Author Archives: hbkcslick

Batatistas

A lot is said about NIMBYS, folks – usually homeowners – who oppose goods, institutions, or just plain old new things in their neighborhood (Not In My Back Yard), even when they are beneficial to the whole of society. There polar opposite gets very little attention, and are becoming increasingly worse, though not egregiously so. They are BATATistsBatistas (Build Anything Anywhere).

((Fulgencio Batista, dictatorial President of Cuba from 1952-1959, overthrown by the glorious Cuban Revolution. He was famous for the implementing horrendous torture techniques of revolutionaries and their suspected allies, like gouging their eyes out. He is admired by BATATistas))

The principle problem I have with many seemingly progressive urban advocates of development is that they do not want to challenge the capitalist framework of development. That is, they are perfectly willing to let decent, sturdy homes or commercial buildings be demolished for ambitious, bland, six-story apartment buildings with rents in excess of $2/foot for the next trove of Target’s corporate zombies.

I ran into this experience when living and serving on the neighborhood board of Linden Hills in southwest Minneapolis. While the community is titled strongly in favor of the NIMBYists, there was little opposition to the demolition of “affordable” bungalows for new, tasteless, single-family McMansions. A strain in the neighborhood, disgusted with the NIMBYists, were willing to let just about anything come in without opposition. One such project was 46th & France, which will have to be another sad chapter, itself.

That being said, the supporters in the neighborhood and on the board were not thinking about the parcels and lots that were ripe and ideal for redevelopment. One specific plot that had been talked about for five years was Famous Dave’s, a rather gross restaurant. Standing at one story and being largely an asphalt parking lot, it was rather underdeveloped, and right in the center of “downtown Linden Hills”. Ideally, the building would be razed and the vast parking lot would make the footprint of a new, multi-family apartment (or condo) building with first floor retail – preferably a liquor store and clinic :).

While neighborhood opposition stifled a series of projects on this parcel, there was but a peep about McMansions.

Ideologically, what this is about, is not falling to the interests of a single developer. The fine-grained neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul should essentially remain the same in their material essence. Surface parking lots, single story commercial buildings, obsolete warehouses, and yes, truly dilapidated housing should be the parcels where a focus on development is made. Just because some rich asshole owns two houses and wants to build an elegant, glossy condominium building in a neighborhood with either a) no new development, or b) high demand for new housing, doesn’t mean we should let him on the merit of property rights.

We ought to see all the land in the city as essentially belonging to all people in the city – and yes, that is very collectivist and communistic. That’s why I’m writing this blog. I do not advocate for government ownership of all the property, especially the built property, of the city, just the land and its “use”.

Challenging the framework of capitalism, of which private property rights are essential, means not accepting the petty dictates of a developer (like the rich assholes I referenced earlier). Our neighborhood Master Plans actually do a decent job at identifying ideal locations for redevelopment and new development. Under a planned economy with strong influence of the neighborhoods, we could build a better city for the vast majority of people, without destroying good, aesthetically pleasing homes in the process.

Benjamin Netanyahu, America, and the Two State Solution

I am a longtime follower of American politics with an avid interest in the modern Middle East, and yet I can’t think of anything worse than when these two interests of mine converge. There are few things more disheartening than listening to American politicians, pundits, journalists, and policymakers opining on the Middle East’s people and its problems. The views expressed reveal such a breadth of ignorance, zealotry, arrogance, and casual cruelty that it can sometimes boggle the mind. Men and women who no doubt conduct their personal lives with great compassion casually write off the lives of thousands of people as essentially meaningless, little more than chess pieces for them to play with. And so you have the spectacle of an American Congressman casually arguing for the bombing of Islamic holy
sites
as a “deterrent”. Or a Cabinet Secretary nonchalantly referring to the deaths of hundreds of Arab civilians as the “birth pangs” of renewal that the region needs.

