Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Metcalf: Everything "is going to be OK"

Gabriel Metcalf

Since SPUR's Gabriel Metcalf assured us yesterday---he said it three times!---in an op-ed in the Chronicle that everything is "going to be OK," it's now official: working people, poor people, and everyone who isn't well-off are fucked in a rapidly gentrifying San Francisco.

Metcalf zeros in on our problem: "It's not the economic miracle that's hurting people; it's our housing costs." No shit! As if the cost of housing is not mostly because of the booming city economy!

Metcalf's solution:

We have to let a lot more housing get built, while at the same time investing in affordable housing...the way we have made this place so expensive is that neighborhood after neighborhood, in city after city, decided that they didn't want to be inconvenienced by more traffic or more people or taller buildings.

This is a claim made periodically by Metcalf and his ideological allies, C.W. Nevius and John King. Except for recently in the Mission, there's been no such neighborhood resistance to housing in San Francisco (see this and this).

"Affordable" housing in SF is not affordable for most people.

Metcalf has been selling highrises in San Francisco for a long time:

People love to live in highrises. Rincon Hill and Transbay are the first attempts to create a whole new neighborhood on that concept. I think it's absolutely the right thing to be doing for the environment. Instead of sprawling outward and making people drive, we're going to build homes for people at extremely high density, where they can walk to work and walk to the store and finally grow up and embrace their urbanity.

Metcalf thinks the chronic traffic jam called Octavia Blvd. is somehow leading us to a "transit-rich community":

But replacement of the freeway with surface road along Octavia Boulevard has provided an early manifestation of post-highway land-use policies that could eventually lead to a rehabilitated, transit-rich community. Octavia Boulevard was rebuilt in a way that divides faster-moving from slower-moving traffic with rows of trees in its center. “It’s still an arterial,” said Gabriel Metcalf of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. “But it provides a transition between the car-centered space of the highway and the pedestrian-centered space of The City."

Metcalf tries to look on the bright side:

We're digging a new subway. We're adding bike lanes all over. We've got a bunch of great new buildings going up.

Yes, the wasteful Central Subway boondoggle and big, dumb bike projects on Masonic Avenue and Polk Street. I see a lot of buildings going up, but they're just big, not "great."

Naturally, Metcalf supports the foolish high-speed rail project.

With yesterday's op-ed, Metcalf is in the lead for my Pangloss of the Year award (John King has won it twice: here and here)

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San Francisco: Roommate capital of the US

Thanks to Priceonomics


Cameron on Labour's leader, Jeremy Corbyn

Thanks to Harry's Place



On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin was published on this day 156 years ago.

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Where would Jesus park?

Tim Redmond opposes Sunday parking privileges for church-goers.

The Bay Guardian is returning.

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What really happened in Dallas

Amazon Books

An excerpt in Salon from the new book by San Francisco's David Talbot:

Those resolute voices in American public life that continue to deny the existence of a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy argue that “someone would have talked.” This line of reasoning is often used by journalists who have made no effort themselves to closely inspect the growing body of evidence and have not undertaken any of their own investigative reporting. The argument betrays a touchingly naïve media bias—a belief that the American press establishment itself, that great slumbering watchdog, could be counted on to solve such a monumental crime, one that sprung from the very system of governance of which corporate media is an essential part. The official version of the Kennedy assassination—despite its myriad improbabilities, which have only grown more inconceivable with time—remains firmly embedded in the media consciousness, as unquestioned as the law of gravity.

In fact, many people have talked during the past half of a century—including some directly connected to the plot against Kennedy. But the media simply refused to listen. One of the most intriguing examples of someone talking occurred in 2003, when an old and ailing Howard Hunt began unburdening himself to his eldest son, Saint John.

