Category Archives: Blogs

Gentrification: One Way it Happens

A neighborhood butcher shop, Avedano’s, in an old and beautiful neighborhood in San Francisco, Bernal Heights, has made news, mostly because its owner, Angela Wilson, gave such a clear and empathetic description of how neighborhoods change.  Her story is happening in countless neighborhoods throughout the nation.  Her story is one variable in the dreaded word “gentrification” that is often left out when politicians, activists, homeowners, and renters talk about fear of being priced out.

According to Wilson, the fact that she has a new landlord with plans for massive construction and renovation isn’t the real problem, though that project would effectively end their access to a kitchen for the foreseeable future. “It has more to do with the demographics of the city and the fact that people buy things online and want to use stores to supplement what they buy online,” says Wilson. “We’ve created two market places for the same amount of people.”

“The neighborhood wants to blame somebody else rather than themselves and they want to blame the bad landlord,” said Wilson. “My old landlord had the building since 1955, so my rent did increase but it’s not the new landlord’s fault. The community doesn’t shop here, they love to have it and it makes their houses worth a lot of money but they’re going down to Safeway.” 

Without a New Plan, Bernal Butcher Shop Avedano’s Will Close in June, Eater, MSNBC, May 10, 2019.

Avedanos Shop 2

In a previous article Just Vote No talked about California Senate Bill 50, which would greatly facilitate the replacement of older buildings with new much more expensive ones.  A reader raised the question, how would a new building take the place of an old one to begin with?

Changes in demographics, lifestyles, and consumer preferences is one way.  When in older times families would shop at the neighborhood butcher shop, now they shop at Costco for several days’ or weeks’ worth of supplies, order whole dinners on line, or stop by their favorite take-out shop on their way from work. So, the butcher shop has difficulty staying open.

Add to that scenario, aging landlords who decide to sell their buildings and retire.  Most likely their buildings will be purchased by deep pocketed developers, who, incentivized by legislation such as Senate Bill 50, might want to tear down old buildings and replace them with denser, more expensive ones that yield higher profits. Rents double and renters already struggling leave unable to afford the new rent.

Just Vote No hopes Angela Wilson’s shop will survive in some manner.

Tax Cuts: Rising Tide That Lifts Some Boats

On December 22, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act after approval of the bill by the Senate and the House of Representatives on December 20, 2017. Thus the most significant tax changes since the Reagan years were enacted. Ever since, the “tax cuts” have joined the growing list of subjects that elicit a great deal of hand wringing from just about everybody.

Rather than post yet another laundry list of what the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act says, here is a brief review of what has happened since the bill became law that might interest workers.

* Job Creation:

At the beginning of May 2019, the unemployment rate stood at 3.6%, lowest level since the 1960s, indicating that companies are creating jobs and hiring workers. The long-term trend since well-paying manufacturing jobs vanished continued, and most growth occurred in low-paying sectors. A lot of hand wringing from our legislators culminated in Senator Chuck Schumer’s sudden concern about “income inequality” as associated with the tax cuts, when the rich have been getting a lot richer for years.

* Wage Growth:

January 2019 posted a real wage gain of 1.7%, and a nominal gain of 3.2%. Real wage figures are adjusted for inflation, while nominal wage figures are not. Lower-paid workers saw the highest gain, around a quarter to a third of that gain probably due to new minimum wage laws and the rest due to job growth that requires employers to pay more to attract workers. The 1.7% figure is a nice gain from 2018, but not much different than year-over-year figures since the 1960s. In other words, in-spite of astronomical rises in the prices of goods in major U.S. cities, real wages have been downright stagnant. The hand wringing comes in again when legislators so concerned about the rich getting richer want interest rates to remain low, which means stock prices remain high, creating wealth mostly for those who can afford stocks (of course, low interest rates “benefit” the poor and middle class, since low rates facilitate more consumption based on a sea of debt).

