Friday, 29 June 2007

Public Art, or Public Eyesore?

You be the judge.

The fountain in Justin Herman Plaza. This was obviously a very cynical criticism of the area when the fountain was installed with the horrific concrete eyesore that was the Embarcadero Freeway as its backdrop. It brings to mind a kind of an "Escape from New York", or "Soylent Green" harkening back of that particular decade's view of Armageddon. It is a vile piece of trash, somebody please dispose of this.

"Cupid's Span" on the Embarcadero. It is cartoonish, and its ridiculously-scaled proportions do nothing to invite the viewer. This belongs in Disney Land, if anywhere. I'd like to take a crossbow and let an arrow fly at the person responsible for this crap. The artist? Well, he has to live with this on his conscience – that should be sufficient punishment.

I saved the worst for last. This horrid nightmare stands in the foreground of what is actually a beautiful steel structure – The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. What the heck is it? It is frightening. I call it "The Hideous Sea-Zombies". Would someone please set off a couple grenades under its feet? Could it be temporary? Please let it be taken away soon!

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

The Occasion of Sin

This from the BBC.

Pedestrian Street Closures

Act Locally SF has an interesting article here. Thought I'd bring us back to the main topic.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

3 Candidates; 3 Great Ideas

I guess I'm a Libertarian socialist. I think that anytime power is concentrated it inevitably corrupts, whether it be corporate corruption or government corruption. Quite frankly, it is getting ever more challenging to draw that line between big government and corporate dicta. Our founding fathers had a pretty good idea of what tyranny looks like, and the inspired document upon which our democracy was founded does a pretty good job of limiting government powers and ensuring a balance between powers exists. Now, if only we would attempt to follow the U.S. Constitution!

Problem is, most Americans don't even know that they're living under tyranny as we watch these fabricated, controlled and manipulated "debates", by the same corporate media that continue to sell us a bill of goods seeking to perpetuate a fictitious "war on terror". Truthfully, there is no debate in this country, because the "top contenders" all essentially agree on the basics; in other words, they all openly defy the very premises of our Constitution and what a democracy should look like.

Nonetheless, there are three candidates of substance, and three ideas from each that I would like to elucidate. Firstly, there is the idea of allowing the citizenry control over their money:

Rep. Ron Paul is obviously a Libertarian at heart. He is a principled and intelligent man who is opposed to tyranny here and abroad. As much as I consider myself a liberal, progressive, democrat or socialist (and all those adjectives apply under various conditions), I think Rep. Paul might actually do the most to restore our dying democracy. I honestly believe that the fundamental means of restoring democracy is a redistribution of wealth. Whoa!, you say – you don't mean to refer to a communist revolution? Not at all. The way you restore wealth is by abolishing the Federal Reserve and returning to a gold and silver standard. This puts real money back in the hands of the citizenry, and effectively empowers them. This is not an easy thing to accomplish, since it had taken the banking interests roughly sixty years, a great depression and two world wars to wrest our monetary system away from us, and since that time they have been keeping the financial bubble inflated for the past thirty years by creating credit-based economies. This cannot continue indefinitely, however. History has shown that fiat currency can never succeed, as well as it should not since it is intrinsically immoral (it is theft, pure and simple).

Some of my peers have expressed concern over Rep. Paul's assertion of State's rights, by mentioning Jim Crow laws that existed in the South, and the struggle for Civil Rights in the sixties. I think it is a fallacy to attribute the attainment of equal rights to a strong centralized government's insistence upon them. It is fairly clear to me that the Bill of Rights guarantees civil liberties to all men (and women). The individual States must adhere to the overarching Constitution that binds them. In other words, I do not believe that a large, bureaucratic centralized government is any more efficient, democratic or equitable than local and state governments.

Now, all that said…I do believe that the Federal government can be utilized democratically to ensure that certain standards are adhered to. We are living in a different time than when the founding fathers put their pens to parchment. They certainly did not face the specters of global warming and the destruction of the ecosystem, nuclear warfare, corporate globalization nor technological revolutions on a decade by decade basis. Nonetheless, I think we can continue to follow the basic premises of the U.S. Constitution to ensure we do not live under tyranny. Yet the centralized federal government, with the citizenry fully involved along with their representatives in Congress, under complete transparency of operation is able to achieve things that local and state governments, individuals and entrepreneurs cannot do separately. For example, we have the interstate highway system. And then there were the Apollo space missions.

