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August 24, 2013

the slow sad that is north carolina; art pope is ready for his close-up

I have an unlikely but abiding affection for North Carolina.  Some of the finest people I know come from there, and many of the cities of that very large state have afforded me the opportunity to have a fine old time.  In fact, the liberal tradition of places like Chapel Hill and Asheville, with its peculiar Southern civility and good manners, has been a reason not to give up on the South entirely.

So it is with that affection that I note that the state has become a septic tank of the sort of ALEC legislation that drags its knuckles across the floor.  You might have heard about it!  Seems what happens is that the Republicans control the state legislature, which they gerrymandered into favorability.  Couple that with a 2012-elected Republican governor who promised to be a backstop against a reactionary legislature (promise broken, or at least goalpost moved).

What results is a frontal assault on the poor and minorities.  The estate tax, which affects fewer than 75 families annually, is cut, education is cut, a revenue-neutral balanced budget bill is passed, abortion restrictions passed, and a very robust Voter ID law is passed.  North Carolina became Alabama in the course of one legislative year.

There's no real silver lining to this.  You know, my theory is that such overreach always costs the party exercising it political power, which could be a relief, but even if the most egregious attempts are repealed, what's left has tilted a bit more towards the right, towards the rich and powerful.

But if you have some spare time, familiarize yourself with the bona fide bad guy behind all this: Gov. McCrory's hand-picked budget director Art Pope, an NC businessman described as a smaller-scale equivalent of the Koch Brothers.  And you know what folks like the Kochs really really love?  Sunlight!  So spend some time with this New Yorker profile of Pope, and remember his name.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:08 AM

August 23, 2013

block the vote: the doj strikes back

This is unambiguously good news:
The U.S. Justice Department said Thursday that it will sue Texas to block a state law which requires proof of citizenship to vote, the latest volley in a nationwide battle over controversial voter ID laws, which critics say disenfranchise immigrants, people of color and the elderly.

In a press release, the DOJ also stated that it will separately intervene in the state's redistricting laws. The release states that both laws were adopted with the "purpose, and will have the result, of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group."

It remains a mystery to me the naked enthusiasm displayed by Republican-controlled state legislatures to impede the vote of those that are not inclined to vote for Republicans.  There is the "integrity of elections" argument, but that's such conspicuous bullshit that it stands as Exhibit A of the question of whether the GOP are cynical liars or blinded by zealotry.  But don't take my word for it — take Colin Powell's.

And the biggest puzzler is that any grown up would think that a vote-blocking strategy would work at all, ever, ever.  They may have the full support of Justice Anton Scalia and the scanty cover of the Tenth Amendment to hide behind, but the tactic has the unhappy luck to not only be a clear reminder of pre-Civil Rights era vote suppression tactics but also an overtly racist vote suppression tactic.  These efforts will get sued into oblivion, with or without the Justice Department, they will diminish the already sketchy reputation of the Grand Old Party, and (quelle surprise!) they will inspire the very people whose votes are to be impeded to vote harder.

Worst of all, it is cowardly.  For a party/political movement that is so organized around some mid 20th Century sensibility of machismo — proud, boastful, arrogant, in it to win it — it's an admission of actual weakness.  The only way they can win is if only their base votes, because their base, dwindling, is now outnumbered.

Apologies for going to the Sorkin well, but this is why good people hate them.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:51 AM

August 19, 2013

snowfalling the mayoral candidates

It's called "Snowfalling."  You know, decades advance, and the traditional news outlets realize that not only do they have to technologically update their means of distribution, they also have to technologically update their actual news content.  The term Snowfall comes from the name of the first big NYT interactive feature, a history of an avalanche, that got bits of acclaim and a ton of attention.

So you, yes you, may well be married to "reading" "texts" as a way of gaining information, but you should be aware of these new trends as they may well become a new artform/medium.

I bring this up only because this interactive feature with the NYC mayoral candidates is ENTIRELY FREAKING ME OUT.  So, as far as these Snowfalls go, obviously either they have a long way to go to figure out how not to freak me out, or I have a suddenly toxic aversion to Snowfall.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:38 AM

snowfallin' the bloomberg legacy

Check this out this morning, from over the weekend: the latest interactive, bells 'n' whistles piece from the NYT, this one concerning how Mayor Bloomberg has changed NYC.

For example, as you zoom into the below-Canal region of Manhattan, you see a bunch of buildings that are colored red.  That is because they are new, built during the Bloomberg regime, just examples of the 170,000 new housing units built over the past ten years.  A pop-up explains:

Neighborhoods with the most growth: post-9/11 downtown; the West Side from Chelsea to Lincoln Square and Central Harlem in Manhattan; the Rockaways, Long Island City and Flushing, Queens; Williamsburg, Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn; the South Bronx.
And there's all kinds of other good, illustrative stuff in there — the fact that over a third of the city has been rezoned (to allow for high-density development), the number of (largely residential) buildings that have been built, that kind of thing.  Oh, and bike lanes!  You know, so the denizens of all the new luxury high-rises can ride their bikes places.

I'm slowly cementing my position, which was more tentative in the past, that Michael Bloomberg was a terrible mayor.  For years we focused on his nanny-ism, which was maybe comical, but at least now everyone can enjoy an adult beverage without having to smell like yesterday's wet ashtray.

But what he's really accomplished, and he will admit to doing so, is to concentrate the wealth inequality that was always a part a NYC, but never so pronounced.  Currently twenty percent of New Yorkers live below the poverty line (which is a ridiculous metric for Gotham, considering how much more expensive it is here than anywhere else).  But still, that's a little more than two million people.

So it's really neat that Bloomberg has made the city safe for real estate developers, but for the rest of us he's done not much, with relation to our relative prosperity and quality of life.  I'm sure I'll be returning to this point as the election approaches.

But nice little bit of data visualization by the NYT, so there's that.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:00 AM