Monday, September 30, 2019

Blogger Candidate Forum: A Few Thoughts

Hello Everyone:

Blogger Candidate Forum is taking a break from the High Hollerdays to post a few thoughts on the impeachment inquiry.  Needless to say, things are hotting up.  Let us begin.

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Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi

On Tuesday September 24,
Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi announce that the lower chamber of Congress would open a formal impeachment inquiry on the President of the United States Donald Trump.  Speaker Pelosi delivered her remarks,

Today, I am announcing the House of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry,.... The President must be held accountable.  No one is above the law

Actions taken to date by the President have seriously violated the Constitution,.... (; Sept. 24, 2019; date accessed Sept. 30, 2019)

This represents a huge step for Speaker Pelosi, who spent the better part of a year waiting for favorable auspices before announcing the inquiry.  Now is the time but do not celebrate or commiserate just yet.  We still have a long way to go and with an election edging closer everyday, a lot can and will happen.  Let us take a step back and see what we know so.

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Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky

The formal impeachment inquiry announcement was the denouement outcry from House Democrats after revelations that Mr. Trump, in a 25 July phone, pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate VPOTUS Joseph Biden and his son Hunter.  We also now during that infamous phone, Mr. Trump offered the services of Attorney General William Barr and he offered a military aid package, already approved by Congress, in exchange for incriminating information on the Bidens.  A few days prior to the call, Mr. Trump instructed acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to pause the disbursement of the $391 million aid package, citing concerns about improper use.  For the record, there has been no evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of the Bidens.  The Candidate Forum had a chance to skim through the phone call notes  and it is easy to infer that the president wanted some kind of quid pro quo agreement with Pres. Zelensky (; Sept. 26, 2019; date accessed Sept. 30, 2019).  As it turns out, the Ukrainians were not the only ones contacted.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin

Yesterday, Vox reported that "House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) would like to obtain more of President Donald Trump's phone calls with world leaders--especially those with Russian President Vladimir Putin,..." (; Sept. 29, 2019; date accessed).  Not exactly something President Putin is wants.  The New York Times reported that over the past three years, Mr. Trump spoke eleven times over the phone with Pres. Putin (; Sept. 27, 2019; date accessed Sept. 30, 2019).  The contents of those phone calls have mostly kept confidential. There are also reports floating around the digital void that Mr. Trump spoke with the leaders of China, North Korea, and Australia.  One possible common denominator, entering into a hard quid pro quo agreement: real or imagined incriminating information on political rivals in exchange for aid packages or other like object of equal value.  If this is true, then it is grounds for impeachment and trial in the Senate.  We also know is an anonymous intelligence operative assigned to the White House filed a complaint regarding the inappropriateness of the phone calls.

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Who is the whistleblower?

Not long after the July 25 phone call, an anonymous complaint was filed by an intelligence operative regarding the president's use of the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country (; Sept. 26, 2019; date accessed Sept. 30, 2019) in next year's election.  You can find an annotated copy of the complaint at  The House Intelligence Committee released a redacted version last Thursday (; Sept. 26, 2019), in which the Mr. Trump asks Pres. Zelensky to "do us a favor" and investigate VPOTUS Biden and his son Hunter.  According to campaign finance law (; date accessed Sept. 30, 2019) to "solicit help from foreign nationals, foreign governments, foreign businesses or foreign political parties" (; Sept. 26, 2019).  Sound familiar?  Remember we talked about this in connection to the Special Counsel's Report?  Allow The Forum to briefly jog your memories.

The first volume of the Special counsel deals with attempts to collude with a foreign entity, in this case Russia.  Members of the Trump campaign attempted to solicit the help of Russian operatives in order to gain incriminating information (real or imagined) on then Trump rival former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  This went precisely nowhere because the Russians concluded that the Trump campaign had nothing to offer of equal value--i.e. soft quid pro quo.  One election victory and three years later, the situation is different and Mr. Trump has the power of the presidency, enabling him to offer something of equal value.

 This is just a few thoughts that The Candidate Forum has been considering for the past few days.  On Wednesday, we will talk about how the impeachment inquiry is affecting the elections.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Blogger Candidate Forum: Jaw Dropping

Hello Everyone:

Big big news day and Blogger Candidate Forum is stepping in to try to make sense of it all.  We got Brexit news, we got impeachment news, we got sex, drugs, rock and roll.  Okay, maybe not the sex, drugs, rock and roll part.  Let us start with today's jaw dropping Brexit news.

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Lady Hayle
President of the United Kingdom Supreme Court

Dramatic news from the British side of the Atlantic Ocean.  The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled that Prime Minister Boris Johnson suspension of Parliament (; Sept. 9, 2019; date accessed Sept. 24, 2019) weeks before the October 31st departure deadline for Great Britain was unlawful.  PM Johnson was accused of proroguing the House of Commons to curtail the amount time Members of Parliament have to debate his Brexit policy.  The prime minister argued that "prorogation was standard operation procedure for a new prime minister, that it had nothing to do with looming Brexit deadline" (Ibid; Sept. 24, 2019).

