Zócalo Public SquareZócalo Public Square http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org Ideas Journalism With a Head and a Heart Fri, 20 Oct 2017 23:28:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 Bitcoin Is an Energy-Wasting Ponzi Schemehttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/10/20/bitcoin-energy-wasting-ponzi-scheme/ideas/essay/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/10/20/bitcoin-energy-wasting-ponzi-scheme/ideas/essay/#respond Fri, 20 Oct 2017 07:01:49 +0000 By Ivo Welch http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=88881 Digital currencies, in their current form, should be prohibited by law. And not because they are a Ponzi scheme (which they are), and not because they can help facilitate criminal activity (which they do), but because they incur colossal social waste.

This waste is energy. The media organization Diginomics estimates that the energy consumption to fuel bitcoin is equivalent to the consumption of just under 2 million average U.S. households. Add in the energy for other digital currencies like Ethereum, then figure in the resulting environmental pollution, and it’s clear that such currencies have great social costs.

For clarity, let me keep the discussion here to bitcoin, which consists of two separate pieces. The first is a mathematical hashing algorithm, which drives its mining feature; the second is a storage feature, called the “blockchain.” Although the blockchain is not particularly efficient, either, it is the mining that is the disaster.

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Digital currencies, in their current form, should be prohibited by law. And not because they are a Ponzi scheme (which they are), and not because they can help facilitate criminal activity (which they do), but because they incur colossal social waste.

This waste is energy. The media organization Diginomics estimates that the energy consumption to fuel bitcoin is equivalent to the consumption of just under 2 million average U.S. households. Add in the energy for other digital currencies like Ethereum, then figure in the resulting environmental pollution, and it’s clear that such currencies have great social costs.

For clarity, let me keep the discussion here to bitcoin, which consists of two separate pieces. The first is a mathematical hashing algorithm, which drives its mining feature; the second is a storage feature, called the “blockchain.” Although the blockchain is not particularly efficient, either, it is the mining that is the disaster.

Mining is what creates bitcoins in the first place. It is the running of a computer algorithm to solve a mathematical problem. Mining consumes about 18 TWh of electricity costing about $1 billion a year (plus more for hardware costs). This is less than the estimated $3 billion in value of all bitcoin (though the value changes every day), so market forces have been pushing more investment into bitcoin mining—in economics-speak, entry is profitable until the marginal cost equals the marginal revenue.

For the record, mining has absolutely nothing to do with making the currency secure. No, the purpose of mining is perverse: to solve a problem whose only purpose is that it is increasingly difficult to solve. If it were easy to solve, everyone could manufacture bitcoins aplenty. It is the difficulty that effectively creates bitcoin’s scarcity, and the expectation of even more difficulty and future scarcity has attracted speculators.

Why does scarcity matter? Anything that exists in unlimited amounts cannot be worth very much. Sand is not worth a lot in California. There is too much of it. But the reverse is not the case. Scarcity in itself is not enough. For example, my left thumb print is scarce, but it has no intrinsic real value.

Bitcoin mining takes considerable energy. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Bitcoins are scarce, but they have no intrinsic value. When one pulls back the curtain, the bitcoin hashing problem really has only its one nefarious purpose: It exists to provide the mystery of complex mathematics to confuse and help hide the true benefits of the hashing solutions (i.e., the bitcoins), which is zero. An important part of the deception is that mining is mathematically guaranteed to become ever more expensive, as it gets harder to mine new bitcoins. That difficulty creates the false impression that today’s value is a bargain compared to what it will be in the future. Bitcoins are the ultimate Ponzi scheme.

But aren’t there some real uses of bitcoins? Proponents of digital currencies often argue that bitcoins make transactions more efficient and thereby create value. But even if you believe that, bitcoin has much higher costs than better alternatives. We already have plenty of good currencies and near-currencies (such as credit) that can play transaction-cost reducing roles. And, unlike official currencies like the U.S. dollar, which is ultimately backed not only by legal tender rules but also by its ability to pay taxes, bitcoin has no fallback uses.

Today’s prime use of bitcoin, other than for naive speculation, seems to be black- and gray-market transactions. Using bitcoin is especially attractive in countries like China and India that have imposed currency controls that individuals want to circumvent. A Chinese local can purchase bitcoins on the local market, move them anonymously to the United States, and convert them back into dollars (or store them). It can be argued whether the ability to avoid currency controls creates social value (or not). But it’s clear that such transactional anonymity is not particularly useful to most legal transactions. Bitcoin also brings risks. Standard channels of payment afford some safety against anonymous hacks. Banks offer some protection. Bitcoin does not.

Eventually, authorities will crack down on the illegal channels of currency controls with bitcoin, and the value of bitcoin will fall. Speculators and miners will then further drive down the value, and the bubble will collapse. The last ones in the game of musical chairs will have nothing.

So I have a proposal that solves both the inefficient (nay, stupid and useless) creation of scarcity through mining, as well as the lack of a connection of bitcoin value with reality.

Rather than destroying electricity in order to hide the nefarious schemes of the bitcoin hustle, we should design a new kind of electronic currency that works almost like bitcoin but without the mining algorithm. A designated entry-exit server could hand out unique and verifiable “bittokens,” instead of wasting electricity.

The purpose of mining is perverse: to solve a problem whose only purpose is that it is increasingly difficult to solve.

Creating these bittokens would cost about 3 cents, batteries included. But, because the bittoken should be worth $3,000 (like bitcoin), we could sell them for $2,999.99 and put the remaining $2,999.96 into a trust account.

Like bitcoin, we guarantee that new bittokens can be purchased at the same and ever-increasing price as it costs to mine bitcoin. Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee that our bittokens can be sold for the same price as bitcoin on the open market (which we cannot control). Who knows, the original bitcoin may go even crazier for a while longer, with a price of $1 million (or drop to $0).

This is not all bad. On the open market, bittokens may sell for more or less than bitcoins. But bittoken can guarantee something important that bitcoin cannot: we can guarantee that the bittoken can always be redeemed for its original purchase price. The original bittoken buyer cannot lose!

Of course, there is a risk. There is one unique entry and exit site that administers and verifies new bittokens, manages the real dollar trust fund, and honors all redemption requests. If the trust fund were to go bust, so would the bittoken redemption guarantee. But this risk is trivial when compared to bitcoin’s guarantee of nada at exit.

Any transactional efficiencies of bitcoin would apply to bittokens, too. Society would be better off. By not wasting electricity and using the money to make productive investments, the trust can produce social goods—creating jobs, fighting disease, building infrastructure, or encouraging energy efficiency.

And, best of all, JP Morgan could do it tomorrow and make a fortune!

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62http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/10/20/62-2/chronicles/poetry/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/10/20/62-2/chronicles/poetry/#respond Fri, 20 Oct 2017 07:01:38 +0000 By Parker Tettleton http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=88896 I dream about you during the work week with teddy bears in my mouth &
you with a sword impossible to own. The second sentence is love isn’t
loving anyone for less than your entire life if you want your life to last that
long
. We come together for the sake of not knowing what else to do. The
words are the ones, along with the sounds, that define us & lay us down to
rest. The living part of me believes the earth is a chapel.

