Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Blogger Candidate Forum: What Were You Expecting?



Hello Everyone:

This is the Blogger Candidate Forum dropping in, for a short visit, to say a few words on Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller's announcement this morning.

Were you expecting some sort of bombshell announcement?  If you were, you were disappointed.  Instead, Mr. Mueller announced his resignation and reiterated the conclusions of his report. 

First, there was no conclusive evidence to suggest that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to undermine the 2016 election. Yes, Russian hackers, through WikiLeaks, did break into Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee servers and illegally obtained emails that were released to the media. Yes, it was coincidental that a few days after then-candidate Donald Trump encouraged hackers to disclose "her emails," DNC and Clinton emails magically appeared. However, there was never any tangible, concrete evidence to infer that Mr. Trump knew and or actively encouraged hackers or had any contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Further, senior members of his campaign staff taking meetings is not a crime. Had there been some solid quid pro quo arrangement between both parties--i.e. "Get me elected and I'll remove sanctions"--then it would be a completely different conclusion.  Obstruction of justice is another matter.

Second, Mr. Mueller specifically said that if his team were confident that the president did not committ obstruction of justice, they would said so.  They were not. Instead, the report detailed ten instances in which the president attempted to impede the work of Special Counsel's Office, that were thwarted by adminsitration staff members.  However following Department of Justice regulation, he opted not criminally charge a sitting president.  This is the correct decision because the Constitution does provide the mechanism for removing members of the Executive Branch of government.  Thus, Robert Mueller was right to leave it to Congress to investigate and determine if the president's actions warrant impeachment and removal from office. 

Finally, to those of you howling for impeachment, allow the Candidate Forum to remind that impeaching and removing a president is a legal and political process. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)'s go slow approach is also a correct decision. Speaker Pelosi thoroughly understands the political landscape and the risks that come with it, especially 17 months away from a major election. Her plan is keep the investigations on the back burner while advancing the Democratic legislative agenda.  Unless something explosive materializes, the goal is to deprive the president the chance to play the victim and a way to define whoever his challenger is and put the focus on issues like healthcare and climate change. Not that the president will not try to pigeon hole his challenger but impeachment should not be it.  What happens next?

What happens next is that the House committees investigating the president will continue and attorneys fighting the president's legal maneuvering to block witness testimony and document from being release will continue. House and Senate Democrats will continue to advance their agenda. Slow walking impeachment and removal is prudent path for now. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

A Museum History In Pictures





Hello Everyone:

Yours Truly had a very restful Memorial Day Weekend, topped off by a visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  The point of the visit was to document the museum's original buildings--the Ahmanson Gallery and the Bing Building--before they fall victim to the wrecking ball.  As luck would have it, there was a very informative exhibit, Building the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  The exhibit traced the history of how the museum, located in Los Angeles' Miracle Mile area, came into being and the various schemes other architects have proposed before the Peter Zumthor scheme was approved.  Ever the opportunistic Blogger, Yours Truly took out the trusty phone to take pictures of the exhibit.  Below are the photographs that Blogger took yesterday.  Enjoy.

The Ahmanson Building
William Pereira
Los Angeles, California
The Leo S. Bing Center
William Pereira
Smoke by Tony Smith, 1967
Atrium of the Ahmanson Building
Packed up for the big move

 
Miracle model
Peter Zumthor
Aerial view of proposed LACMA redesign

The Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science, and Art, 1913
Trustee Howard Ahmanson (L), board chair Edward W. Carter (C),
 and architect William L. Pereira (R)
Below: Trustee Anna Bing Arnold
1965


The William Pereira Building, 1965
The Ahmanson Gallery
The Lytton (now Hammer) Gallery
The Leo S. Bing Center
(L) Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer (Robert O. Anderson Building) 1988
(R) Bruce Goff (Pavilion for Japanese Art) 1988
(C) Aerial view of LACMA, c. 1986


(L) Rem Koolhaus' proposal, 2001
(R) Renzo Piano's proposal, 2006
(L) Renzo Piano plan, 2006
(R) Peter Zumthor scheme, 2019
Urban Lights, 2008
Chris Burden
















































Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Blogger Candidate Forum, Unintended Consequences



Hello Everyone:

It is Tuesday and the Blogger Candidate Forum is stepping into the blogosphere for a Tuesday edition.  Blogger has a previously scheduled appointment tomorrow so the Candidate Forum is putting in an appearance.  Shall we talk about the tariffs and rural America?