“Saint,” as his father called him, was a loyal and loving son, who had suffered through the upheavals of the spy’s life, along with the rest of his family. Late one night in June 1972, at the family’s Witches Island home in suburban Maryland, Hunt had frantically woken up his eighteen-year-old son. “I need you to do exactly as I say, and not ask any questions!” said Hunt, who was in a sweaty and disheveled state that his son had never before witnessed. He ordered Saint John to fetch window cleaner, rags, and rubber gloves from the kitchen and to help him rub away fingerprints from a pile of espionage equipment, including cameras, microphones, and walkie-talkies. Later, Saint helped his father stuff the equipment into two suitcases, which they loaded into the trunk of his father’s Pontiac Firebird. Hunt and his son drove through the darkness to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, where the spook got out and tossed the suitcases into the murky water. On the way back home, Hunt told Saint that he had been doing some special work for the White House, and things had gone south.

It was the beginning of the Watergate drama, in which Howard Hunt played a starring role as the leader of the “White House plumbers,” the five burglars who were arrested while breaking into the Democratic Party’s national headquarters. All five of the men had a long history with Hunt, dating back to the earliest days of the underground war against Castro, and at least two—Frank Sturgis and Virgilio Gonzalez—were rumored to have played roles in the Kennedy assassination...

Cited in the Salon excerpt: John Hunt in the Rolling Stone in 2007 and his book, Bond of Secrecy.

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bill Maher on the end of the world

Thanks to Patheos

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Programs for "publicly accessible" art

Do you feel "enriched"?

The City has two Percent for Art programs, in which a percentage of capital project costs are allocated to art. The San Francisco Arts Commission administers the 2 Percent for Art program, which requires that the City’s publicly funded capital projects spend two percent of the project costs on artwork. The Planning Department administers the 1 Percent for Art program, which requires some private developers, mostly in the downtown area, to acquire or commission publicly accessible art equal to one percent of the development’s hard construction costs. The intent of the 1 Percent for Art program was to enrich large building projects with publicly accessible works of art in the downtown area.

There's a whole lot of "enriching" going on, mostly of so-called artists. For the money numbers, see pages 3, 4 and 6 of the Review of Public Arts Programs by the Budget and Legislative Analyst's Office, the subject of a recent SF Examiner story (Development art fee not living up to potential).

Turns out that few downtown developers are contributing to the Public Art Trust Fund. Instead, they can commission art---or "art"---on their own to "enrich" their projects:

For some, it’s a missed opportunity to have desperately needed revenue to counter the displacement of artists and preserve The City’s creative spirit. The revenues could bolster art organizations and assist artists being squeezed by rising real estate costs. If the trend continues, the fund won’t see any of the $19.1 million expected in art fee revenues from 94 developments underway or in the approval process, based on the report by Budget Analyst Harvey Rose. Instead, developers will meet the mandate by paying for on-site art, such as placing sculptures in lobbies, according to the report...[Supervisor]Kim questioned whether a developer installing public art was really a public benefit, since it arguably benefits the development and the community has no say on how those fees are spent, unlike other development fees like transit and open space.

In short, Supervisor Kim and others want a say in how all that money is spent. (It's of course not about the quality of the art that's supposedly "enriching" us, the public.) 

They're going to have to write new legislation to grab some of the money, since there's no reason now for private developers to contribute both to the trust fund and pay for their "art."

The San Francisco Arts Commission's first artist in residence created the piece below:

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Friday, November 20, 2015

"I stand with Paris, but..."

Israel Matsav

By Patrick West on Spiked:

Weasel words abound today. ‘Inappropriate’, ‘hurtful’, ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘problematic’ all sound harmless, but they are snide tools employed to silence voices, words and ideas. They are passive instruments of evasion, cowardice and censorship.

The weasel word of 2015 par excellence has been the simple ‘but’. We heard it after the Charlie Hebdo murders: ‘I condemn violence, and I’m all for free speech, but…’ You know the rest. In the war against the barbarians, the word ‘but’ has become shorthand for ‘it’s the West’s fault’; ‘we are reaping the whirlwind’; or ‘Muslims are all tetchy, mental infants anyhow so we mustn’t provoke them’.

After the most recent slaughter in Paris, ‘but’ has resurfaced from the mouths of liberal-left flagellants, Islamist apologists and students with room-temperature IQs. But what about French foreign policy? But what of our interventions in the Middle East? Didn’t we bring this on ourselves?

