Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Where Is My Fox News?

On a roadtrip last week from Portland, OR to Las Veges, NV, I stopped for the night in a Motel 6 in Redding, CA. The following conversation was overheard by someone in my party. It occurred in the lobby of the Motel 6 between a customer and the front desk person:

Customer: Hi. There are two things you need to help me with. (Spreads out map of Redding). Show me where I can find a McDonalds...and show me where I can find a Wal-mart.

Front desk: I can show you where you can find a McDonalds INSIDE a Wal-mart.

Customer: Okay, fine. And one more thing: I've got a little piece of advice for you. Not everyone who stays here is as liberal as you people in California. There is no Fox News on your TV. I suggest you do something about that. I mean, is there no Fox News at any Motel 6?

A couple of things struck me about this rather humorous conversation. First, it suggests that, given the customer's political framework for the conversation, going to Wal-mart and McDonalds might be, at least in part, a political act, and not only about low prices. I'm sure we are all familiar with NOT going to Wal-mart as a political act, but it may be that the opposite is also a practiced phenomenon.

The second is that it is a good example of how segregated the world has become in terms of where we get our information. And of how that information is so often politically biased. It is an oft talked about phenomenon that, sadly, I find hard to refute: people tend to want their ideas and attitudes re-enforced rather than questioned, and they go out of their way to make sure they expose themselves exclusively to information sources that parrot their already-hardened attitudes. And I don't think this holds true only for conservatives. It's not too hard to imagine a liberal having a similar conversation in, say, Texas. "Not everyone is as conservative as you people in Texas. The only news channel you have in this motel is Fox News. I suggest you carry another news channel."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Who Would Be a Better Progressive President?

Progressives are still pissed at Obama. Scratch that: by the looks of this post by Glenn Greenwald, they are lately even MORE pissed at Obama. After passing health care. After passing financial reform. After passing a very unpopular stimulus that saved jobs and helped stave off a great depression. After doing some very smart things in the foreign policy arena, including hitting the re-set button with Russia and trying in good faith to stand up to Israeli settlements (and, yes, failing miserably; but he deserves credit for effort). After nominating two highly competent women to the supreme court. I could go on.

But rather than try to defend Obama by arguing over his record, which can get tiresome, I'd like to ask a simple question of those liberals who are unsatisfied with Obama: who, in the great pantheon of American politicians, WOULD satisfy you? And I don't want to hear about some hypothetical/mythical politician constructed from scratch, or rather constructed from a progressive policy wish-list. This is not the movie "Weird Science." I want to hear a name of a real human being. Who, as president, would be better for progressives--and for the country--than Obama? I'll even allow retired politicians to qualify. Who would be better?

Hillary Clinton? Bill "triangulation" Clinton? Al Gore? John Edwards? John Edwards before we found out he was an adulterer? Dennis "I believe in UFOs" Kucinich? Nancy Pelosi? Howard Dean?


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gaza Flotilla Link

If you want to read something smart about the Gaza flotilla incident, read this.

And this.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Gall Talk

I find it more than a little galling that corporatists/free marketeers have, throughout the financial crisis, justified bailouts by appealing to the too-high social cost (unemployment) of sticking to free market principles. Probably someone who finds it more galling than I do comes from a community decimated by the social costs associated with sticking to principle in the war on drugs. Oh, unrelated note - one out of nine African-American men aged 20-29 is behind bars right now, one out of three young black men can expect to be behind bars at some point in their life, and "as incarceration rates exploded between 1970 and 2007, the proportion of US-born black women aged 30-44 who were married plunged from 62% to 33%." From that Marxist rag The Economist.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Some Vexations on Illegal Immigration

Just want to vomit out a few thoughts on illegal immigration, the first of which is that, in this debate, it's hard for me to take seriously someone who is completely unvexed. It's vexing as hell - how can you find your way to an extreme position through all those vexes?

Let's start with the extreme "lefty" position, one which I'd rather call the "super forgiving" position because this debate doesn't split awfully neatly into right vs left. The super-forgiving position is characterized by rejection of all interdiction efforts and heavy reliance on the "illegal immigrants do jobs Americans don't want to do" argument. The most nagging vexation about this position is that, while there's no explicitly categorical rejection of interdiction efforts, the rejection is functionally categorical, and it really seems like a lot of its proponents don't want to enforce laws prohibiting illegal immigration at all. Take, for example, arguments about fence-building. A border fence may be stupid and costly, but I don't think it's on its face cruel or morally wrong. (Though it may remind us of things that are cruel and morally wrong.) The implication of making such arguments is that we ought not to do anything about illegal immigration -- also one of the implications of the "do the jobs Americans won't do" argument. This one holds no water for me at all; unquestionably, illegal immigration lowers the wages for these jobs by increasing the labor supply (and exacerbatingly increasing the supply of "shadow labor" enabling wages to be even lower). A final vexation that doesn't get a lot of play is the fairness vexation -- doesn't get a lot of play because the aggrieved group are legal immigrants, not famous for their franchise. It was brought to my attention by my legal immigrant parents, who jumped through many hoops to immigrate, and who would love to have our family members join them here, but they (the family members) have been rejected many times by our very complicated immigration system. Naturally they (the parents) are nonplussed about the circumvention of that system.

