Google Graffiti seen in San Francisco (or soon will be)

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New York Times Used As Marketing Tool for 5M / Forest City Enterprises

On December 13th the New York Times published the following Op-Ed / marketing piece by Allison Arieff, editor and content strategist for SPUR:

What Tech Hasn’t Learned From Urban Planning by Allison Arieff

SAN FRANCISCO — The tech sector is, increasingly, embracing the language of urban planning — town hall, public square, civic hackathons, community engagement. So why are tech companies such bad urbanists?

Tech companies are scrambling to move into cities — Google will have a larger presence here. VISA and Akamai have ditched the suburbs to come here. Tech tenants now fill 22 percent of all occupied office space in San Francisco — and represented a whopping 61 percent of all office leasing in the city last year. But they might as well have stayed in their suburban corporate settings for all the interacting they do with the outside world. The oft-referred-to “serendipitous encounters” that supposedly drive the engine of innovation tend to happen only with others who work for the same company. Which is weird.   Read more ….


1) The piece is an Op-Ed by the author Allison Arieff who works for SPUR, a pro-development, pro-gentrification organization;

2) Arieff devotes a good portion of her op-ed to highlight 5M Project: “a mixed-use project at San Francisco’s 5th and Mission that is determined to be a public asset as much as a private sector one. 5M shows that tech (and non-tech) companies can become an essential part of the urban fabric in a way that satisfies employees and their neighbors. The project houses tech companies (most recently, the mobile payment company, Square, which is moving down the street; their space will be taken over by Yahoo engineers) but also The San Francisco Chronicle. This is a much more outward-facing endeavor: With weekly food trucks at lunchtime, numerous public events hosted by their tenants, which include TechShop, HubSoma (a co-working space/tech incubator), and Intersection for the Arts (a gallery), 5M builds on the vitality of public space and the people who activate it.”

3) 5M Project is Forest City Enterprises, a $9-billion publicly traded corporation that often uses eminent domain to displace residents, including the infamous Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn (check out one of the trailers for the film “Battle For Brooklyn” about the project here:

4) Alexa Arena, director of Forest City Enterprises / 5M Project in San Francisco is a Vice Chair on the Board at SPUR where the author of this op-ed, Allison Arieff works – so this article appears to really be part of 5M / Forest City Enterprises’ marketing campaign.

5) While Arieff makes some good, valid points regarding the tech sector’s colonization of public space, her op-ed lacks a deeper analysis of the overall impact on the greater community – those who are housing unstable and who are low- and middle- income and how projects such as 5M Project/ Forest City are actually a considerable part of the problem and the colonization of public space, helping to displace longtime residents – especially communities of color and immigrant populations and strongly contributing to the gentrification of San Francisco.

6) In addition to the South of Market neighborhood Forest City is also working to gentrify the Bayview / Hunter’s Point neighborhood through the same tactics that Afieff outlines here – by appearing to be a part of the community and investing in it, when in fact the ultimate goal is pure profit for the corporation’s stock holders.

Posted in "What Tech Hasn't Learned From Urban Planning", 5M, Alexa Arena, Allison Arieff, Battle For Brooklyn, CAPITALISM, COLONIALISM, Colonization of Public Space, CORPORATE BRUTALITY, Displacement, EVIL CORPORATIONS, Forest City Enterprises, Gentrification, GREED, INCOME INEQUALITY, New York Times, San Francisco, SPUR, TAX THE RICH, Tech, Urban Planning | Leave a comment

How Clarion Alley Mural Project Met Developer Dan Safier and The Prado Group

Developing Divisions – by Steven T. Jones, SF Bay Guardian

38 Dolores Street, San Francisco Gentrification Project by Dan Safier and the Prado Group

With the clink of champagne glasses, kudos to the development team and its community partners, and the cutting of a red ribbon, the new housing development at 38 Dolores St. had its grand opening celebration on Nov. 14, a couple weeks after the Whole Foods on its ground floor opened its doors to Market Street.

