Thursday, September 28, 2023

Another Environmental Justice Victory: City buys 6.5 acres of pristine San Sebastian River waterfront property for $1.935 million

It takes a village.

Good news; another environmental justice victory!  

Our Nation's Oldest City's Florida Avenue and Julia Street neighborhood is getting a new park.  

An area long neglected, due to environmental racism, is grateful for the land acquisition.

Congratulations to City Commissioners, including Cynthia Garris and Barbara Blonder.

There were two appraisals, and the seller agreed to to pay the price found by the City's appraisal, $1.935 million, which is perhaps a tad much, but the neighbors are happy and so are we all.  I do hope the City obtains Florida Forever funding.

While the City of St. Augustine is paying closing costs, it oddly let the seller pick the title company, either Estate Title or Knight Berry Title. 

Wonder why?  

The party who pays the vendor typically picks the vendor in real estate transactions.  

Except, in our area, some mismanaged municipal governments apparently pay for the title insurance and let the seller pick the title insurance company.  

Wonder why?  

Do our local municipalities have a well-deserved reputation as developer doormats?

What do you reckon?

Anyway, celebrate the victory.

With maladroit mis-managers like St. Augustine City Manager DAVID DOUGLAS BIRCHIM in high-paid management jobs, what do you expect?

You tell me.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

‘This Is Going to Be the Most Important Election Since 1860’. (Thomas B. Edsall, NY Times guest essay)

The 2024 election promises to be a watershed year for preserving our democratic republic. 

Incisive column by Thomas B. Edsall, quoting experts, including former AFL-CIO political director Michael Podhorzer, who was my boss at the Consumer Federation of America in 1978, working on a report for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment on the effects of higher energy prices on poor people.  

To the three (3) local Republicans who urged me to change my party registration and run for St. Johns County Commissioner as a Republican, NOPE!  

In ordinary times, I might have been flattered, but Commissioner Krista Keating-Joseph, Nicole Crosby and Marty Miller, I say NOPE!

As RFK said in 1968, "these are not ordinary times and this is no ordinary election."

Our Nation's democratic republican form of government must be preserved and protected, thank you. 

From The New York Times:

‘This Is Going to Be the Most Important Election Since 1860’

The top of an American flag throws shadows on the curtain behind it.
Credit...Mark Peterson for The New York Times
The top of an American flag throws shadows on the curtain behind it.

Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C., on politics, demographics and inequality.

I recently sent out a list of questions about the 2024 elections to political operatives, pollsters and political scientists.

  • How salient will abortion be?

  • How damaging would a government shutdown be to Donald Trump and the Republican Party?

  • Will the MAGA electorate turn out in high percentages?

  • Will a Biden impeachment by the House, if it happens, help or hurt the G.O.P.?

  • Will the cultural left wing of the Democratic Party undermine the party’s prospects?

  • Will the key battleground states be Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin?

  • How significant will Black and Hispanic shifts to the Republican Party be, and where will these shifts have the potential to determine the outcome?

  • Will Kamala Harris’s presence on the ticket cost President Biden votes?

  • Why hasn’t Biden gained politically from his legislative successes and from improvements in the economy? Will that change before the 2024 elections?

Why should Democrats be worrying?

From 2016 to 2023, according to Morning Consult, the share of voters saying that the Democratic Party “cares about me” fell to 41 percent from 43 percent while rising for the Republican Party to 39 percent from 30 percent; the share saying the Democrats “care about the middle class” fell to 46 percent from 47 percent while rising to 42 percent from 33 percent for the Republican Party.

What’s more, the percentage of voters saying the Democratic Party is “too liberal” rose to 47 percent from 40 percent from 2020 to 2023 while the percentage saying the Republican Party was “too conservative” remained constant at 38 percent.

Why should Republicans be worrying?

Robert M. Stein, a political scientist at Rice, responded to my question about MAGA turnout by email: “Turnout among MAGA supporters may be less important than how many MAGA voters there are in the 2024 election and in which states they are.”

