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Public Squares

[ 34 ] March 24, 2016 |


Michael Kimmelman on the glory of public squares, which we people desperately need and adore when they have them. Using New York, Palestine, and Berlin as examples, Kimmelman explores the different ways people respond to these spaces. Within the United States, the awful suburbanization of the postwar period drastically undermined public space in the city, though both depopulating the urban center and not building public spaces in the suburbs so that the privatized spaces of indoor shopping malls became the de factor public square, means that as we enter a new period of people desperately wanting dense urbanity, areas that have public squares have become tremendously expensive. A great project would be the creation of public squares throughout our urban spaces, whether in neighborhoods wealthy or poor, suburbs or inner city. They almost always make people’s lives better.


Opposition to Free Trade

[ 97 ] March 24, 2016 |


The opposition to our global trade policies and the decimation of the working class in the United States is driving a good bit of the election campaign. How strong is that opposition?

Opposition to free trade is a unifying concept even in a deeply divided electorate, with almost two-thirds of Americans favoring more restrictions on imported goods instead of fewer.

The latest Bloomberg Politics national poll shows the issue unites the country like few others, across lines of politics, race, gender, education, and income.

A stunning rejection of what was a postwar cornerstone of American economic and foreign policies reverberates again and again in the answers to the poll’s questions.

Large majorities or pluralities favor policies protecting domestic jobs over lower prices, describe the North American Free Trade Agreement as being bad for the U.S., and even prefer a U.S. company building a nearby factory to employ 1,000 workers over a foreign — in this instance Chinese — owner that would hire twice as many.

“Virtually every question of policy has a Republican-Democrat split,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer, who oversaw the survey. “On trade, there is unity.”

In other words, elites of both parties have pressed on with free trade without creating a proper jobs policy for those who lose their jobs because of that trade. And while I don’t doubt that people like to buy the cheap stuff at Walmart that free trade also provides, you can’t blame people for saying that a system that has doomed them to stagnation at best and poverty at worst is a good system for them. They aren’t stupid. They know that their economic future is cloudy, probably with torrential rains. And they know why. Those who support free trade need to also be supporting, with just as much money and policy and lobbying, a jobs program to bolster the middle class. But instead, this is like fracking, where the nation has just plunged ahead with one part of the policy without understanding or really caring much about the side effects. Whether polluted groundwater and earthquakes where earthquakes shouldn’t happen or dying industrial communities and hand waves toward college education as an easy catch-all “solution,” policy makers and profit-seeking corporations damage the nation’s future for their personal immediate gains. People are sick of it and it’s time to change those policies. Americans need jobs. If they don’t have jobs, a whole lot of the white ones anyway are going to support fascists. We are already seeing that. Part of what is feeding Trump is poor white people who are desperate for jobs. Racism and economic necessity can intermingle, as we see in that poll with a lot of people preferring an American factory that employs 1000 or a Chinese-owned factory that employs 2000. It’s hardly surprising, given the lack of leftist organizing in white working class communities. But in any case creating those jobs, in the United States, needs to be a national priority. It is not.

Waiting for AMK

[ 112 ] March 24, 2016 |

Anthony Kennedy

In the Supreme Court’s regrettable decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Anthony Kennedy wrote a very Kennedy concurrence in which he argued that “the Court’s opinion does not have the breadth and sweep ascribed to it by the respectful and powerful dissent.” So, presumably, the government should have avenues available to ensure that women would be able to get ACA-compliant health care plans that cover contraceptives despite the religious objections of employers. The government could, say, allow objecting employers to fill out a form, and the government would then provide the appropriate coverage without the employer’s involvement.

Well, the government tried that. And based on the oral arguments Kennedy apparently believes that the new accommodation still constitutes a “substantial burden” on the employer. (And the argument that the contraceptive mandate itself imposes a substantial burden was highly unconvincing in the first place.) As some of you know, this is the same game Kennedy has played with affirmative action — declaring it potentially permissible in theory, but somehow never finding a plan that’s constitutional in practice.

It’s also worth noting that at least three of the justices who think that filling out a form and knowing that someone else is providing your employees with contraceptive coverage constitutes a “substantial burden” do not believe that forcing women to drive hundreds of miles to obtain an abortion for no reason whatsoever constitutes an “undue burden.”

Foreign Entanglements:

[ 1 ] March 24, 2016 |

On the latest Foreign Entanglements, Natalie speaks with Aaron Connelly of the Lowy Institute about Southeast Asia:

In Ted We Trust

[ 136 ] March 24, 2016 |


Hard to see how this doesn’t work out for Republicans.

