Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Props D and E (2022-10)

Sunday, October 30th, 2022

If you aren’t a San Francisco voter, this post is going to be academic to you.

I’ve filled out my entire ballot by this point, except for two of the local propositions, on which I’ve been dithering: Prop D and Prop E.

The two are set against each other, and in fact one is a modification of the other. They’re similar enough that it’s possible to diff them, although doing that didn’t clarify as much as I’d hoped it would.

Part of the problem for me is that I know precious little about housing policy. I am neither a developer employee nor a tenant advocate. I’m just another San Francisco voter trying to make sense of this mess.

The resources I’ve been drawing upon are:

I really wish I had something like a Prop E version of SPUR’s article: a detailed, policy-wonk explanation of why E is better and will get housing built without screwing the low end of the market. Sadly, I have not found any such thing. The League’s argument is the best I’ve got on the Prop E side.

What I have is the following overall sense, and enough awareness of my own housing-policy ignorance to warn you that half of this might be wrong:

The shared goal of these propositions is to cut red tape. Housing development is often held up on a number of processes, including CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review and discretionary review by the Board of Supervisors.

The upside of these processes is that they’re used to drag developers kicking and screaming into building affordable housing so that the low end of the market—people who can’t afford market-rate housing—don’t get left out and priced out.

The downside of these processes is that the developers, as you might have gathered, don’t want to build affordable housing for people who can’t pay market rate, so they keep on dragging their feet, and if the process goes on long enough, sometimes they’ll sell out and profit off the appreciation of the land value rather than actually build any housing, setting everything back at square one.

(That downside is, from what I can tell, what YIMBYs refer to when they label Supervisors who vote down unaffordable housing projects as “anti-housing”. If you aren’t letting developers build whatever they want so it can trickle down, you must not want any housing to exist at all.)

What Props D and E have in common is, they both cut through some of that red tape to get affordable housing projects from plans on paper to shovels in ground faster. (D calls it “streamlining”; E calls it “acceleration”. I have no idea what that change was meant to signify.)

There we start to get into the differences.

Prop D cuts through more red tape than E does. In particular, E (the Board of Supervisors’ prop) leaves the Board’s discretionary review power intact. That then means, according to SPUR’s comparison, that these projects are subject to CEQA review.

It does seem to me that holding dense, multi-family housing up on CEQA review makes no fucking sense. SPUR notes that CEQA applies to housing in order to help curb sprawl, which does make sense, but dense urban housing getting caught in that seems like a bug worth fixing. The environmental impact is hopefully some people will get to live closer to where they work and take transit instead of highways. I consider taking CEQA review out of the way of building housing in cities to be a desirable goal.

Moreover, both props apply only to affordable housing projects (but not all the same ones; I’ll address that in a moment). Why should Prop E preserve discretionary review and thus CEQA review on 100% Affordable Housing Projects? What’s to review? It should be a rubber stamp.

So the trade-off Prop E makes is that it leaves some pretty big knots of red tape still in place.

Prop D makes a different trade-off, which has become one of the principal arguments against it (it certainly features prominently in the League’s analysis): Prop D greatly expands the set of “affordable housing” that it would apply to, well beyond housing affordable to the low end of the market.

(The Voter Information Pamphlet’s summary of Prop D and summary of Prop E include breakdowns of what “affordable housing” projects they would “streamline”/“accelerate”.)

SPUR, one of the sponsors of the measure, is explicit about this as a goal in their comparison:

Prop. D would expand the streamlining to include moderate and middle-income households. A 100% affordable project that provides an average affordability level of 120% of the Area Median Income (AMI) would be eligible for streamlining, compared to 80% AMI Income under state law. Under Prop. D, this would allow 100% affordable housing projects to also include some middle-income units for households making up to 140% of AMI.

So the trade-off Prop D makes is that developers get to build “affordable housing” for a more profitable segment of the market, but that might mean people at the low end get screwed.

In summary:

  • Prop D cuts through more red tape, but has what might be an overly generous definition of “affordable housing”.
  • Prop E leaves Supervisorial power to hold up housing projects intact, but uses the existing, stricter definition of “100% affordable housing”.

Ultimately, what I want is something of a mix of the two. I want Prop E’s explicit effort to promote housing for the low end of the market that developers are eager to make Somebody Else’s Problem, but without Supervisorial review because why do you need it on projects that are already “100% affordable” by definition.

