Monday, August 2, 2021

#214 / Solving The Housing-Homelessness Crisis

 

Online, the opinion column from which this picture came is titled, "It’s Hard to Have Faith in a State That Can’t Even House Its People." In the hard copy version of the column, which appeared on the editorial page of The New York Times on July 30, 2021, the headline was a bit more upbeat: "California Can Solve Its Homelessness Crisis."
 
I was pleased that Ned Resnikoff, the author of the column and the policy manager for the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative at the University of California, San Francisco, didn't call out so-called NIMBYs, and their supposed opposition to new housing developments, as the sole or major cause of the the state's homelessness problems. Resnikoff's column included the following observation, which I think is right on target: 
 
As economic inequality has threatened the nation’s political system, it has most likely worsened homelessness in California. In a recent paper, researchers presented evidence that income inequality may fuel homelessness in regions where housing supply fails to keep up with demand. The authors theorized that this may be because the wealthiest households in an unequal city bid up the cost of housing for everyone else, making it increasingly unaffordable to lower-income residents.

This appears to be exactly what happened here the Bay Area, where the unfathomable wealth generated by the tech boom has been mostly captured by those at the top of the income distribution. Because Bay Area cities have failed to produce enough supply to keep up with population increases, lower and middle-income residents now have to compete for housing with the super-wealthy, whose ability to outbid everyone else continually forces prices up (emphasis added).
 
In order to deal with our homelessness crisis, we (collectively) have to deal with our crisis of "wealth inequality," and provide housing (both rental and for-sale housing) at prices that average and below-average income persons can afford. Simply building "more" housing doesn't solve the problem, because if we are looking for "the market" to provide housing, we will never be able to build enough housing to meet genuine community needs at the lower end of the income scale. 
 
In our current capitalistic system, a "market-based" approach to providing necessary housing will never succeed, since the whole purpose of the market it to make sure that sellers of goods and services get the highest prices that purchasers are willing to pay. When there are lots of people with the economic ability to buy housing (a very scarce commodity) those people will end up owning or renting what's available. Those with lower incomes will lose out. There is no "market" solution to our housing crisis.

There are, however, two or three ideas that could help address the problem: 

  • First, we could enact legislation to require large businesses (like Facebook, and Google, and Netflix, for example) to provide housing for all the new workers that the company will need, when the company expands and hires new workers. Currently, the companies expect local communities and others to provide housing for their new workers, and since their new workers often receive very handsome salaries, they outbid ordinary income persons, and make the homelessness problem worse. This is, in essence, what Resnikoff was saying, in what I have quoted from him, above. This is certainly something that residents of Santa Cruz County know about, firsthand.
  • Second, the state government could enact a statewide program of inclusionary housing, requiring housing developers to restrict the price of, perhaps, 25% of all the new housing they construct, making that housing available at a rental or for-sale price that is affordable to persons with average or below average incomes. Such inclusionary housing should also come with a resale restriction, insuring that those who buy such housing, at the restricted price, cannot turn around and then sell that housing into the "market," but will be required to sell the house, if and when they do sell, to another person of average or below average income.
  • Finally, the state could also enact a rule that would require all new housing, specifically including market rate housing, to be sold with a resale restriction that would require a person who buys a new home to sell it, when and if they do sell it, at a price that is no larger than the price for which they bought the home, plus verified inflation. That would help, a lot, in taking speculation out of housing prices.
 
There are, undoubtedly, other things that we could do (collectively) to provide adequate housing. Spending public money to provide housing to those who need it is an obvious example of a very simple solution to the housing crisis. Publicly-produced or subsidized housing, sold into the private market with resale restrictions, as discussed above, could directly deal with the problem. That would take a lot of money, of course, to provide the amount of housing that is needed, but I'm with Resnikoff (in the hopeful headline version of his column): California Can Solve Its Homelessness Crisis. 

We would have to spend our own money to do it, and that would mean higher taxes on those with higher incomes. That's where we would get the money to spend. California could do that, and so could the federal government. Higher taxes on upper income people would mean less consumption by those upper-income people, whose money would have been committed to address the homelessness problem. 

The extremely wealthy wouldn't like that, of course, but Resnikoff is right. We can solve the problem. The question is whether we will!
 
 
Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/26/opinion/homelessness-california.html
 

Sunday, August 1, 2021

#213 / A Remarkable Story

 

Today, as I often do, I comment on a book review. This review, by Jennifer Szalai, was published in The New York Times on June 9, 2021. The title of the review is "In One Modest Cotton Sack, a Remarkable Story of Slavery, Suffering, Love and Survival." 
 
The book that is profiled was written by Tiya Miles, who is a history professor at Harvard. Miles' book is called All That She Carried. 
 
All That She Carried is a book about women and chattel slavery, as framed by a single object: a cotton sack that dates back to the mid-19th century. The cotton sack was given by an enslaved woman named Rose to her daughter Ashley.
 