I personally believe that large, fully funded projects that rebuild our manufacturing base are sorely needed to put a shot in the arm of our atrophied economy. They must be pioneering designs which wean us off of fossil fuels and create a more just and equitable future for our progeny. I do not envision any other means of accomplishing such massive projects than a centrally funded and directed campaign led primarily by our democratically elected government. I do not think we can afford to wait for the private sector to patch together a solution to climate change! My pet favorites are the creation of car-free zones in metropolitan areas, the creation of car-free cities, national high speed rail, revamping local transit systems, cleaner and safer nuclear energy and other renewable energy sources. This type of infrastructure will build the economy and support it for generations. This is where Rep. Paul and I diverge – he does not see the value of "big government". I am leery of it too, but I think as long as we have a voice, and as long as government seeks the greater good, wonderful things can be accomplished. These projects should be fully funded without credit (credit-based economies being dissolved), and the government bodies and corporate interests must be limited in size and scope once the infrastructure is put in place, which is only possible when you've got an educated, engaged and empowered citizenry.

The next idea of real value comes from retired Senator Mike Gravel. This is the Fair Tax, and the abolishment of the IRS:

This would not require repealing the questionably constitutional 16th amendment, which essentially allows the federal government the ability to levy direct, unapportioned tax on individual incomes. Yet I think it best to repeal it, since it is so repugnant to the ideals of a free society. The 16th amendment was questionably ratified right at the same time we instituted the Federal Reserve. The federal income tax goes to pay the interest on the federal reserve. Not one penny goes to fund government programs. I could write for chapters about this subject, but I think we can safely say that the IRS is wholly contrary to the spirit of our Constitution and the intent of our founding fathers. The IRS demands transparency from the citizenry, but we are not allowed the same favor. In other words, the IRS has the ability to peer into our private lives where we are required to divulge where we earned every penny, but we have no way of auditing them, or seeing where our taxes go. There is no law in existence, by the way, that requires you to even file a 1040 form. And how does one define income? Income traditionally has implied profits, so working for an employer and earning a wage is not "income", it is fair trade. Is it not? Ironically, it is the very wealthy who actually have "incomes" that are able to weasel their way out of paying income tax due to the myriad loopholes that exist in the tax code. But why should that surprise us? A "fair tax" would be placed on goods and services, so that the more one spends, the more tax one pays. Such a code encourages savings and investment. In order to protect the poorer segments of society, the government would issue prebate checks that pay back the tax paid on essentials. Since the federals reserve system would no longer exist, these tax earnings could be used to directly fund government spending. With all due transparency, the citizenry could then decide where the money is best spent. Senator Gravel also has a plan for direct involvement of citizenry along with our representatives in Congress. These are great ideas for wresting back our democracy and empowering the citizenry. One could expect to see revolutionary changes.

The third idea is from Rep. Dennis Kucinich; it is the repeal of NAFTA, GATT and other "free trade" agreements in favor of fair trade:

These trade pacts are not free trade at all. They have done more to destroy the middle class than the institution of fiat paper currency and individual income tax combined, by sending our high paying jobs overseas. These agreements have also ensured that our national sovereignty is diluted to insignificance. We fought for generations to ensure that we receive equitable pay and benefits through collective bargaining. We have fought for workplace safety and environmental protections. What good is that if big business can move next door and open up factories that require none of those considerations? Ever notice how everything is manufactured in China as of late? Do you think that is just coincidental? China is a totalitarian regime, by the way. How does one compete with that, exactly? And what about small business and individual entrepreneurs? You can forget about that in the global market. We now have an entire class of underemployed and underpaid citizenry.

If you don't realize that the real war that is being waged right now is a "class war", then you are deluded. This has been the real war for almost a century, and it was going on long before that. Yet since 1913 we have been loosing big time. We must wake up and take action before it is too late. The banking cartel will not stop until we are fully under their control. You might think this is an alarmist statement bordering on that of the conspiracy lunatics, but I assure you it is exactly what will transpire if we do not act soon to take back our country. One day you and I could be implanted with chips that allow us to make all our trade and economic transactions without paper money. There will be plenty of people that love the idea. But what that means is every transaction you make will be recorded and your every movement will be tracked. If you do anything to upset the interests of the banking cartel, they will simply turn off your chip and you will not be able to buy or sell. It is brilliant in its simplicity. Resistance will be futile.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Unconstitutional: The War on Civil Liberties. Part 3 of 3

Part Trois

Unconstitutional: The War on Civil Liberties. Part 2 of 3

Part Deux

Unconstitutional: The War on Civil Liberties. Part 1 of 3

The Patriot Act has made us more vulnerable to terrorism, and simultaneously instituted state-sponsored terrorism in the USA. It is one of the most execrable violations of our Constitution and deserves to be abolished in its entirety.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Bush's "Magic" Economic Formula


AlterNet: Bush's "Magic" Economic Formula: The Rich Get Richer; Regular People Lose Ground
By Larry Beinhart, AlterNet
Posted on June 4, 2007, Printed on June 8, 2007

Supposedly we are in a sustained economic recovery and have been since 2002.