Lady Hayle, the President of the Supreme Court, announced Today that she and the 10 justices were unanimous in their decision that the prime minister action to send dismissed MPs before this monumental change in Great Britain's history was unlawful.  Lady Hayle said that Parliament,

...has a right to a voice in how that change comes,.... Parliament has not been prorogued.  This is the unanimous decision of all 11 justices (Ibid).

Lady Hale added,

 Parliament has not been prorogued.  This is the unanimous decision of all 11 justices,... ["She noted the"], quite exception circumstances [under which Johnson had attempted to suspend Parliament, and said" the] effect on the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme (Ibid).

Needless to say, this was a devastating blow to the already tenuous Johnson government.  What happened in court?

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Excerpt for the UK Supreme Court ruling

What happened today?  Unlike the United States, the United Kingdom does not a written constitution.  Instead, the UK constitution is based on "hundreds of years of law and convention--which can be difficult to interpret" (; date accessed Sept. 24, 2019).  A group of 70 Scottish MPs, a former prime minister and Remain campaigner Gina Miller argued against the government (Ibid).  An attorney for the Scottish MPs told the court that the case was about the mother of parliaments closed down by the father lies (Ibid).  The government's attorneys countered that the justices' interference would be forbidden territory.  He cautioned them that they were walking through ill-defined minefield (Ibid).  In the end, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of returning Parliament. 

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Outside the United Kingdom Supreme Court Building

 What is next?  New elections and the Queen's corgis become prime minister.  No?  If you are PM Johnson, you are resolutely determined to take the UK out of the European Union, come what may, deal or no deal.  Now that prorogation was ruled unlawful, it means that Parliament is technically still in session, like the whole break never happened.  PM Johnson accepted the court's decision, even though he disagreed with it.  The decision to recall Parliament now rests with Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow and his counterpart in the House of Lords.  If they choose to reconvene the legislative body, it would happen as early as tomorrow.  However, when it comes to Brexit, time is of the essence.

Although Prime Minister Boris Johnson is doggedly determined to take the UK out of the European Kingdom despite the loudly ticking clock.  Before Parliament went on its unintended break, it passed a law requiring the PM to ask for another extension.  The remaining question is will EU President Donald Tusk grant him the extension, with less than 37 days left.  Meanwhile on the American side of the Atlantic Ocean, the call for impeachment just got turned up full volume.

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Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)

Today was the day that a lot of people have been anxiously waiting: Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced a formal inquiry, saying "the president's growing Ukraine scandal marked a breach of his Constitutional responsibilities (; date accessed Sept. 24, 2019).  Speaker Pelosi, who for months has resisted calls for an impeachment inquiry, told reporters assembled for the announcement,

This week the president has admitted to asking the president of Ukraine to take actions which would benefit him politically,... The action of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the president's betrayal of his oath office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of our elections,... Therefore, today I am announcing the House of Representative is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry (Ibid).

What swayed her decision?

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Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) and the House Judiciary Committee

Speaker Pelosi announced that she was formally directing the six House committees with jurisdiction over impeachment (including the House Judiciary Committee), to proceed with investigations under that umbrella (Ibid).  She said,

The president must be held accountable,... No one is above the law (Ibid).  

Speaker Pelosi's change of heart came after 186 of House Democrats--over two-thirds of the caucas--expressed their support for an impeachment inquiry (Ibid) following reports that the president may have withheld aid to Ukraine in order to force officials to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of VPOTUS and potential Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Yesterday, the Washington Post and other media outlets reported that the president instructed act Chief of Staff Mick Mulvany to hold back  nearly $400 million in military for the Ukraine (; Sept. 23, 2019; date accessed Sept. 24, 2019) days before a phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

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POTUS, VPOTUS, and Hunter Biden

Naturally, the president responded with a series of tweets, all screaming "Witch Hunt" and predicted that it would bode well for him in next year's election.  Congressional Republican leadership expressed dismay at this latest turn of events, accusing the Democrats of trying to re-litigate the 2016.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) issued this statement,

Washington Democrats have been searching for ways to reverse their 2016 election defeat since before President Trump was even inaugurated,.... The result has been a two-and-a-half year impeachment parade in search of a rationale.  When investigations by Special Counsel Mueller and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence deflated their breathless accusations of campaign conspiracy with Russia, Democrats have simply shifted to new arguments for their predetermined conclusion... (; date accessed Sept. 24, 2019)

What comes next?

For his part, the president said he would release an unredacted transcript of the phone call and the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the White House will allow the anonymous whistleblower to testify before Congress (; date accessed Sept. 24, 2019).  What happens next is politically risky territory for both parties.  For the Democrats, if this inquiry backfires, it could mean the end of majority rule in the House of Representatives, not flipping the Senate and the White House.  Depending on what comes out during the inquiry, VPOTUS Biden could be forced out of the race or be seriously compromised.  The Republicans, the consequences are not that dire. The president does not want to find himself fighting off impeachment and removal from office while campaigning for re-election. This is political suicide.  Regardless, we are a very, very long away from that and the most likely scenario is the voters will decide on November 3, 2020.  Stay tuned. 

