Monday, January 28, 2019

Blogger World

Hello Everyone:

Happy new week. Fresh week, fresh things to talk about.  In this case, fresh pictures to look at. Blogger has been busy taking photographs of the neighborhood and decided to share them with you. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Blogger Candidate Forum: A Few Thoughts

Hello Everyone:

It is a beautiful Wednesday afternoon and time for Blogger Candidate Forum. Today we are going to talk about the growing field of potential Democratic nominees and the latest in the ongoing shutdown. Before we get to that, a word or two about the weekend confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial.

By now, video of the chaotic confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial has gone viral.  Chaos is definite,y the word to describes the convergence of the Christian evangelical group known as the Black Hebrews, a group of high school boys at a pro-life march, and Native Anericans in town for the March for Indigenous People.  Depending on which version of the encounter between Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann and Omaha elder Nathan Phillips, Mr. Sandmann comes off as either a hero or villain.  At the essence of the issue is protecting the flock, nuance disappears.  Any real conversation about what really happened at the Lincoln Memorial gets tossed out, in its place protect whoever is perceived as the victims: white parochial school boys or Native Americans.  Some in the conservative media have portrayed the firestorm surrounding the aftermath of the encounter as an "attack on Christians."  Some in the liberal media have painted boys as racist and privileged.  Regardless of how you interpret the encounter, one thing is clear, this and the successful nomination of Bret Kavanaugh, who like Nick Sandmann, came from an all-boys Catholic school raises questions about the type of environment the students are being educated in. Perhaps the school and archdiocese should take a big step back and examine what kind of character education are the students being given?  Eventually the news cycle of this encounter will die down, until the next time. Until our schools and communities meaningfully address the culture of toxic masculinity, this cycle will continue.  Alright, next subject. 

The 2019 shutdown drags on. Drags on is a very appropriate phrase because it seems that niether side wants to back down.  It seems ridiculous to shutdown a quarter of the federal governme over a sea-to-shining-sea border wall.  In fact, there is no point to any shutdown whatsoever. Be that as it may, we are a month into the shutdown and there seems to be no end in sight. Some Democratic lawmakers have urged Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) to just give the president the $5.7 billion he is demanding for the wall. Not going to happen. Also not going to happen is Mr. Donald Trump staging the State of The Union on the Capitol Building steps. What is the latest?

Right now, there are two spending bills set for a procedural vote tomorrow.  The first is a vote on Mr. Trump proposal: In exchange for the $5.7 billion in exchange for a three-year extension for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protective Status, two legal immigration programs he began to dismantle (; Jan. 22, 2019; date accessed Jan. 23, 2019). The Senate Democrats countered with a bill that would open the government, fund agencies at current levels, and allow a broader discussion on border security to take place after government re-opens, through February 8th. Both bills require 60 votes to pass.  Somewhere in the middle is room for compromise.  Both bills lack support.  The president's proposal is not likely draw any moderate Democrats and vice versa, given the president's promise to veto the Democrats' proposal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has allowed a vote on the Democrats' bill even though he does not support it (Ibid). As of now, the House has about nine bill for consideration.

For his part, Leader McConnell has been on the sidelines, waiting for someone to propose a bill that will have the president's support. He also declared that he would not take any show votes has little viability (Ibid). Although the Republicans hold a 53-47 majority, they would need seven Democrats to support their bill in to pass it.  Not likely to happen.  Similarly, Democrats would to peel off 13 Republicans to pass a House bill, making its way to the Senate.  Again, not likely to happen. 

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives is ready to defend their position; willing to make concessions including an increase in borde security-related funding, despite opposition to the wall (Ibid). Their message has been consistent, Reopen the government, and then let's talk border security (Ibid).  The additional monies is an indicator of their willingness to compromise.  We will see what happens Thursday. In the meantime, we have the State of The Union.

The annual State of The Union is (was) scheduled for January 29th. At the time, Speaker Pelosi was not thinking shutdown but the timing of it comes off like incentive to reopen government. Citing shutdown-related security concerns, she suggested delivering the address in writing or from the Oval Office.  As of today, Speaker Pelosi rescinded the invitation and Mr. Trump threatened to hold an alternative event. Mr. Trump, pay attention, if you think you can provoke a confrontation by staging an alternative event, it will backfire bigly. 

Changing the subject, circle this date on calendar, November 3, 2020, the next presidential election. Go register to vote now. If you thought the 2016 presidential election was contentious, wait until the next one. Should the Trump-Pence ticket survive to the next cycle, expect to see it challenged possibly by Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) and former Ohio Governor John Kaisich (R).  Another possible challenger is Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R). Blogger is not holding her breath on that one. Could former Florida Governor Jeb Bush or Texas Republican Ted Cruz take another run at the nomination?  Who knows.  What is known is the field of potential Democratic nominees.

As of today, Senators Kamala Harris (CA), Kristin Gillibrand (NY), Elizabeth Warren (MA); Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI), former Rep. John Delaney, and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro are all in with more to follow. Former VPOTUS Joe Biden and Senator Cory Booker (NJ) are still considering runs. Each nomination candidate has the potential to be the party standard bearer but there is still a very long way to until the Iowa Caucus on February 3, 2020. What do we make of the field thus far?

We are excited that four very successful articulate women have entered the race. Of the four, Blogger believes that Senator Harris has the best chance of emerging as winner. Full disclosure: Senator Harris is from Blogger's home state.  Perry Bacon Jr., of FiveThirtyEigth describes as the "candidate who...embodies how the modern Democratic Party has changed over the last few decades" (; Jan. 21, 2019; date accessed Jan. 23, 2019). If elected, she would be the first African-American, South Asian woman to hold the office.  She has broad appeal across the party spectrum.  When it comes to issues of gender and racial equality, Senator Harris embraces the liberal agenda. Her own biography suggests that she is right in step with the way Democratic Party has become he party of woke women (Ibid). 

