Thursday, October 7, 2021

Why Does Congress Fight Over Childcare But Not F-35s?


Yves Smith: Of course we know the answer to how Congress sets its priorities. No one wants to lose donations or cause their friends in Virginia to lose sleep wondering how they’ll pay for their kids’ college tuition. Even so, the New York Times has finally deigned to notice that the US is an outlier, in an obviously bad way, on childcare spending. Gee, one wonders why.

In fairness, this post gives useful detail on America’s over the top military spending and how it manages never to come up for debate. However, it unfortunately also takes up the balanced budget myth.

Why Does Congress Fight Over Childcare But Not F-35s?

By Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK and the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq

President Biden and the Democratic Congress are facing a crisis as the popular domestic agenda they ran on in the 2020 election is held hostage by two corporate Democratic Senators, fossil-fuel consigliere Joe Manchin and payday-lender favorite Kyrsten Sinema.

But the very week before the Dems’ $350 billion-per-year domestic package hit this wall of corporate money-bags, all but 38 House Democrats voted to hand over more than double that amount to the Pentagon. Senator Manchin has hypocritically described the domestic spending bill as “fiscal insanity,” but he has voted for a much larger Pentagon budget every year since 2016.

Real fiscal insanity is what Congress does year after year, taking most of its discretionary spending off the table and handing it over to the Pentagon before even considering the country’s urgent domestic needs. Maintaining this pattern, Congress just splashed out $12 billion for 85 more F-35 warplanes, 6 more than Trump bought last year, without debating the relative merits of buying more F-35s vs. investing $12 billion in education, healthcare, clean energy or fighting poverty.

The 2022 military spending bill (NDAA or National Defense Authorization Act) that passed the House on September 23 would hand a whopping $740 billion to the Pentagon and $38 billion to other departments (mainly the Department of Energy for nuclear weapons), for a total of $778 billion in military spending, a $37 billion increase over this year’s military budget. The Senate will soon debate its version of this bill—but don’t expect too much of a debate there either, as most senators are “yes men” when it comes to feeding the war machine.

Two House amendments to make modest cuts both failed: one by Rep. Sara Jacobs to strip $24 billion that was added to Biden’s budget request by the House Armed Services Committee; and another by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for an across-the-board10% cut(with exceptions for military pay and healthcare).

After adjusting for inflation, this enormous budget is comparable to the peak of Trump’s arms build-up in 2020, and is only 10% below th epost-WWII record set by Bush II in 2008 under cover of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would give Joe Biden the dubious distinction of being the fourth post-Cold War U.S. president to militarily outspend every Cold War president, from Truman to Bush I.

In effect, Biden and Congress are locking in the $100 billion per year arms build-up that Trump justified with his absurd claims that Obama’s record military spending had somehow depleted the military.

As with Biden’s failure to quickly rejoin the JCPOA with Iran, the time to act on cutting the military budget and reinvesting in domestic priorities was in the first weeks and months of his administration. His inaction on these issues, like his deportation of thousands of desperate asylum seekers, suggests that he is happier to continue Trump’s ultra-hawkish policies than he will publicly admit.

In 2019, the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland conducted a study in which it briefed ordinary Americans on the federal budget deficit and asked them how they would address it. The average respondent favored cutting the deficit by $376 billion, mainly by raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations, but also by cutting an average of $51 billion from the military budget.

Even Republicans favored cutting $14 billion, while Democrats supported a much larger $100 billion cut. That would be more than the10% cut in the failed Ocasio-Cortez Amendment, which garnered support from only 86 Democratic Reps and was opposed by 126 Dems and every Republican.

Most of the Democrats who voted for amendments to reduce spending still voted to pass the bloated final bill. Only 38 Democrats were willing to vote against a $778 billion military spending bill that, once Veterans Affairs and other related expenses are included, would continue to consume over 60% of discretionary spending.

“How’re you going to pay for it?” clearly applies only to “money for people,” never to “money for war.” Rational policy making would require exactly the opposite approach. Money invested in education, healthcare and green energy is an investment in the future, while money for war offers little or no return on investment except to weapons makers and Pentagon contractors, as was the case with the $2.26 trillion the United States wasted on death and destruction in Afghanistan.

