Are you part of a thriving community of working-class homeowners? If so, here's hoping no government entity ever decides they'd rather do something else with the land your homes are built on. As history has shown time and again, once they do, they will stop at almost nothing to separate you from your property. We talk about some of the most egregious land grabs from the never-ending battle between the rich and the poor on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by actress Madylin Sweeten and comic Lou Perez. It's also the topic of conversation in this column today. Up first, let's talk baseball.
#4. Los Angeles Used Anti-Communist Hysteria To Take Chavez Ravine From Mexican-American Homeowners And Build Dodger Stadium
When the federal government sent every resident of Chavez Ravine a letter in 1949 saying they would be required to sell their homes, it wasn't a completely bad thing at first. Sure, moving to a new place would be a downer for the generations of Mexican-Americans who'd turned the tiny valley, located not far from Downtown Los Angeles, into a self-sufficient, small-town-like community that ran its own school and just generally existed independent of the bustling metropolis that surrounded it. But it was all going to be replaced with a shiny new housing development, and residents would have first pick of the new units once they were built.
Not everyone left, of course, and those who did received way less compensation for their homes than they deserved. But what choice did anyone really have in the long run? People who just flat-out refused to leave would eventually succumb to the healing powers of eminent domain, anyway.
Chris Hondros/Getty Images News/Getty Images
It fixes everything.
The project, which was fancily named "Elysian Park Heights," found one of its most vocal backers in Frank Wilkinson, the assistant director of the Los Angeles City Housing Authority at the time. Unfortunately, as you may recall from your stupid history books, LA in the 1950s was awash in a Communism scare so intense that actors and writers who refused to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee were blacklisted from working in Hollywood altogether.
However, it didn't stop with entertainers. Pretty much anyone who came off as even sort of sympathetic to any idea that could possibly be construed as Communism could be called to testify, or even more terrifyingly, sent to jail. Do you see where this is going?
Sure enough, almost as soon as the idea was announced, the Red Scare types started howling about how providing affordable housing for low-income residents was something the damn dirty Russians would do. Just like that, Frank Wilkinson found himself in front of the Un-American Activities Committee, answering questions about whether he secretly hated America. It was decided that he did. He was fired from his job with the Housing Authority and sentenced to a year in jail, all because he had a plan to rebuild those houses the government forced so many people to leave.
Real talk: He probably was a Communist, though.
Some residents stuck around and kept fighting after that, but it all became pointless after a man named Norris Poulson ran for Mayor of Los Angeles (and won) on a platform centered mostly around keeping Socialist plots like Elysian Park Heights from ever happening. Shortly after taking office, he negotiated a deal in which the city bought the land taken from Chavez Ravine residents back from the federal government at a steep discount, with the understanding that it would be designated for public use. No sweat, the public can always use a baseball stadium! Especially when it's just replacing a bunch of stupid houses!
And that's the story of how the city of Los Angeles used anti-Communist hysteria to steal Chavez Ravine and turn it into Dodger Stadium. Years later, in an interview for a documentary about the incident, Frank Wilkinson said, "We'd spent millions of dollars getting ready for it, and the Dodgers picked it up for just a fraction of that. It was just a tragedy for the people, and from the city, it was the most hypocritical thing that could possibly happen."
Also pointed out in that documentary is the fact that, when construction finally began on Dodger Stadium, rather than spending extra money on demolishing that aforementioned school in Chavez Ravine, developers just removed the roof and floors, left the walls standing, and filled it with dirt. You read that right. Somewhere buried deep beneath Dodger Stadium is an entire school building.
This one, specifically.
Good luck explaining that to archaeologists 500 years from now.
Basically, Dodger Stadium is the house from Poltergeist, if it was built on top of Mexican-American dreams instead of Native American graves.
#3. Brazil Is "Socially Cleansing" Favelas to Get Ready for the 2016 Olympics
Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images
You know what the people of Brazil love? Soccer. Sorry, I know it's actually "soccer," but a one-word sentence looks weird with quotes around it. Anyway, if there's anything the people of Brazil love more, it's access to basic things like education and healthcare. That's why, when it was announced that the 2014 World Cup would be held in Rio, instead of the entirety of the population donning their skimpiest Carnival gear and launching into an impromptu dance party, one dude threw on a Batman suit and everyone took to the streets to protest.