In many ways, 38 Dolores is pretty typical of the new housing opening in this part of town these days. It took seven years to complete the project, “on time and under budget in a way this community can be proud of,” developer Dan Safier of The Prado Group told the assembled crowd.  Read more …

How Clarion Alley Mural Project Met Developer Dan Safier and the Prado Group
This past summer a group of business execs, all clad in expensive black suits rolled into Clarion Alley with a camera crew. As is the case when private tour groups (often part of larger foodie or boutique packages) appear on the alley with little or no connection to the community’s history or struggles, these folks looked ridiculous. Surrounded by murals, most with messages of social and political dissidence (Malcolm X, homelessness, queerness, solidarity for those being forced out by the forces of gentrification, “Tax The Rich”) and standing amidst the strong scent of urine, scattered debris, artists painting, and a small community of homeless vets asking for change, this group could not have looked more out of place. Mesmerized by the space, they were scurrying about scouting for areas to film while excitedly discussing how they’d recently discovered this “magical alley.”

As one of the artists painting on the alley that day and one of the organizers of the overall mural project, I casually approached the man who appeared to be in charge of the team of 1% interlopers and asked what they were filming. He replied that it was for his business’ Website. I pressed for more information and he asked who I was. I introduced myself and told him that I was an organizer with Clarion Alley Mural Project then asked if he had a card. He didn’t, but introduced himself as Dan Safier and his business as the Prado Group. He’d never heard of the Clarion Alley Mural Project.

With confirmation that this was in fact a corporate shoot, I informed him of CAMP’s policy of “no commercial, for-profit, and/or corporate” usage of the murals. Like most folks who hear this, he didn’t understand what I meant since the alley is a public space. I further explained the project’s 20+-year history and that as a volunteer-run, non-profit organization, a committed and revolving group of us have collectively donated tens-of-thousands of hours over two decades organizing, managing, and maintaining the murals on the alley and hosting an annual free public block party with two stages of various bands playing for a day in celebration of the communities that CAMP serves. I reiterated that as a community project, the murals are free for enjoying, but not available for use in commercial, for-profit endeavors.

Everything I said seemed foreign, or rather silly and flowery to this group, as they had varying degrees of smirks on their faces while I gave them some background on the “magical alley” they had discovered. Mr. Safier then wanted to know how the project’s policies were enforced. I reiterated that CAMP is a non-profit organization. He pushed further – who is in charge? What the address of the project’s website? Where are our offices? At that point, I realized it would be easiest and take up less of all of our time if I would just speak in a language that he and his “team” were familiar with: “We register our works with the U.S. Copyright Office and we have an attorney, that’s how we enforce our policies.” Team Prado Group huddled to discuss and then packed up and left.

It was yet another moment that has become all too familiar in San Francisco; a moment of contemporary colonialism in which a privileged few have discovered a new space that they want to claim as their own via the image it can provide as their marketing tool for profit. A space, that rather than getting to know the background of, and giving the respect due to those who have put the time, energy, and love into to creating it’s allure, is viewed as a disposable commodity to use and exploit. It seems those messages of dissent, permeating wafts of urine, piles of debris, mangy-looking artists, and the men and women who once wore a uniform in the name of a country they would die for, but are now forced to beg for change in to survive – are all “magical” if they can provide the gritty backdrop for a bunch of greedy developers to sell their gentrification projects to other shallow, greedy kin. Otherwise, these “magical” elements are just nuisances and impediments to be discarded and destroyed.

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read: ‘Sleepwalking to Extinction’: Capitalism and the Destruction of Life and Earth

This recent Adbusters article makes the case that we are at the most crucial point in human history… and that we we need a paradigm shift. And guess what we have to shift away from: capitalism. And this piece really makes a good start at challenging every reformist plan in the works… including the failed COP negotiations. It is time to power down.

“If there’s no market mechanism to stop plundering the planet then, again, what alternative is there but to impose an emergency contraction on resource consumption?