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62
appeared first on Zócalo Public Square.

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I dream about you during the work week with teddy bears in my mouth &
you with a sword impossible to own. The second sentence is love isn’t
loving anyone for less than your entire life if you want your life to last that
long
. We come together for the sake of not knowing what else to do. The
words are the ones, along with the sounds, that define us & lay us down to
rest. The living part of me believes the earth is a chapel.

The post

62
appeared first on Zócalo Public Square.

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When Black Texans Gathered Under “Thursday Night Lights”http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/10/19/black-texans-gathered-thursday-night-lights/ideas/essay/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/10/19/black-texans-gathered-thursday-night-lights/ideas/essay/#respond Thu, 19 Oct 2017 07:01:17 +0000 By Michael Hurd http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=88867 I had only been in and out of Houston since leaving our Sunnyside neighborhood on the city’s southeast side, in 1968, to begin eight years of Air Force service. Whenever I returned, I made only casual note of neighborhood and city changes, such as the sad state of the mom-and-pop “candy store” where we used to hang out after school, now boarded up, or a new skyscraper for a Houston skyline dotted with cranes, or another congested freeway opened to relieve existing congested freeways.

As a sportswriter, during my visits I instinctively gravitated towards athletics venues. I would drive by the crumbling Astrodome, dwarfed by the gigantic NRG Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans; the Houston Astros’ new downtown baseball playground, Minute Maid Park; Rice University Stadium, the site of Super Bowl VIII in 1974, still holding up near the Medical Center.

Nothing about the changes in those venues

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What It Means to Be American I had only been in and out of Houston since leaving our Sunnyside neighborhood on the city’s southeast side, in 1968, to begin eight years of Air Force service. Whenever I returned, I made only casual note of neighborhood and city changes, such as the sad state of the mom-and-pop “candy store” where we used to hang out after school, now boarded up, or a new skyscraper for a Houston skyline dotted with cranes, or another congested freeway opened to relieve existing congested freeways.

As a sportswriter, during my visits I instinctively gravitated towards athletics venues. I would drive by the crumbling Astrodome, dwarfed by the gigantic NRG Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans; the Houston Astros’ new downtown baseball playground, Minute Maid Park; Rice University Stadium, the site of Super Bowl VIII in 1974, still holding up near the Medical Center.

Nothing about the changes in those venues fazed me. Houston’s dynamic progress was to be expected. But I was disturbed, as I made my rounds one summer morning in 2015, to see a shiny new stadium for University of Houston Cougars football. I entered Third Ward, the city’s historic African-American cultural hub, drove past the Cougars’ new den for the first time, and was so shaken by the sight that I narrowly avoided veering into oncoming traffic.

Something was terribly wrong. This was not just any new testament to collegiate athletic funding. This was a state-of-the-art, gentrified grave marker, covering—no, unashamedly hiding—a significant monument to Houston’s African-American history, now bulldozed to oblivion. Underneath this 60-acre plot, my hometown had buried a place called Jeppesen Stadium. Along with it, Houston silenced the athletic ghosts of a Jim Crow past that prevailed, for decades, throughout Texas.

Segregation had necessitated the formation, in 1920, of the Prairie View Interscholastic League (PVIL), the governing body for black high school athletics, academic, and music competitions in Texas. The University Interscholastic League, which oversaw the same activities for white students, denied membership to African-American schools. So the PVIL became the guiding force behind African-American high school gridiron action in the region. Its football was highly competitive and thrilling to watch.

In Houston, from the 1940s through 1967, the league’s Wednesday and Thursday night football games took place at Jeppesen, the school district’s public football facility. Jeppesen was the last and most visible connection to a past that saw Texas’s African-American community defy a racist system and produce some of the best high school coaches, athletes, and teams in the state’s football-mad history. For me, it was also an enduring link to my adolescence.

Underneath this 60-acre plot, my hometown had buried a place called Jeppesen Stadium. Along with it, Houston silenced the athletic ghosts of a Jim Crow past that prevailed, for decades, throughout Texas.

Jeppesen had none of the engaging architectural features of its successor, the new University of Houston stadium; it was just a dirty beige-colored concrete edifice. But even if it was homely, Jeppesen had glamor. Houston was the PVIL’s largest market, and the league fostered cultural and community pride. Jeppesen drew fans from black enclaves—Fifth Ward, Fourth Ward, Third Ward, Kashmere Gardens, Sunnyside, Acres Homes, and the Gulf Coast—to cheer for their teams, which included great players like Bubba Smith, Eldridge Dickey, Mel Farr, Gene Washington, Otis Taylor, and Warren Wells.

As many as 40,000 fans gathered in Jeppesen’s stands for the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Day Classic game between heated crosstown rivals Jack Yates and Phillis Wheatley High Schools. Attendees dressed in their Sunday best, and then some, for the social event of the season. The day included pre- and post-game events, parades, alumni and family breakfasts and dinners, and flashy halftime marching band performances. Yates fans still talk about the 1958 halftime show, when Miss Yates and her court arrived in a helicopter. It landed on the 50-yard line to a deafening roar from the crowd.

A number of PVIL players went on to dominate professional football. Six of its alumni were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including “Mean Joe” Greene (from Temple Dunbar High School), defensive back Dick “Night Train” Lane (from Austin Anderson High School), and safety Ken Houston (from Lufkin Dunbar High School). In 1965, wide receiver Jerry LeVias, from Hebert High School in Beaumont, became the first African-American football scholarship player in the old Southwest Conference when he decided to attend Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Charles “Bubba” Smith, at 6 feet 7 inches, terrorized PVIL opponents in the early 1960s as a lineman at Charlton-Pollard High School in Beaumont, east of Houston, and later became one of the most feared defensive players in college football history at Michigan State, and in the National Football League with the Baltimore Colts. In 1992, Smith recalled playing in the PVIL to a Houston Chronicle writer: “You’re talking about people who could righteously play the game. None of the teams were diluted back then. Everyone on the field could play. If you blink, they were gone. It was more physical and tougher. And it always meant something if you could outrun somebody because everybody could run.”

Case in point: Cliff Branch was a four-time All-Pro receiver and three-time Super Bowl champion with the Oakland Raiders, and a world-class sprinter for the Colorado Buffaloes. At Worthing High School in Houston, he was a two-time PVIL 3-A state sprint champ and the first schoolboy in Texas history to run the 100-yard dash in 9.3 seconds, a record that stood only as long as it took the very next heat, for 2-A boys, to conclude. When it did, Wichita Falls Washington speedster Reggie Robinson was the new record-holder, breezing to a 9.1 second finish.

That kind of speed only mattered in athletic contests. None of the PVIL players could outrun racism and segregation, the wedges that maintained the misguided myth of white supremacy even in athletics. While there would be no shortage of newspaper and magazine articles, books, and movies about high school football in Texas, none focused on the teams and players from the PVIL. Few on the outside were willing to acknowledge the abundance of talent bursting from the under-funded schools of the “Negro League,” or the “Colored League,” as some called it in polite company. One former PVIL player spoke with disdain about the term “Friday Night Lights,” explaining, “That’s white folks.”

