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Impunity

  1. exemption or immunity from punishment or recrimination
  2. exemption or immunity from unpleasant consequences

Connecting the dots between police violence, gentrification and dramatic housing price inflation, and the new Gilded Age’s kleptocratic elite…

The four police who murdered Alex Nieto on March 21, 2014 were finally named earlier this year after months of obstruction by Police Chief Greg Suhr. Monday March 23 saw over a hundred protesters blockade the Mission Police Station AND an ebay shuttle bus to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Nieto's death, and to continue to push for justice in this and a half dozen other cases of police murder.

The four police who murdered Alex Nieto on March 21, 2014 were finally named earlier this year after months of obstruction by Police Chief Greg Suhr. Monday March 23 saw over a hundred protesters blockade the Mission Police Station AND an ebay shuttle bus to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Nieto’s death, and to continue to push for justice in this and a half dozen other cases of police murder.

The ebay shuttle bus, blockaded in front of the Mission Police Station on Monday morning March 23, 2015.

The ebay shuttle bus, blockaded in front of the Mission Police Station on Monday morning March 23, 2015.

Hardly a day goes by anymore that I don’t get news about another young person gunned down by the police, nearby in San Francisco, or in some other city or suburb elsewhere. Nor does a day go by when we don’t hear about another longtime resident or small business being displaced through breathtakingly brazen rent increases or outright fraud. And as each day of this current credit bubble ticks on, we’re that much closer to the next collapse, the next “this came out of nowhere! Who had any idea it was all so fragile?!?” empty economy unraveling.

Meanwhile, highrises are climbing to the sky in most major cities… “Vertical money” or “safe deposit boxes in the sky” is how Martin Filler put it in his recent essay in the New York Review of Books (“New York: Conspicuous Construction”). Comparing the highrises in Manhattan to the contemporary art market, Filler notes that “multimillion dollar paintings and sculptures have become favored instruments in the global transfer of vast and largely unregulated sums. The more expensive the object, the more money can be shifted internationally in one transaction…” The displacement and disruption being caused by the inexorable climb in real estate values (and floor heights, these days!) is a symptom of the extreme concentration of wealth that has accelerated during the neoliberal period of the past quarter century. Driving the mind-boggling speculation in real estate in most major cities is the enormous wealth in few hands which needs a safe place to “land”—and that turns out to be literally land!

Rincon Hill and South of Market are being built out with highrise luxury condominiums and more redundant office towers.

Rincon Hill and South of Market are being built out with highrise luxury condominiums and more redundant office towers.

In 1840, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon famously said “property is theft” but no one could have imagined just how extreme the organized crime underlying today’s international kleptocratic class of plutocrats would be. How does this fit with the everyday state violence being unleashed all too regularly in American cities? The polite term is gentrification but it ought to be labeled for what it is: ethnic cleansing. Americans wring their hands over such activities in other parts of the world, but carry on living in an extremely segregated society. Even in San Francisco, a city that prides itself on a usually undeserved reputation for social liberalism and tolerance, the patterns of police violence are unmistakeable. More »

A Festival of Empire Wrapped in Technological Hubris

The Palace of Fine Arts lit up on the opening night of the centennial to match the lighting scheme that left such an impression a century ago.

The Palace of Fine Arts lit up on the opening night of the centennial to match the lighting scheme that left such an impression a century ago.

The Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) took place 100 years ago in San Francisco. It officially commemorated two major events: the opening of the Panama Canal and the rebuilding of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire. Now San Francisco is celebrating the centennial with parties and discussions and art shows, all nurturing a nostalgic ardor for the long-forgotten Fair, its short-lived but stunning fair grounds, and less consciously, a yearning for the certainties of that bygone era.

Like all World’s Fairs during the pre-WWI era, it was an extravaganza of technological and industrial innovations, fueling desires and shaping imaginations. Before multimillion dollar advertising budgets, World’s Fairs gave businesses their best chance to present their wares to a broad, often international audience. The PPIE benefited from the concentration of so many products and manufacturers, helping to stimulate a lively convention business in San Francisco during its run. As Laura Ackley’s fine overview of the Fair (“San Francisco’s Jewel City”) emphasizes:

The exhibits reflected the Fair’s dual goals: to serve as “University of the World” and “Shop-Window of Civilization.” … A week at the Exposition “will give you a view of the World’s Progress that could not be obtained in a Year of Travel,” proclaimed a pamphlet marketing conventions at the Fair… More than 900 congresses and conferences were held during the year, and were credited with boosting daily attendance from about 25,000 per day to more than 60,000 per day.

The multi-acre Panama Canal exhibit that allowed PPIE visitors to see the extent of the engineering effort that connected the Caribbean to the Pacific.

The multi-acre Panama Canal exhibit that allowed PPIE visitors to see the extent of the engineering effort that connected the Caribbean to the Pacific.

The PPIE enthusiastically celebrated the promise of accelerated and expanded global trade facilitated by the opening of the Panama Canal, even while WWI raged across Europe and the Atlantic Ocean. The European world system, dominated by England, France, and Germany, went to war despite the massive socialist working-class movements in each country. Internationalist and socialist workers who opposed national frontiers and nationalist wars on principle nevertheless voted in their respective parliaments for the war credits that paid for the barbarism that ensued.