But that isn’t on the ballot, so I’m left with these choices:

  • Vote for Prop D and hope the trickle-down fallacy doesn’t screw poorer residents too hard.
  • Vote for Prop E and hope the developer lobby’s veiled threats that this will stop housing production don’t come to pass.
  • Vote for both of them, if I consider either one to be an improvement over the status quo. The perfect is the enemy of the good, so maybe it’s better to just pass one of them now. (If both pass, whichever one gets more votes wins.)
  • Vote against both of them, and hold out for my ideal proposition, which will definitely land on some future ballot through no action on my part.

Cutting way back on Twitter

Sunday, July 19th, 2020

The person who invented the word “doomscrolling” deserves a Nobel Prize for Literature.

Twitter, at least the way I’d been using it up to now, which I think is coincidentally in broad alignment with how Twitter wants to be used, is two things at once: Both a social network, and a news site.

Its news function, particularly when viewed through a third-party client not subject to Twitter’s injection of hot garbage into the web client’s timeline, consists of curating one’s news intake by following people who retweet the news you want to see. Some, but not necessarily all, of these people may be your actual friends; at any rate, the two almost inevitably mix, as your friends may retweet what you have retweeted and vice versa.

Thus, the place where you hang out with (at least internet) friends becomes the place where you learn what’s going on in the world, and vice versa. Whereupon you can no longer have one without the other—at least, not without ditching Twitter and replacing it with something without that mixing.

Friday morning, I woke up in a peaceful, energized mood, and proceeded to begin my day, like every day before it for the past decade-plus, by reading Twitter.

After half an hour of that, I was too depressed to do anything but hold down my couch for most of the day. Well, that and read more Twitter.

I did basically nothing all of Friday. Like most days before it.

My greatest achievement that Friday was noticing the clear contrast between my mood upon waking up and my mood after looking at even a little Twitter. Whereupon I made a resolution.

Since Saturday, I have hardly looked at Twitter at all. When I have done so, it has been with a Tweetbot filter turned on that blocks all retweets, so I only see original tweets by the people I follow.

The filter helps a little bit, but the mixing is unavoidable; when people aren’t retweeting, they’re quote-tweeting, or subtweeting, or commenting, or venting.

And so my Twitter exposure lasts for only a few minutes at a time now. There isn’t as much there without taking an unfiltered look at the fresh horrors device, and I know what happens when I do that.

As the world (and the United States in particular) has been descending into fascism and climate crisis and long-overdue reckoning with a lot of things that a lot of us have ignored or accepted for far too long, the news on my timeline has gotten more and more captivating in the wrong ways.

This isn’t a new problem; it’s been true for years, even before the 2016 election. But it has gotten worse over time.

Often, I would spend most of the day reading Twitter. Lately, when I had my fill of Twitter—or ran out by hitting the top of the timeline—I would simply lie on my couch, unable to do anything.

How did I spend that time of doing nothing? Thinking. Thinking about the problems in the world; thinking about how I, or we, might solve them.

Not actually doing anything in such a direction. Just thinking about it.

One of my catchphrases is “awareness is not a substitute for action”.

Twitter makes it possible to be very aware of things that we do need people to be aware of. But it is possible to be too aware; to fall into “staying aware” by doomscrolling, or “raising awareness” by retweeting, QTing, etc., and never get around to actually doing anything.

We must be aware, but we must also do something about it.

In the past two days, as I have looked at Twitter for maybe a total of two hours (as compared to my previous daily average of… most of the day), I have had so much more energy to do things.

Much of this has been long-neglected tasks around the home. I’ve done two loads of laundry; put some things away; made some mask pieces. I’ve also made progress in reading a couple of books.

But also, I’ve had more energy for the political activism that has been my focus for a few years now. I can do things more than I’ve been able to do for a long time.

Looking away from Twitter is an immediate remedy, but creates a longer-term problem.

Twitter had been my main news source. “How do you stay so well-informed”, people would ask me, and I’d apologetically tell them that I spend way too much time reading a well-curated and completely irreplicable Twitter timeline, and that I absolutely do not recommend trying to get your news the same way I do.

(Which is completely, seriously true, and not just for doomscrolling reasons. There’s a lot of bullshit out there, from the factually untrue to the misleading to the technically-factual-but-incendiary-instead-of-actionable, which I have experience spotting and rejecting/avoiding and a lot of people do not. Getting your news from social media is highly inadvisable without it.)