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Map of rural America
census.gov

Mr. Donald Trump's trade war with China is being sharply felt in rural America and the manufacturing sector.  Although most Americans have not yet experienced the impact of tariffs imposed by his administration last year (cnn.com; Feb. 11, 2019; date accessed May 21, 2019), most of which affect manufactured goods rather than consumer goods, the places feeling the immediate impact are the American heartland and has resulted in a lot of expensive and unintended consequences

Many of the farmers supported the president during his campaign because of his pledge to successfully challenge the United States' top competitor, the People's Republic of China.  That was then and now, the people who grow the food we eat and make the parts that go into refrigerators are increasingly anxious about the threat of renewed retaliatory measures (Ibid; Mar. 20, 2019).

Retailers such as Walmart and Macy's announced that they may have to raise their prices if the president follows through on his threat to expand tariffs to include everything else (i.e. consumer goods) that China exports to the U.S. (Ibid; May 16, 2019)

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Huawei phone
theverge.com
Already this week, the Trump administration announced a move to limit Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, which markets its inexpensive equipment to rural users and Internet service providers (Ibid), could end up raising their prices for heartland consumers.  This is a major problem because service disruptions in rural areas means that farmers and ranchers would be unable buy the equipment they need  from Chinese suppliers--which could affect customers who depend on those connections.

Carri Bennett, the general counsel for the Rural Wireless Association the trade group representing rural telecom companies, told CNN,

Farmers, ranchers, small businesses in rural America, the people who support those businesses in rural America--your teachers, all that,.... Our members are in small, little communities mainly of under 10,000 people... It doesn't help them.  It ends up hurting them. (Ibid; May 19, 2019)

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Map of U.S. telecom data points
rd.usda.gov
Concerns over higher costs are founded in the fact many small and rural telecommunications providers relay on low-cost transmitters and receivers by Huawei.  Larger carriers such as T-Mobile (Blogger's carrier) and Verizon do not use Huawei equipment.

This past Wednesday, the president signed an executive order prohibiting the use of telecommunication equipment considered a national security.  Although the order did not specifically single out Huawei or China by name, the implication was clear.  The Department of Commerce quickly moved to place the company on its blacklist minutes after the president signed the order, for all intents and purposes, ensuring that Huawei was covered by the new rules.

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Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross
cnn.com
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross told Fox News last Thursday "that the administration is willing to work with small and rural carriers to ensure they will not be forced to rip everything out made by Huewei under the order" (Ibid).  Administration officials added that they will listen to input from businesses about how to implement the new rules.

According to Ms. Bennet, placing Huawei on the Commerce Department blacklist, , it "could still leave those carriers stuck with aging infrastructure that can't be replaced if it malfunction, degrades, or is destroyed by the weather,..." (Ibid).  She said, You wouldn't be able to make a 911 call if the network is down, especially in rural areas where the bigger carriers do not offer services.

Complications surrounded the ill-considered executive order reflect precisely how a number of Trump initiatives have produced unintended consequences.  Farmers are already struggling to adapt to Chinese tariffs on U.S. grown soybeans, corn, and wheat.  The irony is farmers helped elect the president.  John Wesley Boyd Jr., a Virginia-based soybean farmer told Brianna Keiler of CNN,

Farmers were [Trump's] base,... They helped elect this President... and now he's turning his back on America's farmers when we need him the most (Ibid).

The president offered subsidies last year and declared that he would expand those payment to assist farmers until some sort of deal is worked out.  It is not just farmers and ranchers that are feeling the affect of the president's escalations.

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Scenes from American manufacturing
theatlantic.com

"About 2.1 million workers in aircraft manufacturing, beer brewing, tobacco and dozens of other industries stand to be affect by the trade war, according to an April study by the Brookings Institution" (Ibid).  The study concluded that the impact would be evenly felt between red and blue states.  However, a similar study conducted by Axios published a week ago, concluded that the president's escalations could affect more than five times as many workers (Ibid).  The hardest hit regions will be industries in rural, deeply red already-struggling parts of the country, "including miners in Texas, furniture makers in North Carolina and sawmills in Alabama" (Ibid).

The tech industry is also at risk,  The Consumer Technology Association estimates that "as many as 1 million jobs are at risk due to the trade war in states such as Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania" (Ibid).  Further, the CTA said that "the trade war has forced US businesses to pay nearly $750 million in tariffs for products relate to 5G, the mobile data technology the US says is key to economic development" (Ibid).

This means American businesses are paying for increasing infrastructure while the president prepares to meet with Democratic lawmakers to discuss funding for a $2 trillion infrastructure proposal.  This should be good.















Monday, May 20, 2019

The Hussle



Hello Everyone:

Welcome to an abbreviated week on the Blog.  Blogger Candidate Forum will appear tomorrow, instead of the usual Wednesday because Yours Truly has a previously scheduled appointment.

