Archive | August 2013

Ron Fournier, omniscient gentleman.


Ron Fournier announced this week that Millennials, those scamps, hate politics and will not be getting involved in it. This may come as a surprise to Millennials, especially those of us who are already involved in politics, but no matter. Fournier hath spoken.

The proclamation was issued in The Atlantic, home to those whom Baffler writer Maureen Tkacik memorably referred to as “omniscient gentlemen,” whose “facility with community quotidiana is recognized as the stuff of highly effective persuaders, influencers, tastemakers, connectors, and miscellaneous other prophets of consumer trends.” Fournier, now bored with the consensus that Millennials are “narcissistic, coddled, and lazy” (his words), breaks new ground: they are also “goal-orientated,” “team-oriented,” “less prone to cast negative moral judgments on interracial marriages, single women raising children, unmarried couples living together and mothers of young children working outside the home,” and “entitled.” Furthermore, Fournier says, Millenials are much more interested in smartphones, volunteering for nonprofit organizations, and themselves to ever have any interest in ever engaging in the political process or holding elected office.

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Dan Malloy’s Connecticut experiment.

Gov. Dan Malloy of Connecticut [Shutterstock]

Gov. Dan Malloy of Connecticut [Shutterstock]

In this era of activist state governance, the term “laboratories of democracy” has been used to describe the rapid policy changes occurring as statehouses have shifted in control over the last few years. Almost exclusively, these have been conservative changes, as crusading right-wing majorities have tackled long agendas: slashing spending, privatizing everything from education to Medicaid, restricting access to the polls, busting public-sector unions, hindering access to abortion and birth control, and, of course, dramatically cutting taxes. A left-wing laboratory of democracy is not something that anyone has read about lately.

Yet that’s what Dan Malloy, the first Democratic governor of Connecticut in 20 years, is engineering. His project of “shared sacrifice” tax hikes across multiple income brackets, in addition to numerous socially-liberal legislative actions in the erstwhile Land of Steady Habits, is basically without peer. It invites two questions: is Malloy’s (and the legislature’s) approach actually resulting in good policy? And, regardless of the answer to that, will it be rewarded by voters when Malloy is up for reelection in 2014? (Full disclosure: I was an intern on Malloy’s campaign in 2010.)

Here is an overview of the biggest changes Connecticut has undertaken in the last few years. Some have been easy, popular reforms. Others, not so much. Read More…

Tesla’s true accomplishment: building a good car.

A car you might actually want to drive. [Wikipedia]

A car you might actually want to drive. [Wikipedia]

The internet was abuzz this week with the news that the Tesla Model S electric car was rated the safest production automobile ever tested by the government, performing off the standard five-star scale for various safety categories. This is big news – but why? Matt Yglesias notes that because it’s a mass-market electric car, “anything that happens to the Model S isn’t just a car story. It’s a business story, it’s a politics story, it’s an energy story, it’s an innovation story, it’s an interesting story.” But ultimately, any Tesla story is a car story first and foremost, uniquely relevant to the automotive industry and those who cover it. And that is what makes the Model S such a groundbreaking accomplishment. It’s the surest sign yet that electric vehicles just might be a huge part of the future of transportation after all.

For the first time ever, an electric car is every bit as good as a non-electric car—and possibly even better. As Car and Driver put it, it’s “not just a good electric vehicle, it’s a good car.” Motor Trend’s 2013 Car of the Year award went to the Model S: “Sure, the Tesla’s electric powertrain delivers the driving characteristics and packaging solutions that make the Model S stand out, but it’s only a part of the story. At its core, the Tesla Model S is simply a damned good car you happen to plug in to refuel.” Read More…

How a straight white guy can win in NYC: having a gay black wife.

The De Blasio-McCray family. Source:

The De Blasio-McCray family. Source:

In a campaign where issues of race are front and center, in an era where campaign “optics” play a disproportionate role, and in a progressive electorate that is itching for a clean break from the past, it doesn’t necessarily play all that well to be a straight white man in the race for mayor of New York City. That’s the position that Public Advocate Bill de Blasio finds himself in—but his attractive multiracial family, and the story behind it, may be his ace in the hole.

At least, he seems to think so: the New York Times recently reported that de Blasio is making his family a centerpiece of his campaign. The article implies, but does not quite state outright, that the primary reason for this is good old fashioned identity politics. De Blasio lacks the “built-in voter base” enjoyed by his chief rivals for the Democratic nomination, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (openly gay, female) and former Comptroller Bill Thompson (black). De Blasio’s family buffers this disadvantage. It does so both by appealing to the groups from which Quinn and Thompson hail, but also by offering the de Blasio family as a metaphor for the city’s eclectic racial and social makeup, and giving voters a chance to say that character and lifestyle can outweigh background when it comes to advancing the progressive cause. Read More…

This is the place.

