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Wed, Apr

Confronting the Inevitability of Hillary – A Third Term for Obama or Bill?

NEW GEOGRAPHY-With her massive win last month in New York, followed up with several other triumphal processions through the Northeast, Hillary Clinton has, for all intents and purposes, captured the Democratic nomination. And given the abject weaknesses of her two most likely opponents, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, she seems likely to capture the White House this fall as well. 

So the question now becomes: How does Hillary govern? She may win a decisive victory over a divided, dispirited Republican Party, but she will not return to the White House with much of the aura that surrounded President Obama. As feminist writer Camille Paglia has pointed out, she is widely distrusted by the majority of Americans, including younger women. Older feminists may worship her as the incipient queen, Paglia notes, but few others seem ready to kowtow. 

Instead, Clinton will enter the presidency more disliked and distrusted than any incoming executive in history. Her trajectory, notes Paglia, has more in common with that of Richard Nixon, whose persistent scheming and ample intellect allowed him to win in 1968, another year marked by intense political divisions. 

Alternative one: Obama third term 

When Bill Clinton entered the White House in 1992, he did so as the standard-bearer for “New Democrats” of the Democratic Leadership Council, a pro-business, pro-individual responsibility faction that captured control of the party from its labor and grievance industry old guard. When I worked for the Progressive Policy Institute, the DLC’s think tank, in the early Clinton years, many powerful interests – greens, feminists, minority advocates, trade unions – opposed many of the Arkansan’s policy innovations, ranging from welfare reform to NAFTA. 

But the party that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton now inherits is not hers, it is Barack Obama’s. In the Clinton years, Democrats competed, and sometimes won, in Republican strongholds in Appalachia and the South. After Obama, these areas are, for the most part, solidly GOP, while the Democratic Party has become increasingly dependent on its heavily minority, and young, urban base along the coasts. As a result, there is little need for, or interest in, appeasing the less urbanized, more conservative voters across the country. 

Energy and land use are two areas where Clinton may be able to pick up the Obama mantle. Despite Clinton’s fundraising among fossil fuel firms, which has netted some $3 million, she has continually won established environmental support from groups like the League of Conservation Voters. She can be counted on to advance Obama’s green agenda. 

In effect, she will be tempted to support the mounting Environmental Protection Agency onslaught on power generators. This will hurt many Rust Belt economies but won’t do much damage to party strongholds like Manhattan or the Bay Area. The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s escalating campaign to force middle-class suburbs to accept more poor people and high-density housing may undermine the dreams and aspirations of millions of middle-class Americans, including many minorities, but could appeal to the urban developers who now can continue their ethnic cleansing of attractive inner-city areas. 

Hillary, no stranger to following the political breezes, could simply serve as the heir to the Obama legacy, in effect, giving him a third term. She could prove to play Stalin – ruthless, unlikeable but politically savvy – to advance the president’s progressive program. There are signs of this, for example, in such things as her turn against the Keystone XL pipeline, after tentatively embracing it as secretary of state, or her rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. She might, under pressure from the Sanders forces, also agree on the platform plank for a ban on fracking, which would end our drive toward energy self-sufficiency, as well as deeply wound many economies, particularly in Texas, Oklahoma and Appalachia. 

Triangulation: Clinton third term? 

Hillary Clinton has been forced left by the growing radicalization of her party. It’s as if John Kasich and John McCain suddenly decided that they needed to sound like Donald Trump on immigration and Ted Cruz on religion. Yet, the big question is whether she will shift to the center, as her husband did, when she actually holds the reins of power. 

But triangulation requires a strong and determined opposition, as Bill Clinton faced after 1994 with a GOP controlled House run by Newt Gingrich. In states where the Republican Party has, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist as a serious political force, such as here in California, moderation tends to be drowned out by the incessant yammering from the social justice warriors and environmental zealots. Gov. Jerry Brown, for example, is most often challenged not by Republicans but those from his left who want, if anything, more extreme economic and environmental policies.

If this year’s election ends up with a total wipeout of the Republicans, Clinton would have little reason to move to the center. After all, you cannot triangulate between Right and Left when the Right has all but evaporated. If Hillary wants to reprise Bill, she should hope the GOP does not completely disappear as a political force. 

One other, and particularly troublesome, barrier to triangulation could be the growing concentration of power in the executive branch under President Obama. Clinton has already made it clear she happily will rule by decree if the recalcitrant Republicans in the House refuse to go along with her ideas. With the bureaucracy allied with the progressive cause, and a judiciary that also increasingly embraces a centralist ideology, she may not need to appeal to Republicans or moderates at all, at least to get her program through. 

Ultimately, this may all depend on the economy. President Obama’s ratcheting up of federal housing and environmental powers has taken place amidst a gradually improving economy, particularly in his base coastal states. This has also been key to Gov. Brown’s ever more draconian environmental stance. Prosperity, at least among the gentry, tends to let regulators ignore the economic consequences of their decisions. 

What matters most may be expediency – and money 

Hillary Clinton is often castigated for her supposed lack of basic principles. Yet, her opportunism could benefit the country more than the kind of narcissistic posturing that has dominated the Obama years. If the economy weakens, for example, she might not want to put more screws on businesses, and certainly will not threaten to persecute the financial interests who have financed her campaign, not to mention the Clinton Foundation. 

Unfortunately for her, many of the consequences of Obama’s policies may force her hand. The president has delayed many of the more challenging parts of Obamacare, leaving it to Hillary to cope with cancellations, rising fees and other problems. Clinton will also be forced to deal with rising suburban resistance to HUD policy which, under the principle of “disparate impact,” will try to force diversity and density on communities which do not discriminate but remain not dense enough or diverse enough to meet the demand of regulators. 