Part of this is Bush hot air and the Republican Noise Machine, which the media quotes verbatim.

By a certain measure, however, it's real.

The economy has grown. Corporate profits are at an all-time high. Average income is up. There's lots of money around.

But the recovery has some really strange features. Oddities never before seen in a recovery.

Jobs: During Bush's first term the US actually lost private-sector jobs.

It finally improved in 2005, and now job creation is almost keeping pace with the increase in population. Still, over all, it's the worst record since Hoover, the fellow who presided over the onset of the Great Depression.

How do you have a recovery without creating jobs?

Income: Yes, average income is up during the tenure of the current administration.

The joke about average income is: Bill Gates walks into a bar. The average income of every person in the room immediately goes up 10,000 percent.

But median income, the amount that people in the middle of the group earn, barely budges. So let's look at that figure. Median income is down. The average person makes less now than when Bush came into office.

Not only that, the downward pressure on wages is no longer just a blue-collar issue, it's moved up to white-collar workers, the educated classes, even doctors.

How do you have a recovery when people are making less than before the recovery?

Cost of living: Key factors of the cost of living are much higher than they were six years ago.

In particular, fuel is up 100 percent, higher education costs are up about 44 percent, health care premiums are up 80 percent, and affordable housing is scarce.

Normally, when the cost of living goes up, we have inflation. But we've had low inflation during the Bush years.

How can the cost of living go up while the cost of money stays low?

Here's the most peculiar statistic of all: the Dow Jones index

You may have been hearing that the Dow Jones Index is at an all-time high. It's true. However, it is only 16 percent higher than the day George Bush came into office. By comparison, when Clinton left office the Dow was 320 percent higher than when he came into office.

It's a very rough measure of course, and there are many others. But by that measure, during the Clinton years investment in America's leading business had grown more than three times over. Under Bush it's only grown 16 percent in six years. Since the consumer price index is up 18 percent over the same period, when the new all-time high is adjusted for inflation, growth is effectively below zero.

How can there be a "recovery" in which not even businesses grow?

When a government wants an economy to grow, it throws money at it.

The administration did that with spending on pharmaceuticals, homeland security, and a couple of wars. But their most important weapon of choice was tax cuts for the rich, especially on unearned income, capital gains, inheritance, dividends, and interest.

This was sold, and accepted, on the myth that the rich -- the investing class -- are the most creative and daring members of our society. Just unleash them and they will march off into the wilderness -- actual, urban, or cyber -- with sacks of cash over their shoulders and they will build things!

Factories! Airlines! Housing! Toys! Computers! Undreamed wonders! Entire new civilizations! With jobs! jobs! jobs! Like an Ayn Rand novel!

But that's not what happened.

Because a shortage of cash was not the problem. The country, the world, is awash with cash.

The good, old, risk for rewards version of capitalism -- the burghers invest in a daring sea captain sailing to the Indies -- still exists. In recent years, it's given us FedEx, Wal-Mart, Apple, Microsoft, and Google.

But alongside it, over the last 50 years, the economy of credit has grown up.

In vastly oversimplified terms the credit economy works like this:

You own a house. It's worth $100,000.

Someone buys the house, no money down. They borrow that money. Let's say it's a straight-line 8 percent, 30-year mortgage. Forget closing costs, points, and any other complications -- that's a $220,000 debt. It goes on the bank's books as an asset.

Now you have $100,000. The bank has $220,000 (on paper). The buyer has a house worth $100,000. The bank has a lien on it, but the buyer will be gaining equity, plus he can get a second mortgage and home-improvement and other loans on it.

Again, this is a vast oversimplification, but that transaction has "created" something like $420,000 that is now "in play," as part of the economy.

No "thing" has been created -- no new business, no product, no jobs, no idea, no intellectual property, no entertainment.

But money has been created.

If you buy a dress on your Visa card or organize a consortium to buy a company, the same thing happens -- debt creates money. In every transaction, there's profit to be taken off the top.

A perfect example of the transformation of our society into a credit economy is the change in the way we finance higher education. States, and even cities, used to be in the business of building universities that were free, or nearly so. These were financed, up front, with tax money as an investment in our human infrastructure. Then, in 1965, the student loan program was invented. This changed the higher education business into a debt creation business and created a whole new creditor class, college graduates, who, were handed, along with their diploma, debts of ten to fifty thousand dollars or more.

The number one industry in America today is the money business -- debt swapping. In a closed economy, that might have a positive effect, as people look for something to do with their money.

Not, perhaps, as a general rule, but in an economy like ours, handing out money to rich people is the least effective way to make a healthier, stronger economy that benefits society as a whole. There are two reasons.

The first is that the Ayn Rand fantasy is a fantasy. For the most part, when people with millions of dollars get an extra hundred thousand, or several hundreds of thousands, or even millions, they invest it passively, in financial instruments and real estate.