It’s all so predictable. So, too, are those who believe that disasters have a hierarchy of grief. ‘I see this whole Paris thing’, one British Muslim told The Times on Tuesday, ‘and think what about Beirut? What about Yemen and Libya and Syria and Palestine? Where are the tears for these places and those people?’

Asking ‘where are the tears for the people in Yemen?’ is like asking ‘Why did you cry when your father died, but not when mine did?’ The closer something is to home, literally and figuratively, the more it’s going to affect you. You or I could have been victims of those attacks. These were people like us: listening to music, eating pizza or watching football on a Friday night out. That’s how shock, horror and disgust work. These are instinctive emotions beyond the governance of reason. And remember that Paris is a global city, and France the most popular tourist destination in the world.

The ultimate defence among those who seek to rationalise Islamism is that it’s ‘perverted’ or ‘twisted’: it’s not ‘true Islam’. One can forgive this argument from Muslims, most of whom are appalled by these gun-toting jihadists who murder in the name of their faith. But it’s not excusable from secular folk who know better. It is another form of evasive servility.

There’s no such thing as ‘twisted Islam’, because there’s no ‘true Islam’ either. Faiths, which have no external referent, are merely what their believers believe them to be. Those kindly, aged Methodists down the road from you are just as Christian as the Crusaders who butchered their way through the Holy Land in the Middle Ages. They just live in a different time and space.

Much of the secular liberal-left and imbecile Twitterati don’t understand or won’t admit to non-material reasons for people’s behaviour. It must be about ‘poverty’ or ‘inequality’. Similarly in sections on the right, there’s the temptation to dismiss these Islamists as inveterate criminals or psychopaths.

Poverty, personality and Western interventionism may be aggravating factors, but they are not the spur to Islamist barbarity. These attacks on Paris were spawned by a sense of righteousness, by a love of power and lust for violence, and the promise of the afterlife.

If this was about poverty and inequality, why aren’t white Frenchmen shooting strangers? If it’s about foreign policy, why do no world leaders, generals and statesmen live under a fatwa, but writers, artists and activists do? What do you think was behind the motives of those who killed people in places where sexes could mingle, drink alcohol and listen to infidel music? Why was the liberal, cosmopolitan 11th arrondissement attacked and not an instrument of the French state? Paris, say IS, is ‘the capital of abominations and perversion, the one that carries the banner of the cross of Europe’.

The West fought alongside Muslims in Afghanistan during the Cold War. Before 9/11 we bombed a Christian country, Serbia, to protect Muslims in Kosovo. Today the attempted genocide of the Yazidis and the destruction of Ancient Syrian temples aren’t ‘our fault’. These actions are the product of a viral ideology possessed of self-righteousness, resentment and a sense of victimhood: the heady ingredients for a hideous mindset that is beyond reason and material considerations...

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Revisiting two planning failures: The de Young Museum and Octavia Blvd.

Herzog de Meuron's mistake

In the last week, the Chronicle's John King has revisited two significant city planning failures of the past ten years: the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and Octavia Boulevard in Hayes Valley. 

King fell in love with the awful Octavia Blvd. long before it was completed, and he defended the boxy, warehouse-like de Young building as "a splash of innovation in the staid local architecture scene." (See also this and this.)

King only mentions the de Young in passing but has this to say about designers and planners:

The familiar is the sense that today's world is being sold a bill of goods by design professionals who pontificate as if only they can see tomorrow---the ones who roll out chilly glass towers as a hot trend...

King was an early buyer of the highrise bill of goods and was still buying it a few years ago.

But Octavia Blvd. is the failure that has had the most horrendous impact. Shortly after Octavia Blvd. opened to traffic, it was carrying more than 45,000 motor vehicles a day through the Hayes Valley neighborhood to and from the freeway connection on Market Street.

Like other defenders of Octavia Blvd., King likes to conflate taking down the Central Freeway over Hayes Valley with taking down the Embarcadero freeway:

Getting rid of a freeway in an often-gridlocked region might sound foolhardy---it took the Loma Prieta earthquake to nudge San Francisco to raze the elevated freeways along the Embarcadero and through Hayes Valley that neighbors hated but drivers relied on.

