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[ 111 ] March 17, 2014 |

An embarrassing and truly awful decision by the Seattle City Council. The problem is not, as the article seems to imply, “regulation” in the abstract–driving training, background checks, insurance rules, and the like are all perfectly reasonable and appropriate. It’s the utterly arbitrary 150 cars at a time cap that deserves heaps of scorn and derision. It’s particularly galling to see advocates of taxi protectionist measure try to play the ‘friend of the working class’ card, as if guaranteeing people who drive for a living must pay rents to the sacred owner of the ~850 or so cab licences is doing them a favor. As I understand it, cab drivers have been jumping ship to rideshares because they get a better deal from them, because the companies they work for have a raison d’etre beyond collecting rent. My pre-election concerns about Sawant are not lessened by this. She explains her vote thusly:

“We need to fight for a real expansion of public transportation paid for by taxes on big corporations and the rich,” she argued.

Here’s the thing: she’s absolutely right. Every word of that statement is true. But how do we get there? Transit expansions cost money, and you need popular support to accomplish that. One thing these rideshare companies are doing is making it easier to get by without a car (or with one less car per household). Since almost noone can/will afford cabs/rideshare all the time, almost every time someone ditches their car transit use increases. More importantly for political purposes “choice” transit use increases. The more riders, the greater the political commitment to improving transit. When non-poor people can ditch a car, they become political supporters of transit expansions. Transit advocates need that. Sawant needs that to achieve her goals with respect to transit. Populist talk is a fine tool for the toolkit, but using it to justify this kind of nonsense risks stripping it of its real power and turning it into general political sloganeering. If you care about transit, and the ecological disaster requiring a massive waste of city resources that is individual car ownership, you want to encourage innovations in car-sharing, as the city has in fact done with Car2go.

The cap indicates that the council is committed to the notion that the number of cars for hire in the city is at 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon is exactly the same as the number available Friday and Saturday nights, regardless of demand. This is not only anti-transit (as it keeps the costs of car-free lifestyles artificially and needlessly high) it is also objectively pro-drunk driving. As people aren’t going to be able to get a ride for hours on Saturday night, they’re more likely to risk it and drive drunk.

Seattle: the alleged socialist you just elected is protecting the interests of the cab license owners, against the interests of consumers, workers, transit, and the environment. Please don’t let give her a pass on this. She might yet become a force for progressive politics in Seattle, but she’s clearly not there yet.

Water in the West

[ 63 ] March 17, 2014 |

As I have said for many years now, agriculture is going to lose out in the water wars of the West. With continued urban growth and the political weight behind water-guzzling energy production, there just isn’t the water and despite agribusiness’ power, the don’t have the political weight because they can’t mobilize the votes (the decentralized nature of agricultural production also matters here since it’s left to these local farmers who are forced to work with Monsanto or Cargill or whoever left to do a lot of the local political work). Of course, short of meaningful water planning that sharply rethinks western water law, there won’t be enough water to go around anyway. And no politician wants to touch this problem.


[ 91 ] March 17, 2014 |

Bit of a struggle to envision a way in which this turns around:

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia signed a decree late Monday night formally recognizing Ukraine’s Crimea region as a “sovereign and independent state,” defying the United States and Europe just hours after they imposed their first financial sanctions since the crisis began and laying the groundwork for possible annexation.

Mr. Putin’s decree came after the breakaway republic formally declared its independence and asked Russia to annex it in keeping with the results of a referendum conducted Sunday under the watch of Russian troops. The Kremlin announced that Mr. Putin would address both houses of the Russian Parliament on Tuesday, when many expect him to endorse annexation.

Putin has committed his prestige and the prestige of his government to the annexation of Crimea. This makes it unlikely that he’s interested in finding a way out. I also suspect that the other military moves along the Ukrainian border are part of an intimidation campaign, rather than preparation for an invasion.

All that said, I still struggle to see the long-term positive outcome for Russia. If Putin had waited, the “revolutionary” government would have dithered for a couple of years before collapse. Now he has certainty; clear control over Crimea, but virtual certainty that Ukraine will be hostile for the foreseeable future.

Oh and look, Fareed Zakaria cites Jon Mercer and Daryl Press (hat tip djw):

The Leftward Shift of the Democratic Party Revisited

[ 357 ] March 17, 2014 |

Following up on the exchange between Meyerson and Reed, I reiterate my position that the Democratic Party is clearly well to the left of where it was in the 90s:

Reed would presumably argue that much of this legislation, even if it reflects the priorities of the left rather than the right in some broad sense, is so compromised in the execution as to be more of the same timorous neoliberalism in practice. But I can’t agree. My strongest disagreement with Reed’s essay and its follow ups are his implicit and explicit dismissals of the importance of the comprehensive health reform that eluded not only Bill Clinton but (during times of much greater labor power) Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson. I’m frankly baffled that anyone could argue that legislation that, among other important achievements, expanded Medicaid from a program that required states to cover only a subset of those well under the poverty line to a program that requires states to cover everyone within 133 percent of the federal poverty level doesn’t represent “anything that a left would want.” The Supreme Court’s appalling decision to strike down the ACA’s funding mechanism for the Medicaid expansion has thrown the inadequacies of the original Medicaid into sharp relief—but would anyone assert that it didn’t constitute an accomplishment for the left? Nor, I think, is it accurate to describe even the exchanges established by the ACA as “neoliberal.” While actual conservative reform proposals leave health coverage to the market with the exception of minimalist catastrophic insurance, the ACA tightly regulates the content of insurance, provides extensive subsidies, and creates a right to the guaranteed issue of health insurance. To call this “conservative” would be like calling the Clean Air Act “conservative” because it merely regulates industries rather than nationalizing them.

