Mental Health and the Homeless
n February of this year, a number of strange things happened in San Francisco. For one, the San Francisco 49ers, who no longer play in this city, hosted the Super Bowl, and many thousands of football revelers who had no intention of spending the week near the team’s new suburban stadium turned San Francisco
into Super Bowl Central. The second is the strange sights, sounds, and smells those visitors experienced while in San Francisco. Locals hoping to show off their hometown to outsiders were understandably nervous, lest those visitors experience any of these recently observed happenings in the city: a man shouting in-
coherently at the Powell Street BART station, a man dropping his pants and going to the bathroom on a public sidewalk, another man urinating between two parked cars, or a woman shouting madly at passersby near Union Square. How did our public spaces become “like a mental ward on the streets,” as The New York Times once described Berkeley’s
zipperer strasse homeless (continued on page 3)
JULY 2016 EIGHT DOLLARS
The magazine of political reality
Après Moi, le Delegates A choice between continuity and chaos PLUS: Black Lives Matter • P.J. O’Rourke • inside the bernie bubble • deutschland WEIMAR.WS zippererstrasse 83 1
A Bad Word. Politics is boring. Politicians are sellouts. People who are interested in politics are weird. Politics is a bad word. That’s what people say. We disagree. Welcome to Zippererstrasse, the magazine of political reality. To us, politics is a matter of great importance. A matter, even, of life and death. It’s not entertainment—but that’s not to say we don’t find it frequently entertaining. Join Zippererstrasse for an ongoing exploration of politics, politicians, and the people who pick them.
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The magazine of political reality
zippererstrasse JULY 2016
this time mentally ill homeless? Discussions about homelessness and livability in this city often include residents complaining about the seemingly worsening problems and asking why the city doesn’t clean it up. In an August online public chat, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra J. Saunders engaged residents and others—including the city’s homeless services director, Bevan Dufty—in a discussion of why San Francisco smells. Residents soon turned it into a platform to complain about the public bathroom practices of homeless people. One wrote, “It is because the money designated for ‘homeless’ primarily goes to pay for nonprofit attorneys that fight to allow squatters, loiterers, panhandlers, vagrants, nudity, and defecation on the streets. I’ve witnessed first hand a man talking to himself and having a bowel movement in the Montgomery BART underground walk area. This person was definitely mentally ill and should have been in a mental institution, not on the streets.” Another wrote: “I have been physically assaulted in Union Square by a drugged-out homeless person, a neighbor was knocked out and had to have her teeth repaired by another, a third followed a group of friends chanting that she was going to murder them and nearly assaulted one of the women until she was overpowered by one of the men in the group.” It is a complex and expensive problem, and there exists a push-and-pull between people who want to focus on the human needs of the person on the street and people who find their quality of life negatively impacted and even their safety endangered by the many antisocial activities they experience. Making it even more complicated is that the push-and-pull can exist within the same person, with a desire to ride a bus without having to endure a raving sermon from a stranger coinciding with a hope that the homeless person gets help. In the professional world of homeless services, there also exists a split about how to treat at least some of the people. There is a movement afoot, led by people such as Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a former advisor to President Obama, to reintroduce mental health asylums for long-term treatment of the severely mentally ill who cannot be served by outpatient or other services offered in the community at large. It is a reversal of a trend that began in the 1960s about moving as many people as possible into the community
PHOTO: Oscar Gustav Rejlander
homeless (continued from cover)
The homeless mentally ill do occasionally get treated, but far too often that happens via the criminal justice system instead of the medical establishment. and out of institutions, providing treatment through improved medication. Ronald Reagan, as governor of California, is often blamed for starting the deinstitutionalization trend and not providing the funding for services, but the trend was nationwide. Reagan did play his part as governor (and later as president, when he reversed a policy of predecessor Jimmy Carter that tried to restructure treatment for the chronic mentally ill), but he was not alone, nor was it by any means a conservative-liberal divide. Civil libertarians argued for years against the forced institutionalization of the mentally ill. During a debate at The Commonwealth Club of California over the proposal to reintroduce asylums, Dr. Dominic Sisti—one of Emanuel’s co-authors of the proposal—said people have a false assumption that mental illness equals violence. It is a “deep misconception … that seriously mentally ill people are horribly violent,” said Sisti, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “They are not by and large, unless you added substance abuse disorder, and then there could be an uptake in violence.” “Very few people who have serious men-
tal illness are actually violent,” agreed Dr. Renee Binder, a psychiatrist at the University of California and the president of the American Psychiatric Association. “Most violence is committed by people who do not suffer from mental illness.” Opponents and proponents of the institutionalization proposal generally agree that the homeless mentally ill do get handled and occasionally treated by society, but far too often that happens via the criminal justice system instead of the medical establishment. “The mentally ill are 10 times more likely to end up in prison than in psychiatric care,” said U.S. Representative Tim Murphy (RPennsylvania), who is also a psychologist. Murphy and colleague Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) have co-sponsored a bill, the Helping Families in Mental Crisis Act, which reforms programs and provides for services for the most difficult cases. The quality-of-life effects of the criminalization of homelessness combined with the inadequacy of treatment for them in the community results in problems for people homeless (continued on page 15) WEIMAR.WS zippererstrasse
inside this issue
“It’s far more important to elect Hillary Clinton in 2016 than it was to elect Barack Obama in 2008.”
—Jon Favreau Former Obama Speechwriter
zippererstrasse The Magazine of Political Reality July 2016 Volume 1 Number 1 www.weimar.ws Editor & Publisher John Zipperer firstname.lastname@example.org Art Director & Design John Zipperer political cartoonist Lyle Lahey
photo: gage skidmore
Printing Issuu.com MagCloud
FEATURES 17 Zippererstrasse Interview: P.J. O’Rourke The political satirist talks about what’s driving American politics today. 22 Something’s Gotta Give The nation’s housing crisis is particularly acute in places like San Francisco, where the economy is the strongest. An examination of the politics hurting people who most need affordable housing. 28 Dr. James Taylor Friends and enemies of Black Lives Matter, and how it can become effective
BOOKS, ARTS & CULTURE 29 The Kamikaze Country How and why did Japan decide to go to war with the United States, even as its highest leaders knew it be a catastrophic move for their country? 32 The Disappearing Art of Making Magazines Once, magazines roamed the country in the thousands, before they were killed off. 33 Cold War on the River Spree A German-made TV series delves into Cold War reality. 34 In the Wake of the Wall’s Fall Writer Peter Schneider shows us what’s happening. 35 Crowdsourcing Culture Why do people think corporate movie properties are private concerns? 36 Make Rome Great Again Rome wasn’t destroyed in a day, but Trump can do it more quickly today.
DEPARTMENTS 3 This Time People don’t like to talk about the biggest enabler of homelessness: mental illness. 5 Week to Week Bill Whalen and Mark Z. Barabak talk Trump, Clinton, and more. 6 The Record Humor. Discovered: the commencement address to Trump U. graduates. 7 The Point Bathroom bills, surviving right-wing conspiracies, NIMBYism, and more. 8 Lyle Lahey Remembering the millions Mitt lost. 38 Drawn and Quoted 4
zippererstrasse JULY 2016
Thanks this issue to: Mark Z. Barabak, Carson Bruno, Dorothy Crain, The Commonwealth Club of California, Peter Linneman, Marina Times, P.J. O’Rourke, Andre Shashaty, James Taylor, Kin Tso, and Bill Whalen. ON THE COVER: This November, Americans will have a choice between two very—extremely— different persons seeking the presidency. Caricature by DonkeyHotey. Image of Hillary Clinton was adapted from a photo in the public domain from the East Asia and Pacific Media’s Flickr photostream; the body was adapted from a photo in the public domain from the U.S. Department of State’s Flickr photostream. Image of Donald Trump was adapted from Creative Commonslicensed images from Max Goldberg’s flickr photostream. Zippererstrasse is published by John Zipperer. This is issue Volume One, Number One. Other than photos by third-party photographers and illustrations by Lyle Lahey, all content is copyright © 2016 John Zipperer, except where otherwise noted. All rights reserved. Reprint or reproduction of any part is strictly forbidden without written permission. Zippererstrasse accepts no responsibility for unsolicited submissions, but if they are submitted, they will be considered and, if necessary, returned. All articles in this issue are written by John Zipperer, unless otherwise specified. All images reproduced here are in the public domain or are used with required restrictions. Address all communications to Zippererstrasse magazine, including letters to the editor and business queries, to email@example.com or john@ weimar.ws.
WEEK TO WEEK The Five Stages of Republican Grief
After a surprising and bruising primary race, how will the party nominees get to November?
JOHN ZIPPERER: Donald Trump has locked up the nomination. Bill, what do you make of the way the GOP is coming to terms with this? BILL WHALEN: There is a phrase that clinical psychologists use called DABDA; it means handling grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. I contend for most Republicans—it’s about 60 percent of Republicans who have had the chance to vote in the Republican primaries [who] have voted against Trump; some Republicans have come around to Trump, some quicker than others—not surprisingly, those looking for a job in Washington perhaps in 2017. Others, like Paul Ryan, John Kasich, they’re holding out. The question is, “What are they holding out for?” And I suspect what they’re holding out for is a wink and a nod from Trump. The wink and a nod being that, “What you’re getting now is not what you will get when I am president. You, Paul Ryan, are very serious about entitlement reform; well, as president, I’ll do entitlement reform.” Wink, nod. “John Kasich, despite what I have said about the wall and wanting to deport people; that won’t happen. I actually care about people, too.” Wink, nod. And so it goes. The question is this: When you look at the last election, Mitt Romney lost for a lot of reasons, a lot of self-imposed wounds—that 47-percent comment, the self-deport comment, strapping the dog to the roof of the car
image: Lyle lahey
veryone has opinions, but most people’s political opinions are based on lots of emotion and tradition, and little on fact. So in Week to Week, we check in with people who have on-the-ground experience and expertise in the political world to tell us what they think is happening now and what could happen tomorrow. Week to Week is a political roundtable from the nonpartisan Commonwealth Club of California; it is hosted by Zippererstrasse editor John Zipperer and features a rotating list of panelists from the worlds of journalism and academia. Recently, Hoover Institution Research Fellow Bill Whalen and Los Angeles Times political reporter Mark Z. Barabak sat down to talk turkey and Trump.
was probably not a good move in retrospect. But he also lost because of a basic exercise in mathematics: 38, 32, and 30. Thirty percent of the vote in 2012 was independents, 32 percent was Republican, 38 percent was Democrats. Romney actually got more independent votes than Obama did, but Romney got 93 percent of the Republican vote, while Barack Obama got 93 percent of the 38 percent, so he won the presidency. So if you’re Trump, you have to hope that in addition to doing as well among independents, you have to have less votes by the
Clinton for four to eight years? If I can’t, then I have to cast a vote for Donald Trump, because we’re not going to get a third-party candidate, and even if we do, he or she will not be a serious third-party candidate who could win the presidency. Do I vote then for Donald Trump, knowing he’ll stop Hillary Clinton? Can I sleep at night knowing I voted for Donald Trump? Do I just look down the ballot and find some nitwit at the bottom of the ballot and vote for them? What do I do? There are a lot of Republicans who are struggling with this issue. ZIPPERER: Mark, you have been out on the campaign trail reporting for many months now. What can you tell us about the mood among Republicans? We’re talking about Republicans who are in the depression, anger area; there must be plenty [of others] who are excited—this is upending the cart. MARK Z. BARABAK: I talked to a lot of Republicans in battleground states, I talked with a lot of Trump voters, went to some Trump rallies. Obviously a very different sentiment than I got from a lot of activists and people in a lot of these key states. I’m not telling you something you don’t already know, that the polls don’t suggest, that it’s going to be a struggle. It’s a very narrow pathway that, barring some hugely, extraordinary reversal or fortunes—and I’ll be the first to tell you that this year has been extraordinary and has thrown everything we thought we knew about politics out the window and defied all the expectations of all the people and all the pundits—that said, looking at things as we look at them today in terms of the map, in terms of the polls, in terms of anecdotal stuff, in terms of these people I’ve spoken to, I think he has a very difficult road to get to the 270 [electoral votes] he needs. Again, I talked to folks in places like Ohio and Florida, Colorado, Virginia—states that he needs to win—and there is a lot of resistance, not from Democrats, but these are from partisans, activists, important people. There’s a fellow, Art Pope, in North Carolina. He’s probably the single most important
“Do I just look down the ballot and find some nitwit at the bottom and vote for them?” Democrats and an equal or larger amount of votes by Republicans to narrow the field, and at the same time do as well as Romney. So while Trump talks about not necessarily caring about unity, not needing Republican votes or ideas, he needs them. ZIPPERER: You once called Trump “vile.” At what stage of grief are you? WHALEN: Definitely in the depression area. I don’t think I’m going to get to acceptance. I’ve been invited to speak at a conference in Mexico in October. I’m thinking about making it a one-way ticket. This ties into a serious issue for Republicans. How are you going to cast a vote in November for this guy? You have to make these calculations: Can I live with Hillary
Week to Week (continued on page 21) WEIMAR.WS zippererstrasse
the record HUMOR
Dear Trump University Graduates ... Found—the latest commencement address, to the Class of 2016
photo: Nina Konstantinidou
e are gathered here before the adoring eyes of friends and family, underneath the 30-foot banner of our founder—successful businessman Mr. Donald Trump—and next to the vending machines in the lunch room to celebrate you. You, who have persevered through years of hard work, frustrations and disappointments, all so you could get a Trump University diploma. By now, you all should have received the email with your diploma icon that you can add to your website or Facebook page. But before you leave the world of academe and reenter the cold, cruel world of reality, I have been asked to give you a few words of advice. Allow me to draw upon Mr. Trump’s favorite phrase from his second-favorite book, The Bible. From John 18:38, in which the great leader Pontius Pilate asks “What is truth?” What is truth? The truth, graduates, is that you are now super-powered real estate wizards. You received an education that Harry Potter could only have dreamed of getting from his safety school, Hogwarts. He can only wish he could have gotten into Trump University. He tried. But we said no. Unlike all of you deserving graduates. You have worked long and hard to get to this proud moment. You studied for your courses, you listened to your instructors, you put in countless hours waiting to sell your mother’s car to raise funds for your next Trump University course. Now you can look forward to all of the good things that will come from your Trump education. (Though on the advice of our lawyers, I must note that any
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advice contained in this commencement address is to be taken for entertainment purposes only and not to be relied upon for investment guidance, tax preparation, or professional assistance. Past performance at Trump University is not an indicator of future performance in the real estate market.) Be proud of what you accomplished here. The truth is that you are now part of a brotherhood and sisterhood of Trump graduates, people who are ready to put their education to the test and start making real money. You will find your fellow Trump graduates all across the nation and from all backgrounds—English and German. Many of them have applied their knowledge to allow them to expand their earning potential by becoming the night manager at Olive Garden, or you will find them manning many important positions at the very important places where you buy gas or stop for a pack of cigarettes or grab a Cinnabon. Wherever you need a savvy go-getter who can come up with money quickly and with no questions asked, there you will find a fellow proud Trump University alumnus. But that’s only part of our global network of expertise that is now available to you. We also have our world-class faculty members, who were hand-picked by Mr. Trump to spread his knowledge and help others. You benefit from the fact that Trump faculty members stay at the university on average no longer than six months before moving back into the business world, where they continue to set new business records. You can even work with your former instructors, many of whom
are seeking co-plaintiffs in their class-action lawsuits against Trump University. And that’s not all. If you have listened very closely and paid attention, using your highly honed skills of perception, you might have heard that our founder, Mr. Donald Trump himself, is going to be the next president of the United States of Americans. That can mean only one thing: He will be hiring, and once he is in office, there will be no better cadre of intelligent, savvy professionals than Trump University graduates. Even though we’re still several months away from the American people confirming his selection for the presidency, we hear that Mr. Trump is looking for people who know about foreign policy, economics, health care, and absolutely anything at all. So the world is your oyster. We look forward to you returning to visit your alma mater in the future. When you come back to Trump University—and please remember not to park in front of the Saigon Grill next door, they need those spaces for their delivery vehicles—you will be informal advisors, mentors, and inspiration to the next generation of students, who are even now hoping, dreaming, and praying that they, too, will have what it takes to borrow against their disability pension to pay for their Trump education. So go forth on your journey and make something of yourself. Make the world sit up and take notice of you, even if it’s only to drop a few coins into your outstretched hand. And always remember: You are a Trump graduate. And we will sue you if you use that name without our permission. zs
the point introduction
Thus Spake Zippererstrasse Politics gets real
Photo: Warren K. Leffler
Inside the Bernie Bubble Too much of a bad thing
o you know the man in the photograph above? If you are a liberal, you either do or probably should know him. That is John B. Anderson, the Great Whitish Hope of the 1980 presidential campaign. The Illinois Republican upheld the mantel of liberal Republicanism in that epochal election, which, as we all know, resulted in Anderson receiving about 6 percent of the vote but incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter losing with only about 40 percent of the vote. Conservative Republican Ronald Reagan won the election with slightly more than 50 percent, and he would go on to transform the Republican party and the country. The effects of that election are still going on today. This 2016 race is not the first presidential election in United States history, nor is it the first sharpelbows, high-stakes, controversy-laden presidential election in our history. That might be news to some of the followers of Senator Bernie Sanders, who seem to have tuned into politics for the first time in their lives in late 2015. Innocence is charming, and ever since Reagan won office by running against the establishment and against government, it has proven to be an allure to candidates in both parties. We have many friends who are supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders. We have many other friends who are supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton—as are we. We have a smaller but still nice set of friends who have supported various Republican candidates in this race so far—and our sympathies to them. The GOP candidates have been for the most part self-parodying, so we won’t go into them here. But what is troubling is the bullying, dream-fulfillment approach of some of the Sanders people, who believe the country needs a revolution led by their messianic candidate who finds himself at a loss to explain how he would even legally fulfill his campaign pledges, as he proved in his disastrous interview with the editorial board of The New York Daily News. Worse was their candidate’s petulant response to his own supporters’ insult- and threat-laden uprising at the Nevada state party convention. If they’re really up for a the point (continued on page 8)
t is never time for a new magazine, if you listen to the critics and complainers. And a political magazine is treacherous business at the best of times. Nonetheless, Zippererstrasse. We introduce ourselves to you as a new voice of an ancient tradition: liberalism. We do this at a time when both liberalism and conservatism are at crisis points in this country. Conservatives are finally finding themselves confronting the debasement of their ideals to the better-paying god of the wealth gospel. Liberals are less aware of their crisis, but it is just as lethal, because it threatens to destroy the entire liberal enterprise. From campuses to media echo chambers, people on the left are falling for the allure of demands backed by emotion and selfrighteousness, sometimes obscuring the very real problems they are trying to solve. We believe that liberalism is not a set of policy stances. It is a way of arriving at policy, by subjecting ideas to examination and criticism (self and external), by including an appreciation for tradition and faith but giving primary place of honor to reason and fact. And so, Zippererstrasse. We don’t aim to provoke, but we invariably will be provocative, especially if you’re not used to having your ideas challenged. Together, we shall see about shaking up things a bit, bringing fresh thinking to everything from housing to political structures to arts and culture. We do aim to be thoughtful, and we welcome your feedback. After all, we’re all about ideas.