"Decades after this cotton sack was given to Ashley by her mother, Ashley’s granddaughter Ruth embroidered the sack with an inscription that announces its provenance."
 
My great grandmother Rose
mother of Ashley gave her this sack when
she was sold at age 9 in South Carolina
it held a tattered dress 3 handfulls of
pecans a braid of Roses hair. Told her
It be filled with my Love always
she never saw her again
Ashley is my grandmother
 
Ruth Middleton
1921
 
I burst into tears as I read this inscription: "She never saw her again." 
 
Never. That little nine-year-old girl was torn away from her mother, and she never saw her mother again. 
 
But Ashley, that little nine-year-old girl, never forgot that the cotton sack her mother gave her "be filled with my Love always." 
 
So clear was Ashley about this - so true it was - that the story of this Love, first whispered into Ashley's ear in 1850 something. was vivid and alive in 1921, for Ruth. And after that, too. 
 
The Love that Rose put into that cotton sack lives on still, embroidered onto it, the testimony of Ruth.

What parent does not appreciate what this means? And which one of us would seek to curtail the importance of what this story says? This is not only a story about the horrors of slavery -  horrors from which we have not yet fully escaped. It is that, of course, but it is more. At least I think so. 
 
Rose is telling us something - telling Ashley, but telling us, too, as the story has come to us from Ruth. This is a remarkable story about Love. From generation to generation. From a parent to a child, and then to another, and then to another, and then to another .... 
 
This is a story about our world. We can see it all around us. We can if we look. Like that modest cotton sack, this is a world that is filled with Love, handed down from generation to generation. We might think that this Love, because not immediately and directly visible, is not there at all. But it is there. We are sustained by Love that is undefeated and undiminished by time.
 
If nobody told us this before, let's learn it now, from Ruth, and Ashley, and Rose. This world - we shouldn't forget it - be filled with Love.

Always!



Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/09/books/review-all-that-she-carried-ashleys-sack-tiya-miles.html


Saturday, July 31, 2021

#212 / Who Owns Space?

 

Now that the billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos have both traveled to space (and have successfully returned), space has become the "New Realm of Commerce." That is according to The New York Times. In fact, in a July 22, 2021, story, The Times says that these recent space jaunts have resulted in the "Amazonification of Space."

 

With the suborbital flights made by Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson this month, the privatization of the space industry has crossed the point of no return.
 
The Times' story does not neglect to mention Elon Musk, that other billionaire who has his own space company. "Big billionaires take over space." That's really the theme of what The Times is saying. Has the "privatization" of the space industry really passed the "point of no return?"

Actually, of course, not. If there is one place in the universe where the concept of "private property" must have no applicability, that would have to be in "space." Is there any reason that the inhabitants of Planet Earth have to allow a set of self-aggrandizing billionaires to claim the right to turn space into the location of their private amusement park ride business, with "space tourism," available only to the massively wealthy?
 
Actually, of course, not!
 
As is noted in a separate article in the July 22, 2021, edition of The Times, "Space Tourism Could Do Harm." In fact, burning the fuel necessary to launch wealthy tourists into space is one more way to perpetuate global warming and to promote the climate and extinction disaster that we are confronting on a daily basis. See my earlier blog posting on "Too Much And Not Enough" if you are not clear on the concept.

The United Nations, acting through UNESCO, declares "World Heritage Sites." Isn't our Planet itself a World Heritage Site? Isn't it, in fact, THE World Heritage Site, and doesn't our human heritage include, necessarily, the space that surrounds our planet, that sets it off, that makes our Planet Earth a jewel in the crown of the universe?

Our government, other governments, and the United Nations, speaking on behalf of the people of Planet Earth (not just the billionaires), need to deny the idea that it would ever be possible to "privatize" space. There is still time to do that. We are never "past the point of no return," no matter what the topic, because we can always change what we are doing now. Now, though, would be the time to make clear to whom our Planet, and the space surrounding it, belongs. It belongs to us all:


 
Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/science/virgin-galactics-branson-ready-space-launch-aboard-rocket-plane-2021-07-11/ 
(2) - https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/scientists-say-life-earth-couldve-started-billion-years-earlier-we-thought
 

Friday, July 30, 2021

#211 / Moses

 

Robert Moses, described by The New York Times as a "quiet and relentless crusader for civil rights and education," died on Sunday, July 25, 2021. He was 86 years old. The New Yorker identified Moses as "one of the most important figures in the civil-rights movement during its peak period, in the middle years of the nineteen-sixties." The New Yorker article further made clear, however, that Moses was not "a stentorian, march-leading type." In fact, said The New Yorker, "he had a kind of reverse charisma. He came across as not just quiet but almost painfully shy."
 
I never knew Bob Moses (he was most usually called "Bob"), but his words and witness profoundly affected me, in just the way the words and witness of Martin Luther King, Jr. did. During the mid-1960s, Moses played a key role in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, a group that inspired me, and many of my friends. He helped start the 1964 "Mississippi Freedom Summer Project," recruiting college students from the North to join Black Mississippians in a voter registration campaign across the state. Some of my friends went. It was a life-risking commitment. I always felt that I should have been there.
 
