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September 7, 2013

bloomberg: maybe not a jerk?

There is a lot, a lot, to say about this interview with Mayor Michael Bloomberg from New York magazine.  The big takeaway that you'll be reading about a lot for the next two days is that he called Bill de Blasio's campaign racist.  Which is galling, sure, but par for the course?  Tall white man toting his black wife and mixed-race son on the campaign trail — that's just bait for people with 20th Century views on race, and Bloomberg bit.  And he's wrong, as he's wrong about stop and frisk.

But the rest of it is a quite candid talk about a variety of issues.  National politics, the media business, not just all New York City-specific topics like the teacher's union, and health policy.

I guess it's a must-read for me because I am ardently opposed to Bloomberg's legacy, the promotion of the billionaires at the expense of the poor and the middle class, but reading his thoughts, at length, reinforces the idea that he's not a bad dude.  He's a reasonable dude, and an admirable dude, and in even the bad things he's done, he thinks that he's doing them for the right reasons.  Like, he really wasn't trying to help his rich friends, he thinks that the only way to help the bottom strata is to increase the wealth at the top.

I disagree with that, naturally, but I need to ratchet back any personal vitriol against Bloomberg.  I disagree with him, but to put him in asshole category is maybe wrong.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:34 PM

September 6, 2013

lede buried for five years and counting

This story is your standard man-on-the-street piece, measuring the sentiments of a southwestern Pennsylvania town concerning our president and his plans.  This time around the topic is Syria (as compared to general support for invasion of Iraq), but you've read versions where the topic is the environment, or education, or whatever.  This are the representative paragraphs, the set-up and the reveal:
But in myriad ways, the calculus has changed. Some say they now believe that domestic needs neglected during a decade of war override foreign imperatives. Some, reviewing years of pitched struggle in Afghanistan and Iraq, see the Middle East as quicksand that must be avoided at all costs. Some say that Syria's civil war is Syria's problem, and that the United States is not the Mr. Fix-it for all of the world's crises.

And here, at least, more than a few see military action against Syria as unacceptable simply because it is Mr. Obama's idea.

You know, every time I read one of these stories, and they get to the reveal, discussing how opposition to some administration agendas is purely based on antipathy for the president, I keep hoping that someone will just say out loud, "because he's black."

(Which then results in the counter-response of, "Hey, don't dismiss my racism purely on the basis of my racism!" so maybe it's best if we don't go there at all.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:11 AM

September 5, 2013

the not-endorsement endorsements continue

Yesterday it was Choire Sicha, and today yet another person-who-writes-things-that-you-read, TPM's Josh Marshall, is in the tank for Bill de Blasio.  Well, neither are actually exhorting you to go out there next week and vote for Bill, but, still.  Check this (from Marshall):
The interesting thing about de Blasio (and the fact that he might win) is that he is running as an unabashed progressive. And since that can mean so many things, I mean it in this specific sense: for three decades rising economic inequality has been a cornerstone of the Democratic critique of the direction of the country. It's been a theme of many campaigns. Yet most elected Democrats, particularly those in executive positions, have shied away from implementing the set of policies that might actually change or ameliorate the trend. That applies to Clinton and Obama, the vast majority of Democratic governors and mayors, though many have done important things. (Whatever the merits of neoliberal economics, it has clearly not solved the problem of growing inequality and stagnating incomes for most Americans.)

The prospect is daunting.  I'm one o' them liberals that's probably actually a straight-up socialist but afraid to say it out loud, believing that the purpose of a government, a society, is to protect the weakest, instead of protecting property from the weakest.  So, should de Blasio get the job, we'll have to see, right?

BTW, we here at Titivil are withholding our endorsements until the last possible moment, because of maximum drama!

Posted by mrbrent at 10:15 AM

September 4, 2013

is not just a city in china

This is a nice little examination of the American practice of tipping, and it argues against it in a non-incendiary fashion:
Americans have stuck with tipping for years because all parties thought it worked in their favor. Servers, especially in restaurants from the mid- to high-priced, made good money, much of it in cash, and much of that unreported on tax returns. Owners saved on labor costs and taxes. And customers generally believed that tips brought better service.

The self-interest calculation may be different now. Credit card receipts and tougher oversight have virtually killed off unreported tips.

Another change is cultural. The restaurant business can be seen as a class struggle between the groomed, pressed, articulate charmers working in the dining room and the blistered, stained and profane grunts in the kitchen. The rise of chefs that are also owners has brought a few of the grunts to power. But as the average tip has risen to 20 percent or so from 15 percent, the pay for line cooks, dishwashers and others has stayed low.

I'm a bit agnostic on tipping.  I can see how it makes sense for the high-end restos to end the process, as they presumably can afford to raise the prices and hand it over to the service staff.  However, I do have friends in the adult beverage service industry, and I don't see how any bar could afford to pay what the average bartender makes in tips (and often cash tips at that).  But change happens incrementally; we get to hang around and see how it shakes out.

And I do remember a kind of prominent example of the tipless restaurant from childhood: when we were little kids, the reward for a good report card was a trip to Ponderosa for some steaks.  Back then, Ponderosa had a strict no tipping policy, which in my memory truly cemented my impression of Ponderosa as a greasy little enterprise with cheap steaks and harried employees.  Maybe not the best example in light of the above.

And while we're talking food, enjoy the appearance of the author, current restaurant critic Pete Wells, in this video production of NYT critics on how they try (tried) to dine without being noticed.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:08 AM

September 3, 2013

hospitals not condos

I think the consensus has spoken.  The boogie man for this mayoral election here in NYC will be... real estate developers.

It's kind of a tough decision — stop and frisk was a likely candidate, and if you're considering voting on the Republican half of the ballot, maybe municipal unions would make more sense.  But the decision has been taken out of our hands: more and more the candidates are railing against real estate developers on the campaign trail.  (Despite accepting contributions, as you'll see in the linked story.)

Personally, I'm all for it.  I've been in New York long enough to call myself a New Yorker, and as a New Yorker, the condo-ification of this city has done nothing useful other than destroy neighborhoods and line the pockets of the developers.  The zoning and tax deals they get from the city robs money from public coffers, and the resulting condos are magnets for foreign money, making the city that much less livable for those of us without residences in Bermuda.

And the big plus is that the real estate developers are actually thick-skinned and won't whine about being demonized like Wall Street did.  Hell, demonize all you want!  They're too busy counting money to notice.

But, really, if their influence was lessened a bit, the city could vastly improve, maybe even regrow a middle class.

(FWIW, the candidate who took the most real estate lobby money was Christine Quinn.)

Posted by mrbrent at 9:48 AM