She will also have to cope with other residues of the past eight years – for example, rising crime, growing race tensions and a rapidly deteriorating foreign environment. The new President Clinton may have to cope with mass unemployment in the energy belt and among manufacturers, as the administration’s greenhouse gas policies begin to get implemented. Whereas Obama benefited from the fracking boom that he never quite embraced, Clinton may reap the full weight of the political and economic ramifications from ending the practice. 

Whether these realities – a direct threat to Democrats in many states and districts – will lead Clinton to adopt more pragmatic approaches is not yet knowable. But at the end of the day, arguably, our best hopes for the first woman president revolve around her profound opportunism and political common sense, which could lead her to a more pragmatic, and ultimately far less damaging, approach than now seems all too likely.

 

(Joel Kotkin is a R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston. His newest book is “The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us.” This was first posted at newgeography.com.  Photo: AP/Ron Frehm/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Matt Rourke/Toby Talbot. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

As We Contemplate Sending the Clintons Back to the White House, It’s Time to Reassess a Pivotal Decade … the 90’s

TRADE WINDS--Welcome back, ’90s; I’ve missed you.

The last decade of the previous millennium is suddenly all the rage, claiming a growing slice of our cultural mindshare. Monica Lewinsky is on the speaking circuit. American cable networks have served up series based on the O.J. Simpson trial and Anita Hill confirmation hearings, as well as remakes of everything from Twin Peaks to the X-Files.

Read more ...

‘ObamaCare’: NOT an ‘AffordableCare’ Act, It’s a ‘Don’tCare’ Act

WHO WANTED ACA TO FAIL?-One can't help but wonder if those who did, do, and still defend the "Affordable Care Act" believe that its opponents truly wanted it to fail, or if its opponents hated the principles of health care access and affordability. But the same question can be laid at the feet of those who opposed the Iraq Conflict--did they want that effort to fail, and did they oppose democracy in the Middle East ... or as with the ACA, was it doomed to fail all on its own? 

Arguably, this was NOT anything that should have been called "Obamacare" because the President knew very little of what was in it (kind of like former President G.W. Bush and Iraq--he didn't know what the substance and the problems of the Iraq challenge was, and had to keep patching it as he went along).   

To paraphrase House Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi, we now know what's in it because it's passed, and as the bill gets higher and higher--with a surge in costs going up next year just as the President leaves office--there is also a surge of Americans who disapprove of the law, according to U.S. News and World Report

Which merely proves the point that this law--written by the same health plans who in part (but only in part...see below) got us into this mess--can only be supported either by those who are not affected, or by those who hate Republicans and other opponents of the President more than they love and care for the well-being of their fellow Americans. 

The ACA passing Supreme Court muster based on this law being the single biggest tax hike on the middle class in recent memory, despite it being billed as anything but a tax hike?  Don't care. 

The ACA requiring childless adults to pay for comprehensive plans that include pediatric psychiatry? Don't care. 

Requests from ACA insurers throughout the nation asking for premium hikes that average from 9.4% to 37.1% in 2017?  Don't care. 

Tens of millions of Americans ripped away from their health plans and their doctors, despite being promised that such a nightmare would never happen?  Don't care. 

California fighting for adult illegal immigrants to get ACA coverage after granting it to their children for free, despite promises that such an effort would neeeeeeeever happen, because illegal immigrants should pay for their own families' expenses?  Don't care. 

And it's funny--actually pretty sad, but funny in a grim sort of way--that the ACA plans and the patients with health care through their employment (and with traditional plans that were allowed to be grandfathered into the ACAD) remain the most profitable and the most affordable (and most appreciated by patients). 

Which meant that either a Bush or an Obama Administration that focused on JOBS--not crappy, lousy, part-time jobs without benefits that "officially" and artificially placed Americans off the unemployment rolls--but real JOBS with benefits could have obviated the need for most of the ACA, particularly since the push to eliminate pre-existing conditions was already a bipartisan effort. 

So it's NOT just the health plans, but a lack of focus on full-time, family-friendly, quality of life-enhancing JOBS WITH BENEFITS that made health care access and affordable so elusive. 

And the anemic U.S. Economy, which is expanding at 0.5%--the lowest and slowest pace in two years, could that at all be aggravated by the ACA hobbling businesses from hiring with traditional benefit plans, and expanding because profits are being slammed as we enter a global slowdown? 

I know, I know.  You don't care.  You just don't care. 

Because dammitall, we're going to stay the course with the ACA--just like we did in Iraq--and a surge of sorts will do us all a lot of good. 

And it was great to take a swing at "The Man", and all those screaming Republicans, wasn't it? 

But one question, after you got to take that giant swing: why is the taste in your mouth not one of true victory, but the taste of your own blood? 

(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  [email protected]. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)-cw

 

 

For First Time Ever, a Majority of People Identify as Citizens of the World

EDTITOR’S PICK--People around the world are increasingly identifying as global citizens, according to a new BBC poll that shines a light on changing attitudes about immigration, inequality, and different economic realities. 

Among all 18 countries where public opinion research firm, GlobeScan conducted the survey, 51 percent of people see themselves more as global citizens than national citizens. It is the first time since tracking began in 2001 that a global majority identifies this way, and is up from a low point of about 42 percent in 2002.

The trend is particularly strong in developing countries, the poll found, "including Nigeria (73%, up 13 points), China (71%, up 14 points), Peru (70%, up 27 points), and India (67%, up 13 points)."

Overall, 56 percent of people in emerging economies saw themselves as global citizens rather than national citizens.