Monday, September 23, 2019

The Other G-Word

Hello Everyone:

It is a very lovely first day of fall and Bruce Springsteen's 70th Birthday.  A very important occasion, if Yours Truly does not say so herself.  The big news over the weekend comes in the form of a brewing scandal involving a whistleblower's complaint about a phone call between the president and the President of the Ukraine.  The whistleblower alleges that the president spoke to the Ukrainian president about exchanging alleged incriminating information on VPOTUS and possible Democratic challenger Joe Biden and his son Hunter for aid.  The president alleges that it is all a "witch hunt" and the VPOTUS is guilty of corruption.  The story is gathering steam and if true, it would be grounds for impeachment and removal from office.  No one is ready to go there yet.  If there is a there there, then Blogger will be here to share it with you.  Onward.

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 Today we open the archives of The New Yorker magazine to ask the question "Is Gentrification Really A Problem" (; July 4, 2016; date accessed Sept. 23, 2019).  Gentrification has been blamed for displacement of long time low- to moderate-income residents, squeezing out small businesses, homogenization of neighborhoods, loss of historic-cultural resources, and so on.  Gentrification is also responsible for community improvements and more community revenue.  So is it really so bad?  One of the problems in talking about gentrification is the language we use for describing changing neighborhoods.  Take the word "ghetto."

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Quentin Tarantino at the 2016 Golden Globe Awards

When director Quentin Tarantino accepted the 2016 Golden Globe, on behalf of Ennio Morricone, for Best Original Score for the movie The Hateful Eight, he used the word "ghetto" in his speech.  During his moment at the podium, he proclaimed Mr. Morricone his favorite composer.  He declared,

...And when I say favorite composer,...I don't mean movie composer--that ghetto.  I'm talking about Mozart.  I'm talking about Beethoven.  I'm talking about Schubert....(Ibid).

The backlash came a very swift few minutes later, when the next presenter Jamie Foxx stepped up to the microphone, smiled, checked out the audiences, shook his, tutting Ghetto (Ibid).  That became the big story the next day.

The Washington Post's television critic Bethonie Butler called Mr. Tarantino's "ghetto" comment a tone-deaf flub (; Jan. 11, 2016; date accessed Sept. 23, 2019) and a BBC headline blared Is The Word Ghetto Racist (; Jan. 15, 2016; date accessed Sept. 23, 2016).  The article that followed the bold faced headline summarized the ideas of a Rutgers University professor who accused the director of Once Upon a Time... Hollywood of inferring that ...the ghetto was not a place for a white, European, male composer (; July 4, 2016)

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"Ghetto" is a European word that originated in the sixteenth century in reference to the section of Venice, Italy where the Jewish as population was confined.  In his use of the word, Mr. Tarantino used the common dictionary definition:

something that resembles the restriction or isolation of a ghetto (Ibid).

However, the colloquial use of "ghetto" is in reference anything cheap or trashy.  The adjectival definition of ghetto draws on the fact "that a modern American ghetto is not only poor but disproportionately African-American.  Recent census showed that 2.5 million white live in high-poverty neighborhood, compared with five million African-Americans" (Ibid).  During the 2016 primary season, then-candidate Senator Bernie Sanders went one step further, When you're white, you don't know what it's like to be living in a ghetto (Ibid).  He is right but Yours Truly doubts he speaks from experience.

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1970s New York City

What is a ghetto and who lives there?  In Kenneth Clark's 1965 sociological study Dark Ghetto, Mr. Clark painted a grim picture of Harlem.  He described it as "a paradigmatic ghetto, as a 'colony of New York City,' defined by both its economic dependence and its segregation (Ibid).  In the decades that followed, academics argued over the usage and limits of the word--"did it apply to any poor neighborhood, any ethnic enclave?" (Ibid).  In 2008, sociologist Mario Luis Small argued that in many ways, poor black neighborhoods were neither distinctive nor homogeneous as the word "ghetto" implies.  He warned that academic theories of ghetto life could perpetuate the very stereotypes their proponents often aim to fight (Ibid)

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Example of redlining
Mitchell Duneier challenged Mr. Small's argument in his book Ghetto (Farrar, Straus & Giroux),  history of the notion which is the basis for the argument for its continued usefulness.  Mr. Duneier, a sociologist, acutely aware of the potency of word as an insult.  However, for him, the potency of the word demonstrates just how much inequality we still accept, although attitudes have changed.  Whereas ghetto was once perceived a menace, threatening to swallow the city, now it appears in scholarly writing and the popular press, as an endangered place.  Now instead of getting rid of them, activists want to save them.  Ergo, the backlash to Quentin Tarantino's comment.

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South Central, Los Angeles, California

The modern history of ghettos in the United States begins with a misunderstanding: "the term acquired its awful resonance because of the Nazi ghetto, even though the condition in America cities more closely resembled those of the older European ghettos,..." (Ibid).  This distinction is important to note.