“There was the black side of town and the white side, and you just dealt with what was laid out there for you,” Smith would add. “You didn’t have time to think, ‘Why can’t I do that, or why is it like that?’ Sometimes I think a large part of my life was lost by that. But you could always show what you had on the football field.”

And there was so much to show. The PVIL created lasting passionate school rivalries, and instilled confidence in its athletes and students. Teachers and coaches were short on resources but eager to be mentors, and accepted the task of preparing black children for citizenship in an environment that neither welcomed nor encouraged them.

The Prairie View Interscholastic League governed athletic, academic, and music competitions for black high schools in Texas from 1920-1970. These athletes played football during the 1930s. Photo courtesy of PVILCA.

The league’s relationship with historically black colleges fortified it. Black colleges provided the only options in the South for African-Americans seeking higher education, and Texas had several HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), including Prairie View, Wiley, and Bishop. Black coaches and teachers had earned degrees at black colleges—often starring as players, then returning home to work in black high schools. In turn, coaches would send their best players to their collegiate alma maters, creating a string of black men guiding young black boys to adulthood.

“I knew all the mommas and poppas,” Joe Washington Sr., father of former Oklahoma Sooners and NFL running back Joe Washington, recalled from his days as head coach at Bay City’s Hilliard High School and then at Port Arthur Lincoln High School. “They used to tell me, ‘Coach Washington, take him and do what you have to do, just don’t kill him.’ ”

Some look at the loss of those nurturing relationships as a tragedy of integration, which brought about the fall of the PVIL, the closing of black high schools, and erosion in black communities.

In the fall of 1967, black and white schools competed against each other for the first time, previously all-white programs added black players, and Texas could legitimately claim playing the best high school football in the country. White coaches had quietly salivated, waiting for the moment when they could welcome all of the most talented players to their programs, and the newcomers did not disappoint. The infusion of black athletes to UIL teams made instant winners of longtime losing teams, allowing coaches to gloat about their new black superstar: “I got me one.”

I graduated from Worthing in the spring of 1967, just as the PVIL and UIL “merged.” It was closer to a hostile takeover. As the PVIL began shutting down, so did most of its member schools, although some smaller schools lingered for another three seasons in the league. (From a high of 500, only eight former PVIL schools remain in operation today.) Successful PVIL coaches with state championships under their belts lost jobs. Other coaches retired or left the profession rather than take demotions to work as assistants on predominantly white staffs.

At first, I didn’t appreciate the sea change that integration would deliver to the PVIL. I thought it was great that black players would finally get a wider audience, and get to compare skills with white players. But when I returned that fall for our homecoming football game, against a white team in a different setting, I felt wistful and restless. The new stadium lacked the Jeppesen atmosphere. I left at halftime, thinking what PVIL folks surely had already figured out.

“You just have to have integration, we knew it all along and we wanted it,” said the late Luther Booker, a former head coach at Yates. “But you miss those days because it was such a high. It affected the black community. It was an electrifying time. There’s nothing like it now. And maybe there never will be.”

Certainly, there will be no more beacons like Jeppesen.

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The Invention and Evolution of the Concentration Camphttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/10/18/concentration-camps-invented-punish-civilians/ideas/essay/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/10/18/concentration-camps-invented-punish-civilians/ideas/essay/#respond Wed, 18 Oct 2017 07:01:36 +0000 By Andrea Pitzer http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=88847 Before the first prisoner entered the Soviet Gulag, before “Arbeit macht frei” appeared on the gates of Auschwitz, before the 20th century had even begun, concentration camps found their first home in the cities and towns of Cuba.

The earliest modern experiment in detaining groups of civilians without trial was launched by two generals: one who refused to bring camps into the world, and one who did not.

Battles had raged off and on for decades over Cuba’s desire for independence from Spain. After years of fighting with Cuban rebels, Arsenio Martínez Campos, the governor-general of the island, wrote to the Spanish prime minister in 1895 to say that he believed the only path to victory lay in inflicting new cruelties on civilians and fighters alike. To isolate rebels from the peasants who sometimes fed or sheltered them, he thought, it would be necessary to relocate hundreds of thousands of

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Before the first prisoner entered the Soviet Gulag, before “Arbeit macht frei” appeared on the gates of Auschwitz, before the 20th century had even begun, concentration camps found their first home in the cities and towns of Cuba.

The earliest modern experiment in detaining groups of civilians without trial was launched by two generals: one who refused to bring camps into the world, and one who did not.

Battles had raged off and on for decades over Cuba’s desire for independence from Spain. After years of fighting with Cuban rebels, Arsenio Martínez Campos, the governor-general of the island, wrote to the Spanish prime minister in 1895 to say that he believed the only path to victory lay in inflicting new cruelties on civilians and fighters alike. To isolate rebels from the peasants who sometimes fed or sheltered them, he thought, it would be necessary to relocate hundreds of thousands of rural inhabitants into Spanish-held cities behind barbed wire, a strategy he called reconcentración.

But the rebels had shown mercy to the Spanish wounded and had returned prisoners of war unharmed. And so Martínez Campos could not bring himself to launch the process of reconcentración against an enemy he saw as honorable. He wrote to Spain and offered to surrender his post rather than impose the measures he had laid out as necessary. “I cannot,” he wrote, “as the representative of a civilized nation, be the first to give the example of cruelty and intransigence.”

Spain recalled Martínez Campos, and in his place sent general Valeriano Weyler, nicknamed “the Butcher.” There was little doubt about what the results would be. “If he cannot make successful war upon the insurgents,” wrote The New York Times in 1896, “he can make war upon the unarmed population of Cuba.”

Civilians were forced, on penalty of death, to move into these encampments, and within a year the island held tens of thousands of dead or dying reconcentrados, who were lionized as martyrs in U.S. newspapers. No mass executions were necessary; horrific living conditions and lack of food eventually took the lives of some 150,000 people.

These camps did not rise out of nowhere. Forced labor had existed for centuries around the world, and the parallel institutions of Native American reservations and Spanish missions set the stage for relocating vulnerable residents away from their homes and forcing them to stay elsewhere. But it was not until the technology of barbed wire and automatic weapons that a small guard force could impose mass detention. With that shift, a new institution came into being, and the phrase “concentration camps” entered the world.

When U.S. newspapers reported on Spain’s brutality, Americans shipped millions of pounds of cornmeal, potatoes, peas, rice, beans, quinine, condensed milk, and other staples to the starving peasants, with railways offering to carry the goods to coastal ports free of charge. By the time the USS Maine sank in Havana harbor in February 1898, the United States was already primed to go to war. Making a call to arms before Congress, President William McKinley said of the policy of reconcentración: “It was not civilized warfare. It was extermination. The only peace it could beget was that of the wilderness and the grave.”

These camps did not rise out of nowhere. Forced labor had existed for centuries around the world, and the parallel institutions of Native American reservations and Spanish missions set the stage for relocating vulnerable residents away from their homes and forcing them to stay elsewhere.