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see what kind of traction the shutdown will have on the 2020 election.  The Trump-Pence ticket may try to shift blame to the Democrats or change the subject all together.  Meanwhile, as the shutdown drags on, furloughed federal workers are looking toward it other sources of income. As for the State of The Union address?  It is still on the president's schedule.    Also, the question looms whether or former VPOTUS will get in the race. He teases with idea but it is getting to the point where a decision has to be made.  Blogger will keep returning to the subject as the year moves forward. Yours Truly believes that within he next few months, we should see a clearer picture of the field. We will check back with this story next month. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Will Your City Become San Francisco?

Hello Everyone:

It is a blustery start to the week.  We have some quick news updates: First, the storm over competing videos depicting the confrontation between Omaha elder Nathan Phillips and Covington Catholic high school student Nick Sandmann gathers strength. The initial video showed Mr. Sandmann standing quite close to Mr. Phillips, who continues to play his drum and sing his song. The video made it seem like Mr. Sandmann instigated the confrontation but additional video say otherwise.  Attorneys for Mr. Sandmann released a statement saying he tried to diffuse the situation. Regardless, the MAGA and smirk on Nick Sandmann's face strain credibility. Next, online news service. Buzzfeed published an explosive article saying that the president directed his former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.  This brought a rare commique from the Special Counsel Office's stating the article was not accurate.  Perhaps but if he article was not accurate, why would the president's attorneys reach out to the SCO over the weekend?  Finally California Senator Kamala Harris (D) announced her presidential campaign. More on the growing field of challengers on Wednesday. Now on to today's subject. 

San Francisco has gotten a bad reputation over the past ten years. What is wrong with city that was home to the Beat movement in the fifties, the brick-sized Mission burrito, and the Summer of Love?  Sky-high rents, homeless encampments, and the growing schism between them is what is wrong. San Francisco's reputation is so bad that the city of Seattle, which like San Francisco is home to the tech industry, pondering if it will suffer the same fate (; July, 28, 2016;; May 16, 2017; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019). 

San Francisco's trouble have only gotten worse, so much so that it has become an example of cities' worst nightmares.  Portland, Oregon (; May, 8, 2015; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019), Oakland (; Aug. 23, 2016; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019), and Sacremento (; Sept. 19, 2017; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019) residents and commentators have expressed growing dread that their city is on the path to being the next San Francisco, where the middle class is vanishing. 

San Francisco, too, is growing concerned about becoming (; Jan. 30, 2015; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019)--wait for it--Manhattan, New York.  This fear has been haunting every proposed skyscraper development for decades (Ibid).  As we speak, cranes now dot the San Francisco downtown skyline. At the center of firment is the Salesforce Tower, standing at 1,070 feet tall, intruding on every urban vista (; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019).

Emily Badger writes in The New York Times, "Happy New Year! May Your City Never Become San Francisco, New York, or Seattle," "Surely there is nothing left to feat in New York, a place that already had tall buildings and high rents" (; Dec. 26, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019). However, the coming of Amazon in Long Island City, Vice succinctly put it that residents are on edge about "becoming Seattle on steroids," (; Dec. 3, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019).  Seattle on steroids conjures up images of stratospheric rents, high rises, and tech bros.

Anxieties over future "Portlandification, Brooklynification, Manhattanification" (; Dec. 26, 2018) is shared by other cities as well. This comparison is not intended to be a compliment. Manhattan? Too dense.  Portland?  How precious?  Boston?  Cannot afford it. Seattle?  Too tech.  Houston?  You have to drive everywhere.  Los Angeles? Too congested (yeah well). Las Vegas?  Mind numbing. Chicago? Too indebted. 

San Francisco has come to signify a unique urban horror show. "It is the place where extreme poverty and tech wealth occupy the same block, while schoolteachers and firefighters all live two hours away" (Ibid). 

Consider the nuances: "Portlandification can be Brooklynification, as happens when ambitious media-savvy types commercialize twee [; Aug. 9, 2011; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019]. Manhattanization has evolved over time. It once meant building up. Now it increasingly refers to building only for the rich [; Oct. 23, 2013; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019].

Seattle-ification (; May 7, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019), meanwhile, comes with its own set of symptoms: high tech wealth combined with skyrocketing housing cost have remade the city with alarming speed. 

The city of Denver, Colorado was minding its own business until it became the object The Kansas City Star's editorial board's concern in an op-Ed piece, "Stop the Denverization of Kansas City.  Troost doesn't need to be hipster-friendly" (; Nov. 27, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019). The screaming headline alerted the confused good citizens of Denver (; Dec. 5, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019) that their Mile High city was now synonymous with gentrification, at least with cities not yet that expensive to worry about gentrification. 

Truth be told, the cities that have come to signify the evils of gentrification do have desirable qualities.  Emily Badger describes,

Denver has one of the country's fastest-growing tech labor forces [; Sept. 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019], with minorities and women relatively well represented [; Nov. 9, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019] in those jobs.  Seattle and Portland have among the fastest all-around job growth [; Mar. 29, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019].  New York has some of the fastest-growing wages [; Oct. 30, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019]. San Francsico has unemployment well below the national average [; Jan. 3, 2019; date accessed Jan 21, 2019] and the household incomes among the highest in the country. (; Dec. 26, 2018)

Be that as it may, San Francisco-ization or whatever-ifcation does not refer to how these enviable qualities are acquired. Rather, "those terms capture the deepening suspicions of many communities that cost of urban prosperity outweigh the benefits" (Ibid). Mayor Eric Garcetti pay attention, all those tech jobs and high wages you hope to generate mean absolutely nothing if it results in more congestion, denser development, or soaring housing costs. 