“People think we’re not going to win in November anymore. All the candidates that had a shot at winning don’t appear to have a shot at winning the nomination. Everyone is resigned to that,” said a high-ranking GOP operative about the thinking among Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio alums as well as Republican party officials and big-money donors.

“People think we lose with Cruz, but we don’t lose everything,” said the operative, who opposes Trump and asked to speak anonymously. “He’s still a real Republican. We don’t lose the House and Senate with Cruz. We don’t lose our soul as a party and we can recover in four years and I’m not sure people think we can recover from Donald Trump.”

Said one high-level operative inside the Koch network: “He’s the devil you know.”

Indeed, many establishment Republicans would rather lose with Cruz and play a long 2020 game than risk having their party and conservative principles hijacked by Trump—a candidate they do not trust even as they recognize his political dexterity and the possibility that he could be just cagey enough to win on Election Day.

If Republicans are just going to give up on winning the presidency, that’s certainly fine with me! And given a decade of extreme gerrymandering, they probably do hold on to the House. It’s looking increasingly likely that Democrats might well take the Senate. But to rely on Ted Cruz to hold your party together? Really? And what is supposed to happen between now and 2020 within the Republican base that is going to make Scott Walker or Marco Rubio palatable to them or competent enough to win? None of this is at laid out.

The idea that Ted Cruz can unite the party is amazing. I’m sure his hatred of undocumented immigrants and plans to cordon off Muslim neighborhoods (which in this nation is what, a few areas of Dearborn?) will really prove to the nation’s voters that Republican senators are to be trusted with governance! Ted Cruz, Party Uniter!

Today in Conservative Reverence for Local Control

[ 129 ] March 24, 2016 |


North Carolina wants to make sure that no subdivision can provide civil rights protections to LBGT people:

North Carolina’s General Assembly voted Wednesday to block cities and counties from passing protections against LGBT discrimination in a wide-ranging bill that could have enormous implications for the state.

HB 2, which passed in a special session, would set a statewide anti-discrimination policy, banning employers and businesses from discriminating against employees or customers based on their race, color, country of origin, religion, age or “biological sex.” The bill offers no protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and prevents local governments from passing any nondiscrimination policy that goes beyond the statewide standard.

The bill also pre-empts local employment ordinances governing wages, benefits, employee protections and leave policies. It would prevent schools from allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

You’ll note that inter alia local minimum wage ordinances have been preempted as well. The Republican legislature in North Carolina is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Lesser Evils

[ 151 ] March 23, 2016 |

A useful reminder that every single president elected with the support of the left has been a lesser evil. And they almost certainly always will be.

Talking Venture Brothers, “Red Means Stop,” with Elana @ Graphic Policy, 10PM Live

[ 2 ] March 23, 2016 |


The finale of season 6 of Venture Bros. gets the Graphic Policy Radio treatment! All obscure references explained! From defunct NYC nightclubs to Edgar Allan Poe to super-powered Nazis.

Join pop culture and history experts Steven Attewell (whose secret identity is that he’s an actual historian) and Elana Levin (who’s secret identity is that she used to go clubbing) discuss Venture Bros episode 8 “Red Means Stop“.

As usual, player is below the cut:

Read more…

In Conclusion, Voting is a Consumer Choice and Both Parties are the Same Anyway, So If Bernie Sanders Isn’t Nominated, Might as Well Vote Trump

[ 76 ] March 23, 2016 |


Obama’s Department of Labor, Ted Cruz’s Department of Labor, really what’s the difference?

The Labor Department on Wednesday released the final version of a rule requiring employers to disclose relationships with the consultants they hire to help persuade workers not to form a union or support a union’s collective bargaining position.

The department said the rule, which will be published on Thursday and apply to agreements made after July 1, is necessary because workers are frequently in the dark about who is trying to sway them when they exercise their labor rights.

“In many organizing campaigns, decisions that workers make about whether to choose to stand together are often influenced by paid consultants, or persuaders, who are hired by employers to craft the management message being delivered to workers,” Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in a call with reporters. “About 75 percent of employers hire such persuaders, and too often, workers do not know.”

The 1959 law on which the regulations are based already required employers to disclose the hiring of such consultants. But the Labor Department argued that previous administrations had allowed an enormous loophole that effectively exempted consultants who coached supervisors on how to influence employees so long as the consultants didn’t interact with the employees directly.