But official rejection of the camps was short-lived. After defeating Spain in Cuba in a matter of months, the United States took possession of several Spanish colonies, including the Philippines, where another rebellion was underway. By the end of 1901, U.S. generals fighting in the most recalcitrant regions of the islands had likewise turned to concentration camps. The military recorded this turn officially as an orderly application of measured tactics, but that did not reflect the view on the ground. Upon seeing one camp, an Army officer wrote, “It seems way out of the world without a sight of the sea,—in fact, more like some suburb of hell.”

In southern Africa, the concept of concentration camps had simultaneously taken root. In 1900, during the Boer War, the British began relocating more than 200,000 civilians, mostly women and children, behind barbed wire into bell tents or improvised huts. Again, the idea of punishing civilians evoked horror among those who saw themselves as representatives of a civilized nation. “When is a war not a war?” asked British Member of Parliament Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman in June 1901. “When it is carried on by methods of barbarism in South Africa.”

Far more people died in the camps than in combat. Polluted water supplies, lack of food, and infectious diseases ended up killing tens of thousands of detainees. Even though the Boers were often portrayed as crude people undeserving of sympathy, the treatment of European descendants in this fashion was shocking to the British public. Less notice was taken of British camps for black Africans who had even more squalid living conditions and, at times, only half the rations allotted to white detainees.

The Boer War ended in 1902, but camps soon appeared elsewhere. In 1904, in the neighboring German colony of South-West Africa—now Namibia—German general Lothar von Trotha issued an extermination order for the rebellious Herero people, writing “Every Herero, with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot.”

The order was rescinded soon after, but the damage inflicted on indigenous peoples did not stop. The surviving Herero—and later the Nama people as well—were herded into concentration camps to face forced labor, inadequate rations, and lethal diseases. Before the camps were fully disbanded in 1907, German policies managed to kill some 70,000 Namibians in all, nearly exterminating the Herero.

It took just a decade for concentration camps to be established in wars on three continents. They were used to exterminate undesirable populations through labor, to clear contested areas, to punish suspected rebel sympathizers, and as a cudgel against guerrilla fighters whose wives and children were interned. Most of all, concentration camps made civilians into proxies in order to get at combatants who had dared defy the ruling power.

While these camps were widely viewed as a disgrace to modern society, this disgust was not sufficient to preclude their future use.

During the First World War, the camps evolved to address new circumstances. Widespread conscription meant that any military-age male German deported from England would soon return in a uniform to fight, with the reverse also being true. So Britain initially focused on locking up foreigners against whom it claimed to have well-grounded suspicions.

British home secretary Reginald McKenna batted away calls for universal internment, protesting that the public had no more to fear from the great majority of enemy aliens than they did from “from the ordinary bad Englishman.” But with the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 by a German submarine and the deaths of more than a thousand civilians, British prime minister Herbert Henry Asquith took revenge, locking up tens of thousands of German and Austro-Hungarian “enemy aliens” in England.

Tanauan reconcentrado camp, Batangas, the Philippines, circa 1901. Image courtesy of University of Michigan Digital Library Collection.

The same year, the British Empire extended internment to its colonies and possessions. The Germans responded with mass arrests of aliens from not only Britain but Australia, Canada, and South Africa as well. Concentration camps soon flourished around the globe: in France, Russia, Turkey, Austro-Hungary, Brazil, Japan, China, India, Haiti, Cuba, Singapore, Siam, New Zealand, and many other locations. Over time, concentration camps would become a tool in the arsenal of nearly every country.

In the United States, more than two thousand prisoners were held in camps during the war. German-born conductor Karl Muck, a Swiss national, wound up in detention in Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia after false rumors that he had refused to conduct “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Unlike earlier colonial camps, many camps during the First World War were hundreds or thousands of miles from the front lines, and life in them developed a strange normalcy. Prisoners were assigned numbers that traveled with them as they moved from camp to camp. Letters could be sent to detainees, and packages received. In some cases, money was transferred and accounts kept. A bureaucracy of detention emerged, with Red Cross inspectors visiting and making reports.

By the end of the war, more than 800,000 civilians had been held in concentration camps, with hundreds of thousands more forced into exile in remote regions. Mental illness and shattered minority communities were just two of the tolls this long-term internment exacted from detainees.

Nevertheless, this more “civilized” approach toward enemy aliens during the First World War managed to rehabilitate the sullied image of concentration camps. People accepted the notion that a targeted group might turn itself in and be detained during a crisis, with a reasonable expectation to one day be released without permanent harm. Later in the century, this expectation would have tragic consequences.

Yet even as the First World War raged, the camps’ bitter roots survived. The Ottoman government made use of a less-visible system of concentration camps with inadequate food and shelter to deport Armenians into the Syrian desert as part of an orchestrated genocide.

And after the war ended, the evolution of concentration camps took another grim turn. Where internment camps of the First World War had focused on foreigners, the camps that followed—the Soviet Gulag, the Nazi Konzentrationslager—used the same methods on their own citizens.

In the first Cuban camps, fatalities had resulted from neglect. Half a century later, camps would be industrialized using the power of a modern state. The concept of the concentration camp would reach its apotheosis in the death camps of Nazi Germany, where prisoners were reduced not just to a number, but to nothing.

The 20th century made General Martínez Campos into a dark visionary. Refusing to institute concentration camps on Cuba, he had said, “The conditions of hunger and misery in these centers would be incalculable.” And once they were unleashed on the world, concentration camps proved impossible to eradicate.

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President pro Tempore of the California State Senate Kevin de Leónhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/10/18/president-pro-tempore-california-state-senate-kevin-de-leon/personalities/in-the-green-room/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/10/18/president-pro-tempore-california-state-senate-kevin-de-leon/personalities/in-the-green-room/#respond Wed, 18 Oct 2017 07:01:30 +0000 zocalo http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=88844 Senator Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) is President pro Tempore of the California State Senate and is a newly announced candidate for the United States Senate. After taking part in a Zócalo/AARP panel discussion titled “Are Housing Prices Destroying the California Dream?“—and three days before he entered the U.S. Senate race—de León talked about the questions he gets, the food he eats, and what’s on his television.

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Senator Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) is President pro Tempore of the California State Senate and is a newly announced candidate for the United States Senate. After taking part in a Zócalo/AARP panel discussion titled “Are Housing Prices Destroying the California Dream?“—and three days before he entered the U.S. Senate race—de León talked about the questions he gets, the food he eats, and what’s on his television.

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What Losing a War Does to a Nation’s Psychehttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/10/17/losing-war-nations-psyche/ideas/essay/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/10/17/losing-war-nations-psyche/ideas/essay/#respond Tue, 17 Oct 2017 07:01:39 +0000 By Edgar A. Porter http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=88831 In the spring of 1976, while visiting the Tokyo Zoo, I was confronted with the unforgettable sight of an aging former Japanese soldier, wearing a ragged army uniform and cap, and bowing before all who entered.

One of his legs had been amputated. A begging bowl before him, he bowed as low as he could to Japanese families coming to see the newly arrived pandas. A few placed coins in his bowl quickly and moved on. It was a shockingly sad sight, with an aura of shame, silence, and neglect surrounding him.