In 1945, St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton published Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City.  When they wrote about the Black Ghetto of Chicago, they referenced a provocative analogy.  Mr Duneier observed, "in explaining how blacks were prevented from buying or renting homes in white neighborhoods, Drake and Cayton referred to the invisible barbed-wire fence of restrictive covenants (; July 4, 2016).  The idea was to evoke the horrific imagery of Third Reich ghetto, something Mr. Duneier struggles to demonstrated that was not a revival of European history but a break from it.  The two cannot even be compared.  The 16th century Venetian ghettos were onerous but not set in stone but residences were occasionally allowed to leave during the day and return at night.  The Nazi version was a warehouse for either slave labor or death.
Beginning in 1934 and continuing for thirty years, the Federal Housing Authority steered banks away from writing mortgages to prospective home buyers in poor African American neighborhoods, considered too risky.  Potential homeowners were considered uncreditworthy or blocked by restrictive neighborhood covenants.  Essentially, White homeowners wanted to expand their neighborhoods into contiguous white areas as they got too crowded but did not particularly care to live with whites (Ibid).

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South Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, California

Scholars who study the ghettos are typically motivated by sympathy for its residents, which results in a complicated sense of sympathy for the actual place.  Kenneth Clark, in his study on Harlem, spent time with Malcolm X who insisted that complete segregation (Ibid) was the only way to remedy America's problems.  Mr. Clark expressed a certain skepticism about Malcolm X's dictate and the prospects of school disintegration.  He believed that the better way was to demand excellence in ghetto schools, as Mitchell Duneier described it (Ibid). 

Anthropologist Carol Stack, in her influential 1974 book All Our Kin, suggested that the African American ghettos fostered a sense of social network among family and friends.  At the same time, scholars have tried to find a solid relationship between the word "ghetto" and the Spanish-language analog barrio, comparing poor black neighborhoods with similar communities.  In 1970, when activist Carl Whitman declared We have formed a ghetto, out of self protection, he described a different kind of separatism: He wrote about his adopted home town of San Francisco in the pamphlet "A Gay Manifesto" (Ibid).

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Historic American ghetto photograph

In contemporary use, the word ghetto has become a noun.  It connotes a less intimidating image of a penny-pinching coffee shop customer.  On hip-hop record, ghetto has morphed into 'hood which sounds more warm and less like a condition than a community,  For example, Kendrick Lamar's ode to the days gone by is "Hood Politics," not "Ghetto Politics" (Ibid).  The continued residential segregation has become a "relationship between concentrated poverty and African-American neighborhood, and made the word 'ghetto' harder to use" (Ibid).  Ghetto has become an indictment of a place and people. 

Whatever concerns about the word we may have, may have something to do with our changing views of the city.  Many of the studies in MItchell Duneier's book were conducted in context to the white flight and rising crime rates.  This implies a a particular type of dysfunction indigenous, possibly inseparable, to urban environment.  Few people talk about cities in this way anymore--perhaps with the exception of Jane Jacobs who dedicated herself to the radical idea that urban life could be pleasurable.  Read anything on urban life an you think all anyone talk about is the g-word: gentrification a process that make the ghetto cease to be ghetto. 


Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Blogger Candidate Forum: The Blame Game

Hello Everyone:

It is a lovely Wednesday afternoon and time for Blogger Candidate Forum.  Big news: The Los Angeles Times reported today Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law AB5, granting minimum wage and benefits to gig economy workers.  This is a victory for the thousands of gig workers who deliver food and provide rides to on-demand app users.  The law goes into effect on January 1, 2020.  More news: After Latino-'splaining at a campaign stop in New Mexico, Mr. Donald Trump moved on to Blogger's hometown, Los Angeles, and waded into the homeless crisis.  This is where we start.

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Homelessness is Los Angeles' intractable problem.  It seems that no matter what anyone proposes or enacts, it never seems to be enough, to put it mildly.  During the now completed two-day visit to California, the president took the time to malign the problem of homelessness in California.  The president told a gaggle of reports aboard Air Force 1, "....people living on the streets here have ruined the 'prestige' of two of the state's most most populous cities..." (; Sept. 17, 2019; date accessed Sept. 18, 2019).  Specifically,

We can't let Los Angeles, San Francisco and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what's happening" (Ibid).

Mr.  Trump seemed to suggest that his administration would take unilateral action on homelessness but what kind, if any, of action on homelessness does the administration plan to take.

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Union Rescue Mission
Los Angeles, California

Never one to miss an opportunity to take aim at the state with the largest number of electoral votes, USA Today reported that a new report from the administration concluded that "homelessness could be dramatically reduced by slashing restrictions on housing construction and being less tolerant of sleeping on the street" (; Sept. 17, 2019; date accessed Sept. 18, 2019).  The Council of Economic Advisers released their report in time for the president's visit to California for two days of speeches and fundraisers.  During the same Air Force 1 gaggle, the president added,

The people of San Francisco are fed up and the people of Los Angeles are fed up and we're looking at it and we will be doing something about it at the appropriate time (Ibid)

What are the chances that nothing will done?