"The poll's finding that growing majorities of people in emerging economies identify as global citizens will challenge many people's (and organizations') ideas of what the future might look like," said GlobeScan chairman Doug Miller.

In more industrialized nations, the numbers skew a bit lower. The BBC's Naomi Grimley writes:

In Germany, for example, only 30% of respondents see themselves as global citizens.

According to Lionel Bellier from GlobeScan, this is the lowest proportion seen in Germany since the poll began 15 years ago.

"It has to be seen in the context of a very charged environment, politically and emotionally, following Angela Merkel's policy to open the doors to a million refugees last year."

The poll suggests a degree of soul-searching in Germany about how open its doors should be in the future.

Not all wealthy nations were opposed to newcomers. In Spain, 84 percent of respondents said they supported taking in Syrian refugees, while 77 percent of Canadians said the same. A small majority of Americans—55 percent—were also in favor of accepting those fleeing the ongoing civil war.

As Grimley points out, the concept of "global citizenship" can be hard to define, which makes it difficult to determine answers about identity.

"For some, it might be about the projection of economic clout across the world," she writes. "To others, it might mean an altruistic impulse to tackle the world's problems in a spirit of togetherness—whether that is climate change or inequality in the developing world."

GlobeScan interviewed 20,000 people in 18 countries between December 2015 and April 2016.

(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams  … where this piece was first posted.) –cw

 

Why the Politics of Nostalgia Are Dangerous

EDITOR’S PICK-Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. Once upon a time, I considered longing for a long-lost past a relatively innocuous exercise. I don’t really go for the iconic schmaltz of Norman Rockwell paintings, but I never thought that idealizing days of yore could be a dangerous activity.

But that was before Donald J. Trump launched a presidential campaign on the promise of making America great again.

On the surface, the real estate mogul’s pledge of renewing national greatness doesn’t seem so bad. After all, like any politician, he seems to be simply appealing to national pride and ambition. Couldn’t that just get our collective competitive juices flowing and produce more gross national excellence?

Well, no, actually.

Making a comeback or triumphing over one’s hardships requires more than nostalgia. Sometimes it requires the ability to visualize—literally—what a better future would look like. In a brilliant 2014 essay on beauty and justice, Harvard art historian Sarah Lewis explores the power of images to propel people forward. She cites the example of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who decided to seek his freedom from slavery after spending too many Sundays feeling taunted by the gentle, unhindered movement of the sailboats on Chesapeake Bay.

Douglass would later argue that those most capable of inspiring change—poets, prophets, and reformers—are those who can conjure images that capture the contrast between what is and what could be. “They see what ought to be by the reflection of what is,“ he said, “and endeavor to remove the contradiction.”

By contrast, the image of the future Donald Trump is offering is not a reflection of what is, but rather of what may or may not have been. He hearkens back to a past in which Americans—or at least some of them—enjoyed unchallenged economic and cultural dominance. While it isn’t particularly clear what era he’s nostalgic for, “Making America Great Again” is less about achieving a shiny new vision as it is about restoring a gauzy old one. He is propelling us backwards.

“Making America Great Again” is less about achieving a shiny new vision as it is about restoring a gauzy old one.

The late Russian-born novelist and playwright Svetlana Boym made a distinction between two types of nostalgia, reflective and restorative. While the former tends to be wistful and dreamy (think of Reagan’s “Morning in America” imagery), the latter, which lies at the core of many modern national and religious revival movements, is deadly serious.

Restorative nostalgia has two essential plot lines, the first being the return to a hallowed past and the second being the conspiracies that explain why that past was lost. As such, these nostalgic movements come to be more about the search for scapegoats than they are about recapturing any sort of tradition. They’re particularly attractive to groups who feel victimized by change in the modern world.

Of course, Trump’s politics of nostalgia certainly has its cast of villains, including Mexicans, Muslims, China, and Japan. His rhetoric of restoration is clearly more focused on dealing with enemies—both within and outside our borders—than it is on inspiring or building the intrinsic capacity of the people whose greatness he says he hopes to reclaim.

Such aggrieved nostalgia may feel novel in a U.S. presidential race, particularly given the collective pride in our unwavering focus on the future. Yet it is all too common around the world. It underlies Islamist movements’ anger towards the West, Vladimir Putin’s project to restore Russia to its rightful place in the world, and the more virulent strains of Chinese nationalism. In places like the Balkans, a victimized sense of nostalgia is practically a birthright. Hence one of the paradoxes of the Trump phenomenon is that in seeking to “Make America Great Again” by invoking a litany of wrongs committed against us, he sure is making America more like the rest of the world.

The most extreme form of restorative nationalist nostalgia could be seen in Adolf Hitler’s Germany. While anti-Semitism had existed for centuries, Hitler employed what UCLA historian Saul Friedländer has called “redemptive anti-Semitism,” a national salvation myth that held that Germany’s prominence could only be regained through the removal of Jews. Since Hitler blamed Jews not only for Germany’s defeat in World War I but for the subsequent collapse of the monarchy, he argued that their expulsion—which later led to genocide—was necessary to make Germany great again.

I’m not implying that Trump intends to commit mass murder. But the rhetorical mechanism he employs is essentially the same. Far from being a quaint stroll down memory lane, the politics of nostalgia is a recipe for resentment, and potentially, revenge. It’s also a perfect way to blame others for your lot in life.

(Gregory Rodriguez is the founder and publisher of Zócalo Public Square and the author of the Wanderlust column. Posted originally at excellent Zocalo Public Square.)

-cw

 

Just When You Think there are No ‘Good People’ Left … Along Comes Judge Olivera

THE JUDGE AND THE VETERAN—(Just when you think ‘good people’ all lived at another time and another place, along comes Judge Olivera … providing hope and a feel good story amongst the torrent of news angst we endure every day. That’s why we’re publishing this story. For the hope it provides.)