I reacted strongly in part because I had recently visited China. There I was struck by the self-confidence exhibited by the men and women of the military, whether walking down the street or in military formation. The people, in turn, spoke with respect and pride of the older generation who had fought in what they called “our” People’s

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In the spring of 1976, while visiting the Tokyo Zoo, I was confronted with the unforgettable sight of an aging former Japanese soldier, wearing a ragged army uniform and cap, and bowing before all who entered.

One of his legs had been amputated. A begging bowl before him, he bowed as low as he could to Japanese families coming to see the newly arrived pandas. A few placed coins in his bowl quickly and moved on. It was a shockingly sad sight, with an aura of shame, silence, and neglect surrounding him.

I reacted strongly in part because I had recently visited China. There I was struck by the self-confidence exhibited by the men and women of the military, whether walking down the street or in military formation. The people, in turn, spoke with respect and pride of the older generation who had fought in what they called “our” People’s Liberation Army.

Watching this former Japanese soldier, I found myself thinking: Whether a country wins or loses dictates society’s response to war. Of course, this is not a new observation, nor is it unique to Japan. But that does not lessen the power of the phenomenon, or the pain of defeat experienced by a Japanese society that puts so much emphasis on collective effort and shame.

A lost war created a particularly shaken culture of quiet despair in Japan. So when I am asked today, after living in Japan for 10 years, how it is that many Japanese still refuse to acknowledge their country’s role in bringing misery to so many people through its 1931 invasion of Manchuria, and later occupation of greater China, Singapore, the Philippines, and elsewhere during what the Japanese call The Pacific War, I think of that old soldier whose presence brought such distress to his fellow Japanese.

For several years my wife and I interviewed dozens of ordinary people for a book about Japan during World War II and the American Occupation. These conversations helped me see the old soldier again, this time from the viewpoint of Japanese still struggling with a legacy of shame mixed with forgetfulness.

Through them I could hear those families walk by the old soldier asking, “Why are you here to remind us of our loss and humiliation?” “Why did you come back but not my father, my brother, my son?” And why, to put a hard point to it, did he not commit suicide like so many others?

I came to realize that the soldier represented a depth of shame that sowed seeds for the generations that came after the war. And that shame was both infectious—touching younger generations who had no experience of the war—and normal.

This peculiar normalcy of shame mixed with faded memory has been encouraged for decades by the Japanese national elite in the political, education, business, and journalism fields. One reason for this is that many of the elite are themselves direct descendants of war era leaders. They are not predisposed to have their family members, or the names of their companies, affiliated negatively with either the atrocities, or the loss, of that war.

The Japanese media rarely challenge the government directly. With the exception of a few representatives from the press, such as the “Asahi Shimbun,” most have avoided analyzing critically what happened during the war so as not to lose access to government and business officials.

Kiichi Kawano is a former kamikaze pilot. Scheduled to fly out on a mission the day after the war ended, he has built a private museum in his basement to memorialize his comrades who died. Photo by Edgar A. Porter

The people’s willingness to follow the example of these elites should come as no surprise, for in the years immediately following the war, hunger and despondency stalked the country. The elites, in concert with the American Occupation forces, put their efforts into rebuilding the country. There was little energy left to reflect on the past, even if anyone had been predisposed to do so.

As factories and homes were built, or rebuilt, and infrastructure put in place, Japan experienced a growing optimism. By the time of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the country was justly proud of its achievements. The shame brought by the war never disappeared, but receded into the background of public discourse, where it lay for decades in the minds of many.

But not all. Despite the absence of any vibrant public debate, there have always been those who insisted on uncovering uncomfortable truths about their history. These efforts typically came from the grassroots: Local historical associations publish memoirs of war survivors and construct war memorial museums (almost universally called Peace Museums), and progressive teachers have gone beyond the authorized texts to guide their students on discoveries about the war years. Authors such as novelist Shusaku Endo and historian Eri Hotta have tackled painful and secretive war events.

Finally, individuals such as the ones we interviewed for our book have shined a light on those terrible years, climbing over the wall of shame and silence to educate as best they can, with limited resources and often without the encouragement of family or community.

But all of these efforts exist at the margins, because the national narrative still has a chilling effect on getting to the deeper, more complex story.

Two former soldiers we spoke with showed the difficulty of piecing together a more complete story. The first man spent part of a morning sharing with us the lives of both his family and himself as a combatant during the war. But toward the end of the interview, when we asked him to pose for a photo holding a family heirloom battle flag his brother had carried during the war, he refused. He said it would be disrespectful and shameful to have his photo taken with the flag, as it would seem to honor Japan’s defeat.

In the years immediately following the war, hunger and despondency stalked the country…There was little energy left to reflect on the past, even if anyone had been predisposed to do so.

The other man told us of his disbelief and desolation when, in Indonesia at the end of the war, he heard that Japan was defeated. Upon returning home after over a year as a detainee held by allied forces, he shuttered himself in the family home. The depression and shame brought on by the startling failure of their cause, and his humiliation that he had lived when so many of his friends had died, only began to lift two years later. Even after leaving his house, he could not cope with seeing American Occupation forces walking around his town of Beppu. He occasionally fought with them, landed in jail, and spent years in and out of trouble.

He explained that he only began to confront his anger and shame when his granddaughter asked him to tell her what he did during the war. It was a class assignment from her teacher, one of those few who pushed the students to get out and learn more about their own history.

Japan’s reluctance to address its history directly places it in a large camp of like-minded states. Growing up in the American South, my textbooks never honestly described the history or horror of slavery. The Chinese government censors many details of the Cultural Revolution and the full story of the Tiananmen protests and eventual killings of 1989. Under Putin, the Russian government discourages discussion of Stalin’s brutality, such as the authorized population displacements and famine of the 1930s. And Turkey to this day refuses to acknowledge the full extent of its slaughter of the Armenian people in the early 20th century.

But Japan need not remain in this camp. It can follow another model, that of its former ally, Germany.

The German government has established Documentation Centers around the country which detail, without ambiguity, the development and consequences of National Socialism and the Nazi Party. In Japan the closest examples of Documentation Centers are the small, community-based Peace Museums dotting the country. Unlike the German centers, however, the message in these museums is mixed. While all emphasize the need to learn from the horror of the war by promoting world peace, they avoid in depth discussion of how, and why, Japan went to war. Instead they honor their own civilian and military dead, following the general story line of Japan as victim.

While Japanese children still study texts that mention the war only briefly, German schoolchildren find an honest and transparent rendering of the role Nazis, and by inference members of their own families, played in the deaths of millions of people. It is not left to individual teachers and private citizens to fill this void.

I think that the aging soldier I saw at the gate of the Tokyo Zoo 40 years ago represented both the past and future of Japan. Going off to war he was a hero. But upon return he only served as a reminder of the misguided and horrific tragedy orchestrated by the militarist government of war time Japan.

Through truth telling and reconciliation, current and future generations can uncover layers of hidden history and be freed of the national shame and humiliation. We encountered many Japanese who want to move in this direction. What they hope for is a national leadership that will find inspiration from them and follow suit.