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Nipsey Hussle
usatoday.com

Today we are going to talk about the efforts of the late Nipsey Hussle to beat gentrification in South Los Angeles.  Rapper Nipsey Hussle, born Ermias Joseph Asghedom, was killed on March 31, 2019 outside his store, Marathon Clothing, in the Crenshaw area of South Los Angeles.  Before his death, Mr. Asghedom was working to revitalizing the Hyde Park community, a section of Los Angeles ignored by the gentrification boom that has affected many communities.  The lack of investment in the area is evident in the facades of the neglected buildings, some still bearing the names of the businesses that once occupied and thrived there.    Before his untimely death, he was working toward bringing economic development to the blighted neighborhood but on his own terms.  He wanted the changes to come from within, not without.

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Map of the Hyde Park Community
Los Angeles, California
latimes.com
 
Around the time of his death, Mr. Hussle was reaching out to a diverse group of potential development partners: fellow musicians, local politicians, and a Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina in order to make his dream of a revitalized Hyde Park come true with long lasting results.  He was part of an investment group that wanted use a recently enacted federal tax incentive law--The Opportunity Zone Tax Incentive Program--designed to revitalize his neighborhood as well as other forgotten neighborhoods in Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.  What qualifies as an Opportunity Zone?

An Opportunity Zone is an economically-distressed community where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment.  Localities qualify as Opportunity Zones, if they have been nominated for that designation by the state and that nomination has been certified by the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury via his delegation of authority to the Internal Revenue Service (irs.gov; date accessed May 20, 2019)

Nipsey Hussle was applauded by celebrities and South L.A. community members for his efforts to use the tools of institutions that long abandoned his neighborhood.  Jay-Z praised his work in a show in New York City's recently renovated Webster Hall.  He rapped,

Gentrify your own 'hood, before these people do it,.... Claim eminent domain and have your people movin'.  That's a small glimpse into what Nipsey was doing (latimes.com; May 8, 2019; date accessed May 20, 2019)
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Crenshaw Boulevard
kcet.org

Together with real estate developer David Gross, the partners were scheduled to meet with Senator Scott to discuss rolling an investment fund they established called "Our Opportunity" (Ibid).  According to Mr. Gross, also a native of South L.A., the goal of Our Opportunity "is to work with the hometown heroes 'of every large, majority black city to, in a systematic way, acquire and develop transformative projects'" (Ibid).  Mr. Hussle, an activist long admired for never abandoning his community even after earning a Grammy nomination, also found a way for community members to invest with him and give everyone an ownership stake in every project.

David Gross explained,

He wanted to be a symbol and really spark a movement,.... Basically, it was the economic version of Black Lives Matter.  [That] is what were trying to create (Ibid)

The Opportunity Zone Tax Incentive Program, promoted by Senator Scott, was part of the president's 2017 overhaul of the federal tax code.  "It offers potentially large tax breaks to investors who are willing to pour much needed capital into rebuilding poor and sometimes up-and-coming communities that have been designated as 'opportunity zones'" (Ibid).
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Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.)
scott.senate.gov
  
The way Opportunity Zones work is:

...providing tax relief to investors.  First, investors can defer tax on any prior gains invested in a Qualified Opportunity Fund... until the earlies of the date on which the investment in a QOF is sold or exchanged, or December 31, 2026.  If the QOF investment is held for long than 5 years, there is a 10% exclusion of the deferred gain.  If the held for more than 7 years, the 10% becomes 15%.  Second, if the investor holds the investment in the Opportunity Fund for at least ten years, the investor is eligible for an increase in basis of the QOF investment to its fair market value  on the date that the QOF investment is sold or exchanges (irs.gov; date accessed May 20, 2019).

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David Gross and Nipsey Hussle
blavity.com
When the president signed the Executive Order on Establishing the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council (whitehouse.gov; Dec. 12, 2018; date accessed May 20, 2019), he declared that the opportunity would deliver job, investment and growth to the communities that need it the most (latimes.com; May 8, 2019).  State, local, and federal lawmakers hoped that this type of long term injection of private sector investment will revive low-income communities that have still not recovered from the Great Recession of the 2000s.

The tax incentive already caught the attention of Wall Street and some affluent families.  To date, about 100 opportunity zone funds have created nationwide, with the goal of raising $24 billion that would go towards housing projects and businesses, according to the National Council of State Housing Agencies (ncsha.org; Nov. 9, 2018; date accessed May 20, 2019).  However, since the 8,700 opportunity zones were identified by the governors and designated by the Internal Revenue Service last year, there has been questions over which communities on the list truly qualify as economically distressed.  Some communities, such those in Oakland, and Queens, New York have experienced a major infusion of capital and development in recent years landed on the list as has Hollywood, California.

There is also concern that the capitol infusion and the scope of the projects that these types of investments engender would spur gentrification and displacement in actual struggling neighborhoods--the exact thing that Nipsey Hussle was trying to prevent.  Angel Jennings reported in the Los Angeles Times, "Last year, more than 30 community groups sent a letter to then-Gov. Jerry Brown [calreinvest.org; Mar. 16, 2018; date accessed May 20, 2019] urging him to slow down his process of selecting federal census tract to be designated opportunity zones" ((latimes.com; May 8, 2019).

