Monday, May 31, 2010

Even Nixon Wasn't Bugged About Endangered Animals

Joel Sartore. Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species. Washington, D.C.: Focal Point, National Geographic, (2010).

Almost 2,000 species are endangered with some of the verge of going extinct. Many species have already disappeared forever. Joel Sartore photographed and wrote about several such species. He demonstrates how some endangered species such as the American alligator are thriving, with help. Other species, are gone forever, like the Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit, which became extinct in 2008.

The Endangered Species Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Nixon in 1973. Habitats have been saved to assist challenged species. This has forced us to often question: which is the more important, the needs of humans or the needs of nature?

Other laws have been passed to help both humans and nature, such as the Clean Water Act and creating the Fish and Wildlife Services as well as the National Marine Fisheries Service. Many helpful actions have been local ones, such as petitions that saved habitats from being destroyed.

Not all endangered species are large animals. Even bugs and all kinds of living things play important roles in ecosystems. There are about 1,011 species within the U.S. and its waters that are endangered with 301 listed as threatened. Habitats have been saved for 538 species. Recovery plans have been developed for 1,134 species. 49 species have recovered enough that they have been removed from these lists, yet nine were done so because they went extinct. 14 species were removed because their population numbers increased enough for re-designation. 16 were removed due to administrative reasons, such as discovered more in new counts.

Among species in trouble are Higgins Eye, which is a key food for otters and muskrats among others, loggerhead sea turtles which are often caught in fishing traps, the yellow blotched map turtle, which has been harmed by flood control efforts and by boaters, the bog turtle which has seen much of its’ wetlands habitat destroyed, the red cockaded wood pecker, which has seen 98% of its southern pine forests destroyed, the yellow fin madtom, whose river habitat has been harmed by silt, the fringed campion, which has been hurt by clear cutting, the Palos Verdes Blue Butterfly, whose habitat was destroyed for development, the polar bear, whose habitat has been destroyed by climate change melting the ice, the Puerto Rican Crested Toad, where development has reduced its’ habitat, the grizzly bear, whose U.S. population once reached under 300, the ocelor, who had been harmed by development and illegal hunting, the Mississippi Sandhill Crance, which has existed for ten million years and now there are only about 155 left, the eastern hellbender, which has been harmed by dams and silt, the Florida Perforate Cladonia, which has been harmed by development, etc.

Efforts have helped some species. Banning DDT allowed the peregrine falcon and the bald eagle to regain population. The gray wolf has also rebounded with human assistance.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

At Least One Bush Can Write a Book

Laura Bush. Spoken From the Heart. New York: Schribner, (2010)

The author grew up in Midland, Texas. Her father served in World War II. She writes that students in her high school all smoked but that few drank. She was in a bad car accident that flung her from the car and killed a high school friend in the other car. She writes about dealing with this trauma and how it continues to haunt her.

Laura Bush went to college and became an elementary school teacher. She learned the trials of controlling rowdy young students. She then became a school librarian. She met George Bush and agreed to marry him after six or seven weeks of dating. She notes that had known each other somewhat since childhood, so they did know each other well. Soon after the honeymoon, George tried to follow in the footsteps of his father, who had served three terms in Congress, by running for Congress. Laura joined George in campaigning across the West Texas district. George won the primary but lost the general election.

George Bush then went into the oil business by owning a small oil company. His father was then elected Vice President. Lauran then gave birth to twins.

George and Laura seldom when to D.C. during his father’s first term as Vice President. They spent their time with their children in Texas even while most of the rest of the Bush family was active in national politics. Laura Bush notes drinking was socially acceptable were they lived. George finally decided to stop drinking and so did. As it became apparent that Vice President Bush would run for President, Laura and George moved to D.C. so George could campaign for his father.

When the Bushes spent Christmas at the White House in 1992, Laura never expected to return to the White House. Yet, a few months later, George decided to retry politics. He announced for Governor of Texas and campaigned for the position for 22 months. Meanwhile, his brother Jeb ran for Governor of Florida. At this time, Laura Bush’s father’s health began failing. He developed Alzheimer’s and couldn’t remember who had been President before, even though it was his daughter’s father-in-law.

George Bush won his election. Jeb Bush lost his. George and Laura moved into the Governor’s Mansion, where they learned in 1859 that Sam Houston’s five year old son, Andrew Jackson Houston, once locked several legislators in a room and refused to let them out until his father threatened to arrest him.