A study by the Political Economy Research Center at the University of Massachusetts found that military spending creates fewer jobs than almost any other form of government spending. It found that $1 billion invested in the military yields an average of 11,200 jobs, while the same amount invested in other areas yields: 26,700 jobs when invested in education; 17,200 in healthcare; 16,800 in the green economy; or 15,100 jobs in cash stimulus or welfare payments.

It is tragic that the only form of Keynesian stimulus that is uncontested in Washington is the least productive for Americans, as well as the most destructive for the other countries where the weapons are used. These irrational priorities seem to make no political sense for Democratic Members of Congress, whose grassroots voters would cut military spending by an average of $100 billion per year based on the Maryland poll.

So why is Congress so out of touch with the foreign policy desires of their constituents? It is well-documented that Members of Congress have more close contact with well-heeled campaign contributors and corporate lobbyists than with the working people who elect them, and that the “unwarranted influence” of Eisenhower’s infamous Military-Industrial Complex has become more entrenched and more insidious than ever, just as he feared.

The Military-Industrial Complex exploits flaws in what is at best a weak, quasi-democratic political system to defy the will of the public and spend more public money on weapons and armed forces than the world’s next 13 military powers. This is especially tragic at a time when the wars of mass destruction that have served as a pretext for wasting these resources for 20 years may finally, thankfully, be coming to an end.

The five largest U.S. arms manufacturers (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics) account for 40% of the arms industry’s federal campaign contributions, and they have collectively received $2.2 trillion in Pentagon contracts since 2001 in return for those contributions. Altogether, 54% of military spending ends up in the accounts of corporate military contractors, earning them $8 trillion since 2001.

The House and Senate Armed Services Committees sit at the very center of the Military-Industrial Complex, and their senior members are the largest recipients of arms industry cash in Congress. So it is a dereliction of duty for their colleagues to rubber-stamp military spending bills on their say-so without serious, independent scrutiny.

The corporate consolidation, dumbing down and corruption of U.S. media and the isolation of the Washington “bubble” from the real world also play a role in Congress’s foreign policy disconnect.

There is another, little-discussed reason for the disconnect between what the public wants and how Congress votes, and that can be found in afascinating 2004 study by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations titled “The Hall of Mirrors: Perceptions and Misperceptions in the Congressional Foreign Policy Process.”

The “Hall of Mirrors” study surprisingly found a broad consensus between the foreign policy views of lawmakers and the public, but that “in many cases Congress has voted in ways that are inconsistent with these consensus positions.”

The authors made a counter-intuitive discovery about the views of congressional staffers. “Curiously, staffers whose views were at odds with the majority of their constituents showed a strong bias toward assuming, incorrectly, that their constituents agreed with them,” the study found, “while staffers whose views were actually in accord with their constituents more often than not assumed this was not the case.”

This was particularly striking in the case of Democratic staffers, who were often convinced that their own liberal views placed them in a minority of the public when, in fact, most of their constituents shared the same views. Since congressional staffers are the primary advisors to members of Congress on legislative matters, these misperceptions play a unique role in Congress’s anti-democratic foreign policy.

Overall, on nine important foreign policy issues, an average of only 38% of congressional staffers could correctly identify whether a majority of the public supported or opposed a range of different policies they were asked about.

On the other side of the equation, the study found that “Americans’ assumptions about how their own member votes appear to be frequently incorrect … [I]n the absence of information, it appears that Americans tend to assume, often incorrectly, that their member is voting in ways that are consistent with how they would like their member to vote.”

It is not always easy for a member of the public to find out whether their Representative votes as they would like or not. News reports rarely discuss or link to actual roll-call votes, even though the Internet and the CongressionalClerk’s officemake it easier than ever to do so.

Civil society and activist groups publish more detailed voting records. Govtrack.uslets constituents sign up for emailed notifications of every single roll-call vote in Congress.Progressive Punchtracks votes and rates Reps on how often they vote for “progressive” positions, while issues-related activist groups track and report on bills they support, as CODEPINK does atCODEPINK Congress. Open Secretsenables the public to track money in politics and see how beholden their Representatives are to different corporate sectors and interest groups.