Awareness is not a substitute for action, but action requires some awareness in order to not just be dancing in a void. Action is often reaction, which means knowing what’s happened to react to.

I have ideas. Maybe I’ll check NPR’s front page on some schedule. Maybe I’ll check Google News. Maybe I’ll just have to trust that people I work with who have stayed plugged into the news, or the occasional glance at my (retweet-free) Twitter timeline, will fulfill my need for some awareness without overloading or depressing me into inaction.

One way or another, in the meantime, I’m happy to be doing stuff.

I’ve been pretty quiet on Twitter since I stopped reading it, but I may actually start posting more, as I start doing more things worth posting about. Masks and other projects; things I’ve made; some political actions; nail polish.

I have long been intentional in what I tweet and retweet, especially about the sociopolitical. I try to keep things actionable, not contribute to people’s rivers of mood slime. I also try to uplift wins, to highlight the achievability thereof. That will likely not change, though I will probably be retweeting much less simply because I won’t be coming across things I would retweet in my timeline.

So you may see more tweets, and will definitely see fewer retweets. I’ll still be reading my mentions and occasionally replying to tweets I do see. I don’t think I’m leaving Twitter entirely, at least not yet—but my approach to it has already changed and I like the change a lot.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this goes.

Awareness is not a substitute for action

Sunday, July 19th, 2020

There’s a pernicious, though well-meaning, sort of mindset around “raising awareness” of various evils in the world.

The idea—such as it is—is that it’s vitally important to raise as much awareness as possible of whichever evil, and important as an individual to “stay informed”, which is to say, tuned into some daily dosage of news coverage.

I have a couple of problems with this.

First off, moment-to-moment news coverage, such as you typically see on TV/radio, on most news websites and newspapers, and indeed in all major news outlets regardless of medium, is extremely bad for actually being informed.

Moment-to-moment (often, but not necessarily, “breaking”) news coverage only tells you what just happened. This is insufficient in three ways:

  • what: but without much delving into who (or who else, or who didn’t) or when (or when else, or when it didn’t)
  • just: only the most recent event/act, with little to no history
  • happened: agency may be subtracted or actively denied (language such as “officer-involved shooting”, as well as more generally reporting on events rather than acts)

Truly informative coverage provides history, context, and depth—the sort of information that requires time and work and knowledge to assemble into a coherent and informative story.

Moreover, “staying informed” is only beneficial as a means to an end.

The opening cutscene to “Watch_Dogs 2” bothers me particularly because of this. The player character describes a system of corporate-administered mass surveillance—a system whose name is emblazoned on numerous hackable in-game objects, at least for the player’s convenience but seemingly diegetically as well—and concludes that the hacker group he belongs to, DedSec, needs to expose this system, its nature, and its ramifications to the world.

The problem I have is: That’s a start.

Playing that game in 2019*, I felt like there would’ve been at least four news articles about the fictional system in question already. One in WaPo, one in ProPublica, two in Reason magazine, and assorted reblogs and other coverage on Boing Boing, HuffPo, and various other sites. Plus innumerable tweets and Facebook posts.

And yet the system persists.

It persists because everyone is vaguely aware of it already—it’s directly involved in their lives; part of the problem is that they functionally can’t escape it—and they have accepted it.

Dig into the ramifications of such a system—enabling discrimination; enabling unwanted disclosure/privacy violation; etc.—and most people will go “Wow. Sure hope that never happens to me.”.

We are trained—mostly by news media themselves, passively, as a side effect of how stories are selected, reported, packaged, and delivered—to regard news coverage as spectacle. That thing happened, over there, apart from you, apart from your life. It happened without you, and so you have no influence upon it.

I haven’t played far enough into “Watch_Dogs 2”’s main plot to know whether this spoils a twist or not, but I feel like if it happened in real life (arguably it has; the game’s reflections of its inspirations are not subtle), the consequence to DedSec blowing the lid off the story and revealing ctOS’s true nature to the world would be a worldwide collective shrug.

Not just because that particular story is about a computer system and most people’s eyes immediately glaze over when you start talking computer shit, but because it is a part of their lives already, and such an exposé, with the implication that the system being exposed is bad, in turn implies that a part of their lives is bad.

