May 2019

During five months of 2019, (March, April, May, June, and July) I examined a selection of Tweets by organizations working under general headings took a “pulse” in the Tweet-O-Rama.

May 2019 combines messages from the “Fair Economy” and “Protect the Vote” people because the values of a democracy define its destiny. The lack of a useful disclosure regime regarding money in politics is not damaging to American values, it weakens the ability to confirm them.

Defrauding Donors and Honest Services Fraud

A Campaign Legal Center and Axios investigation (here), can expand the public’s understanding of corporations and lobbyists seeking benefits from the public purse. In New York State and City that purse involves billions of dollars in capital and operating funds that are quietly demanded by the private sector lobby to increase corporate profits and reduce risk.

The Take newsletter from Represent US – NYC examines political leadership and agency corruption.  The need for it is due in part to a 2010 Supreme Court case that allows corporations to spend unlimited money on political ads and the lobbyists to create them. This cases and others also narrowed the definition of corruption. Granting access to elected officials for wealthy donors is no longer considered corrupt as an example.

Ciara Torres-Spelliscy is a long time advocate for the separation of state and corporations. In her new book, Political Brands, she examines the case law and decisions that found limits on campaign financing were unconstitutional (Citizens United and McCutcheon). In an article for the Brennan Center for Justice (here), she argues the court’s “re-branding” of corruption doesn’t make it smell any better. She points to David Bossie who appears to be defrauding donors via his work in leading the Presidential Coalition, Citizens United and the Citizen’s United Foundation and Catherine Pugh (ex-Mayor of Baltimore) who is accused of honest services fraud. Spelliscy points out, these cases make it more difficult for federal prosecutors to bring charges. Even the pay to play conviction ex-Governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich allowed him to be resentenced.

The SEC regulates money in politics this is an excellent paper on why it is in their jurisdiction. (here). As of January 2010, (Citizens United), the potential for every publicly traded company has been to influence governments in a new and powerful way. Traditional registered lobbying now combines with campaign expenditures as well and that is why SEC interventions are used to reveal the campaign activities of public companies.

Votes are Values

The Fair Economy People look at the history of economic oppression and attempt to moderate the desire for power from becoming the murder of the human spirit and body. The United for a Fair Economy people examined May Day at the Lowell Historical Park. The free flow of ideas that lead to effective mobilization of working people began at the turn of the 20th Century. The term Mayday was popularized in 1948 because it sounds like the French word “m’aider“ – help me.

Americans for Financial Reform were digging into bank regulation “under the Trump Administration,” with criticisms of CFPB appointments, and betrayal of financially vulnerable Americans in the gutting of statutes regarding the practices of “payday loan” businesses. The appearance of a “pay to play” relationship with the Trump campaign and former Congressmember Mick Mulvaney currently serving as Chief of Staff is in their critique.

Perhaps a simple juxtaposition of tweets, but the advocacy group Class Action tackles classism represented by predatory lending practices. This outfit focuses on the destruction of classism using unique educational approaches. Some of them are in an 18 minute $7 film (@ClassismExposed) by Zoe Greenberg. Timely emphasis on services to balance the field for first-generation college students is significant to the use of their tweet power.

The Opportunity Agenda people are similar thinkers about methods leading to next-generation investments in underserved/represented populations. The agenda is to find opportunities for young people that do not get to college to do so.  May 2019 celebrates billionaire Robert F. Smith because he will pay all the student loan debt for all 2019 Morehouse College grads. He is a man who understands the equity gap in America. Several tweets illustrate ways young people can talk about race, racism, and share racial justice practices. The agenda is to improve the capacity of dialogue. The rest of their tweets examine a series of threats on the lives of low to modest income people by exposing significant institutional dysfunctions.

Voting for Financial Security

In 18 months, the most critical presidential election in the history of the United States will call upon the voters to decide on leaders. In the year before (2019) in New York City, a low-key off-year election will ask yes/no questions on several charter revision proposals. Among them the practice of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) to make elections final with a decisive winner built on the general practice of consensus.  If there happen to be more than two candidates for a political leadership office, RCV selects leaders a voter can agree with at least somewhat because they ranked them in order of preference.  I predict this provision will pass for two central reasons.  Low voter turnout, coupled with most participants motivated to vote because of a vested interest in the resolution of voting issues in the charter. (state election law).