One of the most distinctive demographic characteristics of self-identified MAGA voters, Stein pointed out, “is their age: Over half (56 percent) were over the age of 65 as of 2020. By 2024, the proportion of MAGA voters over 70 will be greater than 50 percent and will put these voters in the likely category of voters leaving the electorate, dying, ill and unable to vote.”

Because of these trends, Stein continued, “it may be the case that the absolute number and share of the electorate that are MAGA voters is diluted in 2024 by their own exit from the electorate and the entry of new and younger and non-MAGA voters.”

Along similar lines, Martin Wattenberg, a political scientist at the University of California, Irvine, argued by email that generational change will be a key factor in the elections.

From 2020 to 2024, “about 13 million adult citizens will have died,” and “these lost voters favored Trump in 2020 by a substantial margin. My rough estimate is that removing these voters from the electorate will increase Biden’s national popular vote margin by about 1.2 million votes.”

The aging of the electorate works to the advantage of Biden and his fellow Democrats. So, too, does what is happening with younger voters at the other end of the age distribution. Here, Democrats have an ace in the hole: the strong liberal and Democratic convictions of voters ages 18 to 42, whose share of the electorate is steadily growing.

Joe Trippi, a Democratic consultant, was exuberant on the subject:

Don’t forget Gen Z. They are on fire. Unlike you and me, who dove under our school desks in nuclear attack drills but never experienced a nuclear attack, this generation spent their entire school lives doing mass shooting drills and witnessing a mass shooting at a school in the news regularly.

Young voters, Trippi continued, “are not going to vote G.O.P., and they are going to vote. Dobbs, climate, homophobia, gun violence are all driving this generation away from the G.O.P. — in much the same way that Dems lost the younger generation during the Reagan years.”

Wattenberg was more cautious. He estimated that 15 million young people will become eligible to vote from 2020 to 2024.

“How many of them will vote and how they will vote is a key uncertainty that could determine the election,” he wrote. “Given recent patterns, there is little doubt that those that vote will favor the Democratic nominee. But by how much?”

There are some developments that defy attempts to determine whether Democrats or Republicans will come out ahead in the next elections.

Take the case of all the criminal charges that have been filed against Trump.

In more normal — that is, pre-Trump — days, the fact that the probable Republican nominee faced 91 felony counts would have shifted the scales in favor of the Democrats. But these are not normal times.

Frances Lee, a political scientist at Princeton, pointed out that the 2024 elections have no precedent.

“How will the Trump prosecutions unfold amidst the primaries and the presidential campaign?” Lee asked in an email. “How will developments in these cases be received by Republicans and the public at large? We have little relevant precedent for even considering how these cases are likely to affect the race.”

Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, agreed, writing in an email: “How will Trump’s trials evolve, and how will people react to them? What happens if he is convicted and sentenced? What happens if he is acquitted?”

Lee and Jacobson were joined in this line of thinking by Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, who emailed his view that

the greatest uncertainty on the G.O.P. side is the potential impact of the Trump trials. An acquittal, especially in the first case to go to trial, would almost certainly strengthen him. But what about a conviction, especially if it involves jail time? That may be the greatest uncertainty in American politics in my lifetime.

Some of those I contacted observed that the prospect of one or more third-party bids posed a significant threat to Biden’s chances.

Paul Begala, a Democratic political operative and CNN contributor, wrote by email:

Please allow me to start with what to me is the most critical variable in the 2024 presidential election: Will Dr. Cornel West’s Green Party candidacy swing the election to Donald Trump? If I were working for the Biden-Harris ticket, that’s what would keep me up at night.

In Begala’s opinion, “Dr. West has more charisma, better communications skills and greater potential appeal than Dr. Jill Stein did in 2016. If, in fact, he is able to garner even 2 to 5 percent, that could doom Biden and the country.”

