Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Blogger Candidate Forum: The House of Representatives

Hello Everyone:

Happy Haloween.  Blogger hopes your day is going frightfully well. It may be Halloween but it is also Wednesday and The Candidate Forum is back in the blogosphere, indulging in the good courtesy of the Fairfax Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.  

First some news: Apparently Mr. Donald Trump thinks he can end birthright citizenship with an executive order.  No, he cannot.  Birthright citizenship is embedded in the first section of the 14th Amendment.  Originally, the 14th Amendment was intended to settle the question of the citizenship of newly freed African Americans. Birthright citizenship is settled law, affirmed by the 1898 Supreme Court ruling Ark v. The United States.  It is generally accepted by most legal scholars, on either side of the aisle, that a person born to immigrant parents is a considered an American citizen and entitled to all the benefits, thereof.  Truthfully, this just seems like a cheap pre-midterm election stunt by Mr. Trump to energize the electorate.  Speaking of the Midterms, let us continue our look at Congressional elections with a preview of the House of Representives elections.

With less than a week to go, the Republican Party seems to have written off the House.  They are resigned to the fact that the control of the House will go to the Democrats.  Depending on what side of the aisle, that is either a good or bad thing. However, is a return to Democratic control a sure thing?  If it is a sure thing, how firm is that control?  Let us have a look. 

The big question on the minds of voters, cheap political stunts aside, is who will win the day.  FiveThirtyEight forecasts that the Democrats have a 6 in 7 chance (85.5%) to retake the House and the Republicans have a 1 in 7 chance (14.5%) of retaining control (; dat accessed Oct. 31, 2018). FiveThirtyEight tracker for a generic ballot--a straight forward Democrat versus Republican question--Democrats polled between 50.3 percent to 41.9 percent on average (; Oct. 29, 2018; date accessed Oct. 31, 2018).  Politico posted similar results.  As of Monday, the online digest predicted that the House leans favorably in the direction of the Democrats, while the Republicans retain control of the Senate (; date accessed Oct. 31, 2018).  What would happen if the all the predictions come true and the Democrats win the House?

For one, it would mean the return of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  However, Reprentative Pelosi (D-CA) has already indicated that she plans to be the Speaker of the House until someone comes up through the ranks.  First on the agenda would be ethics reforms. As of today, policy is being drafted, "A Declaration  for American Democracy, that incorporates proposals for campaign finance reform, voting rights, ethics, and accountability.  One key provision is the president must release his tax returns (; Oct. 30, 2018; date accessed Oct. 31, 2018). What about the I-word?  The Candidate Forum offers this piece of advice, wait until Special Counsel Robert Mueller submits his report to the Attorney General's office.  Until then keep it off the table.  Before any of this can take place, the Democrats need to flip 23 seats.  Can they do it?

Right now the Democrats hold 193 seats to the Republicans 237 seats with five vacancies. Momentum is on the Democrats' side thanks to the president's low approval ratings and heightened enthusiasm threatening the Republicans' advantages, including incumbency. Another factor driving the momentum are the record number of vacanies and the redrawn electoral map in Pennsylvania. This created new congressional districts, further weakening Republican control. Therefore, in order to keep control of the House, Republican candidates are trying to redefine their Democratic challengers as an unacceptable option. Thus, out the 435 seats, the Democrats would need 218 to regain control.  Cook Political Report breaks it down: 12 seats are rated  Likely Democrat, 15 seats are considered Lean Democrat, 1 seat is a Democratic Toss Up, 28 seats are rated Republican Toss Up, 28 seats Lean Republican, and another 28 are Likely Republican (; Oct. 30, 2018; date accessed Oct. 31, 2018). What House races should you pay attention to?

In order to generate the fabled blue wave, a gain of 35 to 40 seats, the Democrats will have score victories in Republican held districts that have not elected a Democrat in recent memory. The toughest races are in: Maine's second district, New York's 22 district, Illinois, 12th district, West Virginia's third district, Kansas' second (this includes the university town of Lawrence but otherwise rural), and Washington's fifth district (; Oct. 14, 2018; date accessed Oct. 31, 2018). The common thread is that they are mostly rural parts of their state--West Virginia's third district is in the heart of coal country. Two of these districts have open seats and the others are defended by incumbents. Except for the Ilinois 12th, they are predominantly Caucasian. Education and income levels are below the national average.  The president won these districts by double digits. (Ibid). 

Voter lethargy had been a concern but Republicans insist that the contentious Kavanaugh hearing
God energized the base.  Perhaps Mr. Trump's "Hail Mary" plays in the final week of the rancorous campaign season will have some effect, at least that what Republicans hope.  The Kavanaugh effect is mostly being felt in the senate races but the president is affecting the House races. The affect cuts both ways depending on how the president is being used (Ibid).  In general, it is advantage Democrat. 

Where does that leave us?  The Candidate Forum predicts that the Democrats will regain control of the House of Representatives but it will not be in epic numbers.  Depending on how they spend their new found political capital, they will either cement their control in 2020 or the lose seats. The Republicans will retain control of the Senate but watch out.  Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Lindsay Graham's (R-SC) seats come in 2020 and you can be certain that Democrats will challenge them

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Urban Legends

Hello Everyone:

Blogger and The Candidate Forum were feeling pretty depressed after yesterday's post and decided to   write about something fun. Convienently Halloween provides us with a fun subject to talk about, urban legends. Where do they come from and why they continue. Urban legends are scary good fun and are not just reserved for Halloween.  In the spooky spirit of Halloween and Día de los Muertos, let us proceed down the dark path. 

Where do urban legends come from?  Urban legends are a vital part of popular culture. They offer some insight into our fears and the current state of society.  Blogger wonders what kind of urban legends are being created right now. University of Wales folklorist Mikel J. Koven told Live Science,

Life is so much more interesting with monsters [; Oct. 14, 2005; date accessed Oct.30, 2018],.... It's the same with these legends. They're just good stories. (Ibid; Aug. 27, 2006)

Who does not love a good monster story, unless you are the squimish-type.  Not that it is any of dear readers, right?  How does an urban legend start?  By the way, the social media does play a part in the spread of urban legends 

Folklorists have their own ideas about what makes an urban legend.  Mr. Koven told Live Science, "Academics have always disagreed on whether urban legends are, by definition, too fantastic to be true or at least partly based on fact." (Ibid). He believes that urban legends are partially based on fact. 

Discovering the truth behind the story is not nearly as important--and frankly a buzzkill--as the lesson they are meant to teach. Besides, trying to uncover the truth about an urban legend is a pointless exercise because they are not so easily verifiable.  Like a fish story, urban legends get passed by word of mouth (Ibid; May 15, 2006) or, more commonly via email or the social media. They always start the same way, with typical, hapless, unsuspecting friend of a friend," which makes finding the true source of the story impossible. 

Jan Harold Brunvand wrote in his 1981 book The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meaning (W.W. Norton & Company, 1981),

The lack of verification in no way diminishes the appeal that urban legends have for us,.... We enjoy them merely as stories, and tend to at least half-believe them as possibly accurate reports. (Ibid; Aug. 27, 2006)

Heather Whipps points out in her article "Urban Legends: How They Start and Why They Persist," that the first part of Mr. Brunvand's book, The Vanishing Hitchhiker, " named for a classic legend, the subject's seminal work" (Ibid).

Urban legends usually have some moral lesson and the meaning depends on who is telling the story.  The lessons do not have be the great meaning-of-life variety (Ibid). 

Mr. Brunvand told Live Science, "Urban legends are also good indicators of what's going on in current society" (Ibid). He said,

By looking at what's implied in story,new get an insight into the fears of a group in society....[Urban legends] need to make cultural sense. (Ibid)

Some remain part of the societal fabric forever and some end up consigned to the ash heap of fiction.

Generally, it is the lack of information coupled with fear that gives rise to new legends.  You know all those so-called stories you might have read on the social media sites like the story of the pizza restaurant that was a front for child pornography?  That is could be construed as an urban legend.  However Jan Harold Bruvand said that the "...abundance of conspiracy theories and legends" surrounding, for example mass shootings, indicate a "distrust in the government among some groups" (Ibid).  