the point (continued from page 7)
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zippererstrasse JULY 2016
revolution, it will get a lot uglier at the party’s convention, even though Hillary has already clinched the nomination. For all the revolutionary talk, consider: the last progressive U.S. president to push through a big-scale change was Franklin D. Roosevelt. He had help from a shattered economy (so lots of scared people) and, most important, huge majorities in the U.S. Congress. Sanders would have neither. Not only that, he would need to have rockribbed support from whatever Democrats are in the U.S. Congress, and he wouldn’t have that. He hasn’t even been a Democrat, until about five minutes before launching his candidacy for the Democratic nomination, and those congressmen and -women need to know that the president will be on the stump in their districts supporting them at re-election time, when you can bet there would be an extremely well-funded rightwing reaction that would make the tea party movement look like a bunch of Marxists. Those congress members would have to know he would raise a ton of money for them to withstand the withering attacks of the right-wing reaction. Clinton has been raising millions for them all along; Sanders has not, and when he was finally asked about it he reacted as if it were a novel idea he would have to look into. Congressional Democrats would have to know that he would have a national messaging effort that could talk to the entire Democratic coalition and could reach beyond; Sanders has the hard-core left of the party, but hasn’t gone beyond that. We understand the thrill of thinking your candidate will lead a revolution that will change all. We wanted John Anderson in 1980 and Gary Hart in 1984. But we also know politics (as does Hillary, but Sandersnistas hold that against her), and Bernie has no more chance of becoming president or if lightning struck and he had somehow gotten the nomination, he couldn’t have brought along enough of his own party
to put his “revolution” into effect. Other than that, full steam ahead. But also understand that most of the vitriol that the Bernie Sanders crowd is throwing at Hillary Clinton is regurgitated lies straight out of the playbook of Karl Rove’s GOP attack machine, and the debunkers are getting tired of debunking the stuff people were supposed to be paying attention to all these many years. In “The Trouble with Bernie,” former Burlington, Vermont, journalist Mickey Hirten illustrates just how unable Sanders would be to do the necessary party support work. The longtime Vermont journalist had many interactions with Sanders, and he recounted one interview in which Sanders got irate when he was asked why he didn’t lend support to other progressives. I asked about his unwillingness to endorse his fellow progressives. He said it wasn’t his role. I suggested voters might expect him to weigh in. He disagreed, clearly annoyed at the persistent questioning. Finally I suggested that he had a larger moral responsibility to the progressive movement. At which point he jumped out of his seat, told me to go f*** myself and stormed out of the edit board meeting. Hirten goes on to highlight reporting by others about Sanders’ inability to reach out and support others. Read the full article and judge for yourself (lansingcitypulse.com/ article-12189-the-trouble-with-bernie.html). The system wasn’t rigged against Sanders; Sanders was hard-wired against the system. The party dodged a bullet by not nominating him. So when you hear stories about Hillary Clinton traveling around and raising money for down-ticket candidates, think twice about concluding that she’s a political machine hack beholden to monied interests. She’s been building the best support in Congress she can get, because she’ll need them to stick with her when things get tough. And things always get tough for every president.
HOW to change the gop
What Tina Brown Taught Trump
Now if only someone would use that power for good, not evil
here is a theory going around that caught our attention, because we started it. It has to do with the connection between Donald Trump and Tina Brown. Seriously. Let us explain. Donald Trump is the Republican Party’s presidential candidate. People ask how he can be that popular, despite his often outrageous behavior and his straying from con-
servative Republican ultra-orthodoxy. But there is one silver lining to the nightmare rain cloud that is Trump. Do you remember when Tina Brown was editor of The New Yorker? When she took the reins of that legendary beast, some people were aghast—barbarians at the gate and all of that. She then proceeded to make changes to one of the most conservative (in
terms of slow-changing) magazines in the entire country. New layouts, new sections, new types of articles, new contributors, new attitudes, and so on. People were impressed or nonplussed or angered, but the magazine went on. Eventually Tina Brown went on, too, to other jobs, and others took the reins at The New Yorker. They were able to continue making changes, and the magazine is the better for it. It’s an excellent publication, year after year. What Tina Brown might most be remembered for at the magazine is that she showed you could change it without destroying it. For far too long, too many GOP politicians at all levels have been terrified about touching certain third rails in the subway of politics. Raise taxes on the rich? Perish the thought. Refrain from invading the Middle
East? WWJD! And so on. Trump has broken both of those taboos, plus others, and though many people are outraged or upset or nonplussed, he has shown that it can be done and it’s not the Republican political kiss of death. Yes, he was able to do it because he has at least partially self-funded his campaign, but he has still demonstrated that the GOP voter’s emperor has no clothes. Like with Tina Brown and The New Yorker, we could and should see other candidates in future years continue to break political taboos. Let’s be clear: Trump is a dangerous candidate who should not be anywhere near the White House, even on a public tour. But after all the shouting of the campaign is complete, the GOP might be better off for having its ties to stifling policy conformism loosened.
ORLANDO MASS MURDEr
The Second Amendment was not written by Jesus
n Sunday, June 12, 2016, a man walked into a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and opened fire with a high-volume weapon, killing about 50 people, injuring that many more, and highlighting America’s weakness. We are the nation of mass shootings. And each time they happen—whether it’s the murder of Sikhs at a temple or elementary schoolchildren, for God’s sake—we do nothing. Our legislators say some angry things, they hold moments of silence to commemorate the latest result of their fecklessness, and then those on the right warn Democrats not to politicize the dead. That’s wrong. Politicize them. As some have noted, the people who say we shouldn’t politicize 50 dead people in Orlando are the same people who are still po-
liticizing four dead people in Benghazi. Politicize them, because politics is not an evil thing, except as it is performed by the politicians bought-and-paid-for by our nation’s weapons industry. Politics is how civilized peoples solve common problems. It’s always got to be politics—horse-trading and compromises and courageous proposals and all—because the alternative is even worse. Because when the politics stops, then the guns come out, and America is going to be a real bloodbath when that happens. No hunting rifle or home-protection handgun need be in danger of confiscation. But let’s vigorously go after the weapons of mass murder, the weapons of war, that have no place in private hands. And vote on this issue.
Block the Bathroom Bills
Don’t give an inch to the new sexual Jim Crow laws
here’s a new star among the ultra-right in America, a new idea animating their legislators and activists. Because, you see, they have discovered a new group to target, a new group around which to rally the great unwashed. Transgender people—people who either don’t fit into expected gender roles and appearances or who have undergone (or are undergoing) gender change— are a target that gets activists fired up, and the ultra-rightists have calculated that discrimination against transgender people is something they can get away with, now that it is political poison in most places to
openly hate racial minorities. North Carolina became the poster child for this effort when it recently rushed to pass a bill banning localities in the state from having laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination. The part of the bill that has received the most attention was a requirement that people using bathrooms in schools and other public buildings use the restroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate. Critics have rightly pointed out the difficulties in policing such a policy. Others have noted that transgender people will
still have to use a bathroom, and they are not going to be welcome in either bathroom without harrassment by the Christian Taliban-types. But when discount department store Target announced that it would allow people to use the restrooms of their gender identity, elements on the far right went berzerk. Vigilantes went into Target stores, publicly berating people they thought weren’t the right gender; predictably, there were women harassed for using the women’s room simply because they looked a bit masculine—didn’t matter if they were transgender, straight, or gay. One father was punched by a man who objected to him doing what parents have done for ages—bringing his young daughter into the men’s room because he didn’t want to send her into the women’s room by herself. Facing widespread criticism and boycotts, North Carolina Republicans have been scrambling ever since to explain, throw blame, and every way possible squirm out of the mess they made. The state’s governor, Pat McCrory, at one point blamed the media for the controversy. But this wasn’t a media-made problem; this was one that the state’s Republican-dominated legislature brought on itself. Entirely. The bill was rushed through the legislature so that it could be passed and signed into law just before an anti-discrimination law would have gone into effect in Charlotte. North Carolina has taken a deserved public relations battering, as well as an economic hit as companies have rejected plans to expand operations in the state, as conferences and concerts and other events have been moved from the state, and other governments have banned travel to the state. But it is not the only province where this is happening. Kansas legislators have even been considering a bill that offers a $2,500 bounty to students who discover a student using the “wrong” bathroom. These unconscionable laws are doing nothing except putting a target on the backs of transgender people, a group that is already one of the most discriminated against and is already dealing with isolation, high suicide rates, and violence against them. President Obama took a bold step—and a rare positive use of federal power—when he directed the nation’s public schools to, essentially, follow the Target rule. About a dozen states with right-wing governments filed suit against the president to allow them to continue to discriminate against the already discriminated. If the Christian morality that is espoused by most of these legislative warriors doesn’t guide them to make the right decision, than it’s perfectly appropriate that the federal government allied with private business compel them to rediscover those virtues. WEIMAR.WS zippererstrasse
Surveying the New Surveillance State
There are no easy answers to surveillance in an age of mass terror
Smart & Lively Political Insight
Meet the antidote to political polarization: Week to Week, the political roundtable program from The Commonwealth Club of California, hosted by Zippererstrasse editor/publisher John Zipperer, where we feature journalists & academics with differing views discussing current politics with intelligence, humor, & civility. Come to our roundtables (complete with a social hour) in San Francisco, or listen to the free podcasts on The Commonwealth Club’s podcast feeds on Google Play and iTunes.
zippererstrasse JULY 2016
ay Area tech companies found themselves in some unfamiliar, muddied waters a while ago when it was reported in a British newspaper that a massive U.S. government spy program was collecting daily records on pretty much every user of Verizon. Next came disputed claims that the government had direct access to the central databases of such tech giants as Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Google, and others. Edward Snowden, the young CIA contractor who leaked the tech surveillance information, fled to Hong Kong, saying he had faith in its legal system to protect him. He was really saying he has faith in China’s legal system, because despite the promises of hands-off, two-systems coexistence with Hong Kong, the province is part of China and is less separate than Puerto Rico is from the United States. He later ended up in Russia, one of the countries least supportive of whistleblowers and personal freedom, and there he remains to this day. Enough of Snowden. What about you? Should you be worried about these Big Brother revelations? Or should you be comforted that the government has such an aggressive information-gathering apparatus? Some of each? For some perspective, listen to the Good Doctor, the late Isaac Asimov. More than three decades ago, Asimov criticized George Orwell’s 1984 nightmare in which Big Brother saw everything you did, arguing that “This is an extraordinarily inefficient system of keeping everyone under control. To have a person being watched at all times means that some other person must be doing the watching at all times (at least in the Orwellian society) and must be doing so very narrowly, for there is a great development of the art of interpreting gesture and facial expression. One person cannot watch more than one person in full concentration, and can only do so for a comparatively short time before attention begins to wander. … And then, of course, the watchers must themselves be watched, since no one in the Orwellian world is suspicion-free.” But Asimov, one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time and a scientist to boot, wasn’t considering the incredible advancements in technology sifting and watching that have taken place since then. For the government isn’t putting a human being in front of a monitor to track the movements of each person suspected of being a terrorist sympathizer; it is using advanced databases
and data-mining techniques that make Facebook and Google look like Amish farmers. By noting every phone number dialed in this country, it looks for people who might be contacting known or suspected terrorists. When it has enough information, then it gets authorization to dig into the content of the calls themselves. To some people, even that is intrusion too far; to others, it is just common sense defense against a diffuse, smart, and determined enemy. But if that’s the case, are you still worried? Some no doubt are; meanwhile, another portion of the outraged slide away, confident that their iPhone isn’t butt-dialing al-Qaeda, so they have nothing about which to worry. It’s not at all hard to think of ways this can—and surely will, sooner or later—be misused. You’re a president who wants to dig up dirt on your opponents? Scan their e-mails, web searches, and phone calls for any dirt on infidelities or politically incorrect comments. You’re an official who thinks LGBT people should be in prison? Find every e-mail from teenage kids seeking sexuality advice online. You’re a businessman who’s bought the congressman who runs an intelligence committee? Get the inside chatter of your competitors. It will be misused. Guaranteed. Because everything is. If a random government contractor or a low-level soldier can release tons of secret documents to the world, then certainly we’ll see others abuse this system, too. The fundamentalist response is to repeat the old Benjamin Franklin line, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” If being able to sext is an essential liberty to you and if not having your loved ones blown up by religious fanatics constitutes “a little temporary safety,” then keep quoting. More likely, reasonable people will be conflicted on this when they consider all the possibilities on both sides, and they should seriously know what they have given up and what they are getting. Both are important. The problem is that it is also not at all hard to think of ways that it can be disastrous for us if the government is unable to track terrorists and their enablers. Manhattan used to be sniffed at with disdain by conservatives as a home to antiAmerican lefties, just like they sniff at San Francisco. But if you, like we did, stopped at the street corner on Manhattan’s Park
Avenue South one day on the way home from work a week after 9/11, and when a bus carrying troops drove by you were surprised to be among a crowd of commuters applauding, you know that it’s easy to sniff
at people who worry about national security until national insecurity blows up a few blocks away from you. And yes, we applauded. It’s a better compromise than moving to Russia.