When Members of Congress come to Washington with little or no foreign policy experience, as many do, they must take the trouble to study hard from a wide range of sources, to seek foreign policy advice from outside the corrupt Military-Industrial Complex, which has brought us only endless war, and to listen to their constituents.

TheHall of Mirrorsstudy should be required reading for congressional staffers, and they should reflect on how they are personally and collectively prone to the misperceptions it revealed.

Members of the public should beware of assuming that their Representatives vote the way they want them to, and instead make serious efforts to find out how they really vote. They should contact their offices regularly to make their voices heard, and work with issues-related civil society groups to hold them accountable for their votes on issues they care about.

Looking forward to next year’s and future military budget fights, we must build a strong popular movement that rejects the flagrantly anti-democratic decision to transition from a brutal and bloody, self-perpetuating “war on terror” to an equally unnecessary and wasteful but even more dangerous arms race with Russia and China.

As some in Congress continue to ask how we can afford to take care of our children or ensure future life on this planet, progressives in Congress must not only call for taxing the rich but cutting the Pentagon–and not just in tweets or rhetorical flourishes, but in real policy.

While it may be too late to reverse course this year, they must stake out a line in the sand for next year’s military budget that reflects what the public desires and the world so desperately needs: to roll back the destructive, gargantuan war machine and to invest in healthcare and a livable climate, not bombs and F-35s.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Eeek! You can never be too safe!

The media critics at FAIR recently aired an answer to "copaganda"  (~28 minutes), the NY Times report (here and here) of  rising murder rates attributed to the "Ferguson Effect." This means the public's distrust of police means police withdraw from traditional crime prevention.

They interview the author of Usual Cruelty, Alex Karakastanis (of who says the reporters are biased, and assert things fictional for many of their arguments. In effect, the Times is actually speculating there's a connection between police and murder rates. Murder rates far more often correlated with poverty, toxic masculinity--things not really connected with the police.

The truth: murder is at historic lows despite a recent upswing, perhaps more connected to COVID than policing. More police means less crime is a common meme, promoted by every mystery or crime procedural, but the truth is that police solve ~20% of crimes, and only ~2% of serious crime. Perry Mason they ain't.

Actually crime statistics are based on something the police define, and the published crime statistics  reflect that. For example, those statistics do not include police crime, wage theft (five times the reported robbery/burglary stats), clean water act violations, etc.

That the Times authors limit the debate to exclude lots of white collar crime and police crime--even poverty--makes it seem like there are really a narrow range of views. It's then possible to blame the victim, for example, asserting civil rights protests of police violence are to blame for rising crime rates.

Lately, bail reform (the "revolving jailhouse door") is blamed as adding to crime. Evidence is that detaining people who can't afford bail actually harms public safety, disrupting lives already on the brink, making crime, assault, murder, more likely. As Anatole France says: "The law in its magnificent equality forbids rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges, begging in the street and stealing bread."

Friday, September 17, 2021

12 Step Program to Create a Housing Crisis

(from LAProgressive)

A UCLA Luskin Center study on homelessness in Los Angeles traces this unresolved social problem back to the 1930s, when homeless encampments were called Hoovervilles.  In response, Los Angeles began its own public housing program, a responsibility assumed by the Federal government between 1934-1937, with the formation of the Federal Housing Administration.  For the next four decades the Federal government undertook the funding of public housing and publicly subsidized housing through local housing authorities.

There were exceptions, such as California’s 400 local redevelopment agencies.  Until the State Legislature and Governor Brown dissolved them in 2011, they devoted 20 percent of their tax increment financing to publicly subsidized housing, usually built through non-profit housing corporations.

Given this noteworthy history, how have we ended up with a steadily worsening housing crisis in the United States, with at least 600,000 people homeless on any given night.  Furthermore, a basic two-bedroom apartment is beyond the financial reach of the poorest renters in every American county.  According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition:

“In most areas of the U.S., a family of four with poverty-level income earns no more than $25,750 and can afford a monthly rent of no more than $644. The national average fair market rent for a one-bedroom home is $970 per month and $1,194 for a two-bedroom home, far from affordable for a family in poverty.”

