Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for November 5th, 2012

When the Levees Broke: DVD 2

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The Wife and I just watched the second DVD in the series—more powerful than the first. Our country has become helpless and dysfunctional, and the DVD makes it clear.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2012 at 8:42 pm

Sandy before and after photos

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Drag the center divider back and forth to see before (left) and after (right) photos of the same location. Here.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2012 at 1:28 pm

Posted in Daily life

Federal government deliberately fails on integration

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Nikole Hannah-Jones has a disturbing story in ProPublica:

The city of Rye, nestled along the scenic Long Island Sound in affluent Westchester County, N.Y., represents the best of suburban living. Sprawling mansions perch atop rolling hills. Children attend top-notch schools. Residents browse tony boutiques and sun themselves on café patios in a downtown that manages to be both quaint and chic.

It also happens that nearly everyone who lives in Rye is white.

Drive down the road a bit, cross two four-lane highways and you’re in working–class Port Chester. Turn near the aging strip mall with the 99-cent store and head onto a street of down-on-their-luck apartments where brown and black children speed past on bicycles.

Here, you’ll find a tiny sliver of Rye, cleaved from the city years ago when interstates 287 and 95 came through. This is where Westchester County has chosen to put 18 units of affordable housing, part of a deal settling a lawsuit over the county’s failure to promote integration as required by the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

The goal of the settlement — dismantling the county’s pattern of segregated housing — seems at odds with the choice of this site. The only road to these apartments slices through Port Chester, a city that is majority black and Latino, and significantly poorer. Anyone who lives here won’t be able to walk or drive directly to the rest of Rye.

The Obama administration cites the Westchester lawsuit as evidence it has taken a more assertive approach than its predecessors to enforcing the fair housing law, which requires communities receiving federal development money to “affirmatively further” integrated housing.

“Until now, we tended to lay dormant,” Ron Sims, the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said in August of 2009 as HUD announced the decree settling the case. “This is historic, because we are going to hold people’s feet to the fire.”

But that is not what happened.

Far from being a new chapter, the tale of Westchester replicates the long history of the Fair Housing Act, in which federal officials have repeatedly backed down from strong enforcement when confronted by determined local opposition.

HUD, for example, raised no objections when Westchester proposed counting the Rye apartments — one-bedroom condos originally designed for seniors — as part of its pledge to build 750 units of affordable housing. Under the terms of the settlement, the site should have been rejected because it sits in a heavily black and Latino census tract.

HUD officials said the department’s senior leadership had little appetite for a confrontation over race with the county, which is home to prominent Democrats such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

As we reported Monday, a series of Democratic and Republican administrations have declined to wield their powers under the Fair Housing Act. The authors of the legislation wanted agencies to withhold federal grants from communities that did not work to dismantle the legal and practical impediments to integration. But over the next four decades, HUD dispersed tens of billions to local communities that did little or nothing to adhere to this part of the law.

ProPublica interviewed former and current HUD officials, Westchester officials and civil rights advocates to chronicle the county’s response to the landmark 2009 settlement, as well as its long-term compliance with the fair housing law. We combed through thousands of documents received through public records requests.

In the decades after the Fair Housing Act was passed, documents show, HUD did not challenge Westchester when local officials certified they were working to undo segregation while not even considering race as a factor in housing policy. It fell to a private civil rights group to question Westchester’s written assertions.

The county settled the case after a judge ruled that its statements to HUD on fair housing amounted to a multi-year fraud, raising the possibility of as much as $150 million in fines.

Rob Astorino, the current Westchester County executive, campaigned against the deal, ousting the Democrat who signed it. Since then, the county has failed to meet several key provisions. Among them: It has not adopted legislation that bans discrimination against residents who pay their rent with government vouchers. It has not produced a HUD-approved analysis of obstacles to fair housing. It has not drawn up a strategy to eliminate local zoning laws that make it harder for African Americans and Latinos to find housing. And it has not launched marketing campaigns to promote integration in the county.

The federal government has raised few objections. Government attorneys told a federal judge in July that the county’s continuing resistance placed the deal, called a “consent decree,” in danger of collapse. But they have not yet moved to hold the county in contempt.

Craig Gurian, the lawyer who brought the suit, fears that after the initial hope, the Westchester case has set a troubling precedent for other communities weighing whether to follow the housing law.

“I’ve been waiting for more than three years for the Obama administration to take the decree seriously. I have been waiting for the HUD Secretary to speak forcibly and direct enforcement for all the provisions of the decree. I’ve been waiting for various Democratic politicians to stand with civil rights principles when it applies close to home. And I’ve been repeatedly disappointed,” he said. “The promise of the consent decree has been squandered.”