Here's how it's done: A North Carolina judge - and veteran - who sentenced a three-tour, PTSD-afflicted veteran to 24 hours in jail for a DUI offense, and noted how the offender trembled at sentencing, served the time with him. 

Judge  Lou Olivera, 45, a Gulf War veteran who presides over an innovative Cumberland County veterans' court, had sentenced Joseph Serna to a 24-hour jail stint after Serna admitted he'd lied about an urinalysis test. 

A married father of seven and Special Forces Green Beret sergeant who served three tours in Afghanistan, Serna has appeared multiple times in Olivera's court as he struggles with sobriety.

When Serna showed up for his jail time, he was met by the judge explaining, "We're going to turn ourselves in."

They spent the night in a single cell - Olivera gave him the bed and slept on mats on the floor - talking about their families and military service, Serna's three tours in Afghanistan, the friends he lost and the injuries he suffered, "our dreams for us and our families, and the road to take us there."

A moved Serna said of the judge, "He stepped in there for me. I will never let him down again."

As for Olivera, he cited a story he'd read: "It talked about a soldier with PTSD in a hole. A family member, a therapist and a friend all throw down a rope to help the veteran suffering. Finally, a fellow veteran climbs into the hole with him. The soldier suffering with PTSD asks, ‘Why are you down here?’ The fellow veteran replied, ‘I am here to climb out with you.’”

(Abby Zimet writes for Common Dreams  … where this perspective was first posted.)

-cw

Coastal California Getting Older and Grayer, not Bolder

NEW GEOGRAPHY-For the better part of a century, Southern California has been seen as the land of surfers, hipsters and youthful innovators. Yet the land of sun and sea is becoming, like its East Coast counterpart Florida, increasingly geriatric. 

This, of course, is a global and national phenomenon. From 2015-25, the number of senior-headed U.S. households, according to the Joint Center on Housing Studies at Harvard University, will grow by 10.7 million, compared with 2.5 million households headed by people ages 35-44. 

After some delay, this aging process is accelerating in California. Large-scale immigration, which supplied a younger population for decades, is slowing markedly. Once considerably younger than the country, the state appears to be heading toward the national median age. Since 2000, the senior population in Southern California has grown by 24 percent compared with 18 percent nationally. Unless immigration or domestic migration pick up soon, this aging trend should accelerate. 

At the same time, our analysis shows that some areas – notably along the Orange County coast – are rapidly becoming virtual retirement communities, with a diminishing number of children and young families. For those sitting in their houses in affluenza-afflicted enclaves of Southern California, this may seem good news: “aging in place” while their homes increase in value. But this trend is less a boon for younger people, particularly families, as well as for companies seeking to launch and expand here. 

Aging in (a nice) place 

Today, the most aged parts of the country remain largely either in Florida or in the old Rust Belt cities where young people have been decamping for generations. In contrast, Southern California’s grey tide has set in later, and is occurring most noticeably in specific areas. 

The aging process is most marked in two kinds of areas. First, as geographer Ali Modarres has demonstrated, historically Latino sections of Los Angeles, such as East Los Angeles and the Pico-Union district, are aging rapidly. In LA now, immigrants are older than the rest of the population, as their offspring decamp elsewhere, and the oldest, and most dependent on the services unique to ethnic enclaves, remain behind. 

Similarly immigrant-rich areas like Santa Ana, although still relatively young, are getting old more rapidly than the region as a whole. But the most dramatic aging is taking place in traditionally Asian immigrant communities, like Westminster and Garden Grove. 

Westminster, the original Little Saigon, has seen its share of seniors grow from 11.0 percent to 17.8 percent from 2010-14, an astounding 60 percent increase and far above the state and national averages. The aging wave now sweeping East Asia now has a California counterpart. 

The other major incoming gray tide is building along Orange County’s affluent coastal communities. A land renowned for fit bodies and surfer gals and dudes is getting pretty weather-beaten. There’s only so much plastic surgery can do. 

Newport Beach and San Clemente are the leading edge of the oldster wave. More than 20 percent of Newport Beach residents and 18.6 percent of those in San Clemente are at least 65, a population share well above the county, regional, state and national norms. These towns are rapidly becoming what demographers refer to as “NORCs”: naturally occurring retirement communities. 

Most Inland Empire communities remain relatively youthful. With an 11.8 percent share of seniors, the Riverside-San Bernardino area ranks considerably below Los Angeles, Orange County and the state. Although some areas, like Hemet, Apple Valley and Redlands, have double-digit shares of 65-and-overs, many of the Inland communities remain well under national averages for seniors, including Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside and Ontario. Overall, the Inland regions seem to be retaining a more youthful population. 

Preserving, not creating wealth 

The greying of California, particularly along the Southern California coast, could well shape the state’s future. Older populations tend to be more interested in preserving wealth than creating it; for them, high housing prices – particularly given Proposition 13 protections – serve as a hedge against old age. 

In the short run, the economic impact may be muted, since much of the growth will take place among what may be described as “the young old,” who may be economically and socially active for at least another decade. Senior entrepreneurship rates have grown, while those for other age groups, notably millennials, have dropped. 

On the other hand, the “young old” likely will be staying in their old homes for a protracted period of time. Whatever their political orientation, they actually benefit from the current regulatory regime, which keeps housing supply limited, all but guaranteeing rising property values, particularly for single-family homes and offices. 

This may explain why so many prominent property owners express remarkably little concern about the future impact of the decreasing migration of younger, educated workers from other parts of the country. Seniors have made their beds in the nicest parts of California, and seem determined to stay there, even if their kids will never be able to live there. Apres moi, le deluge! 