The Times' obituary hailed Moses for always "remaining calm in the face of brutality." He was repeatedly jailed; he was physically attacked and shot at. This brief blog posting is intended as a salute to Bob Moses. It is an expression of my great thanks to him for the courage he demonstrated, always, in one of the most meaningful struggles that has taken place in this country, during my lifetime. 

The following obituaries, along with The New Yorker story, will give those who don't know much, or anything, about Bob Moses the chance to learn something, or something more, of a great American hero: 

San Jose Mercury News - 1960s civil rights activist dies at 86

Newsbreak - Crusader For Civil Right And Math

 
The picture below, from the papers of historian Howard Zinn, shows Moses as he was in 1964, in the typical bib overalls that he then wore: 
 

 
Bob Moses? Presente!
 
 
Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/25/us/bob-moses-dead.html
(2) - https://digitaltamiment.hosting.nyu.edu/s/howard-zinn-and-the-civil-rights-movement/item/3230
 

Thursday, July 29, 2021

#210 / Too Much And Not Enough (In Pictures)

 

Too much and not enough? I am talking about water. California is facing a megadrought. Here is a picture of Oroville Lake, one of the state's major reservoirs, which provides water for Central Valley agriculture and municipal and industrial uses in Southern California:
 
 
In Iran, too, as in California, drought conditions are extreme, and massive protests have thousands on the street, chanting, "We are thirsty!"
 

Meantime, in China, as illustrated in the picture at the top of this blog posting, extreme flooding conditions have occurred, killing many.
 
In Zhengzhou, a city of five million in central China, people drowned in flooded subway cars, overtaken, with virtually no warning, by waters that poured into the underground subways, filling packed subway cars in a matter of minutes, passengers struggling to keep their faces above the waterline, as the waters rose.
 
Germany, too, has just experienced unprecedented flooding, with probably hundreds of deaths as a result: 
 

News stories about flooding in China, and drought in Iran, appeared, separately, in the same edition of The New York Times, on Thursday, July 22, 2021. 

It is important to recognize, I think, that the "drought" stories and the "flooding" stories, covered as individual incidents in our news media, are really the same story. Extraordinary departures from the expected are now occurring, consistently, around the world. Massive wildfires, from the Amazon to California, are part of that same story, too:
 

For thousands of years, humans have built their civilization within the Natural World, assuming that the World of Nature is relatively constant, and consistent, and that we can safely rely upon it as we make judgments about where to build cities, where to plant crops, and how to appropriate the works of Nature for our own purposes. 

That expectation (upon which we have built our entire human civilization) is no longer valid, and it is no longer valid because we have not respected the "laws of Nature," and lived within natural limits, but have taken Nature for granted, and have assumed that we could do anything we wanted, anywhere we wanted to.

We made a mistake, and the only question now is whether we can quickly reverse our commitment to hydrocarbon combustion - and aim to eliminate it completely - or whether we will go on experiencing separate disasters, every year more damaging, every new disaster location a big surprise, and fail to see that all these disasters are part of one story, and that we are driving the narrative by our continuing (still increasing) commitment to the combustion of hydrocarbon fuels.
 
 
Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/20/world/asia/china-flooding-zhengzhou-subway.html 
(2) - https://grist.org/climate/two-thirds-of-californias-counties-are-now-in-a-drought-emergency-get-used-to-it/
(3) - https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/21/world/middleeast/iran-protests-drought-violence.html
(4) - https://www.wsj.com/articles/dozens-missing-20-dead-in-heavy-flooding-across-europe-11626346135
(5) - https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/california-wildfires-2021-global-warming-b1874569.html
 
 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

#209 / Leaders?

 

Leon E. Panetta is pictured above. At one time, Panetta worked for the Nixon Administration. Then, Panetta became the Member of Congress representing the part of Santa Cruz County in which I live. Then, Panetta was the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under President Clinton. Then he was President Clinton's Chief of Staff. Then he was the head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Then he was the Secretary of Defense, holding both of these last positions under President Obama. 
 
Currently, Leon Panetta is the Chairman of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, which is based in Monterey County. Early this month, I received the latest issue of the Panetta Institute newsletter, Update, which reports that college students today are "resilient and optimistic about the future." That is definitely good news!

The latest Panetta Institute newsletter also has a "Message from the Chairman," headlined as follows:
 
 
We Cannot Afford To Take Our Democracy For Granted.
 
 
Here is how that Chairman's Message begins: 

Over 245 years since our birth as a nation, we have experienced a number of significant threats to the survival of our democracy. We the people elect our leaders in the hope that they will have the strength and courage to confront crisis; make the tough decisions required; respect our rights, freedoms and values; and abide by their oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.
 
While I am basically alright with most of this message, I do suggest that there is one word in it that is not, actually, quite the right word. That word is "leaders." 
 