The use of consultants has proliferated since the 1970s, and the techniques they deploy to discourage workers from forming unions have become progressively more sophisticated — more akin to modern political campaigns than workplace discussions.

There are consultants “scripting what managers and supervisors say to workers,” Mr. Perez said.

The new rule will require employers to disclose in government filings any consultant they hire to develop plans or policies for supervisors involved in attempting to persuade workers, who create materials that will be distributed through the workplace for this reason, and who lead seminars on how to discourage workers from forming unions or bargaining collectively.

In addition to disclosing the hiring of a consultant, the employers will have to disclose the fees involved. The consultants will also have to disclose the relationships and fees in filings of their own.

This is a great rule. At the end of the article, the writer interviewed Paul Secunda, who is a very smart person and who recently suggested that the DOL also require equal time for union organizers to speak when employers speak to employees about the evil of unions. That’s a really good idea. Maybe the DOL will move in this direction under Democratic presidents. But really, I’m sure Ted Cruz or Donald Trump would do the same. And if they don’t, then Democrats are complicit for some unknown reason and this will heighten the contradictions and bring Full Communism anyway.

The Donald Trump peep show

[ 19 ] March 23, 2016 |

A peep inside (out) Donald Trump, winner of the WaPo’s 2016 Peeps Diorama Contest

In the serious and important city of Washington, D.C., many serious and important people do many serious and important things. But none of the serious and important things is more seriouser or importantish than the Washington Post’s annual Peep Diorama Contest.

First place goes this year to Alex Baker, Leslie Eldridge, and Mary Clare Peate for the whimsical bit of nightmare fuel shown above.

..this satirical take on the Republican candidate’s brain — seen as a command center like the one in the 2015 Pixar film “Inside Out” — was a yuuuge winner, garnering more votes than all the other entries combined. It depicts a moment during the Aug. 6 Fox News Republican debate, as Trump is looking at moderator and nemesis Megyn Kelly.

Between the characters Fear and Disgust, an Anger Peep is poised to press a large red button, while Joy and Sadness are corralled behind a fence. Portraits of former wives Marla Maples and Ivana Trump adorn the interior, which has been trimmed in marble and gold.

I know I have been critical of the Washington Post in the past … hour or so, but I do applaud its efforts to show the public that Peeps are not meant to be eaten.

Follow the link or click on the picture to see a rotatable, magnifiable view of the winner, this year’s finalists and many more pictures of the ways people have exercised their creativity, and kept Peeps out of the food chain.

Phife Dawg

[ 13 ] March 23, 2016 |

The five albums recorded by A Tribe Called Quest represent one of the greatest achievements of American popular music of the last quarter-century. Seeing the news that Malik Taylor died today at age 45 is a horrible punch in the gut. R.I.P.

I’ve said this before, but I can’t recommend Michael Rappaport’s documentary about the band highly enough.
…great list.

Superman Is Not The Bad Guy

[ 273 ] March 23, 2016 |

Pictured: Not the Bad Guy

I don’t want to step on the toes of my esteemed colleague, but one of the things that the release of Batman vs. Superman has brought (along with some truly scathing reviews from journalists now released from their NDA) is more information about how “visionary director” Zack Snyder sees the world. And this information needs to be shared, because it’s legitimately scary.

We already knew from the reaction to Man of Steel that Snyder thinks that Superman needed to kill in order to learn that killing was wrong. This is news to me; I thought that perhaps one could figure that out from basic empathy or perhaps reasoning by extrapolation rather than direct experience. But according to an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Superman killing is ok because:

I went, really? And I said, well, what about [Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens]? In Star Wars they destroy five planets with billions of people on them. That’s gotta be one of the highest death toll movies in history, the new Star Wars movie, if you just do the math.

This is genuinely bizarre for two reasons. First, Snyder seems to think that we’re mad at him personally for killing fictional people, when the problem people had is that he didn’t film Superman trying to save anyone. Second, in The Force Awakens, the “they” who are destroying entire planets are bad guys, and shown as such:

And while I can’t believe I have to say this, but Superman is not the bad guy, he’s the good guy. One of the ways we tell bad guys from good guys in movies is that good guys try to rescue people. Superman especially is known for it – in his first appearance in Action Comics #1, he saves a guy who’s on death row from being unjustly executed; in his first film appearance in 1978, he saves Lois Lane from a helicopter crash.

But hey, I hear there’s a book that explains that altruism is for losers.

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