There's really only one vexation about the extreme hardline position, but it's a blockbuster: it's simply coded racism. This is not even taking into account arguments that are explicitly racist, although there are plenty of those, and the line is blurred by the "take our country back" sentiment. Rather I'm talking about instances when hardliners make appeals to nominally innocuous things like law enforcement and safety, but there's a scent of racism because some of the arguments are hokey and you start to suspect it's just about not wanting to see as many Mexicans. Take, for example, John McCain's claim that illegal immigrants are "intentionally causing traffic accidents on the freeway" and that "Arizona residents are not safe." The only people endangered by illegal immigration are illegal immigrants. McCain's engaging in demagoguery of the worst kind and the mongering of many bad things. And frankly the coding on this racism is shit.

The arguments of both extremes tend to be made in bad faith, though for me, the hardline position tends to be made in worse faith. Vexing, very vexing. Lindsey Graham's decision not to contribute to his party's implosion over the issue strikes me as totally defensible, but it's not like it's a cakewalk for Democrats either.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Thank goodness there's always an election somewhere in the world

We all know that it’s a hotly contested election that really gets The Pickle motivated, so I thought I’d take the opportunity of an unusually exciting campaign in the UK to get Pickle Nation up to my ankle-deep understanding of what to look for next week. Based heavily on a brain-picking conversation with my brit friends Max and Sophie, at least one of whom is a political reporter, as well as close attention to the Times, and my serendipitous watching of yesterday’s 3rd and final debate between the three major party candidates – Gordon Brown for Labour, David Cameron for the Conservatives, and Nick Clegg for the Liberal Democrats – here’s how I handicap it.

First and foremost, Gordon Brown has the Mark of Cain on his forehead. This much is clear. It takes about 8 words of listening to Nick Clegg to understand what all the fuss is about – he makes me feel like the dad in “An Education.” His core message seems to be the right one: Hey all you people who wish it was viable to vote Lib Dem? This is your chance. He’s right. It’s also hard to argue that David Cameron and the Tories aren’t up to the challenge of governing; you may not like what they stand for, but Brown’s distasteful fear-mongering about how it’s risky to go with anyone other than the party in power does more to undermine that case against Clegg – the Lib Dems actually might not know how it all works – than to infect Cameron. You know how I hate to pile on, and I think Gordon Brown might be an excellent prime minister, but how can you not want to take a break from that guy?

Second, as it has been explained to me, just based on how each party’s voters are distributed, the Conservatives will win more seats than their share of the national vote, Labour will win about the same seats as their share, and the Lib Dems will be under-represented. So if they all get the same share of the national popular vote, no one will have an outright majority, but the Tories will have the most seats. It seems clear that Tories are going to get the most votes nationwide, and there is some possibility that they will get an outright majority, though my sense is that it’s a slim chance. I would also bet that the Lib Dems will get the second most votes (though that’s up in the air), but probably win fewer seats than Labour.

If the Conservatives get an outright majority, we’re done: David Cameron is the PM. It will be interesting to see what happens after that – how coalitions shift, now that the Lib Dems have proven a healthy measure of viability – but I’m badly out of my depth there.

If the Conservatives don’t get an outright majority this is where it gets interesting. Two things you have to know. First, Labour, as the party in power, is constitutionally entitled to the first chance at forming a government. Second, what the Liberal Democrats really want – need, in fact – is for the UK to switch from a system of single-member districts to one of proportional representation, so that Britain’s left-leaning majority will no longer have to countenance a Conservative government as the price of voting their conscience by voting Lib Dem. This is also the nightmare scenario for the Conservatives, who would be badly frozen out for a very long time if the process were to be changed in that way.

This will be Labour’s price of power, if, as is looking increasingly likely, they are roughly tied with or behind the Lib Dems in the final result. Labour will have to offer a national referendum on election reform to bring the Lib Dems into a governing coalition. But the question for Clegg is this: after telling British voters that the power is in their hands, what would it mean to hand the premiership back to Gordon Brown by political fiat after the country votes to throw him out? Would they be better off claiming “will of the people” to deny Labour another run, and trying to build on this cycle’s success for next time?