But the potent mix of malice, ignorance, and stupidity that characterizes American discourse on the Middle East is never greater than when discussing the fate of the Palestinians. The recent debate over Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest remarks is a case in point. If you’re unaware, a little over a week ago the Israeli Prime Minister’s ruling Likud party was trailing in the polls just ahead of a general election. In an attempt to secure more votes from Israeli conservatives, Netanyahu went on a racist rant, denouncing the vast left wing conspiracy that has Arab citizens of Israel “streaming to the polls in droves.” (The Obama administration called the comments “divisive.” That’s a clever euphemism. It’s a rule in Washington that one is not allowed to acknowledge the existence, much less the depth, of Israeli racism. Doing so might raise questions about the “special relationship” and the billions of dollars in American aid that accompanies it.) In an excellent illustration of the mood of the Israeli public, Netanyahu’s tactic worked brilliantly. Support for his Likud party surged in the election’s final days, ending in a resounding victory.

Now, let’s put aside for a moment what this means about the role that anti-Arab racism plays in Israeli politics and life in general. Let’s also not concern ourselves with why pundits and politicians who are so troubled by bigotry elsewhere don’t seem to be at all concerned with the rampant racism evinced by their favorite politicians. Instead, let’s talk about the other part of Netanyahu’s statements, the part that has actually caused significant friction with the Obama Administration: Netanyahu’s rejection of the Two State Solution.

* * *

The Two State Solution has been around for a very long time, which is really a damn shame. It was horribly flawed in its infancy and has only deteriorated with age. Building a European colonial enterprise on land where millions of Arabs were living was always a questionable idea. The logic of Zionism required not just that this colony be constructed, but that it be dominated by European settlers. This was a recipe for humanitarian disaster, and disaster is exactly what we got.

The consequences of the Zionist project were obvious long before the Two State Solution was passed in 1947 as the UN Partition Plan for Palestine, and the men who founded Israel were very much aware of them. Moshe Sharett, Israel’s first Foreign Minister and second Prime Minister, explained this in a letter in 1914: “We have forgotten that we have not come to an empty land to inherit it, but we have come to conquer a country from a people inhabiting it, that governs it by virtue of its language and savage culture.” His views were echoed by early Zionist leader and soldier Vladimir Jabotinsky in 1923:

“Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonized…That is what the Arabs in Palestine are doing, and what they will persist in doing as long as there remains a solitary spark of hope that they will be able to prevent the transformation of ‘Palestine’ into the ‘Land of Israel.’”

The drive of Zionists to build a Jewish State in the Middle East was simply incompatible with the demographic realities of Palestine in 1947. When the UN passed the Partition Plan, two thirds of the 1.9 million people living in British Mandate Palestine were Palestinian Arabs. The new state of Israel, which was granted 56% of the lands of the British Mandate, would be built on territory whose population was around 45% Palestinian. This created a conundrum. The proposed Jewish State was not nearly Jewish enough. This problem was ameliorated through the expulsion and dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs.

The events of 1948 were a direct consequence of the basic logic of Zionism paired with the UN’s awful Partition Plan. In order to found a European colonial state on land where millions of Arabs lived, an ethnic cleansing of the native population was necessary. Over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs lost their homes in the expulsions of 1948. Their empty villages were then systematically destroyed by the new Israeli state and replaced by new structures for Jewish settlers. In 1969, Moshe Dayan, the Israeli Minister of Defense, discussed the aftermath of the expulsions of 1948:

“Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because these geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahalal arose in the place of Mahlul, Gvat in the place of Jibta, Sarid in the place of Haneifa, and Kfar-Yehoshua in the place of Tel-Shaman. There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.”

In the war that accompanied this ethnic cleansing, the proposed Palestinian State contracted from 43% of the land of the British Mandate to 22%. This is the West Bank and Gaza. Yet despite its clear and obvious failure, rhetorical support for the Two State Solution remained strong.

