seeing Sonia Sotomayor being called a racist, bigot, and lots of other things for suggesting that race/ethnicity and gender play a role in the decisions made by quarts. I love the way politics works in this country where everyone decides to dance around the truth and where the truth becomes "politically incorrect." In reality, race and gender play a role in how people see the world. Racial bias has existed and still exists, people are not judged based on the content of their character. We have 7 white male members of the Supreme Court and Republicans have the gall to say that there is significant discrimination against white men. The reality is that as long as a society is structurally biased toward someone based upon his race and gender, then policies designed to encourage the consideration of qualified minorities are necessary. The claim the Mrs. Sotomayor is an affirmative action pick is probably at least partially true. That said, I think it demonstrates the value of such a program. She was examined because she was a women and Obama wanted another women on the court. She potentially was picked in part because she is Latina. That said, she is also extremely qualified. The current smear campaign is similar to the Swift Boat ads against Kerry, people making stuff up to scare people into voting against her.

I am extremely frustrated with everything right now as I watch a biased court push for a more unequal and segregated society. The sooner it is realized that we have inherent biases, the sooner we will work them out. The idea that someone can grow up in the projects, attend Princeton, graduate Summa cum Laude, become a Judge, and be nominated for the Supreme Court is the ultimate American Dream story and I am sick and tired of hearing conservatives whine about how no white male was considered. They are still living in a time when diversity was thought to not matter, where segregation was considered good and desirable, and where all that was socially acceptable. People like Jeff Sessions were racist before and are racist now (he was not allowed to become a judge for this reason). Hearing the absurdity of the claim that white men need affirmative action when so much already goes our way: we get paid more, we get better mortgage rates, we go to prison less frequently per capita, the list goes on. Inequality of opportunity exists but we are too deaf, dumb, and opposed to recognizing fundamental contradictions in American society that are being brought out by this confirmation.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Who Owns Stolen Treasure

In the above article forces me to raise the question: who owns stolen treasure? Is it the people who own the ship that carried (Spain), the carriers themselves-or their descendents (the merchants who were aboard the ship), the finders (the Odyessey Company), or the people it was originally stolen from (the Latin-Americans)? I laugh because the constant and very selective interpretation of history involved in this case really bothers me.

The Spanish like to pretend it is theirs, even though they stole it during centuries of bloody and brutal occupation of Latin America. They have never paid reparations, and if we really want to get down to it, all this stuff should go back to Latin America. Right now, there are cases all over the world of newly influential countries such as China requesting a return of the cultural artifacts looted by soldiers of imperialist powers. Instead, though, a judge just said that Spain gets to keep it, saying that the thieves keep the loot that they lost fair and square and did not even look for. Nice.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

More Comments on Planning and Capitalism

This is an extension of previous posts on this topic. If I repeat things, I apologize, I am pretty frustrated by some of the trends and tendencies I see in the way we act as a society toward some of the most important and/or vulnerable elements.

First I want to talk about capitalism. I have long decried the share-holder and consumer based capitalism that I view as having sprung up in our country as a result of basic greed and the natural progression of capitalism. We have now the equivalent of what Ayn Rand wrote about in relation to Socialism/Communism, but in its capitalist form. A land where people's success is largely dependent upon the circumstances of their birth, where the owners of company do so only for their profit regardless of company longevity, and where our politicians aid and abet this process. For my arguments on this, see previous posts relating to capitalism and economics. To this, I want to add another problem, the lack of truly innovative social businesses that serve important areas, such as a local bank that gives loans to a local community with whom they are intimately connected, and the tendency to build and innovate only to sell to the highest bidder.