As the largest city in the state, NYC’s “home rule” power is extensive, however, providing for the right to vote is a function of the State. The rules, procedures, practices, and laws governing the right to vote is civic responsibility for this reason the PVP is engaged in examinations of the state’s power over cities.

The tweets from the Protect the Vote People (PVP) are all concerned with efforts in several states to pass legislation that appears to reduce voter participation by insisting on a variety of identification practices as a prerequisite to the right to vote.  The right to vote is sacrosanct and has a priority over identity, which is sought ex post facto. 

The Advancement Project opening May tweet supports the work of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform to examine election practices. The idea is to maximize access to the ballot for eligible voters; and end efforts to disenfranchise likely voters or increase obstacles to voting. Essential protect the vote people were called to testify. Ms. Leigh Chapman, Director, Voting Rights Program, The Leadership Conf on Civil and Human Rights, Mr. Dale Ho, Director, Voting Rights Project, American Civil Liberties Union, and Ms. Myrna Perez, Deputy Director, Democracy Program, Brennan Center for Justice. Access to testimony (here). The Advancement Project was also very concerned with the legislation in Florida.

America Votes is concerned with all GOP-led states that are moving to criminalize and add civil penalties to the errors in the voter registration process.  On the other hand, a study by the Brennan Center finds states that have adopted automatic voter registration over the past five years increases in voter rolls. America votes are involved with hundreds of organizations in the nation with a focus on April 2019 elections in Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.

Every Voice wants to change the exclusive interest model to a majority of Americans model. In this context, March was the month when the House votes in favor of HR 1, the For the People Act of 2019.  Straight down party lines 234 Democrats YES and 193 Republicans NO. The complete form of the Act is available in a Google Doc (here).  So, the Senate will sit and sit, McConnell, called it a power grab.  It was by the American people, and I guess he can’t tolerate that idea.  Here it is a summary:

Election Day would be a federal holiday, its supports independent, nonpartisan redistricting commissions and adds provisions for election security and a Commission to Protect United States Democratic Institutions. Campaign spending rules expand the ban on foreign contributions and disclosure rules about organizations spending money during elections. An alternative campaign funding system for individual federal offices will offer to match small donations for qualified candidates. Ethics in all three branches of government adds conflict-of-interest and ethics provisions for federal employees and the White House. It will require candidates for President and Vice President to submit ten years of tax returns.

Project Vote via Michael Slater will close its doors May 31, 2019. One of its resources called Electionary will remain useful; it is an attempt to collect state election laws, practices, and procedures in a format that provides for comparisons from one state to another. 

America Votes is a membership organization with affiliates in twenty-two states.  The HR 1 and individual state initiatives begin a transparent redistricting process post-2020 Census. 

Every Voice for May told of its 700,000 petitions in favor of HR-1 and retweets “Stand Up America” efforts to focus on the dominance of big money in elections and government operations.  

Rock the Vote put a beautiful video together that connects the importance of the vote and how it connects to the 2020 Census (here).  They shared the NY Mag article by Ed Kilgore on turn out predictions for 2020 as good (here). They scan well for insight into the census and the vote they focus on new voters, youth-based political action and innovations in voter participation.

New Voters Project out of the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) network covers a broad set of issues of interest to young people.  Earth Day coverage dominated the content of early May 2019.  A vote for the Earth is a vote for their future, and they know that this issue will be the one that brings to them the political power needed to get necessary changes.

Voter Participation Center focused on the North Carolina absentee ballot fraud that represents a flaw in their process.  Getting a handle on the citizen SCOTUS question is measurable as a direct attack on the Latinx vote. In Tennessee, increased voter registration of African American voters has led to suppression legislation (NY Times Story)

Movement 20xx Fill in the Year

Movement picks issues to energize voters May closed with scathing criticism of the Trump Administrations southern border immigration practices for a cause: death, family separation, wrongful imprisonment, and inhumanity.  York County, PA, has been subject to their Movement Voter Project on immigration issues and the views of candidates.

League of Women Voters

The rock of American suffrage is sustained with tweets from the national, and local LWV organizations throughout the nation. The top issues are election security finding, census outreach support, and voter privacy.  The LVW Ruch decision expected from the Supreme Court in June is summed up well in the SCOTUS blog (here) on the issue of partisan-gerrymandering.