As First Lady of Texas, Lauran Bush worked on education and family abuse issues/ She helped create Rainbow Rooms, safe havens with items a family needs during stays. She also helped create a book festival at the Capitol. She was worried when the first festival was held at the same time as a beer festival and a gun and knife show. After 14 years, the book festival has raised $2.3 million for Texas libraries.

George was reelected Governor with 68% of the vote. He then decided to run for President in 2000. George Bush developed an appreciation for advice from Dick Cheney, who was Defense Secretary under his father. George Bush asked Cheney to be his running mate.

On election day, Al Gore called to conceded the election and then called back 20 minutes later to take back the concession as the remaining decisive state, Florida, went from the Bush victory column to uncertainty. It was not until several weeks later when Bush was declared the winner.

First Lady Hillary Clinton advised Laura Bush to accept attending special events. Her regret was being unable to attend interesting events.

Tony Blair of English was the first international guest to the Bush White House. Blair had been close to Clinton. Laura Bush states she always got along well with Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie.

Laura Bush learned subtle things, like not having to have a museum’s staircase lined with musicians along the side, as some guests have a need to reach the handrails.

Presidents and First Ladie pay for their personal costs. Thus, food, hair care, and laundry costs can be high. She also found clothing costs were high, especially since she was judged daily at what she was wearing. The press would make a story out of her wearing the same thing twice.

The author’s daughter, Jenna, made the news for being cited for underage drinking. Former White House child Luci Johnson advised “don’t’ do anything that you wouldn’t want to read about on the front page of the New York Times, because if you do, it will be.” Laura Bush denies the rumors her daughters were into partying. Jenna worked with AIDS patients in Central America and Barbara worked in public health in Africa.

Laura Bush carried her Texas traditional forward and created a National Book Festival.

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, Laura Bush was taken to a safe room designed to survive an explosion. Much false information came through, such as reports that Camp David and the Bush family ranch in Crawford, Texas being hit. Communications were so bad that President Bush on Air Force One and Laura in a Secret Service room could not reach each other until the third try.

Laura Bush went to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, an underground command center built for President Franklin Roosevelt. Vice President Cheney was there with key aides. Lynne Cheney, Dick’s wife, informed her that the plane that hit the Pentagon had circled the White House. It is believed the plane could not find a way to hit the White House.

Mail stopped being delivered to the White House for security reasons. Some mail was lost for three years.

The Chinese government later told they had information that the Bush family ranch was going to be attacked while they were there. Laura had to spend a disturbing night in complete darkness with security vehicles ready to whisk her away should the information prove true. She was evacuated from the White House once in 205 when a plane accidentally flew into White House airspace.

Tom Ridge began working in the White House as the head of Homeland Security. He was given a small office with no windows that fit just two chairs.

Laura Bush worked for human rights campaigns, especially for women’s rights in countries such as Afghanistan where women’s rights were repressed.

Nancy Brinker, U.S. Ambassador to Hungary as well as Susan Komen’s sister, worked with Laura Bush on breast cancer prevention awareness. They worked on awareness in Hungary and Czech Republic.

Condi Rice had dinners and traveled with the Bushes and was considered part of the family.

Saddam Hussein killed probably tens of thousands of Kurds with chemical weapons and executed hundreds of Kuwaitis. He tortured and killed opponents. Human Rights Watch estimated 290,000 Iraqis had “disappeared”. President Bush tried to get Hussein to step down and he was offered refuge if he did. Hussein declined the offer. Bush and Blair prepared for war against Iraq. Several former coalition countries such as France and Germany refused to join.

The White House Social Office often had to protect its guests. This included hiding from press view a drunk Congressional leader who vomited in the bushes.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was a close ally to President Bush. This shows how quick two former enemies can become friends, noting how the fathers of both Koizumi and Bush had fought against each other in World War II.

Laura Bush made news by stating she did not believe Roe v. Wade should be overturned. She also advised her husband not to speak out against gay marriage. Gay marriage, though, became a key issue for Republicans to campaign against in the 2004 elections where Bush was reelected.

Laura Bush was active in Bush’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. She learned of the devastation this disease causes.