It's not like there's any crime to fight in Brazil.
As it turned out, wasting money that could be spent on repairing the country's crumbling infrastructure and such was just scratching the surface when it came to reasons for Rio residents to fear the arrival of the World Cup. Conveniently enough, there's a one-word phrase to describe what would turn out to be the biggest concern: pacification.
Say it a few times. Pacification. They couldn't even take the time to come up with a name that makes it sound less terrifying. That's fitting, though, because in terms of social programs, it's as scary as things can get. If I'm understanding it correctly, there are two problems in Brazil that made pacification necessary: crime and a lack of good places for tourists to take cool photos.
See, in Rio, the poorest residents used to live way up in the mountains. Why? Because getting up there is a bitch. You had to do it on foot -- meaning that every time you walked home, the last stretch would be a 700-foot uphill climb. People certainly don't pay extra for an amenity like that, so for years, things in Rio carried on exactly that way. Poor people in the mountains, slightly less poor people on the ground. This all started to change when the World Cup came to town, because the cool thing about living on top of a mountain is that when you look out your window, you see a view like this:
To die for!
Oh man, tourists love taking pictures against a backdrop like that. If only there was a way to get them up there without all that stupid walking. Easy fix: Just build a cable car! Because when your country is literally falling apart, what the people need the most is a more convenient way to get somewhere almost none of them live or have any need to go to. We're not talking about some complex rail system that will get you to any mountain community you need to quickly and easily. Something like that might actually help. No, this goes to one place. It's almost useless. That's the problem with pretty much everything Brazil built to accommodate the 2014 World Cup. It was all pretty much useless after the games ended. Yes, they have the Olympics coming in 2016, but when is the Olympics coming to town ever a good thing? It's especially problematic for poor people, no matter what city you're talking about. Even the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver were riddled with stories of the local government going to extreme lengths to make sure the city's homeless population was kept as far away from the expected influx of tourists as possible.
Now think about what kind of city Rio is. Have you seen City Of God?
Even in the areas that aren't completely overrun with that kind of violence, a lot of the country is approximately that poor, and to the untrained tourist eye, it will look like that movie anyway. Brazil isn't any more excited to expose their newfound sports tourism economy to the horrors of poverty than Canada was, and the steps they've taken to make that separation happen are damn terrifying.
For one, of course they're using eminent domain laws to force people out of their homes. At one point, they were demolishing homes at such a rate that they'd taken to just marking them with spray paint when their time to be destroyed had arrived, even if the homeowners weren't present. You might recognize that as being exactly what the Nazis did to Jews who were sent to concentration camps -- as did a whole lot of people in Brazil. If there's anything that country doesn't need, it's to be more associated with Nazis than it already is, so they did put a stop to that. But I'm assuming that means they just arrive and start tearing shit up and skip the formality of a spray paint warning.
Tearing down unattractive buildings and replacing them with prettier ones only addresses one problem. There's also the crime. It really is a problem there, and you can only move people so many places. So what happens when you still have countless neighborhoods run by drug cartels and local militias, but you want tourists to feel comfortable moving through them? You dress your police up like the military, and send them in to cut crime by force.
Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images
This cannot possibly go wrong.
Which they totally have! Crime is indeed down. But the people who live in those areas now have a constant military-like presence looming over them, which is basically a 50/50 bet when it comes to being an improvement over living in a neighborhood controlled by drug dealers. Also, the criminal element isn't just going to flee because police show up. Not with that many guns on the streets. At some point, the police simply become another another gang to have a shootout with; it's just that their killings don't count toward the murder rate.
To put it in a perspective that Cracked's mostly American audience can appreciate: Imagine if Chicago gets to host the Olympics someday, and in the high-crime areas where they can't just kick everyone out, they send the National Guard in to permanently patrol the streets. Which, for what it's worth, is something I absolutely expect will happen someday.