New housing in Boston

Sadly, this is the type of housing being built in Boston:

The penthouse in Millennium Tower Boston just went on the market for $37.5 million, among the priciest properties in the state. Due to open in summer 2016, the 625-foot skyscraper will be the first ultra luxury high-rise to be constructed amid a building boom that is attracting an influx of wealthy international buyers and billions of dollars of investment.

The claim is that somehow this housing will trickle down to the rest of us, but this is one reason it probably won’t:

“The wind is at their back,” said Blair, the firm’s president. In addition to local residents, she said, luxury units in Boston and other US cities have become a popular investment for international buyers looking for a place to store their cash.

With real estate prices rising, Boston is seen as a safe haven for those buyers, as well as an increasingly attractive place to own a slice of the skyline.

Mayor Walsh has said some good things:

Boston needs to build 53,000 housing units by 2030 to keep pace with rapid population growth that is already increasing prices and squeezing out low- and middle-income residents, according to a city report.

The report by Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration, previewed by city officials on Wednesday, calls for $21 billion in private and public construction that would increase Boston’s overall housing stock by 20 percent over the next two decades.

Walsh wants to limit further real estate price inflation by creating 20,000 units for middle-income residents, largely built by private developers. His plan would loosen zoning restrictions and provide financial incentives to encourage construction of taller buildings in outlying neighborhoods. It would offer developers tax incentives and other assistance to help reach that goal.

He also wants to increase annual city funding for low-income housing by 65 percent, to $51 million, and require developers of downtown luxury complexes to pay more and build affordable units at other locations.

Sounds ok, but there are some problems–one note the amount targeted for low-income housing and notice it’s not much more than the one condo for sale at the new luxury place. You can see the full report is here. In it we get:

The City is defining its middle class as households with incomes between $50,000 and $125,000. The range begins at $50,000, reflecting Boston’s median income of $53,000. Household income of $50,000 is also the level where eligibility for most government-assisted housing ends, so market-based solutions become critical.
Boston still has a sizable middle class, representing 34 percent of its households. Compared to the region, however, Boston’s middle class is smaller, younger, and has a lower homeownership rate (43 percent) compared to the region (69 percent).
Middle class households face unprecedented difficulties in accessing the market. Today, a household with an income at the midpoint of middle class range ($80,000) can only afford the bottom 23 percent of the homeownership market in Boston, and is priced out of seven of Boston’s 15 neighborhoods. That same $80,000 income is currently enough to afford 51 percent of the rental market; however, rents are rising at five times the rate of income, making the rental market increasingly unaffordable as well.

So, they are defining middle class as households that make more than the median–seems a funny way to define it. In any case, remember that when you see tables such as:

Production Source New Units
City Assisted Low-Income: Non-Senior 6,500
City Assisted Low-Income: Senior 1,500
Middle-Income Inclusionary/Assisted 4,000
Middle-Income Unassisted: Non-Senior 11,000
Middle-Income Unassisted: Senior 2,500
Middle-Income Units Released via Dorm Production 5,000
Market-Rate Unassisted: Senior & Non-Senior 18,500
Market-Rate Units to Support Market-Stabilizing Vacancy Rate 4,000
Total 53,000

You might notice that 8000 are for ‘low-income’ households which make up about 50% of households in Boston right now. Compare that to the 22,500 for market-rate (read luxury) units.

That’s better than what we’ve been getting:

Without financial incentive, the mayor’s report concludes, developers will continue to focus on building luxury complexes that command the highest rents and offer the best returns. More than 8,000 new apartments are expected to be completed in Boston during the next three years, but the vast majority are expected to rent for $3,500 a month or more.

but still not good enough. And now let’s look at the mayor’s comments to another luxury building:

In a statement, Walsh praised AvalonBay’s project. “We are getting the mix of housing that we really need, and it’s coming in the form of a signature high-rise that will be a great addition to the area’s historic buildings and all of our new parks,” he said.

Yeah, I’m not holding my breath that Walsh will actually follow through on his plan. If you go to the BRA’s page listing affordable units available you will find there are none.

At least he admitted there were poor people

Well, this is an interesting statement:

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said that if the government met student demands and allowed candidates to be nominated by the public, Hong Kong’s poor and working class could dominate the elections.