Kevin Stein, the deputy director of the housing advocacy group California Reinvestment Coalition, told the Times,

There are no guardrails around the kind of investments that can qualify for this preferential tax treatment,.... A main concern of ours is that this kind of unrestrained investment is certain neighborhoods that are already feeling gentrification pressures--it will just be fuel on that fire and could result in large scale displacement of low-income people and people of color (Ibid).

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Hyde Park Congregational Church
Los Angeles, California
pinterest.com

John Lettieri, the president and CEO of the Economic Innovation Group, part of the successful coalition that lobbied Congress to create the opportunity zones as part of the tax overhaul, acknowledges the issues.  He worked with David Gross in the coalition, and it was Mr. Gross who shared the plans that he and Mr. Hussle had to for South Los Angeles and like communities across the nation.  Mr. Lettieri told the Times,

We were excited about what they were pulling together,... I think we cand that happening non a national scale thanks to opportunity zones (Ibid).

Nipsey Hussle earned his business acumen on the streets of South Los Angeles.  His ambitions earned him his nickname.  He used to run errands for local hustlers, some of whom were part of the notorious Rollin' 60s--"a street gang that he would go on to embrace in his music while encouraging the peace" (Ibid).  It was a trip to his father's place birth, Eritrea, that inspired him to shift his focus away from the streets and towards music.  He formed the record label All Money In.  Nipsey Hussle sold some of his early work out of the trunk of his car in the parking lot of 3416 West Slauson, which he and Mr. Gross would later pay $2.5 million to buy the building on the lot and open Marathon Clothing.

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Crenshaw Metro rail line map
transportation.gov
   

The anticipated $2 billion Crenshaw Metro Line, steps from his shop, has cause a spike in home prices, pushing out longtime residents and black-owned small businesses.  In the final years of his life, Mr. Hussle work to ensure the African American presence by partnering with civic officials and community members to create the Destination Crenshaw art project (Ibid; latimes.com; Jan. 30, 2019; date accessed May 20, 2019).  Then he brought to his community the very amenities found in areas north of the 10 Freeway--boutiques, grocery stores, safe recreational areas.

Three years ago, Nipsey Hussle and David Gross started an inner-city investment fund.  One of their first projects was Vector 90, a co-work space and STEM center, located in an industrial part of the South L.A., dismissed as too rough for that kind of investment.  That kind of investment was successful,  They went to expand their plan after Mr. Hussle's Hyde Park neighborhood was designated an opportunity zone, spending the final months of the rapper's life meeting with investors and lawmakers to discuss funding "Our Opportunity." (Ibid; May 8, 2019)

Senator Tim Scott wrote,

I was excited when I learned of his interest in Opportunity Zones,.... And I'm saddened that we will never get to discuss out plans and vision for what this initiative could do to partner with and strengthen Nipsey's already amazing efforts (Ibid)

Nipsey Hussle and David Gross had plans to build on the L-shape strip mall (Ibid; Apr. 2, 2019) which they bought in January.  Their plans called for a mixed-use residential-commercial development.  Like with their investment fund, they wanted to make their neighbors stakeholders.  Their plans included setting aside 20 percent of the units for community residents and help them invest so they could own their homes. Mr. Gross said they had plans to unveil the "Our Opportunity" fund later this month (Ibid; May 8, 2019).

California Deputy Treasure Jovan Agee said, "Hussle provided a blueprint to building wealth that can serve as an inspiration to the everyday man who might be working the graveyard shift and selling T-shirts on the side" (Ibid).

He really had to scratch and scrape to get into a position of acknowledgement,.... What did is a blue-collared approach to economic development and self-wealth building that others can replicate (Ibid).

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Blogger Candidate Forum: The Economic Message



Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
rollingstone.com
Hello Everyone:

It is a May gray Wednesday and time for Blogger Candidate Forum.  What to make of a trade war between the United States and the People's Republic of China?  Good for both countries, just the United States, just China?  One thing is certain, no in the White House seems to have a clue how to deal with American farmers and workers who are dealing with the fallout of tit-for-tat tariffs.  That might be something for the next president, whoever he or she may be, to deal with.  This brings us to today's subject.

Image result for who is running for president in 2020 so far
Who is running for president, so far
youtube.com
Will Mr. Donald Trump be re-elected, be replaced by a moderate Republican, or one of the 21 Democrats vying for the nomination?  Good question. One thing is certain, there is no perfect candidate.  Get rid of that notion immediately because if you scratch the surface of any of the challengers for Mr. Trump's job, you will find a skeleton or two in the closet.  One candidate is too handsy (VPOTUS Biden), another candidate is the mean boss (Senator Amy Klobucher), minimally experienced candidates (take your pick), and some that simply do have a chance (again, take your pick).  What does the last nomination Democratic candidate standing need to do to win over the voters?  Let us take a look at how the Democrats need to address one of the president's key issues, the economy.