For each individual person, the response to this is as follows:

  • Wow. So what can I, individually, do about it?
  • Well, I need to be in this system to get hired, to pass credit checks, to rent an apartment, etc. So, I can’t opt out of it, even if such a thing were theoretically possible. And I cannot personally destroy it, even though I wish it didn’t exist.
  • So… nothing. I shall do nothing.

So, what did that exposé accomplish?

Here in 2020, look at the mask thing. It’s so hard to get people to understand that even a mask that only protects other people protects everyone when everyone wears them. Americans don’t grasp collective action and the importance of it.

We really need to fix that. We need to start to see ourselves as part of a society, able to take actions that affect more of that society than just ourselves and able to choose actions that improve rather than harm.

We can’t just stop at awareness forever. It’s exhausting to be aware of problems and just watch them happen. We need to choose some subset of the problems and take action, and encourage others to take action along with us.

As long as we do nothing, nothing will continue to be done, and we’ll all be very aware as it happens.

*It’s now 2020 and I still haven’t finished it. I got distracted by side missions and driving around the fictionalized version of the City. And now there’s a pandemic, so “Watch_Dogs 2” has become the Going Outside In The Before Times Simulator.

Becoming a Democratic voter

Thursday, February 20th, 2020

This month, I did something I once thought I would never do.

Screenshot of the online voter-registration form on the California Secretary of State's website, with my party preference filled in as Democratic.

My whole adult life, I have been what’s known as a “no party preference” or NPP voter. (Sometimes called “independent”, but this is ambiguous as there is a party called the American Independent Party, and they are very much not centrist or big-tent.)

Largely this has been because I don’t like political parties. And I still don’t. In theory, they’re money and resource pools for candidates to draw on; in practice, we often see them working against insurgent candidates who are proposing change. I’d much rather have campaign finance restricted to some equal share of a publicly-funded pool, with strict laws and even stricter enforcement. (Yes, I know there are risks there, too. There are no perfect solutions.)

I also have always held a somewhat idealistic openness toward third parties, largely as a result of all of the shitty things that politicians of both major parties and the parties themselves have done—some credible competition might help keep them honest.

But now?

John Wick, from the first movie, with his lines changed to “People keep asking me if I have a party preference. And I haven't really had an answer. But now yeah… I'm thinkin' I've got a party preference!”.

On top of the significant difference between the two major parties these days, there is also some realpolitik involved.

For one, I’ve accepted the fact that as long as we have a first-past-the-post voting system, our elections will always tend toward two polar parties, with all the other parties and all the candidates and voters arrayed around them like iron filings around a bar magnet. Ranked-choice voting is a prerequisite (but not the only step by any means) to dismantling the two-party binary. And until we get there, power resides with the two major parties and power must be won and wielded to make change.

But more immediately, the current election in California, which started this month and ends March 3rd, is not only a primary—it’s also used by various Democratic Central Committees (county party organizations, basically) to elect their board members.

As a NPP voter, the Democratic Party in California would let me vote in their Presidential primary—this is called requesting a crossover ballot, and it’s done through the same form through which you request a vote-by-mail ballot. You then get a ballot for NPP voters that includes the Democratic Presidential primary.

But a NPP voter cannot vote in their county’s DCCC election. That’s for registered Democrats only.

So that’s what pushed me over the edge. In San Francisco, we have two roughly-defined slates of candidates running, one formed of current and former elected officials looking to transition from holding power in state or City government to holding power in the county Party, and the other a slate of activists who want the Party to drive progressive change.

One of those Democratic Parties sounds a lot better to me—and I want to cast my vote accordingly.

As I mentioned, the election has already begun—I had already received my crossover ballot when I made the decision. I emailed the SF Department of Elections and got confirmation that once I re-register (and check the box to receive mail-in ballots, same as I did last time), a new ballot would automatically be sent to me. So I did the thing, got my new ballot, and will discard my crossover ballot.

(If you want to do this, the deadline to register and get a Democratic mail-in ballot was February 18 here in California, but you can do Conditional Voter Registration at any polling place/voting center in your county. If you’re in another state, check with your Secretary of State or county Department of Elections.)

Scarcity vs plenty

Friday, December 29th, 2017

I’ve been thinking a lot about political rhetoric here in the US, and one thing I’ve identified in it is a dichotomy, or maybe a spectrum, between poles of Scarcity and Plenty.