The rising prices, however, will impact basic services. As baby boomers, particularly those with nice pensions, continue to retire, they will reduce the number of experienced teachers, police and fire personnel. With much of Orange County and Los Angeles County housing now beyond the price range of most public servants, the strains will likely be greatest there. The same is true of similarly skilled private-sector workers. 

Aging demographics, and out-of-sight housing prices, also are having an impact on corporate relocations and expansions. In the coastal locales, the affluent, predominately white but increasingly Asian populations can still fill the top positions at tech or business service firms, but it’s increasingly difficult to staff companies that require middle managers and skilled technicians. 

Companies that need to staff up for these kind of jobs will increasingly need to head to lower-cost locales. In this sense the Toyota U.S. headquarters move in 2014 from Torrance to the Dallas suburbs, notes Southern Methodist University Dean Albert Neimi Jr., was motivated largely by a need for affordable middle-class housing and may be the precursor of the Southern California coast’s economic future. 

These dynamics are also being felt in the technology industry, long concentrated along the state’s coastal counties. A recent report by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office refers to the difficulty that high-tech employers have in retaining and recruiting staff. LAO cited survey data from the Silicon Valley, which for years has been California’s economic “Golden Goose.” In a 2014 survey of more than 200 business executives and conducted by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, 72 percent of respondents cited “housing costs for employees” as the most important challenge facing Silicon Valley businesses. 

The last great alternative for most young, middle-class families who wish to remain in California is moving to places like the Central Valley and the Inland Empire, where the senior population also tends to be smaller. Of all Southern California, the Inland Empire also has had the most marked millennial growth, far more than in Los Angeles. The Inland area has also seen the state’s most rapid rate of growth in ages 25-to-34 college-educated people. 

Yet these places, while still family- and youth-friendly, will be hard-pressed to compete with similar regions, notably in Texas, Arizona and the Southeast. These areas may not enjoy California’s natural and cultural amenities, but also do not have to function under the draconian tax and regulatory regime imposed by Sacramento, which is supported implicitly by residents along the greying coast. 

Unless the housing issue is addressed, we are doomed to become an older society that likely will be less innovative. High housing prices are making California, long an importer of talent, into a talent exporter. 

Over the past 10 years, notes economist Bill Watkins, California has produced twice as many holders of four-year degrees as new jobs. If these young people are getting trained, often at least partially at taxpayer expense, the beneficiaries of their skills will be more affordable and, often, less senior-dominated places. 

Nothing can alter this dynamic until there is some change in California’s planning regime. The state’s increasingly burdensome anti-growth message clouds the future of younger families who lack inherited wealth. Yet few in Sacramento seem concerned about how well California manages to retain young people, and avoids transitioning, particularly along the coasts, into a retirement community for the affluent. 

If you want to see where that future leads, look at Japan, where high costs and low birth rates, after decades of remarkable success, have helped usher in 20 years of stagnation. California, fortunately, is not there yet, but it may be time to concern ourselves on how to avoid a similar fate.

 

(Joel Kotkin is R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University. He is executive editor of New Geography … where this piece originated and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Wendell Cox was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. He chaired the Service Coordination Committee and also served on the Rail Transit and Finance Review Committees. This piece was first posted most recently at newgeography.com.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Who are California Techies Stashing Billions in Offshore Accounts, Not Paying Taxes?

EDITOR’S PICK--Airbnb, star of the “sharing economy,” is “committed to strengthening the neighborhoods and cities we serve.” Uber is “passionate about the cities we call home.” Google wants “a better world, faster.” Facebook has its own “social good” team.

But as much as Silicon Valley powerhouses love to tout their efforts to give back to their communities and make the world a better place, they also love to hide their money in tax havens.

The Panama Papers scandal has shaken the world by exposing a secretive world of offshore shell companies, which can “facilitate bribery, arms deals, tax evasion, financial fraud and drug trafficking.” But the use of shell companies to avoid taxes is a tried-and-true method of corporate governance for many of America’s biggest companies.

A new report by Oxfam tallied the offshore money of 50 top public U.S. companies, and the winner was Silicon Valley’s own Apple, with $181 billion held offshore. The company would owe $59.2 billion in taxes if the profits weren’t held offshore, according to a report by Citizens for Tax Justice.

As for Airbnb, the first tenet of its “Community Compact” states: “We are committed to treating every city personally and helping ensure our community pays its fair share of hotel and tourist taxes.” But as Bloomberg reports, Airbnb manages its finances “via units in Ireland and tax havens like Jersey in the Channel Islands” that will allow it to avoid the grasp of the Internal Revenue Service.

Uber, meanwhile, uses a Netherlands entity headquartered in Bermuda to shield its non-U.S. income from U.S. taxes, according to Fortune.

Here’s Bloomberg’s David Kocieniewski:

“This is the challenge that Airbnb, like Uber and other companies in the so-called sharing economy, poses for the world’s treasuries. In the five years since these businesses began their spiraling growth, some cities and states around the globe have fought hard to make them play by the same rules as traditional hotels or taxis and collect various local taxes – often as not, they’ve lost.”

Google – as in “don’t be evil” or “do the right thing” – had mastered the strategy long before.

Bloomberg’s Jesse Drucker reported in 2010 that Google saved $3 billion in taxes with complicated income-shuffling arrangements known as the “Double Irish” and the “Dutch Sandwich.” The strategy sparked outrage, but never mind that – Google saved another $2.4 billion in 2014 with a Bermuda shell company.

Facebook did it, too. Those tech companies may have to disclose more about their income-juggling act under new European legislation sparked by the Panama Papers.