In 1967, another Arab-Israeli war led to the conquest and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. All the land of the British Mandate was now under Israeli control, and Israel quickly moved settlers into the newly conquered territory. Nearly 50 years later, the military occupation of the Palestinian territories continues and 350 thousand Israelis live in settlements that dot the landscape of the West Bank. No one seriously believes that these settlements could be dismantled in a way that allows for the creation of a fully sovereign and viable Palestinian state, but just as immune to reality as ever, the Two State Solution still dominates the imaginations of most Western observers. (To see what I mean, look at this plan put forth by the Zionist Union, Israel’s dovish liberal party. The Palestinian state they propose would lack sovereignty over many of its affairs, be geographically discontinuous, dotted with foreign encampments, and really an all-around joke. Remember that this is the plan of Israel’s liberals, the most conciliatory of Israel’s political factions. The point is that there is no serious proposal anywhere that could create a sovereign and viable Palestinian state bordering Israel.)

* * *

The nature of the debate over the Two State Solution is made all the more absurd in light of Netanyahu’s history. He consistently denounced the Two State Solution for most of his career. As Israeli deputy foreign Minister in 1989, he advocated solving the Palestinian question through force. In a 1989 speech at Bar Ilan University shortly after the Tiananmen demonstrations in China, Netanyahu said that “Israel should have exploited the repression of the demonstrations in China, when world attention focused on that country, to carry out mass expulsions among the Arabs of the territories.

Netanyahu came around to supporting the Two State Solution quite late and quite suddenly, after his second election to the office of Prime Minister. His supposed conversion was announced in a widely heralded speech in 2009, but the timing of Netanyahu’s change of heart should have seemed a bit odd to anyone listening. In a US National Intelligence Estimate in 1968, the CIA authors wrote this:

“If Israel continues to occupy conquered territory for an extended period, say two to three years, it will find it increasingly difficult to relinquish control. Domestic pressures to establish paramilitary settlements in occupied areas would grow, and it would be harder to turn back to the Arabs land which contained such settlements.”

By 2009, settlement building had been going on more or less continuously for over 40 years. Israeli settlers in the West Bank numbered in the hundreds of thousands. In 1948, the Two State Solution was implausible. In 1968, it was nearly impossible. In 2009, when Netanyahu began supporting it, it was dead. This is why the recent debate over Netanyahu’s actions is so ridiculous. The absurdity of it would be amusing if its consequences weren’t so devastating. Netanyahu has spent the last six years furiously building settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, enforcing a devastating economic blockade on a captive population, killing thousands of civilians in brutal military campaigns, and generally showing absolutely no regard for Palestinian life or for any possible prospects of a future Palestinian state. And the United States and the Obama Administration have been very consistent in their support for Netanyahu’s actions. Last August, as the civilian death toll from Israel’s operation in Gaza was climbing rapidly, both chambers of Congress passed unanimous resolutions in support of Israel’s actions. As Israel killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians, the House and Senate quickly passed bills to expedite the military aid Israel would need to continue the slaughter.

As long as Netanyahu kept up his rhetorical support for the Two State Solution, the United States worked to shield Israel from any costs its actions may have generated. The American administration’s deal with Netanyahu essentially was, “As long as you stick to the right campaign lines, we’ll keep supporting everything you do. We’ll keep protecting you in international forums. We’ll even keep sending you the bombs you need to keep killing Palestinians while we smile at your ludicrous claims of self-defense against a captive people.”

Then, this latest campaign began, and, in an extraordinary turn, Netanyahu finally stepped out of line. Unmoved by the thousands of civilian casualties in Gaza last summer, the Obama administration finally witnessed an Israeli leader do something that they could not abide. What was this great crime? Netanyahu said explicitly what should have been obvious to everyone for years: that his ‘support’ for the Two State Solution was nothing but rhetoric, a lie told to fool only the most gullible and most blind among us.

So here we have a real American policy laid bare. The United States is perfectly happy to subsidize the indefinite occupation of the Palestinian territories as long as they can claim that they have a solution. The actual efficacy or plausibility or possibility of such a solution is immaterial. In other words, they will gladly underwrite an occupation without end as long as they don’t have to admit that’s what they’re doing. Netanyahu may be a racist and a war criminal, but he can’t touch Obama for duplicity and cowardice.