Amazon's search for HQ2, during 2018, laid bare this conundrum for many cities. Yes, HQ2would brings tens of thousands of new, well-paying job in tech and construction but protestors in Chicago (; Apr. 10, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019) and Pittsburgh (; Apr. 26, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019)--as well as the winning areas of New York (; Dec. 12, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019) and Washington D.C. (; Mar. 28, 2018; date accessed Jan 21, 2019)--decided they did not want to be the next Seattle.  

An army of writers in Seattle (; Feb. 26, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019) warned that the protestors were absolutely right (; Oct. 19, 2017; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019) to oppose this prospect. 

Rooted in these fears is something more slippery: "Once you let tech giants in the door, you have ahomelesscrisis.  Once you allow more density, you're surrounded by skyscrapers. Once housing cost begin to rise, the logistical conclusion is San Francisco" (; Dec. 26, 2018). 

Tim Logan, a reporter for the Boston Globe who covers development, tweeted, 

Bostonians: Do you worry more about Manhattanization?  Or San Francisco-ization? (; Aug. 22, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019)

In Mr. Logan's opinion, San Francisco and Manhattan are different means to the same end: urban gated communities for the rich.

Manhattan built its way to that result, luxury residential developments affordable to the obscenely wealthy.  San Francisco is equally accessible to the obscenely wealthy because it did not build its way there for decades.

Really, there are multiple models for creating this kind of urban dystopia.  Even harder is finding cities that got it all right--"growth without congestion, the tech jobs without the homeless crisis [; Dec. 26, 2018], the affordable housing without the sprawl" [Ibid; Sept. 4, 2017]. 

Maybe we can call it Minneapolization? (Ibid; Dec. 13, 2018)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Blogger Candidate Forum: Shock To The Sense

Hello Everyone:

Wednesday means Blogger Candidate Forum. Boss move on the part of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Today, Speaker Pelosi sent the president a letter, telling him that due to the nearly month-long shutdown, it would be best if they re-scheduled the State of The Union after government reopens. Note how the word "after" is boldfaced, the implication being that if Mr. Donald Trump wants to deliver the annual SOTU to a joint session of Congress, he will have to negotiate with her and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Speaker Pelosi did offer the option of delivering the SOTU in writing or from the Oval Office. The message is crystal clear, this is her house.  Moving on. 

How bad have things gotten with the Trump presidency?  Bad enough that the F.B.I. opened an investigation into whether or not the president is a Russian asset.  Just raising the specter of an Anerican president working as a foreign asset to undermine his country's interests is a shock to the senses. The president denied it, of course but it has left many lingering questions. Blogger has her own thoughts on the subject but let us take a look at how this all evolved and what it means. 

On January 11, The New York Times reported that in days after Mr. Trump fired F.B.I. director James B. Comey, law enforcement officials became so alarmed by the president's behavior that they opened an investigation into whether he was working on behalf of Russian interests (; Jan. 11, 2019; date accessed Jan. 16, 2019). The investigation came with explosive implications. Blogger cannot even think of a time when an American president has ever been investigated by counterintelligence agents over whether his actions constituted a national threat. Agents also had to figure out if the president was knowingly working for Russian or unknowingly fell under the Kremlin's influence (Ibid). This is the stuff of John Le Carre novels 

There is also a publicly well-known criminal aspect to the inquiry (Ibid; June 14, 2017): "whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice (Ibid; Jan. 11, 2019). 

During the 2016 election cycle, agents and senior Bureau officials grew quite suspicious of then-candidate Trump's ties to Russia but held off opening any investigation because they were unsure how to move forward with such sensitive matter and huge magnitude. However, it was the president's actions before and after Director Comey's dismissal in May 2017, specifically two examples (; May 11, 2017; date accessed Jan. 16, 2019). It was that (in)famous interview the president did with NBC News' Lester Holt that prompted the inquiry.  During the sit down, the president to Mr. Holt the he asked Director Comey, straight away, if he (the president) was under investigation and asked Director Comey to tell him if he were under the microscope (Ibid). Highly unusual for a possible Bureau target to ask if he or she were the subject of investigation. 

Lester Holt also asked the president if Director Comey's termination was a message to his successor to drop the Russian probe. The president replied, If Russia did anything, I want to know that (Ibid). As usual, he petulantly insisted there was no collusion and Russia did not interfere with the election (Ibid).

Equally shocking was the extraordinary measures Mr. Donald Trump took conceal details of his conversations with Russian Presidenf Vladimir Putin.  On January 13, The Washington Post reported that Mr. Trump did, on at least occasion, take possession of the notes of his own interpreter, instructed the translator not to discuss the meeting with any other adminstration official, current or former U.S.official (; Jan. 13, 2019; date accessed Jan. 16, 2019).

Mr. Trump did this following a meeting with Mr. Putin in 2017 in Hamburg, also attended by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. American officials only learned of this when an anonymous White Hiuse adviser and senior State Department official sought additional information from interpreter beyond the print out shared by Mr. Tillerson. 

The constraints imposed by the president can be viewed as part of a broader pattern of behavior to shield his communications with Mr. Putin public examination and preventing high ranking members of the adminstration what was actually said. The result is there no detailed record or classified file of their interactions in 2017 and last year.  Greg Miller of The Post wrote, "Such a gap would be unusual in any presidency, let alone one that Russia sought to install through what U.S. Intelligence agencies have described as an unprecedented campaign of election interference" (Ibid). 

Again, the president denied this allegation in an interview with Fox News presenter Jeanine Pirro. Interestingly, he did not exactly answer her question, is the President of The United States knowingly or unknowingly working as a Russian asse?  Instead, he proceeded to launch a verbal attack on The Post's owner Jeff Bezos, saying he was insulted by the suggestion. 