He warned that if candidates were nominated by the public, the population that earns less than the median monthly salary of US$1,800 could dominate the process.

“If it’s entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you’d be talking to the half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than US$1,800 a month,” Mr. Leung said.

Now in how many ways is this stupid?

  1. It’s obviously going to inflame the students.
  2. He just called half of the population in Hong Kong too stupid to be allowed to vote.
  3. He believes, obviously, that people who earn under the median income vote monolithically, while those above do not.
  4. China is supposed to be a Communist country–a system where there isn’t supposed to be classes and rule by the proletariat, that would be the working class.
  5. At a time when the wealth gap in Hong Kong is getting a lot of press does he really want to emphasize the divide?

But the US is against chemical weapons

There were chemical weapons in Iraq and the Bush administration lied about them (I’m shocked!!):

Participants in the chemical weapons discoveries said the United States suppressed knowledge of finds for multiple reasons, including that the government bristled at further acknowledgment it had been wrong. “They needed something to say that after Sept. 11 Saddam used chemical rounds,” Mr. Lampier said. “And all of this was from the pre-1991 era.”

Others pointed to another embarrassment. In five of six incidents in which troops were wounded by chemical agents, the munitions appeared to have been designed in the United States, manufactured in Europe and filled in chemical agent production lines built in Iraq by Western companies.

Iraq had attacked Iran in late 1980, expecting quick victory against a military sapped of officers by Iran’s revolutionary purges. Mr. Hussein also thought Iranians might rise against their new religious leaders.

He miscalculated. By June 1981, as Iran blunted Iraq’s incursions and unleashed its air force against Iraqi cities, Mr. Hussein was seeking new weapons. He created a secret program — known as Project 922 — that produced blister and nerve agents by the hundreds of tons, according to Iraq’s confidential declarations in the 1990s to the United Nations.

War provided urgency; Mr. Hussein added the cash. Western nations, some eager to contain Iran’s Islamic revolutionary state after the American hostage crisis from 1979 to 1981, lent Iraq support.

With remarkable speed, Iraq built a program with equipment and precursor purchases from companies in an extraordinary array of countries, eventually including the United States, according to its confidential declarations.

German construction firms helped create a sprawling manufacturing complex in the desert south of Samarra and three plants in Falluja that made precursor ingredients for chemical weapons. The complex near Samarra, later renamed Al Muthanna State Establishment, included research labs, production lines, testing areas and storage bunkers.

Iraq produced 10 metric tons of mustard blister agent in 1981; by 1987 its production had grown 90-fold, with late-war output aided by two American companies that provided hundreds of tons of thiodiglycol, a mustard agent precursor. Production of nerve agents also took off.

Rising production created another need. Mr. Hussein’s military did not possess the munitions for dispersing chemical agents. So it embarked on another buying spree, purchasing empty ordnance — aviation bombs from a Spanish manufacturer, American-designed artillery shells from European companies, and Egyptian and Italian ground-to-ground rockets — to be filled in Iraq.

So while the US was backing Saddam Hussein and Iraq, Iraq had and used chemical weapons (with the US and allies helping); after the US broke with Iraq (dramatically with the first Iraq war) they mostly stopped making and using chemical weapons. Makes me proud to be an American.

Where’s my Swiffer

The Hubble telescope took this picture of the NGC 4206 galaxy. It’s not a perfect shot because of the dust which actually is good for the scientists because it helps them with measurements. Anyway, here it is (Credit:ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Nick Rose):

A dusty spiral in Virgo

Happy Hatuey day

It seems that Christopher Columbus is not as popular as he used to be:

This year’s Columbus Day holiday will have a slightly different, more Native flavor in the city of Seattle. Thanks to a unanimous vote this summer by the city council, the federal holiday will now be known by a different name: Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Seattle isn’t the first place to give the holiday a makeover. Earlier this year, the Minneapolis City Council also renamed Columbus Day Indigenous Peoples’ Day. South Dakota celebrates Native American Day in “remembrance of the great Native American leaders who contributed so much to the history of our state.” Hawaii observes Discoverers’ Day in which Polynesian explorers are honored.