We elect "representatives," not "leaders." Some of our elected representatives may also be "leaders," or may turn out to be "leaders," but there is no guarantee of that, and it is particularly important that our representatives don't get the idea that since they were elected they, therefore, have a mandate to "lead" us, and to tell us what we need to do. 
 
The mandate is to represent us. That's what our elected representatives are supposed to do.
 
If we truly care about democracy, we must get it into our heads that "we, the people" are, in actual truth, in charge of our government. We must truly internalize the fact that we are the government. Self-government means that we are in charge of our government ourselves.
 
When Abraham Lincoln said, at Gettysburg, that the Civil War had been fought to ensure that a government "of the people, by the people, [and] for the people, shall not perish from the earth," he absolutely got it right. 

A democratic government must be "of the people." In other words, each one of us must be, ourselves, engaged, in some way, in the governing process. 
 
A democratic government must be "by the people." In other words, the governmental decisions that will bind us must derive immediately from our own participation in government. 

Finally, the government must be "for" the people - but the only way that can ever be true is if our government is both "of and by the people," first. 

Electing "leaders" who hire people who tell us what we have to do, under penalty of prison, is not what "democracy" is all about. 

Real democracy is a lot of hard work. By us!

"Leaders" are those who step to the front to make sure that our government is, truly, "representative," that our government is doing what the people want it to do.

Let's not get sloppy when we talk about democracy. And let's not get confused. 

We don't elect "leaders," who then tell us where we ought to be going. 

We elect representatives, and then tell them where we want to go.

If we're not doing it that way, it's no democracy!

 
Image Credit:
https://www.cnn.com/2013/02/25/us/leon-panetta-fast-facts/index.html
 
 

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

#208 / Something For Nothing

 

 
Through hostile cities and unfriendly towns
Thirty pieces of silver, no money down
Maybe someday, you will understand
That something for nothing is everybody’s plan
 
     Bob Dylan - Maybe Someday
 
I read five newspapers every morning, which means a lot of duplicate coverage. Sometimes, different papers cover the same topics, but with different articles by different reporters. Often, though, the papers utilize the services of the Associated Press, or reprint what another paper has written, and the articles in the different papers are absolutely identical. 
 
Once in awhile, I come across another category of duplication. I find that two articles that are not, actually, focused on the same topic, or on the same event, have some common features. In fact, the way I read them, the two articles may be about "the same thing," but not on the face of it, just when you have read them and absorbed the content.

On July 3, 2021, for instance, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a front-page story with this headline: "How a dabbling investor was won over by Dogecoin." The article described the investment decisions of Shay Kornfeld, a public school math teacher living in Walnut Creek. Kornfeld liked to invest a couple of hundred dollars from each of his paychecks into the stock market, but his stock picks didn't ever seem to make him much money. 

Looking around for other possibilities, Kornfeld focused on Dogecoin. Dogecoin is a crypto currency, and apparently started out as a "joke." I think it's supposed to be pronounced "doggy-coin." Despite its "joke" beginnings, investors like Kornfeld decided to take it seriously. Kornfeld "could spend $30 and get 10,000 coins," he told the Chronicle. His initial $500 investment turned into more than $30,000 at Dogecoin's peak in May, and Kornfeld's stake was still worth $20,000 in early July, at the time of the Chronicle's story.
 
After telling readers about Kornfeld, the Chronicle article went on to document similar investment decisions made by other individuals, including investments by John Klein of Milpitas. Klein had watched with unbelief as Bitcoin skyrocketed in price, so Klein decided to  go "all in" on Dogecoin, when the price was still low. "If enough people have some irrational thought," he says, "it becomes rational."
 
oooOOOooo

On the same day that the Chronicle explored the Dogecoin phenomenon, and reported how small-scale investors are making a killing (or are trying to), The Wall Street Journal ran a story titled, "The Good Investor."  
 
Arif Naqvi, "a silver-haired man of soft, bearish charm," was a master in convincing people with money to give him some of that money, promoting himself as "one of the world's leading 'impact investors.'" Money invested with Naqvi was not only going to produce fabulous returns. It was going to "do good." Here is how the Journal described Naqvi's speech to "hundreds of business leaders," gathered at New York City's Mandarin Oriental hotel in September 2017:

“To do good does not necessarily mean to compromise returns,” Mr. Naqvi said, pacing back and forth upon the stage. “It is gratifying that we are having this event on morning one, day one and hour one of the U.N. General Assembly week.”

A revolution in finance was needed and he was going to lead it. He wasn’t just harnessing capitalism to make money for the rich but to end the suffering of the poor as well. The era of the impact investor had arrived, he said.
The crowd swelled with applause.  

Unfortunately for those who invested with him, Arif Naqvi was not what he seemed: "Behind the facade of operating a successful investment company capable of improving billions of lives, Mr. Naqvi was masterminding a global criminal conspiracy." The subhead on the article gave the story away: "Arif Naqvi convinced the elite that he could earn them big profits and help the poor at the same time. Then the money vanished."

oooOOOooo
 
 
The common denominator in these two stories, it seems to me - the way I read them, at least - is that both categories of "investors" - the business leaders in New York City and the schoolteachers and workers from Walnut Creek and Milpitas - were hoping to get something for nothing. 
 