ProPublica submitted a list of questions to HUD about its failure to use its authority to promote integrated housing nationally and in Westchester. The agency issued only a general statement that said it has worked hard to enforce provisions of the law that bar discrimination against individuals.

The consequences of the county’s conduct can be seen at the border between Rye and Port Chester. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2012 at 11:01 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Sandy vs. Katrina

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Paul Krugman has a good column today on the topic—and by a coincidence, The Wife and I are watching Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. I highly recommend that series, and it is impossible to view the response of the Bush Administration as anything other than disgraceful, incompetent, and uncaring. The Convention Center was a disaster, and when Michael Browne said recently that Obama’s response to Sandy was “too quick,” you can understand his own leisurely response to the disaster in New Orleans. The series is excellent, and it reminds us of why we fund a federal government.

Krugman:

As Sandy barreled toward New Jersey, there were hopeful mutters on the right to the effect that it might become President Obama’s Katrina, with voters blaming him for the damage, and that this might matter on Tuesday. Sorry, guys: polls show overwhelming approval for Mr. Obama’s handling of the storm, and a significant rise in his overall favorability ratings.

And he deserves the bump. For the response to Sandy, like the success of the auto bailout, is a demonstration that Mr. Obama’s philosophy of government — which holds that the government can and should provide crucial aid in times of crisis — works. And conversely, the contrast between Sandy and Katrina demonstrates that leaders who hold government in contempt cannot provide that aid when it is needed.

So, about that response: Much of the greater New York area (including my house) is still without power; gasoline is scarce; and some outlying areas are feeling neglected. Right-wing news media are portraying these continuing difficulties as a disaster comparable to, nay greater than, the aftermath of Katrina. But there’s really no comparison.

I could do a point-by-point — and it’s definitely worth it, if you’re curious, to revisit the 2005 Katrina timeline to get a sense of just how bad the response really was. But for me the difference is summed up in two images. One is the nightmare at the New Orleans convention center, where thousands were stranded for days amid inconceivable squalor, an outrage that all of America watched live on TV, but to which top officials seemed oblivious. The other is the scene in flooded Hoboken, with the National Guard moving in the day after the storm struck to deliver food and water and rescue stranded residents.

The point is that after Katrina the government seemed to have no idea what it was doing; this time it did. And that’s no accident: the federal government’s ability to respond effectively to disaster always collapses when antigovernment Republicans hold the White House, and always recovers when Democrats take it back.

Consider, in particular, the history of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Under President George H. W. Bush, FEMA became a dumping ground for unqualified political hacks. Faced with a major test in the form of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the agency failed completely.

Then Bill Clinton came in, put FEMA under professional management, and saw the agency’s reputation restored.

Given this experience, you might have expected George W. Bush to preserve Mr. Clinton’s gains. But no: he appointed his campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh, to head the agency, and Mr. Allbaugh immediately signaled his intention both to devolve disaster relief to the state and local level and to downgrade the whole effort, declaring, “Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level.” After Mr. Allbaugh left for the private sector, he was replaced with Michael “heckuva job” Brown, and the rest is history.

Like Mr. Clinton, President Obama restored FEMA’s professionalism, effectiveness, and reputation. [For one thing, Obama put in charge of FEMA a man with actual experience in disaster-response management instead (say) a political hack. – LG] But would Mitt Romney destroy the agency again? Yes, he would. As everyone now knows — despite the Romney campaign’s efforts to Etch A Sketch the issue away — during the primary Mr. Romney used language almost identical to Mr. Allbaugh’s, declaring that disaster relief should be turned back to the states and to the private sector.

The best line on this, I have to admit, comes from Stephen Colbert: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2012 at 10:49 am

Overcoming climate change denial in Washington DC

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Interesting article by Roger Hamilton in the Rockville (MD) newspaper, passed along by The Eldest:

Grey clouds race over the National Mall, seemingly as fast as the airliners that would normally be making their approach to National. The airport is still closed.

It is 2018.

The city is reeling from a surge of floodwater sent up the Potomac by the fierce winds of a slow-moving hurricane, and is preparing for a second punch.

Will the floodwaters gush over Washington DC’s levee? Will they cover Constitution Avenue and threaten the capital’s Maginot Line of bureaucratic fortresses?

A touch of New Orleans

When we think of levees, we think of New Orleans. But DC also has a levee. The problem is that our levee is not very good, says Gerry Galloway, engineering professor at the University of Maryland.