Image result for who is running for president in 2020 so far
Who?
newswest9.com
  
Right now, the 23 candidates for the Democratic nomination are trying out policies and slogans to see what works before going into the caucuses and primaries, beginning in January.  That may seem far away but the prudent candidate will have a solid message ready before January.  The problem is all the candidates appear to have similar messages: universal healthcare, regulations to curb climate change, reduce inequality, improve life for the American middle class.  These are all very popular policy issues but really, to paraphrase James Carville, it's the economy.  It is hard to sell policy issues like reducing income inequality when members received a nice tax refund and pay raise.

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Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
politico.com

The president has an amazing gift for not quite burning through the prosperity he inherited.  For all of the ill-conceived trade wars and regular assaults on financial regulation, strangely, he has managed to strengthen the recovery begun under President Barack Obama by passing giant fiscal stimulus and forcing the Federal Reserve into easing up on rate hikes (nymag.com; Apr. 29, 2019; date accessed May 15, 2019).  All expansions, like good things, must come to an end.  "Global growth is slowing, much of corporate America looks over-leveraged [cnbc.com; Nov. 21, 2018; date accessed May 15, 2019] and the stimulative impact of the Trump tax cuts are starting to fade...." (nymag.com; Apr. 29, 2019).  When the Federal Reserve backed off interest rate increases earlier this year, the leading stock market indicators rallied to greater heights, while gross domestic product growth has remained consistent, and unemployment remains at a historic low, prompting analysts to downgrade the risk of imminent recession (Ibid).  Be that as it may, a lot can happen between now and November 2020 and whoever the Democratic candidate is may have to face a president at the helm of the longest uninterrupted period of growth.  What does a Democratic candidate do.

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Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA)
theatlantic.com
  
A Democratic candidate needs a robust national message.  Celinda Lake, a Democratic strategist and pollster told Politico,

We don't really have a robust national message right [on the economy]...We will tend to talk about things like paid leave and equal pay--and those things are all very popular policies.  But they don't add up to an economic messages that is robust enough to win the presidency and beat Donald Trump, who talks about a very robust economic policy (politico.com; Apr. 28, 2019; date accessed May 15, 2019)

The Democrats inability to focus is largely due to the expansive field but may be curable once the nominee is chosen,  Every top tier candidate has spoken about a significant parts of the economy from income inequality to the cost of higher education.  The more progressive  candidates are advancing broader concerns for a fairer economy.  California Senator Kamala Harris told the Service Employees International Union forum in Las Vegas, We have an economy in this country that is not working for working people (Ibid).  At the same event, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) succinctly put it, Let's make the zillionaires pay a fair share (Ibid)

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VPOTUS Joe Biden
nytimes.com
Image result for Bernie Sanders 2020
It remains to be seen which economic message will stick and what policies will resonate with the voters.  If the midterms were any indication, healthcare is going to be a big talking point.  Mary Kay Henry, the president of the SEIU said that despite

good, specific ideas for certain sectors of the economy that have been put forward, [labor organizers still] are looking for a comprehensive response on the economy (Ibid).

According to Ms. Henry, the real challenge for Democrats is to

unpack that the economy is working for the few [while] the overwhelming majority of Americans, they're working two or three jobs and can't make ends meet (Ibid)

In absence of an economic slowdown, the president is benefiting from largely positive numbers that the Democrats have having difficulty undermining.  "According to a recent CNN poll, 71 percent of Americans rate the nation's economic conditions favorably" (Ibid).  On this issue, the president's otherwise grim approval ratings remain steadily above 50 percent.

Matt Bennett of the center-left organization Third Way told Politico,

Our view is that Democrats would be very wise to recognize how steep the mountain is on the economy,... There are things about this economy that very popular--low unemployment, a lot of jobs, there's been some real wage increase.  We attribute zero, zero percent of that to good Trump policy... But he will claim credit, as he does for the sun rising and everything else, and we have to be aware that that could be potent.  (Ibid)

Mr. Bennett distilled the matter,

What that means is that we need a very clear economic narrative that resonates deeply with voters that we have to win, and we better not be caught up in our own blue bubble world.  (Ibid)

An obvious reference to the rhetorical position then candidate-Trump found himself in during the 2016 election cycle.  Then candidate Hillary Clinton kept pointing to unemployment and wage growth as indicators of a strong economy under the tenure of a Democratic president while Mr. Trump discounted the positive economic data.