This housing crisis did not happen by itself.  It is the result of deliberate policy decisions at every level of government over the past half century. 

Of course, in expensive housing markets like Los Angeles, the housing crisis is much worse because the average rent for a two bedroom apartment in LA is $2,900 per month.  About 10 percent of the country’s homeless live in Los Angeles County, with individuals and encampments visible in every community, no longer corralled into DTLA’s historic Skid Row neighborhood

This housing crisis did not happen by itself.  It is the result of deliberate policy decisions at every level of government over the past half century.  These are the most important steps that produced this crisis, with every expectation it will continue for years to come.

  • Step 1) Beginning with the Nixon Administration (1968-1973), the Federal government gradually liquidated HUD public housing programs.  This purge gas been so complete that some local activists use the European term, social housing.  Are they unaware that 1.1 million units of legacy public housing remain in the United States, and they house 2 million people?  If these HUD programs had continued, this country could be filled with an additional million units of low cost public housing to meet the needs of the homeless, rent burdened, and over-crowded.

  • Step 2) Failing to index the 2009 Congressionally adopted $7.25/hour minimum wage to inflation or the price of housing has left millions priced out of housing.  The supply is there, but for too many tenants, the rent is too damn high.  The cost of existing housing forces them to live in overcrowded conditions, pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent, live in cars, or sleep on sidewalks.
  • Step 4) Cutting back spending on social services, mental health, and addiction outreach in California left many of those forced to live on the streets without proper care.
  • Step 5) Relying on the Los Angeles Police Department to treat homelessness as a crime has forced many encampments to relocate to other neighborhoods, without ameliorating the underlying causes of homelessness.
  • Step 6) Privatizing public housing, by, for example, offering density bonuses to private developers who pledge to rent approximately 10 percent of completed units to low-income tenants has not succeeded, according to LA City Controller Ron Galperin
  • Step 7) Avoiding sending Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department  (HCID) inspectors to private sector density bonus apartments means that the City Hall is unable to verify that promised low-priced apartment units exist and are rented to vetted low-income tenants.
  • Step 8) Failing to compile an accurate HCID registry of density bonus apartments and low-income tenants who qualify for density bonus housing makes LA’s housing crisis worse, not better.
  • Step 9) Counting building permits issued for density bonus apartments, instead of low cost rental units completed and rented to certified low-income tenants, creates a false impression that the privatization of public housing is a viable alternative to HUD and CRA projects.
  • Step 10) Neglecting to monitor the grandiose claims of up-zoners, that zone changes reduce homelessness, increase transit ridership, and decrease Green House Gas emissions, also makes the housing crisis worse.
  • Step 12) Blaming immigrants in red states for the housing crisis and owner-occupants of single-family houses in blue states for homelessness conceal the real culprits.  The elected officials responsible for cutbacks in public housing and public health programs are off the hook.  Meanwhile, the speculative real estate investors who so benefit from up-zoning evade media attention.  This is why the counter-terms of WIMBY (Wall Street in My Backyard) and Fauxgressive (fake progressives) have been deployed to reveal who is hiding behind the curtain.

These are the most important steps responsible for the current housing crisis.  They also explain why this crisis will not heal itself, but that it could be reversed so everyone will have a roof over their head, regardless of their income or location.

Dick Platkin

Monday, September 13, 2021



Natalie Edwards Was Imprisoned this Month by the U.S. for Blowing the Whistle on Wall Street Banks’ Laundering of Dirty Money
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, September 8, 2021 [Wall Street On Parade]

Edwards is the heroic former Treasury official who tried in vain to get her superiors in the federal government to act on her concerns. Left with no other options to get action, she turned over documents to a BuzzFeed News reporter that became the core of the FinCEN Files, a collaborative investigation involving BuzzFeed News, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and 108 other news organizations.