Pew Research Center:  For Most U.S. Workers, Real Wages Have Barely Budged in Decades.  August 7, 2018.Real and nominal wages

* Company Profits:

The tax cuts lowered the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, in hopes employers would make capital investments, hire more workers, and increase workers’ pay. That is not what usually happens. Blessed with a windfall such as the 2017 tax cuts, major corporations usually benefit their shareholders first with investments such as stock buybacks and generous bonuses. Capital improvements that can increase productivity and worker benefits trickle down eventually, though. Such facts did not prevent major hand wringing from the mainstream media when the usual corporate behavior occurred after the 2017 tax cuts.

* Growth of Gross Domestic Product:

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the total value of all end-product goods and services in the country, including personal consumption, business investment, and government spending on goods and services (welfare payments and interest on the national debt are excluded). The U.S. real (adjusted for inflation) GDP growth rate for 2017 was 2.27% and estimated for 2018 2.80%. For comparison, the real GDP of our two neighboring countries are: Canada 3.05 for 2017 and 2.00 estimated for 2018. Mexico 2.04 for 2017 and 2.10 estimated for 2018.

A healthy GDP is thought of as the tide that lifts all boats. However, sometimes the rise is perilous enough to endanger the people in the boats or uneven enough that some boats get lifted more than others.

At present the U.S. national debt to GDP is hovering on the perilous. That is because legislators, in their effort to get re-elected, want to make the U.S. economy look good, regardless of underlying financial land mines. Deficit spending that keeps adding to the national debt is the financial land mine of our time.

Debt to GDP

Theoretically, as GDP grows so does the wealth of a country’s citizens. However, wages of lower and middle-income workers are stagnant, while the asset-based wealth of the rich is growing. Nobody dares talk about the growth of monopolies – they are too big to annoy.  Nobody dares do much about the “plantation” into which lower-income folks have been assigned – keep the plantation denizens dependent and they will deliver the vote.

In Summary:

The 2017 tax cuts gave a good boost to the U.S. economy.  Workers are finding jobs.  Lower-income folks take home a little more on pay day than they did before the tax cuts.  U.S. companies have more after-tax money that could trickle down to workers once stockholders are appeased.  To the ire of profligate states like California, federal deductions for astronomical state and property taxes are now limited (as an aside, most workers in expensive states like California rent their home, and thus do not have property tax deductions).

The eye-popping downside of the tax cuts is that they will add to the already significant national deficit (the U.S. spends more than it takes in revenues).  By October 2018, the deficit grew to $779 billion, a 17% increase over 2017.  Deficits end up being paid by borrowing, just like in any household.

The unfortunate downside is that tax cuts — any tax cuts — act like a band-aid.  The economy gets a boost and the political faction that brought about the cuts can hope for votes if all goes well.  Meanwhile the underlying variables that support monopolies, stagnant wages, income inequality, and perilous government borrowing remain untouched.

In-Car Deliveries: What Could Go Wrong?

Amazon transformed itself from an on-line bookseller to a huge seller of everything.  Its delivery network is therefore impressive.  In 2017 Amazon introduced in-home delivery for subscribers that wanted their packages delivered inside their homes.

Now Amazon introduced in-car delivery.  Any Amazon Key customer with a “connected car” can have their Amazon packages delivered to their parked car!  Great idea, since this service would certainly help stem the explosion of car break-ins in cities like San Francisco.  Or, what could possibly go wrong?  An article from San Francisco’s  SF Gate asks the question.

Another article, in the San Francisco Chronicle, has the figures on car break-ins for San Francisco.  The article also notes that arrests amount to less than 2%.

SF Car break ins 2

As cities like San Francisco descend into the questionable prosperity of being home to the very rich and the very poor, break-ins of smart cars preferred by the former should be expected to proliferate.

Just Vote No wishes nothing but good luck to Amazon.  Perhaps the company will need a lot of that with in-car deliveries.