I recently joined Galloway and members of American Water Resources Association to learn about our capital’s alarmingly porous flood defenses and what’s being done to beef them up.

Climate change is already fueling more frequent extreme weather events, Galloway said. Meanwhile, we continue to pave the Potomac’s watershed with concrete and asphalt, which increases runoff and intensifies floods.

It all seemed so remote on this autumn afternoon. The warm sun, the lively scene of tourists, bicyclists, and joggers―how many of them knew that the grass-covered berm that parallels the Reflecting Pool is DC’s levee?

As we stood on that levee, Galloway challenged us to imagine floodwaters sweeping in from the Potomac during a category four hurricane.

“It could push as much as 20 feet of water onto Constitution Avenue,” he said. The flood would inundate an enormous crescent-shaped swath of downtown DC, from the Ellipse, through Federal Triangle, all the way to Ft. McNair.

A lot of it has to do with the city’s origins. A large part of DC once belonged to the river, either as marshlands or as open water, he said. As the city grew, the river was forced to retreat to make way for houses, government agencies and our famous monuments.

The river remains determined to win back what it has lost. In 1936, the Potomac aimed an almost unimaginable 486,000 cubic feet of water per second (cfs) directly at the city.

Congress ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a levee to protect the city that would stand up to a flow of 700,000 cfs.

But the plan was never completed. Parts of the levee are still too low. It also has two big holes at 23rd and 17th streets. When flood warnings sound, park employees are summoned to plug up the gaps with sandbags, dirt, and plastic sheeting.

The final straw came in July 2006 when nine inches of rain fell in 24 hours. Constitution Avenue disappeared under three feet of water. IRS headquarters had to close for six months. Justice also shut down, and the new auditorium at the National Archives was damaged.

Now, though, the Corps of Engineers and the National Park Service are filling the long-standing gaps in DC’s flood defenses. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2012 at 9:33 am

California’s switch from funding education to funding prisons

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Very interesting article/history at TomDispatch, by Andy Kroll:

It was the greatest education system the world had ever seen. They built it into the eucalyptus-dotted Berkeley hills and under the bright lights of Los Angeles, down in the valley in Fresno and in the shadows of the San Bernardino Mountains. Hundreds of college campuses, large and small, two-year and four-year, stretching from California’s emerald forests in the north to the heat-scorched Inland Empire in the south. Each had its own DNA, but common to all was this: they promised a “public” education, accessible and affordable, to those with means and those without, a door with a welcome mat into the ivory tower, an invitation to a better life.

Then California bled that system dry. Over three decades, voters starved their state — and so their colleges and universities — of cash. Politicians siphoned away what money remained and spent it more on imprisoning people, not educating them. College administrators grappled with shriveling state support by jacking up tuitions, tacking on new fees, and so asking more each year from increasingly pinched students and families. Today, many of those students stagger under a heap of debt as they linger on waiting lists to get into the over-subscribed classes they need to graduate.

California’s public higher education system is, in other words, dying a slow death. The promise of a cheap, quality education is slipping away for the working and middle classes, for immigrants, for the very people whom the University of California’s creators held in mind when they began their grand experiment 144 years ago. And don’t think the slow rot of public education is unique to California: that state’s woes are the nation’s.

Dream Deferred

Rachel Baltazar lives this grim reality. In 2010, after a decade working as a preschool teacher and a teacher’s assistant, the 28-year-old Baltazar went back to school, choosing De Anza, a two-year community college near San Jose. She remembers the sticker shock when she first arrived on campus — the cost per class had spiked startlingly since she graduated from high school in 2000. She would live lean, pick up side jobs, sacrifice what she could to get a degree. “I was willing to be poor and not know if I’m gonna make it,” she told me on a recent morning, her roommate’s cat meowing in the background. “I wanted that degree so I could have a better future.”

She squeezed 20 units of classes into a quarter (not the 12 to 15 of the average student). She worried each week about having enough money for rent, books, food. Still, she thrived. She founded De Anza’s Women Empowered Club, won the school’s President’s Award for overcoming adversity, and planned to transfer to nearby Santa Clara University to double major in psychology and women’s studies — until, that is, a state-funded “Cal Grant” fell through.

She met all the qualifications, she told me, but Cal Grant officials informed her that she was too old. The likely culprit, whatever they claimed: the endless state budget cuts that had forced officials to scale back the Cal Grant program. The experience, she said, shook her fundamental belief in the promise California made to its students: “The impression you have is, ‘I do a great job at De Anza and I’ll get to the next level.’ The reality is there might not be a place for you.”

