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Efforts to turn empty lots to a glass half full

John King, San Francisco Chronicle
Even as San Francisco’s development scene continues to languish, city officials and at least one private landowner are exploring how to fill empty sites in creative ways – including art installations and a working farm.

“If you leave a blank landscape, that’s an invitation to blight,” said Matt Jacobs of Turnberry Lansing, the owner of 45 Lansing St., a Rincon Hill lot that also fronts Harrison Street. “It’s better to do something that’s interesting and that the neighbors like.”…

…Rebar and two other teams provided conceptual designs for a July package in The Chronicle looking at downtown sites left empty by the recession, and how such patches of land might be landscaped or used on an interim basis in the years until construction resumes…
(3 September 2009)

Obama’s Speech: The Doctor Is In

David Corn, Mother Jones
Can a speech change a political dynamic?

President Barack Obama and his political wizards obviously hope so. Together they came up with an address that at least on Wednesday night made it seem as if Obama was in charge of the health care reform process—which has not been the case since he handed off the hard work to Congress months ago. Obama finally defined fully the debate, the policy, and the values underlying the need for reform. He was both practical-minded and passionate. He was combative at moments, and reasonable-sounding at others. He showed some of his cards, though not all. The question is, can a powerhouse of a speech at this point in the process—when various camps have dug their trenches—alter the terrain? Can Obama, with words alone, truly seize control of the messy endeavor of overhauling the nation’s health care system?

Much of the speech was not a surprise. Obama outlined his own plan, as the White House posted it online. He craftily focused first on people who have insurance, noting that his plan would provide them “security and stability.” Given that most Americans have insurance and many are somewhat satisfied (or used to) the coverage they have, a large chunk of the public is not responsive to a call for systematic change. After all, things can always get worse. But Obama zeroed in on the well-justified anxieties of the already-insured, noting that his version of health care reform would force insurance companies to end many of the practices that frighten and enrage consumers—such as denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, capping coverage, and refusing to pay for routine checkups and preventive care, such as mammograms and colonoscopies…
(10 Sept 2009)

Tom Friedman, our one-party democracy, and the clean energy jobs message

Joe Romm, Climate Progress blog
The jobs argument is a core message for winning the public debate about the clean air, clean water, clean energy jobs bill.

Friedman is a centrist who advances the argument because he knows it is true, because he understands climate science is real, and because he is a hard-core capitalist who sees the tough dynamic the U.S. is facing in the global economy. If you’re not first, you’re probably last.

The importance of the clean energy jobs message is evidenced by the fact that the corporate polluters and their right-wing allies in the media will do anything to kill it, from publishing phony studies attacking clean energy jobs to pushing their vile assault on Van Jones, who has been a leading articulator of the message (see “Fox News blurts out its agenda: “Now that Jones has resigned, we need to follow through…. First, stop cap-and-trade, which could send these groups trillions,” and then put “the whole corrupt ‘green jobs’ concept outside the bounds of the political mainstream”)…
(9 Sept 2009)

Risk Pool

Patrick Deneen, Front Porch Republic
It has been a year since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and the subsequent near-collapse of the international economic system followed quickly by the massive increase of (at least visible) central government presence in nearly every aspect of our economic lives. In spite of this period of time that might permit reflection on these events, it seems we have yet to do a real accounting of the causes of this crisis and thus discern a true path to mitigation of the factors that precipitated those days and months of panic and this long period of simultaneous quiescence and discontent. Perhaps at the deepest level, our inability to actually achieve a true accounting is the actual source of the crisis. For to do so would require us to speak in terms of character and sin, and to eshcew our accustomed public language of technique and method.

As legislators speak of new regulations of the financial industry (even as we find out daily that the problem lie more in the lack of real enforcement, as well as the ability of the industry and government to change existing regulation when it proved onerous for profits and campaign contributions), and as people in the industry mouth their commitment to changing their ways, those with eyes to see discern that nothing has changed because at base our behaviors are being influenced and even governed by a set of systemic and deeply embedded assumptions about the nature of human society. We remain profoundly committed to an economic and political system of abstraction, one that begins at the most basic level by generating as many externalized costs as possible in order to give the highest degree of immediate pleasure and satisfaction to the soveriegn self who happens to live now. It further extends in our manipulation of nearly every social mechanism – schools, living arrangements, economic frameworks, work, entertainment, parenting, even death and burial – that creates distance between us, that renders those relationships normalized, homogenized, abstracted, theoretical, de-personalized. We accede to the destruction of places, of history, of cultures and traditions because we cease to perceive any real connection to them – we are exceedingly good at erecting museums to what we have lost, but very bad at actually retaining anything of lasting value…
(9 Sept 2009)