Let us be honest, urban legends are just good fun.  They just a part of human culture and have been around for as long as humans have existed and needed an explanation for life's curiosities.

One of Blogger's favorite urban legends is La Llorona--The Weeping Woman. It said she haunts the rivers and canals of California and the American Southwest. She is also considered an omen of death (; date accessed Oct. 30, 2018) to those who see her.

It said La Llorona was once a poor young woman who lived a rich nobleman with whom she had three children.  The young woman wished to marry the father of her children but he refused, telling her that he could not such a thing because the children were born out of wedlock. The young woman was quite determined to marry her nobleman and drown her children to prove her love for him.  He still would not marry her; mad with grief, she roamed the river banks, calling for her children.  They were gone, she drowned herself, and was condemned to wander the waterways to search for eternity for her children (Ibid). 

S.E. Schlosser, the author of Spooky California, shared this story:

Now I have heard that one night, two young men were car-pooling home from work with the windows down when they heard a terrible wail. It sounded like the desparate cry of a baby or perhaps an injured tom-cat. Beside the road, a white mist began to gather. It moved swiftly among a grove of palm trees and when it reached the largest tree, it became the figure of a lovely young girl dressed all in white...She began to weep and wring her hands in agony, and men realized they were seeing the ghost of the Llorona. The driver gunned the engine and they drove away as fast as they could.  The glowing figure of he Llorona remained visible in the rear-view mirror until the car turned the corner.

The men were upset by the vision, afraid the rumors about the Llorona might be true.  But nothing happened to either of them the rest of the night, so they laughed away the incident, deciding they imagined the whole thing.

The next night, the men were riding home from work when their front tire burst at the place in the road where they had seen the ghost the previous night.  The car spun out of control and hit the largest tree in the palm grove in the exact place where the Llorona had appeared to them. Both men were killed instantly. (Ibid)

Happy Halloween and Día de los Muertos.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Awful, Horrible

Hello Everyone:

The United States experienced one of the most tragic and scariest weeks in its recent history. First, a dozen of prominent Democrats--including former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton--and Trump critics received pipe bombs. Then came the horrific shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. In each case, the perpetrators, who shall not be dignified with a proper name on this post, was a human who harbored nationalist, racist, bigoted, anti-Semitic views, shared on fringe-ish social media sites. Good news, bad news.  The good news: The pipe bomb packages did not explode, the perpetrators in both cases were caught, and are currently occupying a jail cell in federal detention. The bad, awful, horrible news is eleven people, including a 97-year-old Holocaust survivor, are dead. Today Blogger Candidate Forum joins us in the blogosphere to focus just how all of these truly awful horrible things could have taken place and will they affect the midterm elections, one week from today.

Both perpetrators never met each other but they shared anti-Semitic views.  On October 23, George Soros, a Jewish billionaire, a longtime target of conspiracy theorists, received a pipe bomb in his mailbox. Four days later, another human entered the Tree of Life synagogue, shouting "All Jews must die," before opening fire on worshippers gathered for the weekly Sabbath services and to celebrate a baby naming ceremony. Both these truly scary episodes are not isolated incidents but part of a recent 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents between 2016 and 2017 (; Feb. 27, 2018; date accessed Oct. 29, 2018). Noah Berlatsky reported for NBC News

The increased targeting of Jewish people, though, is part of a broader wave of fascist rhetoric and violence directed at a range of groups--primarily people of color, immigrants, leftists, LGBTQ people, and women (; date accessed Oct. 29, 2018). 

It was no coincidence that after Mr. Soros received a pipe bomb, Ms. Clinton's security detail found one in her mailbox, nor was it coincidence that the pipe bomber's van windows were covered with anti-right wing stickers.  Finally, it was not an accident that the Pittsburgh shooter carried on online about how Jews were helping immigrants (; Oct. 28, 2018; date accessed Oct. 29, 2018) cross the U.S. southern border as part of the migrant caravan. 

Mr. Berlatsky writes,

Anti-Semitism is a central motivating force in far-right ideology, and tied together the strands of rage, bigotry and conspiracy that have become more and more mainstream over the last decades in the Republican Party. Even for the Nazis, anti-Semitism was always more than just a hatred of Jewish individuals. It was a sweeping ideology that connected a broad range of prejudices and grievances....(; date accessed Oct. 29, 2018).

Essentially, in Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler blamed the Jews for stationing Afro-French troops in the Rhineland, following the First World War.  He wrote the troops, "systematically raped white German women,"

...bastardizing the white race which they hate and thus lowering its cultural and political level so that the Jew might dominate...(; Feb. 16, 2016; date accessed Oct. 29, 2018)

Thus, anti-Semitism became the delivery mechanism for racism, sexual anxiety, and national pride.  There is nothing wrong with being proud of your country.  It is part of each and every person's fundamental identity.  Where it goes horribly wrong is when it becomes a vehicle for delivering racism and bigotry in all its heinous forms.  

Unfortunately, anti-Semitism remains a constant in contemporary America; making use of the same tropes, blaming the Jewish people for every right-wing imagined existential threat to American society. 

For example, the majority of conspiracy theories center around George Soros, a Holocaust survivor and a major supporter of liberal campaigns (; date accessed Oct. 29, 2018). Of course that has not stopped the right-wing media from blaming him for funding the anti-Kavanaugh protests (; Oct. 1, 2018; date accessed Oct. 29, 2018) and more recently, the migrant caravan from Central America (; Oct. 25, 2018; date accessed Oct. 29, 2018).

Anti-Semitism goes hand-in-hand with fascism, which has implications for everyone regardless of political persuasion. When left-wing candidates and media personalities invoke anti-Semitic tropes, they actually undermine the credibly of their argument that they are the ones who stand with women, immigrants, the LGBTQ, and so forth. For example, when British Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn invokes a less virulent strain of anti-Semitism, it legitimates suspicion towards immigrants and those perceived as " the other--" the very people that Mr. Corbin's party claims to help. In the United States, conservatives really need to rethink the link between anti-Semitism, current political debate, and their goals.  What does this mean for the Midterm Elections on November 6th?

Early voting in the 2018 Midterm Elections has begun and, without a single doubt, the tragedy in Pittsbugh and the pipe bombs are weighing heavily on voters' mind.  The biggest question emerging out all of this: Has the nature of political rhetoric contributed to the violence?

In today's daily briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the president to the press corps, saying he bears no responsibility in creating a nasty political environment where hate crime can flourish (; date accessed Oct. 29, 2018). Ms. Sanders quickly added,

The first thing the president did was condemn the attack both in Pittsburgh and in the pipe bombs,.... The very first thing the media did was blame the president  and make him responsible for these attacks.  That is outrageous. (Ibid)

Yet, Mr. Trump is not helping the situation by continuing to turn up the volume on the rhetoric, demonizing the migrant caravan, and referring to the media as "enemies of the people."  In today's Washington Post, conservative columnist Max Boot wrote,

He continues to spew this crazy invective against his critics, his opponents, against the media,.... He is creating a very dangerous environment in America.  He needs to stop. It is so irresponsible. (; date accessed Oct. 29, 2018)

On he other side of the aisle, Democrats claim the president is creating a toxic "us versus them" environment. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) bluntly told reporters,

We need to understand those folks are getting license from the rhetoric on high,.... They use that rhetoric in their propaganda. (; date accessed Oct. 29, 2018)

Over the weekend, the president seems to have gotten the message because he toned it down a little. A new political advert from the Republican Party offered a cheerful message about the economy. However, the  president was right back to form today, tweeting about the fake news media. The White House, also true to form, lashed out at any attempt to connect Mr. Trump's words to the growing anger and violence. Ms. Sanders told reporters,

The only person responsible for carrying out either of these heinous acts were the individuals who carried them out,.... It's not the president. 


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Blogger Candidate Forum: Forecasting The Senate

Hello Everyone:

Yours Truly will out of the blogosphere tomorrow, go to spend time with Blogger Mum. Instead, Blogger Candidate Forum will step in with a pre-midterm election preview.