Democracy Initiative

The vital relationship between the vote and accountability of the public purse has been attacked by the political forces interested in sidestepping an accurate count. “There were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.” Robert Mueller

Every Voice

Very happy with HR1 as a statement of principal and an agenda for the future worth fighting big money in politics.

Democracy 21

Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)  has pointed out that loopholes in U.S. election law allow foreign adversaries to legally interfere in our elections and produced the PAID AD Act to close the gaps (here) All of the remaining comments point to the depth of corruption by POTUS45.

Democracy Matters

An excellent way to find all of the candidates that are not taking PAC funds such as NY24 candidate Conole along with firm support for HR1 as a direct means for “saving the democracy” from the impact of Citizens United.

Fair Vote – The Center for Voting and Democracy

The Center has compiled a review of six state efforts designed to expand access to the ballot box and protect the right to vote. They also support and monitor the progress of ranked choice voting in cities and states across the country.

Verified Voting.org

The focus on easing voter registration practices through data management practices comes at a time when the digital vote becomes a way to protect voting and advance it as a routine practice of citizens. Another good source for supporting improvements in state-controlled elections is the complexity of cyber-attacks.

The March 2019 summary (here) introduced all the organizations selected for the Tweet-O-Rama, and the Random Tweet-O-Rama. The idea is to learn something from the wits from this vast new area of the blah blah world.  The April summary (here) examined the Think-Tank People. In May, (here) I looked at the organizations working to produce a good economy combined with voter rights organizations. With those thoughts in mind, it is logical to have a look at politics as a sport, and as a practice that is now very different than the role of leadership that it implies. Please enjoy June, every one should and then July (here) for a look at the one thing of great importance – housing (here)

Political Waters

Jeff Goodell at Long Now Foundation

Goodell is a journalist focused on energy systems and climate change. At the end of his talk, Jeff Goodell was asked what he would do with $200 billion. His answer was surprising. He said he would spend it all on finding ways to improve the quality of political change and its ability to adapt to solving big long-term problems. He said we have the intelligence and capacity to deal with the problem of a constantly rising sea. Still, first, it must be recognized as daily and inevitable by our leadership. He adds this is a problem that will last for several centuries, so we might as well get started.  His full discussion of “The Water Will Come” is available at the Long Now Foundation.  His five main points are below. Buy “The Water Will Come.”

1. Gravity

Sea rise is like the existence of gravity. It is all around us; it is happening now every day. Like gravity, the increase in seawater is subtle, and it is a fixed part of the world because you cannot make water go away. All you can do is watch it get redistributed. In every locality, the hydrology of the rise will be unique. The conservation of matter remains the physical driving principal – added moisture in the atmosphere; the higher intensity in storm surges is part of a global system with a deep billion-year-old history.  The need for action to deal with sea-level rise and adapting to it is not physical. It is the hyper-political “not on my watch” principal. They are incompatible. What we can do today is the value to instill in leadership.

2. Rate of Change

The geological record covering billions of years shows 25 to 60 feet of sea-level rise is part of the system, leaving the central question’s time and rate. Jeff refers to Richard Alley as the world’s top ice analyst (climate scientist) who finds the rise of 15 feet by 2100 “is not out of the question.” The geological record also suggests the sea rise occurs in pulses, but the historical average is 13 feet per century. Huge unknowns remain. How will trillions of tons of water change the sea due to the catastrophic collapse of Antarctica? How big and fast questions will last for a century and vary in probable impact in places worldwide. Definitive answers to these questions drive political policy toward resilience. For example, the effect of climate change in the form of “storm surge” on the value of the coastal property is top on the list. The political response, on the other hand, is little more than a finger in the dike.

3. Value

Long before any individual city or region comes up with mitigation resources, the “troubles” will have spoken and measured in dollars. A part of the American culture is that it tends to leave the important things unsaid. For example, the coastal states are losing property value. People are selling (caveat emptor) and moving to get ahead of their sea rise fears following one experience: a sunny day flooding or a crushing surge in the ocean’s new normal. Others take advantage of generous publicly funded encouragements to sustain tax revenues with “move to the shore,” campaigns deemed essential to borrow long term financing for local “fixes” (higher roads, bigger dunes, pumps, and so on) and. In political words, what we have here is a capital mess with a Catch 22 attached.