This is something new in what was once known as “the golden state.” For nearly as long as colleges and universities operated in California, there was a place for every student with the grades to get in. Classes were cheap, professors accessible, and enrollments grew at a rapid clip. When my own father started at Mt. San Antonio College in southern California in August 1976, anyone 18 or older could enroll, and a semester’s worth of classes cost at most $24. Then, like so many Californians, he transferred to a four-year college, the University of California-Davis, and paid a similarly paltry $220 a quarter. Davis’s 2012 per-quarter tuition price: $4,620.

Today, public education in California is ever less public. It is cheaper for a middle-class student to attend Harvard (about $17,000 for tuition, room, and board with the typical financial-help program included) than Cal State East Bay, a mid-tier school that’ll run that same middle-class student $24,000 a year. That speaks to Harvard’s largesse when it comes to financial aid, but also the relentless rise of tuition costs in California. For the first time in generations, California’s community colleges and state universities are turning away qualified new students and shrinking their enrollments as state funding continues its long, slow decline.

Continue reading. Later in the article:

. . . The State’s higher education and prison systems are a study in opposites. The prison system saw its state funding in dollars leap 436% between 1980 and 2011. Back then, spending on prisons was a mere 3% of California’s budget; it’s now 10%. According to the nonpartisan transparency group California Common Sense, the prison population expanded at eight times the growth rate of California’s population. In May 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the state to immediately shrink its prison population because its treatment of prisoners constituted cruel and unusual punishment. At the time, its 33 prisons held 143,321 inmates (official capacity: 80,000).

If money talks, then California’s message is plain enough: prisoners matter more than students. Put another way: college is the past, jail is the future. . .

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2012 at 9:23 am

Posted in Education, Government

Market reasoning vs. Moral reasoning

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Interesting article in Prospect by Michael Sandel:

If I ruled the world, I would rewrite the economics textbooks. This may seem a small ambition, unworthy of my sovereign office. But it would actually be a big step toward a better civic life. Today, we often confuse market reasoning for moral reasoning. We fall into thinking that economic efficiency—getting goods to those with the greatest willingness and ability to pay for them—defines the common good. But this is a mistake.

Consider the case for a free market in human organs—kidneys, for example. Textbook economic reasoning makes such proposals hard to resist. If a buyer and a seller can agree on a price for a kidney, the deal presumably makes both parties better off. The buyer gets a life-sustaining organ, and the seller gets enough money to make the sacrifice worthwhile. The deal is economically efficient in the sense that the kidney goes to the person who values it most highly.

But this logic is flawed, for two reasons. First, what looks like a free exchange might not be truly voluntary. In practice, the sellers of kidneys would likely consist of impoverished people desperate for money to feed their families or educate their children. Their choice to sell would not really be free, but coerced, in effect, by their desperate condition.

So before we can say whether any particular market exchange is desirable, we have to decide what counts as a free choice rather than a coerced one. And this is a normative question, a matter of political philosophy.

The second limitation to market reasoning is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2012 at 8:51 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Special shave with smooth result

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I used RazoRock XXX shaving soap, which I bought (from ClassicEdge.ca) after reading several encomiums to it on-line, along with regrets that it seems to be out of production. (And the stock at ClassicEdge.ca is now exhausted as well.) Indeed, a couple of shavers were saying that, regardless of how good it was—indeed, because it seemed to be so good—they did not want to try it: they didn’t want to have a great experience if it couldn’t be repeated.

I got to thinking about that last night, and their attitude seems to me quite clearly mistaken. Many great experiences are by nature not repeatable: your child’s fourth year, for example, or your own best college year. Indeed, everything is transitory: perhaps not so swiftly as the cherry blossoms in the spring, but still: a shaving soap may well go out of production, or the formulation be changed, or our tastes change—and indeed, we ourselves are transitory. The idea, I think, is to enjoy what’s here while you’re here, and to refuse to partake of (say) a wine of incredible vintage simply because you can’t buy case after case of it: that’s wrong-headed.

Back to shaving: I quickly got a generous and luscious lather with the G.B. Kent BK4 brush, a very fine brush with a lovely soft feel. Both the RazoRock soft soaps I’ve tried have produced excellent lather quite easily. Good stuff.

The Gillette Special with a Swedish Gillette blade did a fine job: extremely smooth shave with no problems. A splash of Saint Charles Shave “Refined” aftershave, and the week begins.

 

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2012 at 7:59 am

Posted in Shaving

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