Journey’s End monument at This Is the Place Heritage Park, overlooking the Salt Lake Valley. [Wikimedia Commons]

A couple weeks ago, Andrew Sullivan wrote a series of posts on social mobility in the U.S. by region, focusing on the lack thereof in the South according to a map from the New York Times. The nation’s most upwardly mobile city, according to that map, is Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Times’ written accompaniment compares it to Denmark and Norway in the social-mobility metric of likelihood that a child raised in the bottom 20% of income to the top 20% by adulthood. That probably surprised some folks: plenty of people forget that Utah even exists, and when they do think of it they think of skiing (aka rich people) and Mormons (aka conservative people). What’s that about social mobility?

As it turns out, it’s not the only surprising statistic about Utah, arguably the most conservative state in the country and basically the opposite of Denmark and Norway when it comes to social spending and other government policies ordinarily associated with mobility and low rates of poverty. For example, it is the fastest growing state in the country by some metrics. The Census Bureau ranked it fourth in this category in 2012, having dropped from first during the Great Recession. Study after study ranks it at or near the top in various categories of well-being, including access to clean water and employment satisfaction; some such surveys have Utah leaving runners-up in the dust. It recently had the lowest rate of child poverty and the fourth-highest child well-being, though it slipped in those categories as well due to the economy (while other states intervened when child well-being was at risk during the recession, Utah coasted).

Yet it posted leading numbers in earlier years despite having the second-lowest benefits for children through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, low Medicaid eligibility, and lowest-in-the-nation education spending (among other states who score highly in well-being rankings, these are extremely unusual characteristics; the study that ranked Utah highly also reported the overall conclusion that “child well-being is strongly related to higher state taxes and robust entitlement programs”). Teen pregnancy, out-of-wedlock births, abortions per capita: 47th, 50th, and 50th. Utahns, living up to their state motto, Industry, are the most productive workers. Forbes called it the best state for business, and the Pew Center on the States ranked it the best-governed.

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The NYT whiffs in its NJ Senate endorsement.

Cory Booker at the 2011 Time 100 gala.

Cory Booker at the 2011 Time 100 gala. [Wikipedia]

The New York Times editorial board placed a feather in Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s cap last week, endorsing him in the imminent Democratic primary for the Senate seat once held by the late Frank Lautenberg. David Sirota, in his characteristic slightly-unhinged-but-basically-on-point manner, blanched at the paper of record’s explicit confession that it views Booker’s “coziness with the moneyed class” as an “asset” for which he does not deserved to be attacked by opponents. Deferring to Mr. Sirota, I won’t retread that here—let’s just say it was bizarre and revealing, though not all that surprising, sadly. What was a little surprising was the paper’s decision to so forcefully support a candidate whom one of their reporters recently critiqued (in an actually fairly dishonest way) and is now in the process of skipping to the Senate on the strength of his fame and fundraising prowess. Endorsing Booker has the same effect as not endorsing anyone—he’s that inevitable at this point (the primary is next Tuesday, August 13). And not only is it too strenuous, it thoughtlessly exposed the Times to charges of both elitism (at the hands of Sirota et al.) and hypocrisy (given the prior coverage). Endorsing one of his seemingly quixotic yet eminently qualified opponents would have saved them the trouble, and more importantly, brought some intrigue and dialogue to a race where they have thus far been blocked out by Booker’s megawatt media stardom. Read More…

On Amazon and the publishing industry.

There is no need to be upset. Source: Ariel Zambelich/Wired (Creative Commons)

There is no need to be upset. [Ariel Zambelich/Wired, Creative Commons]

In one tiny sentence, everything that is absurd, backwards, self-deluded, and contemptible about the dying publishing industry:

[Amazon has] devalued the concept of what a book is, and turned it into a widget.

That’s Dennis Johnson, publisher, quoted in a Salon piece called “Amazon is worse than Walmart.” The impetus for that headline is President Obama’s visit on Tuesday to an Amazon warehouse as a part of his heartland-jobs-speech swing. The article, by Daniel D’Addario, is critical of Amazon’s labor practices, which is a valid area of concern: even though the spurt of new Amazon jobs that Obama is touting include health benefits, 401(k) plans, and stock options, it is fair to say that Amazon has been guilty of some of the worst big-box-style sins when it comes to wages and work conditions. Critics are right to raise concerns about the president’s willingness to tacitly endorse such practices, and to point out that the “good” jobs being showcased are not entirely representative of the employment culture at Amazon (though they are also cause to be hopeful about a change in direction for the company).

So I don’t fault D’Addario for bringing that up. But there’s another aspect of the article, and of the overall Amazon critique, that too often gets lumped in with worker-rights issues, as it has been here. It is evinced by the subtitle of the article: “The company’s war on bookstores and book culture is increasingly supported by, yes, the Obama administration.”

Oh, dear.

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