Homeless live in tents in West Hollywood, California. April 20, 2023. (John M. Mantel/Redux)

Meet the California Progressives Trying to Cancel Affordable Housing. Plus. . .

Columbia goes remote. Google gets serious. And more.

Today from The Free Press, Google fights back against the activists, Biden does away with due process, and more.  

But first, let me pass the mic over to Ben Kawaller, who describes the latest installment of his video series, “Ben Meets America!”

I have lived in or around West Hollywood since 2012. Founded in 1984 atop the twin pillars of rent control and gay rights, the city has become a haven for the un-landed and the non-gender-conforming, both of which describe me, insofar as I own no property and fail that most basic test of manhood, heterosexuality. 

If I sound a bit self-loathing, maybe it’s West Hollywood what’s done it: the city has marched in lockstep with the times, alternately self-flagellating and castigating. Witness its bizarre “land acknowledgment” rituals (about which I cannot bellyache enough). Or the city’s website, whose landing page often greets visitors with an image of Pride marchers carrying a banner demanding to know “HOW MANY OF US HAVE TO DIE FOR YOU TO GET INVOLVED.” Welcome, friends!

Yes, an irrepressible drive for justice is what powers West Hollywood, which is why I was curious to see how things would play out at a city council hearing earlier this year, at which residents fought to overturn the approval of a new affordable housing development. The seven-story building would contain 89 units, which would count toward the nearly 4,000 units California has mandated West Hollywood add to its housing supply by 2029. Half these are required to be affordable for “low” and “very low” income earners.

This is in a state that’s officially been dubbed the “capital for homelessness,” in a country that’s currently debating whether to legalize clearing encampments. (The Supreme Court heard arguments Monday.) It would seem California needs more places, not fewer, for people to live.

So it was jarring to watch some of my supposedly progressive neighbors attempt to keep poor people out of our community, citing everything from the potential for traffic to the concern that the building’s 300-square-foot “microunits” would be beneath the dignity of any potential resident. Meanwhile, low-income workers in attendance tried to explain that it would be nice to live within commuting distance of where they work. 

Nearly to a person, the NIMBYs insisted they were ardent supporters of affordable housing. Just “not at the expense,” as one man advised, “of the quality of the people living in the neighborhood.”

He may have intended to say “quality of life.” But I suspect he said exactly what he meant.

Ten Stories We’re Reading 

  1. This is the most dangerous geopolitical moment since the end of the Second World War, says Richard Haass, veteran diplomat and former head of the Council on Foreign Relations. (Fortune

  2. No wonder that, in 2023, global military spending reached its highest level in 35 years. A new study found that the sum rose by seven percent last year to hit $2.4 trillion. (NYT)

  3. Walter Russell Mead on the House votes for military aid to Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan: “Friends and foes who thought America was paralyzed by internal dissension are taking another look.” (WSJ)

  4. Palestine is a dead end for the American left, writes Noah Smith. “This is a movement that’s going nowhere, and serves to do little except weaken the nation and misdirect the energies of the youth.” (Noahpinion)

  5. But how to fight campus radicalism? Matthew Yglesias has what he admits is a “cranky old guy solution”: make them study more. (Slow Boring)

  6. A Russian court has rejected the latest appeal by Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich against his pretrial detention. The 32-year-old reporter has now been imprisoned for one year and 26 days. Journalists were allowed into the room for yesterday’s hearing, and Gershkovich smiled and made heart signs to his colleagues. (Reuters) ICYMI: Read Peter Savodnik on Gershkovich’s detainment. 

  7. Prominent legal pundits are holding weekly off-the-record calls to discuss the latest twists in Trump’s legal saga. Members—from Jeffrey Toobin to Bill Kristol—come from both sides of the aisle, “but most are united by their dislike of Trump.” (Politico)  

  8. Tesla is in trouble. Revenues are down nine percent in the first quarter, and the company’s stock price has fallen by more than 40 percent since the start of the year. (CNBC)

  9. An empty office tower in San Francisco that was once valued at $62 million just sold for $6.5 million. But I thought San Francisco was “back?” (San Francisco Chronicle)

  10. It’s time to add “poet” to the list of middle-class careers rendered obsolete by tech. A new camera will turn your images into AI poetry. (TechCrunch)

Biden’s Civil Rights Rollback

In its earliest days, the Biden administration promised to roll back civil rights protections under Title IX for students accused of sexual misconduct. On Friday, it made good on that promise.

The new rules, which go into effect in August, damage due process in more ways than one: 

  • Accused students will lose the right to have access to all evidence gathered in the university’s Title IX investigation;

  • They will lose the right to have a live hearing to adjudicate the claim against them;

  • They will no longer be able to have an adviser or attorney cross-examine adverse witnesses;

  • And the Biden administration has voided the basic requirement that any investigation open with a written complaint.

“The new regulations are a self-promoting piece of political theater that diminish the rights of all parties,” says Samantha Harris, an attorney who represents both accusers and accused. 

Here’s CUNY professor KC Johnson on why the changes will leave college kids with fewer rights: 

On Our Radar

→ Columbia goes remote for the rest of the semester: Columbia University’s provost announced Monday that the school will shift to hybrid classes until the end of the semester, citing “safety” concerns as hundreds of students continue to camp out on campus for Palestinian “liberation.”

“Safety is our highest priority as we strive to support our students’ learning and all the required academic operations,” Provost Angela V. Olinto said in a statement.

When the school first made remote classes an option, protesters celebrated. One of the organizers was met with cheers, applause, and beats of a drum when she announced the decision in the middle of the encampment.

“As of tomorrow, all classes will have an online option, because we will not fucking leave until we get divestment,” the organizer said, before leading chants of “Free Palestine” and “If we don’t get no justice, then they don’t get no peace.”

With antisemitism spreading on campus and classes now online, some are wondering whether Columbia’s $70,000 yearly tuition is worth it. Others, like former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, are now calling for the school to issue refunds to its students. “If a parent has a child at Columbia,” Huckabee posted on X, “they should demand a refund and then sue for breach of contract.”

Meanwhile, Brandeis University—one of just two universities in the country to get an A grade from the Anti-Defamation League for its policies protecting Jewish students against hate—is extending its transfer application deadline to May 31. In a written statement on Monday, the school’s president Ron Liebowitz encouraged applicants who seek “an excellent undergraduate education and an environment striving to be free of harassment and Jew-hatred.” —Francesca Block 

→ Google CEO calls time on workplace activism: Last week, Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent a clear message when he fired 28 employees who had staged sit-ins at Google offices to protest the company’s dealings with the Israeli government. To underscore the point, Pichai fired a few more workers, and published a blog post that mostly explained the company’s reorganization to focus on AI but ended with a reminder to employees that “this is a business,” not a place to “fight over disruptive issues or debate politics.”

As Mike Solana explains in a post for the technology blog Pirate Wires, Pichai’s anodyne comments are, in fact, a big deal given the recent blurring of work and activism in Silicon Valley:

While a relatively benign statement to the untrained eye, this was in fact a stunning departure for the House That Built Crazy, and so we arrive, some seven years after its clownish incarnation, at the conclusion of tech’s “bring your activism to work” arc, in which a silent majority of kind, hardworking idealists were bullied into submission by a minority of actual psychopaths clawing for workplace power behind a cloak of virtue. 

In the wake of Google’s woke AI debacle, Pichai has good reason to conclude the “bring your activism to work” arc. Sundar, we wish you luck in your crusade for sanity! 

For more on how politics infected Google, read our recent report “Google’s Woke AI Wasn’t a Mistake. We Know. We Were There.” 

Oliver Wiseman is a writer and editor for The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman.

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