None if this had escaped special counsel Robert Mueller, who is said to be in the final stages of his probe. Johnathan Chait wrote in New York, "The probe is not just about Russian election interference, or about Trump's obstruction of the probe--it is about the secret relationship between Trump and Russia that appears to be causing both things to happen" (; Jan 12, 2019; date accessed Jan. 16, 2019). Think about that statement for a long minute.  The President of The United States working with Russia against his own country?  

Mr. Donald Trump has frequently said that it would be a good thing if America and Russia had a better relationship. There is nothing remotely criminally dubious about.  Presidents do have the right to pursue amicable relationships with countries that have been previously hostile to the U.S.  Think President Richard Nixon's overtures to China in the seventies and President Barack Obama's opening relations with Cuba. None of this would event rate an FBI raised eyebrow. However, the very wisp of suggestion that Mr. Trump is in concert with Russia suggests something inherently corrupt and secretive about the relationship
It is no secret that the Russians are masters at using flattery and bribery; when the occasion calls for it, blackmail to get what they want. What do they want here?  Possibly undermine NATO.  

The end of the Cold War ushered in a period of economic and social upheaval in Russia.  As former Soviet satellites (Ukraine, for example) declared their independence, they petitioned NATO for membership, the Russian government began to feel isolated. Throughout the Cold War, Eastern European nations, Russian and satellites were members of the Warsaw Pact, their answer to NATO. The collapse of Communism and the dissolution of the Pact further isolated Russia.  Sanctions imposed by western governments damaged the economy. When Vladimir Putin was first elected president, he promised a return to security.  A crackdown on dissenters was part of this campaign.  He next part involved slowly picking off NATO members, one at a time. Shut off the power in the Ukraine, poison former Russian spy in Great Britain, steal a FIFA World Cup tournament, all part of the plan, in preparation for going after the United States.  Interfer with an election, sow seeds of discontent. Of course we will never the full extent or intent of the plan but we do know that putting Donald Trump in the White House was part of it. Why and how may never be fully revealed. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Cultural Heritage Or Infrastructure? Which Is More Important?

Hello Everyone:

Yours Truly here, enjoying a cold, soggy, all-American meal of Big Mac and fries with extra ketchup, washed down with a large chocolate shake, served only the very best White House dishes.  Blogge cheering the defeat of British Prime Minister Theresa May's latest and probably last Brexit deal.  Extra special shout out to Parliament's Speaker of the House John Bercow.  Rock star. While Blogger finishes this rather tasty hamberder um hamburger, let us talk about cultural heritage restoration.

Those of us who dedicate ourselves to the preservation of cultural heritage were horrified by the destruction of precious ancient monuments at the hands of ISIS, in Iraq and Syria.  As the Iraqis and Syrians begin to restore their lost cultural heritage properties, the question is what about the everyday buildings and infrastructure?  What priority do they in the rush to return to normalcy?  This is the subject of today's post. 

While the extent of damage, what artifacts were taken and sold to finance their activities, a week before Christmas Eve, December 17, 2018, two completely different news stories found their way into the media, both related to the city Mosul, Iraq. The first story was the laying of the cornerstone for the rebuilding of the Al-Nuri mosque (; Dec. 17, 2018; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019), leveled by ISIS before they lost control of the city last year.  The mosque is known for its distinctive leaning minaret--al Habda ("the hunchback;"; Dec. 17, 2018), destroyed leaving the base--has become a symbol for the Mosul. The ceremony was attended by officials from Iraq and abroad, in conjunction with UNESCO's "Revive the Spirit of Mosul" (; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019). News reports described the ceremony "as a powerful symbol of progress toward restoring Mosul as the thriving, pluralistic city it was before the war" (; Dec. 17, 2018; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019).

The second, more harrowing story broke on Monday, December 24, 2018, by Ben Taub in he New Yorker (; Dec. 24 & 31, 2018; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019). The story pieces together a series of alternatingly gruesome scenes from Mosul, since ISIS's defeat three years ago: "show trial, confessions acquired by torture, lynchings, ethnic cleansing, rape, and the creation of an entire generation of alienated Sunnis in northern Iraq" (; Dec. 17, 2018).   Among the many horrific scenes described by Mr. Taub was perpetual state of ruin of the Old City, where al-Nuri is located.  He reported:

I had the impression that he Iraqi government has been content to leave it in ruins, as a kind of punishment [to presumed ISIS sympathizers].  (; Dec 24 & 31, 2018)

MIchael Press observes in his post, "Let Them Eat Heritage," "Given Taub's story, the publicity for the cornerstone seem shallow, even perverse. It is [an] ceremony. An event not for Moslawis (the people of Mosul) so much as regional, national, and foreign dignitaries,..., as behind them looms the destroyed mosque with its missing minaret" (; Dec. 17, 2018). These stories unfold against the backdrop of a city filled with wrecked buildings and neighborhoods.  The United Nations estimates that almost 6,000 homes in Mosul's old city were either destroyed or damaged in the battle to retake the city (; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019). National Public Radio reported last August "the Iraqi government claimed it had no money for reconstruction, and that it was relying on private donations, of which it had received to rebuild 250 houses" (; Aug. 23, 2018; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019). In essence, about 95 percent of Moslawis are on their own in rebuilding their home and reclaiming their lives.  Basic infrastructure is nearly non-existent.  "Perhaps 40% of her old city [; Dec. 17, 2018; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019] still has no water, and electricity is unreliable" (; Dec. 17, 2018). Even the social structure has irrevocably changed, so much so that "it is essentially up recognizable to its own residents" (; Sept. 2018; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019). 