But while Panama faces a lot of flack, Drucker reminds us that the U.S. has something in common with the Central American nation: “Neither has agreed to new international standards to make it harder for tax evaders and money launderers to hide their money.” In fact, he reported, the U.S. is “becoming the go-to place to stash foreign wealth,” with shell companies in states such as Nevada, Wyoming and South Dakota.

So it’s not all about offshore. The New York Times found that Cupertino-based Apple avoided millions of dollars in taxes in California and other states by routing profits through Nevada, where the corporate tax rate is zero.

And the amazing thing is that, unlike the secrets revealed by the Panama Papers leak, all of these tech company shenanigans have been well documented for years and are easily findable on, well, Google.

(Will Evans is a reporter of Reveal News  … where this piece was first posted.)

-cw

Genetically Modified Organisms: It’s Not What You Think!

GELFAND’S WORLD--UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability (the IOES) hosted a panel this week on GMOS: Global Solution or Global Risk? The GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms. You might have expected a resurfacing of the old, largely discredited fears about food safety, and that the audience would be full of folks talking about Frankenfoods, as some like to call them. This was largely not the case. Instead, the discussion focused mainly on long-term economic and ecological trends in world agriculture. 

The panelists raised concerns about food security, which seems to refer to our ability to continue raising and distributing produce rather than anything about terrorism. There was one other topic that isn't discussed very much in the first world countries: the plight of the world's poor, including families barely surviving as subsistence farmers. 

You can see the flier for the presentation, including the names and bio's of the panelists here

One panelist was Peter Kareiva, who concentrates on risk analysis for this technology. Kareiva comes across as a down home guy, but he is privy to the upper levels of scientific thought. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. For those who aren't familiar with the title, it's a very high honor indeed, generally indicating a lifetime of upper level scientific achievement. Kareiva is on the NAS committee that considers GMO technologies and their potential risks. 

Here is what he says, summarized as best I can: Decades of research and laboratory studies are convincing that genetically modified foods are safe for us, our pets, and farm animals to eat. He pointed out that we have been living a kind of large scale experiment in that Americans eat a lot of GMOs, whereas Europeans have avoided them. As he explained, if there were any effect of GMO ingestion, we should have seen differences between the two populations by now, and we haven't. 

Timothy Wise, of Tufts University, seems to specialize more in broader scale policy studies in agricultural economics and sociology, rather than in biochemistry. He raised questions about long term safety, mentioning experiments involving the feeding of GMO food to lab animals which, he claimed, raised some concerns. Kareiva shot down this line of argument rather easily, explaining that the better designed experiments did not indicate any harmful effects. In particular, Kareiva pointed out that a study by Seralini -- which got worldwide press coverage a while back -- was badly designed and statistically inconclusive. Hold onto this thought because I will be coming back to it later. 

Timothy Wise stuck to his guns, arguing that the only consensus among scientists about GMO use is that there is no consensus. Kareiva didn't take a large bite out of this rather vague assertion, but he did leave the impression that when knowledgeable scientists look at competent studies, then the consensus on the immediate safety of GMO foods emerges. He conceded that longer term studies could very well be done, and should be, even though we are a quarter of a century into the use of GMO crops. 

Maywa Montenegro, a biologist who is completing her graduate studies in environmental policy at Berkeley, took the discussion in another direction. She pointed out that to focus on the safety of eating GMO food was to divert our attention from other important issues. These include the effects of herbicides such as glyphosate (Roundup) on farm workers, contamination of soil and water, the economic consolidation of the seed companies, and ecological simplification. If I understand correctly, the last term refers to the loss of wild species and the reduction in the number of strains of food crops that occurs as agriculture becomes monoculture. 

Here is one interesting fact that this diverse group of panelists were able to agree on. The use of chemical insecticides goes way down when farmers use insect resistant plant strains. This is because plants with a particular inserted gene (known by the acronym BT) confers built-in resistance to being chewed up by insects. On the other hand, using herbicide resistant plants means that farmers can use more weed killer, and they do. Herbicide use up, insecticide use down. 

By the way, BT is a long-time favorite among organic farmers, because it is the natural product of a bacterial strain. It's just that they spray it on the crop rather than use seeds that carry the BT gene internally. Customers who buy organic food don't always know that they can potentially get a dose of BT with their produce. 

The last panelist was Pamela Ronald, who is a professor at UC Davis and an actual expert on plant genetics and genetic engineering. Ronald was a breath of fresh air, because she understands farming, organic farming, and the differences between agricultural genetics and agricultural economics. 

For example, she pointed out that in the western world, almost all farmers use seeds that they have purchased from corporate sources. This is true whether the agricultural enterprise is an organic farm or non-organic, and whether the seeds have genetic modifications or not. Ronald pointed out (along with others) that farmers in poorer countries can't afford to pay for seed, and need to save seed from this year's crop in order to plant next year's. 

One couldn't help but notice that a discussion that concentrates on the plight of third world farmers rapidly diverges from the discussion of western concerns about GMO food safety. The safety of eating GMO crops (in terms of fears about eating foreign gene products and recombinant DNA) is a small thing compared to the fear of crop failure and mass starvation. Ronald spoke of beneficial GMO crops, such as those designed to provide vitamin A to large numbers of people who grow up on a diet deficient in this nutrient. 

The critique: apparently it's just as hard to debate science as it is to explain it 

You may have noticed that I've presented a rather one-sided account here, in the sense that I took Peter Kareiva's comments as accurate, whereas I have discounted the remarks of Timothy Wise. You might say that I'm a bit biased in favor of those who understand the technology, and a bit biased against those who raise speculative concerns about unforeseen risks without laying out the rational, factual basis for these concerns. I think this is a fair point. 