The first problem relates to the problems that hinder many communities blacklisted or red-lined against lenders or at least reasonable rates of mortage. This stuff really frustrates me since we refuse to supply the tools for success to areas of this country and then complain and call their inhabitants lazy when they fail to thrive. What is worse, we actively discourage their success both through programs that only give to those who truly fail (such as welfare or housing subsidies that disappear right when you get on your feet). The problem of areas that cannot get basic services leads to grocery gaps, banking gaps, and any other large number of gaps in things that are necessary for a community to become strong and unslum itself. Our policy in the past has been to demolish the community and in its place build a huge project. While this is no longer smiled upon, its effects are still imminently visible in the huge inequalities and lack of mobility that appear in poor areas of our country. We do not encourage the creation of local business infrastructure that can reverse these trends. What gets me about this is that our corporate policy effectively favors big companies by subsidizing them the most through tax write-offs and investments of which only they are able to take advantage. I believe that a healthy taxation system would have higher rates on large companies that provide a mere 30% of the GDP relative to small businesses which provide 70%. But no. We focus instead on big companies and as a society have come to believe in them and them alone. We have steadily edged out our local stores in favor of bigger, slightly cheaper (often only in the short-term--I do not remember the reference for this, but it exists) stores. We watch our local banks get bought up by companies that are now "too big to fail" and now we wonder why our economy has lost vitality. The modern "innovator" seems to me to be someone who creates a technology or service and then sells it to some very large firm that then standardizes it. This in turn destroys the important community links with that business that are necessary for responding to local needs.

While the above point is not well organized, the conclusion is this: through a mixture of government policy and societal change, we now use innovation as a "get rich quicker" scheme that is based upon selling an idea or company to a bigger one. We have created policies that benefit larger businesses at the expense of small, and we often fail to recognize the vast, systemic problems that prevent people from succeeding and keep them down either by red-lining policies or through programs that encourage failure. What causes me frustration is that smaller banks and businesses would not have let the housing crisis happen. Also, our failure to recognize that there still exists huge levels of systemic discrimination against people based upon where they live and who we stereotype them to be has prevented us as a country from accepting the need for policies meant to encourage people to build themselves out of their problems. We have in a sense planned for failure.

Lastly, and as a footnote to this, it is important to note that our tendency toward big projects, big companies, and less community-based activism has been created by policies that destroyed community interconnectedness. In order to achieve any success, we cannot bring in the success, we have to build it from what we already have. Bringing it in is gentrification, building it is the only path to real change. I will write on more of this later.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Unity in Diversity: Ideas on Steps to Building a Vibrant and Multi-Cultural Society

For those who are familiar with some of my ideas on planning and community development, you know that my ultimate social goal is unity in diversity. This requires us to prepare and consciously seeks to create diverse and varied communities, a goal that runs counter not only to previous decades and centuries of urban planning, but also to the natural tendency of humanity to either segregate others or auto-segregate. While it is fair to argue that we live in a more integrated society than ever before, I see the gap of understanding growing more intense in many ways than before, as increasingly cries of "reverse discrimination" and "racism" come from the right-wing talk show circuit filled with hooligans like Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, or Lou Dobbs. I have already discussed our social tendency to try and create a world where we are capable of personalizing and customizing our surroundings and those with whom we have contact, which is expressed in a trend for not only people of differing ethnicities to live separately, but people of differing political viewpoints or sexual orientation. Simultaneously as the trend toward self-segregation grows stronger, helped along by new technologies and the traditional urban and community planning methods, we see a breakdown in many of our often abortive attempts to encourage diversity and create a more integrated society.

Affirmative action, busing, and other programs have come under scrutiny lately, and some have been eliminated by idealogical conservative judges like Chief Justice John Roberts, who views any criteria meant to recognize or expand the diversity of a body to be illicit (as opposed to someone like me who views diversity as inherently valuable and important to maintain social cohesion and provide life experiences to young people who need to operate in an increasingly globalized world).

In my view, the entire debate on diversity has been hijacked by individuals refusing to recognize that different perspectives arise from different experiences and that these perspectives lead people to make decisions differently. This group has become more mainstream over time to the point where it is often believed that racism and discrimination no longer exist and that a person starting off, regardless of circumstances but endowed with talent, can have an equal shot at success no matter that person's ethnicity or race. New flash here: discrimination is not only prevalent, it is dominant in markets for services such as loans (unfair lending practices targeting African-Americans and Latinos are being investigated by the FDIC) and evident through the way we test and give promotions. Lately there has been a debate relating to not only the appointment of a new Justice to the Supreme Court, but also related to decisions she made regarding a test that was deemed discriminatory because of the pass-fail rates among different groups. When Roberts and Co. overturn the decision in a couple of weeks (anyone interested in the Supreme Court Stakes?), they will be saying once more that people experience the same things, think the same, act the same, have the same opportunities, and are completely unaffected by the fact that they have a different appearance and history. The world does not work this way, and it will get worse if we fail to implement policies and planning practices meant to encourage diversity and interconnectedness because the more different the life experiences and opportunities between groups, the harder it will be to compare them fairly. Basically, I view de facto segregation of today as just as impossible to achieve separate but equal as the de jure segregation of the past.