The report, The State of Homelessness in America, lays some of the blame for homelessness at the feet of the shelters.  The logic of this argument is "Some people would be able to find their own housing if they were tuned away form shelters" (Ibid).  Specifically,

While shelters play an extremely important role in bringing some people off the street, it also b rings in people who would otherwise be housed, thus increasing total homelessness...(Ibid)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti responded, saying this was not a subject for cable news debates.  In a statement,

We don't have time for that,... If the president really cares about solving this crisis, wouldn't be talking about criminalization over housing.  He'd be making dramatic increases in funding for this country's housing safety net (Ibid)

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Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson

A week before the two-day jaunt through the Golden State, the White House announced it was planning a crackdown on homeless people in California (; Sept. 11, 2019; date accessed Sept. 18, 2019)--something that is already raising concern among local homeless advocates and civic officials. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and a group of officials were dispatched to California, ahead of the president's visit to see what the situation on the ground was.

The Washington Post reported that Mr. Trump ordered administration officials to come up with tangible solutions to the crisis in Los Angeles and other California cities (; Sept. 10, 2019; date accessed Sept. 18, 2019).  White House, Department of HUD, and related agency officials are examining several options, including razing the encampments and moving the people into federally administered facilities.  Yours Truly knows your are all thinking "how is that working for all the migrants in federally administered detention facilities at the border?"

Sarah Holder and Kriston Capps write, "The White House appears to be targeting people living in Los Angeles's downtown Skid Row area, where much of the city's soaring unhoused population [; June 6, 2019; date accessed Sept. 18, 2019] is concentrated" (; Sept. 11, 2019).  This year the number of homeless people spiked 16, according to the annual point-in-time count (; June 4, 2019; date accessed Sept. 18, 2019).  Officials declined to comment on what plans or discussions were in progress.  However, Mayor Garcetti's deputy communications director Alex Comisar said in an email,

We welcome them and look forward to showing them our work to confront this humanitarian emergency (; Sept. 11, 2019)

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It is no secret that housing costs in California are skyrocketing, especially in the major cities.  However,  you have to look at the White House's interest in tackling this intractable problem in context to its past comments.  One way to look at it is that it comes in the wake of clueless comments the president made on Fox News in July.  He told host Tucker Carlson "that homelessness was a phenomenon that started two years ago [; July 2, 2019; date accessed Sept. 18, 2019] and that he may intercede and do something to get that whole thing cleaned up" (; Sept. 11, 2019).  Both Governor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti were critical of those eye rolling comments.

Another way to understand the White House's seeming interest in L.A.'s homeless crisis is "in the context of his frequent disparaging comments about American urban areas--particularly majority-black cities such as Chicago and Baltimore, according to Karen Lincoln, an associate professor of social work at the University of Southern California" (Ibid).  Although African Americans make up only 9 percent of L.A.'s population, 40 percent of the city's homeless population is African American (Ibid).  LatinX make up a similar proportion.  A better way to understand the nature of homelessness in L.A. is through the demographics--an Los Angeles and other California cities are led by liberal Democrats.  Prof. Lincoln told CityLab,

It seems like the [Trump administration's] approach is going to be more punitive just of the that African-American and poor people and Latinos have been constructed in the current rhetoric of this administration (Ibid).

Strangely, the White House's strategies are not that dissimilar from those being pursued by state and local agencies: removing the unhoused, criminalizing living on the street, increasing funding to permanent supportive housing and shelters.

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L.A.'s Skid Row

Homeless advocates say in San Francisco for example, that, "in addition to disrupting communities [; Aug. 8, 2019; date accessed Sept. 18, 2019] and destroying personal property [; June 7, 2019; date accessed Sept. 18, 2019], these sweeps are expensive: In 2015, the San Francisco Chronicle reported [; Mar. 6, 2015; date accessed Sept. 18, 2019] the city spent $3 million a year on evicting people from encampments, and Los Angeles is on track to spend $30 million on the practice this year...[; Apr. 10, 2019; date accessed Sept. 18, 2019], up from $13 million the year before"(; Sept. 11, 2019).

As to what type of legal authority the president has to clear the encampments is dubious.  A homeless encampment in the park or on the sidewalk is not a violation of federal law.  Could the president issue an executive order or declare a state of emergency in order to activate federal law enforcement to police the homeless?  No, not really because cities exist to benefit their state.  Therefore, if the White House was truly interested in ending homelessness it would target increased investments in homeless services and buttress HUD's affordable housing services.  Not likely to happen because the Department of Housing for and Urban Development and the White rejected local requests for help while promising federal intervention (; date accessed Sept. 18, 2019).  The blame game continues while men and women who live on the streets do not receive the help they so desperately need.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Disrupting The Disruptors

Hello Everyone:

Finally, the heat and humidity of the past week has given way to a lovely almost fall afternoon.  It was a busy weekend.  On Thursday, it was candidate debate round three.  Both former Representative Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro served up some verbal fireworks.  Rep. O'Rourke emphatically declared that he was in favor of taking away assault rifles from potential mass murders and Secretary Castro questioned VPOTUS Joe Biden's mental acuity during a very testy exchange.  Wait, there is more.  Over the weekend The New York Times (nytimes,com; Sept. 14, 2019; date accessed Sept. 16, 2019) published an essay allegations of further sexual misconduct against Associate Brett Kavanaugh that took place during a party at Yale University.  The essay alleges that the FBI did not investigate the matter during the contentious hearing, when these allegations against Justice Kavanaugh first came to the surface.  This is an ongoing matter with huge electoral implications.  Already six of the major Democratic candidates have called for impeachment hearings.  Yours Truly will do her best to stay on top of the matter.  Onward