James O’Keefe and the Downward Trajectory of the Right-Wing Campus “Conspiracy”
One editor’s brief sojourn through the vast right-wing conspiracy
little background can really change your views of someone. Conservative activist James O’Keefe was previously best known for releasing secretly made videos purporting to show ACORN staffers instructing a fake pimp and prostitute how to traffic in underage prostitutes. ACORN claims O’Keefe edited out the portions of the video wherein the staffers showed that they didn’t take the conservative actors seriously. But the damage to ACORN (serving as a stand-in for the conservatives’ real target, President Barack Obama) was done. As I noted above, that was O’Keefe’s previous reason for fame or infamy. These days, he’s known for being part of a band of conservative activists who were arrested after allegedly lying to get access to a U.S. senator’s communications system on federal property. Big-time federal crime, though it’ll probably help them that one of the activists’ father is a U.S. attorney in Louisiana. Just sayin’. The interesting angle for me has come from writers who have highlighted the activists’ involvement in the conservative movement since at least their college years, including involvement in conservative campus newspapers. If there is a vast right-wing conspiracy (and there is and has been for decades; Hillary Clinton was correct), a key cog in that network is the campus groups that train the Karl Roves and Dinesh D’Souzas and the Ann Coulters of tomorrow. They bring them to Washington to meet conservative bigwigs, they give them money to start or support right-wing campus papers, and they give them internships and jobs in the government or in their connected networks of foundations or think tanks. And I was sort-of almost kind of a part of it for a while. Let me explain. When I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the late 1980s, I joined one of the daily student newspapers. (At the time, the UW was the only campus in the country that had two competing daily student papers. A point of pride.) There was
the long-running Daily Cardinal, which was the campus left-wing paper. No, not liberal; left-wing. There’s a difference. One famous low point for the Cardinal was when Saigon fell to the communists; the Cardinal’s big front-page headline was “VICTORY!” Yes. Anyway, back in 1969, a group of campus students created The Badger Herald as a libertarian-to-conservative counterweight. The Herald went from boom to bust to boom and back over the next decade, but by the time I joined the staff in 1987, the Herald was flourishing. Even without (and probably partly because it was without) any financial support from the university, the Herald had become the paper with the larger circulation, and it went from strength to strength. An important factor in its appeal, I think, was that it wasn’t a doctrinaire, ideological sheet. Nor was the Herald predictable. As editorial page editor for a year and a half, I relied on the “libertarian” part of our identity as a shield whenever I ran an editorial or opinion piece that wasn’t in any way conservative. But what gave us cred within the journalism school was that we kept our politics in the opinion section and out of the news, entertainment, and sports pages. I was very proud when a staffer came back from her first day in a journalism class and related her professor’s plea to his students not to work for the Cardinal because it was “garbage.” At that very liberal J-school, I’m sure there were plenty of professors who felt similarly about the Herald, but we were increasingly hearing good things from those professors, and that became one measure of our success. The Herald wasn’t part of any right-wing conspiracy. It was just a good student paper doing what a band of writers and editors should
do: offer an alternative viewpoint and engaging in the issues of the day. (In the photo at the bottom of this page, circa 1987, the Herald’s editorial staff sets alight a copy of the Cardinal. What scamps. But even in that photo, there is everything from a supporter of El Salvadoran Marxist rebels to a news editor to the right of William F. Buckley to apolitical editors to moderates. Healthy debate requires diversity.) But early in my tenure as editorial page editor, one of the editorial page’s Grand Old Dames (he was a man, not a woman, but it’s hard to think of conservative elders in other terms) told me about the Institute for Educational Affairs, a conservative Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that helped network a disparate group of conservative campus newspapers. IEA (which later merged with the Madison Center) provided some funding for papers, but for the Herald, the $10,000 or so that it might get wouldn’t be worth it; our budget was around half a million dollars a year, and we were profitable and proud of our independence. I think the only financial aid we had ever received from IEA was help buying a photocopier, before my time there. This led to my one and only appearance in Rolling Stone magazine, which was an education in how to talk to national reporters. Sometime during the 1988 elections, Rolling Stone put together an article on the phenomenon of conservative college papers, and I came home one day to find an answering machine message from the reporter. I called him back and talked with him for an hour— on my dime—about the Herald, the UWMadison campus, all the ways we were not a right-wing rag. None of that made it into the article he eventually published. Instead, the only bit of that expensive phone call that was immortalized in RS’ pages was in a section about the financial assistance provided by IEA to conservative papers. Noting the typical $10,000 funding amount, I was quoted as saying something to the effect of “that’s what we spend on beer in a year.” So not only did he not include any of my comments that would have challenged his thesis about these firebreathing right-wing papers, but the one bit he did use made us sound like a band of drunken frat boys, which we weren’t. Alas. Frankly, I rather liked IEA, or at least its Washington staff. They were intelligent, they had interesting backgrounds, and they had a good understanding of politics— WEIMAR.WS zippererstrasse
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an important asset if, like me, you’ve always been interested in politics and the issues of the day. They also flew me to Washington, D.C., for conferences (with speakers such as conservative journalist John Podhoretz or Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia). It offered the student journalists a chance to network with each other, see how other papers were surviving and how they met challenges. Since we were pretty much the only nonright-wing paper (i.e., we were moderate to libertarian to conservative, and we were a real newspaper, not just a political sheet), there wasn’t a whole lot I could learn from the others, and, let’s face it, a few of those papers were pretty scary. The Dartmouth Review (which gave us Dinesh D’Souza and won’t take him back) had ridden to success by provocative and sometimes offensive attacks on its political opponents. The Cornell Review was also known for being over-thetop; no surprise that one of its founders was ultra-right provocateur Ann Coulter. Then there was the paper (I forget its name, thankfully) that liked to trade in Nazi illustrations. Though I never met Coulter (she is quite a bit older, anyway), I did meet a number of the other editors who were in the campus journalism wing of the vast right-wing conspiracy (to stick with the theme). They ranged from prep-schooled alumni to blue collar conservatives. Men and women. Very conservative to moderate. One could lampoon them—after all, being serious about politics in college when most students are just trying to pass courses, find a date, and get drunk is a lampoonable offense in this country. But, even if I don’t share much of their views, I respect the majority of them. Even the college kid who wore suits to all of the IEA conferences and had his own business cards. Even the grad student who tried to create a magazine that had no editorial rules whatsoever. Even the one who thought Ayn Rand provided step-by-step guides to life in the 1980s. I was also the recipient of two IEA-arranged internships. The first was for a major conservative foundation in Milwaukee, where I spent a summer reviewing project files and writing reviews. I can’t imagine they got much value out their interns’ views on their funding projects. The second internship was in the office of the Vice President of the United States, where I ... didn’t do much at all. Most of the interns did not do much, apparently because most were there due to family connections and were hoping to cement future political roles. I, on the other hand, still saw myself as an editor and writer, and was pretty bored out of my skull, though I did discover that the library in the Old Executive Office Building had an excellent collection of New York Review of Books issues going back many, many years. Since it was
the summer that I discovered John Updike and Philip Roth, I spent many an hour going through those old NYRBs looking up articles on their previous novels. In the end, my politics solidified much more in the center of the spectrum, ranging from center-left to center-right. (Think Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel.) It would be wrong to assume that there weren’t similar political evolutions for some of the other students who were involved in conservative campus newspapers; they didn’t all grow up to be Ann Coulters. So the conservative campus newspaper part of the “vast rightwing conspiracy” isn’t in itself something to worry about; it’s just part of the lively debate of a civil society. Where this comes back to James O’Keefe and his ilk, which I do consider to be something to worry about, is where some campus
conservatives aren’t interested in engaging in discussions with their opponents. They don’t grant their opponents the courtesy of having ideas or viewpoints that are worth considering and that might change the conservative’s mind. They attack. They use deceit. They are not a political evolution but are instead a political dead-end. At its best, conservatism can ask good questions about human nature and past attempts to change the world, thereby injecting realism into political debates. But conservatives of this radical sort today, who prefer the Ann Coulters and the Sean Hannitys (Hannity, by the way, provided James O’Keefe with his first postarrest TV interview) to any sort of conversation with moderates and liberals—that sort of conservative is not a good thing, and we have nothing good to expect from them. —J. Zipperer
A LETTER FROM FRISCO
When did San Francisco Become a No-go City?
The dangers of avoiding all new disruptions
model of Jedi Master Yoda might be remembered as the symbol of the moment in history when San Francisco decided it wasn’t interested in growing—culturally or economically. It’s the moment when the city said it wasn’t interested in anything other than protecting what it has and not embracing the dynamism of modern life. Yoda and tons of other memorabilia from the collection of filmmaker George Lucas could instead end up in the Windy City. The local website called SFist.com headlined its report, “Middle Finger Raised To S.F., George Lucas Takes His $700 Million Museum To Chicago.” But no, it wasn’t Lucas who told San Francisco to take a hike; it was San Francisco that told Lucas to take a hike by running him through the ringer, subjecting him to public opprobrium during the process to approve his museum (one of three competing projects) for a location in the city’s famed Presidio area, and only belatedly putting together a serious attempt to compete with other cities for the museum. Locals complained that he was just another billionaire trying to run the city; people said his museum was a waste of space; others were just still angry about Jar Jar Binks. All because he tried to build—and fund and endow at his own expense—a museum that would have instantly become a major tourist draw to our city. Maybe that doesn’t matter to you. Some kitsch from space fantasy movies? Let it go elsewhere; it doesn’t feel to you like a loss to
San Francisco. So filmmaker and Bay Area native George Lucas did find someplace else to build his memorabilia museum. But maybe San Franciscans do care about some other high-profile organizations and developments that went elsewhere. If they want to watch a “home” game of the San Francisco 49ers now, they’ll be heading down the peninsula to the team’s new stateof-the-art suburban stadium. The team gave up on building it in San Francisco after the city made it clear that it just wasn’t going to compete on the level of other cities. Football’s violent; maybe critics prefer the more rarefied sport of sailing. In that case, they were probably thrilled to have the America’s Cup race take place right on the city’s front dock, so to speak, in the Marina neighborhood. But the America’s Cup, too, dropped San Francisco despite the sport’s moneyman, Larry Ellison, earlier stating his hope that it could be a recurring event here that would become linked to the city in the minds of the world’s millions of sailing fans. It’s enough to make one wonder why anyone would bother trying to build or create something in San Francisco. Instead of welcoming with open arms the builders and creative people, San Francisco’s message has become: No thanks, we’re fine as we are. It’s the ultimate triumph of ’70s self-help pop psychology: I’m fine, don’t try to change me. But cities need to change. They need people bringing in new ideas, new projects, trying new things. Some of those things are
Are You a
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Mitt’s Missing Millions
There’s nothing that’ll stop birds coming home to roost
itt Romney had a pretty good chance to win the 2012 presidential election. His party didn’t deserve it; it was still a party bought-and-paid-for by secretive interests. But the economy wasn’t all that hot, the populist tea party movement was in full swing, and Democrats were in their usual slumber. He lost, of course, and a significant amount of blame has been put on his secretly recorded claim that 47 percent of the American people are basically lazy bums who just take money from the government. The cost of his remark continues to be paid by the Republican Party. The party has been convulsed by the Godzilla-like stomping it’s received from businessman and impresario
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Donald Trump, who has done nothing if not activate the energies, hopes, and angers of the middle and lower-middle classes who have found their economic dreams disrupted by decades of GOP-championed policies. While Trumpzilla smashes the Tokyo that is the well-oiled GOP cash register (a metaphor too far?), Democrats have found that all they need to do is be liberal and reach out to the center, which has been decimated by never-ending demands for more tax breaks for the wealthy and subsidies for energy giants while being told that lower and middle class subsidies are verboten. Mitt thought he was talking about Democrats, but he was talking about his base. zs
big. Some are disruptive. Some are beautiful. Some are stupid. But unless you’re a Soviet collective farm, everyone doesn’t get a vote to block the project. Except in San Francisco, where a working majority has decided to block buildings it doesn’t like, to scare off museums it doesn’t want, to try to turn away thousands of new residents it doesn’t recognize, to huddle down and say please don’t change this city. But, as your six-year old might say, the city that snoozes, loses. When San Francisco activists made it clear that they were annoyed at the effects of the influx of well-paid tech workers, nearby San Jose’s mayor opened his arms and said his city would be thrilled to have the workers. When semi-educated right-winger Rick Perry was governor of Texas and visited S.F.—Troglodyte social views and all—he tried to lure the Bay Area’s businesses to his state. The possible home of Lucas’s new museum, Chicago, is not only the hometown of his
wife, businesswoman Mellody Hobson; it is a place known as the Windy City. Many people think that nickname was earned by the frigid winds roaring in from Lake Michigan. We’ve spent time on Chicago’s lakefront. It is indeed very, very windy, and in February when the blowing wind feels like it could freeze the saliva in your throat, you would think the name is apt. But the real etymology of the nickname involves the city’s boasting of its greatness, especially compared with its arch-rival in the 1870s, Cincinnati. There’s a difference between wishing for stability and having a city death wish. Chicago was boastful, a land of braggarts, always trying to outdo its rival and always trying to be the best and have the most. That made it brash and successful. That made it ever-changing. That made it raucous. But it made it one of the world’s great cities. And it made Cincinnati the home of Marge Schott. Today, where would you rather live? Chicago or Cincinnati?
And another thing ...
e note with no little amount of schadenfreude that Wisconsin’s tea party Governor Scott Walker is now ranked as one of the most unpopular governors in the country. That’s what happens when you wage war against your state schools even though they had regularly ranked among the nation’s best, tank the economy, try to gut the state’s famous government accountability rules, and are under near-constant investigation for corruption. But the worst insult to Wisconsinites might be that the Republican primary voters of Iowa recognized Walker as a malignant fraud before they did.
do not get involved. It is, frankly, a stupid premise, an excuse for a film-length collection of violence. Not realistic. Except think about if you are an AfricanAmerican girl who goes missing. Or if you are a young African-American man who is involved in an altercation with police officers that results in your death or serious injury. The likelihood is high of your experiencing a Purge-like lack of help. Your family can be prepared to be stonewalled, face a wall of silence, insensitive accusations from the conservative media establishment, and more. Still a terrible movie, though.
ermany’s Bundestag voted overwhelmingly in May to declare that the genocide of the Armenians in Turkey around the time of World War I was, in fact, genocide. Turkey’s government has, predictably, had a freakout. It recalled its ambassador, promised never to accept the decision, etc., etc., etc. The vote doesn’t really change anything for the Armenians, but it was the right thing to do, and that’s something that Germany is laudably committed to doing these days. Turkey should take notes.
hile watching the preview for a The Purge: Election Year, which to our surprise was the second sequel to 2013’s The Purge, we couldn’t help thinking how ridiculous is the plot. The film posited a night in which the government allows almost any crime—murder, rape, arson, theft, and more—to occur, and the emergency services
ust to the south of Scott Walker’s realm is the state of chaos, by which we mean the state of Illinois. This is a state where the budget is a year late. It is also a state where, as The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart pointed out, “You are more likely to end up in jail if you become governor of Illinois than if you are a murderer.” In Illinois, it is the Democrats who have to confront the results of their misrule, where overspending—including on public pensions—helped push the state (and the city of Chicago) over the fiscal cliff. The Democrats didn’t fix the problem; so the people elected the tea partier Governor Bruce Rauner, a clueless right-winger we wouldn’t wish upon our worst enemy (see Walker item above). Now Chicago and the state are going to be in financial straight jackets for years, right when they need to be doing investments in infrastructure, education, employment, and public health. zs
homeless (continued from page 3)
who are bothered by the outbursts and antisocial behavior noted above and for the homeless themselves. People living on the street “are much more likely to get all kinds of medical conditions, whether it’s infectious disease, pneumonia, problems with their circulation and gangrene, or they cut themselves and don’t get treatment for it and before you know it, they need to be hospitalized,” said Binder. “Those people in general are going to hospitals, and once someone is hospitalized medically, the costs are astronomical. And who’s paying for it? Our tax dollars are paying for it at the county hospitals. So homelessness is very expensive.” Despite assumptions that the city’s housing shortage is fueling homelessness in San Francisco, the number of homeless has remained fairly steady (roughly 6,400 people). That number might be a lot higher if the city didn’t spend a lot of time and money providing shelters, permanent housing, and other services to the at-risk, including veterans. In May of 2015, Mayor Ed Lee announced a plan to provide housing for 50 formerly homeless veterans and 50 low-income families at a new 101-unit project. The project’s funding leverages $5 million raised from tech philanthropists, including Ron Conway, Marc and Lynne Benioff, Peter Thiel, Sean Parker, and others. San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell has pointed to projects such as one that would change homeless shelters from overnight transient bunks—where people are forced to leave in the early morning and are not allowed to stay with their partners, belongings, or pets while in the shelter—into housinglite, where they would have a shelter all day if needed, and they could keep the things, pets, and people they value. But about one-third of the homeless are believed to have mental illness of one kind or another, and solutions for them involve a longterm housing-plus-services approach. Dr. Binder, who opposes reinstitutionalization, argues for a housing-first approach, saying that studies show that with housing, even people with severe mental illness can be better engaged with treatment. She also supports San Francisco’s behavioral health court, which tries to divert the severely mentally ill from repeated incarceration and instead connect them to community treatment services. Keeping people who need mental-health treatment from causing problems for themselves or others will require commitments from the community to fund and continue the services they need, as well as frameworks of case workers for some or institutionalization in extreme cases that ensure the treatment is continued by the patients. That was not solved by the time the nation’s Super Bowl fans descended on San Francisco’s streets. zs WEIMAR.WS zippererstrasse
Week to Week (continued from page 5)
Republican donor [and] strategist in North Carolina, which is top-of-the-list of swing states. He said he’s not going to lift a finger to help Trump; he’s going to focus on downballot races. So Trump faces a lot of problems, aside from those of his own making. ZIPPERER: In the Democratic race, we talk about an age differential. Hillary Clinton doing better with older Democrats, Bernie Sanders better with younger Democrats. Is there a difference among Republicans, or is it between the folks who are, you know, there with a bottle of something strong to drink, and those who are out there thinking, “Yes, finally, we’ve got change”? WHALEN: He’s referring to my Twitter photo the other day where I put my California ballot up against a big bottle of bourbon, which prompted two responses. Either “Why waste your time on the ballot” or “Why destroy a good bottle of bourbon”? It’s interesting. You look at the BernieHillary race, and I think we’d agree that those divisions tend to be age, largely. Bernie does well under 30, and she does well over about 45. I would say with Republicans the two things to look for would be—not necessarily unrelated—education and income. If you look at the Trump support, it’s actually very similar to what’s going on in Great Britain now with Brexit, the idea of Britain leaving the EU. If you look at people supporting the exit, they’re people who are upset, like Trump’s supporters, about immigration and they tend to be less educated, they’re concerned about losing their jobs. Trump supporters tend to have less education, whereas anti-Trump voters in Republican circles tend to be college educated. BARABAK: It is very easy to laugh at Donald Trump—his hair, his tan, his this and his that. But he is giving voice to a real sense of aggrievement out there, a real sense of anger, a real sense of disenchantment. The people who support him should be listened to [and] they should be taken seriously, and I think whoever—Democrat or Republican—is elected is going to have to recognize that there is a very real force out there, a very real anxiety. It’s not all just reality TV and the flesh and all that. He is speaking to something that is out there. ZIPPERER: Bill Kristol, the conservative commentator, chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle, and conservative activist is also a leader of an effort among some Republicans to draft a third-party candidate to try to—do what? Do you know what their hope is? WHALEN: That’s actually a good question. Because when you talk about a third-party run against Trump, there are different definitions about what a third-party run consti16
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tutes. There is the idea of running a thirdparty candidate and that candidate winning 270 electoral votes and becoming the next president. There is the idea of a third-party candidate running and winning just enough states to deny Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump from getting to 270, at which point, what happens to the election? It goes to the House. Or somebody who runs just selectively in a handful of states, such as Colorado, Ohio, Wisconsin—not surprisingly states where Republican senators are in deep trouble—and their purpose is to bump conservative votes in those states, to get Republicans who are turned off by Trump to get turned on about the election and come out and vote and try to save the Republicans in those states. The problem is, despite these many definitions, there’s no horse that we can see right now. There’s nobody who seems in a position to number one, run, or two, do much damage if they do it. So it’s an interesting concept, it would throw a wonderful wrinkle into it. But for this to really work, you’d have to find someone willing to do it and then in addition to a third-party candidate, you’d probably need a fourth-party candidate to
BARABAK: I think the party will unify to an extent. Bill started talking about the math. To win, he needs 90 percent of Republicans, and I think he’s going to have to struggle to get there. We’ve seen so much remarkable, unusual, crazy surprising stuff happen, sometimes you have to step back and say, ‘Wow, this really is a big deal.’ The last two Republican presidents saying they’re not going to endorse Trump, they’re not going to show up at the convention. The speaker of the House who has yet to endorse the party’s nominee [as of mid-May]? This is truly remarkable and unprecedented stuff. I guess it depends on how you define united. Is it getting 100 percent of the Republican vote? No candidate gets 100 percent of the party vote. But I think he’s going to have a very hard time getting to that 90 percent. I think there are a lot of people who, for whatever reason, can’t bring themselves to vote for Donald Trump and won’t vote for Donald Trump. WHALEN: The last time I looked he has about 70 percent of Republicans right now, and boy, another 20 points is a huge and heavy lift for him. I don’t think he’s going to get there, which means he needs more independent votes and needs Hillary to underperform on the Democrats. In terms of Republican unity, I think those in the establishment like Paul Ryan—he’ll come out and say he supports him, and that’ll be the end of his story and he’ll disappear into Wisconsin and go hunting or whatever he does in the summer and just stays off the radar. The really interesting thing to watch are the class of 2016 Republican senators out there, the half-dozen or so who are in really big trouble. The guy to keep your eye on in particular is John McCain, who has issues with Trump both philosophically but also personally. Remember, watching Donald Trump through this campaign has been like watching a slow-speed car chase in Los Angeles, where there are one of two ways where the car chase ends; either the car runs out of gas or the CHP puts out the rumble strips and blows out the tires. Well, Trump has blown through every rumble strip that we think of, in terms of stopping him. One of the first ones was when he mocked John McCain’s POW experience, when he said “I don’t like people who surrender” or whatever it was. So for McCain this is deeply personal and professional; he has been in the Senate for 30 years, and John McCain could be out of a job.... I think the [senators] in the most political trouble will just keep their distance. zs
“If there were a third-party candidate, the candidate would almost certainly ensure Clinton’s victory.” pick off votes on the left on the Democratic side to really throw this thing into chaos. BARABAK: It’s really sort of a thankless job for whoever would do it, because I think it’s pretty safe to say that if there were a thirdparty candidate, the candidate would almost certainly ensure Hillary Clinton’s victory, and if it did, whoever did it would be a pariah, and there goes their 2020 chances. I had a conversation with the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, which will be pretty important in 2020. He might have brought up Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who has gone on this Facebook and Twitter blitz talking about the need for a third-party candidate or at least the need for somebody who can speak to the need for conservatives who are disaffected with Donald Trump, and he said “Forget about Never Trump. If he keeps going, it’s going to be Never Sasse.” So if you’re looking at 2020, like Ben Sasse might be, like John Kasich may be, there’s not a lot of percentage in being seen as the Republican who put Hillary Clinton in the White House. ZIPPERER: Do you think the Republican Party will unite behind Donald Trump, or is it going to be riven with a split through this whole election that could really harm them in November?