But tearing down those freeway overpasses resulted in completely different outcomes: the Embarcadero already had a wide boulevard and was never primarily a residential neighborhood, while the Central Freeway used to take 90,000 cars a day over the Hayes Valley neighborhood, but now Octavia Blvd. brings 63,000 vehicles a day through the middle of the neighborhood.

Octavia Blvd. now creates area-wide traffic gridlock in that part of town for most of the day even before the 1,000 new residents occupy UC's massive housing project a block off Octavia.

More John King on Octavia Blvd: here, here, here, and here.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Evil in our time: Teaching children how to kill


Public opinion in 1939

Foundation for Economic Education


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Colbert tries to convert Maher


Expanding bike share at no cost to taxpayers?

Bikeshare's social equity problem

From a Bay Area Bike Share op-ed in this morning's Chronicle:

The Bay Area’s bike-share system is poised for dramatic expansion. It will come at no cost to taxpayers, thanks to an innovative public-private partnership led by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and is supported by the forward-thinking government leaders of the Bay Area.

Heigh ho, our "forward-thinking" leaders are on the march! It remains to be seen how much this system will end up costing taxpayers.

On the other hand, bike share apparently has problems around the world, and San Francisco's system seems to have a habit of ripping off customers.

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Gun craziness in "a pretty typical week"

From the Daily Kos:

Halloween often brings out a little extra gun crazy. In the week ending on October 31st, 27 people accidentally shot themselves. Seventeen kids were accidentally shot, five people accidentally fired their weapons into the homes or property of others, four people accidentally fired guns they were cleaning, three people were accidentally shot at the firing range, and returning to another continuing tradition, two people were accidentally shot at a gun show (the second such accident in three years at the same Idaho venue). There were also five hunting accidents, and six police-involved GunFAILs (resulting in four law enforcement officers shot, along with two bystanders). In other words, a pretty typical week.

But let me tell you about the week’s top crazy. Let’s see. We had a gun selfie injury, a Pennsylvania man shot from over a mile away while walking in his parents’ back yard, a 9-year-old boy shot when an upstairs neighbor accidentally shot himself in the foot in the apartment above, and a Florida man who fired a shotgun in the air during an argument with his girlfriend, only to end up wounding himself in the neck.

We also had a string of three 2-year-olds accidentally shot in a three day period, two of whom fatally shot themselves with guns they found unsecured. The first such incident, incredibly enough, involved a loaded shotgun left on a bedside night table in an in-home daycare. Turn that one over in your mind for a minute.

And from the “maybe you just weren’t cut out for this gun thing” files, we have the Cortez, Colorado woman who, apparently frightened by someone at the front door, accidentally shot herself in the foot with a .45 caliber pistol, then sent a second accidentally discharged round through an interior wall, luckily just missing her sleeping roommate. The capper? She’d already accidentally shot herself in the same foot earlier this year.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

The liberal/prog failure on terrorism

Like a lot of liberals, Hillary is in a muddle about defining who we are fighting. Why she can't just say "radical Islam" is mystifying, as if it's not obvious to everyone that not all Muslims are terrorists. 

But she is willing to say "radical jihadists." Since radical jihadists are all Muslims, it's a distinction without a difference. Maybe she's still in a cautious mode about terminology that being Secretary of State required when dealing with the Middle East. In spite of her semantic muddle in last night's debate, Hillary will surely be good on opposing terrorism when she's president.

Not all Muslims are terrorists, but almost all terrorists are now Muslims. Why should that be a controversial thing to say? Because to many liberals and progressives Muslims are part of their great rainbow, multicultural political coalition and any criticism of Islam must be muted or even feared, as if some great pogrom is likely to be launched against everyone of that faith. The FBI reports that hasn't happened in the US; black people, Jews, and gays are by a wide margin still the leading targets of haters. [Later: The FBI also reports that it has 900 open investigations of ISIS-type activities in the US.]