Michael Press points out the painfully obvious, that it is usually the bold faced cultural heritage monuments that get all the media attention and international aid while the everyday buildings and infrastructure get ignored. For example, the United Arab Emirates pledged $50 million (; Apr. 23, 2018; date accessed Jan. 19, 2019) towards the mosque's five-year reconstruction.  Far be it from Blogger to disparage the restoration of damaged cultural heritage properties but it seems rather odd that the mosque and minaret have greater importance than the Moslawis themselves (; July 12, 2017; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019). 

You could try to argue that restoring cultural properties first will bring greater attention to the city and additional attention and aid to rebuild the everyday buildings and infrastructure.  However, this kind of trickle down theory does not hold because it runs counter to reality. Reality is that this re-prioritization--cultural properties first, then everything else--and the media attention has been on repeat throughout Iraq and Syria over the past few years.

The United Nations released a damage assessment for the ancient city of Aleppo, Syria (; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019) "showing the widespread devastation of the old city's architecture: over 90% of the buildings evaluated were damaged or destroyed in the war" (; Dec. 17, 2018).  However, the damage assessment is framed in context to cultural heritage, not shelter or infrastructure.  Additionally, the UN strangely suggests that the study raises recovery hopes (; Dec. 17, 2018; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019). This almost feeble sense of optimism contradicts the reports that militias are looting houses (; Dec. 14, 2018; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019) and displaced residents are selling their homes because reconstruction and security remain absent (; Nov. 29, 2018; date accessed Jan 15, 2019) two years after government forces retook the city. 

The Syrian government announced in August 2018 that the city of Palmyra's historic ancient ruins would be open to tourists this year (; Aug. 15, 2018; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019). Again as great as this sounds, this story and other like it fail to past attention to the modern city around it and its approximately 50,000 residents. On those rare cases where concern for civilians was expressed, it was usually for the safety of foreign tourists (; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019). 

Russian museums have offered reconstruction assistance (; Nov. 20, 2017; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019) as well as Polish experts (; Nov. 5, 2015; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019). However, Western governments have refused all Russian requests for reconstruction money in Syria (; Sept. 5, 2018; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019) because of sanctions on the Assad government.  You all can debate the wisdom of this--refusing to assist Russia in rebuilding Palmyra because of sanctions.

At best, restoration projects can offer much needed jobs to local residents.  Michael Press reports, "The UAE projects that the reconstruction of the al-Nuri mosque will employ 1,000 Iraqi graduates" (; Dec. 17, 2018). The World Monument Fund is preparing Syrian refugees in Jordan (; June 20, 2017; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019) to help with cultural heritage properties reconstruction when they are finally able to come home. All these restoration and reconstruction intiatives sound fantastic but it raises the specter of misplaced priorities.  Basically, "Who is this reconstruction for, and for what purpose?"(; Dec. 17, 2018)

Architectural experts have cautioned that reconstruction iniatives in Iraq an Syria have been a top-down process (; Apr. 11, 2018; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019). The agendas are not created with interests of the community in mind, rather, they are created with the interests of the national governments in mind as well as Russia and the UAE in order to promote the restoration of cultural heritage properties.  These kind of feel good projects allow governments with dubious legitimacy to put a happy face on their image (; 2015;; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019) and consolidate their power following civil wars, and create this phony sense of normalcy. Funding heritage allows other countries (talking to you Russia) to market themselves as the great saviors of civilization.  The practical things are not quite as sexy.

The media just loves these feel-good stories of returns to normalcy in the form of restored cultural heritage properties, book fairs (; Nov. 13, 2018; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019), or concerts (; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019). Rebuilding infrastructure or home does not make quite as good copy.  Again, make no mistake, Yours Truly is a firm believer in the value of culture but it is hard to appreciate it when you are a refugee, have no food or a place to sleep. 

Mosul-based historian and journalist Omar Mohammed, the keeper of the famous blog Mosul Eye, succinctly put it,

Rebuilding is easy. People can rebuild their city and go back to their lives. They just need some money. (; Sept. 2018; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019)

The average Iraqis and Syrians know what they want to rebuild (ruins like Palmyra are not a priority) (; Aug. 24, 2018; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019). Local architects have plenty of ideas (; Oct. 27, 2018; date accessed Jan. 15, 2019) about what they want their cities, towns, and villages to look like. We only need to pay attention. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

In Critical Need Of Housing

Hello Everyone:

Welcome to a rainy week on the blog. The shutdown is now in its fourth week and is the longest in history with no end in sight.  The president is very determined to get the $5.7 billion he is demanding for some sort of physical barrier along the United States-Mexico border. He has even threatened to take disaster relief funds from Texas, Florida, and California to pay for this ridiculous wall. Really, it is ridiculous. The president even rejected a seemingly plausible solution--sign a stop-gap funding bill to reopen the government then talk about border security--put forth by his ally Senator Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.). This comes hot on the heels of bombshell articles published by The New York Times and Washington Post that the president may have been indirectly under the influence of Russia.  More on that Wednesday but for now, back to Boyle Heights.

Boyle Heights is a vibrant predominantly Latino community in East Los Angeles that is feeling the pangs of gentrification.  One its greatest concerns is that longtime residents, most of whom make below the median area income, will be priced out as newcomers buy and rent housing at market rate. Thus, creating more affordable housing is absolutely critical. It already one of Los Angeles' densest communities and has plans to build more then 5,650 new homes (; Dec. 18, 2018; date accessed Jan. 14, 2019) over the next two decades.  This ambitious plan has the potential to forever reshape the urban landscape. 

The planned development would include "Expensive high-rises and high-end shops and eateries on one edge and 'affordable' apartment complexes and a new supermarket on the other that could effectively split Boyle Heights into two zones divided by the I-5--one for the well-to-do, the other for the working poor" (Ibid). 