In effect, Edwards spawned an international news bureau focused on exposing the flow of dirty money around the globe by big name banks such as JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Standard Chartered, and Bank of New York Mellon. One in-depth report at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) captures the magnitude of Edwards’ service to the public interest with this headline: “Global banks defy U.S. crackdowns by serving oligarchs, criminals and terrorists: The FinCEN Files show trillions in tainted dollars flow freely through major banks, swamping a broken enforcement system.”

….Edwards deserves a pardon from President Biden, not to be sitting in a Federal Prison Camp where she cannot have visitors because COVID-19 is skyrocketing in the state of West Virginia.

Please consider signing the Pardon Petition for Edwards and forwarding it to your email contact list with a note asking your friends and family to do the same.

Friday, September 10, 2021

The Victorian Age

 From John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman chapter 35:

In you resides my single power
Of sweet continuance here. --
Hardy, "Her immortality"

At the infirmary many girls of 14 years of age, and even girls of 13, up to 17 years of age, have been brought in pregnant to be confined here. The girls have acknowledged that their ruin has taken going or returning from their (agricultural) work. Girls and boys of this age go five, six or seven miles to work, walking in droves along the roads and bylanes. I have myself witnessed gross indecencies between boys and girls of 14 to 16 years of age. I saw once a young girl insulted by some five or six boys on the roadside. Other older persons were about 20 or 30 yards off, but they took no notice. The girl was calling out, which caused me to stop. I have also seen boys bathing in the brooks, and girls between 13 and 19 looking on from the bank --Children's Employment Commission Report (1867)

What are we faced with in the nineteenth century? An age where woman was sacred; and where you could buy a thirteen-year-old girl for a few pounds--a few shillings, if you wanted her for only an hour or two. Where more churches were built than in the whole previous history of the country; and where one in sixty houses in London was a brothel (the modern ratio would be nearer one in six thousand). Where the sanctity of marriage (and chastity before marriage) was proclaimed from every pulpit , in every newspaper editorial and public utterance; and where never--or hardly ever--have so many great public figures, from the future king down, let scandalous private lives. Where the penal system was progressively humanized; and flagellation so rife that a Frenchman set out quite seriously to prove that the Marquis de Sade must have had English ancestry. Where the female body had never been so hidden from view; and where every sculptor was judged by his ability to carve naked women. Where there is not a single novel, play or poem of literary distinction that ever goes beyond the sensuality of a kiss, where Dr. Bowdler (the date of whose death, 1825, reminds us that the Victorian ethos was in being long before the strict threshold of the age) was widely considered a public benefactor; and where the output of pornography has never been exceeded. Where the excretory functions were never referred to; and where the sanitation remained--the flushing lavatory came late in the age and remained a luxury well up to 1900--so primitive that there can have been few houses, and few streets, where one was not constantly reminded of them. Where it was universally maintained that women do not have orgasms, and yet every prostitute was taught to simulate them. Where there was an enormous progress and liberation in every other field of human activity; and nothing by tyranny in the most personal and fundamental.

At first sight the answer seems clear-it is the business of sublimation. The Victorians poured their libido into those other fields; as if some genie of evolution, feeling lazy, said to himself: We need some progresss, so let us dam and divert this one great canal and see what happens. 

While conceding a partial truth to the theory of sublimation, I sometimes wonder if this does not lead us to the error of supposing the Victorians were not in fact highly sexed. But they were quite as highly sexed as our own century--and, in spite of the fact that we have sex thrown at us night and day (as the Victorians had religion), far more preoccupied with it than we really are. They were certainly preoccupied by love, and devoted far more of their arts to it than we do ours. Nor can Malthus and the lack of birth-control appliances quite account for the fact that they bred like rabbits and worshiped fertility far more ardently than we do. Nor does our century fall behind in the matter of progress and liberalization' and yet we can hardly maintain that this is because  we have so much sublimated energy to spare. I have seen the Naughty Nineties represented as a reaction to many decades of abstinence; I believe it was merely the publication of what had hitherto been private, and I suspect we are in reality dealing with a human constant: the difference is vocabulary, a degree of metaphor. 