As I've pointed out before, many American liberals and progressives seem to assume that all the bad things happening in the world can be traced back to the United States. Somehow the massacre in Paris the other day is our fault and somehow Muslims in France are now victims!

Closer to home, look at the reaction to the Paris massacre on local blogs and websites as of 5:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon: 48 Hills, nothing. Beyond Chron, silence. Fog City Journal: more nothing. Hoodline, nothing. San Francisco Citizen, nada. SF Weekly, a story about Uber boosting rates in Paris during the slaughter. SF1st at least has a notice about a vigil in support of the people of Paris.

Recall the shameful silence in the local print media during the Danish cartoon crisis, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the silly kerfuffle over the anti-jihad ads on Muni buses. Dumb and clueless about the most important conflict in the world today.

See also this, this, this, and this.

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Bill Maher reminds white people they've still got It good

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Reality check in Paris

The late Christopher Hitchens warned us years ago about the reality we are facing:

What nobody in authority thinks us grown-up enough to be told is this: We had better get used to being the civilians who are under a relentless and planned assault from the pledged supporters of a wicked theocratic ideology. These people will kill themselves to attack hotels, weddings, buses, subways, cinemas, and trains. They consider Jews, Christians, Hindus, women, homosexuals, and dissident Muslims (to give only the main instances) to be divinely mandated slaughter victims. Our civil aviation is only the most psychologically frightening symbol of a plethora of potential targets. The future murderers will generally not be from refugee camps or slums (though they are being indoctrinated every day in our prisons); they will frequently be from educated backgrounds, and they will often not be from overseas at all. They are already in our suburbs and even in our military. We can expect to take casualties. The battle will go on for the rest of our lives. Those who plan our destruction know what they want, and they are prepared to kill and die for it (emphasis added).

Thousands of Deadly Islamic Terror Attacks Since 9/11

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Obama on the Paris attack

Gee, I wonder who is responsible for the attack? Could it be adherents of "the Religion that preaches Peace"?

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Katie Couric tours Planned Parenthood clinic

Thanks to Salon

Bias on the left

We rightly mock right-wing Fox News for its "fair and balanced" claim, but the left-wing Alternet, though not making a similar claim, often shows a crude bias, like this story (Poll Shocker: Bernie Sanders Leads Trump and Bush by Double Digits):

In the latest McClatchy-Marist poll, Sanders outpolls GOP frontrunner Donald Trump and establishment candidate Jeb Bush. Against Trump, Sanders leads 53 to 41. Against Bush, Sanders leads by 10 points, 51 to 41. The Vermont senator's lead is particularly large among voters 18 to 29; there, he leads Bush 57 to 38. Even among some of the most conservative voters in the country, in the South, he leads Bush 46 to 45.

What about Hillary? When you read the poll story on McClatchy, you learn that "Bernie Sanders lags far behind Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination for president..." 

Sanders is 22 points behind Hillary, to be exact---and she would beat Trump by 15 points.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/election/article44496063.html#storylink=cpy

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We got the bastard!

Jihad John shortly before he beheaded James Foley

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

High-speed slaughter at Hormel

Thanks to the Huffington Post


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

More on that Geary BRT meeting

I'm posting this video again to point out why the SFCTA didn't allow members of the public to stand up and have a say on the Geary BRT project: they didn't want a repeat of the public relations debacle like the meeting Ed Reisner and the MTA had in 2013 on the Polk Street bike project, when people from the neighborhood booed and hooted at Reisner's presentation.

The SFCTA is another city agency dedicated to "improving" city streets with various anti-car projects. The SFCTA has long pushed the idea of Congestion Pricing---charging people when they drive downtown---though that idea is very unpopular with city voters. That doesn't mean it won't happen. Like the Bicycle Plan, it will be done without ever being on the ballot, where it would be rejected by city voters.

There's growing opposition to tearing down the footbridges over Geary as part of the BRT project: see this, this, and this. Later: see also this.

And a typical Examiner story on the project by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez, who talks only to city officials in support of the project, which is what he also did on the Masonic Avenue bike project.