Though the Two State Solution died a long time ago, the dream of basic civil rights for Palestinians is still alive. But until an American President can face up to the Middle East’s realities, don’t expect anything to change.

America’s Terrible Welfare State

In the United States, a nation not known for high spending as a percentage of GDP on social welfare, you can find a place with free food, quality housing, decent health care, debt-free education, matching uniforms as well as work: the state and federal penitentiary.

$2.287 trillion was spent on social programs in the United State, both federal and state, for social programs (http://budget.house.gov/uploadedfiles/rectortestimony04172012.pdf). While state spending on “correcting” over 2 million people is $48.5 billion (http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/scefy8210.pdf), only a paltry 2% of the welfare pie, the federal governments spends an additional $5.6 billion imprisoning 218,000 people. Combined this may only be 2.37% of social spending, but it would surely shore up our social welfare system even before implementing tax hikes on the obscenely wealthy, large corporations, or cutting military spending.

There are 218,000 men and women in federal prisons (http://www.urban.org/uploadedpdf/412693-the-growth-and-increasing-cost-of-the-federal-prison-system.pdf

As a society I believe we must ask ourselves if we can lock people up and dedicate millions of man hours to watching “criminals” who are housed, fed, medicated, educated, and slavishly employed, why then when they are released for their “crimes” can they not find housing, food, medical care, schooling or a job to pay for the listed necessities? It’s much like Tony Benn’s quote on WW2 ending the depression in Britain and the US. If men and women can be put to work for destruction, ought we be able to put men and women to work for the construction of a society with housing, food, schools, and hospitals for all?

A good link: http://money.cnn.com/infographic/economy/education-vs-prison-costs/

Cops of Color

Whenever there’s white cop-on-black civilian incident, some asinine liberal says we need more diversity in city police departments. This line of thinking fails to recognize the role of the police in a capitalist society – as the knights of capital’s defense, i.e. private property (the means of production kind, not necklaces, homes, or cars).

But when this liberal critique of urban policing actually works in getting people of color hired into police forces, what the police chiefs and the ruling class in general are trying to do is control a demographic by hiring their own people. It is a stealth co-opting of ethnic, racial, or immigrant self-policing.

Much attention to Ferguson in particular has brought up how these very black suburbs have a very white police force. This is probably statistically true, but would a black police department be fundamentally different? No! On the fringes they may be less brutal but they would still be prone to brutality and corruption, while at the same time winning the trust of a portion of the black community.

The role of ethnic policemen in large immigrant communities, for instance the Hmong of St. Paul or Somalis of Minneapolis, has seen after two decades the hiring of police from these demographics. It is not a benevolent effort by the city governments or police departments, but rather a very deliberate attempt to gain ground over cultural self-policing, distrust of murderous police (http://www.startribune.com/local/yourvoices/103979934.html), and perhaps gangs and potential informants. It is a way of the police saying, “We don’t really trust you people, so will hire one of your kind so that we can more easily spy on you”.

So if you’re wondering why John C. Reilly’s image is in this picture, it’s because he plays an Irish cop in Gangs of New York, whose very presence is to rat on Irish “scum” in the Five Points. I highly recommend the film, too.

Minneapolis Streetcars: Visions for a Better Metro

My blog will be developed at a glacial pace. As I identify with being an “urbanist” and a “socialist” I want to discuss city development, history, socialism, and importantly capitalism. I have a lot of articles in draft form that won’t seem to have anything to do with cities to most urbanism so I wanted to bring up a transit nerd column on the proposed streetcar projects for my home, the City of Minneapolis.nordest streetcar

After the foreseen success of the Twin Cities first modern light rail line, the Hiawatha (now Blue) Line, a scurry to construct a plan to build a network in 20-150 years was construed by the faux progressives on the Minneapolis City Council. The decided upon six radial lines (Central Avenue NE, Dinkytown via University/4th Streets SE, Chicago Avenue, Nicollet Avenue, Hennepin Avenue, Broadway Ave N) and a crosstown route along Lake Street or one block north in the Midtown Greenway trench. Unsurprisingly, these seven routes match perhaps the 8 or 9 busiest bus routes. Most have been considered as part of an alignment for light rail routes in earlier studies, from the late 1960’s to the present time.