Dear readers, you can tell things are getting very close to the election wire because the president's tweets and rally speeches are getting more and more desparate.  Just yesterday, Mr. Trump proudly proclaimed himself a nationalist and blaming the Democrats for the Central American caravan. Kind of makes Yours Truly miss all the "witch hunt" tweets.  Seriously, with the Midterm Election just two weeks away the race for state and federal offices are tightening up. Today, The Forum would like begin a two-part look at the federal races, beginning with the Senate.  Blogger's home state of California is pretty much a Democratic slam dunk. Let us begin. 

What is at stake?  The short answer is control of the upper chamber. As of writing, the Republicans hold 51 out of the 100 seats and the Democrats hold 49 seats.  In order to gain control of the Senate, the Democrats would need to gain two seats. Sounds easy, right?  Not exactly because in order to gain the majority, they would not only need to pick up two seats and not lose any of 13 competive elections. In order for the Republicans to retain control of the Senate, they cannot afford to lose any of the competitive races and pick up seats. Not so simple after all. In several states, the Democrats are playing defense and have limited opportunities to flip Republican held seats. Cooks Political Reports handicaps the races:

 As of October 12, 2018, 26 Democratic seats are up for election, 14 seats (including one in Blogger's home State) are solid blue Democrat. Four seats are likely to remain blue. Three are leaning toward the Democrat column and five are toss ups.  On the other side of aisle, three are solid red Republican--Utah is an open seat but likely to go to former 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.  One leans Republican, the seats in Nevada and Texas are rated as tossups; Tennessee and Arizona are tossups (; Oct. 12, 2018; date accessed Oct, 23, 2018)

What are the Democrats' chances of regaining control of the Senate?  For a brief moment in September, it looked as if the Democrats had a real opportunity to defy the harsh electoral map. Then came the Kavanaugh nomination. Blogger does not need to re-hash how bruising the hearings were but one that shocked Republicans back to life (; Sept. 24, 2018; date accessed Oct. 23, 2018). Republicans who were less than energetic about the midterms were re-energized. The nomination battle seemed to nationalize the race (Ibid; Oct. 22, 2018). As Election Day draws ever so close, higher Republican wattage is turning up the heat on Democrats in places where the senate race is particularly competitive. "Of the 13 most competitive races, 10 are in states President Trump carried" (Ibid). 

Just how much of an impact did the Kavanaugh nomination process have on the Senate races?  Let us take a look at the races in North Dakota and West Viriginia.  In North Dakota, overall support for Brett Kavanaugh was 56 percent and 26 percent opposed. Republicans overwhelmingly supported the nomination--86 percent--and two percent opposed it. Only 15 percent of North Dakota Democrats supported the nomination and 71 percent opposed it (; Sept 30, 2018; date accessed Oct. 23, 2018). This has made things tougher for incumbent Senator Heidi Heitkamp, especially with a more engaged Republican constituents (; Oct. 3, 2018; date accessed Oct. 23, 2018).  Senator Heitkamp was originally a "Yea" vote but Justice Kavanaugh's tantrum convinced her to change it to a "No" vote.  In changing her vote, Senator Heitkamp was taking a huge political risk, one that could cost her seat.

Before the final vote, Senator Heitkamp already trailed by double digits in two recent polls (; Oct. 3, 2018; date accessed Oct. 23, 2018). Republicans believe that her opposition to Justice Kavanaugh benefitted her Republican challenger representative Kevin Cramer and rally conservative who might be willing to jump ship and vote her out (; Oct. 4, 2018; date accessed Oct. 23, 2018). However, there might be an upside to the situation. Senator Heitkamp's "No" vote could energize North Dakota Democrats, which without them, she cannot possibly beat Rep. Cramer, and not alienate independents. She might also supercharge her online fundraising efforts. Senator Heitkamp was critical of Justice Kavanaugh during the confirmation, which means she avoided being accused of voting for him in the interest of political expediency (; Oct. 4, 2018).  Another factor might be, what does Senator Heidi Heitkamp have to lose.  If she is going to be voted out, she might as well go out swinging and with a clear conscious

In West Virigina, overall support for now-Justice Kavanaugh was 58 percent and 28 percent opposed it. Like North Dakota, Republicans overwhelmingly supported the nomination--81 percent--a paltry 8 percent of Republicans opposed it. Nearly half of the state's Democrats--42 percent--supported the nomination and 45 percent opposed it  (; Sept 30, 2018). The Washington Examiner reported that incumbent Senator Joe Manchin's "Yea" vote for Justice Kavanaugh has expanded the lead in his race against Republican state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (; Oct. 23, 2018). Senator Manchin's lead, as of writing, is 52 to 36 percent (; Oct. 21, 2018; date accessed Oct. 23, 2018). The 16 point lead is the largest so far. 

Finally, will the Senate turn blue or stay red?  Politico predicts the Senate will stay Republican (; Oct. 23, 2018). FiveThirtyEight forecasts the Republicans has an 81.3 percent chance of retaining control of the Senate (; Oct. 23, 2018).  CNN's best estimate gives the Republicans a four seat advantage in the next session: Democrats lose one seat and Republicans pick up three seats to create a 52-48 majority (; Oct. 23, 2018).

Bottom line: VOTE

Monday, October 22, 2018

Honoring The Past While Moving Into The Future

Hello Everyone:

It is a lovely autumn afternoon and a new week on the blog.  A big congratulations to Blogger's hometown Los Angeles Dodgers on winning the National League Championship. The Dodgers beat the Milwaukee Brewers in seven games and will face American League champions Boston Red Sox. The last time these two teams faced each other was 1916, the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn and the baseball legend Babe Ruth was still playing for the Red Sox.  Should be exciting.  You know what else is exciting?  New York City's Grand Central Station. 

Whether you call it Grand Central Station or Grand Central Terminal, you cannot help but be swept up by the magnificent 1913 Beaux Arts building that was saved in the 1960s from demolition. It is not just a place to catch a train, it has become a cultural icon, a shopping and dining destination for New Yorkers and visitors to the city. 

The Muncipal Art Society of New York recently opened a free exhibit (; Sept. 24, 2018; date accessed Oct. 22, 2018) in Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right of cities to restrict development in favor of historic preservation; Oct. 17, 2018; date accessed Oct. 22, 2018). Former Mayor Ed Koch hailed it as a landmark decision that made absolute sense; "a triumph over the wrecking ball and bulldozers.p...." (Ibid). The successful campaign, led by the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, inspired other cities to celebrate and restore their historic sites.  Pretty amazing for a trains station with roots in the Industrial Revolution. 

By the early 20th century, New York City evolved into a new cultural and commercial capital, worthy of a grand landmark. The City Beautiful movement promoted architectural greatness and Grand Central satisfied both. The original terminal--Grand Central Depot--was opened in 1871 on 42nd Street,mother southern limit, far enough away from the city's populated center. By end of the 19th century, original Depot had become a relic, unable to keep up with demands of the new century. It lacked the infrastructure needed for electric rail lines, modern convienences and signaling technology. The Depot was intially designed to accommodate three different rail lines--with three separate waiting rooms. The terminal was inefficient and outdated.  To put it in proper perspective: In 1871, 42nd Street was nothing but by 1910, it evolved into the vibrant, dynamic heart of a rapidly growing city (; date accessed Oct. 22, 2018)

 In 1903 a design competition was launched by the railroad company.  Four firms entered: McKim Mead & White, Samuel Huckel, Jr., Reed & Stem, and Daniel Burham. Reed & Stem won with an innovative design that featured pedestrian ramps and a ramp-like concourse wrapped around the exterior connecting the northern and southern sections of Park Avenue.  To make Grand Central grand, Root & Stem hired another firm, Warren & Wetmore who proposed a monumental classical, tripartite façade. A visual feast for one and all, even today (Ibid).  