The Victorians chose to be serious about something we treat rather lightly, and the way the  expressed their seriousness was not to talk openly about sex, just as part of our way is the very reverse. But these "ways" of being serious are mere conventions. The fact behind them remains constant.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

City Planning and Affordable Housing, in Reality

 (c) by Mark Dempsey     

The Davis Vanguard's editor, David Greenwald, recently wrote about The Left's Dissonance on Housing, pointing out correctly that liberals are among the first to raise those Not-In-My-Back-Yard (NIMBY) objections to developers building more housing--particularly affordable housing.

The problem of affordable housing is not new, nor is it unique to California. For example, using Australia as an example, the website reminds us that speculation in real estate makes prices rise until they reach the maximum lenders will lend. Since ~90% of  home purchases are typically financing, and since lenders make more money the bigger the loan, banks do everything they can to promote price rises. 

Rethinking the Economics of Land and Housing by Josh Ryan-Collins, Toby Lloyd and Laurie Macfarlane echoes this point and adds that studies show 80% of the price rises in real estate come from increases in the price of land--and land prices rise with land speculation. Higher real estate taxes prevent land speculators from holding their land off the market to await the maximum price, so ironically, such taxes can make land cheaper.

If, for one example, real estate taxes were to rise, and what's paid in tax cannot service a loan, tax rises would make such lending and speculation less profitable. If we quell speculation, then prices might actually retreat. Yes, Proposition 13 made real estate more expensive, never mind the $12 billion in annual property tax revenue California loses because of Prop 13's commercial property loophole.

What loophole? If you buy a new house, its property tax comes from a revised assessment based on the sale price. If people buy less than 50% of commercial real estate, though, its taxes don't change, no matter what the sale price. Michael Dell (of Dell computer) bought a Santa Monica hotel, splitting title between himself, his wife and a corporation he controls. The property remained taxed at, in effect, its 1978 value. (Prop 13 passed in 1978). That's true throughout the state, and the loophole is unevenly applied--not every buyer takes advantage of it--so its impact on business is also uneven. In fact, the loophole actually discourages new businesses from building their own buildings--they would be assessed at current prices, and higher costs make them less competitive. In other words, it's nuts, and the California electorate is so anti-tax that it refused to pass a recent proposition (Prop 15) that would have closed that loophole.

Land speculation

If you doubt land speculation--an activity that increases prices--is big business in our region, take a look at North Natomas, just north of Downtown Sacramento. This is thousands of acres of 20-foot-underwater floodplain, surrounded by weak levees. It was so unsuited for development that a federal grant to increase the regional sewer plant's capacity included a $6 million penalty if that capacity served North Natomas. 

The speculators who controlled that land were undaunted. They went to then-vice-president G.H.W. Bush to get that penalty payable in installments, rather than the prohibitive up-front payment. As part of this negotiation, the speculators also got $43 million in federal levee improvement grants to bring the levees surrounding North Natomas up to pre-Katrina standards. North Natomas' levees need millions more to reach post-Katrina standards, but the speculators are long gone and won't be paying for that.

So...a pretty good deal! Pay $6,000,000 in installments and get $43,000,000! But wait, there's more! The speculators bought that land for ~$2,000 an acre. After they got the entitlements to develop, they sold it to builders for ~$200,000 an acre. If your calculator isn't handy, that's a 10,000% gross profit. North Natomas is nearly built out and...Surprise!...the speculators are proposing even more outlying development.

With that kind of incentive, roaches will scuttle out from under the baseboards to do land speculation. The "unearned increment"--that outrageous profit and a component of the 80% rise in real estate prices--goes into land speculators' pockets.

In Germany, the developers have to sell the land to the local government at the agricultural land price, then buy it back at the development land price if they want to build on outlying land. The public retains all of the profit--called the "unearned increment." And German infrastructure is first rate--not, as in the U.S, rated C minus by its engineers. German universities offer classes with free tuition, even for foreigners, and the arts budget of the City of Berlin exceeds the National Endowment for the Arts for the U.S. of A. Meanwhile we're begging for crumbs from the speculators' feast.