My main goal of unity in diversity is centered around another principle, that of equality of opportunity. There is evidence that many of the policies of the past that enforced integration by itself without encouraging it through the development of mixed-use neighborhoods that attracted a more diverse population have caused a number of serious problems, not least among them a sense of being thought "only good enough because of the government" on one side and "disadvantaged unfairly by the promotion of others using a false credential" on the other. The reality runs counter to claims of "equality" however, and therefore we still require a significant effort to right the wrongs of the past and work toward true equality. In this past election, and now for the Supreme Court, a chief concern among voters hesitant about Obama (I gleaned this from hearing countless interviews from varied sources) was that Obama would bring the spoils of politics to the black population since he was black. There are arguments now about picking someone based on ethnicity for the Supreme Court, even though this woman has an excellent record and, in my view, sees the court as it ACTUALLY is, a body whose views on the constitution change with those on it, and that those people are products of their environments and experiences. Why so much panic seems to arise whenever we discuss creating diverse environments, I fail to truly understand since many of the arguments against affirmative action, etc, are absurd. The reality of today is that the playing field is far from level STARTING OFF and that whites stand a better chance of success simply because of their race: tests favor us, mortgage loan terms favor us, society's views on ethnicity favor us. These are huge benefits from which we daily reap rewards and we must recognize them if we are to work toward the final goal of Unity In Diversity and Equality of Opportunity combined.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Moving City Bus Stops Without Asking

I found out two days ago that they were moving my bus stop and effectively removing my transportation. This comes as another step in the goal of Metro King County to reduce the ridership on the buses to zero ahead of a small, ineffective light rail system through an overcrowded, broke city that will not be functional until 2020. I now have to walk 15 minutes in the rain, cold, dark, etc, to get to the University of Washington campus.

My problem with the removal of the bus stop is because they are doing it for a terrible reason. They are building a park there. Now, I love parks, I believe green space is imperitive for the development of children and for the maintenance of mental and physical health. I do, however, believe that small parks are made valuable not by their existence alone, but by how they are used. Parks, as I wrote in a previous post, are best in areas where they will receive continuous use, varied use by diverse people, and where they can be easily kept safe. The new park will be located behind a Target next to a bunch of apartments. This initially sounds ok; however, all the apartments point away from the park and the people who use the space currently do so in order to catch the bus. We are all busy people, we do not, except maybe occasionally on weekends, go out and just sit in a park. Parks are best suited for areas where there are many children without other places to go, and where it is easy for people to be safe. In this location, people come near to go to Target (not to a park) and to ride the bus. There are no other stores, businesses, or anything, and the park is surrounded on three sides by nothing but roads. In short, people only go there now to catch a bus, and the only reason they will go there in the future is to go to the park.

So why not build one if people like parks? I do not believe that the park will ever be fully or properly utilized and policed. This small park, like many of the other small parks in Seattle, will become a homeless campground or a drug-addict zone. I am rooting for the homeless since they are usually nice and not dangerous. I brought up my concern about losing my transportation, while creating a underused, potentially dangerous area right by my house to my pastor, and he told me that he like the idea of a park, and would probably never use the place as a Park and Ride. While there is no reason for him to use it for taking the bus (he has a car, lives nearer to other locations), his comment about liking the idea of the park struck me as interesting. I asked him how often he would use it (he lives in a neighborhood with beautiful, quiet streets and a very nice park location, complete with bathrooms and everything), and he said he "could not quantify" how often he would use it. Could not quantify? I can. Almost never. Small, general parks are inherently local areas dependent on local people for patronage. This means that if all the people in your area are residents who do not get out much other than for work, then your park will not be well used. Also, the fact that people "like the idea" of something is a huge cause of budget deficits and the tendency of people to vote for relatively abstract (in practice) ideas like a light rail system (I say abstract because the actual construction is extremely costly and it is difficult to build and expand large enough to be useful). I am sick and tired of people who like the idea of something dictating my rights to reasonable public transportation. The people who should decide local things should be local people who use the service, not simply those who "like the idea." This offers a perfect segway into my next point.