photo: CATO INSTITUTE
P.J. O’Rourke Gets Serious The celebrated political humorist talks politics, libertarians, Oakeshott, and the TV show that got away.
BY JOHN ZIPPERER
f all is right in the world, then everyone should get the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with conservative political satirist P.J. O’Rourke. The man who made his mark as an editor of the National Lampoon, and then made a new mark as author of such sharp-witted and insightful collections of essays as Republican Party Reptile, Holidays in Hell, and others, is today even better known as a panelist on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, recurring guest on Real Time with Bill Maher, and a contributor to the Daily Beast. In person, one gets a better sense of the political seriousness behind his quips and comments. In light of O’Rourke’s recent comments (first aired on an episode of NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me) that he was voting for Hillary Clinton, we are sharing an interview we conducted with him on a late-September day in 2010, right after he spoke at San Francisco’s Commonwealth
Club about his book, Don’t Vote: It Only Encourages the Bastards. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: About 18 years ago, I heard you speak in Indianapolis. An audience member asked you why you still called yourself a conservative when you have so many libertarian ideas. Your reply was, basically, that you did indeed agree with a lot of things libertarians said, but libertarians keep going further and further down their ideological path and soon they’re talking about privatizing the sewers. So, two decades later, are you more conservative or libertarian, and why? P.J. O’ROURKE: It’s essentially the same thing. I have a feeling that that particular ... oh, I don’t know, the question is sometimes framed as, “Why don’t you support the Libertarian Party?” The reason I don’t support the Libertarian Party is that I don’t really believe in political parties and, in point of fact, in the United States we don’t really have political parties. We have two broad political tendencies. The Venn diagram has considerWEIMAR.WS zippererstrasse
photoS: John Zipperer
“There’s a tendency in libertarianism to apply an excess of rationalism to politics.” able amount of overlap, depending upon [various factors]; back in the 50s, there was a great deal of overlap, so much so that [novelist] Allen Drury was able to write Advise and Consent. He’s got a president and opposing majority in Congress, and he never tells which party they belong to. You really don’t end up knowing for sure. And then sometimes there isn’t much overlap. But basically, [the parties] describe two general tendencies; this would be 15 or 18 different political parties in Europe, with all the annoyance that that entails. The other thing is that the Libertarian Party platform just isn’t electable, because essentially you’re standing up and saying, “I can give you less; I can give you less of everything.” You may get a few voters, but I don’t think you’re going to get them all. I don’t have a problem with libertarianism; I really do agree with them about almost everything. But I think there’s a tendency in libertarianism to apply an excess of rationalism to politics. More than it can stand. Politics is not simply a rational activity. And the tendency of libertarians is to regard it as though it were simply a rational activity, as if it were a calculus, or a spreadsheet, or something. There’s much, much more too it than that. I think they leave out that side of things. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: I loved what you said in there [today], when you said that law has to define certain things that in reality are not define— O’ROURKE: Definable. Right. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: It is sometimes funny to watch people who find themselves— they let their positions be defined by what the law is— O’ROURKE: [Laughs.] Yes. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: [And they] take definable positions on these issues that I think are so much more interesting when you do find the [gray areas]. I’ve been reading and watching you for years, and [today] is the first time I’ve heard you talk about religion. 18
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O’ROURKE: Oh, yeah. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: Maybe I just missed it, but that is often the missing element. A little less than 18 years ago, I remember working somewhere where there were lots of Christians—it being a Christian magazine, that kind of— O’ROURKE: That happens! ZIPPERERSTRASSE: But someone ... wrote something to the effect that here we are in this incredibly religious country— among Western countries—and yet we find it almost impossible to talk about religion; we act as if it’s going to offend someone. What they were saying was that we now have lots of folks coming here from other countries—lots of religions, lots of cultures—but they’re not offended. They think it’s amazing that a Methodist is afraid to talk about their faith, but where they come from, everyone’s talking about [it]; it’s what their life is. Have you gone into talking about your religion, and do you mind talking about it? O’ROURKE: No, I don’t mind talking about it at all. I don’t bring it up much, because it’s certainly not the area of life that I cover, you know. It’s not the sort of thing that I would write about, just because it isn’t a good source of humor. [Laughs.] I suppose I could—what the Catholic church has been through over the past few years, you could make fun of it, but it wouldn’t be a very tasteful joke. What can you do? ZIPPERERSTRASSE: You’re conservative/ libertarian—whatever. But obviously a lot of liberals love you. I’m surprised I’ve yet to come across one who does not. When you write a book, when you are speaking, are you trying to reach non-conservatives? O’ROURKE: Yes, I am. Because what is the point—especially, I would say, in this book— of having a political view or a set of political beliefs that one believes to be worthwhile, why would you deliberately alienate people? Why wouldn’t you be inviting in your discussion of these beliefs with them? Why would you deliberately be off-putting? Because, in the first place, I don’t have an
elaborate, detailed political ideology, by any means. And a lot of what I think and a lot of what I believe is simply common-sensical. I think if you put it right, a lot of people are going to, if not exactly agree with me, at least see my point. Of course, that’s part of using humor as a tool. There are a lot of ways to use humor as a tool, and you can definitely use it as a weapon, you can definitely use it as a form of displaced violence. There’s no doubt about it. But it can also be used to humanize things and put people at their ease. If you were to use the word “humorous” in its traditional, 18th-century definition, it’s not really about being funny, it’s really about an understanding of the humors—the core drives that we all have, that move us. Some of us of course are moved more by anger, some more by sloth, some by whatever. But we all have these internal things that drive us, and that’s what makes us human. Recognition of that is really the definition of a humorist, as opposed to making jokes. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: You mentioned the tea party movement [earlier today]. I think a lot of people who are maybe not schooled in politics, or political history or political theory, say that that’s conservative. When you’re speaking to audiences about conservatism, do you think they understand what conservatism is, or do you think [they define it] as what’s being fed to them? O’ROURKE: It’s tough, because Americans are really foggy on these terms. After all, “liberal” in Europe means what we would mean by “conservative” here. “Conservative” in Europe on the other hand means sort of an interest in preserving what’s left at least of their class system, and it often has religious implications that it doesn’t necessarily have here. Yes, the fogginess of these terms is annoying and difficult. It makes it hard for you to mean what you say. And then this use of “progressive,” now that “liberal” has become a bad word. And with “progressive,” really what these people are saying is that they are leftists, they are socialists in the classic, small-“s” sense of the word; they are collectivists, they are socialists. Then something like the tea party is first and foremost populist, which is different. Populism can have a leftish cast, it can have
a rightish cast. But populism is a thing unto itself. It has its own dynamics. The tea party fits into a long history of American populist movements that range from Jacksonian Democrats to the civil rights movement. Politically all over the map. The other thing about conservative— though I think this is less true in the wake of Reagan—is that it still carries a little bit of this taint of this sort of racist, southern white bigotry. Less and less so, but it’s still there. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: Is that changing as generations switch over, or are minds actually changing on that subject? O’ROURKE: I think it’s just time has gone by. I’m always quick to remind people, whenever somebody makes that connection, that all those bigots were Democrats. [Laughs.] ZIPPERERSTRASSE: In the beginning of the book, you mention a number of political theorists. One of the ones you mention is Oakeshott. O’ROURKE: Oakeshott! ZIPPERERSTRASSE: I’d never heard of him, except for reading someone [who was] mentioning that he was one of Andrew Sullivan’s political heroes. O’ROURKE: I didn’t know this at the time I was writing the book, I found out about it later: Andrew Sullivan did his, I don’t know, his thesis or it was his area of specialization [about] Oakeshott. For which I admire him, because Oakeshott is exceedingly hard to read. But he has an essay [that] is “Reason in Politics,” which is a brilliant essay. It was his inaugural essay when he became the chairman of the political science department at the London School of Economics in 1953. Maybe it was clearer when he spoke it, but it’s a bitch to read. But nonetheless, he makes a great deal of sense. He talks about something that I had felt for some time but hadn’t really put into words. He talks about how politics has no beginning and no end. We tend to treat politics as though it is some sort of creation, it started at such-and-such a point—particularly Americans, because we actually do have a starting point, which Oakeshott was skeptical about; he remained skeptical into the ’50s about the American revolution. But politics has existed as long as people have existed, and it will exist as long as people ex-
“Populism can have a leftist cast, it can have a rightist cast. But populism is a thing unto itself.” ist. Oakeshott, himself a conservative, makes the point that politics does not have a point to it. It’s not teleological. There is no object to politics. Politics is an arrangement among persons. Therefore it must be understood primarily as a mechanism, not as something that first and foremost must be good or bad; it can be both at the same time. First and foremost it’s there; it’s like weather. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: You were asked by an audience member whether you meant the title of your book, Don’t Vote. You said something about how there are certain things we don’t need to make [into] voting issues. Of course, I live in San Francisco, which is referenda-gone-wild. We’ve voted on how often the mayor should have to appear before the Board of Supervisors, our city council. All kinds of ridiculous things. O’ROURKE: Which is crazy, isn’t it? ZIPPERERSTRASSE: It is. O’ROURKE: A direct outgrowth of progressive political reforms in California at the beginning of the 20th century. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: Which started in my home state of Wisconsin. O’ROURKE: Bingo! Exactly. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: But they didn’t go as crazy with it. O’ROURKE: Yeah, yeah. It got out here, and like many things when they got out here, it exaggerated. But the sole referendum idea was part of the Progressive political agenda, which was of course initially Republican. Very odd. I’ve studied that a little bit, because off and on over the past decade, I’ve been playing with a history of my home town, Toledo, Ohio. Not because Toledo is in and of itself particularly interesting, but because it is itself an example of a very typical American situation, where this town came out of nothing, on the hope of a boom due to canal systems. And that boom never came, as many booms in Toledo never came. And of course [Toledo] is suffering through the post-industrial [era], and so on. At one time it was extremely fast-growing. At one time. It was also a hotbed of the Progressive po-
litical movement. There was a guy named [Sam] “Golden Rule” Jones, who was the mayor of Toledo back around the end of the 19th, beginning of the 20th century. He and a couple associates—one of his associates whose names elude me—went on to Congress eventually and eventually became quite close to President Wilson. But yeah, that whole Progressive movement was quite interesting. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: In Wisconsin, we got progressivism going back to “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, and I had heard when I was growing up that we had almost always had a member of the LaFollette family serving in Wisconsin government—as governor, attorney general, senator, whatever—since Bob LaFollette’s time. O’ROURKE: I’ve heard that,too. I’ve heard the same thing; I’ve no idea ... [if there’s data to] back it up. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: William F. Buckley Jr. died two and a half years ago. Shortly before his death, I read an article about his participation in a National Review cruise, where he found himself the butt of criticism and derision from the magazine’s readers and supporters because he had come out against the Iraq war. I found myself thinking, What a shame; here’s a guy who built up modern conservatism, booted out the anti-Semites, and made the movement respectable in polite society again. Has conservatism changed that much in your time commenting on it and following it? O’ROURKE: Well, it’s broadened. It’s become mainstream to the point where you can have that kind of divergence of opinion among conservatives. Indeed, I think the Iraq War was a very difficult call. I personally was in favor of it, but I also was personally very disappointed in the follow-up to the Iraq War. [Saddam Hussein] was a bad guy. His Baath Party was a bad, fascist organization. They were incredibly brutal. In the situation after 9/11, they weren’t exactly on the other side, but they showed every likelihood of WEIMAR.WS zippererstrasse
“We had a lot of money, we had a lot of education, and there were a lot of us.” making use of this. And then of course we only had the information we had at the time. We know now that there were no weapons of mass destruction. But everybody all the way up to Mohamed ElBaradei was convinced that they existed. Or at least the facilities for producing them existed. An awful lot of American troops had to spend a lot of hot, sweaty time in those stupid chemical suits, because there really was no good reason why he shouldn’t have had them. And he wanted everybody to think that he had them. Should our intelligence have been better? Well, maybe; perhaps. But that’s easy to say in retrospect. I still think it was the right call, but the wrong execution. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: When Christopher Hitchens was last here [at The Commonwealth Club], he told the story about this horrifyingly bizarre scene, where Saddam had the leadership of the Baath Party in a room with him. One of them was [brought into] the room, [having been physically and mentally destroyed by torture. He confesses to a plot to overthrow the regime, and then he implicates other members of the ruling committee]. One by one, others were taken from the room. Once people got the point of what was going on, they started falling over themselves to profess their loyalty to Saddam. Hitchens said even Hitler and Stalin hadn’t thought of doing something like that. O’ROURKE: No, no. He was just a thug. Just really a thug. I think in the great geopolitical chessboard, we wanted that piece off. Was it black? Was it white? Who gives a fuck? Just get that piece off the board. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: You’ve talked about baby boomers’ “blame shifting,” etc. As someone who’s Generation X, I kind of enjoy watching baby boomers take it on the chin. O’ROURKE: Self-flagellating, yeah. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: But that generation really did kind of sweep through, affecting everything. I don’t know if you remember two decades ago, Playboy had [an issue] where Harlan Ellison wrote a piece about 20
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how the ’60s and that generation were wonderful, and I think it was David Horowitz wrote the opposing view, that it was a terrible time. O’ROURKE: Yes, right: “Nooooo!” ZIPPERERSTRASSE: What’s your verdict on what baby boomers wrought? O’ROURKE: I really think it’s a combination of economics and demography. It’s simply a fact that we were an immensely large generation, with immense material resources, unheard-of material resources, and that the whole generation ended up acting like Shelley, Keats, and Byron. Because we could. We had a lot of money, we had a lot of education, and there were a lot of us. We acted silly in the tradition of young irresponsible people time out of mind. But the scale of it was such that it affected the whole society in the way that the young Regency bucks and romantic poet twits and whatever sort of fashionable jerks in the oddly cut togas in times gone past. There’s nothing we got up to that [15th-century bad-boy poet] Villon didn’t. There’s one of him, and there were millions of us. Imagine a Woodstock full of Francois Villons ... ugh. [Laughs.] The mind reels. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: Do you think the end result was positive? Negative? O’ROURKE: Indifferent. The end result is simply expensive, because there again are so many of us. Funnily enough, we didn’t do that. Our generation did not design all of these entitlement programs that my generation will be entitled to; it was actually the previous generation that did that. Nonetheless, with those entitlement programs in place, and us coming on for all those entitlements, it’s going to be damn expensive. So the real damage that the baby boomers did may have nothing to do with sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll; it may have everything to do with Medicaire and Social Security, and we ain’t seen nothing yet. I’m sort of at the point, the thin edge of the wedge. I was born in 1947, and the baby boom continues until—depending on who’s
doing the defining—until ’60 or ’62, something like that. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: Back to the title of your book, Don’t Vote. It’s somewhat satirical, but are you looking at this election, which is expected to be a Republican year of Republican years, and are you expecting good things? O’ROURKE: Yeah, I’m expecting good things. I do think that whatever happens on November 2, the Democrats are not going to emerge from this with as free a hand as they had during the past two years. The bloom’s off the rose with Obama as a president. Even if the Democrats manage to hold on to both the House and the Senate, their majorities will be diminished, and the more conservative members in the Democratic Party will be strengthened. The era of central-planning brainstorms will have come to a close. A little bit will of course depend upon events, but I have a feeling that the tendency that we see over this fall is going to strengthen at least over the next few years. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: A tendency to ... O’ROURKE: —to try to diminish the size and scope of government and try to get it back on a sounder financial footing. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: It was interesting that it was Europe that first started saying we need austerity. It was Angela Merkel and— O’ROURKE: I was talking to a semi-conductor executive last night, who was saying what we should do is vote for all the wrong people, because we have to make this thing so bad that there’s no choice but to deal with it. We have to turn the country into Ireland or Greece. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: Isn’t that the claim, that that was what Reagan and [his budget director David] Stockman were trying to do, run up deficits so high that you would have to cut government? O’ROURKE: I don’t in fact think that’s what they were trying to do. I think Reagan was under the misapprehension that government would be forced to contract if he cut off its funding. I think Reagan was naive about [that]. The modern government has so many sources of funding that Reagan couldn’t put a finger in every dike. So that technique has been discredited. So a more direct attack on