Grand Central Station reached its apex by World War II. In the postwar years, Grand Central's owners sought to redevelop the site to raise revenue. One proposal they considered was a futuristic 80-story tower by I.M. Pei. Eventually the decision was made to place a skyscraper by modernist Marcel Breuer on top of the roof of the main passenger hall (; date accessed Oct. 22, 2018).  This horrified the architecturally minded citizens of New York City who joined the Municipal Art Society and its celebrity patron to fight the plan. They were motivated by the 1963 demolition of Pennsylvania Station ( McKim Mead & White 1910) to make way for a rather depressing underground station near the newly built Madison Square Garden. New York City was not too keen on the idea, citing that Grand Central was designated a landmark in 1967 (; Oct. 17, 2018).  The battle to save Grand Central continued all the way to the Supreme Court, who handed down a landmark ruling still in force today. 

Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City (1978,; date accessed Oct. 22, 2018) Ithe United States Supreme Court upheld the "the constitutionality of New York's landmark law, effectively not only for that city but for all 50 states and 500 municipalities" (; Oct. 17, 2018).  The affirmative ruling has great significance in property rights cases to this day. The majority opinion held, "Preserving the building did not,..., constitute a 'taking' of the property,made proving owners of the opportunity to build to such an extent that they should be compensated" (; Oct. 17, 2018). The greater good, preserving a city's history, extended to the entire city. This concept has be central in recent arguments challenging regulatory takings to create more affordable housing. 

Edward Glaeser's 2010 article, "Preservation Follies" (; Spring 2019; date accessed Oct. 22, 2018), argued "that the growing amount of protected land in historic districts was rendering large tracts unable to accommodate the thousands of people who would like to live in Manhattan by can't afford to.  He concluded that preservation turns the city into a preserve of the prosperous. Not too far off the mark description of Manhattan.  A 2013 report by the Real Estate Board of New York concurred, calling for a more balanced approach to growth and development (; June 2013;  date accessed Oct. 22, 2018). 

Although Grand Central's rescue may read like a story of good over evil, contemporary preservation is complicated. In the forty years that followed the SCOTUS ruling, a plethora buildings and neighborhoods were given landmark status, saving them from voracious developers and inappropriate change. That is the good part.  The bad part is that sometimes the urge to preserve can go too far and extend to unremarkable properties, deemed not preservation-worthy.  At its absolute worst, it can serve as a cover for NIMBYism--Not In My BackYard--limiting affordable housing, green construction, jobs, and economic development. 

In 1982, Grand Central Station underwent a much needed renovation that was completed in time for its 100th birthday in 2013, turning it into a much visited destination by one and all--becoming the catalyst for new development in the area.  New York City allowed the sale of air rights, "under an arrangement known as the transfer of development rights, such that growth could be shifted from protected to more buildable land" (  More recent, the Midtown East rezoning intiative (; Aug. 2017; date accessed Oct. 22, 2018) sets the stage for high-rise development in Grand Central's 42nd Street backyard (; Oct. 15, 2018; date accessed Oct. 22, 2018). 

In this case, the preservation of Grand Central can be viewed as too much of a good thing, according to Shelby D. Green, the co-author with Nicholas A. Robinson of Historic Preservation: Law and Culture (; date accessed 2018). The successful protection and rehabilitation ignited other development--"which in turn casts shadows and otherwise substantially alters the historic character of the neighborhood"(citylab; Oct. 17, 2018).  

What all of his points to is a more nuanced approach to preservation, especially as Midcentury Modernism is coming under landmark consideration.  For example, had Marcel Breuer's tower actually been built, it would now be vying for designation. Kind of ironic when you think about the fact that once upon a time, traditional preservationists fought tooth and nail against them. Even the Post Modern is coming under the preservation microscope.  Philip Johnson's 1984 AT &T building became New York City's youngest land marked building (; Aug. 3, 2018; date accessed Oct. 22, 2018) after plans to renovate the lobby alarmed preservation fans (citylab; Nov. 1, 2017).  Compromise is possible when it comes to finding a balance between growth and preservation but it is not always easy. 

Grand Central Station's preservation warriors most definitely earned a victory. The beloved building should have never been considered for demolition in the name of real estate profits.  Moving forward awareness, creativity, and nuance should be the way to honor the past and move forward into the future. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Blogger Candidate Forum: Show Me

Hello Everyone:

It Is a warm and sparkling Wednesday afternoon which means it is time for Blogger Candidate Forum. Today The Forum would like to take look at what means to be a Democrat in a red state--with the focus on the state of Missouri.  Missouri has long be a bellwether state: An indicator of how the rest of the country votes. However, in recent elections, Missouri has turned red.  Missouri voters rarely got the winner of the presidential candidate.  The last time was in 1956, when the state went to Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson over the eventual winner Republican incumbent President Dwight Eisenhower. The Economist once described Missouri as having an almost mythical reputation in American politics (; July 27, 2016; date accessed Oct. 17, 2018). What happened?

What happened was the 2008 presidential election.  Republican nominee John McCain (AZ) barely beat Democratic nominee Barack Obama (IL) and the state's reputation as a bellwether state soured.  If you were a Missouri politics watcher, you were not surprised by the turn of events because Missouri has not gone Democratic since 1996, when then-incumbent President Bill Clinton won the state (Ibid). Why the shift in a state that elected Democrats Senator Claire McCaskill, former Governor Jay Nixon, and Attorney General Chris Koster?

One reason is demographics.  Missouri used to be a reflection of the rest of the country in terms of the minority and age distributions. According to the 2015 census data, Latinos accounted for 4.1 percent of the state's population, compared to the 17.6 percent of America's population (Ibid). Latinos typically provide a reliable Democratic voting bloc.  However if Missouri's Latino population actually mirrored the overall national average, it swing state politics.  The same holds true for the state's African American population: "...11.8 percent of the state population, compared to 13.3 percent nationally"(Ibid). In 2012 the state's Caucasian population overwhelmingly supported Republican nominee Mitt Romney (MA).  They made up 83.3 percent of Missouri's population and 77.1 percent overall (Ibid). Missouri's population is also little older than the rest of the country: "...15.7 percent of state residents 65 and older, compared to 14.9 nationally. Older citizens are viewed as more reliable voters and opted for Romney over Obama in 2012" (Ibid). 

Missouri's demographics make running as a Democrat a challenge.  Essentially, Missouri has not reflected demographic changes in the United States.  Former Governor Bob Holden (D) believes that "his party would be helped if the state moved past its insular tendencies. Missouri,..., needs to look beyond its own borders to people and business opportunities around the globe" (Ibid). 

Another challenge is Missouri's conservative political climate which discourages the kind of investments in education and infrastructure that attracts young people who tend to vote Democrat.  Sounding an optimistic note, Mr. Holden told the Kansas City Star that Missouri's bellwether status could return if...we can create the jobs that attract different cultures from around the world (Ibid). 

Since 2016 Missouri completed a political transformation which witnessed rural Missourians, former solid Democrats, edge their way over to the Republican Party. Given the state's conservative tendencies, it was not a big leap. Dave Robertson, political scientist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, told the Star, It happened faster in Missouri and pretty thoroughly.  This gave Republican candidates an edge in 2016 and in this year's midterm election.

As the saying goes, hindsight is 20-20; in 2016 Mr. Donald Trump won the state with 56.4 percent of the vote. This was due to former Secretay of State Hillary Clinton's decision to focus on fast growing state's with flourishing tech sectors with growing Democratic bases.  This decision has negatively affected Democrats running in state races.  In 2004, then Democratic nominee John Kerry (MA) opted to abandon the state and its 10 electoral votes.  This decision left Claire McCaskill, then a candidate for governor, without the kind of get-out-the-vote campaign that a presidential election can deliver.  Her opponent Republican Matt Blunt defeated her in a race she felt confident about.  Ms. McCaskill is now an incumbent senator standing for re-election. 

Another reason for the swing from bellwether to solid Republican is the culture wars.  Social issues like abortion--The Daily podcast for an excellent reporting (; date accessed Oct. 17, 2017)--same sex marriage, guns, and other issues resonated loudly with rural, more conservative voters.  The Trump campaign took advantage of this during the 2016 cycle by focusing its activities in places with more conservative views on social issues.