Zoning Obstacles

Beside what amounts to covert subsidies offered for the land speculators, the obstacles presented by the planning bureaucracy prevent several good solutions for any housing shortage. For example, single-family zoning prevents mixing multi-unit apartments among the McMansions. What's often cited is that mixing poor folks among the rich will somehow devalue the neighborhood. 

But that's simply untrue. The most valuable real estate in the Sacramento region is the neighborhood around McKinley Park. There, you can find multi-unit apartments, granny flats, and small, separate multiple cottages among the mansions.

13 units among the mansions in McKinley Park

McKinley park's charm--besides the park itself, and some beautiful older homes--is that it offers amenities like offices, restaurants and transit within a comfortable and dignified walk of its residences. At an average of nine units to the acre, the neighborhood itself is slightly lower than the ideal density that Berkeley planner Robert Cervero observed in the East Bay: 11 units per acre. Higher densities support transit and commerce because they generate enough pedestrian traffic to patronize these things.

Density and the Public Realm

Increasing typical neighborhood density makes for viable neighborhood commerce and transit, yet suburbanites (who live in 5-7 units per acre) typically greet any proposal for denser development with howls of derision. Yet buyers pay premiums to live in McKinley Park, never mind far denser, more valuable New York City. Again: McKinley Park is the most valuable real estate in the Sacramento region.

Compact development itself is not enough to warrant the protests, but are there legitimate objections to density? Certainly dropping a bunch of strangers who are likely to be poorer into any neighborhood is hardly a recipe for enthusiastic acceptance, but one genuine problem is that under current law, residential property taxes don't pay their own way for needed public services. 

Since prop 13, funding for infrastructure, schools, fire protection, etc. requires more than the property tax revenue residences produce. If some multi-family housing lands in a neighborhood, odds are it will  make the amenities worse, increasing demands on them without providing funding to match.

Second, the U.S. has embarked on a multi-generational public policy project to de-fund the public realm. The public realm is everything from sidewalks to parks to public buildings from libraries to museums. Britain's National Museum is free. Locally, the Crocker has a fee for admission.

The public realm is everything accessible even to poor people. Like those German universities, the public realm is available to the entire population, without charge. A robust public realm is absolutely required for acceptable denser housing.

I was going to say "so neighbors would feel secure," but ultra-dense New York City has lower per-capita crime than sprawling Phoenix, AZ.

Anyway....government used to build, or fund, low-income housing. The Nixon administration put a moratorium on such federal building. The Reagan administration cut taxes on the wealthy roughly in half, even as Reagan and his successor raised payroll taxes eightfold. They also cut HUD's affordable housing budget 75%. As governor of California, Reagan also closed the asylums, evicting the mental patients to wander the streets. Gosh, I wonder why the mentally ill homeless and income inequality are such problems now?

Anyway, defunding the public realm means making society a dog-eat-dog battle for access to the best schools, to the streets leading to employment, and to housing itself. This makes housing into a scarce commodity, raising its prices to the delight of lenders, and ignoring the fact that people need housing as surely as they need food. Do we really want to motivate workers with the whip of starvation? How about homelessness? (Answer: sadly, yes.)

So yes, liberals have been conned into believing multi-family housing is always a burden. Yet California won't handle the current crisis in affordable housing without denser development. 

The Good News

Besides California's recent mandate that all new streets provide pedestrian access, one proposal that is actually getting traction now is redeveloping commercial corridors and malls to include housing. This could rescue the brick-and-mortar retail suffering from online competition and provide attractive, low-cost residences for the aging population whose fastest growing demographic is those over 85. 

The city of Citrus Heights has such a plan now for Sunrise Mall. Evidence is that such "lifestyle centers" can offer housing in addition to retail, and build for customers who can walk to the food court, etc. They are not just financially viable, such centers are apparently even more profitable than the single-use retail of sprawl. So yes, liberals have been conned into opposing affordable housing, but it needn't continue to be that way.

The author was in the real estate business for nearly two decades, and spent half that time sitting on a Sacramento County Planning Advisory Council, hearing development proposals.

Why Does Congress Fight Over Childcare But Not F-35s?

[via] Yves Smith : Of course we know the answer to how Congress sets its priorities. No one wants to lose donations or c...