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U.S. Soccer: New rules to prevent concussions

See also this, this, and this.

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Olague "turned on the mayor"?

Matier & Ross perpetuate a myth about Christina Olague's short stint as District 5 supervisor:

Pak and other Chinatown activists saw the selection[of Julie Christensen] as a slap in the face. The mayor’s advisers felt confident about the move, saying it showed Lee — still reeling from the Pak-backed appointment of Supervisor Christina Olague, who had later turned on the mayor — was independent and thinking of the city as a whole rather than catering to one group.

Olague's sin in the eyes of City Hall, C.W. Nevius, and Randy Shaw: her vote to allow Mirkarimi to be sheriff. The assumption was that, since she was appointed by the mayor, she was obligated to vote how Mayor Lee wanted her to vote on important issues.

Olague surely understood that she was already in a deep political hole in District 5 just because she supported Mayor Lee and was appointed by the "moderate" mayor to represent one of the most left-wing districts in the city.

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Santa Clara 49ers losing fans

NBC Bay Area

Thanks to SF1st.com


Monday, November 09, 2015

Individual jihad comes to UC Merced

It's been happening for some time now. An individual Muslim with no known organizational links goes on a rampage, often with a gun, which inflicts the most casualties. But the "stabbing jihad" is now fashionable among the homicidal/suicidal Islamic fanatics, probably because knives are a lot easier to get than guns.

The authorities express puzzlement about the motives of the fanatic. Sometimes the bafflement is genuine, but it's often bogus, even when the attacker makes his motives explicit. The media usually plays along with the charade (Stephen Coughlin explains how this works).

The Chronicle's story on the Merced attack is typical ("Tragedy unites UC Merced," November 8, Nanette Asimov. I can't find this story at SF Gate or on the E-edition. My citations are to the hard-copy edition of the Sunday Chronicle.)

Students and officials reacted as if the incident was essentially a public relations problem for the Merced campus: 

A student: "It could have happened anywhere...the students here are fine about their school, so we should also be fine about it," and another: "This is bringing us closer...It can happen anywhere." 

And another:

He said that even though some commenters on social media have blamed the attacker's actions on his Muslim faith, prejudice would not win out..."Not one of the 6,000 students here is showing any sign of hatred. Some even view the (attacker) as a victim of some social issue."

It's not necessary to "hate" Islam after one of these attacks, since the attacker is responsible (A Merced source claims that the attacker was known to the authorities as an extremist). 

On the other hand, why ignore what the attacker himself made explicit? From Associated Press in the Examiner:

[Sheriff]Warnke said Mohammad’s plan was written in English and referenced the Muslim god Allah several times. But Warnke said the student was motivated by personal animosities and the attacks had nothing to do with religion or terrorism.

Sounds like religion to me. We don't need to wage some kind of pogrom against Muslims, but we do need to face reality.

Once again I post Christopher Hitchens' warning about what we face for the foreseeable future:
We had better get used to being the civilians who are under a relentless and planned assault from the pledged supporters of a wicked theocratic ideology. These people will kill themselves to attack hotels, weddings, buses, subways, cinemas, and trains. They consider Jews, Christians, Hindus, women, homosexuals, and dissident Muslims (to give only the main instances) to be divinely mandated slaughter victims. Our civil aviation is only the most psychologically frightening symbol of a plethora of potential targets. The future murderers will generally not be from refugee camps or slums (though they are being indoctrinated every day in our prisons); they will frequently be from educated backgrounds, and they will often not be from overseas at all. They are already in our suburbs and even in our military. We can expect to take casualties. The battle will go on for the rest of our lives. Those who plan our destruction know what they want, and they are prepared to kill and die for it. Those who don't get the point prefer to whine about "endless war"...

Thanks to Jihad Watch

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Public opposition to Geary BRT project 11/5/15

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Sunday, November 08, 2015

Carl Sagan

Thanks to Patheos.