During a visit in Heiligendamm, Germany, all of the American delegation fell ill, including herself and the President. One delegation member developed permanent hearing loss and another never gained full mobility walking. The best guess physicians gave was a rare inner ear virus. Yet Laura Bush wonders if there wasn’t a deliberate virus attack on the American delegation.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Will the Last Republican Leaving Philadelphia Please Turn Out Off the Solar Panels?

John Kromer. Fixing Broken Cities: The Implementation of Urban Development Strategies. New York: Routledge, 2010.

Kromer believes the main question that should be asked when considering urban policies is who benefits from their implementation. The most common recent urban policies have involved making downtown areas more economically viable, improving neighborhoods, eliminating bloight, and create quality education. Often economically disadvantaged people are greatly impacted in the public outcomes. Care needs to be taken, he urges, to determine who will gain and how economic conditions, geographical limitations, and how politics influences these policies.

The author served as Philadelphia’s Housing Director, with a $100 million budget, under Mayor Ed Rendell. The job presented some difficulties. He began at a time when the city was near bankruptcy. Kromer helped convince the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department not to penalize Philadelphia $14 million for past errors. He found himself under strong City Council questioning where one session lasted eight straight hours. He found the housing program’s policies were “too piecemeal and too scattershot.” Political considerations were a leading factor in where funds were invested. He sought new directions and had the benefit of a supportive Mayor in Ed Rendell and department heads who all worked together to product positive results. The following is a summation of his views on how to fix a broken city, Philadelphia in particular.

Most current urban development programs seek to improve or replace aging infrastructure (including streets, buildings, and removing environmental hazards), upgrade schools, housing stores, and service facilities, and to attract or expand existing businesses and create more jobs.

Philadelphia’s city government had financial difficulties. It was low in cash. Many cities including Philadelphia could not afford to make large investments in revitalizing their economies. An alternative often used was to offer tax abatements to private investors who made these desired investments. This was done to address the problem of empty office buildings in the early 1990s. The incentive of a ten year real estate tax abatement helped several developers to renovate and operate these buildings. The abatement was contingent upon the project being completed and it was calculated according to the building’s pre-rental value.

In the later part of the 20th century, many public urban direct investments were in conjunction with private investors with political influence, such as stadium owners, convention center investors, hotel owners, waterfront developers, and performance arts owners. These minimized funds for investing in neighborhoods or downtown improvements.

The additional tax revenues generated from increased property values that result when a development happens play a key part of tax incremental financing. The revenues are targeted for further investments. Tax incremental financing was used in Philadelphia for building a convention center, renovating a subway terminal and marketplace, constructing office buildings, parking garages, and a performance center, as well as for renovating the Philadelphia Navy Yard. This is a political popular as it does not require increasing taxes. Instead, it diverts new revenue streams.

The Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) was created within Pennsylvania in 1999. This allowed public agencies with state approval to designate a block or series of blocks (which were mostly abandoned or blighted) and then offer a partial or total local and tax exemptions to a developer to develop within that area. These exemptions could last up to ten years, and sometimes longer. A problem with this program was that many businesses that located within these zones left another Philadelphia site where they had been paying taxes. Another problem was that other existing businesses complained that they felt it unfair their competitors received tax breaks.

There is often a stigma to designating an area as being officially blighted. The designation alone can create more instability as those remaining in a blighted area may then feel a need to leave, thus making the area even more abandoned. Philadelphia avoided this by declaring, for tax abatement purposes, the entire city as being blighted. This led to $110.6 million of new investment through 2004 with $29.2 million in taxes abated. Some abandoned areas were renovated. Most building renovators happened in the central business area. 1,038 single family homes were built on the former Navy Base with $4.6 million in tax abatements over ten years.

Philadelphia still has a relatively lower achieving school system as well as higher wage taxes than does its surrounding counties. These factors are detrimental in attracting people to move to Philadelphia rather than their suburban counties. Philadelphia also has relatively higher labor costs, in part due to the higher wage taxes and in part due to higher unionization rates, than does its surrounding counties, which can be detrimental to attracting new businesses. Philadelphia is also slower than its’ surrounding counties in processing request for building permits and zoning variances.

Kromer found the abatements were often misdirected. They were not targeted towards the poor and politically weaker neighborhoods that most needed renovating. Instead, they were used more often in downtown business areas and neighborhood were home sales prices already were relatively high. Plus, if was often the wealthier developers who obtained these abatements.