The Office from Hell
P.J. O’Rourke and National Lampoon in the 1970s
I the spending itself has to be made. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: I’ve been reading you for decades, and I think a lot of people have. But probably more people have seen you on Bill Maher’s program and heard you on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. Have you ever been asked to have your own program on radio or TV, and if so, what would you do? O’ROURKE: There have been a couple little tentative forays into TV, and I just don’t work on television very well. I think I’m okay as a guest, but I can’t handle that teleprompter and I have a tendency to move my fingers. My wife says it always looks like there’s some puppet show going on when I’m on television—little flesh-colored puppets at the bottom of the screen. [There have been] a couple of thoughts about a radio show, but to do a radio show really well is an all-consuming proposition. As a matter of fact, Chris Buckley and I talked about a television project some years back, must be a good 15 years back. We had a long, long talk about it. We actually outlined the whole thing. We had a proposal, and we were going to take this proposal to Fox, and I think we might have had some success with getting the proposal [accepted]. And then, having considered the question sober, we decided that we would go out and have a drink and consider the question drunk. When we got to drinking and talking to each other, we realized that if this thing worked, it would eat our lives. We would never be able to do any more writing, really. I mean, of a kind, maybe, but not of the kind that we wanted to do. And writing is frankly terribly time-consuming. If I were involved in some other medium, I couldn’t do it. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: You mentioned you were going to be on The Daily Show sometime in the next couple weeks. O’ROURKE: Yes, I think so. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: Are you returning to [Bill] Maher’s show? O’ROURKE: Yes. I know I’m going to be on the Bill Maher show next week, as a matter of fact. The Daily Show I’m not positive about, I may have misspoke myself there. I hope Jon [Stewart] invites me on. He and I get along well. zs
n the autumn of 1980, a wide array of writers, editors, and actors from National Lampoon’s 10-year existence gathered for a somber purpose: The funeral of their colleague Doug Kenney, one of the magazine’s founders and a rising star in Hollywood. Almost all of the editors who showed up had waged office battles or were still nursing grudges against the other editors. It was not a reunion to warm the heart. It was more a gathering of people who had argued and feuded and stumbled through a seminal magazine’s first decade, doing as much damage as creative good. Soon after the funeral, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, P.J. O’Rourke, quit his post, saying he was a bad editor anyway—a verdict that likely met with agreement by some of his former colleagues, many of whom looked back on the magazine’s first few years under Kenney and Henry Beard as the golden age, followed ever since with a steady descent. The story of Kenney’s life and death, and the tumultuous and creative experience at the nation’s most successful humor publication, is told in Josh Karp’s A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever (Chicago Review Press, 2006). Though its founders hoped to meld a left-wing sensibility to an irreverent and even anarchic satire publication, such attitudes occasionally brought readers but also much trouble. By 1980, Karp writes, the magazine’s circulation was between 600,000 and 700,000, and it was dealing with about $10 million in lawsuits annually. The magazine would finally die a protracted death in the 1990s under different owners. Karp reveals how creative and business talents can come together to produce a successful periodical. Matty Simmons married his advertising and deal-making savvy to Kenney’s and Beard’s Harvard-bred talents. But there’s one place Simmons’ deal-making savvy failed him, and that was when he made the original agreement with the editors, agreeing to a buyout in five years at an inflated price. From the point at which Simmons had to pay out millions of dollars to the founding editors, the National Lampoon magazine and company were lurching from one crisis to another, occasionally interrupted by successes such as Animal House, Vacation, and the Sunday Newspaper Parody. We learn about the creation of such publishing wonders as National Lampoon’s 1964 High School Yearbook, which was the single best-selling one-shot magazine in history. “O’Rourke was the magazine’s most junior contributor, and was making a name for himself through sheer tenacity and a willingness to shepherd projects that ranged from the extraordinary ... to the ridiculous.... Everybody said that they’d help [with the Yearbook]. Almost no one did. Doug [Kenney] and O’Rourke prepared for the project by sitting around the Bank Street apartment, smoking dope and talking about high school.” Such was life at the Lampoon. The book is, of course, a tribute to Kenney, a talented but uncontrolled (and ultimately uncontrollable) comic talent who created a great deal of well-received humor in his time (including co-creating National Lampoon’s Animal House and Caddyshack) but ended his years in a sad cocaine-fueled slide through paranoia and excess. If there’s a problem with the book, it’s that Kenney’s contributions are greatly exaggerated, while others—such as P.J. O’Rourke—are diminished. O’Rourke faced constant sniping about him: he had sold out to the business side of the magazine (an alternative explanation is that O’Rourke seemed to be the only editor who was mature enough to know they were running a business); he lacked the talent—his own and his staff ’s—that Kenney and Beard had (as a long-time contributor during the mag’s “golden age” and as a co-creator of the yearbook and newspaper parodies, among many contributions, O’Rourke didn’t need to apologize for any talent deficit of his own; also, he brought in John Hughes, who would write prodigiously for the magazine and spawn the company’s wildly successful Vacation movie franchise); he was a turncoat, trading in his previous Maoist allegiances for a conservative-libertarian ideology (thank god; going pretty much anywhere from Maoism is an improvement); he replaced the magazine’s freewheeling creative ethos with a top-down, dictatorial management style (that freewheeling style was often selfish and self-destructive, unconcerned about who else at the magazine was hurt by their actions). And so on. But Karp’s quote from O’Rourke after Doug Kenney’s funeral and his decision to quit as editor shows that O’Rourke realized the criticisms weren’t all off the mark: “I realized after leaving what a shitball editor I was.... People skills weren’t in huge supply.” WEIMAR.WS zippererstrasse
Somethingâ€™s Gotta Give More people means more housing. So why arenâ€™t we creating more housing?
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bout a decade ago, before the Great Recession and the related implosion and rebound of the real estate market, the matter of how to house burgeoning populations was a topic of concern only to a relative few people. In areas with low population and slumming economies, it might still interest few. But in areas where the population and the economy are strong, a shortage of affordable housing has revealed the disaster of our current housing policies. an ongoing influx of residents and severely restrained housing supply have served to make San Franciscoâ€™s housing prices a challenge for buyers, renters, and city leaders. But back when only a few people were concerned, prominent real estate expert Dr. Peter Linneman noted that with populations continuing to expand (and with California itself expecting to grow by many millions in the next couple decades), there are inescapable choices for cities. To deal with those new arrivalsâ€™ housing needs, Linneman said, you can either stack them up (build taller buildings in denser cities), spread them out (converting farmland, woodland, and wetlands into less-dense housing developments), or you can kill them. The last option, of course, was specious, but it made his point that city voters, businesses, and policy makers cannot avoid a
photo: John Zipperer
New York, Boston, and other cities are struggling with balancing the needs for more housing, affordability, displacement of residents by gentrification, and residential financing. But perhaps no place has done more to ensure that it is a near parody of the troubled-housing city than has San Francisco. Today, with San Francisco housing rents and sales prices reaching new heights, housing is a concern to very many people here. Yet, like the weather, everyone talks about it but no one does anything about it. Rental rates increased by nearly 15 percent in one recent year, compared to a national average of about 3.7 percent, according to Zillow research. The Wall Street Journal reported that home sales prices here were up nearly 8 percent over that same year, one of the highest growth rates in the country. The twin drivers of
choice between the first two options. For 33 years, Linneman was on the faculty of the Wharton School of Business. Today, in addition to heading up the Philadelphiabased real estate advisory firm Linneman Associates and serving as chief economist of NAI Global, Linneman does charitable work for overseas children in extreme poverty. We slowed him down long enough to ask him for his thoughts on San Francisco’s man-made housing crisis. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: In your NAI Global Report for population growth from 2013-30, you wrote about the relationship between stringent regulations and growth rates. Could you explain your thoughts on San Francisco’s regulations? PETER LINNEMAN: They’ve choked off growth. Take Silicon Valley; originally nobody moved to Silicon Valley because they wanted to live there; they went there because they couldn’t get where they wanted to be. Now Silicon Valley is its own place. But 35 years ago, it was the cheap alternative to San Francisco. Look at places like Hong Kong. It’s a fabulous place. San Francisco’s not really a dense place when you get down to it. Among dense cities, it’s not a dense city. Hong Kong’s topography is no easier than San Francisco’s. It also has earthquake issues and so forth, and they accommodate massively higher density and people want to live there. Clearly a market like the San Francisco area is a market that has more restrictiveness in its [development regulations. Despite] the extent that the economy is strong and people start building—there’s not a lot of building going on anywhere, but one of the concerns people have is if these good times continue, 24
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I get the curse of a lot of development; and if they don’t continue, then I’m screwed. If you want to protect yourself, you want a place where if the good times continue, at least get the benefit out of it. San Francisco has overbuilt commercial [real estate], just later than most markets. The housing there is just ridiculous. People complain about how expensive it is, and yet they don’t let people build housing. Houston [and] San Francisco are the same size, as a population base. Houston has been a more vibrant economy than San Francisco. But the reason Houston has affordable housing and San Francisco doesn’t is that you can build housing very rapidly in Houston and you can build it pretty dense if you want to. And you can build it “out there” if you want to. On its face—same general size of population and Houston growing faster—you’d think Houston should be the place with the more expensive housing. But in Houston, if a new family is coming in, they can build a new house. In San Francisco if a new family is coming in, San Francisco allows that they can build a quarter of a house or half of a house. It benefits the people who already have housing at the expense of newcomers. It’s all about supply and demand, and you don’t have to look for the culprit. It’s all on the supply side. It’s not like there aren’t developers who would like to build in San Francisco if they could. In the San Francisco area, if I let you build a house in a year, from start to finish, you get your permit and you’re on with it. If I let you do it in a year, it’s a lot less risky for the developer than if I let you take three years, because I can see what it’ll be like in one year
[better] than in three years. Sure things look fine now, but by the time it comes online and I’ve sunk all these costs—lawyers, engineering, etc., and I’ve got to wait three to five years to know what it’s like—that’s risky. But in Houston, you can get a home built in nine months from when you decide to build one. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: You once said that when it comes to housing growing populations, you can either stack them up, spread them out, or kill them. Do you have any policy suggestions for San Francisco? LINNEMAN: You can kill them, stack them up, or spread them out. But if they’re coming, they’re coming. You’ve got this notion of San Francisco saying “We don’t want people to build,’ even as people complain that they can’t afford to live there. I have a nephew out there who can’t afford to live there, and yet he complains every time they build out there. It’s a fascinating socio-political question. There’s no mystery to lower housing prices. Just make it easier and faster to build. I stress the faster and the easier for the risk dimension. Risk is huge. It’s really easy for someone else to say “Put up all the study costs and design, and it’ll be fine.” But wait, why don’t you put it up? It’s real money that’s at risk. If you [raise] the entry fee, fewer people will come. Places like San Francisco have a very high entry fee for housing, and you have to jump through a lot of hoops and entry fees up front. First of all, that entry fee has to be captured eventually, but the extra risk discourages even moreso. I’ve never really understood the political dynamics of it. There are people who make fortunes out of it. They bought in 1975— nothing special, anywhere else in the country
photo: Oxfordian Kissuth
it’s $300,000, but there it’s $1.2 million. They have an incentive to [restrict new buildings]. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: You now head up a real estate consulting and research firm with major institutional clients. What are those clients looking for these days? What is their risk appetite? LINNEMAN: I think everybody’s torn in that they want safe properties, with safe cash streams, because on the one hand everyone is still a bit leery about the economy and what’s going on in the world, and yet they want return. As a result, the mass of money is pouring into what I would call the best properties and the best markets, and this has been going on for two years. They want safety and confidence, and yet because there’s so much money pouring in there, they’re frustrated on return. The Federal Reserve had so manipu-
There have definitely been many wrongheaded urban planning trends in the United States in the 20th century. But each of those wrong-headed moves was an attempt to improve something. Le Corbusier was reacting to the dirty tenements and slums that had long haunted the world’s great cities. But Norquist took him to task for neglecting the way people actually live their lives and instead substituting utopian dreams. Norquist recounted how a century ago, a family might emigrate from Germany to Milwaukee, live in a cheap apartment above a streetside retail shop and work its way up, eventually buying the shop and moving the family to a nicer neighborhood. Then they’d rent the apartment above their store to immigrants from Poland (this is a very Milwaukee-centric example, mind you).
You can kill them, stack them up, or spread them out. But if they’re coming, they’re coming. lated interest rates [that with] the safe stuff, you’re not getting good returns. So you’re forced to go elsewhere. Everyone is trying to read a manipulated financial market where you can’t find returns where you would normality find it, so you start going to where that money isn’t, and you start worrying about that economy. Depending on their courage, they’re deciding they are or are not going outside of that zone. ... San Francisco is viewed as one of the strong markets. It’s added jobs quite well compared to the rest of the economy. Tech has done a lot of good in terms of growth. How Others Confront Housing Problems After John Norquist left his longtime position as mayor of Milwaukee, he spent a decade heading up the Congress for the New Urbanism, an organization that promotes smart urban planning. Called a “fiscally conservative socialist,” Norquist has no problem combining seemingly contradictory ideas to make a workable plan, and he has long championed such plans in the areas of real estate and urban planning. At an affordable housing conference in 2005, Norquist spoke about how cities have gone wrong when they tried hardest to do it right. He took aim at Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, a Swiss-French architect and urban planner better known as Le Corbusier, who Norquist used as a prime example of the movement that had destroyed cities. In Norquist’s view, cities have a natural flow and pattern that can be improved but can also be ruined by urban planning decisions. Le Corbusier’s sin was his penchant for wanting to bulldoze huge sections of cities such as Paris to make way for single-use neighborhoods of modernist towers to house people.
Those new tenants would go through the same upward trajectory, and on and on. Financial Times writer Kate Allen recently explored the ways that cities and countries deal with the growth-and-preservation problem. How can fast-growing cities, with booming economies and growing populations, prevent their populations from becoming even more economically stratified and forcing out the middle class? Allen presents seven approaches. First is the demand-side approach of making it more difficult to buy a home. South Korea, Israel, and elsewhere use this method to make life more miserable for wannabe owners; it does nothing to prevent stratification, because wealthier buyers have no problem clearing hurdles of low debt-to-income ratios or loan-to-value ratios. Second is the supply side. In some places, land banks make land available for moderateincome housing, but as Allen notes, free-marketeers dislike this government involvement. San Francisco being a “fiscally liberal socialist” city, that’s probably not a problem; but its approach has tended to focus on loosening development rules on city-owned land. The third approach is to skip the market altogether and make it all state-owned. Even in San Francisco, that won’t fly, and Governor Jerry Brown has made clear that he wants less, not more, government involvement. Fourth is to expand into areas previously set aside, such as greenbelts. Considering that San Francisco’s “greenbelt” is water and Daly City, we can assume this is a no-go. Fifth is to encourage renting, such as the rent-happy Germans do. This takes a real determination to go against the wishes of the people; homeownership is the one longterm investment that most Americans make.