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Saturday, November 07, 2015

No private investment in high-speed rail

California Common Sense

Chris Reed
City Journal
4 November 2015

California’s politicians keep pretending private investors want in on the state’s silly bet on high-speed rail.

In November 2008, California voters narrowly approved Proposition 1A, which provided $9.95 billion in government money for a statewide bullet-train network. The initiative passed, even though the California High-Speed Rail Authority had been legally required to release a detailed, updated business plan by October 1 of that year, so that voters would have time to learn exactly how the state planned to finance what was then billed as a $43 billion project—and no updated plan was in view. Rail officials failed even to release a preliminary report before the election, claiming that state legislators’ long delay in passing the fiscal 2008–09 budget made doing so impossible.

Within days of Prop. 1A’s passage, however, the High-Speed Rail Authority at last released the plan. Just as critics had predicted, the document insisted that private investment would be easy to come by. All investors needed, the plan said, was “financial and political commitments from state officials that government would share the risks to their participation.” 

In other words, if California promised that taxpayers would guarantee ridership and revenue, then investors would come flocking. The problem? Prop. 1A explicitly banned taxpayer subsidies for the bullet-train project. Had the business plan been released before the election, it would have undercut the “no-downside” narrative offered by the project’s political champions, including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Since then, rail-authority leaders have continued to pretend that massive private investment is just around the corner. Initially, these claims were buttressed by vague generalizations. In recent years, however, the authority has tried to suggest that contractors interested in working on the now-$68 billion project might also be willing to help finance it. Most reporters on the state government beat have swallowed these claims uncritically. A July 2014 San Jose Mercury-News story noted that “a deal that will send the project hundreds of millions of dollars a year in fees collected from polluters is the signal the private sector was waiting for.” 

But here’s what the coverage usually leaves out: the private-sector companies sniffing around the bullet-train project never invest without government promises to step in if things don’t go according to plan.

Only Ralph Vartabedian of the Los Angeles Times appears to understand that the project probably won’t get the funding it needs without taxpayer subsidies. “Major construction, equipment and engineering firms around the world, responding to a solicitation to form a partnership with the California high-speed rail project, have raised serious concerns about the state’s shortage of funding, the potential need for long-term operating subsidies and whether the project can meet the current construction schedule,” he reported last month. “The appeal for financial and technical partners drew responses from across Europe, Asia and the U.S. But none of the companies expressed a readiness to invest their own money, and some included reservations about the risks.”

Vartabedian’s analysis, and his paper’s in-depth look at the bullet-train project detailing how state rail-authority officials buried a report predicting a $9 billion cost overrun on the initial 300-mile segment, have shaken up California public-policy circles. The Times coverage seems certain to trigger legislative hearings. State Senate president Kevin de León, a Los Angeles Democrat, has already expressed his skepticism about the project, as has Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who wants to be governor. 

What was shaping up as one of the world’s biggest government boondoggles might yet be averted at a cost of only a few billion—which sounds like a bargain, compared with digging the financial hole still deeper.

Chris Reed is an editorial writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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Friday, November 06, 2015

Getting Berkeley wrong

2211 Harold Way

Becky O'Malley
November 06, 2015

If you’re lucky enough to have skipped J-School, and are one of the many Berkeley residents who have dropped their subscription to the San Francisco Chronicle, you just might want to take a look at a text-book example of lazy journalism in this morning’s issue: Berkeley Plaza housing needed, but meets with resistance

(Good luck, however, navigating their lame pay wall. I’ve been a subscriber for forty years, and I still have to reset my password EVERY SINGLE TIME I try to read it online.)

Columnist Chip Johnson has authored a classic single-source story, in which he appears to have talked only to the clever developer’s shill who’s fronting for the luxury housing development which has been approved by Berkeley’s developer-dominated Zoning Adjustment Board. He doesn’t even seem to know what the relationship of proponent Mark Rhoades is to the property owner, for example. 

He says that Rhoades is “the principal in the Rhoades Planning Group, which holds the contract for the Berkeley Plaza development.” Well, yes, Mark’s the front man, but the applicant is Hill Street Properties of Los Angeles, whose principal is a guy named Joseph Penner, who specializes in flipping entitled project sites. What “holds the contract” means to Chip is anyone’s guess. I don’t expect he has much business experience.