Further, more than 5,000 of the proposed apartments will be split between two new massive developments near Olympic Boulevard and Soto Street, in the southwest corner of the community. Most of the rents will be at market rates, with 3,200 condominiums available for purchase. Trulia lists the median rent for Boyle Heights is $2,500 (; date accessed Jan. 14, 2019) compared to $7,500 downtown (; Dec. 18, 2018). 

Part of the proposal calls for only eight percent (400 apartment; Ibid) to be leased at "affordable" (Ibid) rates to families and individuals who meet the federal low-income guidelines. Those units will be built by non-profit developers, along a a one-mile section between First Street and East César Chavez Avenue, from Mariachi Plaza to the Evergreen Cemetery. Some of the units would also be designated for housing people with special needs--i.e. homeless or mental illness--with on-site services.  Some of the developments will have retail space.

Carmen González reported in the Boyle Heights Beat, "None of the projects planned by the nonprofits could match the housing impact of two private mega developments planned for s small zone south of 5 Freeway" (Ibid). The  iconic Sears towers (Ibid; Dec. 15, 2015) located at East Olympic Boulevard and Soto Street will become a luxury residential and commercial complex with 1,030 lofts, 80,000 square feet of retail and dining, 200,000 square feet of "creative office," rooftop pool and other amenities (Ibid; Dec. 18, 2018). 

Developer Izek Shomof envisions the rehabbed Sear tower as the centerpiece of his proposed 25-acre Mail Order District, that will eventually add nearly 900 additional residences, including 400 single-family homes lining the Los Angeles River (it exists) (Ibid). 

As of November 2018, Mr. Shomof's company is looking for an investment partner for the Sears tower redevelopment.  Marketing material "reveal the project is split into two separate phases,... Phase 1, which is already entitled, includes the adaptive reuse of the Sears building, a railway-themed retail and a recreational landscaping project,... Phase 2, which has yet to be entitled, proposes new construction of 1,150 residential units, 95,000 square feet of retail and 120-room hotel... (; Nov. 29, 2018; date accessed Jan. 14, 2019)

A short distance way--east of Soto and Olympic--the owner of the Wyvernwood Garden Apartments (; Aug. 7, 2018) has plans to demolish the 1,200 two-story garden units and replace them with 4,400 new units in 24-story high-rises with 3,200 condominiums and 300,000 square feet of retail and commercial space (Ibid; Dec. 18, 2018)

Miami developer Fifteen Group's estimated $2 billion project is envisioned as a project that will provide 25,000 square of community meeting space and 10.5-acre park.  Fifteen percent of the units (660) will be set aside as affordable housing for 30 years (Ibid).

According to the developer's website:

The reimagined Wyvernwood site will offer a variety of modern housing options for all income levels, creating a dramatic improvement over the aging and outdated buildings on the current site . (, Jan. 11, 2007; date accessed Jan. 14, 2019)

If construction goes on as planned, "the new Wyvernwood would be one of the biggest housing complexes in the West,..." (; Dec. 18, 2018). As the situation stands, right now, the original 2020 opening date had been delayed partly by opposition from longtime residents concerned about displacement. 

The majority of the affordable units will be built and managed by the non-profit developer East Los Angeles Community Corporation, which has owned and operated properties in the community for over twenty years.  Its most recent project, Cielito Lindo (Ibid; May 3, 2018) open last April, is 50-unit campus on First and Soto streets.

Most of ELACC's units are rented to families and individuals making between 30 to 50 percent of the area's median income ($29,050 to $48,450 for a family of four; Ibid; Dec. 18, 2018).  The family four could pay between $560 and $933 for a two-bedroom ELACC apartment.  However even those rents, a fraction of Boyle Heights' median rent, may put the apartments out of reach for most of Boyle Heights' residents who earn less than $20,000 a year, according to the Los Angeles Times (Ibid). ELACC has three more developments in the works that would add 154 units

Edward Reyes, the vice president of community capital told the Boyle Heights Beats that his organization "seeks input from community members throughout the housing planning process.... the organization is working with Jóvenes Inc., a another Boyle Heights nonprofit, to provide services to 18-25-year-old homeless youth at its Lucha Reyes Apartment" (Ibid; Dec. 18, 2018). Specifically

We wanted to make sure that we had the ability to house as many folks as we could in a large community that hasn't had the necessary assistance,...

Not far from Lucha Reyes, along the neighborhood's main thoroughfare, tow affordable housing  complexes are on Metro-owned land.  The complexes, La Veranda and Chávez Gardens will line Soto to Mott Streets on César E. Chávez.  Adobe Communities, a non-profit developer, will oversee the pro proposed complexes.  La Veranda (Ibid; Nov. 30, 2017) will go up behind the Boyle Heights institution King Taco and a block over, Chávez Gardens will contain 60 units, a Parkman and a grocery store (Ibid; Dec. 18, 2018). 

Robin Hughes, the president and CEO of Adobe Communities, told the Boyle Heights Beat, We heard loud and clear the desire to have a grocery store in the neighborhood (Ibid). Mr. Hughes continued, "the complex would provide on-site services for adults and youth and be environmentally sustainable, both in design and operation." (Ibid)

Even though most of Adobe's apartment would be rented to tenants earning up to 60 percent of the median household income ($58,140 for a family of four; Ibid), Mr. Hughes said "that because of community input, some of the apartments would be leased to families earning up to 30 percent of median income [$29,050] and below." (Ibid). Robin Hughes said,

I hope that our affordable housing can really support the catalytic economic development that's happening in the community.... For us, it's really important that it provides an opportunity for people who currently live in the community to stay in the community and that's why affordability is important. (Ibid)

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Blogger Candidate Forum: Is A Compromise Possible?