As far as I can tell, that’s the drama. Stand by for an update after a bunch of British people set me straight…

Friday, April 23, 2010

Who Needs Liberries?

This morning I woke up with the intention to visit the recently constructed Silverlake branch of the LA public library. Well, intention frustrated: there's a big fat lock on the door. For a moment, I thought "Arbor Day already?" but no - as of last week, the city's libraries are open only for half-days on Fridays owing to our gaping budget shortfall.

Obviously, we need to cut things from the budget. No-brainers, like laying off some but not all of the city-employed calligraphers, are few and far between, and they're fairly niggling cuts. Our city calligraphy budget was only a million dollars per year. There are also no-brainers, or near-no-brainers, on the other side of the necessity spectrum - yesterday, Mayor Villaraigosa affirmed his commitment not to cut non-civilian police or fire personnel.

But where on this spectrum do libraries lie? I think I'm not alone when I say closer to calligraphers than firemen - but just barely. Access to libraries does seem to be one of those luxurious civil rights, but a right nonetheless, and important for democracy, especially now that public libraries are increasingly becoming internet access providers for the most disadvantaged members of our society (and more especially because public libraries are often the first stop in a job search, and who needs them more during an economic downturn).

The reduction in hours is slim and doesn't seem to be a serious threat to democracy. But technology is changing the role of public libraries more than this temporary budget crisis will, and as this role shifts permanently from "warehouse of information that everybody needs" to "access point to information for people who don't have access at home," it seems like there will be more pressure to limit public funds spent on libraries.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Boston Taco Crawl, 4.10.10

Winging my way across the country from Massachusetts (where I used to marvel at how angry - really angry - my Texan friend in college used to get at the Border Cafe's salsa, until I lived in Texas myself) to California (easy to find good Mexican food), I thought I'd take the opportunity to write-up the results of this past Saturday's Boston Taco Crawl, an event that had some beautiful beginner's luck, featuring bikes, sun, beer, and at least three tacos that were delicious by any standard, but on which we (me, Stacy, Annie, and Carter made all the stops; four others made some of the stops) will shortly improve.

The first stop - and the unanimous winner, even controlling for hunger - was Taqueria Cancun, right by the Maverick stop on the blue line (the bikes waited patiently by city hall). Carne Asada. It was simple - just beef, cilantro, onions, and a little self-administered salsa - probably no other taco we ate had as few ingredients. This was where we were first introduced to Carter's taco rubric, featuring the question, "When you smell this taco, how badly do you NEED to eat it." Badly. Points for serving cans of Tecate. I actually got a little shorted on meat, but that did not seem to be the universal experience.

Taco number two was just efing terrible. For years, I've been hearing about the burrito lady in the gas station on Cambridge Street by the Charles MGH T stop. Certainly going to the back of a gas station convenience store is a promising start, and since they didn't sell beer, we innovated our way to a winning setting, eating tacos and putting down a 6-pack, creatively hidden by mittens/cozies, on a couple of benches by the water. Unfortunately, Annie has the best review of our Carnitas: "At best, a vehicle for beer; at worst, a cat food sandwich." Stay away.

Taco number three, after the longest bike ride of the day, led to civil strife for the first and only time. Taco Loco, in Sullivan Square, is a place to which I would go back - everything looks delicious. For me, though, the steak in our steak tacos just played too small a role. This was the opposite approach to Taqueria Cancun - this taco was a massive mixture of wet ingredients. Tasty ingredients, though, and while Stacy and I were underwhelmed by the featuring of so much guac and sour cream, Carter and Annie really enjoyed it. We also threw in some plantains on the side, which were delicious.

Fourth was the by now well renowned Tacos Lupita, at the wedge of Elm and Somerville in Somerville. These people do a mean Al Pastor. Stacy was appropriately focused on the density of taste in those pink, crispy bits of pork. Also, like Taqueria Cancun, a spare taco, with delicious salsa, especially the green one. Stacy says she’ll ask for no tomatoes next time. She’s not wrong.

Next up was a late-breaking addition, which was on the list as "The one to the left of the Independent in Union Square," as described by my friend Allison the night before - she raved about it. It was later revealed to be El Potro (no relation). Orders were split between fish and steak, and both were fantastic - I think the fish actually got the slight edge. With a different horse painted on every chair, it was a very colorful setting. Even more beer points than Taqueria Cancun, because though they didn't serve beer, they let us bring it in, and by that point we were ready to be waited on. Carter ate two, which, at this point in the crawl, was impressive. I ate half of Annie's.