But my problem as an audience member and as someone trying to report the debate to the reader is that there was something that was largely missing from the discussion. The absent element was the factual basis of the arguments as might have been expected to be presented by either side

For example, there has been a lot of public controversy and concern about the herbicide known as glyphosate, the compound that was originally introduced into the market as Roundup. One audience member asked an obvious question: what is glyphosate, and is it dangerous? I think that this is a reasonable request, but it's something that should have been presented at the outset. 

Admittedly, this would have involved a three minute review of some high school chemistry and a slide or two. But at least then, we would have had something more concrete to wrap the discussion around. We were watching experienced teachers up on stage, but there was essentially no teaching. It would have been nice to get something, even at the level of a Wikipedia article, to introduce the topic. 

Just for the sake of argument, here is a link [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glyphosate] to the Wikipedia explanation of what Roundup (chemically known as glyphosate) is, and what its advantages are compared to other herbicides. You have to read pretty far down to find that even the European Union does not consider glyphosate to be a risk to humans, although there are mentions of concerns about effects on farm workers subject to large doses. 

Instead of the scientific specifics, we heard opinion after opinion after opinion in this discussion. I am fairly certain that most of the opinions were defensible, with the possible exception of a few remarks made by Timothy Wise. But how could anyone but an expert make a reasonable evaluation? Perhaps I'm wrong and Timothy Wise was speaking the truth, while the panelists who were favorable to GMO technology were wrong. But how could the audience know? 

I don't mean to tear down the panelists. I think that they did what they were asked, and given the limits of time and the breadth of the subject matter, they presented their individual judgments as clearly as they could. But let's consider a disagreement on the science that came up during the discussion. If you feed GMO corn to lab animals, does it do anything bad? Wise suggested that the results of numerous studies did not lead to a clear conclusion that GMO food is safe. Kareiva pointed out that he had read most or all of the published studies, and that the ones suggesting harmful effects are badly designed or inadequately interpreted, or both. 

This kind of argument is fairly common in public discussions of scientific studies. Unfortunately, it is no longer convincing to the public because blanket statements critical of experimental design are trotted out by villains and righteous scientists alike. I based my evaluation of the Kareiva vs Wise disagreement on my own preexisting knowledge of some of these studies. 

The Seralini study which involved feeding GMO corn to rats was discredited, but unless you read the evaluations and know something about scientific methodology, you just have to decide whose word you are willing to accept. And the more scientific background you have, the better your judgment is likely to be. I was left with evaluating the arguments based on my personal judgment as to the credibility of the panelists. 

As an aside, in the infamous study in question, Seralini and colleagues looked at a strain of rats that were originally inbred to be susceptible to cancer. They have been used in cancer studies ever since, because they provide a more sensitive test than other animals, or even other strains of rat. In fact, if you keep these rats alive, almost all of them will develop cancer spontaneously at some point of their lives. Seralini's group drew conclusions from using this highly inbred strain, conclusions which were rejected outright by careful scientists who looked at the published data. 

I came away from the presentation accepting most of what I heard, including the fact that mass agriculture does damage to the natural environment, that the poorer third world suffers economic effects from corporate power, and that the long term ecological ramifications of farming is uncertain. 

But what became clear is that there is a sharp demarcation between the popular complaints about GMOs and the reality. The existence of GMO technology by itself doesn't seem to be the issue. Rather, it is the impoverished state of much of the world's population, and what the rest of the world might be able to do about it. The argument seems to settle into concerns about private megacorporations controlling the development, production, and sale of next year's seeds. 

But here is a topic that was not mentioned by any of the panelists, by the moderator, or by any of the audience questions: Aren't we really talking about the effects of the human population explosion? After all, if the population were half what it is today (and not expanding), then we would have some wiggle room to expand agricultural technology, preserve wild habitats, and potentially live free of starvation. As it is, we are using almost every available spot of open land to grow food to feed ourselves, without concern or respect for the other species we are destroying. 

I suspect that the topic of GMOs could be useful in provoking the broader discussion, which was best touched on by Maywa Montenegro. Perhaps the topic would more correctly be described as the effects of the ways we reorganize the land into fields of crops. thereby destroying woodlands and pastures. And if so, shouldn't we be talking about a more serious approach to human population, just as we need to be talking about a more serious approach to global warming? 

The panel was ably moderated by Edward Parson, who is that rare species, a physicist and mathematician who is a professor in the Law School, concentrating on climate change. We can expect to hear more from him on his chosen topic.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture, science, and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at [email protected]

-cw

Finally … Victims Score a Win: Gov Signs Off on $176.6 Million to Cleanup Exide Mess

CALIFORNIA--According to word from the Governor’s office, Jerry Brown has signed legislation directing $176.6 million “to expedite and expand [lead] testing and cleanup of residential properties, schools, daycare centers and parks around the former Exide Technologies facility in Vernon, California.” 

The legislation came in the form of AB 118, by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) and SB 93, by Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens). 

The funds — a loan from the General Fund — will allow the state to expedite soil testing within the 1.7-mile radius of the Exide Technologies facility and remediation of contaminated soil “where lead levels are the highest and potential exposure the greatest.” 

That last disclaimer suggests that $176.6 million may be enough to get the ball rolling on residential testing and cleanups, but not enough to finish the job. 

Last fall, the Department of Toxic Substances Control was already running out of funds to continue testing and remediation, after spending just $8 million to put together a work plan and test and clean up fewer than 200 properties. 

While the average cost of testing and cleaning up area properties — originally estimated to be at about $40,000 per site — may come down over time, the fact that as many as 10,000 may need remediation means the final bill may be more than double what was just allotted. 