Besides, not everyone wants to rent all their lives; that might be why so many Germans moved to Milwaukee. The sixth approach is to spread out and build outside of the city’s limits. That of course leads to ugly urban sprawl and environmental corruption. Finally, Allen offers the idea of subsidizing ownership. President George W. Bush made a big push to help lower-income people buy homes. (The lack of proper regulation of the financing schemes used to get them loans helped tank the world economy in the Great Recession, but the goal was laudable if the execution deplorable.) In San Francisco, at least, the city facilitates down-payment assistance for middle-income homebuyers, and Mayor Ed Lee has recently announced an expansion of this effort. Are there other approaches that could help us, or will they create unintended consequences of misery and market disruption like Le Corbusier bulldozing sleepy neighborhoods to make way for residential-only mega-‘hoods? Don’t look to Washington. Government Is AWOL As San Francisco residents and their political, business, and social leaders try to get a handle on housing affordability in the city, they must do so at a time when governments large and small in this country have largely tried to wash their hands of involvement with the housing problem. Long gone are the days when the federal government partnered with cities to build and manage homes for middle- and low-income citizens. Today, federal monies have gone elsewhere, as has federal interest in even dealing with the challenges. The key federal tool for helping develop affordable housing is the threedecades-old tax credit set up to help private developers—for-profit and nonprofit—do what the government used to do. This all happens at a time when there are still very many people who need affordable housing—rental or ownership. So we checked in with affordable housing expert and advocate Andre Shashaty. The former editor and publisher of Affordable Housing Finance and Apartment Finance Today magazines, Shashaty has sold his business and now serves as president of the nonprofit Partnership for Sustainable Communities (p4sc.org). He is the author of the new book Rebuilding a Dream: America’s new urban crisis, the housing cost explosion, and how we can reinvent the American dream for all. (Full disclosure, this writer worked for Shashaty at his publishing company years ago.) ZIPPERERSTRASSE: You have covered—as a journalist and as a nonprofit advocate—the housing affordability issue for decades. How does the situation today in terms of need and public policy compare to past eras? WEIMAR.WS zippererstrasse
ANDRE SHASHATY: Fifty years ago, Lyndon Johnson said we have to address the housing conditions in our cities, and we have to not only create quality housing but we have to create mobility, so people of lower incomes aren’t stuck in ghettoes. He put forth several major packages of legislation, the most significant being the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968. He committed the country—with bipartisan support—to create 2.6 million units of housing a year. One-fifth of those had to be for low-income people. Congress agreed to that. It was Ronald Reagan who basically tore that apart and said, “No, we don’t need to build any affordable housing; we should eliminate all [government-funded] housing production.” Now, he did put the tax credit in place [as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1986], so the net effect of his policy was to eliminate direct subsidies for affordable housing. But that tax credit is really the only thing there is on the federal level, and all the other needs have been put on top of that, without really expanding the program. That includes elderly housing, which used to be financed with Section 202 [for developing housing for seniors], including deteriorating housing under Section 8 and deteriorating public housing. The long-term trend is that we have retreated from an activist government role in providing public housing. The recent history is that rental housing has been the stepchild of government housing policy for many years, but it was dramatically illustrated when George W. Bush pushed for a big increase in homeownership, and he did nothing to finance rental housing. I don’t want to put all of the blame on him for the foreclosure problems, but in fact, he wanted to cut programs that benefited rental housing at the federal level. We ended up with a kind of obsession with homeownership, while we failed to address rental housing, and that led to a foreclosure crisis. A lot of people lost their 26
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The honest answer is that it’s hard to be optimistic, because the political direction doesn’t seem to be going in that way. homes, and now they’re back in the rental market and demanding apartments that aren’t there, that weren’t built. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: Has it improved at all under President Obama? SHASHATY: The bigger political picture is that we’ve only cared as a nation, or we’ve really only had a government that cared about housing on several occasions over the last century: after World War II, during the sixties when we had civil unrest, and we had it after the foreclosure crisis. But we just haven’t been willing to engage on those policy issues, partly because of budgetary issues and partly because nobody can talk to each other in Washington any more. So at the federal level we’ve kind of written it off. The last few years have been disappointing, because our current president hasn’t made it a priority to restart proactive policy on these things. He’s dabbled, but there’s only so much [his secretary of Housing and Urban Development] can do without budgetary support or congressional support. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: You mentioned tax credits for funding affordable housing. Is that still a workable model, or has it broken down? SHASHATY: The tax credit model works very well, mainly because it’s not subject to a lot of excruciating decision-making by bureaucrats and legislating; it kind of runs on autopilot because it’s part of the tax code. We don’t have to apply to the bureaucrats to say, “Can we take this tax break?” Sure you can. You don’t need an exception to the rule. But the main thing to remember about the housing tax credit is that it’s a shallow subsidy; it only helps a narrow range of people. On
its own, it doesn’t really help very many poor people, and you’re not eligible if you’re moderate income; and if you’re in a place like San Francisco and you can’t afford a market-rate place, you’re not eligible for a tax-credit place. I find it disturbing that we work at cross purposes; we want affordable housing but we obstruct it. Mayor Lee might want affordable housing, [developers] might want affordable housing, but the people in the various districts of San Francisco who already have housing don’t want affordable housing. That runs pretty deep in San Francisco and Marin County—pretty much everywhere. Policymakers have to figure out ways to make it palatable to local property owners who are otherwise probably going to prevent it, and if they can’t prevent it, they’re going to probably drive up its costs. Wealthy developers who are developing high-end apartments often have an easier time of it than people who are developing affordable housing. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: Are there examples of cities that have done well at developing affordable, workforce housing? SHASHATY: I like the example of Boston, where they’re encouraging development of workforce housing. One of their ideas is micro-apartments, what used to be called efficiencies, that are similar to what used to be called single-occupancy hotels. They make a big effort in their Innovation District. They’ve worked really hard to make sure housing was part of the plan from the beginning. That’s important. If you’re going to set out to attract jobs, set up an incubator; they had that in the planning from the beginning, and that’s because they had a strong leader.
photos: John Zipperer
I think you have to mention New York. It’s a unique marketplace; there’s no place like it, because you can build density with impunity and nobody’s going to hate you. But they had creative ways of building buildings that had a mix of incomes and served a variety of needs. Workforce housing in major cities is very hard to do, because the costs are so high and there are so many people with a vested interest in land in every neighborhood. And then you have the interest in having things be green and the design be good. The most promising megatrend is the idea of reducing or eliminating parking requirements. It doesn’t solve the problem, but it’s kind of a two-birds-withone-stone thing: reduce emissions while you reduce traffic while you reduce the cost of the building, because underground garages are so expensive. That’s an experiment. Will it work over the long term? It meets a lot of resistance, because people want parking. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: Are there any political heroes today who are championing housing affordability? SHASHATY: No. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: Are you optimistic or pessimistic? Why? SHASHATY: The honest answer is that it’s hard to be optimistic, because ... I don’t see anything in the political picture changing that would make it more favorable to addressing housing needs. We still have lots of neighborhoods that were pretty badly hurt by foreclosures, and they still need to be cleaned up and they need reinvestment. We have an improving budget picture in California, but we still have to remember that Jerry Brown eliminated redevelopment agencies, which would be in charge of improving some of these devastated neighborhoods. At the federal level, there’s no indication at all of a fundamental change in the political orientation any time soon. It could drift even more into budget cutting and philosophical opposition to helping cities. If [Republicans]
gain power, then budget cuts we’ve already seen under Barack Obama will get even worse. State vs. Cities Shortly before this issue of Zippererstrasse went to press, California Governor Jerry Brown might just have given his state’s housing sector its biggest shake-up in a while with a proposal that could fast-track a major expansion of residential building. In his June comments on affordable housing, the governor pitched his approach as a rejection of more subsidies to solve what he says is really a supply-and-demand problem. The state needs more production “that will … bring down the cost,” Brown was quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times. “Otherwise, through subsidies and through restrictions, we’re just spending more and more tax dollars and getting very, very little.” Brown’s plan, if approved by both houses of the state legislature, would allow developers to skip most local reviews and proceed with their projects “as of right” if they have at least 20 percent of the units affordable for people making up to 80 percent of the median income. In a state where there are many calls for more affordable housing but just as many people trying to prevent construction, that could be a significant change. “For far too long, Sacramento has seen housing as a local issue, even as localities haven’t kept housing development in line with housing demand,” Hoover Institution Research Analyst Carson Bruno told us. “As the Legislative Analyst’s Office has made clear, the state’s housing crisis is from a severe lack of housing supply, so efforts to encourage supply development is a step in the right direction. That said, however, in its current form, I’m not entirely sure how drastic of an effect Governor Brown’s proposal will have.” Bruno said the affordability mandate could limit the number of participating developers.
“One of the major items preventing housing development in the state, particularly in the coastal regions and especially in the Bay Area, is the political friction to development created by the NIMBY-residentialist movement,” said Bruno. “The irony, of course, for this movement is as they try to retain or preserve a neighborhood culture of the past, by restricting supply, the residentialist movement is, in fact, altering the culture by making the communities only affordable for the elite. While generally local control is a positive, on this issue, local control has clogged communities’ abilities to effectively remedy the problem. Gov. Brown’s approach removes some of the political friction that is preventing positive action and, more important, as it currently stands, it isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It could definitely force communities to begin becoming part of the solution, rather than being roadblocks.” Bruno calls it a “toss-up” whether Brown’s plan passes the legislature. “While some in Sacramento pay lip-service to the housing affordability problem, there still doesn’t appear to be a full understanding of the extent the problem poses for California. For one, housing prices have become the top cost-of-living concern for employees and top business challenge for Silicon Valley-Bay Area employers. This issue threatens the economic future of California’s most important economic region. This has major budget implications. If the Silicon Valley-Bay Area stumbles, so too do the state’s tax revenues. Until legislators see the connection between housing and the state’s economic and budget future, the urgency on the issue won’t be there.” He added that special interests will be another challenge. Calling the housing situation a crisis that needs bold solutions, Carson added that “We need to be shocking the housing supply to make a dent in the affordability. All in all, the governor’s approach is still too tepid. But at least it is starting the discussion.” zs WEIMAR.WS zippererstrasse
Dr. James Taylor: Can Black Lives Matter Become an Effective Change Agent?
The protest movement could have a big impact if it learns from its Black Power predecessors; if not, it faces frustration and irrelevance.
fter Black Lives Matter activists disrupted a speech by candidate Bernie Sanders, one activist told reporters that she didn’t do it to get attention from white people. That left some people scratching their heads. Wasn’t getting widespread attention what protest movements are all about? What’s going on with this movement? And what does it mean for Americans—African-American and otherwise? To get some insight, we spoke with Dr. James Taylor. Taylor is a professor of political science and the director of the African American Studies Department at the University of San Francisco, and he is also a lecturer in African American and African diaspora studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also the author of the highly regarded 2011 book, Black Nationalism in the United States: From Malcolm X to Barack Obama. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: In the past couple months, Black Lives Matter has attracted major attention, with BLM stopping the Bay Bridge, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has been shouted down at public appearances, and even regarding Beyonce’s performance during the Super Bowl half-time show. For people watching all of this and wondering what’s happening, could you explain? JAMES TAYLOR: Part of what’s happening is sort of a breakthrough moment for an emergent generation of African-American leaders in the same tradition of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, the Black Panther party in Oakland. They are [responding to] the needs of the community in crisis. 28
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The Black Lives Matter movement is largely organized by women and a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered cohort. Black Lives Matter is a many-layered thing, and a couple of the layers have to do with gender and sexuality, and prison politics and the disappearance of black men; there have been national media reports about the disappearance of 2.2 million black men. I’m not in any way trying to suggest the emergent leadership is in a vacuum, or that they are somehow an illegitimate movement. If the mass incarceration regime was not so impactful in black lives, you wouldn’t have the movement marching on their behalf; but if you did, you would have more AfricanAmerican men participating in it. When one looks at the Black Lives Matter movement, you also have to factor in the criminology movement, led by Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow. The erasure of black men has something to do with this political moment, both as the cause of it and the internal gender dynamics it opens up with black women taking the lead in ways you wouldn’t have without the mass incarceration. Clearly you would have more young men from the same age cohort who are most affected by the mass incarceration regime. Those young men are gone. Let’s assume even a small number of them would be leaders— you would still have a number who would
be leaders. I’m wondering to what extent, if these men who are absent are the traditional male heterosexual leaders who have come up every generation, if there wouldn’t be more of an internal conflict among women who would have to go against these men. That’s what Black Lives Matter has done. It’s cleared the path of the older generation to the political parties; they’ve taken on specific leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. They are filling the vacuum that is created by the disappearance of black men. And without that, they would not be leading. This is their cause, and this erasure of black men also makes it possible for them to step up. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: You have talked about this as a reaction against the black church. TAYLOR: The main source of black leadership for much of the 20th century, even through elected offices, [has been the church]; the church has always played a key role. It has always been the key fulcrum for African-American political activity. Generally, from the plantation economy all the way through every major movement up through [Martin Luther] King, the black preacher played a significant role. Black Lives Matter [confronts and is] reproducing what they see as the [leadership] of the black church. They are interested in undermining this tradition of leadership as much as the
“The Black Lives Matter movement is largely organized by women and a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered cohort.”
brace the community organizations where they are or produce its own that will substitute for the black church. In other words, Black Lives Matter would have to become almost a clearinghouse political and social force in black lives, on the ground level where people are, where people can see lives changing as a result of their programs. What can the community point to in general that the Black Lives Matter movement has benefited them in terms of concrete, kitchen-table questions about resources? They are definitely impacting the attitudes about mass incarceration. Many of the Black Lives Matter leaders are going to make personal decisions that will eventually lead the movement still on paper in place, and these people will get positions as teachers and in
Above: Dr. James Taylor. Below: Taylor with political activist David Brock, moments before they appeared together on the stage of The Commonwealth Club of California.
think tanks, and they’ll eventually disappear. They will be resented and they will resent the black community. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: Do others outside of the African-American community have a role to play in this movement, particularly on a local scale? TAYLOR: They find themselves struggling with the same issues of the last generation. The Black Power movement was the breaking point. What is the role of white liberals, for radicals in our movements? In the 1960s, the answer was they have to get out. So there was a lot of resentment of white radicals’ role in the movement. Black Lives Matter—most of its leadership is young black women leaders. I have not seen many white leaders, except in Florida at the local level where they occupied the state capitol—the Dreamers; they did have white leadership and latina leadership. But in the more black-dominated cities, like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, the faces are mostly black and lesbian. Black Lives Matter was originally an internal community discussion that got media attention and wasn’t expecting to manage the conversation. If it has any chance of going forward in terms of white allies, it will have to figure out what it thinks the role of white allies are. To maintain credibility even with whites, they will have to find some credibility in the black community as anything more than as an entire [group of whiners]. I’m sort of torn about that. It’s too abstract—like the concept of racism is too abstract to mobilize people around it. To mobilize white people around issues of white privilege [is too abstract]. It would be advantageous to mobilize around organizations of similar interest, coalitions. “No permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests” has to be the way Black Lives Matter goes forward to have sustainability for over a decade. zs
photo: john zipperer
white oppression they see through police brutality. Many people are not aware of the LGBTQ element of the Black Lives Matter movement. Once they do find out, it runs headlong against the long, organic ideology of black Protestantism. So Black Lives Matter is at war with the black church, because of its own commitment to a democratic, desexualized, and desacralized—to undo its religious nature—political moment. Al Sharpton trying to present himself as a king-maker with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton; [or] the idea of the Black Congressional Caucus PAC endorsing Hillary Clinton when she seems to be in trouble with young people is everything you need to know that Black Lives Matter is having an impact and is scaring the traditional civil rights and New Deal coalition and calling it into question. You have a generational [shift] going across the black leader and women electorate. I don’t want to call it a breach, but you end up with a generational precipice, where young people are interested in supporting Bernie Sanders and are indifferent to socialism. ZIPPERERSTRASSE: In your view, what can or should Black Lives Matter activists do now that they have people’s attention? TAYLOR: They should pick up the books of the Black Panthers and realize their true credibility in the communities [was] testing for sickle cell, food programs, even the women-infant-children programs. They had amazing programs. What J. Edgar Hoover saw as the most threatening part of the Black Panthers movement was those programs. What people see in Black Lives Matter is they only raise the issues and don’t engage in the transformative cultural politics — in music, in art, and then the political follows. Homosexuality generically is alien to black Protestant traditions. Black Lives Matter as a lesbian and gay movement, if it is clearly that, stands to confront the same obstacles as these other movements where black Americans never embraced it because it was alien to their black Protestant traditions. Huey Newton said the more Black Panthers started to talk revolution [and] in particular when the Black Panthers began to criticize the black church, “We defected from the community.” If Black Lives Matter wants to have relevance, it cannot attack the black community at its core. They cannot attack the black church in ways that are out of norms of the black community. They should learn from what the Panthers did well. That is still doable. My son plays basketball in Oakland; there was so much food at this school to feed the community, they were lined up around the corner. I’m talking about truckloads of fresh, healthy food. If Black Lives Matter wants to have credibility, it has to either em-
books, arts, & culture WORLD WAR II
The Kamikaze Country
Why did Japan start a war it knew would lead to its own devastation?