There were proposals to create homestead exemptions for long term home owners that would have addressed some equity concerns. Yet, there were never adopted.

Downtowns require a proper and successful mix of retain, offices, and residences in order to thrive. They need retain and residents to maintain economic and social vibrancies after normal business office hours.

A tax was imposed upon Center City residents and businesses to pay for increased services within Center City. This paid for 100 maintenance employees who power-washed streets monthly and vacuumed them daily. Employees were hired for additional trash removal and for graffiti removal services.

Transition zones are areas separating business districts and distant stable residential areas. The transition zones often contain a mixture of businesses and residences. Making transition zones economically stable helps stabilize business districts. Weak transition zones can lead to instability spreading to larger geographic areas.

Eastern North Philadelphia is a transition zone. It had about 1,230 vacant homes and 1,711 vacant lots. The scattered placement of these required addressing multiple problem rather than creating one large project.

Many urban transition zones lost populations and businesses in clusters. This creates hollow cores within these zones. The city government tore down abandoned structures which created vacant lots. Public investment in these areas should occur more quickly and is better targeted than waiting for private investment. This is especially important when public investment can prevent further deterioration which would make private investment even less likely.

In 1993, U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Henry Cisneros sought to work with the Philadelphia government to exert more city government control over public housing. HUD was running the public housing program at the time. HUD offered to renovate the city’s troubled housing site at Southwark Plaza. The city took over code enforcement of public housing. Twenty years later, though, the housing authority remains a state agency that is not controlled or reviewed by city government.

Philadelphia made a priority of providing housing to people with jobs or in school. It decided it would not be the “housing of last resort, available to anyone.”

As Federal and state funds decreased, the Philadelphia Housing Authority found itself in a weaker position to compete with private developers for desired real estate.

A public housing project in Eastern North Philadelphia met a goal of looking similar to public housing. It is criticized for not meeting smart growth goals on sprawl and for not being close to public transportation.

Mayor Rendell was devoted to downtown rehabilitation. His successor, Mayor John Street, tried to focus more on neighborhood rehabilitation. A problem is it takes more investment over several years to turn around distressed neighborhoods.

Mayor Street addressed distressed communities by removing abandoned cars. He got City Council to approve a plan for blight demolition, buying land, and repairing homes that could be used by elderly or disabled people. A proposal was made by Temple University researchers to create zones that would eliminate all blight within these zones. The idea, though, was rejected by City Council.

The Redevelopment Authority (RDA) face problems acquiring properties when housing and land prices increased. Less land could be purchased and fewer projects were undertaken. There were 1,463 Redevelopment Selection actions from 2000 to 200t with 329 in a North Philadelphia zone, 288 for the PHA, and 107 for a private developer working with an agenda supported by Council member Jamie Blackwell.

The RDA was given a diminished role under the Street Administration. The RDA is a state government agency. There were fears the RDA would become more influenced by the Republican Governor than by the goals of the Democratic Mayor. Mayor Street sought layoffs in the RDA which led to a bitter feud with RDA Chairman of the Board John Dougherty, a labor leader who had previously supported Street.

Urban improvement strategies are changing. Construction jobs needed for improvements are no longer the permanent positions they once were. Public investments are decreasing.

The author recommends the Federal government coordinate urban improvement efforts from one funding source. He advises the state government should concentrate in providing housing for people who are employed or in job training programs. City government should direct actions according to what is best locally.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

History of a Good Republican (Mostly) Newspaper

Bill Boyarsky. Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times. Angel City Press (no year listed, circa 2010).

The Los Angeles Times began as a one cent, four page paper in 1881.

Colonel Harrison Gary Otis, in 1882, who had worked previously with the Louisville Journal, began leading the Times. He had taken a stand against slavery on a pro-states’ rights newspaper, the Journal. Otis then served in the Civil War and was a Lt. Colonel at war’s end. Otis helped W.W. Hollister start a weekly newspaper in Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Weekly Press. Otis wrote editorials against Southern Pacific Railroad’s attempt to seek a favorable economic climate from government. The long arm influence of the Southern Pacific Railroad led to Otis leaving the Santa Barbara newspaper. Otis took a job in Alaska while his wife Eliza directed newspaper operations.

Otis took a job as Editor of the Times and purchased a 15% interest. Meanwhile, the city subsidized rail in Los Angeles and its population began growing.