This doesn’t mean we would have to de-industrialize and go back to riding horses and living in log cabins. But it does mean that we would have to abandon the “consumer economy” — shut down all kinds of unnecessary, wasteful and polluting industries from junkfood to cruise ships, disposable Pampers to disposable H&M clothes, disposable IKEA furniture, endless new model cars, phones, electronic games, the lot. Plus all the banking, advertising, junk mail, most retail, etc. We would have completely redesign production to replace “fast junk food” with healthy, nutritious, fresh “slow food,” replace “fast fashion” with “slow fashion,” bring back mending, alterations and local tailors and shoe repairmen. We would have to completely redesign production of appliances, electronics, housewares, furniture and so on to be as durable and long-lived as possible. Bring back appliance repairmen and such. We would have to abolish the throwaway disposables industries, the packaging and plastic bag industrial complex, bring back refillable bottles and the like. We would have to design and build housing to last for centuries, to be as energy efficient as possible, to be reconfigurable, and shareable. We would have to vastly expand public transportation to curb vehicle use but also build those we do need to last and be shareable like Zipcar or Paris’ municipally-owned “Autolib” shared electric cars.”

Read the rest of the article here.

And – what would need to happen first, is for everyone to understand that they would have a way to make a living before this power down occurs. That way, we could move forward doing what is necessary to keep life on the planet alive for future generations instead of keeping profits alive for corporations while heading off the cliff. Leave it to artists to come up with a plan that might just work.

German-born artist named Enno Schmidt is one of the generators of Switzerland’s proposal to pay people for being alive. With the vast numbers who are thrown out of the labor market by increasing productivity (produced by the workers… by the way…) and the corporations and 1% holding onto the virtual cash that has been produced  by workers over the last century, those entities unwilling to invest in real employment, a real solution has to be developed. Read about the referendum in Switzerland that will pay people for just being alive. And think about how we could begin to change our system … to stop all production that uploads carbon into the atmosphere… with this as a start.

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Twitter IPO

I was overcome with a feeling of nausea when I read that the twitter IPO has created 1,600 new millionaires – the bulk of these most likely in San Francisco, twitter’s headquarters and the city where I live. My feelings about twitter’s IPO is only matched by revulsion at the site of the Google, yahoo, box, and other technology company buses ferrying their employees down to Silicon Valley.

Arround the turn of the millenium, the dot com bubble resulted in a major change in the demographics of San Francisco, with many lower income people (including many artists) evicted from their apartments to make way for higher rents and the tech workers who could afford them. The bubble burst but now we are seeing much larger changes in San Francisco, because it’s not a burstable bubble any more it is the new long term reality. Those of us who have erected barricades at the doors of our rent-controlled apartments are among the few lower income (by San Francisco standards) residents who can live here. And if we leave, we can never afford to return. But, really, who wants to live here any more with the evil speeding black buses, the hoards of technocrati maruading down Valencia Street on Saturday night, the breathless adulation of everything tech-related? The income and reality gap is huge. The other day I walked past the line for the Google bus on 24th Street and a homeless guy was lying face down in front of them, oblivous as they stared into their smartphones. I checked on the man to see if he was OK, and he grunted an affirmative reply. The scene is emblematic of what is going on in this city, if not globally.

But, where does all the money come from? How can twitter be a viable business where massive fortunes are being made? What is it selling? The chilling answer is that we are the commodity, we are the product. Twitter’s (and facebook’s, and google’s) massive database of users is what is worth the billions of dollars of its IPO. The social network connects more of us to the database, and the number of users increases exponentially. As Guy Debord writes in the Society of the Spectacle, “The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as society itself, as a part of society, and as a means of unification.” The more we are connected, the more we can be manipulated.

It’s nothing as blatant or as simple as advertisements on twitter pages. Rather, twitter will be selling us to other media outlets which rely on advertising, like TV. I just read an article in Fast Company that presenting twitter’s strategy to do exactly that. And, you can read about it straight from twitter in a promotional piece that reads like a parody of Orwellian mind control.

And what is being advertised? Cars, hair color, detergent, target, Home Depot, etc, of course, but it’s the perpetual idyll that consumption is still the inevitable path to happiness that’s the important overall message – exploitation of labor and the environment be damned. Social networks are a mobius strip that appear to turn the world upside down but take us back to where we started. There are reports that twitter has been used for revolutionary purposes (for example in Iran, Egypt and Libya), but I would argue  that reports of the importance of such uses are exaggerated (see for example this report, and this one) and that rather, twitter represents a further stage of the capitalist revolution, in which we become even more fully integrated into the spectacle.