Local democracy seems to be skewed not only to city-based things, but to areas where legislatures, not individuals, should be making decisions, like how to build a freeway or whether or offer incentives to certain businesses. Things like small parks should not be added (at least if something important like a park&ride is being taken away). I am not complaining here because they are simply removing one stop, they are removing many, and effectively eliminating the ease at which we were able to move around. What is more, they sprung this on us over a weekend, without any public comment that I knew about, and I ride the buses very frequently. Why could we not have a say in the location of a park? While I believe that we should, I am not convinced that we would have won even then. The dangers of local democracy would have then raised their ugly heads to let some local, less busy, better off people who never take the bus and "like the idea" of parks decide on our fate. Be it the elderly people across the road or someone living elsewhere in our artificial neighborhood that does not function as a unit but is treated as one, but the results may well have been the same. Now that we are losing our stop, however, we have made a spirited showing to harrass the poor bus drivers on our route, leading them to refer to me as "one of many" or "not a lone horseman" among other things. Clearly people care, at least those of us who ride the bus. There are many who do, and taking away our transportation is not right or reasonable, especially without providing any number of other possible options to continue service and build the park (such as a turn-around for buses right near the park. The problem here is that they are taking a space that is widely used for a specific purpose, eliminating that purpose, and still expect it to be widely used. People come to parks on special occasions when they are out of the way like this one will be, they use them frequently when they are part of every-day life. This park, I believe, will fail to thrive, and in so doing, will create a patch of uselessness out of a well-used and important space in the area.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Supreme Court Stakes

The US Supreme Court has done a lot of good and evil in its time, often ruling one way, such as in favor of segregation, and then righting itself later on. It swings, as we all know, with the Presidency, and the issues around who will become a justice is extremely important to a myriad of groups. I believe that the focus and importance placed on the Supreme Court placements by activist groups has made it a wholly unreliable, untrustworthy, and extremely undemocratic institution.

The Supreme Court Stakes is a betting game, by which you can bet how the Court will rule on an issue. Lately, I can pretty much get it dead on. Gun Control 5-4 Conservative, Diversity in Education (Affirmative Action, Bussing, etc) 5-4 Conservative, the list goes on. Several years ago, conservative groups were whining about how liberals nominated "activist judges" to the Bench. What they meant was "activist in a way I do not like." The so-called law and the interpretation of the constitution are somewhat like different ministers interpreting the Bible, they see what they want to see. For this reason, it is possible to predict rulings on issues based solely on the political affiliations of who is on the Bench, rather having to really understand the law. The Constitution offers no comment on Gay marriage, sanctioned slavery at one time, does not mention anything about abortion, along with many other things. The reality is that the Justices use whatever personal political views they hold to make judgements, more or less finding a way to interpret the Constitution in their favor.

My evidence for every judge being activist is largely based on how much time and money activist groups put into each Supreme Court fight. By mixing these groups in, we ensure that there is no such thing as an apolitical, non-activist judge. I do not know how to fix the Supreme Court and make it a force for the law instead of a force for whatever party put them in power.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

California Proves My Point-The Pitfalls of Direct Democracy

The New York Times had an article today about the latest round of California referendums. Here is a link to the article:

California is possibly the third-worst run state in the country, after Texas and Mississippi. They have the largest population in the US, the 8th largest economy in the world, and the a budget deficit that puts other overspending places to shame. I have already talked about my issues with referendums, so I will keep this first part short. My primary reason for disliking referendums is that they slow the legislative process in important areas often at times that make the least sense, such as now in a time of crisis. When things are bad, the government needs to be nimble and cannot be if there is a mass of people voting on everything. Californians and Washingtonians are especially bad about this, where they vote for the project they most like the idea of, regardless of its feasibility or cost. This may mean that the public will vote for a project one year and then vote it down another. This lack of constancy is wasteful. My second reason to dislike referendums is that they have usually very low voter turn-out, meaning that the voice of interest groups carries much more weight. This pertains especially to local politics, but is exhibited in state and national politics as well. My third reason is that I view referendums as redundant. We elect politicians to help make and pass laws. They need to be able to do so without people who are ignorant of the larger picture stepping in the way. If you do not like your legislature, vote against them. Finally, I do not like referendums because they are costly.