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A Short History of the Idea of ‘Main Street’ in Americahttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/10/16/short-history-idea-main-street-america/ideas/essay/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/10/16/short-history-idea-main-street-america/ideas/essay/#respond Mon, 16 Oct 2017 07:01:42 +0000 By Miles Orvell http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=88810 In the United States, Main Street has always been two things—a place and an idea. As both, Main Street has embodied the contradictions of the country itself.

It is the self-consciousness of the idea of Main Street—from its origins in a Nathaniel Hawthorne sketch of New England, to Walt Disney’s construction of a Main Street USA, to the establishment of ersatz Main Streets in today’s urban malls—that makes it so essentially American. Main Street has been used in myriad ways to describe very many different things—from the crushing power of convention to the thrill of new entertainment, from the small town to new big city neighborhoods.

Main Street’s meaning could change quickly. In the 1920s, to invoke Main Street was to call up an image of the dullness of provincial life. By the 1930s, Main Street represented the bedrock of America’s embattled democracy. For decades, Main Street stood for the

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What It Means to Be AmericanIn the United States, Main Street has always been two things—a place and an idea. As both, Main Street has embodied the contradictions of the country itself.

It is the self-consciousness of the idea of Main Street—from its origins in a Nathaniel Hawthorne sketch of New England, to Walt Disney’s construction of a Main Street USA, to the establishment of ersatz Main Streets in today’s urban malls—that makes it so essentially American. Main Street has been used in myriad ways to describe very many different things—from the crushing power of convention to the thrill of new entertainment, from the small town to new big city neighborhoods.

Main Street’s meaning could change quickly. In the 1920s, to invoke Main Street was to call up an image of the dullness of provincial life. By the 1930s, Main Street represented the bedrock of America’s embattled democracy. For decades, Main Street stood for the local; today it’s an importable model of planning and development that can be set up almost anywhere.

Main Street bears double political meanings that in turn raise complicated questions about whether the United States lives up to its ideals.

As public space, the American Main Street has always represented an ideal of community, where persons from different surrounding neighborhoods and social classes come together as rough equals. But Main Street also has a history of discriminatory practice going back more than a hundred years. Northern “sundown towns” in the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century policed their Main Streets by warning and expelling anyone who didn’t “belong” after the sun went down. And historically Main Street usually has been defined by the ruling class of the area, with outsiders—by class, ethnicity, religion, color—not particularly welcome.

So even as we celebrate the ideal of Main Street as a space of democratic equality, we should remember—and rue—the reality.

Part of the reality is this: America’s small towns and their Main Streets have died a thousand deaths, but Main Streets also live on and multiply now as never before, as we recreate them in wealthy suburbs and big cities. Over the past 20 years, America has seen the growth of ersatz Main Streets, facsimiles of the real thing, in private shopping places everywhere.

The Main Street of Springfield, Mass. in 1905. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As the malls of America have become deserted, those shopping centers still clinging to life have strived to emulate the amenities of what they had rendered obsolete: Main Street. They have installed benches, street lamps, grassy areas, and even band stands, providing the feel of public space in the open air, the feel of a community. These facsimiles of Main Street, creations of commercial landscape architects, can be more successful than actual Main Streets, since the national retail brands in ersatz Main Street attract shoppers in the massive numbers needed to make a public space seem genuinely “public.”

If we prefer the authentic to the ersatz, then this new Main Street poses a challenge to the original article. What’s the best response to such a challenge? To do what the ersatz Main Street can’t: provide the individualized shops and restaurants that you won’t find in the ersatz space. The real Main Street also must work harder to draw in people from outside the community, with street fairs and festivals, art galleries, craft shops, and other one-of-a-kind attractions.

Meanwhile, the ersatz Main Street carries its own double meaning: It represents a corporate usurpation of the idea of Main Street—and also an expansion of the idea. Indeed, since the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009, Main Street has taken on a broader meaning and wider constituency than it ever before possessed. It is not just small businesses that Main Street represents. The phrase has become a substitute for what we all share, the American commons. We are either Main Street or its opposite, Wall Street. In this polarized time, we belong to one pole or the other.

One paradox is that the public space of Main Street, regulated spaces that must be open to all, may be harder to police than the ersatz Main Streets, which are private spaces where certain standards of decorum can be swiftly enforced. We don’t usually notice the limitations on our behavior in private spaces, but they exist, often in a sign posted as you enter the space.

For decades, Main Street stood for the local; today it’s an importable model of planning and development that can be set up almost anywhere.

Is it possible that the private space of the ersatz Main Street, which welcomes shoppers of all religions and colors, is a more hospitable space than the public space of Main Street? Is the private Main Street more tolerant of difference (as long as you keep your shirt on and wear shoes) than the public space of warring statues and demonstrators armed with torches or guns, where intimidation can be masked as self-defense? If this is the case, it argues for the democracy of the marketplace, which embraces anyone, regardless of creed or color, who has the money to make a purchase.

Today, Main Street faces what some see as an existential threat: e-commerce, which has made any physical shopping space increasingly a luxury. The real Main Street has a future in this digitally dominated marketplace—it is not competing with e-commerce—but the ersatz Main Streets of malls may have more to worry about. Will they evolve as hybrid showrooms where consumers can touch the merchandise before buying it cheaper online? Or as places to pick up merchandise ordered in advance and delivered locally? Or will e-commerce fall victim to its own success and be defeated by Main Street—the infinity of choices and merchandise reviews consuming so much of the shopper’s time that it’s simpler to just go shopping in a store with limited, pre-selected, merchandise?

If Main Street means anything today, it signifies an idealized space where American society can practice its highest values, which include civility, tolerance, and yes, commerce. And Main Street’s endurance, as an idea, demonstrates the authority of myth to nurture a sense of community, even in a society as fragmented as ours.

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The Delicious Transparency of the Hamburgershttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/10/16/delicious-transparency-hamburgers/inquiries/connecting-california/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/10/16/delicious-transparency-hamburgers/inquiries/connecting-california/#respond Mon, 16 Oct 2017 07:01:36 +0000 By Joe Mathews http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=88796

California could use a concert hall like Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie.

The signature structure of 21st century Germany sits atop an old pier above a dramatic bend in the Elbe River. Its creative design features performance space for the philharmonic, a dramatically curved escalator, and a dozen different public spaces for people to gather and enjoy spectacular city views.

But what California needs more than this stunning new piece of architecture is the scandal that built it. Originally planned in 2007 as a 186 million Euro project, financed with 77 million Euros from taxpayers, the Elbphilharmonie was so dogged by delays and overspending that its final price tag approached 1 billion Euros, with taxpayers paying 789 million.

The good news: The concert hall, as a fiscal embarrassment, inspired a furious public reaction that in turn produced one of the world’s most advanced government transparency laws.

And that law, unlike the hall, can

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California could use a concert hall like Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie.

The signature structure of 21st century Germany sits atop an old pier above a dramatic bend in the Elbe River. Its creative design features performance space for the philharmonic, a dramatically curved escalator, and a dozen different public spaces for people to gather and enjoy spectacular city views.