Interestingly, shortly after the turn of the Millenium, the Republicans have enjoyed an unusual level of control in the Missouri General Assembly, taking pride in their veto-proof majority which allowed it to run roughshod over former Governor Nixon. Also, Republicans control the majority of the state's eight seats in the House of Representatives.

Despite or In spite of this fact, Democrats have demostates an amazing ability to win higher offices.  The Republicans' tendencies towards divisive primaries have lead to the elections of Senator McCaskill, former Gov. Nixon and AG Chris Koster.

Another factor in the Republicans favor is television adverts.  Really. Missouri has a very inefficient television advertising purchase presidential, or any campaign, menu.  For example, buy ad time in Kanasas City and about half of the households reached have not voted Democrat since 1964.  Buy ad time in St. Louis and there is carry over into Illinois. 

What does it mean to be a Democrat in red state like Missouri?  The consensus seems to be that a Democrat cannot win in the state. That is a very defeatist attitude.  In order to mount a credible campaign, Missouri Democrats will have get rid of their absolutist progressive politics and embrace the more conservative wing of the party.  Yes, Conservative Democrats do exist and they need to be heard.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Some Lessons

Hello Everyone:

Yesterday's post on the Bronx had Your Truly thinking about a previous post on surfers.  One of big issues that long time residents have with newcomers to their neighborhood is the lack of respect for the place, its customs and traditions.  When newcomers arrive in a gentrifying neighborhood, they bring with them all the expectations that come with typical suburban neighborhoods: clean, quiet, safe streets, plenty of parking, and other amenities. This is not always the case.  Perhaps the best thing for newcomers is to review the lessons surfers taught us about respecting the neighborhood.

To begin, surfers are territorial to the point of bullying anyone who tries infringe on their space.  Boyle Heights is good example of urban territoriality. Historically, the East Los Angeles community has been home to immigrants from Eastern Europe, Russia, Japan, and Mexico.  Over time, it acquired a reputation for being a gang violence plagued community with failing schools and residents who were living barely above the poverty line.  This reputation began to change as the crime rate dropped and an influx of young Latinos began to move back into their parents' old neighborhood. This created a source of friction between the newcomers who brought with them a badly needed source of revenue and the long time working class residents.

One of the biggest sources of tension has been the opening of galleries, a signifier of gentrification. In May 2016, the non-profit gallery PSSST opened to a chorus of protestors banging on drums and, at one point, lobbing feces at the window before a neighbor called the police.  The harassment continued in person and online as staff and artists were routinely trolled. Eventually, the gallery was forced to close but not before other protests popped up.

The point is the surge in newcomers has the potential to irrevocably alter the character of a neighborhood, drive up the cost of living, and cause displacement. This can result in a critical shortage of affordable housing units.  The Bronx is beginning to experience this phenomena as housing costs have jumped nearly 50 percent and long time residents fear the beloved borough is becoming an extension of Manhattan.  Development along Bronx's waterfront has been cited as a potential catalyst for rising housing costs, leading to displacement. This mirrors the situation in the San Francisco Bay Area: Less-affluent residents are being displaced by rising housing costs.  With them, small businesses and the local culture that made the area so attractive in the first place. 

Another lesson surfers can teach us is the importance of embracing local culture. The Bronx, like parts of the San Franciso Bay Area, is a vibrant borough. Of course, you would not know those if all you did was stay in your own bubble. Make connections with the established community. Get out of the ivory tower and get to know everyone.  Be open to learning and observing the rhythms of the place.  If Yours Truly were to describe to the Bronx, Blogger would use words like vibrant and funky. If you stayed in your own bubble, you would not experience the rich culture and history of the Bronx.  Instead of approaching the Bronx--or any newly gentrifying place--with a suburban mindset, try setting aside all notions of nice quiet neighborhoods with ample parking and embrace urban life. Newcomers to Boyle Heights would also do well to embrace local culture and history.  It can mean the difference between getting along with your neighbors and getting your tires slashed. 

By the same token, long time residents can learn to be more welcoming and inclusive.  Understandably, the prospect of displacement can be a source of tension but it does not have to be. Confrontational tactics, like the ones used in Boyle Heights, can adversely impact a community by driving out potential new businesses that could benefit the community.  By staging protests along "Gallery Row" on Anderson Road, community groups have slowed gentrification in the short run, but the long term results remain to be seen. Bronx natives have a right to be wary of gentrification but are also wise enough to understand that you cannot encase a community in amber.  

This brings up the question of what businesses and developments are appropriate for the Bronx or Boyle Heights?  This leads to another question: how do you encourage new investment with causing displacement and population change?  The answer is with a great deal of sensitivity and community involvement.  At the same time, community organizations must be open to compromise. An all or nothing approach is not going to get the right results.

The surfers can teach us valuable lessons about community. We would be wise to pay attention.  

Monday, October 15, 2018

Do Not Call It A Comeback

Hello Everyone: 

It is a warm and windy start of the new week.  Today, we travel to the Bronx for a look at how the borough is coming back from decades of economic and cultural neglect. The Bronx is the northern most borough of New York City; home to the fabled Yankee Stadium, the Bronx Zoo, the Bronx Museum, and the Bronx Botanical Gardens.  You really cannot call it comeback because the Bronx has always been here. 

The Bronx was originally called Rananchqua by the local Siwanioy band of Lenape.  The territory was bisected by the "Aquahung" river, later renamed the Bronx River.  Europeans settled the territory in 1693, when Jonas Bronck, for whom the area was named for, established a farm along the Harlem River--now known as the Mott Haven section. Originally territory now within Bronx County was part of Westchester County.  Modern day Bronx County was contained within four cities: Westchester, Yonkers, Eastchester, and Pelham. (; date accessed Oct. 15, 2018).

In 1914, parts of the Bronx was annexed by New York City.  After the First World War, the Bronx experienced rapid growth. Subway extensions contributed to the rapid population increase as thousand of immigrant made the Bronx their home. During the sixties and seventies, the Bronx began a period of sharp change. Among the theories posited was the urban renewal projects that destroyed low-density neighborhoods, replacing them with roads. Another theory is the reduction of financial services--i.e. redlining--by insurance companies and banks.  A crime wave hit the southern portion of the Bronx, bringing with it various theories as to why.  Some of the theories include: the illicit drug trade, landlords deliberately setting fire to their buildings for the insurance money, then the crack epidemic. Since the nineties, the Bronx been experiencing an upswing in development. In 1997, the Bronx was designated an "All American City" by he National Civic League, an acknowledgment of its comeback (Ibid). This brings to the present.

The Bronx, like every neighborhood, is in a constant of change. What is the issue the nature and substance of this change. The South Bronx is witnessing a building and entrepreneurial boom; bringing with it gentrification in the low-income neighborhoods where housing (single family and rental) prices are on the rise. Median gross rent for Bronx County, as of July 1, 2017, was $1,098 (; date accessed Oct. 15, 2018). This may not seem like much, when compared to rents in New York City--$3,634 as of September 2018 (; date accessed Oct. 15, 2018)--but it represents a 45 percent increase since 2005 (; Aug. 14, 2018; Oct. 15, 2018).  Rebecc Bellan writes in "The Bronx: Don't Call It A Comeback," "In gentrifying neighborhoods a common grievance from long-time residents is that, in addition to causing prices to rise, newcomers have a different sensibility and don't respect the neighborhood's history and the locals' longevity" (Ibid).  However, a majority of the new intiatives surrounding the Bronx have come from locals, "...who are demonstrating a generations, shift in mentality.  They want he people who come after the to dream not of getting out of their hood, but enhancing it" (Ibid).

The common thread, according to Amaurys Grullon, the owner of Bronx Native (; date accessed Oct. 15, 2018) is,

It's a mindset, it's a mentality,.... Because when your hear constant,y that the Bronx is dirty, the Bronx is ugly, oh you're from the Bronx?  It mentally can cause some damage. (ibid)

Princeton University sociology professor Frederick Wherry (; date accessed Oct. 15, 2018) and author of The Philadelphia Barrio, told CityLab, "in places like the Bronx with higher poverty rates and a high percentage of blacks or Latinos, people perceive neighborhood disorder with bias. 