Like Bob Dylan says, that's "everybody's plan."

 
 
Image Credit:
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0498127/ 
 
 

Monday, July 26, 2021

#207 / The State Legislature Is Getting It Wrong

 

Consider today's blog posting as a "Guest Editorial." My friend Andy Schiffrin attempted to have the statement below published in my hometown newspaper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel. The Sentinel wouldn't print it, so here it is. I completely agree with what Andy is saying. What the state is doing, in the name of increasing affordable housing, is actually having the opposite effect. 
 
SB 9, and other similar pieces of state legislation, are examples of the State Legislature trying to enact local zoning from Sacramento. Not a workable plan! For those who don't read each and every one of my blog postings, let me direct you to my posting on July 21st, celebrating locally-elected officials. 
 
Local officials, not state lawmakers, should be making local land use decisions. Indeed, that used to be the way it was!
 
If you are persuaded by Andy's excellent Op-Ed, please contact your State Senator and State Assembly Member, and ask them to vote "NO" on SB 9. The bill will almost certainly be voted on in early August. In the City of Santa Cruz, your State Senator is John Laird and your Assembly Member is Mark Stone. Hopefully, those in other areas know their state representatives!
 

oooOOOooo

Why is the State Legislature Worsening Our Housing Crisis?
________________________________________

There is near universal agreement that California is suffering from a severe affordable housing crisis. The cost of housing, particularly in more populated areas, is driving longtime residents away and making it almost impossible for even average income families to rent, let alone buy, a home.

The state’s response has been to encourage the construction of more housing by mandating higher densities. This approach is based on the simplistic assumption that by increasing the supply of housing, the price of housing will become more affordable. Unfortunately, it’s more complicated.

New laws have been adopted making it almost impossible for cities and counties to deny proposed higher density housing developments. In addition, just about every single-family home lot is now eligible for two accessory dwelling units without the requirement for the property owner to live in any of the units.

On top of this, a law is moving through the Legislature (SB 9) that will allow every parcel with a single-family zoning designation to be split in two with no review of potential impacts on, for example, traffic or water availability. Essentially, the state will be doubling the density in every single-family neighborhood.

What is the problem with this sledgehammer approach to our housing crisis? These new laws will slowly create additional housing. However, their unintended consequences will cause an immediate and considerable increase in the cost of housing everywhere. It will become more expensive for average income families to buy homes and will lead to increased rent generally.

Why is this? The price of a house reflects what can be done with the property. A parcel with a single-family home on it has a certain market value. That value increases substantially if one or more units can be added, or if the property can be split in two. Sellers know this, and when greater densities are mandated on what are now single-family properties, the price of single-family homes will increase significantly, reflecting their increased market value.

The result, then, is that while some new housing is being built that could reduce the price of housing, the increased value of houses overall will result in an overall increase in the cost of housing. These new state laws will mean that the cost of housing will increase and become less affordable for everyone.

This doesn’t mean that encouraging additional housing construction is a mistake. There just needs to be an understanding of the potential deleterious consequences of a proposal and steps taken to avoid them.

For example, making it easier to build accessory dwelling units makes sense but not where it unnecessarily increases housing prices. Requiring owner-occupancy of one of the units can increase the supply without causing a major spike in housing prices by encouraging housing speculators.

The State goal of increasing affordable housing is important. As we’ve learned in Santa Cruz, inclusionary housing requirements on large multi‑family developments can help. There should a statewide inclusionary requirement.

Finally, SB 9, in its current form, should be defeated. Doubling the density in all single-family zones may slowly cause some increase in the housing stock, but with a potentially large and almost immediate increase to the price of housing everywhere.
__________________________________________________
Andy Schiffrin is the Chair of the Santa Cruz City Planning Commission. He has a degree in City Planning from MIT and teaches Environmental Assessment at UCSC.
 
 
Image Credit:
https://www.ppic.org/blog/diversity-in-the-california-statehouse/
 
 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

#206 / Beyond The Superorganism



There are lots of ways to think about our human-caused global warming crisis. Here is one way: 

Our environment and economy are at a crossroads. This paper attempts a cohesive narrative on how human evolved behavior, money, energy, economy and the environment fit together. Humans strive for the same emotional state of our successful ancestors. In a resource rich environment, we coordinate in groups, corporations and nations, to maximize financial surplus, tethered to energy, tethered to carbon. At global scales, the emergent result of this combination is a mindless, energy hungry, CO2 emitting Superorganism. Under this dynamic we are now behaviorally ‘growth constrained’ and will use any means possible to avoid facing this reality. The farther we kick the can, the larger the disconnect between our financial and physical reality becomes. The moment of this recalibration will be a watershed time for our culture, but could also be the birth of a new ‘systems economics’ and resultant different ways of living. The next 30 years are the time to apply all we’ve learned during the past 30 years. We’ve arrived at a species level conversation (emphasis added).