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Gig economy word cloud
 Thursday was also a busy day in the California state capital.  Late last Tuesday night, members of the state Assembly and Senate approved a landmark bill after months of tense negotiations between labor groups, on-demand economy companies (gig economy), and workers' rights advocates.  The bill--Assembly Bill 5--was endorsed, appropriately enough on Labor Day, by Governor Gavin Newsom.  Governor Newsom is expected to sign the bill after the end of the current legislative session on September 13 and is expected to go into effect on January 1, 2020.

The main idea of AB5 is "close to 1 million ride-sharing workers, on-demand delivery manicurists, and janitors in California will be eligible for the same benefits, minimum wage, and vacations days that full employees are" (; Sept. 11, 2019; date accessed Sept. 16, 2019).

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Experts believe that AB5 "has the potential to curb labor violations, increase employee bargaining power, and fundamentally change the nature of gig work" (Ibid).  Ride hailing companies Uber and Lyft lobbies hard against the bill, arguing that it would drive up operating costs.  Further, the bill would also affect the streets of California's cities and inspire similar legislation in other states.

Long road to realization

The gig economy bill's passage was the result of a decade long fight to reclassify independent contractors, initiated by a court cased filed long before Uber and Lyft came online.  Here is the back story.

In 2005, a former employee for Dynamax courier services sued the company, arguing that "he and his co-workers were misclassified as contractor to save the company money" (Ibid).  Last year, the state Supreme Court rule in the employee's favor, establishing an "ABC test" that California must use to determine whether an employee is independent contractor.  This is how it works:

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Gig economy brands

"If they're performing a task that's central to the company's functioning, and if their wages are set by the company, they're more likely to be considered employees" (Ibid).  Essentially, "if it looks like duck, quacks like a duck, it must be a duck."  This California State Supreme Court decision is codified in AB5.

Assembly Bill 5 was introduced last December by Assemblymenber Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher and has gone through several iterations.  The final form includes carve-outs for lawyers, architects, realtors, hairstylists, are fisherman, whose industries permit their workers to negotiate.  Sorry all you freelancers out there, you are exempt from the bill.

Many other eligible industries also lobbied hard for exemptions.  Among them was the California News Publishers Association, which published an Op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle (; Sept. 3, 2019; date accessed Sept. 16, 2019).  Thomas W. Newton and James W. Ewert write,

Simply put.  AB5 will probably sound the death knell for some printed versions of California newspaper. It's not the only challenge to professional journalism in 2019, but it is by far the most serious.

AB5 would force all businesses to hire independent contractors as employees--unless the business has been given a special exemption by the Legislature. So far, the Legislature has refused to grant critical because although many newspapers are union-represented shops, they rely on independent contractors in the form of newspaper delivery carriers and freelance journalists...

The trucking industry also carved out a few amendments to accommodate "owner-operator" (; Sept. 11, 2019) but the port trucking industry is not exempt.

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The 150 apps that power the gig economy

The companies the popular on-demand apps--"which in California is made up of about 400,000 people driving for Uber and Lyft, delivering food, for Postmates,..., or doing odd jobs for companies like Task Rabbits---proved the most active opponents, saying AB5 poses an existential threat to their operations" (Ibid).

In addition to objecting to the increased operating costs associated with higher wages, they and several drivers argued undermine the flexibility (; Aug. 29, 2019; date accessed Sept. 16, 2019) at the core of the gig economy.  This is different from on-call jobs that comprise the majority of hourly work, with its unpredicatable and restrictive scheduling,  Uber and Lyft driver set their own hours; clock in and out of the app at will.

However, the drivers, organizing groups, and labor experts say "that in practice, drivers already have control than they may appear to: They must drive at high-demand times to maximize returns, and can be deactivated--effectively, fired--without warning" (; Sept. 11, 2019)

Sanjukta Paul, an assistant professor of law at Wayne State University and antitrust and labor expert and Veena Dubal, an associate professor of law at the University of California, wrote in a paper, Law and the Future of Gig Work in California: Problems and Potentials (Part 1) 

[W]ith low, nonlinear pricing (which forces them to work long hours) and incentive-based pay (which forces them to work strategically, during high demand), the work lives of gig workers remain highly structure... Without basic protections and collective bargaining rights, workers in California have no means (short of a full-fledged strike) to change this (Ibid)

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Who win in the gig economy?