This does not mean, of course, that the Affordable Care Act is an unmitigated liberal triumph. It addresses a longstanding priority of the left with a combination of genuinely progressive provisions and others that are less so in order to attract the support of conservative Democrats (each of whom had an effective veto over the bill) in the Senate. While a major improvement on the status quo, it still leaves the United States with a health care system more inequitable and inefficient than any other liberal democracy. The stimulus passed in 2009 looks good compared to an austerity-gripped Europe (particularly remarkable, in retrospect, given that the Democrats did not yet have a filibuster-proof majority), but was still inadequate to the scale of the economic collapse. Dodd-Frank is even more suboptimal, and reflects the increasing influence of the financial sector that remains perhaps the central problem of American politics. But it must also be remembered that unmitigated liberal triumphs are the black swan of American politics. If the ACA doesn’t count as any kind of victory for the left, neither do the social programs of the original New Deal, which combined relatively meager benefits with intentional racial exclusion. We can’t criticize the limitations of LBJ’s comprehensive health care reform because Congress didn’t pass one, settling for cherry-picking the insurance industry’s least profitable potential consumers instead. What Reed cites as the high point of the labor-liberal alliance in 1944—the year of FDR’s proposed Second Bill of Rights—was a period in which the conservative coalition of Republicans and Democrats already had a hammerlock on Congress and was about deliver Taft-Hartley, filibusters of civil rights legislation, and HUAC witch hunts rather than progressive reform. The high veto-point structure of American politics creates a huge bias to the status quo, and at the federal left-wing reform in the United States has almost always required compromise with conservative elements and buying off vested interests. Even compared to legislation passed during rare periods of high labor influence the ACA isn’t the exception, it’s the rule.

One additional point is that while I think Reed overstates when he calls Obama a “neoliberal cipher,” it’s true enough that Obama per se is not the key part of the story. If Bill Clinton had become president in 2009 all things being equal, I’m not sure the results would be all that much different, although both the agenda and the results were much more liberal than what happened under him in the 90s. Reed is right about this: presidents are coalition leaders, who will be pushed in the direction of the forces within the coalition. Where I disagree strongly is with the assertion the Obama administration has left no progress to build on. The radicalism of the Republicans is a national crisis but it’s also an opportunity; the progressive forces inside and outside the party need to keep things moving in the right direction.

Rat Counting

[ 38 ] March 17, 2014 |

Well, the revamped 538 site is up and if it’s going to feature articles about attempting to count the number of rats in New York, I’m on board.

The Potential Value of Antitrust

[ 89 ] March 17, 2014 |

I was recently dismissive of the Democratic Party’s record on antitrust, and in doing so I was unfair; the Obama administration’s record is actually quite good, and a major improvement from its predecessor.  Perhaps the most important antitrust action was stopping the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile, which appears to have been a major win for consumers:

A rash of consumer-friendliness has broken out across the mobile data industry. Over the last year, the four major carriers — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile — have cut prices and offered greater flexibility in how they sell their voice, text and broadband services. The industry could be on the verge of an all-out price war.

Who is responsible for this blessed state of affairs?

Credit must go to the United States government.

In 2011, officials at the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department moved to block AT&T’s proposed $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile. That kept the struggling, fourth-place carrier alive as an independent firm. And it led John J. Legere, T-Mobile’s flamboyant, foul-mouthed chief executive, to brand his company the “uncarrier,” and inaugurate a string of measures that have turned every accepted practice in the mobile business on its head.

T-Mobile’s resurgence, and the effect it has had on the larger market for cellular service, may hold important lessons for regulators who will soon sit in judgment over the latest enormous broadband proposal, Comcast’s deal to gobble up Time Warner Cable.

Kentucky Has a Kansas Problem. No, Not That One.

[ 26 ] March 16, 2014 |

I draw considerable inspiration in those moments when my alma mater outseeds my employer in the NCAA Tournament Bracket.  Remember the LGM Tournament Challenge:

League: Lawyers, Guns and Money

Password: zevon

Rules, Shmules — Did He Suck Up to the Media?