But what California needs more than this stunning new piece of architecture is the scandal that built it. Originally planned in 2007 as a 186 million Euro project, financed with 77 million Euros from taxpayers, the Elbphilharmonie was so dogged by delays and overspending that its final price tag approached 1 billion Euros, with taxpayers paying 789 million.

The good news: The concert hall, as a fiscal embarrassment, inspired a furious public reaction that in turn produced one of the world’s most advanced government transparency laws.

And that law, unlike the hall, can be transported to California, where our transparency rules mostly produce frustration.

In California, the onus—and much of the expense—of getting access to government papers and people is put on citizens, who have little leverage to force governments to comply. Our open records laws often force citizens to identify records and bear the burden and expense of requesting documents, fighting for access, and obtaining copies. And because of deep mistrust between California’s people and our governments, our open meetings laws involve putting restrictions on the power and discretion of our government representatives—we dictate when they can meet, when they can talk to each other, when they can email one another.

As a result, California’s law, by limiting the power both of citizens and their government officials, actually empower wealthy players outside government, especially developers and unions, because they are not limited by the same restrictions as government officials.

Hamburg’s transparency law works differently because it empowers everybody, both citizens and government officials. The law sets a default of openness by requiring government officials to make their documents—contracts, memos, deliberations—viewable on the internet, almost as soon as they produce them. Citizens in Hamburg—or anyone really, anywhere in the world— can access records simply by going online and searching through an online portal.

I learned about Hamburg transparency on a recent visit to the port city, where I was the guest of local journalist Angelika Gardiner and farmer Manfred Brandt, who let me sleep in his barn. I’d gotten to know the two of them in recent years while serving as co-president of the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy, a network of journalists, scholars, activists, and election around the world.

For those who work in the Rathaus, the seat of Hamburg’s state government, transparency is automatic and immediate. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Twenty years ago, Gardiner, Brandt, and other citizens began using direct democracy to reshape the constitution of Hamburg, which is both a city and one of Germany’s 16 states, giving it a special double status. They wanted to bring transparency to Hamburg government, which used opaque public-private contracts for many building projects. Germany’s federal freedom of information law, which like California laws put the onus on citizens to identify and seek records, wasn’t very effective.

Elbphilharmonie’s cost problems offered an opening. In 2011, using photos of the construction site with the slogan “Transparency Creates Trust,” several groups—from Transparency International to the Chaos Computer Club to Brandt and Gardiner’s More Democracy—drafted a ballot initiative to establish a transparency law. Their idea was to create an information register online where the government would have to publish all its documents; citizens could then search it anonymously, free of charge.

Modeling the sort of government they sought, they used a public Wiki to develop their ballot initiative for transparency. A retired supreme court judge helped complete a legally sound draft on an unpaid voluntary basis. Such an open drafting process is uncommon in California’s more corporate initiative process, which is dominated by wealthy individuals, massive interest groups, and professional political firms.

The initiative was a sensation. After the groups gathered 15,000 signatures to put their measure on the ballot, the Hamburg parliament, bowing to the inevitable, adopted their proposal before a public vote could be held. The law went into effect five years ago this month, in October 2012.

It took until 2014 to get everything online, but the Transparenzportal is now a treasure trove—contracts, reports, plans, grant awards, proposed resolutions, spatial data, permits, even payments and benefits for senior officials are available for your perusal.

The law guarantees “immediate” access, which usually means documents must be published within a week of their creation. About 60 percent of the documents involve permits and decisions around buildings of some sort. In the last two years, the portal has been accessed nearly 23 million times.

The transparency has not been total. Smaller contracts (those less than 100,000 Euros) aren’t always published online. An expansive exemption for personal privacy requires redaction of some information that would seem relevant—at least to this cynical Californian—for holding local officials accountable. And some companies that do business with Hamburg have fought disclosure, arguing that the aggressive transparency forces them unnecessarily to disclose trade secrets.

But an evaluation of the law, required after five years, concluded that things are working as intended. Among the most intriguing findings: Hamburg’s government officials, who once worried about transparency’s costs, are now some of its biggest fans. Indeed, while citizens do use the law (and large majorities in surveys say the transparency has enhanced political participation), some of the most aggressive users of the transparency are Hamburg officials trying to figure out what people in other departments are doing. In this way, the transparency law may be most effective as a force for efficiency within the government, breaking down bureaucratic silos. The links hand now knows what the recht hand is doing.

That’s the lesson of Hamburg: With ordinary people so consumed with their own work and lives, the best check on government abuses and corruption are city officials themselves.

On a visit to the Rathaus, I asked Andreas Dressel, who leads the governing Social Democrats in the Hamburg parliament, how the transparency law might be adapted for a California city. “The best thing to do is to translate it into English—and put it right directly into your law,” he said proudly, and added, while noting the Trump administration’s chaos, “You need it not just in California but for the entire United States.”

The law sets a default of openness by requiring government officials to make their documents—contracts, memos, deliberations—viewable on the internet, almost as soon as they produce them.

Dressel may have been exaggerating, but the merits of a switch to Hamburg-style transparency are apparent. A law that makes disclosure an automatic online default should be more effective than California’s records and meetings laws, which are all but designed to create conflict between public demands for access and government desire for secrecy.

Such transparency would jumpstart the nascent open data movement, which has seen the state and some cities put up data sets so that tech-savvy citizens can help solve government problems. And it’s not hard to see how a transparency law might make government responses to crises faster and more effective.

In San Diego, officials in different city and county departments failed to communicate effectively for months earlier this year as a deadly hepatitis epidemic spread, according to the nonprofit Voice of San Diego. If officials could have seen their separate work and information online, it’s quite possible that a fuller response—which included a declaration of emergency—might have come earlier and saved lives. So far 17 people have died.

Of course, such transparency would be opposed by government contractors, public employee unions, and the local governments over which they exert too much control. But it is for situations like this that we have direct democracy in California. And in Hamburg.

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California’s Housing Crisis Is a Nasty Intersection of the State’s Worst Problemshttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/10/13/californias-housing-crisis-nasty-intersection-states-worst-problems/events/the-takeaway/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/10/13/californias-housing-crisis-nasty-intersection-states-worst-problems/events/the-takeaway/#respond Fri, 13 Oct 2017 10:00:07 +0000 By Joe Mathews http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=88773 California’s sky-high housing prices haven’t just made it hard to find and afford a place to live. They’ve put pressures on the economy, the environment, transportation, and health that threaten the California dream itself, said panelists at a Zócalo/AARP event at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in Los Angeles.

The event—entitled “Are Housing Prices Destroying the California Dream?”—brought together a scholar, a politician, a leading journalist, the head of a nonprofit housing organization, and a national expert on housing to examine a crisis that the panelists said touches every person in every region of the state.

This problem “affects all ends of the economic distribution, and all ends of the age distribution,” said Gary Segura, dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, adding: “I am one of millions of Californians who cannot afford my house the day I retire.”