And it does indeed appear that most properties around the plant will need remediation, if current figures are anything to go by. 

Of the 758 properties the Department for Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has sampled thus far, only five have not needed cleanup.  And, according to KPCC, of the 382 properties the County Department of Public Health (DPH) tested, 354 needed remediation, with 215 of them registering levels between the cleanup threshold of 80 parts per million (ppm) and 399 ppm of lead, and 139 having more dangerous levels hovering between 400 and 999 ppm.  

The money also does not cover any of the costs borne by residents whose health was damaged by exposure to lead or other contaminants emitted by Exide over the decade-plus that it operated without a formal permit and regularly violated emissions standards. Nor, to the best of my understanding, will it cover the costs of any studies to investigate the longer-term health impacts on the surrounding communities. 

But it is a good start -- as is the governor’s reiteration of a commitment to conduct a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review of the cleanup process. 

In disbursing these funds, the state is banking on Exide to reimburse them for the costs of the cleanup. The extent to which that will be possible remains to be seen. In its own study conducted last summer, Exide downplayed its responsibility for lead contamination in the areas surrounding the Vernon plant, declaring that, beyond the immediate footprint of the facility, “Exide’s estimated contributions to soil lead concentrations are no longer statistically distinguishable from [existing] background concentrations.” 

In layman’s terms, that essentially translates to, “Good luck trying to hold us accountable.” 

For more information on DTSC’s testing and cleanup efforts in the communities near Exide, click here. For full text of the two bills just signed visit http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/. 

Please keep an eye out for a longer-form story on Exide coming soon. In the meanwhile, see our extensive coverage on Exide’s confounding and often confusing case. More about the draft environmental impact report regarding Exide’s closure plan is here.  More about the closure process, the lead testing process, and the challenge of linking Exide to the lead contamination can be found here.  

  • If you’d like to learn about why the community is adamant that state agencies be held accountable for allowing Exide to commit as many environmental crimes as it did, please visit LA.StreetsBlog. 

(Sahra Sulaiman writes for LA Streets Blog  … where this piece was first posted.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

When I Say ‘Midlife,’ Don’t Think ‘Crisis’

TRADE WINDS--I set out to write about those leaked “Panama Papers” that offered a titillating glimpse of how the world’s rich and infamous park their wealth in once secretive offshore safe havens. The topic seemed tailor-made for a column obsessed with the permeability of borders. But I just can’t fake any enthusiasm for such a big non-story. Was it really news to anyone that corrupt autocrats, shady tax dodgers, and plenty of honorable folks who worry about the shaky rule of law in their own countries open accounts and create corporations in places like Panama and the Cayman Islands?

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A New LGBTQ Victory Is a Victory for All of Us: Social Security Admin Does the Right Thing

SOCIAL SECURITY WATCH--Does the government work for us or against us? As the result of a decision by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”), the government is working better for all of us today. For convincing SSA to do the right thing, we should thank Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Representative Mark Takano (D-CA), and 119 of their colleagues. We are also indebted, for this victory, to two effective, dedicated nonprofits, Justice in Aging and the GLBTQ Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), as well as Foley Hoag, LLP, the law firm that assisted them.

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Don't Vote for the Person, Vote for the Party

GELFAND’S WORLD--Years ago, some people would tell me, "I don't vote for the party, I vote for the person." I suppose the idea was that personal goodness outweighed official party allegiance. A few decades ago, there may have been some truth to this. For one thing, there was more room for ideological moderation in either party.

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Geography and the Minimum Wage

NEW GEOGRAPHY--Most commentary on California’s decision to increase the state minimum wage to $15 over time is either along the lines of it being a boon to minimum-wage workers and their families or a disaster for California’s economy. Neither is accurate. Different regions will see different outcomes. Central California, the great valley that runs from Bakersfield to Redding, once again, will bear a disproportionate burden.

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What Do Rich People Want?

EDITOR’S PICK--In legend, F. Scott Fitzgerald remarked to Ernest Hemingway, “The rich are different than you and me.” To which Hemingway supposedly replied, “Yes — they have more money.”

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The Rise of the ‘No Political Party’ Voters and Their Right to Participate in Primaries

GELFAND’S WORLD-It's a truism that political parties are independent, private organizations and enjoy the right to choose their own candidates their own way. It follows that if a state party doesn't want to allow independent voters to participate in a primary, that is its prerogative. At some level, I agree with this argument, since it involves the right to pick your own friends. It's related to the right peaceably to assemble that is stated in the First Amendment.

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Taxes: There Ain’t No Free Lunch … Whiskey Costs Money!

INSURGENCY POLITICS-The Bernie Sanders/Donald Trump election insurgencies are both revolutionary and breathtaking, with those opposing their candidacies outright the victims of their own hypocrisy. How can one complain about the 2000 Gore/Bush elections but be okay with the elections going to Sanders but the delegates to Clinton? How can one complain of the past IRS suppression of conservative/GOP groups and be okay with what happened in Colorado?

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How the Fed is Destroying Our Public Pensions

EASTSIDER-Now I don’t pretend to be the savviest guy on the planet about the financial services industry. Heck, all three of the properties that we bought in the mid-2000’s to guarantee our retirement (thanks to smart financial planners) went down the toilet with the Great Recession.

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How Fox News Unwittingly Destroyed the Republican Party

EDITOR’S PICK--The Republican Party is in a pickle.

The Party itself despises its own two leading presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. This is a remarkable oddity just in itself. But there is good reason for it. Both of these candidates are so extreme and disastrous that they will almost certainly never be able to win a national election for the Republican Party.

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