The "paper" mentioned in the statement above is an article published in Volume 169 of Ecological Economics. The statement serves as the "Abstract" of that article, authored by N.J. Hagens. The article is titled, "Economics for the future – Beyond the Superorganism."

Hagens' article reminds me of a book I recommended earlier, Fossil Capital - The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming, authored by Andreas Malm. Both the article and Malm's book present our current situation from a largely economic perspective. Anyone reading them is forced to the conclusion that we are in deep trouble, trouble so deep (taking the Hagens' article seriously) that the currently proposed solutions to the global warming crisis are no solutions at all, because they are based on a failure to understand the forces that are driving the crisis.

I am still trying to get my head fully around what Hagens is saying. If you would like to try to get your head around it, which I suggest, just click this link. Hagens' paper is only sixteen pages long, and that counts the footnotes. Malm's book, on the other hand, is 549 pages. I still haven't finished it!
 
We all know that we need to act quickly to address our combined global warming/extinction crisis, and Hagens is suggesting that the most ambitious efforts proposed so far - think the "Green New Deal" - are not the right answer.

I am hopeful that I will be able to re-read Hagens and come away with a clear idea of what we actually need to do. That "Superorganism" thing is not our friend!


Image Credit:
https://www.amazon.com/Superorganism/dp/B0788559J3/ref=asc_df_B0788559J3/
 
 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

#205 / Water Wasters

 

Kurtis Alexander, who was once a reporter for the Santa Cruz Sentinel, is now reporting for the San Francisco Chronicle. On July 17, 2021, Alexander wrote a timely article entitled, "Bay residents slow to lessen water use."

According to Alexander, water customers have been asked to cut back, but "savings goals haven't been hit." 

The jurisdictions reported on are in the greater Bay Area, and Santa Cruz is not mentioned. It would be nice to know how our local community is doing.

One of "our" problems, as a human society, is that we each tend to act individually, and not as if "our" problems were really "ours." Requests and rules are so often seen as directed to "the other guy." 

That seems to be what's happening as we face a megadrought in California.

We need to remember that we are "all in this together." Getting information on how we're doing is a helpful first step. If we know we are blowing it, maybe we will change our ways.

So far, according to Alexander, that doesn't seem to be happening, at least in the greater Bay Area. I'd love to hear a different report from the City of Santa Cruz, where I live. I know that my family has cut back our water use rather dramatically, based on our June water bill (July's bill has not yet arrived).

How are all the rest of you doing? How is our city doing?

City of Santa Cruz Oceanview Park - July 17, 2021 at 4:16 p.m.
 
Image Credit:
https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Amid-escalating-drought-Bay-Area-residents-slow-16318313.php
 

Friday, July 23, 2021

A Notice To Subscribers (And To Everyone Else, Too)

 

 
A number of people subscribe to this blog - "We Live In A Political World." Thank you for that! I have been making daily postings to this blog for over eleven years, and I am happy to think that somebody might be reading what I write. 

There is an upcoming "problem," however. The "Follow by Email" option, shown in the screenshot above, and visible on the blog, has utilized a service called "Feedburner," operated by Google. Frankly, I don't really understand how it works, but if you have signed up, using that "Follow by Email" widget, you will have been getting an email link to the blog each time I author a new blog posting. That, at least, is the way it has been!

I am sorry to report that this Feedburner service will disappear soon (sometime in August, I am now told).
 
That means, if you would like to continue to get an emailed version of my blog postings, that you need to do something. I would suggest doing it now, following the directions below. 

If you don't subscribe to this blog, but think that maybe you would like to subscribe (and I certainly encourage that), please follow the directions below:

How To Sign Up To Receive Blog Postings
 
#1 - Go to the "Follow-It" Website (just click this link).
 
#2 - Fill in the following URL in the blank provided: www.gapatton.net. Then hit "Go."
 
#3 - On the next page (it will come up automatically), hit "Next."
 
#4 - On the page that comes up, select "Single Emails," and then type in YOUR email at the bottom of the page.
 
#5 - Finally, hit the "Follow It" button at the bottom of that same page.
 
#6 - Confirm your choice when you get an email in your inbox. 
 
 
That's it! I have tried this myself, and I had no problems. 
 
Thanks for reading "We Live In A Political World!"

 
Image Credit: 
Gary A. Patton, screenshot
 

#204 / Endangering Changes Are Underway

 

The May/June 2021 edition of the "Washington Newsletter," published by the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), included a front-page story by Diana Ohlbaum. Her story was titled, "Engendering Change in U.S. Nuclear Policy." 

Ohlbaum's story is a good one, arguing that "Congress, the administration, and the nonprofit sector ... need to do more to bring the voices of women and people of color into foreign policy decision-making." 