They tend to remember more trash and physician signs of disorder in he sidewalk than there actually is,.... (Ibid)

Bronx success stories like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Desus Nice, and Cardi B help change the Bronx tale.  Mr. Grullon, his co-owner and sister Roselyn, and best friend Josue Caceres, absolutely support change in their community. 

We've been underrated for far too long.... The Bronx history is just so beautiful to me. We have a diverse group of people, our buildings were on fire, our people were struggling, they built highways so you could drive through without even looking at the BX. And from nothing we created culture.  (Ibid)

Bronx Native has become a cultural center, of sorts.  The store, decorated with Bronx memorabilia, has hosted poetry reading, open mic nights, youth group workshops and panel discussions with Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement.  Ms. Ocasio-Cortez also hosted an informal campaign event at the store last year.  

Professor Wherry has seen grassroots neighborhood transformation before. He told CityLab,

People inside the neighborhood and their community organization, their leadership and their artists, are willing to push back and say that this is not just a material struggle, but also a symbolic struggle. They're willing to counter negative symbols that have been thrust upon them.  That's where you start seeing a real difference and transformation. (Ibid)

To Set Free Richardson' Compund 1.0 is an example of what Prof. Wherry's point. Launched in 2010 as Mr. Richardson's idea of combining art and entrepreneurship, it is still an under the radar space for rappers, artists, athletes, and marketers to come together and create something wonderful. In early August, he hosted a soft launch of Compund 2.0, "a hip-hop inspired art gallery, the brainchild of Richardson and former rapper Mos Def, AKA Yasiin Bey" (Ibid). The Manhattan-worthy gallery is located just under the Third Avenue Bridge in Mott. Haven, once an underused, debris-strewn part of town. Compound 2.0's mission "is to showcase works from underrepresented artists" (Ibid). 

Compound 2.0 is not without pushback from some Bronx natives who do not want to see their community turn into another Manhattan. Mr. Richardson was born in South Bronx and you could say that he has a right to his vision of the Bronx. Be that as it may, no venture exists on an island. There has been some tension between the longtime small businesses and the new ventures with their attending development that can make the Bronx less frightful. To Set Free Richardson understands that the area near the Mott Haven waterfront is cause for trepidation as developers begin to reclaim the long neglected space (; Apr. 4, 2018; dated accessed Oct. 15, 2018). 

The Clock Tower building on Lincoln Avenue near the waterfront is either credited or faulted for setting off the development boom in Mott Haven. Since it opened in 2002, real estate investment soared from $1.9 million in 2003 to  $111 million in 2016 (; May 18, 2017; date accessed Oct. 15, 2018). Along the waterfront, the skeletons of new developments are beginning to appear.  All of the units are scheduled to be rented at market rate (; Mar. 9, 2017). This is out of reach for 60 percent of Bronx households (; July 2018; date accessed Oct. 15, 2018) paying at least a third of their monthly take home pay to rent. Rising rents aside, the poverty rates in the borough remains the highest in New York City--28.4 in 2016 (; Aug. 14, 2018). 

Majora Carter, another Bronx native from Hunts Point, understands the tensions between long time residents' fear of displacement and the need for change. Ms. Carter, the owner of Boogie Down Grind coffee shop, told CityLab

I don't remember anyone who showed promise as a kid who wasn't to,d early and often that you're grow up and be somebody, what that meant, really, by association, was you're gonna measure success by how far away from here you get from here.... (Ibid)

Ms. Carter concedes that change is going to happen and understands what the cost of doing nothing is. She also believes "that gentrification happens when people,e in certain communities are taught to believe that their neighborhood has no real value" (Ibid). In 2016, the median home value in the Bronx was $378,000 (; date accessed Oct. 15, 2018). 

The surge in Bronx pride is keep innovators from fleeing to Manhattan and creating a shift in Bronx culture. By keeping the creatives at home, " the residents believe they are creating a community that is open to more varied forms of expression and taste" (Ibid). The Bronx has become this wonderful cultural incubator and with this joyous noise comes the homegrown restaurants and coffee shops. 

Rebecca Bellan writes, "These Bronx-born entrepreneurs consistently say that the borough is going through an awakening, both culturally and economically and the figures beat it out: In 2017, here were more businesses in the Bronx that at any time since 1975 [; July 2018]. But the question remains, will all of these native efforts to create new businesses and new-style spaces ease the pain of gentrification,mor will hear homegrown efforts make the borough appealing to deep-pocketed buyers, thus pricing out low-income, long time residents out? (; Aug. 14, 2018)

Desus Nice (AKA Daniel Baker), half of the comedy duo Desus and Mero, loves the energy he is witnessing from his fellow Bronx natives.  He told CityLab, It's like a little village,... like the early days of Willamsburg before it turned into a film set. (Ibid)

He does not believe that the Bronx will become another film set, No, I don't think so because of the people here.  Everybody's coming together. (Ibid)

Desus Nice just moved into one of the new luxury condominiums.  He lamented,

It's sad because other people in the building are telling me, 'Don't go outside. The projects are out there.'  And I'm like, 'Yo, I grew up with people from the projects.'  People are not embracing the community. But if we keep working together we can push back.  (Ibid)

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Blogger Candidate Forum: Reprecussions

Hello Everyone:

Blogger Candidate Forum is back at its regular day and time.  The recently completed Supreme Court confirmation process had the United States Senate under the microscope, focusing on howthe individual members voted and why is already having repercussions that will affect the upcoming midterm elections on NOVEMBER 6th.  For example, North Dakota incumbent Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D) told an interviewer that she originally planned to vote yes but changed her vote after observing Justice Kavanaugh's belligerent demeanor during the second round of hearings. Senator Heitkamp was running an issues-oriented campaign, putting her ahead of challenger Representive Kevin Cramer (R).  Then came the accusations and the contentious hearings. Now, Senator Heitkamp finds herself in fight for her political life.  The Candidate Forum would like to take a look at just how the confirmation process will impact the Democrats' chances for retaking majority control.

Let us begin with the current state of the 36 active Senate races.  Of the 26 Democrats standing for re-election, 14 Senators are safe.  Senate Judiciary Committee members Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) are well on their way to re-election.  It should be noted, that California is no danger of losing a Democratic seat; Senator Feinstein's challenger is Democratic State Senator Kevin de Léon.  Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin are among the four who are likely to hold onto their seats.  New Jersey's controversial Senator Robert Menéndez, West Virginia's Senator Joe Manchin, and Minnesota's Tina Smith might retain their seats.  Senator Smith was chosen to replace disgraced Senator Al Franken and Senator Manchin crossed party lines to vote in favor of Justice Kavanaugh.  Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jon Tester (D-MT), Bill Nelson (D-FL),  Joe Donnelly (D-IN), and Senator Heitkamp are in the electorial danger zone. 

The are nine Republican seats up for re-election. Texas incumbent Senator Ted is locked in an extremely tight race with challenger Repreentative Beto O'Rourke. Mr. O'Rourke has become an electoral rock star, of sorts, thanks to a lively social media campaign.  Senator Cruz's chances of re-election are not a sure thing and Mr. O'Rourke is good position to flip the seat.  The races in Arizona, Utah, and Tennessee are toss ups.  Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-UT) is likely to hold the Republican seat.  The race between Martha McSally (R) and Kyrsten Sinema (D) is getting tighter; current polls show Ms. McSally gaining ground on on Ms. Sinema.  Mississippi Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith is likely to retain her seat. Senators Frederick Wicker (MS), Debra Fischer (NE), and John Barrasso (WY), and Utah's other open seat are all in safe electoral territory.

If The Forum were to make a prediction, the Democrats are likely to pick up about six seats but not enough to recapture the majority. The question now is how has the senators' vote on Justice Kavanaugh's confirmation changed the calculus of the races.