The Rough Beast at Your Ballot Box

W.B. Yeats wrote his often-quoted poem The Second Coming in 1919, in the wake of the devastation of WWI and that war’s chaotic aftermath that foretold the inevitability of WWII.

The poem is short, free verse with iambic pentameter, and somewhat to the point – “somewhat,” since, like all good art, The Second Coming does not spell out, but only hints. Here is the poem,

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Battle of SommeClick here for a link to a beautiful audio version.

The images on the audio/visual Youtube post are from the World War II Battle of Somme — 141 days July 1 to November 18, 1916, of trench warfare on the Western Front, with a million men wounded or killed by its end.  The war did not end until 1918.

Why is the Just Vote No Blog Recommending Yeats Poem?

So, why would the Just Vote No Blog recommend The Second Coming? The poem makes for beautiful reading or listening, and it raises a favorite question of the Just Vote No Blog: are the forces of destruction and chaos inevitable reality or the result of bad ideas?

The literati in their analysis of The Second Coming often wax eloquent about Yeats’ reference to “the widening gyre” as testimony of his view of humanity and history as cyclical in the Biblical or mystic sense – birth, death and rebirth. Indeed the history of nations bears out such trajectory, with the rise and fall of the Roman Empire standing as prime example.

But here is what the Just Vote No Blog prefers to offer as testimony instead:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

When a politician says that there ought to be a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage, he or she makes sure passion and intensity accompanies the message, which “the worst” immediately take up with equal verve and soon turn the message into reality. While “the best” often remain cynically aloof, lacking in conviction.

By the way, defining the difference between “the worst” and “the best” is up to you.  Maybe, though, you could look at results, or promises vs. reality.

The Rough Beast

Yeats ends The Second Coming with possibly the most utilized line in modern western literature:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The Biblical second comer is no sloucher,

For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  Matthew 24:27 

The vision Yates creates is of someone moving patiently but relentlessly towards a goal. What if we chose to take that beast as the embodiment of bad ideas, the type of bad ideas we vote for at the polls, or bad ideas proselytized by politicians? What if we just say no? Would we stop the beast?

Obviously, a website titled the Just Vote No Blog would have to say “yes.”

No Sign Congress Wants to Go Back to Work

If anyone at all harbored any hope that the U.S. Congress would go back to work after Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued his report on “Russian Collusion” stating there was none, those unfortunate hopeful folks need to abandon all optimism and go back to just shelling out tax money.

After nearly two years and approximately $30 million in expenses incurred by the Mueller investigation, Congress and the public got to see a redacted version of the Mueller Report in April 2019 – and a new round of pulling of hair and rending of garments commenced. The Democrat majority in the House of Representatives renewed its cry for more investigations and possible impeachment of the President. They want to look into his tax returns and his private real estate deals. They want to investigate who paid for his inaugural event, and why he is calling for changes in the U.S. Census.

Monopoly OligarchCertainly, we the people want Congress to root out corruption, and the fall from grace of many who Mueller dispatched into the arms of the judicial system might have been worthwhile. But, was this mere collateral damage within a higher agenda? Is it time for every voter and taxpayer to ask whether there is a higher agenda and what that agenda might be? Might such a higher agenda be the innocent belief that Donald Trump threatens the venues that government uses to take care of us? Or might the higher agenda be that of oligarchs who do not wish to relinquish control of government venues in charge of funneling wealth?

The innocents truly believe government can better their lives by providing free stuff. They ignore the fact that there is no such thing as free stuff. Take education that became unaffordable to the average American college aspirant when predictably colleges raised tuition in order to capture the largess offered by taxpayer-funded student loans.