If he were a real reporter, which he’s not, he might have talked to some of the people who oppose the plan, or maybe even come to a meeting or two—after all, there were more than 30 of them. If he’d been at the last couple of ZAB meetings he might have noticed that at least one of the board members who voted against the project was clearly under 30, probably under 25. Instead, he bought into Rhoades’ pejorative characterization of opponents as “grey pony tails.” 

And by the way, Chip, the quote is “don’t trust anyone over 30,” not “over 40,” an error for which he seems to blame architecture critic John King, who’s not that dumb. 

While we’re on the subject of errors, let’s also notice that Chip locates this project as being near “the Ashby BART station.” Well, it’s true that BART stations in Berkeley are fairly close together, but someone who’s actually been here (which doesn’t seem to include Chip) might say that the building would actually be near the Downtown Berkeley BART station. Facts, facts, facts—it appears that Chronicle columnists these days are allowed to be immune to facts. 

Then there’s this quote: 

It’s exactly the kind of growth that progressives across the Bay Area have been screaming for for more than a decade — and now it doesn’t meet Berkeley’s architectural standards. This is an old story in Berkeley, and the lengths to which preservationists have gone to maintain historic buildings, which includes reducing original walls to paper-thin facades, are too often petty and frivolous.

Okay, Chronicle editors, if there still are any. I challenge anyone who’s still sentient at the old paper to produce even a single Berkeley instance of reducing original walls to paper-thin facades.” Makes a handy cheap rhetorical flourish, but it’s just not true. You could even ask John King if you don’t believe me. 

And then there’s that claim that “It’s exactly the kind of growth that progressives across the Bay Area have been screaming for for more than a decade.” No, Chip, evidently you don’t even read the Chronicle. That would be what progressives have been screaming about, not screaming for. 

Surely you noticed, in the recent San Francisco election, the substantial opposition to exactly this kind of “luxury market-rate” (translation: pricey) building, when what’s needed is affordable housing. Seems to me there was some kind of ballot measure about this, wasn’t there, which came pretty close to passing, didn’t it? Supported by progressives, remember? 

Another fast and loose with facts example: “from 1970 to 1995 they built only 600 new housing units,” Rhoades said.” Chip fell for the oldest trick in the “How to Lie with Statistics” book. Rhoades, as any 10th grade math student could tell you, deliberately selected the economic period of lowest growth. 1995 was twenty years ago—the relevant question is what’s been built since. 

From an excellent piece by Tom Hunt: “Over the last 8 years Berkeley has added only 14% of the housing goals set by the regional Plan Bay Area for moderate income and below but has added 89% of the goal for households making more than $92,566 (Above Moderate Income). If we don't build 1116 units of affordable housing before we build 125 above moderate income units, we won't build our way out of the affordable housing hole we're in.” Hey, Chip, take a look at these figures

And finally we come to the identified opinion part of Johnson’s rant. As a columnist, he’s hired to be opinionated, so we can’t quibble when he is. But we can call his opinions stupid if we want to, and we do. 

He opines:

The Berkeley Plaza project is a worthy, needed project packed with many perks included in the community benefits package offered by the developer. It’s a good deal for the city that includes a $6 million payment to the city’s affordable housing efforts and a pledge to refurbish the 10-screen Shattuck Theater, an anchor entertainment venue on Berkeley’s main thoroughfare. 

Six million dollars? Oh, come on. 

In an area where the median home price is now hovering above a million, just how many affordable homes would this project provide? 

As anyone who reads what passes for the Berkeley press—either berkeleydailyplanet.com or berkeleyside.com—knows, this particular project has been given a very special break on the in-lieu payment that the Berkeley city planning department is offering for all market-rate projects like this. And the developers will be allowed to pay up on the $6 million not when the $86 million building is permitted, as they’d have to do in San Francisco, but when it’s occupied, 3-5 years hence...

The Berkeley Daily Planet

An earlier post on this issue.