[ 192 ] March 16, 2014 |

Bill Madden is very upset that the greatest player of the last 40 years showed up at Giants spring training.  (If A-Rod is like Whitey Bulger, is Bonds Jeffrey Dahmer?  Pol Pot? Hopefully Madden will address this important question soon.)   He puts his anti-steroids fanaticism in perspective with a comparison to former sportswriter idol Pete Rose:

And, with one year to go in his commissionership, Selig is not about to lift Rose’s ban, in spite of the renewed debate as to which is the more serious crime against baseball, gambling or out-and-out cheating with performance-enhancing drugs, which has made a mockery of the game’s records. It has been pointed out that baseball’s cardinal rule against gambling is all-encompassing and that there is a big difference between fixing a World Series — as the permanently banned 1919 White Sox did — and betting on your own team to win, as Rose did as manager of the Reds from 1984-89.

To deal with the second part first, even assuming arguendo that Rose’s baseball-related gambling involved only betting on his own team, when you’re talking about a manager that’s not actually a defense.  Betting on your own team to win as a manager poses a rather obvious threat to the integrity of the game. (“Jose Rijo — looking good in the bullpen!  You can throw 180 pitches today, right?”)  Sure, what he did was less serious than fixing a World Series, but it merited a lifetime ban for good reason. On the first point, allow me to settle this “debate” quickly:

So, this is an easy one; Roses committed actual crimes against baseball and Bonds did not, making the question of whose crimes were worse moot. The fact that Rose was an “ambassador” for the game — i.e. in terms of eliciting unspeakably irritating fawning from the media he was the Derek Jeter of his era — is neither here nor there, and nor am I the slightest bit interested in the long-standing grudge many sportswriters have against Bonds. Rose was clearly a PED user, although he used the kind of PEDs anti-PED hysterics find acceptable because LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THE GLORIOUS BROOKLYN DODGERS THE ONLY TEAM ANYONE HAS EVER CARED ABOUT EVER.

And, by the way, how confident are we that Rose, who as the Dowd Report made clear was closely associated with steroid dealers and played until he was 45 in order to break one of baseball’s most Sacred Records, wasn’t a steroid user? Fortunately for Rose, he broke the Sacred Record of a far better player who was also a crude racist rather than one of Madden’s boyhood idols, so he doesn’t think to ask the question. (Speaking of which, this is a favorite non-sequitur of Rose apologists — “But Ty Cobb is in the Hall of Fame, and he was a racist!” As soon as someone can point to a contemporaneous American League rule against being a fairly typical white guy born in Georgia in 1886, this point will actually be relevant.)

I fear that this could be a sign of a new particularly virulent strain of anti-PED fanaticism — crossing it with blubbering nostalgia for Charlie Hustle. Ugh.

Go OC!

[ 8 ] March 16, 2014 |

Congrats to the Oregon City Pioneers, who defeated South Medford last night to win the 6A Oregon Girl’s Basketball Championship. This is the twelfth championship for the team since 1992, and the first since 2009.

More On Malaysia 370

[ 101 ] March 15, 2014 |

I assume many of you are already reading Fallows, but if not and you’re interested in the subject his work is essential.

Update [pc]:

Per USA Today:

The homes of both the pilot and the co-pilot were searched on Saturday, and a flight simulator belonging to pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 59, is being examined, Hishammuddin said. Authorities are also investigating the engineers who worked on the plane.

The South China Morning Post reported Sunday that Zaharie has close ties with Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who was recently sentenced to prison on a charge of sodomy, which the opposition has appealed. Speaking to USA TODAY, a close friend of Zaharie’s, Peter Chong, said Zaharie does support the opposition but that the reports that he may have had a role in diverting the plane were “not true.”

“He is a political activist, yes. And yes, he was in court for Anwar’s trial and he is our strong supporter, but that does not make him a terrorist,” said Chong.

The NYT is now reporting that the pilot had a normal conversation with ATC after the plane’s data transmission system was turned off.

FDL Book Salon

[ 17 ] March 15, 2014 |

Reminder: I’m doing an FDL Book Salon this afternoon at 5pm, EDT.  Here is my intro to the political aspects of the argument made in Grounded. Hope to see everyone there!

The Texas Non-Miracle

[ 182 ] March 15, 2014 |

Three salient takeaways from Phillip Longman’s excellent piece explaining why Texas is not the model for economic development that Republicans would like to think it is:

  • Economic growth in Texas has been relatively rapid, but it has been driven almost entirely by 1)immigration (not migration from other states) and 2)the oil and gas boom.
  • Per capita income in Texas has been lagging well behind a variety of states with better and more humane governance, including Maryland, Vermont, New York, and Massachusetts.
  • For the ordinary person, Texas is not a low-tax state.  To make up for the lack of income tax, Texas imposes high regressive sales and property taxes.  (The conflation of “income taxes” with “taxes” is truly one of the great accomplishments of dishonest conservative rhetoric, making it all the way to Harvard Yard.)

The bottom line:

No wonder then, that the flow of Americans moving to Texas is so modest. The state may offer low housing prices compared to California and an unemployment rate below the national average, but it also has low rates of economic mobility, minimal public services, and, unless you are rich, taxes that are as high or higher than most anywhere else in America. And worse, despite all the oil money sloshing around, Texas is no longer gaining on the richest states in its per capita income, but rather getting comparatively poorer and poorer.

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