The short answer is Republican campaigns for the United States Senate have been energized, as well as the Democratic campaigns.  The majority of voters in Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, New Jersey told CBS News that they were motivated to get out and vote (; Oct. 8, 2018; date accessed Oct. 10, 2018). A CBS poll conducted by YouGov between October 2nd and 5th, just before the final vote last Saturday revealed that voter motivation correlated to which way their state politically leaned. 

 In Tennessee, 47 percent of voters said they wanted Kavanaugh confirmed, while 30 percent did not. In Texas, 43 percent approved of Kavanaugh's confirmation and 35 percent did not. In Arizona, it was much closer, with 41 percent wanting him confirmed and 39 percent opposed.  And in New Jersey, 38 percent of voters wanted Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, while 44 percent did not. (Ibid). 

One thing that remained consistent is "...the Kavanaugh motivation seems to align with the state's political leanings more broadly" (Ibid). In the heated race between Senator Cruz and Rep. O'Rourke, "...73 percent of Republicans say Kavanaugh's nomination made them more energized, compared to 69 percent of Democrats" (Ibid). We can compare these numbers to the ones in the Arizona race.  "In Arizona,..., 63 percent of both Democrats and Republicans said they were more motivated by Kavanaugh" (Ibid).  

However, CBS News also revealed a group of voters were newly enthused about voting by the confirmation battle. Overall, "One in five people who said they were energized by Kavanaugh's nomination didn't report voting in the 2010 and 2014 midterm" (Ibid). According to CBS:

...In the Arizona Senate race, Democrats may benefit electorally from the confirmation. Among the likely Arizona voters who said they might still change their minds about who to support, 30 percent said Kavanaugh's confirmation would make them more likely to consider voting for a Democrat, while 10 percent said the same for a Republican.  (Ibid)

The next question is how will the Kavanaugh nomination play out this year beyond?  The short answer is it remains to be seen.  Without a doubt the battle over Justice Kavanaugh's confirmation was one of the most bruising fights in recent history.  The Republicans appear to be more energized about going to the polls on NOVEMBER 6 than in previous election cycles. Vox's Dylan Scott points out that while the Republicans' chances of maintaining control of the Senate have improved, but in the House of Representatives contests, it is a whole different ball game:

Republicans might be improving their odds of keeping the Senate, where the GOP base will be crucial--several vulnerable Democrats were up for reelection in states that Trump won in 2016 and where he still remains popular. But the Supreme Court fight might not help as much in the House elections, where suburban swing districts--and swing voters, women in particular--will decide who controls the chamber. (Ibid)

The bottom line is this, the fight over Justice Kavanaugh's confirmation excited voters but will it be enough to sway races in battleground states?  Hard to say but if you do not vote, you might not have any cause to complain November 7th.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Solution Is Right In Front Of Us

Hello Everyone:

Now that the chaos of Brett Kavanaugh nomination is finally over, it is time to focus on other things, like affordable housing.  Honestly, "the rent's too damn high."  Part of the problem is the lack of housing units and the lack of units has reached epidemic proportions. Laura Bliss wrote in her CityLab article "Rent Is Affordable to Low-Wage Workers in Exactly 12 U.S. Counties," "In 2017, the average U.S. worker would need to bring in a whopping $21.21 per hour to reasonably afford a modest two-bedroom apartment" (; June 9, 2017; date accessed Oct. 9, 2018).  This hourly wage figure is three times the federal minimum wage $7.25 per hour.  One more argument to raise the federal minimum wage but that is an argument for another day.  Another part of the affordability crisis is struggling neighborhoods. Urban centers are powerful magnets for young job-seekers and empty nesters.  Both demographic groups are looking for more urban experiences than offered by suburbia. The result is urban neighborhoods are struggling to keep up with increasing development pressure, housing and rental costs.

Trying to wade through all the pressure is a very daunting task, be that as it may, there is a solution right under our urban noses.  The solution is (dramatic pause), historic preservation. Affordable housing and historic preservation are not mutually exclusive entities.  Some, however, have a differing opinion. Harvard economics professor Edward Glaeser wrote in 2010:

Restricting new construction in historic districts drives up the price of housing,.... This, in turn, increasingly makes those districts exclusive enclaves of the well-to-do, educated, and white.... As if it weren't enough that large historic districts are associated with a reduction in housing supply, higher prices, and increasingly elite residents,... they protect an abundance of uninteresting buildings that are less attractive and exciting than new structures that could replace them.... (; Spring 2010; date accessed Oct. 9, 2018) 

On the contrary, they are mutually compatible. 

On the surface, this may sound shocking, given the debates going on, right now, in cities. In Portland, for example, there is a highly contentious state bill (; May 2, 2017; date accessed Oct. 9, 2018) make its way through the state legislature, 

House Bill 2007 was introduced by three Portland three downstate legislators,... Although the summary says it is intended to speed up the production of affordable housing... (Ibid)

President and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Stephanie Meeks wrote, "[...highly contested state bill] aimed at spurring affordable housing also threatens to weaken historic protections and, in so doing, foster a wave of demolition that only threatens to further raise the cost of homes there" (; June 9, 2017).  In San Francisco, voters rejected a measure (; July 20,2015; date accessed Oct. 9, 2018) that placed a moratorium on housing in the Mission District, a traditionally Latino neighborhood. In Blogger's hometown, local voters passionately argued over Measure S (; Mar. 9, 2017; date accessed Oct. 9, 2018) which would "have restricted any large-scale construction that did not confirm to the city's planning guidelines" (; June 9, 2017).

As you might have guessed, affordability and community character are at odds with each other.  Research by the NTHP (; date accessed Oct. 9, 2018)  suggests that this may not be quite the case. The NTHP's ReUrbanism Initiative (; date accessed Oct. 9, 2018) argues that "Adaptive reuse should be the default, and demolition a last resort."  Specifically,

Historic preservation encourages cities to build on he assets they have--unleashing the enormous power and potential, of older buildings to improve health, affordability, prosperity, and well-being. Ultimately, it's the mix of old and new buildings, working together to fashion dense, walkable, and thriving streets, that helps achieve a more prosperous, sustainable, and healthier future... (Ibid)

In short, the research demonstrated "that in neighborhoods with older, smaller buildings and mixed-age blocks tend to provide more units of affordable housing, defined as housing whose monthly rent is a third or less of that city's median income" (; June 9, 2017).

The National Trust for Historic Preservation's research was compiled their comprehensive survey, Atlas of ReUrbanism (  The survey found that neighborhood with older, smaller buildings and mixed-age blocks "also performed better along a host of other important social, economic, and environmental metrics" (; June 9, 2017). The survey looked at the urban landscape in 50 cities, block-by-block revealing that "...areas of older, smaller buildings and mixed-age blocks boast 33 percent more new business jobs, 46 percent more small business jobs, and 60 percent more women- and minority-owned businesses" (Ibid).

Boston's North End and Miami's Little Havana are examples of historic districts that are denser than newer areas.  Both places feature "low-slung, human-scale neighborhoods with older fabric...." (Ibid).  They are the "missing middle" ( Jan. 18, 2018; date accessed Oct. 9, 2018)

Stephanie Meeks succinctly states, "Simply put, older blocks often offer more affordable housing options than newer areas of the city, while creating employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for urban residents.  At a time when cities are struggling [; Apr. 20, 2017; date accessed Oct. 9, 2018] with the high costs of adding new affordable housing, making better use of the tremendous adaptive potential of under-used existing buildings is a proven way forward that sidesteps many of the problems posed by demolition for new construction" (bid).  

Of course, new construction, in many cities, does need to keep pace with the influx of new residents.  However, it does not mean that new construction has to loom over existing neighborhoods or disrupt the established urban fabric to accommodate new growth.  One of urban design's favorite phrase is "smart growth."  In this case, smart growth can imply "opportunities for sensitive and compatible infill that can enrich urban character rather than diminish it" (; June 9, 2017).

Downtown Louisville, Kentucky is a good example of infill potential.  The streets are dotted with surface parking lots (; Aug, 3, 2011; date accessed Oct. 9, 2018) that create " asphalt dead zones."  They present great opportunities for new, mutually agreeable construction. Louisville is not the exception, even in the most densely populated cities, parking consumes an inordinate (; date accessed Oct. 9, 2018) amount of valuable real estate. 