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Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
rollingstone.com


Now, the economic message landscape is reversed, the data the president dismissed as fraudulent is being used by him to taut robust economic message while the Democrats are trying to argue that the data is not fully appreciated.  Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA summed up the challenge for "Democrats ahead of 2020 is to focus on what people are actually experiencing. (Ibid).  

This is not rocket science and if they can do that, then people are going to change their mind about how they connect Trump to this economy (Ibid).  If whoever the nominee is can focus his or her message on the present, then it is gold.

We will continue to look at what campaign the Democrats have to put forward to connect with voters.  Spoiler alert: impeachment and removal from office is not one of them. 


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Restore It To Its Original State Or Something Else?




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Cathedral Notre-Dame
Paris, France
parisianist.com

Hello Everyone:

It is a lovely spring afternoon and Blogger thinks that May gray has finally gone away.  We are going to spend this lovely spring afternoon in Paris.  Well not literally, although spring time in Paris does sound wonderful.  Today we are going to consider the restoration of the spire and roof of Cathedral Notre-Dame.  The concepts range from insane (something that resembles a spaceship landing on the building) to modern (a rooftop greenhouse).  The rooftop greenhouse actually sounds like a practical concept.  Designer Mathieu Lehnneur has something else in mind.

Image result for notre dame paris: restoration Mathieu Lehanneur
Mathieu Lehanneur's concept for the Notre-Dame Spire
domain.com.au

On April 23, a week after the catastrophic fire that destroyed the roof and spire of Notre-Dame, Mr. Lehanneur posted a suggestion for a new spire: "a gleaming 300-foot flame, made of carbon fiber and covered in gold leaf, that would be a permanent reminder of the tragedy" (nytimes.com; May 10, 2019; date accessed May 14, 2019).  He posted the concept on Instagram and did not get many likes; some called it blaspheme.  He told The Times, "The idea was meant as a simple provocation: to show the absurdity of rebuilding the spire as it was in the 19th century,..." (Ibid).  Since then, Mr. Lehanneur has become more serious about the plan.  He said,

A few days after I put it online, I thought, 'Why not?'... The flame is actually a very strong symbol in the bible,...it's powerful (Ibid).


Image result for notre dame paris: restoration Mathieu Lehanneur
Some of the proposals for rebuilding the roof and spire
nytimes.com

Mathieu Lehanneur's inspired suggestion is one of dozens that have gone public since the fire, most conceived by small design firms.  Most of the designs are glass towers, except for one.  Vizum Atelier, a design firm from Slovakia, designed a new spire with a light shooting up into the sky.  Firm architect Michal Kovac described it in a email to The Times as a lighthouse for lost souls (Ibid).  He added that  "It would fulfill the aim of the architects of Gothic cathedrals around Europe who to touch heaven with their spires" (Ibid).  Another concept, with religious overtones from Alexandre Fantozzi, a Brazilian architect, who envisioned a new roof and spire made entirely from stained glass. 

Image result for notre dame paris: restoration Mathieu Lehanneur
Roof proposal by Alex Nerovnya, Moscow Architectural Institute
nytimes.com

Alex Nerovya, a lecturer at the Moscow Architectural Institute, proposed a diamond-shaped roof surrounding a rebuilt Gothic spire.  

Several of the designers said in interview "that their designs were merely artistic responses to the shock of the fire.  But some also hope that their plans will be chosen" (Ibid) and the competition is on.  A mere two days after the fire, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced an international competition for a spire to replace the 19th-century iteration by Eugene Viollet-le-Duc that was destroyed by the fire.  PM Phillippe spoke to The New York Times, This is obviously a huge challenge, a historic responsibility (Ibid).  No contest details have been released.

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President Emmanuel Macron
en.wikipedia.org

Last month, President Emmanuel Macron said that was not opposed to a a a contemporary architectural gesture (Ibid) that would make Notre-Dame even more beautiful (Ibid).  Support for a contemporary architectural gesture that would enhance the cathedral's beauty aside, many in France want the Viollet-le-Duc spire restored to its original state.  Last Thursday, the daily newspaper Le Figaro published a survey that found that 55 percent of the French people want the spire restored to its original state and that has the backing of several politicians.  Herein lies the paradox of building a modern world is simultaneously to build an ancient one.

The destroyed spire was the work of Viollet-le-Duc, a designer, and scholar and architect Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus between 1844 and 1864.  Viollet-le-Duc drew on his travels around rural France, making engravings of old churches, villages, and the Alps.  He had a preference for the piquant and picturesque (newyorker.com; May 13, 2019; date accessed May 14, 2019).  His spire was 300 feet tall and built from approximately 750  tons of lead-coated oak, referencing the wind-damaged 13th century original removed in 1786, three years prior to the French Revolution.