Harry Chandler moved to Los Angeles from New Hampshire for the clean air to help with his lung ailment. He began working in the Times circulation department in 19885. Within a year, he was leading the department. Circulation work began at 4 am.

Otis left the Times to serve in the Spanish American War. He then became a Brigadier General in fighting in the Philippines. He then returned to apply military style management in leading the Times.

The Times management found the efforts of Collis Huntington, Southern Pacific’s President, to gain solo rights to harbor business. The ant-Southern Pacific forces convinced the Federal government to construct a deep river free harbor in San Pedro.

The Chamber of Commerce and the Times successfully fought to take water rights from ranches in Owens Valley and direct water to Los Angeles. Mayor Fred Eaton had the city purchase the Los Angeles Water Company. William Mulholland led the company in buying water rights under others; properties with no public notice. The Times kept silent as this happened. Otis and Chandler were silent financial partners in the operations. City voters approved building a $23 million aqueduct that was completed in 1913. A dam holding a year’s supply of water was created due to fears of an earthquake disrupting the water flow. A dam, which Mulholland had earlier declares as safe, burst in 1928 which killed over 450 and destroyed 12,240 houses and 7,900 acres of agricultural land.

The Times kept collective bargaining out of labor force even while other papers across the nation unionized. A bomb exploded in the Times building in 1910, killing 21. The International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers was blamed for the bombing and two of members were charged.

Job Harrimanm running for Mayor on the Socialist ticket, was one of the defense attorneys. Harriman attacked the Times’ anti-union policies. Defense attorney Clarence Darrow and journalist Lincoln Steffens helped negotiate a compromise where defendant Jim McNamara, who admitted to placing the dynamite, would plead guilty and escape the death penalty while his brother, John McNamara, would have charges dropped that he planned and funded the bombing. The District Attorney declined the deal. Jim was given a life sentence and James 15 years. The guilty pleas hurt Harriman politically and he was defeated in his race for Mayor.

One McNamara attorney, Joseph Scott, was also on the Board of Education. The Times wrote viciously about Scott until he left the School Board in 1915. He then used all the newspaper attacks to successfully sue the Times for $47,659.71, an award that was upheld by the state Supreme Court.

The Times supported the successful passage of the Criminal Syndicalism Act of 1919, which created a new felony crime of belonging to an organization that supported violence against industry or for political change. The Police Department created a Red Squad that disrupted union meetings and strikes. Upton Sinclair, a writer, was arrested for reading the Bill of Rights.

Kyle Palmer of the Times became a leading political editorialist. He always supported Republicans and opposed unions.

Harry Chandler died in 1944. Norman Chandler, Harry’s son and General Otis’s grandson, took over managing the Times. He sold stock to raise funds and abandoned its policy of only supporting Republicans, although it kept a conservative editorial tilt. In 1941, the Times had the third highest circulation in Los Angeles. Norman Chandler also started the Mirror newspaper as a publication with greater appeal to middle class readers.

The Times supported imprisoning Japanese residents during World War II, declaring they were agents of Japan. The Times also sided with police and military personnel who did not intervene when 5,000 other military personnel and civilians attacked Mexican Americans wearing zoot suits.

The Times opposed a public housing plan by Mayor Fletcher Brown. In the final three weeks of the next Mayor’s race, the Times wrote 219 column inches about Brown and 1,010 column inches on his opponent, Norris Paulson. Paulson won. The land Brown wanted for public housing was then used to build Dodger Stadium.

Norman Chandler supported Robert Taft for President in 1952 until he saw Taft yelling at a photojournalist. This upset Chandler who switched to supporting Eisenhower.

The Times was very supportive of Richard Nixon. Chandler allowed a Political Editor for the Mirror work for Nixon in 1952, 1954, 1956, and 1960.

Otis Chandler became Times Publisher in 1960. He abandoned the conservative political leanings and attracted talented journalists and allowed them more freedom on what they wrote. Times writers provided more coveregae of different sides of labor – management disputes.

Tom Johnson became the Times Publisher in 1980 as Otis Chandler became Editor in Chief of Times Mirror, the paper’s company. In 1986, conservative Board members, including cousines of Otis, forced Otis Chandler out of his job. In 1989, the Board ousted Editorial Page Editor Anthony Day for being too moderate and fired Tom Johnson. The paper became editorially conservative.