The United States was determined to stay out of the war and during 1915 President Woodrow Wilson maintained a non-interventionist foreign policy. His Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, committed to avoiding war, resigned in June when Wilson sent a letter of reproach to Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm after German u-boats sank the Lusitania in 1915. Two weeks after Bryan gave a speech at PPIE on July 5 calling for peace, former president Teddy Roosevelt came through to exhort the belligerent inclinations of the population and to demand “preparedness,” the code word then for war.

San Francisco had large immigrant populations of German, Irish, Italian, and Chinese. The city was divided between those with sympathies toward the British and French side, or the Germans on the other, but after the sinking of the Lusitania, most Americans turned against the Germans. Meanwhile, General Pershing was in Texas preparing to lead an army into Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa and his revolutionary troops in 1916, before he would lead U.S. forces into WWI in 1917. Other U.S. soldiers were still engaged in hostilities in the Philippines, seventeen years after the United States had fraudulently annexed that country under the cover of the Spanish-American war. The Presidio—adjacent to the PPIE grounds—was an important military base housing thousands of soldiers coming and going from these wars. Isolationism still had political support from many, but realistically, the U.S. was well on its long path to global superpower status.

Before computers... but it's the keyboard we still have! ... 21-foot wide 14-ton Underwood Typewriter striking a 9-foot wide sheet of paper.

Before computers… but it’s the keyboard we still have! … 21-foot wide 14-ton Underwood Typewriter striking a 9-foot wide sheet of paper.

The PPIE helped showcase new developments which came to underpin the U.S. war machine in following decades (from Ackley’s “Jewel City”):

… a grim portent of the Great War (WWI) was on display. The Holt Manufacturing Company of California displayed a train of Holt Caterpillar trucks drawn by a Caterpillar tractor featuring the first commercially successful continuous track, the forerunner of modern tank treads. In 1915 six European armies were using these vehicles for military transportation, and by the following year Holt machines were being sold to the Allied Forces and refitted as true armored tanks.

Adventurous citizens could take airplane rides at the Exposition, as brother Malcolm and Allan Loughead ran a charter hydro-aeroplane service, offering ten-minute flights for $10. Each flight passed over the Presidio to Fort Point, up the Marin Headlands, and back over Sausalito and Alcatraz before landing in the water and taxiing up a wooden ramp. This was the first airplane ride for nearly every customer, made all the more hair-raising because the blue of the bay could be seen through the floorboards of the homemade craft.

The PPIE marked a turning point for the Loughead brothers. The… early charter flights failed to make money. After paying Exposition concession fees the brothers made a $4,000 profit, money they used to found what would become—after a spelling change—the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation.

During the years-long planning and construction process, local businessmen dominated the preparations and controlled the event, keeping corporate enterprise in the driver’s seat. Already the ideology of “growth” dominated the political visions of businessmen and citizens across the political spectrum. Organized labor, so strong during the first decade of the 20th century, had seen its power diminishing since the election of “Sunny Jim” Rolph, displacing the Union Labor Party from the mayor’s office for good. AFL unions, especially those organized under the Building Trades Council, were nervous about asserting themselves too aggressively, a stance that suited Fair managers just fine. In fact, tens of thousands of unskilled workers had poured into San Francisco between 1911 and 1914 seeking work building the Fair, threatening to undercut the wages and standards established by the unions. More »

Tequila!

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Early 20th century Babcock and Wilcox boiler at the La Martineña tequilaria. We were able to wander around freely through the facilities, which weren’t in use at this time of the year.

 

This is a photo essay, the last from our recent journey to Mexico, covering Tequila, a UNESCO Heritage site in the state of Jalisco between Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta. The town sits in a valley, surrounded with beautiful hills. It’s an old historic place, with two centuries of tequila making under its belt. The famous brands, Jose Cuervo (the crow), and Sauza, both have major facilities tricked out for tourist visits. But what we really loved was the hundred-year-old tequilarias that still fill the back streets along the Atizcua River that runs through the town.

Close-up on the boiler's provenance.

Close-up on the boiler’s provenance.

Adriana and her mom under the "cuervo" at Jose Cuervo's fancy-schmantz tequila factory and tourist center (rather Disney-ish, actually).

Adriana and her mom under the “cuervo” at Jose Cuervo’s fancy-schmantz tequila factory and tourist center (rather Disney-ish, actually).

Here's a bunch of the agave plants that are the source of tequila growing above the old laundry washing area in the heart of the old part of town.

Here’s a bunch of the agave plants that are the source of tequila growing above the old laundry washing area in the heart of the old part of town.

Here's the 82 laundry stations where the town's laundry was done for more than a century, prior to better plumbing.

Here’s the 82 laundry stations where the town’s laundry was done for more than a century, prior to better plumbing.

This is a spring adjacent to the laundry zone, still flourishing.

This is a spring adjacent to the laundry zone, still flourishing.

Inside the Cuervo facility I did come upon this eerily beautiful view from their chapel towards a blue courtyard.

Inside the Cuervo facility I did come upon this eerily beautiful view from their chapel towards a blue courtyard.

We followed the tequila route to the older facilities upstream from the tourist-ified centro.

We followed the tequila route to the older facilities upstream from the tourist-ified centro.

More »

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