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Eugene Viollet-le-Duc
en.wikipedia.org
No sooner had President Macron announced his ambitious plan to repair the cathedral in five years, in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics, his Instagram feed was full of concept designs.  Most of these proposals seemed fanciful exercises in imagination however, Jorge Otero-Pailos, the director of Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, questioned the very thought of a contest.  Mr. Otero-Pailos described it in The Art Newspaper as,

...completely at odds with the fact that heritage is a bottom-up social process through which we make and remake our society,... If you thought the fire was bad, wait for the damage from the spire that will come out of the spire (theartnewspaper.com; Apr. 19, 2019; date accessed May 14, 2019).

Eugene Viollet-le-Duc was a man of his time and his time was the 19th-century an era of political and industrial revolution.  His restoration practice mixed Gothic Revival and medieval Gothic, mixing artifice with authenticity, placing him on the side of "The Scrapers," in opposition to the "Anti-Scrapers" who favored conservation over intervention.  Viollet-le-Duc's captured The Scraper sensibility with this surprising 1854 definition of restoration in the Dictionnaire Raisonne de l'Architecture Francaise du XIe au XVIe Siecle:

Both the word and the thing are modern.  To restore an edifice means neither to maintain it, not to repair it, not to rebuild it; it means to reestablish it in a finished state, which may in fact never have actually existed any given time.  (newyorker.com; May 13, 2019).

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John Ruskin
ruskinmuseum.com
 
Viollet-le-Duc's contemporary and British architectural historian John Ruskin was on the side of "Anti-Scrapers," those who favored conservation over intervention.  In his seminal 1849 book The Seven Lamps of Architecture, he wrote,

Do not let us talk then of restoration.  The thing is a lie from beginning to end.  You may make a model of a building as you may of a corpse and your model may have the shell of the old wall within it as your cast might have the skeleton... but the old building is destroyed, and that more totally and mercilessly than if it had sunk into a heap of dust. (Ibid).

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust?  

Cathedral Notre-Dame has become a historic-cultural symbol for all of France.  President Macron is quite determined to have the restoration, in some form and fashion, completed in five years which may seem unrealistic.  In response to this timeline, 1,100 architectural professionals and art historians published a letter in the April 29 issue of Le Figaro calling the president to take time to find the right way that restores the structure and respects heritage laws (nytimes.com; May 10, 2019; date accessed May 14, 2019).  French culture minister Franck Riester told Parliament that the restoration would not be done in haste and the government would consider critics' opinions.  No prominent architect has stepped forward with a serious proposal and several said they would consider entering a competition.

We will what happens next. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Could SB 50 Destroy A City's Unique Historic Character?



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Duplexes in Carthay Circle
Los Angeles, Ca
duplexes.com
Hello Everyone:

A sort of May gray Monday and a fresh week on the blog.  Today we are going to take the question whether or not high density housing can co-exist with historic neighborhoods?  This is a question facing Los Angeles as Senate Bill 50 (leginfo.legislature.ca.gov; Dec. 3, 2018; date accessed May 13, 2019) makes its way through the California State Legislature.

The goal of SB 50 is to ease alleged land use barriers to increasing density and streamline the construction of multi-family housing units.  If passed, SB 50 "would override local land use restrictions, allowing multi-family buildings to up near 'high quality' train and bus stops" (laconservancy.org; date accessed May 13, 2019).  This will make it easier for four- and five-story  residential developments to go up in areas currently zoned for single family residences (Ibid).Senate Bill 50 is the successor to last year's failed Senate Bill 827 (Ibid), which failed to clear committee.

  If passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom,  the bill, among other things, would require cities to permit multi-story buildings to be up in neighborhoods, like Carthay Circle, near mass transit (latimes.com; May, 8, 2019; date accessed May 13, 2019).  The goal is to alleviate the state's housing shortage and reduce the number of cars on the road as the effects of climate change intensify.  Admirable goal but not everyone is thrilled about it.


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Carthay Circle Theater (demolished)
laconservancy.org
Ann Rubin told Times columnist Steve Lopez, 

We've got Wilshire right there, and they can go as high as they want (Ibid), 

pointing toward the direction where she believes new housing should be built, along the commercial corridors instead along the the historic, quiet, upscale, leafy streets of Carthay Circle.  Ms. Rubin and others believe that multi-story residential buildings would alter the look and character of the neighborhood.