4. Resilience is Now

There is no way to know what plan will work best or who will call for spending and take the win/lose leadership responsibility to protect against the impact of sea rise. Goodell has traveled the world and has seen brilliance and stupidity. Some jurisdictions pump the water from one place to another. Others raise buildings, but protecting a city is a very different problem. The who is in and outside a mitigation area screams substantial social justice issues on why protections planned for one locality are not in another. Resilience policies are in response to ongoing “chaos costs” because it is too late to achieve sustainable development for five main reasons outlined by Dennis Meadows over a decade ago.

  1. Public discourse has difficulty with subtle, conditional messages.
  2. Growth advocates change the justification for their paradigm rather than changing the paradigm itself.
  3. The global system is now far above its carrying capacity.
  4. We act as if technological change can substitute for social change.
  5. The time horizon of our current system is too short.

5. Why “Catastrophic” Resolution?

The business models used to treat climate change as an economic opportunity is often disguised by waiting for catastrophe. Nevertheless, there are places far less driven by profit-making than the quality of life that may be getting it right and doing so in a timely way.  Lagos is a floating place to live, others in the Netherlands and similar geographies find ways for the sea to take what it will. The re-building design for a flooding world is easily envisioned across the economic spectrum of engineering. Geo-engineering work will attempt to physically alter the atmosphere by buying time or opening Pandora’s box but will not stop the sea-level rise. The question “what now” will help regions know what to do, the skills exist, and get them. To get creativity from skill, it will be necessary to make climate change risks transparent to get the markets and governments to function.

What?

North America’s coastlines are urban, dense, and represent 80% of the nation’s GDP. From the islands of New York City to Virginia’s shipyards to the North and South Carolina beaches’ soft links and from Savannah to Miami, the sea is rising. From hot and sunny New Orleans, Louisiana to San Diego, California, and way up north to the cold and wet of Seattle, Washington, the sea is rising. It took three centuries to build this coastline, and this investment continues.

To sustain these economic giants as viable will require a new force capable of combining political will, economic genius, design, and engineering brilliance and bringing it to the forefront of our thinking. They are all unique urban environments requiring solutions specific to each place’s geology and hydrology, but they are all equally threatened. There are no “need to know” problems, only the need to make an effort. The alternative to a successful push for democratic transparency on these problems will be an authoritarian process that will choose winners and losers the way despots have always chosen.

Glaeser, Pendall or Fulton

The names in the title are scholars. Put their names into the Google Search Engine to bring up the list of their papers and something you don’t see often without asking for “images”, a list of documents available for academic consumption.

Scrolling yields more ideas than the entire class of graduate students from every urban study, anthropology, architecture and urban planning program on the planet can read and understand in a term. An enormous body of work for consumption at very little cost other than the megawatts required for delivery

William Fulton, Rolf Pendall, and Edward Glaeser are among a legion of urban observers aligned with an even larger multitude of undergraduate students and colleagues on a band of words circling the planet. It seems to me, across the top of each image above, a story of their work explodes. Very quickly, the search reveals a random grab of key-words for a planet of cities that is unready to be a planet of cities.

“territorial governance, measuring sprawl, smart growth, urban sprawl, urban areas, cities, planning, density, geography, Brookings, metropolitan.”

All of our scholars will agree these are the issues, yet remain gleeful in naming the exceptions that has got to stop. The movement for cities will begin as one of those moments when these words are spoken quietly but routinely:

“You are in, and you (yes, you – so very sorry) are out.”

The time for neat, exploratory examinations of the trouble brewing will end when these individuals are hired for refugee analysis. The synergism here will be determined by the ability of social and physical environment designers to produce shelter, food, clothing and most importantly, strong opportunities for people and whole families to escape from the causes of environmental threat, including one another. Based on my reading they are not ready. My brothers are ready, they are not.

The Urban Planet

“The social contract for authority is at the center of money, politics, and religion. No surprise there. Each center’s loci has confirming elements such as the high priest’s temple or another supreme power object represented by the elite and their agents. These three realms are carefully designed for the acquisition of wealth. The purpose is to create predictable rates and periods in a political or religious mix. Because it is expected, these failures also predict products such as, when to buy low, followed by the distraction of an intractable political confrontation.”