mbroiled in a wideranging and costly war in mainland Asia, Japan’s top military and political leaders gathered in September 1941 to discuss a plan of action sure to lead to all-out war with the United States, Japan’s god-emperor, the Showa Emperor Hirohito, did not want more war. As historian Eri Hotta recounts in her astonishing 2013 book Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy, the emperor was expected to remain silent as a mostly ceremonial figure at the important conference, but instead, he took a piece of paper from the breast pocket of his khaki army uniform. On it was a poem written by his late grandfather, the great Meiji. ... The emperor recited: In all four seas all are brothers and sisters. / Then why, oh why, these rough winds and waves? This pacifist lament, distilled into thirty-one Japanese syllables, was penned at the onset of the RussoJapanese War. By reading it aloud, Hirohito was expressing his fundamental uneasiness with the new proposal and his desire for Japan to avoid war—or at least that was what he intended his indirect communication to convey to his audience. But the recital of the poem merely created a bizarre and self-pitying atmosphere of passive resistance. Such was the extent of the god-emperor’s defense of his realm against a war that the emperor, along with many of his po30 30 zippererstrasse zippererstrasse JULY JULY2016 2016
litical and military and economic leaders, knew would be lost and would result in the destruction of all that Japan had achieved since the Meiji restoration. Hirohito might have been considered a living god, but he was in many ways a toothless one, a consultative leader rather than a dictatorial one. His explicit legal powers were limited, but his prestige and moral power were nearly unlimited in the Japan of 1941. Had he decided to forbid his military from extending the war and taking on the sleeping American giant, there is a high likelihood that Pearl Harbor would never have happened, and that his country’s cruel invasion further south in Asia would have come to an earlier conclusion, one with far less destruction and loss of life, and one that left Japan with an empire and international power. He could have stopped it. Instead, he told a poem. This story is just one of the mind-numbing true stories told by Hotta in her book, the best day-by-day (and sometimes hour-by-hour) political war history since William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Hotta does an excellent job of revealing the social and political forces threatening to tear apart the empire. There were the mid-level military men eager to expand their war throughout China and further south; there was a full retreat by the political leaders who had once hoped to cement Japan’s place as a respected and peaceful great world power; there was an officially (and imperially) supported diplomatic effort undercut by distrustful political leaders; there was a military that was predicted
to reach the ends of its means if the United States were drawn into the war; and there was god on a throne, who could have reined it all in but who thought it would be bad manners to do anything more bold than speak a couple lines of poetry when he was expected to remain silent. When we think about political leadership around the time of World War II, we often remember it as a time of giants, good and bad. Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Emperor Hirohito, Benito Mussolini. But we know better. FDR and Churchill will retain their places in the pantheon of great war leaders. But both of their countries had a lot less to offer from their other leaders. Britain had many Nazi sympathizers in its cultural, political, and even royal elites. Churchill’s predecessors as prime minister made a bloody mess of handling fascism’s rise on the continent, and if Churchill hadn’t been there for better or worse (and there was a lot of worse within Churchill himself), it is not unreasonable to suppose that Britain would have sued for peace with Germany rather than sacrifice its empire to defeat her. The United States also had a war-wary population—and one whose largest ethnic group was and is German—as well as many business leaders who preferred to do business with the Third Reich than fight it, and a State Department that had more than its share of Germany-leaning and anti-Semitic staffers and leaders (of which we learn a great deal in Erik Larson’s 2011 book In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American
Japanese forces march into conquered Peking (Beijing) in 1937. Family in Hitler’s Berlin). The Allies were aided by the fact that the “giants” of the Axis were even more screwed-up. Hitler, for all of his aura of German detail and brains, we now know was a haphazard and self-defeating leader, pitting his top lieutenants against one another and contradicting smart initiatives by his generals with disastrous plans of his own. Mussolini was, after all, nothing more than a gangster, and once his aura of invincibility was punctured, it was only a mat-
photo: associated press
ter of time before he was hanged in a village square. But Japan differed from both of its Axis allies. Italy and Germany had governments brought into power after a period of national disaster and economic collapse. Their fascist governments—especially Germany’s— were in constant fear of their own citizens going after them. Japan was different. Its government was built on a successful national revival under the imperial dynasty. Militarily and culturally strong, it nevertheless found itself going further and further into the abyss of war, seemingly unable to stop itself
and ultimately requiring the United States to do the act for it. Hotta’s history makes much of something many westerners probably know about only a little: During the 1920s, following its victory with its Western allies in World War I, Japan attempted to play a major role in the peaceful administration of world order. But the country felt that it was disrespected and denied a proper share of the spoils of that war, edged out by Britain, France, and the United States, who divvied up Germany’s overseas possessions and dictated the form of the League of Nations. Writing in The New York
Times on December 6, 2013, the day before the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Eri Hotta noted that when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor 72 years and one day before, “it was taking a mad gamble. Bogged down in one war with China, it would double down by waging another war on the United States: The bigger the risk, the sweeter the victory. That daring decision was the product of a peculiar political culture, one dominated by belligerent minority views precisely because it favored consensus. Watching Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today, tensing up and pushing back against China’s provocations in
the East China Sea, one wonders how much of that tradition has survived within the Japanese leadership.” Hotta’s conclusion is that Japan is a stable democracy today, and its protection by the U.S. security umbrella dulls its impulse as a military power. Think about the wisdom of American voters, then, if they elect Donald Trump as its new “giant,” one who proposes undoing that security umbrella because he can’t imagine it’s worth the cost. Japan 1941, by Eri Hotta, Knopf, 2013, 323 pages zs WEIMAR.WS WEIMAR.WS zippererstrasse zippererstrasse 31 31
The Disappearing Art of Making Magazines An inside look at the creativity and professionalism of print publishing
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photo: john zipperer
his past winter, the magazine publishing world got a jolt with the apparently forced departure of long-time Esquire editor David Granger. After having led the men’s title for 19 years and put it at the vanguard of mass periodicals adapting to the digital world, he was shown the door. Granger’s biggest contribution to magazines is not his use of eink on the cover of Esquire’s 75th issue, nor was it his publishing an entire piece of fiction one line at a time at the bottoms of each page of the magazine. No, his greatest contribution was in reminding people what magazines are, that they are—to use the current in-vogue term—curated views of a topic, a field, or even a world. They are creative enterprises as much as they are businesses. That is something that is shared by most of the people featured in The Art of Making Magazines, a short but fun and fascinating book. Its subhead is a relatively uninspiring “On Being an Editor and Other Views from the Industry.” But if you’re in the creative fields, what’s inside is inspiring, indeed. Page count aside, it’s a book every aspiring and practicing editor and writer (and publisher and entrepreneur) should read. Forgive the occasional typo (an odd failing to find in this type of a book, especially considering its chapters on fact checking and copyediting) or some of the outof-date comments in the chapters; this book’s central messages are applicable to every writer, editor, and publisher in print and online. It also has something to say to the non-magazine professionals who might be convinced that magazines are nothing more than stapled or glued stacks of paper covered with whatever market research tells the editors to put on them. For that matter, it should also
be mandatory reading by those Silicon Valley types who are eager to drive a stake through the heart of magazines, when what they’re really saying is that they want to drive a stake through the heart of professional journalism. The Art of Making Magazines is comprised of 12 chapters, all but one of which is a speech given by a high-profile magazine industry professional as part of the George Delacorte Lecture Series at the Columbia School of Journalism. The one exception is a Q&A conversation between moderator Victor Navasky and Vanity Fair Design Director Chris Dixon. The speakers range from writer John Gregory Dunne to editors Ruth Reichl, Robert Gottlieb, Michael Kelly, Roberta Myers, Peter W. Kaplan, and Tina Brown; from fact checker Peter Canby to copyeditor Barbara Walraff; from art director Dixon and publisher John R. MacArthur to publisher/businessman/poet Felix Dennis. Get this book and read every one of those chapters; they will not only tell you how magazines are really put together (for better and worse), they will give your professional and creative imagination a boost for how to
do things differently and better. Reichl provides a pretty exhaustive run-through of what a high-powered magazine editor’s day is like (and how little of it actually has anything remotely to do with editing), and as such she gives readers a good sense of how the editor-in-chief position has changed as technology and markets have changed. At the far end of the book, Felix Dennis also touches on the technologyand-changing-markets theme, but his is a more inspiring (albeit over-the-top) take on the subject; he says there will be a continuing need for good writers and editors even if ink-onpaper periodicals die off. He also succinctly sums up something that is a theme through many of these talks, but he says it better (hence my use of “succinctly,” I guess) than the others. He urges writers and editors and publishers to pay attention first to the reader, and only then to the advertiser. “My advertisers are welcome to attend the party. But they are not the guests of honor,” Dennis writes. “They are welcome to a glass of champagne and piece of the cake, but I am married to my readers and not to my advertisers.”
With that advice, along with his statements about the need to produce something the readers actually want to read and not something they’re receiving simply because it’s too much trouble to cancel their subscriptions, Dennis touches on a theme covered a few years ago in a digital-only magazine from Zippererstrasse’s publishers called Magma. But it also touches on thoughts David Granger had expressed even before that. So much of the new media products on the market today are focused on giving readers whatever they want, however they want it, and nothing else. A magazine does have to know its audience, the audience’s wants and desires, and its changing tastes. It should then, if it’s run by smart and creative professionals, take some of those facts and incorporate them into the publication, and ignore the rest. Because the magazine is the creative vision of the people who assign each story, shape the information told in the stories, select and commission artwork and photos, crop them and place them, and make hundreds of either-or decisions each issue. Think about why people actually read magazines, or would
read magazines if they’re not; think about why magazines are failing even though the highly paid MBAs running them are doing everything by the book to cut costs and reduce article size and maximize revenues; think about why you would spend time reading a 5,000-word article and what you could get out of it that you don’t get out of a 400word blurb on a website; think about how many magazines have death wishes because their editors and publishers and owners don’t know what they’re doing or why readers should want to buy their publications, invest time and energy (and become emotionally connected) with them. Think about how many magazines don’t even publish their own subscription ads any more. And they wonder why readership is falling? If The Art of Making Magazines has a major flaw, it is that it is very New York-centered in its chosen speakers; in fact, it is very Condé Nast-centered. What’s missing, of course, is what most magazine writers and editors will experience: the small magazine, with no copyeditor, everyone including the publisher proofreads, and readerships in the tens of thousands rather than the millions. Also not included is someone speaking about the work of editors, writers, and publishers in business-to-business publishing, or in non-profit and associations publishing. There are some very successful publishers and editors in these ignored markets who could have given very valuable advice to the Columbia students and to readers of this book. But in the end, the narrow focus is not any more of a hindrance to benefiting from this book than are the typos. The value is in the advice shared and stories told by the speakers— and in any degree of perceptivity that may be employed by the reader. The Art of Making Magazines, edited by Victor S. Navasky and Evan Cornog, Columbia Journalism Review Books, 2012, 179 pages zs
Cold War on the River Spree
Sundance TV has overseas historic hit with Deutschland 83
as President Ronald Reagan just making rhetorical jabs at the Soviets when he talked tough, or did he really intend to pursue a policy of nuclear brinksmanship? Journalist Jacob Weisberg tells us that it was more rhetoric than belligerent intent; that Reagan was actually a fairly radical anti-nuclear thinker. A recent German TV series set at the height of the Reagan-era Cold War reminds us that the Soviets weren’t necessarily very good at telling the difference between the rhetoric and the actual threat it might pose to their empire. The year 1983 was an important year for both sides of this antagonistic relationship. The Soviet Union was cycling through short-lived leaders since the death of longtime chief Leonid Brezhnev. The current leader was Yuri Andropov, a former head of the Soviets’ feared KGB operations and a devoted Cold Warrior. In the 15 months before he would die and in turn be replaced by the even older Konstantin Chernenko, Andropov oversaw what nearly became a nuclear war. How did things turn that serious? Though Baby Boomers might have believed a nuclear war was imminent at any point in the 1950s, by the 1980s, Generation X largely figured if things hadn’t exploded by now, then the two sides must have figured out how to get along with each other; that the bellicose language from both sides was for show, for marking territory like a terrier, but not to be taken literally. It turns out that neither generation was correct. Sundance TV aired Deutschland 83 last year to a great reception; it was also well received in the UK; it fared less well in its native Germany. Regardless of its ratings, this eight-episode series deserves a viewing for the well-done and entertaining way
it dives into the very real fears, miscommunication, and intelligence sabotage that in real life brought the two Cold War blocs to the brink of nuclear war. Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay) is an East German border guard who is pressed into service as a spy when he’s needed to assume the identity of an aid to West German General Wolfgang Edel (Ulrich Noethen). It’s not a mission Martin desires, but when his Aunt Lenora (Maria Schrader, in a winning performance), who is a Stasi official, says she’ll help his mother get needed medical treatment, he is pulled in. And thus Martin assumes the identity of West Germany aidede-camp Moritz Stamm. Rauch/Stamm quickly insinuates himself into his post and into Edel’s private life, befriending the general’s son, the gay anti-war Oberleutnant Alex Edel (Ludwig Trepte), and romancing Edel’s daughter, the cult member Yvonne Edel (Lisa Tomaschewsky). It’s all in his official capacity, which is to help his East German intelligence bosses find out what NATO is doing now that the sharp-tongued Ronald Reagan is flexing his muscles. The driving force behind the story is a Soviet fear that a planned NATO war game called Able Archer is really a
planned first-strike nuclear attack on Moscow. This is not a fiction created by Anna Winger, Deutschland 83’s writer and cocreator (with husband Joerg Winger). On November 2, 1983, NATO really did kick off a tenday exercise called Able Archer 83, which caused the Soviets to ready their nuclear forces and put their air units on alert in East Germany and Poland. We know that no nuclear war ensued, but the experience reportedly brought the realization to Reagan that the Soviets genuinely feared the West. That fueled his desire to rid the world of the nuclear threat, something that seemed quixotic to many when he pursued it during a summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. But Weisberg, author of the recent biography Ronald Reagan, says that Reagan had been very affected by learning about the Nazi death camps and also by hearing about the basic gut logic of mutually assured destruction: either you strike back or you don’t. Near the end of Reagan’s first term, “he saw that after four years, he hadn’t been able to make any sort of direct contact with a Soviet leader. There’d been no negotiations. Tensions in the Cold War were as high as they’d ever been; 1983 was probably the low point,” Weisberg told a Commonwealth Club of California audience in January 2016. All he had to show for it was that he was seen—in Moscow and on the streets throughout much of the West—as a military aggressor. “He decided to really, pretty radically change strategies. He announces this as soon as he’s reelected in a couple of interviews; he became a proponent of really radical disarmament.” Reagan’s Reykjavík appeal for nuclear disarmament ultimately failed. Weisberg notes that his dream was opposed by almost everyone in his administration WEIMAR.WS zippererstrasse zippererstrasse 33 33 WEIMAR.WS
with the exception of Secretary of State George Shultz. Reagan could perhaps have overcome that, but the ardent opposition from British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who had staked her 1986 reelection claim on retaining Britain’s nuclear deterrent, helped kill the idea. Writing in the London Review of Books, David Runciman notes that “Though she liked Reagan and was readily charmed by him, Thatcher had always been a little suspicious of his occasional flights of idealistic fancy, particularly when it came to nuclear weapons,” Runciman wrote. He adds that “Thatcher was horrified when she discovered what actually transpired in Iceland. Following hours of increasingly testy discussion about trade-offs between different categories of weapon, Reagan said in frustration that none of this would matter ‘if we eliminated all nuclear weapons’. Immediately, Gorbachev replied: ‘We can do that. We can eliminate them.’ Reagan’s secretary of state, George Shultz, sitting in on the conversation, couldn’t hold his tongue. ‘Let’s do it,’ he said. The implications of this sudden meeting of minds were, as one observer put it, ‘cosmic’. Within a matter of moments, the future prospects of the human race had changed. And so had Thatcher’s prospects of squashing [UK Labour leader Neil] Kinnock at the next election.” Years later, Shultz recalled how Thatcher had expressed to him her horror at the idea of ridding the world of nuclear weapons and asked for his help changing Reagan’s mind. In what should assure him extra points in the history books, Shultz replied, “But Margaret, I agree with him.” Nuclear war did not occur in 1983, nor did nuclear disarmament follow 1986 in Iceland. But we would be wrong to think that that meeting of Soviet and American leaders was fruitless. Thatcher got her way in the short term, but in the longer term, the 34 zippererstrasse JULY 2016 34 zippererstrasse JULY 2016
anti-nuclear statesmen might yet win out. In 2007, George Shultz teamed up with former Senator Sam Nunn, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and fellow former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to form the Nuclear Security Project, which aims for nothing less than creating the political conditions for nuclear disarmament. Its goals have been endorsed by the United Nations Security Council, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and President Barack Obama. In the meantime, while the statesmen and -women work on providing the political cover needed for politicians to work toward freeing us from the threat of nuclear holocaust, one could spend a worse few hours than by watching the German-made Deutschland 83, to remember (or to learn) how close the world came to stumbling into the worst catastrophe imaginable. Deutschland 83 makes great use of pop music from that era, both from Germany and elsewhere. Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom (Coming Home)” makes for a compelling opening theme, and other songs ranging from “99 Luftballons” to music from David Bowie, New Order, and other musicians are heard. Just a couple years after the setting of this series, former Police lead singer Sting released his solo song “Russians,” which includes the lines, “In Europe and America there’s a growing feeling of hysteria / Conditioned to respond to all the threats / In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets.” Americans, too, were unsure what was rhetorical. Anna Winger has mentioned the possibility of a second series, called Deutschland 86, as well as a third series called Deutschland 89. Don’t be surprised to hear Sting’s “Russians” in either series. Deutschland 83, written by Anna Winger, created by Anna Winger and Joerg Winger, RTL and Sundance TV, 2015, 8 episodes zs
In the Wake of the Wall’s Fall
Peter Schneider’s keen eyes stay trained on Berlin
erlin is like a river; as Heraclitus told us, you never step into the same river twice—it is always flowing, always changing. It’s a good thing, then, that we have German author Peter Schneider to wade into Berlin’s present and past and report back to us. Schneider has told the tales of Berlin from his celebrated 1982 fictional tome The Wall Jumper to his 1992 collection of essays The German Comedy and beyond. If his fiction sometimes has the feel of reporting, his essays have the detail and emotions of good short stories. Schneider, born in Lübeck in 1940, has spent half a century writing and being politically active on the left, including as a leader of the 1960s German student movement. For his latest book of essays, Berlin Now: The City After the Wall, that experience gives special credence to his wry dissections of the absurdities of many on the left that keep Germany’s nearly bankrupt capital city from solving or addressing some of its problems. Back in 2000, Schneider’s novel Eduard’s Homecoming presented the titular protagonist, a German living abroad who returns to Berlin after inheriting an apartment building there. The city is quite different than it
was when he left it, and his relationship with his American wife frays as she resists becoming a Berliner. Eduard’s new inheritance itself turns out to have inherited a problem from the days of the Wall, when the Western part of the city was sparsely populated and was a refuge to anarchists and others alienated from the postwar country. His building turns out to be occupied by squatters, and he faces either an expensive and risky effort to kick them out or he has to come to an accommodation with them. Berlin Now, on the other hand, feels like a walk through the city with a local guide. It includes experiencing the wild and inexpensive nightlife, exploring the debacle of the city’s still-uncompleted airport, digging into the quixotic project to rebuild a former Prussian palace in the heart of the city, visiting the buildings that new entrepreneurs are using for ventures that are threatened by unimaginative city and business planning (resulting in some compromises that echo Eduard’s above), profiling activists trying to play a part in today’s Berlin despite Stasi pasts, and more. Throughout it all, we learn about this city that has been variously a Cold War battlefront, an imperial capital, a rustic backwater, and now a republican home. Berliners are making a city unlike any version of it that has existed before. It is the capital of a rich and influential nation, but it is not a blood-and-iron imperial hometown. It is worth revisiting from time to time to see what it becomes next. Berlin Now: The City After the Wall (also in paperback as Berlin Now: The Rise of the City and the Fall of the Wall), by Peter Schneider, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014, 326 pages Eduard’s Homecoming, by Peter Schneider, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000, 307 pages zs
Should the public pick actors, write scripts, and determine gender?