On the other hand, oligarchs know exactly what they are doing by encouraging endless printing of fiat money. Think your rent is so high you barely can keep a roof over your family’s head? Look at all the practically free money created by rock bottom interest rates that end up parked in real estate that remains vacant for decades. Think your city is full of techies that can afford to price you out of purchasing a home? Look again at all the fiat money floating around that needs to be parked somewhere, and tech companies are as good a parking space right now as anything else. By the way, this scenario is not the result of capitalism, but the result of policies such as those established by the Federal Reserve (low interest rates) and your government at work (endless spending on entitlements and forever wars).

Voters and taxpayers might want to consider the invisible strings pulling the visible puppets that are so intent on avoiding change at all cost.

Time for Congress to Go Back to Work?

Now that the Mueller report has been completed is there a chance that our Congress people might go back to work? Or maybe it’s only us working stiffs that need to produce at our jobs? Congress folk make around $180,000 with benefits. You, dear taxpayers, pay for that. You, yes, you who maybe have a job without benefits.

For nearly 16 months now, it seems that Congress has been doing nothing but foaming at the mouth – or campaigning for re-election. Meanwhile, somebody out there, maybe the Deep State, maybe the vast bureaucracy, maybe the status quo that does not want real change has been busy whipping the populace into a frenzy.

Have you tried to ask a “resister” what he is resisting? Is the response word-for-word what the media has been feeding her? If the response is a well-thought reason, a reason that involves a realistic perception that the current situation presents a real danger to oneself or to our Republic, then, of course, a fight is essential. But, is that danger really present, or the only danger is that presented to an entrenched bureaucracy that has ceased to be By the People and For the People.

Is it time for we the people to start wondering if the bickering among us is natural or engineered? Time to question whether the bickering among class, race, gender, or political belief is really beneficial? How about asking if what we are being told is true? For example, Congress is now clamoring for the Mueller report to be released to the public. Congress is full of lawyers; surely one of them must be aware that there are legal reasons why the report cannot be released immediately. For one, nothing can be released that contains reference to on-going investigations, and probably the report has much of that. So, some manipulation going on?

Resistance

Venezuela, The Neocons are Back!

Yes, the neocons are back, and as matter of fact they were never far away from power through think-tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations or the Heritage Foundation. Monthly Review Online, 02/19/19.

Elliott Abrams 2Elliott Abrams, a controversial neoconservative figure who was entangled in the Iran-Contra affair, has been named as a Trump administration special envoy overseeing policy toward Venezuela, which has been rocked by a leadership crisis.  Politico, 01/25/19.

The United States has a clear objective in Venezuela: regime change and the restoration of democracy and the rule of law. Yet sanctions, international diplomatic isolation, and internal pressure have failed to deliver a breakthrough. Minds are turning to military intervention. U.S. President Donald Trump has said that “all options are on the table.  Foreign Affairs, 03/19/19.

Iterations of Interventionists

Neoconservatives, or neocons, are the hawkish rightwing in the political spectrum. They are fond of regime change, spreading democracy, defending our interest abroad, and protecting oil.

This is not to say that U.S. interventionism or empire building started with the rise of the neocons in the 1960s. Far from it. Neocons just took over where previous iterations of interventionists left off.

Neocons are the liberal internationalists who endeavored to impose U.S. ideals where they saw such ideals lacking. They are the remnants of the Cold War. They are the revolutionaries of the 1960s who became disenchanted with what the liberalism of the day came to mean: hippies and the anti-war protests. Eventually they migrated to a solid hawkish camp and embraced regime change in whatever form.

Certainly there are those who wish to make fine distinctions between iterations of interventionists. But black ops, development aid, building civil society, hard power, and military force all aim toward the same objective – takeover of a sovereign nation.

The U.S., of course, is not alone in its quest for hegemony. Cultural, economic, and military conquest has existed since the beginning of time. Today, as always, superpowers vie with one another as to who can dominate the most people. But here we focus on Venezuela and the U.S. track record in Latin America. Will U.S. taxpayers be once again on the hook for another questionably imperative neocon adventure?