I completely agree with Ohlbaum. As I started to read her story, though, I was initially puzzled, because my brain had tricked me into expecting a different kind of argument. I had read "engendering change" as "endangering change," and that is, of course, quite a different thing. As much as I do believe that we need to put a high priority on "engendering" the kind of changes that Ohlbaum was writing about, I am a lot more concerned about the "endangering" changes that are now underway at the highest levels of our government.
 
I have been well aware for some time - and I hope you are similarly aware - that the United States government is planning to "modernize" its nuclear arsenal, at a cost of something like $634 billion dollars over the next decade. This does not, in my view, provide us more safety and security; it truly does "endanger" us - besides being a huge waste of money, at a time when we need to be putting our resources to work on the real problems we face: global warming, massive income and wealth inequality, the need for comprehensive health care, and racial injustice. 

I was pleased to find, as I read further, that FCNL is very much aware of the "endangering" changes that the government has in store for us - and is providing a warning. On page four of that "Washington Newsletter," FCNL tells us that "A New Arms Race Will Not Make Us Safe."
 
I hope that's not news to you, but if it is, you might want to click that link and see what Dr. Emma Belcher has to say about the decision by our government to launch a new nuclear arms race. You might also want to sign up for alerts from Tri-Valley CAREs, a terrific grassroots group based in Livermore, California. Here is Tri-Valley CAREs' latest report: 

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) issued a new report entitled Complicit: 2020 Global Nuclear Weapons Spending that outlines the $72.6 billion spent by the nine nuclear weapons states on their nuclear weapons programs during the 2020 pandemic.

The country by country details provide a grim picture of increasing budgets to fund new generations of nuclear weapons. The report also sheds light on the numerous private weapons contractors that profit off of the nuclear weapon largess from these countries and the huge amounts these companies spend on lobbying to keep the largess coming. This creates what the authors have deemed,” the nuclear weapons complicity cycle.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the United States spent by far the most on its nuclear arsenal in 2020. The report finds that The United States spent $70,881 every minute of 2020 on nuclear weapons, for a total of $37.4 Billion in 2020.

The report further points out that the nine nuclear weapons states found they had more than $72 billion on hand for their weapons of mass destruction in 2020, $1.4 billion more than 2019, despite the global pandemic. The report illustrates the how these governments are putting these weapons and their corporate benefactors before the needs of their people.

ICAN is a global campaign working to mobilize people in all countries to inspire, persuade and pressure their governments to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. ICAN is comprised of more than 600 partner organizations (Tri-Valley CAREs included) in over 100 countries. More information about ICAN can be found at www.icanw.org (emphasis added).
 
 
Image Credit:
https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/us-nuclear-weapons-modernization

Thursday, July 22, 2021

#203 / Laser-Guided Bombs

 

Pictured above is a laser-guided bomb. If you click this link, you can see a ten minute tutorial on how to launch a laser-guided bomb. Good luck with that! I didn't much understand any of the instructions, but I was suitably impressed with the destructive impact of the bomb once it was released. 
 
You might wonder why I was scouting out how to launch a laser-guided bomb (LGB for short). Basically, I was following up on a recent article in Consortium News, which was titled, "Arms Sales: What Americans Know About Bombs Dropped in Our Name." 
 
I knew nothing! But here is what I learned:
 
At some point before the summer of 2018, an arms deal from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia was sealed and delivered. A 227kg laser-guided bomb made by Lockheed Martin, one of many thousands, was part of that sale. 
On Aug 9, 2018, one of those Lockheed Martin bombs was dropped on a school bus full of Yemeni children. They were on their way to a field trip when their lives came to a sudden end. Amidst shock and grief, their loved ones would learn that Lockheed Martin was responsible for creating the bomb that murdered their children.... 
While Lockheed Martin profited from the death of 40 Yemeni children that day, top United States weapons companies continue to sell weapons to repressive regimes around the world, killing countless more people in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and more. And in many cases, the United States public has no idea this is being done in our name to benefit the largest private companies in the world. 
Now, the newest $735 million in precision-guided weapons that are being sold to Israel are destined to have a similar fate. The news about this sale broke in the midst of Israel’s most recent assault on Gaza that killed over 200 Palestinians. When Israel attacks Gaza, it does so with U.S.-made bombs and warplanes.... 
According to our own law, the United States should not be sending weapons to countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia (among others). Technically, doing so goes against the Foreign Assistance Act, which is one of the main laws governing weapons sales. 
Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act says that weapons sold by the United States cannot be used for human rights violations. When Saudi Arabia dropped that Lockheed Martin bomb on those Yemeni kids, no argument could be made for “legitimate self defense.” 
When the primary target of Saudi airstrikes in Yemen are weddings, funerals, schools, and residential neighborhoods in Sanaa, the United States has no legitimate justification for their use of U.S. manufactured weapons. When Israel uses Boeing joint direct attack munitions to level residential buildings and international media sites, they are not doing so out of “legitimate self defense.” 
In this day and age where videos of U.S. allies committing war crimes are readily available on Twitter or Instagram, no one can claim that they don’t know what U.S.-made weapons are used for around the world.
 