And that, Begala continued, does not “even take into account a potential centrist candidacy under the No Labels banner. Biden won moderates by a 30-point margin (64 to 34), and 38 percent of all voters described themselves as moderate in 2020. If No Labels were to field a viable, centrist candidate, that, too, would doom Biden.”

Norman Ornstein, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, agreed, arguing that third-party candidates are a “huge issue”:

The role of No Labels and, secondarily, of Cornel West: They could be genuine spoilers here. And that is their goal. Harlan Crow and other right-wing billionaires did not give big bucks to No Labels to create more moderate politics and outcomes.

Among those I contacted for this article, there was near unanimous agreement that abortion will continue to be a major issue, as it was in 2022, when abortion rights voters turned out in large numbers, lifting Democrats in key races.

“It is the single most significant factor helping Democrats,” Ornstein declared, adding, “The fact that red states move more and more to extremes — including banning abortions for rape and incest, watching women bleed with untreated miscarriages, seeing doctors flee, criminalizing going to another state — will fire up suburban and young voters.”

Justin Gest, a professor of policy and government at George Mason University, pointed out in an email that

Democrats nationwide are taking a page out of the playbook of former President George W. Bush’s longtime adviser, Karl Rove. In those years, Republicans used state ballot measures and referendums on divisive culture war issues that split their way to mobilize conservative voters. In those days, the subject matter was often gay rights.

Citing a June Ipsos poll that found “public opinion around the Dobbs decision and abortion remains mostly unchanged compared to six months ago,” Gest argued “that abortion remains salient more than a year after the revocation of abortion rights by the U.S. Supreme Court, but Democrats in many states will also use ballot measures to ensure it is top of mind.” Gest noted that “supermajorities of the country favor preserving access to abortion to some extent.”

Stein, however, wrote by email that while a majority of voters have remained in favor of abortion rights, they appear to be placing less importance on the issue than was the case immediately after the Dobbs decision.

Stein pointed to a Morning Consult survey from March that found “10 percent of voters in the most competitive congressional districts rank issues such as abortion as their top voting concern, down from 15 percent in November.”

But, Stein added, Republican state legislators are not helping their political fortunes; they have been unrelenting in their efforts to elevate the prominence of abortion as an issue instead of muting discussion of it. “The recent sentencing of a mother in Nebraska who provided her daughter abortion pills,” he wrote, “puts a very real face on the consequences of Dobbs and restrictions on abortion rights.”

There was some disagreement among those I contacted over the political consequences of a government shutdown, something that could well happen within days unless House Speaker Kevin McCarthy can find a path to enactment of budget legislation.

Lee said that she

would probably discount the effects of a government shutdown. Their effects seem largely to be confined to the shutdown period itself. Once resolved, they quickly fade from memory. Trump presided over the longest government shutdown in history in 2018-19, and that fact played no role in the 2020 elections.

Michael Podhorzer, a former political director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., however, contended that it is “hard to imagine it won’t blow back on them — every previous shutdown has, and this one’s justifications seem nonexistent.”

William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, agreed, writing by email:

Evidence from past shutdowns suggests that it would be damaging, and this time Trump has chosen to get involved directly, which I think is a mistake. Republicans’ dysfunction in recent weeks has occurred in broad daylight, which increases the odds that they’ll get the lion’s share of the blame.

Begala, in character, was the most outspoken:

The G.O.P. is talking about shutting down the government, impeaching the president, removing the speaker and crippling the military by blocking vital promotions. Their brand is chaos. Like Clinton before him, Biden is well positioned to use a government shutdown to jujitsu the G.O.P. and win re-election.

There was also some disagreement among those I queried over whether Harris would cost Biden votes.

Begala dismissed the possibility:

Nope. Democrats tried to make Spiro Agnew an issue; it failed. They tried to make Dan Quayle an issue; failed again. Harris has found her voice on abortion rights, which are a central issue.