Reagan and jackson photo: Executive office of the united states; feinnes photo: Sila from Spain
he outrage overflowed the news portals in late January when it was announced that Joseph Fiennes, a white actor, would portray African-American pop superstar Michael Jackson in an upcoming half-hour TV comedy. The Fiennes casting probably struck a raw nerve because it happened around the time that the Academy Awards was under fire for not nominating any African-American actors. Someone, it seemed, had better do something. The Guardian’s Steven W. Thrasher, noting that “Blackface is still blackface even when portraying a light-skinned African American,” wrote that “A white actor can’t possibly capture the impact he had on so many of us black kids back then, and can’t have lived a life that would help him understand how Jackson performed race as he did.” “Have lived a life that would help him understand how Jackson performed”? First of all, it’s a half-hour TV comedic bit, not a cinematic bio-pic. Second, it’s called “acting” because the actor is acting, playing a role. Patrick Stewart never flew a real spaceship (and wasn’t even French), but the British actor essayed the role of Enterprise captain Jean-Luc Picard for years. Except for those rare times when actors play themselves, they are portraying someone with different life experiences, background, politics, etc.. Should Sean Penn not have received an Oscar for portraying Harvey Milk? For that matter, to our knowledge neither of the two male leads of Brokeback MounInset: Joseph Fiennes. Right: Michael Jackson visits even whiter people, Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
tain was gay. Then there’s the casting of Tilda Swinton as a Doctor Strange character who was a powerful Asian sorcerer in the comic books from which the story came. People were once again up in arms at the thought, this time of a white actor portraying an Asian character, like a throwback to when Hollywood routinely and stupidly had whites portray Asians, Native Americans, Arabs, and Hispanics. Swinton said that was not the case here because, in fact, she wasn’t portraying an Asian character; the Asian character was now a white female character. “It’s not actually an Asian character—that’s what I need to tell you about it,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “I wasn’t asked to play an Asian character, you can be very well assured of that.” The complaints are often mixed up with a pop-polisci theory that someone from an advantaged demographic portraying someone of a less advantaged group is inherently wrong—inherently racist or sexist. One can be sympathetic to the underlying theme of the concern while at the same time rejecting it as misplaced. In 1981’s science-fiction epic Outland, Frances Sternhagen
executed the role of a doctor that had been written for a man—and whose role was reportedly not rewritten to make it feminine. If you didn’t like it, there were really far more bothersome things to complain about in that movie. Lest Trumpian right-wingers complain that this epidemic of complaining about casting is a left-wing, minority activity, consider the freakout people had over rumors that Idris Elba or another black actor could be cast as the next James Bond after Daniel Craig exits the role. Or the harsh reaction to the new remake of the 1984 Ghostbusters, replacing the original’s male leads with four females. Then there were complaints when the most recent Fantastic Four movie featured a black Johnny Torch. There was also vitriol, including claims that the casting of Michael B. Jordan in the role was destroying the comic-based story and was only done because the United States has a black president; Jordan responded in Entertainment Weekly: “To the trolls on the Internet, I want to say: Get your head out of the computer. Go outside and walk around. Look at the people walking next to you. Look at your friends’ friends and who
they’re interacting with. And just understand this is the world we live in. It’s okay to like it.” Similarly, if less elegantly, Daniel Craig also thought the Bond controversy was ridiculous. “The person should do the job, and I don’t give a f--k what colour their skin is,” he told British tabloid The Sun. “It shouldn’t be an issue.” James Bond is a Scottish agent, so according to the purists’ views, he should always be played by a Scottish actor. People who grew up on Marvel’s Fantastic Four comics expect the movies to adhere religiously to the past, which is neither possible nor desirable. And Ghostbusters—can’t we finally admit that the 1984 film really wasn’t that great and the remake won’t likely be, either? The reality is that a director or producer can select whatever actor they want for the part. It doesn’t mean that they have selected the best person, or that they necessarily have selected that person for the right reasons. It just means that it’s their film. It’s not a crowd-sourced production in which everyone gets to have their input addressed. You don’t get a producer credit because you had different casting ideas. In the end, a film production of Doctor Strange or the Fantastic Four is a privately made entertainment product, not a national monument. And anyone looking to Hollywood studios for moral leadership is simply deluded. Should Joseph Fiennes play Michael Jackson? Should Idris Elba portray James Bond? That could be worth seeing, but we honestly don’t care. If you see portrayals on screen by people performing a role “outside” their specific demographics, but they don’t convince you that they are the character they’re playing, then they are bad actors, not bad people. zs WEIMAR.WS zippererstrasse zippererstrasse 35 35 WEIMAR.WS
Make Rome Great Again
The roots of Donald Trump reach back thousands of years
hat is the tensile strength of the ties of loyalty binding Americans to liberal democracy? A look at almost any day’s political news would suggest they are pretty weak ties. There are apparently many millions of people who are flocking to impresario Donald Trump’s celebrity authoritarianism; millions of others have gravitated to a nocompromises “Bern it down” assault on the way things are done. Have things ever been this bad? When looking at the disruptions roiling today’s politics, commentators tend to compare this era with the unusually stable period from the end of the second world war to the 1980s or 1990s, when populist movements began making noticeable inroads into the heart of the two parties. However, American politics has always been more interesting than that. From before the founding of the country on through the Great Depression, there have been populist uprisings, secession attempts (and that little thing called the Civil War), lynch mobs, militia groups, governors defying federal authority and denying citizens’ rights, and more. The arc of American history might indeed be a positive one when viewed from afar, but when studied in detail, it induces humility and not a little shame in the hearts of honest people. Even during those stable post-war glory days, however, there were extremists and knownothing activists on all sides. John Birchers and segregationists and Soviet fellow travelers and Maoist students—they were all visible and they had deleterious effects on policies. What was perhaps different from today is that the two main parties were, for the most part and significantly so, pillars of that stability, defending it against onslaughts from the political vandals. Would Donald Trump have 36
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been able to become a major party’s nominee in 1964? 1980? It’s unlikely the party mandarins would have let him anywhere near the nuclear codes in the mid-60s, when both parties were still very strong, when the party establishments still had a lot of power, and the two parties were not that different from each other. We might think of the 1960s as a time when the country got psychedelic and unruly, but the parties kept the extremes in their places. (We can parse words about Barry Goldwater some other time; big picture here, okay?) In 1980, the Republican Party in particular was undergoing a dramatic ideological change, but even then, the “radical” choice of Ronald Reagan still gave the party a nominee who supported America’s traditional alliance system and was willing to work with Democrats, even if he sought to move the
country quite a bit further right on the economic spectrum. But today, Donald Trump is the GOP nominee, and his appeal to voters and his capture of the party of Lincoln was made possible by the weakness of a party that over-reached and fell out of tune with the voters it exploited and claimed to champion. When the establishment is in disarray, that’s when opportunists step in, and that’s what Trump has done. Pundits and sofa sophists can argue and complain all day long about the feasibility of his plan to build border walls, arm South Korea and Japan with nuclear weapons, abandon NATO, or bar Muslims from entering the country. To Trump’s audience, it doesn’t matter if what he says is good or consistent or even possible; what matters is that it’s different from what the conservative establishment has told them for
decades, a time in which their jobs fled overseas, their communities sank into heroin and meth epidemics, their incomes stagnated or shrank, and the Republican leaders continued nonstop braying about the virtues of their rule. Sooner or later that mismatch had to cause trouble, and sooner or later became the 2016 presidential election. It’s not a breach from the past; it is the past. In the introduction to his deservedly popular 2003 Roman history book Rubicon, author Tom Holland plays with the controversy of whether people should read history as prescriptive—giving us lessons to apply today—or just descriptive. “[P]arallels can be deceptive. The Romans, it goes without saying, existed under circumstances ... profoundly different from our own. What strikes us as recognizable about aspects of
caesar painting: public domain painting from 1899 now at Musée CROZATIER du Puy-en-Velay ; trump photo: max goldberg
their civilization may be so—but not always. Often, in fact, the Romans can be strangest when they appear most familiar.” Other times, it’s eerily similar. Holland goes on to tell in gripping and accessible prose how decades of bitter insurrections, proscriptions, and outright civil war led by rich and powerful Romans eventually ended the republic in all but name. In Rome, the defender and secular messiahs of the common man did not come from the common man. It wasn’t an Antony Sanders who rallied the republic’s poor and middle classes; it was a wealthy and powerful warlord, one of the richest men in the world, and it happened repeatedly in the history of Rome, telling us much about the dynamics of the laterepublican economic and political death spiral. Adrian Goldsworthy’s Augustus: First Emperor of Rome tells the tale of how young Gaius Octavius waged a brutal and ruthless campaign for total power amid the chaotic late-republican period in Rome, becoming the eventual victor and the surprisingly temperate ruler. But the republic was dead, killed long
before Gaius assumed the name Augustus. Augustus was the most powerful man, and one of the richest men in the history of the planet, owning the modern equivalent of $4.6 trillion in wealth; according to Stanford historian Ian Morris, Augustus at one point owned all of Egypt. Many people study the evolution of the Roman republic and conclude that its dysfunction led to Nero and Caligula. But it could also be said to have culminated in the civil wars that threatened to destroy the empire long before then. Or one could argue that it led to Augustus, because sooner or later stability was needed after the long years of disruption, and he imposed it. But, regardless of Holland’s warnings, the worst lesson to take away from all of this would be that there is no lesson for today in what happened yesterday in Rome. Stability matters. Donald Trump’s ability to conquer the Republican Party says more about the weakness of the GOP than about the strength of Trump. Trump has the name recognition and the cheap authority of the television entertainer, and he has money (whether or not it is as much as
he says it is will continue to be disputed). The Republican Party has been operating at an untenable remove from sound political party principles for years. The party has managed to get the populist conservative electorate to vote for GOP candidates who support policies that have helped eviscerate the economic prospects and lives of conservative populists. The unpalatable effects of supply-side economics run amok have often been excused by an American public that identifies upward: I might not be wealthy, but I could be some day, and anyway I am more like that wealthy go-getter than I am the unsuccessful people around me. But that can only go on so long before those aspirational voters get squeezed too much by underfunded and underperforming schools, low wages, poor health care, job insecurity, constant debts, busted unions, fallen home values, and the prospect of working through their retirements until they die. And still the Republicans roll out plans to give even more unto those who already have so much. That is all a recipe for a political
shift, and Donald Trump walked in and made it. Paradoxical as it might be for a crass billionaire to be the tribune of the common man and woman, Trump’s Roman antecedents demonstrate otherwise. Only a billionaire can wage war against billionaires. And whereas the Roman generals fighting over the corpse of their republic promised to share the spoils of war more widely and to increase grain handouts, Trump promises to follow some of the same billionaire-friendly policies as the rest of his party. However, Trump breaks with party orthodoxy on some important issues that resonate with his voters, such as opposition to free trade deals, criticism of some tax breaks for the rich, and his dangerous repudiation of the expensive responsibilities of leading our international alliance system. Trump is unlikely to win this election. But he has shown that the Republican Party establishment is made of papier mache, that its religion of hard-right conservative orthodoxy can be flouted and the candidate who flouts it doesn’t face immediate political exile. After all, Rome wasn’t destroyed in a day. It took a long time, but we can see the beginnings of the republic’s demise in the first civil wars and battles involving Sullists or Catilines, when powerful people had seen how to exploit the weaknesses in the system. Some of us can see the weaknesses in our American system, and Trump has just made them visible to all. The eventual victor of the Roman civil wars was not someone at the head of a peasant insurgency. It was a rich and powerful man who caught the imagination of the masses and took advantage of a weakened system. Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic, by Tom Holland, Anchor Books, 2003, 410 pages Augustus: First Emperor of Rome, by Adrian Goldsworthy, Yale University Press, 2014, 624 pages zs WEIMAR.WS zippererstrasse
drawn and quoted shew away the [alligators] who get on the golf course, Rio has hired a team of five specialists— or, as they’ll soon be known, four specialists.” —Peter Sagal Host, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me
“flint residents made it clear that they would like to see me personally drink the water, so today I am fulfilling that request. And I will continue drinking Flint water at work and at home for at least 30 days.” —Rick Snyder Michigan Governor “so are you literally saying to me right now that the difference between Obama and Bernie Sanders is that the people of America are going to continue to be motivated within the political process, and they’re going to keep putting pressure on our elected leaders to make change? Have you met people?” —Samantha Bee Host, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee “this is as important a relationship as I’ve had during the course of my presidency. Chancellor Merkel has been consistent, she has been steady, she is trustworthy. She has a really good sense of humor that she doesn’t show all the time at press conferences. That’s why she’s been such a long-lasting leader, because she watches what she says.” —Barack Obama U.S. President Visiting Hanover, Germany “at stake in this election is control of a Tea Party-run Congress, at least one Supreme Court vacancy that could tip the balance for a generation, and 38
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“i have decided that i would really, actively like to see a Hillary Clinton presidency. “... [S]he has made enormous, at times disheartening compromises and changed positions. But I don’t think she has done worse than anyone who seriously wishes to win office in our present system. “There is no question that she is personally ambitious, though she is one of the few candidates who is ever blamed for it. The question is, what is her ambition? To make money? Impossible. She’s doing fine. To get power? She’s had it. To get ALL the power, because she is power mad? That’s a creepy conspiracy theory that doesn’t ring true to me. “... I think she wants to make the best policy possible in an antagonistic-by-design political process that she has known and wrestled with for decades, and keep that policy in place. Moreover, I think she wants to make policy that I largely agree with.” —John Hodgman Comedian, on johnhodgman.com the very real chance that a highly unstable demagogue could become the 45th president of the United States. So while I may not have imagined myself saying this a few years ago, I certainly believe it now: It’s far more important to elect Hillary Clinton in 2016 than it was to elect Barack Obama in 2008.” —Jon Favreau Former Obama Speechwriter
“we welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.” —Target “the olympic golf course in Rio is brand new, and in keeping with the official Rio 2016 theme, it will be incredibly dangerous for everyone. Not to worry: To
photo: david shankbone
“if you killed ted cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.” —Lindsay Graham U.S. Senator Washington Press Club Foundation’s Congressional Dinner
“we, you, a diverse, dynamic, needed support base that they would attack. And now, some of them even whispering, they’re ready to throw in for Hillary over Trump because they can’t afford to see the status quo go, otherwise, they won’t be able to be slurping off the gravy train that’s been feeding them all these years. They don’t want that to end. “Well, and then, funny, ha ha, not funny, but now, what they’re doing is wailing, ‘well, Trump and his, uh, uh, uh, Trumpeters, they’re not conservative enough.’ Oh my goodness gracious. What the heck would the establishment know about conservatism?” —Sarah Palin Gadfly Endorsing Donald Trump; no, it didn’t make sense in context “i endorse hillary clinton for president. She is the secondworst thing that could happen to America. “I endorse her. And all her pomps. And all her empty promises. Better the devil you know than the Lord of the Flies on his own 757. Flying to and fro in the earth, with gold-plated seatbelt buckles, talking nativist, isolationist, mercantilist, bigoted, rude, and vulgar crap. “The electorate is possessed by a demon. (Two, if you count Bernie Sanders, the Donald Trump for people still living in their parents’ basements.).” —P.J. O’Rourke Humorist The Daily Beast zs
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Issue #2 A complete episode guide to the SyFy-era Battlestar Galactica! A special report on classic German science fiction; building a real starship; Perry Rhodan starts over; the controversy over spilling Prometheus’ secrets; the world’s first short SF story; a photo guide to Saturn; reviews; & more!
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Issue #1 Our premiere issue! Michio Kaku interviewed; author David Gerrold on Star Hunt; Mobile Suit Gundam; Lathe of Heaven on TV; space photos; Virgin Galactic; Star Wars in print; Q&As with Mary Doria Russell, Deepak Srivastava, & Michael Medved; news & reviews; & more!
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