The article in Consortium News spends a good bit of time discussing how arms sales might be disallowed on an individual basis. It is hard to do it that way, that's clear, so the article mentions how procedures might be changed, to let Members of Congress have a better chance to intervene to prevent individual arms sales.

Good idea, sure, but how about a more direct solution?

NO international arms sales, period. How's that for an idea?
 
Professing its commitment to peace (as the United States government so often does) is not really consistent with allowing American arms manufacturers to provide sophisticated weapons that end up blowing apart wedding, funerals, and school field trips. 

NO international arms sales, period. Seems like a simple solution. I think I remember a Bob Dylan song about that!


 
Image Credit:
https://youtu.be/3otzsy4l1jA
 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

#202 / Local Leaders

 
Lina Hidalgo
I was a locally-elected official for twenty years, having been elected five times to the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. I was the statewide chairperson of the California Local Government Commission, and I helped form and lead an OCS Local Government Coordination Program that began in Santa Cruz County and that ultimately mobilized votes in Washington, D.C. that stopped new offshore oil drilling, nationwide, for twenty-seven years.*
 
Based on my personal experience, I have a great deal of confidence that local government officials can have an extremely important impact on issues of local, statewide, and even national importance. To provide some examples of what I mean, let me introduce you to a short article and to a very long book that support that thesis. They are both worth reading.

Dennis Kucinich
The shorter piece I am recommending is titled, "Lina Hidalgo's Political Rise." Click on that link and you will find yourself on The New Yorker website, where Chief Executive of Houston, Texas in 2018. It's a fascinating and inspiring story - at least I think so.
 
The Houston Chronicle has apparently claimed that "Hidalgo puts principle over politics at her own peril." 
 
The importance of standing up for principle against politics is the major theme of Kucinich's book. 

 

 
_______________________________________________
Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.newyorker.com/news/us-journal/lina-hidalgos-political-rise 
(2) - https://www.cleveland.com/cityhall/2020/12/dennis-kucinich-files-paperwork-to-raise-money-for-potential-cleveland-mayoral-run-in-2021.html

* My friend Richard Charter, who is still working on this issue, gets the major credit for that!

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

#201 / Try Everything?

 
 
The New York Times Magazine titled its June 27, 2021, edition: "The Climate Issue." The magazine explored how best to address the global warming crisis that affects all life on this planet, and The Times summarized its findings and recommendations this way, on the very first page of its discussion:
 
New technology, or new laws? Preach hope, or warn about sacrifice? Punish polluters, or build green businesses? On the brink of climate catastrophe, the only reasonable answer is:

All of the above

 
The title on the cover of the magazine was: "The Only Solution: Try Everything." 

I don't quarrel with the general sentiment expressed by The Times. I applaud the action-oriented approach suggested. I do, though, have three slight, but perhaps important, amendments to what The Times has said - and to the way that The Times has characterized our situation. 
 
First, we are not "on the brink" of a climate catastrophe. We are "in" a climate catastrophe. Right now. Present tense, not future tense.

Second, while people have become habituated to speaking of a "climate" crisis (or climate catastrophe), focusing on "climate" is to focus on an "effect," and not to focus on the "cause." The actual crisis - in the sense of what is causing our problems - should be described as a "global warming" crisis. It might also be called a "CO2” crisis, or a "hydrocarbon combustion" crisis. The point is, our "crisis" is in our continued combustion of hydrocarbon fuels and the continuing and growing release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere.

Third, while the "Try Everything" idea conveys a sense of urgency - which is certainly appropriate - there is an implication in this phrasing that suggests that any and every idea about how to deal with the global warming crisis should now be tried. I am not convinced that this is going to be helpful, since this approach will permit the oil corporations to continue to push hydrocarbon combustion while "other" possibilities are tried out, as possible solutions.

I believe that a slightly different formulation is required - with a full sense of urgency retained. Since the release of greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere is what is causing the global warming crisis - and because it is a genuine "crisis," which requires immediate and effective action - our approach should be this: 

If it is technically possible to eliminate or reduce any greenhouse gas emission, then that emission MUST be  eliminated or reduced, at the very earliest moment possible.
 
California's current laws (arguably the best in the nation) are not built on this principle. The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 has been implemented by a so-called "Cap and Trade" system that sets an annual cap on emissions, and then provides that as long as that cap is achieved, industries and others that generate greenhouse gas emissions can continue to pollute. Polluters can pay money to the state, instead of actually reducing emissions. 

Because there is a genuine "crisis," present tense, we need to treat that crisis as such. When a fire is burning down your house, you do everything you can to stop the flames, at the earliest possible time. Discussing long term fire management plans, and how most expeditiously to make sure fully charged fire extinguishers are going to be available in the future, are not the most important topics to pursue while the fire is raging. That needs to be our approach on global warming. If there is something - if there is anything - we can do that will reduce the emissions that are burning up our planet, we don't "try everything," we DO everything!

And we do it now!
 
 
Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/22/magazine/ezra-klein-climate-crisis.html