California, as the article states, is already burdened by arcane budgetary laws. People are able to vote on referendums about anything, and when the governor brought a set of budgetary cut and revenue increasing packages to the voters. They voted all but one, and that was largely a symbolic thing, down. Their reason according to interviews and the news media? They were angry. How absurd is this? Your state is in crisis, you are going to lose your education, health care, roads, security, everything, and you vote it down to express your anger? The only good I can see coming out of this is if California amends its constitution to make their budgetary processes less cumbersome. In today's day and age, flexibility is required, and their policies have stopped this. Basically, people have to make sacrifices for ONCE in that state. We act like going without expensive cable or a really nice car is a sacrifice, it is not. Neither is paying your fair share of taxes or recognizing that sometimes government spending needs to be cut. I applauded the governor when he was willing to offer both spending cuts and tax increases, I see this as the only way out. Apparently, however, Californians would rather see their state collapse before they accept the inevitable.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Building an Interesting City

I have recently started reading a book called "Death and Life of Great American Cities" by Jane Jacobs. This book was written in the 1950's, and yet is probably at least as relevant today as it was then. The advice offered by the book was largely ignored, so we can see the outcome of failing to follow it today.

In the first sections, I have already found tons of information that is benefitting my understanding and even backing up my ideas on social relations in a modern society. Urban planning in the 1950s and beyond was based on the idea of a Garden City where things would be spaced, homogenous (i.e. commercial in some places, residential in others, ect), and clean. Instead of helping, these processes led to greater inequalities, greater crime, degredation of some areas, and generally failed to accomplish their stated goals. The reasons behind this are actually extremely simple.

First, by removing the mixture of housing and businesses from neighborhoods, the areas not only became less interesting to live in, but also less safe since traffic on the streets reduced drastically. The old so-called "slums" were actually remarkably safe and cohesive. By moving in, eliminating the businesses, clearing the streets, and building larger project housing, what actually occurred was a breaking up of the community and inter-community relations, a removal of street traffic leading to more danger thanks to their being fewer "eyes" to stop crime. A neighborhood culture is based on a complex web of interactions, and these interactions are not so much between close friends as they are witha myriad of acquaintences. These people provided the society that kept people safe and happy in their space. As people had fewer reasons to spend time outside with neighbors or shopping with people, talking with people, and all in all sharing in each other's lives, people started leaving the streets. As danger increased, people drove more, also leaving the streets empty. In place of the poor, but vibrant, streets was basically a grey, increasingly crime-ridden neighborhood with few people taking pride in it, just as you would not take pride in any boring place you have to live because there is no where else.

The worst affected were the poor areas which were moved into projects, breaking up social relations. I keep going back to the social relations issues because we are seeing another attempt to destroy the few contacts we actually have with people beyond our social group. We engineered through our planning practices that segregated the place you sleep from the place you live, a fragmented, segregated society. If we succeed in further reducing contact with those who are responsibile for calling the police when we are in trouble, for helping us with our car when it is broken, for watching our kids while we are gone, etc, we will damage further the social interconnections on which society is based and on which cohesiveness and interest in the greater processes of urban planning and development needed for democratic development are based.

We made our places of living less interesting and less diverse. We worked to ruin the neighborhood while trying to make it nicer. The focus on reorganization and beautification came at the expense of actual lifestyle. I argue that we should make neighborhoods places that we want to live, with commercial and public transportation near by, with no deserted streets (at least in the middle of the city) even if they are quiet. Rebuild the community businesses that were destroyed as we introduced big-box stores, these stores are imperitive for the social mixing to create a cohesive and safe community. Everything depends on people being invested form schools to roads to safety. We have to create places to live our LIVES not merely sleep, to meet people, not avoid them, and to promote the types of places, businesses, etc, that we would like to know.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Fair Value, Fair Costs-Tha Failure of Capitalism to Properly Price Social, Environmental, and Long-Term Goods.

In trying to understand processes of environmental degredation, concentration of dangerous industries in low-income areas, and the prevalence of low-cost, high impact products in modern society, I look again to the relationship between short-term costs and long-term impacts on society and the environment. Capitalism as an economic system excels in assigning costs based on the cost of production and the demand for the good. These costs are based on short-term calculus, and are liable to change relatively rapidly to respond to changes in the labor market, the demand, and raw material prices. What it does not consider are the long-term social and environmental costs that go along with the product.