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It’s time for another Dream House Raffle!

This time it’s the Silicon Valley version

Scroll down the raffle’s home page and you’ll see that one of the two sponsors of the raffle is Titan 360 – the outdoor advertising giant. Check out their stomach churning video about the San Francisco DMA (Designated Market Area) and how their advertising dominates San Francisco residents. YBCA’s mission statement talks about propelling short and long term social change — but what kind of social change is propelled by a collaboration with Titan?

It is sad that these days that YBCA (and most other major arts organizations) find it necessary to collaborate with corporations that are at the forefront of promoting an unsustainable economic system, fostering inequality, and blighting our public space with messages we do not want to see, and which nobody asked our permission to show us. The opposite of art is propaganda.

For more on the Dream House Raffle, see my previous post.


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Behind the Mesh Curtain

It seems obvious that superior service is provided to those with more buying power. However, some situations the class dynamics are more obvious.

Fluffy Robe, Crown Metropole, Perth

Firstly, what is meant by “service”? Physical comfort or sustenance (hygiene factors) are two things that can gained from spending more money, but in most cases, the additional service is only considered superior because the person has paid more for it. The curve of hygiene quality versus expenditure is not linear – at some point, the curve levels out and the additional expenditure buys only status. Is the sound quality in the seats in the orchestra zone really that much better than the seats in the upper tier? Does a $500 a night room provide more shelter or comfort than a $100 dollar room? Are fluffy robes and down pillows really worth $400?

The rich are of course buying status or, which amounts to the same thing, they are paying to exclude others. A space where this is particularly obvious is airplane cabin. Due to the linear geometry, those in first class are not just  just excluding the hoi poloi but watching as they file to the back of the plane, struggling with their carry-ons and writhing children. I often look at them as they sip their champagne and wonder how they feel: guilty or gloating, or just don’t give a fuck because we’re not even on their radars?

The gap between first class and economy has increased over time – paralleling the growing gap between rich and poor. The drastically reduced leg room territory in economy has been ceded to the first class fiefdom. Is there anyone who does not find grotesque the image of the fully reclining first class sleeper seat? In it lounges the quintessentially pampered passenger completely immobile while tended to by an army of in flight attendants. The whole grotesque scene looks like something out of the hospital of the future.

Korean Air "Kosmo Suite"

Korean Air "Kosmo Suite" (photo courtesy Korean Airlines)

But it is the exclusionary curtain that truly defines the difference between classes on airplanes. Until 2001, these curtains were heavy opaque barriers like the one shown below. Such curtains, deployed at the boundary between airplane seeting classes, virtually provided a real physical barrier when hooked into place.

Spectra Aircraft Fabric and Drapery Fabric

Spectra Aircraft Fabric and Drapery Fabric (photo courtesy Spectra Interior Products)

Since 2001, however, the US Transportation Safety Administration has banned the use of such curtains for security reasons. Presumably, they impeded the crew’s (and inflight security personnel) ability to scan the plane for terrorists. Lantal, a “transportation fashion” company devised a solution:

After September 2001, Class Divider Curtains were removed by TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) on all flights in and out of the United States for security reasons. This left airline operators with an almost impossible task to maintain class separation during flight and adhere to the new security mandate. In August 2003, launch customer Continental Airlines came to Lantal for a solution to this problem.

Patrick Ashton, Continental Interiors Engineer quotes, ‘Lantal was instrumental in developing a new fabric that gives our First Class passengers the sense of privacy they expect while complying with the Transportation Safety Administration’s new rules’. Continental Airlines began installation on their fleet in March 2004 and completed all aircraft installation by April 30, 2004. For further information please contact our Sales team.

Lantel Enigma mesh curtain

Lantal Enigma Mesh Curtain (TSA approved)

The idea that class separation had to be maintained at all costs is telling. The mesh curtain has virtually no worth as a sound or visual barrier – it operates purely as a sign of exclusion, a sign  of class division, separating the front of the plane from the back of the plane.