  Be that as it may, legislation like AB5 could prompt companies like Uber and Lyft to preface workers who can work full-time hours in California (35-40 hours), according to Robert Maxim, a research associate at the Brookings Institute's Metropolitan Policy Program.  Uber already said it would not comply with the bill, citing, "it would have to institute more strict scheduling if the bill was passed" (Ibid)  Mr. Maxim told CityLab,

This could theoretically limit drivers' ability to drive when they want, the shifts they want, and of potentially driving for both Uber and Lyft,... The potential impetus for asserting more control over drivers' schedules comes from the fact that it shifts risk from the drivers themselves onto companies"(Ibid)

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Happy Uber driver and passenger
How existential is it?

It is no secret that both Uber and Lyft are loosing money at a rapid pace and have seen their stock valuations fall.  Under AB5, drivers' paychecks would go up to the minimum ($14.25 in Los Angeles) with benefits, meaning that the top two ride hailing companies' labor costs could rise by as much as 30 percent, which would get passed down to the passengers (; Aug. 30, 2019; date accessed Sept. 16, 2019).  Barclays estimates Uber's annual operating costs in California could increase by over $500 million and Lyft's will grow by $290 million (; June 14, 2019; date accessed Sept. 16, 2019).

The beneficiaries of the increased labors costs will be the drivers and the state of California.  The state Department of Industrial Relations that California loses about $7 billion year in payroll taxes due to payroll misclassification (; date accessed Sept. 16, 2019).  Analysts at Morgan Stanley referenced by Alison Griswold in Quartz (; Sept. 7, 2019 date accessed Sept. 16, 2019) predict that, "when AB5 takes its full effect, statewide fares will increase by about 25 percent (; Sept. 11, 2019).  Bruce Schaller, a transportation consultant and former Deputy Commissioner of Traffic and Planning at the New York City Department, told CityLab,

The pincer are closing in on the TNCs.  You've got AB5, you've got investors who are getting increasingly restive about want to see a path to profitability, you've got the share prices going down (Ibid).

Although Mr. Schaller thinks that it is anyone's guess how the companies will adjust to the new reality.  He added,

if they feel they need to get closet to at least break even financially, it has to involve, to some degree, increase fares (Ibid)

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Pro-AB5 protester

This, according to Morgan Stanley analysts, could reduce demand.  According to Ms. Griswold,

if similar legislation were adopted nationally [higher fares] could cause global ride-hail bookings to fall by 1 percent to 2 percent, and 5 percent to 9 percent (Ibid)

For transportation planners, this is not necessarily a bad thing: "Research shows that Uber and Lyft contribute to congestion and eat into public transit usage in some cities" (Ibid).

A report on the link between ride-hailing and congestion by Fehr & Peers (; Aug. 1, 2019; date accessed Sept. 16, 2019), commissioned by Uber and Lyft concluded that "previous estimates of Uber and Lyft's effect on traffic had been conservative" (; Sept. 11, 2019).  Laura Bliss reported the results,

Uber and Lyft make up as much as 13.4 percent of all miles,...(Ibid; Aug. 5, 2019).

In Blogger's hometown, the only other California city the report studied, "TNCs made up as much 2.7 percent of all vehicle miles" (Ibid; Sept. 11, 2019)

Another takeaway from the report, "...drivers in personal vehicles contribute to congestion a lot more than TNCs..."(Ibid).  At the risk of stating the obvious, "...reduced Uber and Lyft usage could as easily push more people into their cars as push them onto buses" according to Arielle Fleisher, SPUR's Transportation Policy Director in San Francisco (Ibid).  Ms. Fleischer spoke to CityLab,

There is some sort of opportunity here,..., to divert those who may otherwise take Ubers onto transit. [But] fundamentally, if the goal is to increase public transit use,... people will use public transportation when it works for them: when it's frequent, reliable, accessible, and legible (Ibid)

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Los Angeles Metro bus
The takeaway from this statement is if cities want to divert passengers away from ride hailing services onto public transportation, then city departments of transportation would have to make it feasible and attractive for passengers.

Last year New York City established a minimum wage for drivers.  The result was the ride hailing companies cut back the number of drivers they accepted onto their platform and prices rose.  However according to Robert Maxim at the Brookings' Institute said, "'s hard to isolate the effect of those wages,...," (Ibid) because the city also levied congestion pricing then.  Sarah Holder speculates, "If California's legislation lead the companies to limit the size of their fleet, existing drivers may actually benefit."  Mr. Maxim elaborated,

By limiting the supply of drivers, there's in theory at least more money to go around for each individual driver (Ibid)

Antitrust expert Sanjukta Paul, believes that the biggest threat AB5 presents to Uber and Lyft is the collective bargaining right the drivers will gain.  Ms. Paul told CityLab,

The possibility of having to deal with an organized voice for workers, in what the hell happens in their company, [is scariest],...It's that perceived loss of control, and level of transparency that would bring (Ibid)

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Pro AB5 rally
Driver organizers concur.  Edan Alva, a driver and member of the group Gig Workers Rising (; date accessed Sept. 17, 2019) told TechCrunch,

AB5 is on the beginning,.... I talk daily to other drivers who want a change but they are scared.  They don't want to lose their only source of income.  But just because someone really need to work does not mean that their rights as a worker should be stepped all over.  That is why a union is critical.  It simply won't work without it (; Sept 10, 2019; date accessed Sept. 17, 2019).