Fellow resident Walter Dominguez remembers a time when the neighborhood was in decline during the eighties and the neighbors feared that developers would swoop in and upset the neighborhood's historic fabric.  Mr. Dominguez and a coalition of residents undertook the three-year process to earn historical preservation overlay zone status from City Hall.  They believed that HPOZ status would ensure the neighborhood's historic character for future generations.  If SB 50 (Ibid; Apr. 23, 2019), some of the protections from designation could be lost.  Steve Lopez notes, "Even with preservation status, structures that don't contribute to historic integrity of the neighborhood could meet up with a wrecking ball" (Ibid; May 8, 2019)

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Map of Carthay Circle
en.wikipedia.org
  
Brad Kane, a neighbor of Walter Dominguez, told the Times,

To put an eight-story building in the middle of this district virtually nullifies the integrity,.... And there's nothing the city can do to protect us because state law trumps municipal law. (Ibid)

Carthay Circle is not the only neighborhood taking sides over SB 50.  Around California, residents and civic officials have been taking sides over the bill, introduced by state Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) maneuvers its way through the state legislature, where passage is not a sure thing.  Senator Weiner said,

We have a 3.5 million-home deficit in California,.... It's undermining our economy.  It's undermining our climate goals.  We have to be bold in solving this problem (Ibid).

Senator Weiner does have a point but Los Angeles City Council member Paul Koretz (CD-5), whose district includes the tony neighborhood, considers this bold initiative a misguided overstep (Ibid; Apr. 16, 2019).  Council member Koretz spoke to Mr. Lopez, ""...the purpose of SB 50, as he see it, is to destroy single-family home neighborhoods ins Southern California" (Ibid; May 8, 2019).  He spoke at a recent Carthay Circle meeting attended by those opposed to SB 50, making reasonable arguments.  Steve Lopez reported, "He thinks putting multi-story apartment buildings on lots where a single-family homes now stand would be out of scale and little or nothing to address the state's greatest need--more affordable housing.  He called Weiner's bill a handout for developers, some of whom happen to be big supporters of SB 50" (Ibid).

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Carthay Circle home
Los Angeles, California
preservation.lacity.org

Council member Paul Koretz also is unsure whether the bill would really mitigate traffic or the housing shortage, "noting that developers would inclined to build luxury housing" (Ibid).  That would result in little or no relief for those who need affordable housing, near transit lines the most and it would undermine the state's efforts to reduce carbon emissions, "because those who can afford the rent might be more likely to drive than ride a bus or train" (Ibid).

UCLA professor Mike Manville has a different perspective.  Senator Weiner's bill has already been been modified in response to its critics and there is no telling what the final draft of the bill will look like once all the revisions are completed.  Be that as it may, Prof. Manville appreciates the intent behind it.  He told the Times that "he understand the concerns of Carthay Circle residents but thinks everyone has to contribute to solving the housing crisis, including those living smack dab in in the middle of the nation's second-largest city" (Ibid).

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SB 50 Town Hall meeting at Temple Beth Am
Los Angeles, California
beverlypress.com


Prof. Manville said,

We have people in our city living in tents.  They live in their cars.  They live under our highway overpasses and they die on our sidewalks,... At a certain point, the pedigree of your house has to matter a little bit less if you live within walking distance of major transit stops and jobs.  You ought to have to share some of these opportunities your location offers.  (Ibid)

In previous conversations with Prof. Manville, Steve Lopez writes that "he argued that homeowners have benefited for decades from mortgage deductions, Proposition 13 tax relief and zoning restrictions that have limited new construction and driven up the value of homes, turning thousands of Californians into paper millionaires" (Ibid).  Prof. Manville breaks down the arguments pro- and con-SB 50 to a give-and-take: "If we want more affordable housing,..., maybe those homeowners can contribute a small fraction of their wealth to construction fund when they sell their homes" (Ibid).

Council member Paul Koretz said "Los Angeles voters have already taxed themselves to build more  affordable housing, and thousands of units are in the construction pipeline" (Ibid).  Council member Koretz believes that Los Angeles should "build more density along commercial rather than residential corridors, offer more assistance to those in danger of becoming homeless and require developers to include more affordable housing in their developments" (Ibid).

The Los Angeles Conservancy issued the following position statement:

While the intent of providing more housing may be good, the bill and its approach is highly problematic.  It poses a one-size-fits-all solution and a blunt, statewide fix that would outstrip local authority and planning.  It also does not recognize the diversity of development statewide, let alone throughout Greater Los Angeles.

As part of a statewide coalition of preservation organizations, the Conservancy has requested amendments to the SB 50 to ensure safeguards to protect structures and districts placed on, or that have been identified by a public agency as eligible for, inclusion on a national, state, or local historic register.

The Conservancy wants to ensure that the revised bill language will not impose a one-size-fits-all approach and unnecessarily harm California's historic resources and potentially entire neighborhoods. (laconservancy.org; date accessed May 13, 2019)

Both sides make credible arguments but Los Angeles, as well as many cities around California, are made up of unique neighborhoods.  These neighborhoods, like Carthay Circle, are historic in their own way.  Together, they make Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and so forth the great places that they are.  If signed into law SB 50 could strip away that unique historic character that help define cities.