Hello Everyone:

It is a lovely Wednesday afternoon and time for the first Blogger Candidate Forum of the year.  We start off 2019 with the saga of the now second longest government shutdown. This is not a typical government shutdown--not that anything related to the Trump administration is typical--because the root cause is over money for a wall along the southern border of the United States.  To make his case, Mr. Donald Trump went on television, from the Oval Office, yesterday evening, to advance his argument about border security, without making the wall the main sticking point, which it is. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer gave the rebuttal. It was a very strange moment. Usually a presidential address from the Oval Office is reserved for an extremely important announcement, like the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. The Oval Office yesterday evening was not that kind of speech. Neither was the Democratic rebuttal.  Instead both the president, Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer co-opted the Oval to re-state their cases to public.  The question before us is what were the takeaways from the speech and what comes next. 

First of all, neither side had anything new to say.  The president stayed close to the same talking points he has used for past several months (; Jan. 8, 2019; date accessed Jan. 9, 2019) none of which really increased public support for the wall. Democrats also stayed close to the arguments they have been making since before the shutdown, almost three weeks ago: "they'll negotiate with Trump after he signs a bill to fund government agencies, but not before" (Ibid). 

The result was the speech that is not likely to sway public opinion, which is opposed to the wall, whatever form it takes.  Los Angeles Times Washington-based reporter David Lauter writes, "According to most polls, a majority of the public dislikes the government shut down and are more likely to blame Trump and the Republicans for the situation than Democrats" (Ibid).  This is why nervous  moderate Republicans are breaking ranks with the adminsitration and Democrats remain united.  Although, the danger here is that the longer the shutdown goes, the more likely the Democrats will be blamed for dragging out the situation.

Second of all, the television networks' decision to dedicate a portion of prime time to air the speech live drew sharp criticism. The good news is by airing speed and the rebuttal, the millions or so viewers got a chance to hear the pros and cons of a border wall. The bad-ish news is it may not changed many voters but the upside is that public was better informed. 

Next, Mr. Trump tried to change his rhetoric, but only partially. In the run up to the Oval Office address, administration painted a dark foreboding picture terrorist threats and spoke of a national security crisis (Ibid). Claims of terrorist threats, gangs and drugs pouring over the border have been mostly debunked  (Ibid) and adminsitration officials have been roundly criticized for making false claims. The truth is if you speak to everyday folk in border towns, like McAllen, Texas, they have more daily concerns than inflated statements about gangs, terrorists, and drugs. That is just not their reality.  The toned down rhetoric may have been an concession by adminstration officials that past arguments have not served their purpose. 

However over the nine minute speech, the president's rhetoric was at odds with itself.  At once conveying compassion when he spoke of the perilous journey north, he went on to repeat the assertions that unlawful immigrants in the U.S. have killed or injured American citizens, citing a 2015 case in which an Air Force veteran was raped and killed by an undocumented immigrant (Ibid). 

Immigration advocates say that these Isolated cases "unfairly tars all immigrants as criminals" (Ibid). We already know that Mr. Trump has been using this kind of charged language since the early days of his campaign, hardening Democratic attitudes toward him. 

Fourth, the wall remains unpopular with Americans. If the question of whether or not a wall is necessary is couched within the broader subject of border security (Ibid), the president's positions do better.

David Lauter reports, "In his speech, Trump talked of the need to increase spending on a broad range of immigration-related items, including more immigration judges,...,although his administration has, in fact, hired more of them" (Ibid). No one is going to argue that there is a back log of immigration cases waiting to be adjudicated.  No one is going to argue that there is humanitarian crisis at the border.  The humanitarian crisis is not what the president and his adminstration say it is; it is a crisis of housing and caring for women and children--deemed not a threat by the FBI--in a humane and compassionate manner while they await a court date. 

Theoretically, widening the border security debate could open space for compromise between opposing sides.  That is being optimistic. However, the president has refused to budge from his $5.7 billion demand; so far as to dramatically walk out on a meeting between both parties today.  Bottom line, the Democrats do not have an argument with the need for increased border security.  The argument they have is over whether a wall is the only option.  Spoiler: it is not. 

The other roadblock to compromise is the president himself.  Specifically, his tendency to agree on a compromise then back off at the last minute (Ibid; Jan. 22, 2018). There is an old saying, "once bitten, twice shy."  After experiencing these last minute turn arounds, Democrats or Republicans are hesitant to commit to a deal unless they absolutely, 100 percent, no doubt about it sure that the president will sign off on it.  Honestly, the president is losing the shutdown and he knows it.  His fatal mistake was going on record saying he would own the shutdown and takes full responsibility for it. He painted himself into a corner and the only way may be accepting a compromise.

Finally, declaring a national emergency is still a viable option. During the nine minute address, Mr. Trump avoided mentioning making any such declaration. Good move on the part of his speech writers.  Declaring a national emergency would allow the president to claim authority to use military construction  funds to fund the wall. He would most definitely face legal challenges, which he could ultimately lose, but he could sign the bills to reopen the government without going back on his word. Congressional Republicans believe that a national emergency declaration would move the debate over a wall to the courts is their best way out of current stalemate. 

What comes next is largely in the hands of the Trump adminstration.  The president is quite keen in forcing the Democrats to capitulate into his demands, going as far as to say that he has no problem keeping the government shut down for months or years. He may not have that long. Congressional Democrats remain resolute: a debate on border security instead of blithely allocating $5.7 billion for a wall. Stuck in the middle are the 800,000 federal either furloughed or working without pay. Also in the middle are the men, women, and children in a kind of holding pattern in Mexico or in privately run federal government contracted detention centers.  There is no need for this situation. It is obvious that Trump adminstration's policy of deterrence is not working and something else is needed. This is why we need to reopen government and have a real debate on what immigration policy should be. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Urban Life's Rich Pageant

Hello Everyone:

The rain has stopped and the sun is out. Mr. Donald Trump is planning a televised address this evening to outline his case for a border wall. He recently floated the idea of declaring a national emergency in order to circumvent Congress and appropriate the $5.7 billion he is demanding for the wall.  He president collapsed several "immigration crisis" into one national security threatening big crisis.  The chatter online leans toward boycott. We will talk about it tomorrow.  Shall we move onto today's subject?