Finally, after almost 6 hours, we reached Olecito, an old favorite. This is the little taco stand cousin of Ole, in Inman. I've long been partial - whenever I'm in that area around a meal time, I stop in for a Carnitas and a Shrimp. Here, at the end of a long day, we sat at the little table they provide in the driveway, drinking another beer, and despite our fullness, managing to enjoy this neat trick they pull off - the sauce is incredibly buttery, and just makes the Shrimp taco so rich and meaty and tasty. Carter thought we could get margaritas there, and had been talking about it since probably 4 pm, so I think he left a little bitter.

Plenty of ground to explore for next time - more East Boston, Dorchester, and from Fenway to points west...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Post Postpartisan

First, a little throat-clearing. Don't call it a resuscitation. Okay, do. Apologies for The Pickle's lack of pulse. It's just that there hasn't been much going on in the political world.

Second, a quick and dirty thought about Obama's post-partisanship. Promises of PP were part of what garnered support from independents, and for much of the past year, moderates pointed to these promises in an effort to keep progressives from rocking the boat. Ultimately, the story goes, Obama threw PP aside after a year wasted on chasing down Republican support that would never come. My little thought is this - perhaps the administration should pitch PP policymaking in the larger context, ie in the context of the President's entire agenda. Within the context of one specific issue, chances are it's hard to pursue policy that's "post partisan" when the parties want things that are mutually exclusive. If you're setting out to universalize health care, there's no way Republicans ever come on board. But if the context is broadened, Obama can point to policies in other areas where traditionally Republican ideas are being taken very seriously (specifically in education) (and in a great way, in my opinion).

Third, a quick little point to undermine the second point. The cost-savings component of HCR was totally traditional Republican turf, so while it's true they'd never come around on universal coverage, this at least was a bone that should have enticed them. You know, if intransigence wasn't their top policy priority.

Fourth, most alliterative post ever. Look at all them P's!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The first day of calming down

I got angry at President Obama when I found out that Scott Brown had won the MA Senate race, but not because Scott Brown had won the MA Senate race. I was away for most of the campaign, but by all accounts Martha Coakley and Scott Brown lost and won that race, respectively, all on their own. But I was nevertheless annoyed at Obama, because he didn’t find a way to get us this damn health care bill in a year with 60 senators. And all of a sudden we didn’t have 60 senators anymore, and the window was at least a little bit smaller, and we didn’t have anything to show for it.

I have since tempered, though – and of course Barack knew I would – for a couple of reasons, two of which I submit here.

One, I like the new tone. I liked it when he called out the GOP a bit in the State of the Union, and I liked it more when I watched this today: Obama taking it to the House GOP caucus on their turf. It won’t work – he’s not going to get Republican votes in the house for jack – but I just can’t believe that we’ve allowed 60 to become the new 50 without making the Republicans pay any political price. The last time the Democrats had 60 votes in the Senate was 1979, and though I suspect that no one thought that enough Americans were stupid enough in 1979 to ask this question, so there are no data for historical comparison, what if we polled “How many votes does it take to pass legislation out of the United States Senate?” Gut check – what percentage of Americans today would say that the answer is 60? No, if this is the way things are going to go, then Obama should spread a bunch of quicksand on the floor of the Senate, and then make those 41 Senators stand in it until they get out or get sucked all the way in.

Second, the fact that we are not there on health care and nowhere on climate (and oh boy, are we nowhere on climate) is really, it’s important to remember, the opposition’s talking point. In fact, a lot has happened this year, and it was nice to get a reminder from Friend-of-The-Pickle Parisa that the Obama administration is still turning the ship of state in a wide arc. Witness this tidbit about the game face that the Civil Rights Division at DOJ has on.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Reform: Back to the Drawing Board

Here's an interesting, fun, pie-in-the-sky idea for electoral reform: redrawing state lines such that states all have more or less the same population (5.6 million, based on the 280 million figure from the 2000 census).


Missouri seems to be the only state that's more or less intact.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ezra Klein on Obama's Anniversary

Klein's analysis of Obama's first year in office is right on the money.

That there is a wide gulf between Obama the Candidate and Obama the President is middle-aged news. Of course, the constraints of campaigning are far different that the constraints of governing. For one, there's the Constitution. For another, particularly with regard to security issues, the stakes are higher and information is better. But with regard to financial regulation, climate change, and health care, Obama's adoption of an "insider" governing style is puzzling, given that the strengths/lessons of the campaign, the reasons Obama beat Clinton and then McCain, were 1) control of the narrative, and 2) running an end-around the traditional communications apparatus/establishment to make direct contact with voters. My guess is that the administration has judged that the electorate would be exhausted by that approach, but in rejecting it has committed the cardinal sin of not dancing with the one that brung it. Governing is different from campaigning, but it's still politics, right?