So we get, for example, a real estate bubble. Which is worse that a bubble because a bubble is symptomatic of the excitement of investing in new, high risk, but high reward enterprises that are producing new things. A housing bubble is symptomatic of lots of money floating around with nowhere productive to go. The other reason is that insofar as investment does go into business, in terms of our society, there's a hole in the bucket. The hole is called globalization.

I'm writing this on a Mac. When I bought it, the money went through American Express (which took a few points) to Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, California, where Steve Jobs dipped in his ladle, then the rest poured out though the hole in the bottom to China, where it was actually made.

That's the economy that the statistics describe.

Lots of money is moving. As it passes through the company, the company profits. The company isn't going to build anything, so profits are spent on executive compensation. The actual work is outsourced (the money flows out), and no jobs are created. Nor does the actual business grow very much either, except as a middle man, taking American money and passing it on to foreign businesses (and oil producers).

At the same time, this creates downward pressure on normal working people.

Remember those old movies, with 200 men at the factory gate? A foreman inside with three jobs to give out, saying, "You. You. And you. The rest of you, go home." Those three lucky stiffs didn't demand health insurance, pensions, or job security.

Now it's India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, the Philippines, Mexico, Honduras, China, Korea, and many others at the gate. American companies tell their workers they have to be competitive. Not only do wages go down, but benefits begin to disappear.

This is combined strong anti-union and anti-worker efforts by government, supporting the anti-union and anti-worker efforts of major corporations.

This may be bad for America as a society, but the people in the money business love it.

Indeed, it is the trick that makes Bushenomics work for people in the money business. That includes anyone who invests in financial instruments. The problem with pumping out money -- printing money -- is that it can create inflation. Money lenders hate inflation. If I loan out money at 8% and by the time the creditor pays it back, inflation is up 8%, then my profit is zero. The profit margin in lending is -- in a significant part -- the difference between the rate of the loan and the rate of inflation.

Really high inflation, and worse, runaway inflation, is, of course, a threat to everyone. But moderate inflation, with rising wages, favors debtors and hurts creditors.

So how can you pump out money while keeping inflation down?

In Bushenomics you do it by keeping a lid on earned income. Even driving it down. Millions upon millions of people earning a little bit less take away from the pressure of a few people earning millions upon millions more.

That, along with, the flood of low cost goods from low wage countries, helps balance out the inflationary pressure of rising costs in certain particular industries, like oil, health care and higher education.

It's not a question of conservatism vs. liberalism. Of government vs. free markets. All economies are, of necessity, mixed. All governments are concerned with the wealth of their nation. Government decisions will always effect how business operates. The question is, does the way government spends and invests create a sounder and healthier society? Or does it merely make certain sectors and classes rich, while hollowing out our economy?

If we are to invest public funds -- through government borrowing or spending or through simply spending tax revenues -- we have to be aware that rich people running around with bags of money won't necessarily do what is good for the wealth of our nation. They may run us into bankruptcy, the way the smartest guys in the room ran Enron into bankruptcy.

Larry Beinhart is the author of Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, 7 June 2007

Saturday, 2 June 2007

When the Formula is Right…

Yet lacking any character, surprise or nuance whatsoever.

Every other realtively cheaply built house looks like every other relatively cheaply built house. You think we could abandon this total lack of creative vision? Had the architects designed some varying styles, and had the budgets allowed the addition of some architectural features, like bay windows, as well as materials that provide a sense of permanence and affluence, this project would have engaged imaginations rather than squandered yet another opportunity to provide better alternatives to sprawl. And finally, why is everything painted the same damn color? That is a stroke of institutionalization that is bound to appeal to no one.

A case where the formula is right, yet lack of organic structure, eccentricity, and the element of surprise just leaves our souls dry and thirsty. If you look at nature, you'll see she does this quite well. All we need do is imitate her.

I think they'll probably fill up nicely, however. I for one, should these homes be affordable, would seriously consider moving here. The advantages of having a decent market within the same block as well as being across the street from BART are quite appealing at my age now, not to mention in a decade or two when I will be older. We'll have to wait and see.


Well, I just got off the phone with Sharon, a nice lady who works at the Solaire rental office. Too bad there are no opportunities for home ownership there; they're all rentals. The property seems nice enough however. I was curious about the lower income housing. They have a few 750 square foot one bedroom units available on the low income plan. My partner and I actually qualify for the adjusted rent even though we both work 40 hours per week, but it only saves a couple hundred dollars per month, putting the rent to roughly $1900. I don't think South San Francisco has rent control, so that figure would likely go up each year. Currently we are paying $1275 for rent here in Chinatown for a one bedroom apartment (built in 1922) that is probably slightly larger. We shan't be moving to Solaire Apartments anytime soon.