Rex L. Curry

Money, politics, and religion have yet to recognize the earth as a place. Photographs from the moon made it an island in space ruled by the sun. Still, of the billions of people on the earth, only a small percentage realize the Earth’s location in a solar system of a galaxy, among many. The “Earth Rise” and “Blue Marble” photographs taken a half-century ago from orbit and the surface of the moon through all of the Apollo Missions (1968 – 1972) takes us back a mere five hundred years ago when Galileo began to figure out the earth’s place in our solar system (1600). The first contact with the vast nature of the universe must have yielded a compelling sense of spatial abundance. Galileo would be surprised by how severely limited it is today among the other “knowing” observers of a finite planet. It is the way he thought that should be remembered. Read his thought experiment (here).

Mountain ranges and vast oceans compare to a sea of galaxies in the opposite sense. The earth’s density is close and personal. It begins with roughly 100 people per square mile and climbs to nearly 150,000 people in dense clusters. How do these two experiences “of the earth” and “the city” fit together? It is oddly similar to the earth in the galaxy.

New York City’s Manhattan island has a residential density surrounding Central Park of around 67,000 people per square mile (2000). Should Yellowstone National Park experience the same fate in another few centuries? After all, the argument for the investment in a “central park” was the increase in adjacent property values. The United States averages less than 85 people per square mile. Methods to evaluate this range became of interest following the 2000 Census with specific new definitions of density in the Census Bureau. See Density.

The designation “urban” has long been in the bureau’s lexicon, but the term “urban area” is new Census 2000 terminology. It is a way to include everything from small urban clusters (less than 50,000 but at least 1,000 people per square mile) down to “at least 500 people” per square mile, in areas immediately adjacent for the cut-off to not urban, but something else like exurban. Establishing the urbanized area (UA) category and the “urban growth area” (UGA) is helping policymakers to identify areas where urban development regulations predict/prevent growth. Maryland and Oregon have closely monitored examples.

A UA benefit is how it reveals “low density” settlement patterns (less than 100 people per square mile). The presumption that these areas do not alter ecological systems comes from the lack of understanding of either system. Yet, they shape the nation’s mega-regions as we know them today. Low-density areas can be hotbeds of hidden environmental degradation without boundary. Could such places be given a border? Where would the challenge draw a line fall? Would it be at the <100 thresholds or at edges of a <50,000 or within a community that is >100,000 population per square mile? It comes down to perceived value and the primacy of private ownership in confrontation with public interests. (Bundy)

The change in the urban definition of places and census-designated places led to a mild refinement that splits a UA population between urban and not-urban components based on 500 people per square mile. The Census Bureau estimates this change may classify an added 5 million urban people in 7 percent less area (about 6,600 square miles. How much “less area” will continue to be a central question in each recent population census. It may be too late if a policy of urban unification and the wilderness’s defragmentation becomes a recognized priority.

In the Bureau’s decennial cycle, these refinements contribute to the poor timing of local and national policy changes. The American Community Survey may resolve this problem with an equally accurate predictor of annual population characteristics and vital statistics. Growing trust in its sampling technology could help sustain the ecological balance between urban and the remaining landscape. Being able to establish a strategic difference will be crucial.

Fire illustrates the importance of understanding an urban area strategy best.  It is possible to let a forest wilderness fire burn, but less so when the wild is also urban using the 2000 definition. The Paradise Fire in California, 2018 is a clear example of needing a strategic difference policy. Extending this sense of difference to when a river breaks its traditional banks and expands into a flood plain, but far less so when the river upland of a river basin still requires dikes and channelization as seen across the entire Los Angeles basin or bayous of Louisiana.

I do not believe that our sense of fragile earth in a vast galaxy and the sense of ongoing calamity in the world is going unnoticed. Trillions in costs driven by environmental changes to which humans are making a substantial contribution are closely monitored. The “Man versus Mother Nature” series by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Finance and Development in March 2014, Vol. 51, No. 1 by Nicole Laframboise and Sebastian Acevedo make the case quite clear.


This photo of “Earth Rise” over the lunar horizon was taken by the Apollo 8 crew in December 1968, showing Earth for the first time as it appears from deep space.