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TAX THE RICH, Megan Wilson, public mural, Clarion Alley Mural Project, San Francisco, CA, 2013

Megan Wilson’s new mural on Clarion Alley:

Clarion Alley Mural Project
Clarion Alley, San Francisco, CA

Wilson painted the mural on San Francisco’s Clarion Alley in July/August 2013 during the 2013 America’s Cup hosted in San Francisco and sponsored by Louis Vuitton, each an emblem of wealth and excess. Capitalizing on this convergence of affluence, she used the classic Louis Vuitton brown as the background, the highly recognizable SF Giants colors for the text, and added Louis Vuitton artist/designer Takashi Murakami’s floral smiley faces to her own iconic flowers.

TAX THE RICH, Megan Wilson, public mural, Clarion Alley Mural Project, San Francisco, CA, 2013
TAX THE RICH, Megan Wilson, public mural, Clarion Alley Mural Project, San Francisco, CA, 2013
TAX THE RICH, Megan Wilson, public mural, Clarion Alley Mural Project, San Francisco, CA, 2013

Louis Vuitton Limited Edition “Neverfull” for America’s Cup Pop-Up Shop

Louis Vuitton America’s Cup, San Francisco, CA 2013

Takashi Murakami for Louis Vuitton

Beware the Invasion

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The San Francisco Museum Modern Art and Gap, Inc.

CIO has been informed that the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) has commissioned the guerrilla art group Together We Can Defeat Capitalism  (TWCDC) to paint a giant mural on the exterior wall of the future museum extension. The extension is being constructed to house the art collection of Fisher family, founders of the GAP clothing empire. It is scheduled to open in 2016.

TWCDC’s design for the mural is quite simple: it is the GAP logo itself. In a brilliant conceptual twist the mural both honors GAP and the Fisher family, and at the same time presents a stunning critique of the role of wealth and privilege in the art world. Collaborations between arts organizations and corporations are nothing new of course. For some time SFMOMA has openly courted such partnerships and its website proudly declares that “recent research indicates that corporate philanthropy yields returns of 200 to 300 percent.” Existing sponsors include Wells Fargo, Google, and of course the GAP. It is illuminating to learn that the museum sees itself as an engine for the creation of capital.

The piece is in the the tradition of Warhol’s simple re-presentation of popular brand names such as Campbell’s soup. Warhol’s works were displayed in museums, as a statement about the conflation of advertising and art. The TWCDC piece cloaks the museum itself in a statement about the conflation of fine art and corporate capitalism.

Artist's Impression of TWCDC's mural on the wall of the future SFMOMA extension

The museum must be complimented on allowing such a statement to be made. Or, is it a savvy move by the museum, knowing that the best way to deflate a critique is to embrace it? A critic with with close ties to the the museum, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated that the public would most likely see the GAP mural as pure advertising and without any artistic merit.

A TWCDC spokesperson explained that the term “gap” also references the gap between the old SFMOMA and the new, between the incomes of the rich and the rest of us, between institutional art and the art of the street, between oppressor and oppressed.

In a nod to Matthew Barney, the mural will be painted by a single TWCDC member rappelling from the roof of the new extension. A TWCDC spokesman estimated the mural would take over a year to paint and should be considered a performance to be viewed by museum attendees and spectators in the vicinity of the museum. The method of execution also hints at that other great icon of the USA, Mount Rushmore. Painting of the mural is scheduled to start immediately after completion of the new extension.

SFMOMA and GAP are also collaborating with several local artists on the design and production of custom-designed t-shirts. In a similar conceptual judo throw to the mural, TWCDCs t-shirts will be adorned simply with a silkscreened GAP logo. The t-shirts will be sold through the SFMOMA gift shop. Similar versions of the GAP logo shirt will be available at GAP stores for a fraction of the price.

TWCDC’s previous exhibition at SFMOMA, ingeniously titled Together We Can Defeat Capitalism consisted simply of posters and postcards with Botta’s graphic image of the museum and the bold caption: TOGETHER WE CAN DEFEAT CAPITALISM, harking back nostalgically to an era when art was involved in fomenting real social change. TWCDC also parked an electronic traffic sign outside of SFMOMA and delivered a pertinent warning.

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