U.S. Intervention in Latin America

Before the Middle East was all the news, there was Latin America. Now, after Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria, the U.S. is pivoting towards Venezuela. A look at the U.S. track record in Latin America since the 1960s would give us a rough idea of how useful an intervention in Venezuela would be.

* Fidel Castro’s economic and military alliance with the Soviet Union displeased President John F. Kennedy. In 1961 the U.S. backed an invasion of Cuba intended to overthrow Castro. The “Bay of Pigs Invasion” failed and Castro continued in power.

* When President of Brazil Janio Quadros resigned in 1961 after seven months in office, his vice president Joao Goulart assumed the presidency over the objections of the military, who feared Goulart’s left-leaning tendencies. In 1964 Goulart was overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup, which installed a military authoritarian government that lasted until the 1980s.

* Before and after the election of Marxist President Salvador Allende of Chile, the CIA worked diligently first to prevent Allende from getting elected and then to promote a coup to remove him from office. The CIA succeeded when in 1973 troops led by General Augusto Pinochet overthrew Allende. Pinochet ruled as president of a repressive authoritarian state for the next 17 years.

* In 1979 left-leaning Sandinistas took power in Nicaragua, and were not interested in U.S. influence. The Ronald Reagan administration mounted a covert operation whereby the U.S. would sell arms to Iran, so Iran could continue its war with Iraq, and the money generated from the arms sale would finance the Contras opposition to the Sandinistas. The Sandinistas remained in power for the next decade, while the Regan administration suffered accusations of illegal foreign operations.

* Manuel Noriega was a long-standing CIA informer who became President of Panama. In 1989, the U.S. invaded Panama and arrested Noriega. U.S. President George H.W. Bush cited the need to safeguard the lives of U.S. citizens living in Panama, defend democracy and human rights, combat drug trafficking, and protect the integrity of the Panama Canal Treaties. This incident marked the first time the U.S. arrested, tried and convicted the leader of a sovereign nation.

* Haiti’s duly elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was deposed in 1991 by a military coup headed by Lieutenant-General Raoul Cédras. Aristide appealed to the Organization of American States and the United Nation’s Security Council. After many attempts at negotiation with Cedras, in 1994 the U.N. Security Council authorized member states to form a multinational force to use all necessary means to restore Aristide to his post as President of Haiti. A U.S.-led invasion of Haiti did just that. In 2004, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was deposed again. U.N. Missions are still in Haiti.

* Starting in the 1890s U.S.-based banana companies established vast plantations in Honduras, transforming the country into the quintessential Banana Republic. Militarization as a result of the U.S. using Honduras as a base to fight the Nicaraguan Sandinistas added to the country’s problems. In 2005 left-leaning Manuel Zelaya was elected President of Honduras. He attempted liberal reforms and relations with Cuba, and was overthrown by a military coup in 2009, in which the U.S. remained tacit. Today, the dire situation in Honduras contributes to thousands of asylum seekers to flood U.S. borders.

It’s not surprising then that the rising and pervasive violence and deep economic insecurity in Honduras and the region has resulted in unprecedented numbers of refugees and migrants fleeing to seek safety and security. The awful irony is that many must seek that shelter in a country that has in no small part contributed over the course of decades to the rapidly deteriorating conditions from which they are fleeing – and that is overtly unwelcoming and hostile.  Eight Years After the Coup in Honduras The Struggle Continues, Center for Constitutional Rights, 06/28/17

So, Does Intervention Work?

From the U.S. track record in Latin America (and the Middle East), one might question the long term effects of military intervention. Thousands suffered at the hands of right-wing autocrats like Augusto Pinochet because such leaders were deemed by the U.S. preferable to left-leaning reformers. Thousands suffer today in Haiti, Honduras, and Venezuela. Relatively stable nations like Brazil and Panama are plagued by extreme inequalities of opportunity.

Maybe the Donald Trump Administration should engage in a reality check before intervening in Venezuela.