Ornstein was succinct: “Vice-presidential candidates do not cost votes.”

Gest, however, argued against this idea:

I think she will. Fairly or unfairly, she is viewed as more threatening to Republicans than Biden himself, which is why the DeSantis campaign has tried to bait her into conflict with his provocations. And because of President Biden’s advancing age, her profile holds more gravity than most running mates.

There is one issue that has been increasingly troubling for Democrats: Will the modest but significant shifts among Black and Hispanic voters toward the Republican Party continue, and will they increase?

Gest wrote that “if Republicans suddenly make significant inroads with Latinos in the Southwest, they could change the dynamics” in states like Arizona and Nevada.

But in order to do so, Gest cautioned, shifts to the Republican Party among minorities “would need to outnumber the pandemic-era arrival of left-leaning transplants from coastal urban cities. To the extent that these transplants have settled in their new homes, they can solidify Democratic support.”

In a December 2022 Politico article, “How Demographic Shifts Fueled by Covid Delivered Midterm Wins for Democrats,” Gest made the case that

data from the U.S. Postal Service and Census Bureau shows how the pandemic drove urban professionals who were able to work remotely — disproportionately Democrats — out of coastal, progressive cities to seek more space or recreational amenities in the nation’s suburbs and Sun Belt. This moved liberals out of electoral districts where Democrats reliably won by large margins into many purple regions that had the potential to swing.

Gest cited large population growth coinciding with much stronger than expected Democratic gains in places like Arizona’s Maricopa County — which, from 2018 to 2022, “gained nearly 100,000 people, and Democrats’ margins rose by 17 points since that year. And Pima County, including Tucson, gained 16,000 people, and its margins in the gubernatorial race swung 16 points for Democrats.”

One source of uncertainty is the media, which can and often does play a key role in setting the campaign agenda. The contest between Hillary Clinton and Trump is a prime example.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard conducted a study, summarized in “Partisanship, Propaganda, & Disinformation: Online Media & the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.” It found that reporting on Clinton was dominated “by coverage of alleged improprieties associated with the Clinton Foundation and emails.”

According to the study, the press, television and online media devoted more space and time to Clinton’s emails than it did to the combined coverage of Trump’s taxes, his comments about womenhis failed “university,” his foundation and his campaign’s dealings with Russia.

In the run-up to 2024, it is unlikely the media could inflict much more damage on Trump, given that the extensive coverage of the 91 felony counts against him has not seemed to affect his favorable or unfavorable rating.

Biden, in contrast, has much more to gain or lose from media coverage. Will it focus on his age or his legislative and policy achievements? On inflation and consumer costs or economic growth and high employment rates? On questions about his ability to complete a second term or the threats to democracy posed by the ascendant right wing of the Republican Party?

Herbert Kitschelt, a political scientist at Duke, argued that matters of immense concern are at stake: “This is going to be the most important election since 1860, because it is going to be about the future of this country as a democracy.”

It will be an election, he continued,

about whether this country will preserve the rule of law in an independent justice system; whether women will be respected as autonomous decision makers or subjected again, step by step, by a religion-encoded male supremacy; whether this country will continue to hold free and fair elections or generalize to the entire realm a new version of what prevailed in the South before the civil rights legislation.

The 2024 election, in Kitschelt’s view, “is the last stand of the nationalist ‘Christian’ white right, as their support is eroding in absolute and relative terms, and of all those who believe that white supremacy across all U.S. institutions needs to be protected, even at the cost of giving up on democracy.”

But on an even larger scale, he argued, “the 2024 election will also be about whether this country will preserve a universalist sense of citizenship or devolve into a polity of splintered identity pressure groups, rent seeking for shares of the pie.”

Unfortunately, Kitschelt concluded, “if the Democrats let the Republicans succeed in priming the identity issues that divide the potential Democratic coalition, the white Christian nationalists will have a greater chance to win.”

And that, of course, is a central goal of Trump’s — and of his campaign.