Being woman in the post-#MeToo era is fraught. It seems that everyone has an opinion about how a woman should go about her daily business, interact with men, her appearance, and what views she should have. It is enough to make a woman crazy. Now layer on to that subtle and not-so religious rdiscrimination and you can may be appreciate what it is like to be a Muslim woman. Mehri "Mehrsa" Mohebbi, a senior urban planner at Planning Communities, writes in her CityLab article "The Discrimination Muslim Women Face: Lesson for City Planning Outreach,"(; Dec. 5, 2018; date accessed Jan. 8, 2019 that the daily discrimination can be a learning tool for  negotiating city life. 

Ms. Mohebbi is the co-author of a five-year study with Annulla Linders, and Carla Chifors at the University of Cincinnati, Community Immersion Trust-Builiding and Recruitment among Hard to Reach Populations: A Case Study of Muslim Women in Detroit Metro Area, (; 2018; date accessed Jan. 8, 2019) which documents the daily experiences of young Muslim women in Dearborn, Michigan. The young women told the co-authors that "their decreased sense of safety adversely affected basic daily experienced, including walking in their neighborhoods" (; Dec. 5, 2018). Walking is one of the few social rights enjoyed by every member of urban life, "yet these negative perceptions and experiences discouraged the women from walking even in neighborhoods that were defined as walkable areas (based on design criteria, such street connectivity and availability of walking infrastructure)" (Ibid). 

Being shouted at--go back to your own country--or being viewed as a terrorist or oppressed are a representation of the discriminatory behavior that members of minoirity communities encounter in the American urban landscape. Ms. Mohebbi writes, "To counter the negative impact of these experiences, it's imperative that urban planners and city officials develop innovative ways to reach these marginalized groups, even as it may mean readjusting traditional idea about methodology and length of the process" (Ibid).

Throughout American urban history, discrimination against minority group has been part of the story.  Following 9/11 the Muslim community encountered serious difficulties.  Ms. Mohebbi noted the increased levels of prejudice and intolerance, even though history has shown that Islamophobia is not a modern phenomenon of American cities (Ibid). 

During the study period in Dearborn, Muslim women reported assorted types of negative perceptions (a foreigner, illiterate, unprofessional because of the hijab, cultural values, connection to extremists). These experiences so warped their image of society that it resulted in voluntary isolation and decreased level access to opportunities and service.

This form of alienation is a roadblock for a person to express themselves as social beings and participate in urban society.  Over the past two decades, urban planners have dedicated themselves to creating more inclusive community engagement that has "created a foundation of numerous nationwide initiatives and movement to reach alienated groups, but outdated community outreach methods continue to act as barriers" (Ibid). It is crucial, specifically for the public sector and decision makers in government, to closely examine these methods.

Haphazard approaches to increasing stakeholders' say have resulted in an insufficient budget and time to design and put in place a viable community engagement program. Innovative outreach methods to communicate affected areas are the way to increase participation, "especially when working with minority groups, whose cultural values and public image often limit their access to urban amenities and  involvement in public decision-making" (Ibid). 

There have been a number of success stories showcasing positive civic and social engagement of minorities around the United States.  One example, "a local, health initiative in southeast Michigan proved that partnerships between government sectors and grassroots organizations can create a welcoming environment for all stakeholders to partake in policy making related to public health" (Ibid). Healthy Dearborn Initiative (; date accessed Jan. 8, 2019) implemented inclusive community engagement methods towards enhancing the resident's health in every aspect of Dearborn urban life. One of the key elements of the initiative was "interacting with people and observing their daily lives in places where they live, work, and play and indentifying trusted gatekeepers to fully communicate with members of minority groups"  (; Dec. 5, 2018).

The Dearborn Initiative was a success in motivating diverse underrepresented population, Muslim women in particular, to actively be part of policymaking meetings and workshops. This is a model that can be replicated and adapted to other communities with a high concentration of minorities.

However there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Mehri Mohebbi writes, "In instances like our case study of the Detroit Metro Area, a new approach, community immersion, was initiated, tested, and used.... the evolving strategy was based on using community immersion to accelerate the process of trust-building to secure interview data" (Ibid). Community immersion is not a typical method of interview studies but in this case, it was a useful strategy to identify he gatekeepers and facilitate communications with religious minority groups.

Usually governmental agencies imitate and conduct most of the urban interventions, minority community engagement becomes more essential to democracy. To better grasp an underrepresented population's needs and concerns, Ms. Mohebbi suggests using a variety of methods and techniques such as small in-person meetings to online participation techniques (Ibid).  

Ms. Mohebbi cautions, "Using each technique and local requires a certain level of knowledge about each method,min addition to a deep understanding of each stakeholder group" (Ibid). Thus, untested innovative engagement are both cost and time ineffective but she concedes, "reviewing contemporary success stories provides governmental sectors with insightful perspectives to modify engagement methods to suit different groups of the affected urban population" (Ibid). 

A key to full participation of underrepresented minorities is for urban planners and policymakers to "encourage a robust social infrastructure in American cities and avidly creating built environments where minority groups feel obliged to live an isolated life" (Ibid). Inclusive social media interventions and collaborations with community organizations are very necessary to the cause.  As long as there are individuals that feel like the "other," American--and by extension the global--society remains as this vague mix of contradictory values and dysfunctional interactions.

Human relations and interactions with their social setting; how they are being defined and facilitated, are the basis for the urban future.  The task of including underrepresented communities is vitally important. Cities are the places where diversity should be celebrated and investing in that rich future founded in the perspectives of everyone.