Moderator David Lesher, CEO and editor

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California’s sky-high housing prices haven’t just made it hard to find and afford a place to live. They’ve put pressures on the economy, the environment, transportation, and health that threaten the California dream itself, said panelists at a Zócalo/AARP event at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in Los Angeles.

The event—entitled “Are Housing Prices Destroying the California Dream?”—brought together a scholar, a politician, a leading journalist, the head of a nonprofit housing organization, and a national expert on housing to examine a crisis that the panelists said touches every person in every region of the state.

This problem “affects all ends of the economic distribution, and all ends of the age distribution,” said Gary Segura, dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, adding: “I am one of millions of Californians who cannot afford my house the day I retire.”

Moderator David Lesher, CEO and editor of the nonprofit media organization CALMatters, framed the conversation around three questions: “How big of a problem is housing? What’s the cause of the problem? And what are we going to do about it?”

The panelists said the housing crisis involves the intersection of many different problems: zoning, planning, taxation, environment, infrastructure, transportation, mental health, homelessness, demands on developers, financing, and Californians’ high expectations for the places where they live.

This complicated intersection makes the housing situation difficult to understand. One panelist, Kevin de León, president pro tem of the California State Senate, recalled a day he spent in downtown L.A. with a wide variety of people—from housing advocates to police and local officials—to learn more about housing and homelessness. “My conclusion was the following: The left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing,” he said.

But that can’t be an excuse, given how high the stakes are. “We have a housing crisis, and it’s a big driver without a doubt when it comes to poverty,” de León said. He cited the statistic that a Californian who makes minimum wage would need to work three full-time jobs to afford the average two-bedroom apartment.

Another panelist, AARP housing policy expert Rodney Harrell, said that affordable housing is a national crisis, but it’s even worse in California. An AARP survey, he noted, found that almost two-thirds of Californians have thought about leaving the state because of high housing costs.

He said the heart of the matter is a lack of supply, but fixing it is not just a matter of building more places to live. “There are not enough housing units of the types that people need”—affordable, near jobs or transit, and with designs for people who may have special needs because of their age or health. And high costs leave people very vulnerable. “The folks I worry about most are the people who have not planned for an emergency—something happens to your spouse, you have a health crisis, you lose a job” and then you can no longer afford your housing.

Segura, of UCLA, spoke of the need to reduce the costs that local governments put on developers, by demanding they widen streets, provide parking, or take on wage issues as a condition of building housing. Such demands add to the cost of housing and make “pulling a building permit the most expensive thing you can do in California.”

He also argued that linkage fees, which make developers pay for affordable housing, reflect attempts by local governments to make up for some of the control and revenue they lost under Proposition 13, the 1978 ballot initiative that limited property taxes. While noting that it’s unpopular to free up developers, he warned, “We cannot use developers and development to solve all issues.”

Lisa Hershey, executive director of the nonprofit Housing California, said that too much public money goes into tax subsidies for our homes—she mentioned the mortgage interest rate deduction—and not enough into infrastructure, transit, access to schools, and livable community policies that stabilize neighborhoods, and keep people in their homes. “The stability of home makes everything else possible” in terms of improving people’s lives, she said.

She also lamented how efforts to address the housing crisis—by building more transit and housing—can end up pushing out longstanding residents of certain neighborhoods, as land values, rents, and home prices rise. Many Californians are being pushed out of established neighborhoods to places far from jobs, creating longer commutes.

De León noted that a development in Boyle Heights, which is part of his Senate district, was blocked because of concerns about such displacement. “People are thinking, ‘If I’m going to be displaced, where am I going to live? My cultural identity, my linguistic identity—everything is in this neighborhood, this block,’” he said.

Hershey and de León both touted a package of 15 bills that the legislature passed in the just concluded session, and that Governor Jerry Brown signed into law. It includes a dedicated funding source for affordable housing, a housing bond that will go to voters, and legislation that should speed up permitting in localities. De León said that the push on housing would be enhanced by other new laws that promote road and infrastructure repair, boost transit, add parks, and reduce pollution.

“This package we’ve moved forward—I’m hoping it will be the first step of many steps,” he said.

De León also noted that the housing package—in combination with previously allocated state money for the homeless and mentally ill and local measures for funding housing and homeless programs—meant that an unprecedented amount of money is flowing to address housing issues. But that doesn’t guarantee that local leaders will find ways to turn money into housing that meets people’s needs.

“At a macro level we can move all the capital that is necessary to catalyze and attract money,” de León said. “But if at the local level, the leadership is lacking, it just takes a really bad problem and makes it even worse.”

During a question-and-answer session with the audience, one person asked why, if California is producing so little housing, she sees so much development as she drives around.

Harrell, of AARP, responded that “not all supply is created equal—just because a building is going up, it doesn’t mean it has enough units that folks can afford.” And UCLA’s Segura noted that the housing being built is simply not enough for a state that’s reaching a population of 40 million.

Hershey, of Housing California, called this “a historic moment,” with opportunities to address the housing crisis given the resources, the focus on the problem, and “a gubernatorial campaign with several candidates who are interested in housing.”

But she cautioned that such a complex problem won’t be solved quickly. “This is the long game,” she said.

At that, Harrell added, “We all need to take part.”

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22http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/10/13/22/chronicles/poetry/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/10/13/22/chronicles/poetry/#respond Fri, 13 Oct 2017 07:01:43 +0000 By Celina Su http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=88763 His ardor turned into an antelope-shaped ice sculpture, its taste and shape memorialized
at film festivals all over Spain. Hers fossilized into ambivalent scorn, trapped under a notebook
in Arkansas.

Whenever you wish to, you may conjure me. If I were little beside these digital images,
serving as half-erased traces of whatever latest—or oldest—interpretation you attempt to
inscribe in pixilated ink.

Global landscapes are not altered alone, or via central planning. Think of the big bowl in
Brasília, the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the route between kitchen and bathroom where you
live. I see the steps we have taken; our gloves sit listlessly at the bottoms of our drawers,
bins, knapsacks. My hands are frostbitten, his bear the burns from last summer. Still, this is
migration, this is the making of homes.

These days, Beijing counts the number of “blue sky days” each year on a single hand. Acrid
yellow sandstorms from

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His ardor turned into an antelope-shaped ice sculpture, its taste and shape memorialized
at film festivals all over Spain. Hers fossilized into ambivalent scorn, trapped under a notebook
in Arkansas.

Whenever you wish to, you may conjure me. If I were little beside these digital images,
serving as half-erased traces of whatever latest—or oldest—interpretation you attempt to
inscribe in pixilated ink.

Global landscapes are not altered alone, or via central planning. Think of the big bowl in
Brasília, the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the route between kitchen and bathroom where you
live. I see the steps we have taken; our gloves sit listlessly at the bottoms of our drawers,
bins, knapsacks. My hands are frostbitten, his bear the burns from last summer. Still, this is
migration, this is the making of homes.

These days, Beijing counts the number of “blue sky days” each year on a single hand. Acrid
yellow sandstorms from Ulaanbaatar lash against Tokyo, against Juneau, against San
Francisco. The waters no longer sing.

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