The last ten years, and more so since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the Stimulus), the Obama Administration has provided significant, new funding for streetcars under the “Small Starts” aid program. While any additional funding for transit from the federal government, many of the proposed streetcar lines throughout the United States will provide very few real benefits to working class Americans.

And much of it comes to a principle flaw in “streetcars” and streetcar planning. Running in streets with regular motor traffic results in speeds no faster than buses. The only advantage streetcars have is faster acceleration. If a streetcar breaks down, it halts all over streetcar traffic. No amelioration to this problem is planned in Minneapolis’s proposed starter route (as seen in photo), which would go from near-Northeast Minneapolis to Lake & Nicollet.

Instead of branding this proposed line and all others as “streetcars’, they should just classify them as half-assed light rail lines, whilst light rail itself is a half-assed version of rapid transit lines. The Hiawatha Line could be considered “Light RAPID Transit”, as it runs in a tunnel through the airport, in a segregated right-of-way up Hiawatha, and on a viaduct over Lake Street. The Green Line (University Avenue – Midway corridor light rail line), with its stops every half mile and lack of signal preemption, could be called “Street-Rail Transit (SRT)”, or something slightly more creative, and would in their own right-of-way on the street with their own platforms every 1/4 to 1/2 mile.

Now most would jump to say “there isn’t enough room on Nicollet” and most other streets. If they were wholly unwilling to sacrifice on-street parking they’d be right. But we are trying to build a city and perhaps even a metropolis that puts the needs of people, particularly the working class, ahead of the needs of machines. We ought to strive to build a city where one doesn’t need a car for mobility. This alone is not sufficient justification, but I will demonstrating in future articles just what it would look like. That is what I strive for in my thinking, though I do not work in planning.

For a look into how this line of thinking is working, and keeping new transit lines very affordable, I point to Besançon (http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2010/10/01/how-is-besancon-building-a-tramway-at-e16-millionkilometer/). Another article from a former classmate on how Minneapolis’s plan lacks ambition can be found at MinnPost (http://www.minnpost.com/minnesota-blog-cabin/2014/10/minneapolis-should-skip-streetcars), to read the whole feasibility study look to the city’s website (http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/www/groups/public/@publicworks/documents/webcontent/convert_270445.pdf).

I will painfully revisit in-depth the canvassing and political campaigning I did with some Big Bourgeoisie over the Southwest LRT line back in 2009. I also plan to render some drawings as to how the proposed streetcar corridors would look running on their own right-of-way, including downtown routing, as well as how to imagine the system we are building as being part of a network, like the freeway system, and not some provincial pet project of certain neighborhoods and suburbs.

Redskins and Gamergate

When it comes to these two particular “controversies”, I find the attention paid to these issues is akin to looking for oppression in all the wrong places. I view video games as a form of escapism where you can engage in a world fantastically different from your own. I think the fact that the Washington football club has had the nickname Redskins since 1932 is unfortunately endearing. But I don’t bring these two points up amongst comrades, other leftists, gamers or football fans. I think if these two fringe, capricious subjects are to draw women or Native Americans into political participation then it’s a good thing in the long run.

I think the context and dedication of time spent on educating people about “misogyny” in the gamer world or how offensive the nickname “Redskins” is can detract from issues that are more in tuned with what the working class may already be engaged in, such as the fight for a living wage, an expansion of mass transit or health care, a union representation drive. To focus discussion in a group of committed, revolutionary-minded people about these two subjects whilst a revolutionary society is being attacked by Islamic fascists in Kurdistan or while the largest protest against police brutality is occurring in St. Louis would be an inept strategy on the part of any party or organization trying to build class consciousness in our economically-oppressed society.

I recommend watching the South Park episode “Go Fund Yourself”.