Bruce Schaller added, "There's also a potent symbolic weight to AB5's passage:... that the days of Uber and Lyft lobbying their way past government regulations are over" (; Sept. 11, 2019; date accessed Sept. 16, 2019).  He said,

They rolled through legislatures--starting with California--from 2014 to 2017, and now they're getting all of the pushback from legislative frameworks that were completely skewed towards their interests as they construed them,... Bullies always get their comeuppance, sooner or later (Ibid)

AB5 seems to be in line with the movement to pushback against the tech company giants who seem to think that laws do not apply to them.

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Uber and Lyft fight back

A thwarted counter-campaign that's not over yet

To persuade state legislators to vote against AB5, Uber and Lyft staged coordinated email campaigns to encourage drivers to rally against the bill, giving bonuses to those who attended a rally in Sacramento.  The campaign came amid an effort to push a compromise deal (; date accessed Sept. 17, 2019) that would give the drivers portable benefits, wage increases, and a sectoral bargaining unit, while still classifying them as independent contractors.

While AB5 continued to accrue "yes" votes in the State legislature, both ride hailing companies and food delivery giant Doordash--"each contributed $30 million to support a counter-measure, which they hope to place on California's 2020 ballot.  Lyft spokeperson Adrian Durbin spoke to The New York Times,

We are working on a solution that provides drivers with strong protections that include an earnings guarantee, a system of worker directed portable benefits and first-of-its kind industrywide sectoral bargaining, without jeopardizing the flexibility drivers tell they value so much (; Aug. 29, 2019; date accessed Sept. 17, 2019).

Last Monday, the San Francisco Chronicle (; Sept. 10, 2019; date accessed Sept. 17, 2019) reported that Uber has been working behind the scenes on a bill that would establish a new category of driver: Neither employee or contractor, guarantee them a limited amount of benefits and a weekly pay of 1,27 times minimum wage in the city where the ride or delivery started (; Sept. 11, 2019; date accessed Sept. 16, 2019).  Sarah Holder points out, "Critics noted that these fees only account for tie spent driving, not the idling time many drivers say makes up a large part of their days" (Ibid).  The bill also establishes a Driver Advocate Program, that would represent the drivers but not grant them negotiating rights (Ibid).

 Carolyn Said, of the Chronicle, speculated "Such a bill is highly unlikely to pass before the legislative session ends Friday,... but provides a preview of what an eventual ballot might look like" (; Sept. 10, 2019).

Last Wednesday, Uber's Chief Legal Officer, Tony West, said "the company would not comply with AB5, despite not being technically exempt from the ABC test" (; Sept. 11, 2019; date accessed Sept. 16, 2019).  Mr. West wrote,

[J]ust because the test is hard does not mean we will not be able to pass it,... Because we continue to believe drivers are properly classified as independent, and because we'll continue to be responsive to what the vast majority of drivers tell use they want most--flexibility--drivers will not be automatically reclassified as employees, even aft January of next year.  We expect we will continue to respond to claims of misclassification in arbitration and in court as necessary, just as we do now (; Sept. 12, 2019; date accessed Sept. 17, 2019).

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Who's next?

Yours Truly has frequently said that California is the home of the digital Industrial Revolution.  Naturally, it is the birthplace of the gig economy and its largest market.  However, it is not the only place looking to take on the reclassification fight.

The equally bluer than blue states of Oregon and Washington are also leading the charge to give gig workers greater labor rights, exploring legislative remedies to move independent contractors closer to employees, giving them a base wage and labor boards.  Although these legislative remedies failed to gather steam, they find renewed energy now that California is poised to enact AB5.  Massachusetts and New Jersey have enacted ABC tests for independent contractors (; Sept. 11, 2019; date accessed Sept. 16, 2019), similar to the one established under the Dynamex decision and could form the foundation for similar legislation.  After New York City enacted the nation's first ride-hail minimum wage, organizers were inspired to ask the cities do the same (Ibid; Jul 10, 2019).  New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo mentioned that his state might go further (; Sept. 10, 2019; date accessed Sept. 17, 2019).  Across the Atlantic, in the United Kingdom, courst have already decided that ride-hail drivers are eligible for minimum wage and paid vacations; naturally Uber is appealing the decision and labor organizers are strengthening their case (; Aug. 22, 2019; date accessed Sept. 16, 2019).  Robert Maxim spoke to CityLab,

At least in the short run, we're probably going to end up with an increasingly patchwork system [in the U.S.],.... With places like California treating drivers as employees, red states keeping the status quo, and then some states or cities even creating this hybrid middle grounds, akin to what New York City currently has (Ibid; Sept. 11, 2019).

AB5 could open the door for ride hailing companies to address systemic transportation policy issues through accountability.  This could lead to overall public-private sector cooperation on improving California's woeful public transportation system and related issues. That is the dream but the reality is companies like Uber, Lyft, Doordash, et al are in business to make money and the bottom line is what drives them.  In this way, they are exactly like the corporate culture they want to disrupt.  If they truly want to disrupt the very thing they wish to disrupt, they need to become better corporate citizens and focus on their workers.