You can understand why using the words of Columbus:

I saw some with marks of wounds on their bodies, and I made signs to. ask what it was, and they gave me to understand that people from other adjacent islands came with the intention of seizing them, and that they defended themselves. I believed, and still believe, that they come here from the mainland to take them prisoners. They should be good servants and intelligent, for I observed that they quickly took in what was said to them, and I believe that they would easily be made Christians, as it appeared to me that they had no religion. I, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highnesses, that they may learn to speak.

Columbus finds the natives a peaceful  and intelligent, so he thinks they would make good slaves.

They brought skeins of cotton thread, parrots, darts, and other small things which it would be tedious to recount, and they give all in exchange for anything that may be given to them. I was attentive, and took trouble to ascertain if there was gold. I saw that some of them had a small piece fastened in a hole they have in the nose, and by signs I was able to make out that to the south, or going from the island to the south, there was a king who had great cups full, and who possessed a great quantity. I tried to get them to go there, but afterwards I saw that they had no inclination. I resolved to wait until to-morrow in the afternoon and then to depart, shaping a course to the S.W., for, according to what many of them told me there was land to the S., to the S.W., and N.W., and that the natives from the N.W. often came to attack them, and went on to the S.W. in search of gold and precious stones.

He learns that there is gold held by some of the tribes and resolves to take it.

for these people are very simple as regards the use of arms, as your Highnesses will see from the seven that I caused to be taken, to bring home and leaning our language and return ; unless your Highnesses should order them all to be brought to Castile, or to be kept as captives on the same island; for with fifty men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them.

He finds that they aren’t very warlike and so could all be easily conquered and brought into slavery.

What a wonderful person to have a holiday for (there’s a nice recap here or here). As an aside, when Columbus arrived in Hispaniola there were somewhere between 100,000 and 1,000,000 Taino. There were estimated to be about 500 fifty years later (to be fair, many of the deaths were due to disease such as smallpox that were brought to the ‘New World’).

I think we should instead have a holiday for Hatuey (or go see an earlier post):

He showed the Taíno of Caobana a basket of gold and jewels, saying:

Here is the God the Spaniards worship. For these they fight and kill; for these they persecute us and that is why we have to throw them into the sea… They tell us, these tyrants, that they adore a God of peace and equality, and yet they usurp our land and make us their slaves. They speak to us of an immortal soul and of their eternal rewards and punishments, and yet they rob our belongings, seduce our women, violate our daughters. Incapable of matching us in valor, these cowards cover themselves with iron that our weapons cannot break.

 

Capitalism

Looking at this article, Kevin Drum notes:

How about that? If you pay more, you attract workers with the right skills. If you pay more, training programs start to fill up. If you pay more, you can steal folks away from your competitors.

Pay is the great equalizer. There are always going to be shortages of specific skills in specific times and places. But a long-term nationwide shortage? That just means employers aren’t willing to pay market wages. They should read their Milton Friedman. If you pay them, they will come.

This is what I’m always thinking when there are articles about employers having trouble finding workers–they’re having trouble finding workers at the salary they want to pay. Employers don’t like the Free Market (!) when it favors the workers.

You can see an extreme example here (the fact that this is the states complaining makes it even worse):

With numerous states pushing for a delay, the Obama administration announced Tuesday that it would put off enforcement of its plan to extend minimum-wage and overtime protections to the nation’s nearly two million home-care workers.

Home-care industry officials warned that the increased costs caused by the new rule might make many families unable to afford home care and might push more Americans who are disabled or older than 65 into nursing homes, increasing costs for the government. Moreover, some states warned of increased Medicaid costs.

Hey, if we stopped paying them altogether we could really reduce costs.

 

More states have same-sex marriage

Well then:

The Supreme Court on Monday unexpectedly dismissed appeals from five states seeking to keep their same-sex marriage bans, a move that effectively expanded the right of gay couples to marry to 30 states.

The announcement — a decade after Massachusetts became the first state to approve same-sex marriage — meant that a much-awaited final showdown over the legality of same-sex marriage nationwide may not get settled this term. But the immediate impact of the court’s action still proved dramatic.

It set off a flurry of ceremonies and social-media celebrations in five states where gay marriage was suddenly legal, and anticipation in six more likely to be affected by the decision.

Think about it–two years ago (October 2012) there were 6 states and DC where same-sex marriage was legal; this decision means there are now 24 with 6 almost guaranteed to follow. Wow.

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