The average plastic toy from China or McDonald's Happy Meal trinket is almost costless in the short term; however, I believe that a very different picture on the cost of such items would appear if additional liabilities arising from the future cost of environmental clean-up were factored in. Similarly, the social cost in addition to the environmental cost from locating polluting industries, or even building these industries, in low-income areas is based on a short-term calculation of how much resistence would be faced in one location over another. Right now at my work, I am helping to route a major transmission line across a state, and several rich, powerful people are able to get it moved, while other's with less influence just have to suffer. In these previous examples, the decision on where to locate or how to price are based on a calculation of cost versus profit. If the true burden to the social and environmental system was calculated, the picture would likely appear different.

I believe it should be a major role of regulatory agencies to examine products with high externalities in order to understand the longer-term social and environmental costs and adjust through taxation the costs of their actions. Failing to address these problems is like taking out a high interest loan, where short-term gratification becomes replaced by impossible debt in the future. The costs of cleaning up or rebuilding areas broken by pollution or other externalities from economic growth will far outweigh the short-term value we derive because we will pay "interest" in the form of higher environmental, health, and other costs in the future.

I mention the social and environmental costs, I also believe that a role exists in helping to moderate and determine value. The recent foreclosure crisis comes on the back of the internet bubble, before which was the savings and loan bubble, stretching back to when margin-purchased stocks helped tip the Great Depression. Regulation after the 1930s helped to prevent crisis like the one we are in now by moderating the boom tendencies of the market through preventing opaque business practices and impossibly large and complex companies (like AIG, which could not have done what it did had regulation on derivatives not been removed). I have been forced much to my dismay to listen repeatedly to people arguing how more financial regulation will increase credit costs for consumers. Good, I say. We have made borrowing too easy and too cheap, overestimating the value of short-term consumption and underestimating the long-term cost of high debt. Our focus on short-term policies, short-term credit, short-term prices are I believe central to our inability to understand value and to fairly price products and services, and will lead inevitably to greater, more damaging costs as time passes.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Fall of Free Internet

Last summer while looking in an airport bookstore, I found a book about how the world was entering a new age of "free" stuff, where we could get things for free, enlist help from people remotely to solve complex problems, and generally improve our ability to get things done and done cheaply. While the idea of improved interconnectivity may well assist in finding solutions to complex problems-there are a number of examples of this that I will not go into,-nothing is or ever will be free. My question then is who will pay?

It has been thought for qutie some time that internet content would be fueled and funded by advertisements. The problems with this are that there is significant content that may lack the popularity to gain advertising revenue, but, even more importantly, we are so over-saturated with ads that their value is decreasing and increasingly becoming dependent on their effectiveness (i.e. number of clicks on an ad) instead of just a flat rate for a banner. While ads will likely always be important for funding the growth of web services, I see another, perhaps more important source that will, in effect, make the internet just like any other service.

This new source of funding comes from...wait for it...US! Of course it does. Increasingly I have noticed a trend away from everything being free and toward a pay-for-use service. I believe this is how it should be. Recently, some markets have been experimenting with micro-payments. I support this innovation because to me, there is great value in things like AP news stories that we will not be able to afford if we do not pay for them. I had thought just a few months ago that the age of news may have been at an end, now I recognize that I was sorely mistaken. Instead of being at an end, we are experiencing an uprecedented opportunity to select subjects of interest for us and actually suppport quality reporting/service at the same time by paying a few cents for a story or to watch baseball online, etc. I am happy about this change because it means that my greatest fears may not have been realized after all.

When people argue that everything will be free, they are demonstrating their lack of understanding to market processes. Nothing is free, it is always a question of who pays for it. Who pays for it determines its content, quality, and continuity, and is therefore extremely important. As websites have gone from being pay-for-use to free and now are moving back to pay for use (albeit in a form of a free demo version with payments creating the opportunity for improved service).

While paying for use will ensure the services continue to grow and improve, they also pose a challenge to the casual web surfer since now great amounts of truly valuable information will be hidden with only small amounts exposed. This poses a challenge to those who are unable or unwilling to pay (how many times have you as students not read something because it cost a few bucks to get it online? I know I have). Nevertheless, even with the falling "basic" service quality (interestingly, cable television is identical to this in the falling quality of the basic service while vastly improved pay-for-use service), we can look to this pay for use model as the way to ensure quality in a world where accountability is disappearing, and a way to maintain some control over the services because we are paying for them rather than relying on someone else.