Parking lots are not the only underused urban assets.  Ms. Meeks observed (; Feb. 10, 2017; date accessed June 9, 2017). In New York,... a 2014 survey of a third of the city [; date accessed Oct. 9, 2018] found nearly 2,500 vacant lots and more than 3,500 empty buildings, enough room to house 200,000 people" (; June 9, 2017).  Putting these older distinctive building to use often pencils out better than wholesale new construction.

Cities should ultimately works towards creating housing that is both distinctive and affordable. The public, civic leaders, the state and federal powers that be need to embrace policies that remedy the outrageous high cost of housing, in a way that acknowledges the basics of what makes cities work.  Fifty years ago, cities embarked on a disastrous ((; Feb 13, 2017) "Urban Renewal" experiment which proved "demolishing existing urban neighborhoods is a giant step in the wrong direction" (; June 9, 2017).  Instead, let us our buildings and spaces to better use if we want to create cities that are affordable, attractive, diverse, and exciting for everyone.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Blogger Candidate Forum: SCOTUS Nomination Wrap Up

Hello Everyone:

Blogger Candidate Forum dropped by, rested, and ready to share a few final thoughts on the now-completed Supreme Court nomination of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh.  Quick observation, it was messy.  Messy is a serious understatement.  Bloody awful mess is more like it.  Nineteenth century German leader Otto von Bismarck famously said, "If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made."  Add to that, confirming Supreme Court justices.  What happened?  Good question. Fortunately, The Candidate Forum is here to try to make sense of all of this and figure out what comes next.

Shall we start with what happened.  Short answer, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as the 114th Associate Supreme Court Justice.  Justice Kavanaugh was nominated by Mr. Donald Trump on July 9, 2018 to fill the seat of retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. From the beginning, Justice Kavanaugh's nomination raised red flags.  The biggest flag was the White House's refusal to release 100,000 pages of Justice Kavanaugh's legal writings during his tenure as staff secretary to former President George W. Bush and his work associated with Ken Starr. The Senate Judiciary Committee requested the documents from the National Archives, in order to prepare for the hearings. The National Archives responded saying that given the sheer volume of the documents, it would need until October to fulfill the Committee's request.  The very impatient Republicans decided to go ahead with the hearing, regardless of the fact that 90 percent of the justice's papers were unavailable.  This prompted six senate democrats to file a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to force the release. Mere hours before the first round of hearings, the lawyer for Pres. Bush released 42,000 pages of documents, further inflaming Democrat anger.  Adding more gas to the fire, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (D) risked expulsion from the Senate by releasing 28 new documents.  This was just the first act.  Act two was far more incendiary.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist at Palo Alto, accused Justice Kavanaugh of sexual assault, during a party, in the early eighties.  Originally, Dr. Ford sent a letter, detailing the incident, to ranking Judiciary Committee Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein (CA). In the letter, Dr. Ford named witness, requested anonymity and an FBI investigation. The letter became a open secret until Dr. Ford went to the Washington Post to speak on the record.  This lead to ham fisted invitation from the Committee to testify, just the principals in the case: Dr. Ford and Justice Kavanaugh, no coabborating witnesses. Dr. Ford and Justice Kavanaugh appeared two weeks ago to speak their peace.  It was a day of emotionally charged testimony that left both sides feeling bloodied and bruised. The following day, the Judiciary Committee took a vote on whether to forward the nomination.  In a dramatic turn of events, Committee member retiring Arizona Senator Jeff Flake (R) was confronted by two sexual assault survivors.  The confrontation caused him to feel enough of a spasm of consciousness to join Democrat Senator Chris Coons (Del) in asking for a pause in the process to allow for an investigation. Asked and granted.  A week pause was granted for the FBI to look into the matter. The investigation was completed last Wednesday and a single copy was made available to Senators.  Depending on who you talked to, the investigation was either thorough or incomplete.  The final result: Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed by the historically tiniest margins 50-48.  How bad was the process?  Vox reporters teamed up to breakdown the takeaways (; Oct. 6, 2018; date accessed Oct. 8, 2018). 

Christine Blasey Ford unintentionally gave Americans a #MeToo test and Conservatives, by-and-large, failed.  In the year since the Pulitzer Prize winning Harvey Weinstein exposé by The New York Times and The New Yorker, the #MeToo movement has brought into the public forum conversations on what is acceptable male behavior and the lack of consequences when something happens. Additionally, the lingering trauma rippling through the victims' lives. The act is heinous enough but the aftermath is nothing short of re-victimization.  The victim, typically a woman, is pilliored, told she is mistaken, hysterical, intoxicated, you get the idea.

Dr. Ford's testimony tested the strength of #MeToo.  Based on the reaction in the social media, she was either credible or not truthful. Few Republicans, the the glaring acception of the president, dared to mock Dr. Ford. Conservatives who might have some questions about her stories, appeared to accord it a new level of respect not seen before #MeToo. In the end, they fell back on the same old clichés: that lacking any physical evidence or witnesses, there is the presumption of innocence.  A serious commitment to #MeToo requires an acknowledgment that the social and cultural norms have shifted and that prior acts need to be re-considered in this new context 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is beholden to donors.  Money buys access to power. Senator McConnell's successful ramming through Kavanaugh nomination despite all the negative press and accusations, delivered for his donors--a conservative majority Supreme Court. He understood that the religious right, Republican super donors, business organizations, the Federalist Society made this nomination a priority and got results.  

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) emerged as a hero.  Senator Murkowski broke from party ranks, listened to the survivors, and voted with Democrats.  Another hero is Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN). Senators Donnelly and Heitkamp represent the very red states of North Dakota and Indiana, respectively; are currently locked in a tight battle for re-election. Unlike West Viriginia Democrat Joe Manchin, who put job security over principles, she voted no.  It may cost her re-election but sometimes things are more important than others. 

The conservatives finally got the majority on the Supreme Court, the long cherished dream of the Federalist Society.  The Federalist Society was formed in the early eighties as response to the liberalism of the high court in the sixties and seventies. They set out grow conservative ranks in law schools and the federal bench. Justice Kavanaugh was a onetime member and the organization vetted the president's list of nominees.  This is why the debate about allegations of sexual assault against the new Justice barely made a dent.  This was a golden opportunity to dominate the court. No matter what the opposition did or said, they never gained a foothold.  It was eyes on the prize for conservatives.

Maine Senator Susan Collins (R) and fellow female Repbulicans proved that when comes to protecting their access to power and privilege, they will side with their man. 

The Supreme Court is damaged, possibly beyond repair.  The reson: Merrick Garland.  Senator McConnell's persistent refusal to even give federal appellate court Judge Garland the courtesy of meeting and keep the late Justice Antonin Scalia's seat open until after the 2016 did extraordinary damage to the Supreme Court.  The damage was compounded by the quick nominations and confirmations of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh along mostly partisan lines. This was despite of Justice Kavanaugh's epic melt down.  This was contradiction to his testimony that he considered himself an impartial arbiter of the law.

Chief Justice John Roberts has long been worried about the court's legitimacy as a neutral party. This may have factored into his support for upholding the Affordable Care Act.  He wanted to avoid the appearance of a very conservative bench.  Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh upended that notion. 

Republicans in blue-friendly districts may be lost. The bloody, awful, controversial just completed nomination process might have alienated voters who would typically lean red enough to make them jump party lines. Based on the comments Yours Truly checked on the social media, this may happen. The drama surrounding Justice Kavanaugh's nomination did rev up the party base, in the short run, but it also energized the Democrat base.  Which energy will last through Election Day is anyone's guess. 

Now what?  The Supreme Court will probably take a lower profile, hearing less boldfaced cases, in hopes of re-setting its reputation. The United States Senate is also damaged goods. The tone deaf manner it handled Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's accusation proved that it learned absolutely nothing since Anita Hill. What is a concerned citizen supposed to do?  Vote November 6th.