A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

“Death, fire, and burglary make all men equals.” —Dickens

The English Don’t Yet Realize Mitt Says Dumb Things All The Time

by evanmcmurry

Look, I know England isn’t technically part of the continent, and gets to keep its pounds instead of switching over to the Euro so if you’re stopping off in London on your way back to America you have to exchange your money twice, losing a lot of value in the process. So it’s not <spooky>Europe</spooky> in the sense that Romney et al mean it, like it’s synonymous with socialist four year olds drinking wine at four p.m. on a government pension cuz they’re already retired.

But if Obama can’t conduct ordinary diplomatic relations with other countries without conservatives losing their damn heads, why is it perfectly acceptable for Romney to cross the pond and restore the “special relationship” with England? If Obama tried to restore a relationship, special or otherwise, with any nation separated from <spooky>Europe</spooky> by something called a “Channel,” Fox Nation would be leading with “Obama Appeases Foreign Dictators” and Crossroads GPS would be running ads in Ohio with whatever anodyne statement Obama made to David Cameron set over a minor moog chord. The very fact that Obama speaks to other leaders is enough to show his true global (read: Indonesian read: Muslim) upbringing bursting forth from his American shell, made in Kenya.

Of course, all of this is in a world in which Mitt Romney was able to successfully execute a single moment of tricycle diplomacy. He didn’t. Instead, he flew all the way to England just to insult them by criticizing their preparation of the Olympic games, and then topped it off by forgetting the name of the head of the Labour party, calling him “Mr. Leader,” because, as should be no surprise, improvising ain’t Romney’s strong suit.

The English are pissed. The Daily Mail called him “humiliating.” A Times of London reporter tweeted, “So Mitt Romney disses our Olympics. We’re the Special Relationship, the easypeasy bit of US foreign relations. How will he deal with China?” In fact, the British are so pissed  there’s actually a live blog dedicated to how pissed they are.

But it’s David Cameron FTW:

We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.

When even Mr. Austerity-Works-On-Opposite-Day is scoring points off you, maybe it’s time to pack it in. After all, as Chait points out, the entire point of the trip was that only Romney could restore the “special relationship” (due to his Anglo-American heritage, natch). Shouldn’t it give Romney’s supporters pause that he failed at his mission before unzipping his suitcase?

Additional Viewing: The Special Relationship

Addenda: Romney should be thanking his lucky stars that a) Rupert Murdoch and his tentacles are momentarily sidelined, and b) Christopher Hitchens isn’t still alive.

@twitterisdown

by evanmcmurry

#whatdowedo?

Also, I can’t be the only person who, upon seeing that Twitter is down, immediately tries to get on Twitter to see what other people are saying about it.

Also: http://downrightnow.com/twitter

Obama Calls For Gun Control, If By “Call” You Mean “Does Nothing”

by evanmcmurry

Here’s the headline:

Obama calls for more steps to curb violence, including gun control

Holy crap, he did?!?

Here’s the body:

Acknowledging sensitivity of the issue, he said he nonetheless believes that even gun owners would agree “that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of children.” He offered no specific proposals but referred to background checks to prevent criminals and fugitives from purchasing weapons, and preventing guns from getting into the hands of the mentally unbalanced. Previous efforts to do the same have been thwarted by political opposition and the reluctance of sympathetic elected officials to take on the National Rifle Assn., among the nation’s most potent lobbying forces.

So, no, he didn’t. Back to work, everybody. (via LA Times)

Paul Krugman, Martin Feldstein agree on something (not here, in Europe)

by pdxblake

Martin Feldstein, a conservative economist, argues (ht Mark Thoma) that a rapid fall in the value of the euro can “save Spain”.  His argument, which applies for all the peripheral countries including Italy and Greece is that:

“The increase in peripheral country net exports would also raise their gross domestic product and so reverse their recessions that were caused by higher taxes and cuts in government spending. That would make it politically easier to achieve the needed fiscal consolidations. And shifting from recession to growth would raise business incomes and employment, reducing the volume of bad loans and mortgage defaults now hurting the banks.

Furthermore, the devaluation in the euro, which is already happening could be sped up by looser monetary policy:

“The decline of the euro can therefore occur without specific action by the European Central Bank. But a further shift by the ECB toward a looser monetary policy would speed the euro’s decline.”

Feldstein worked in the Bush Administration, so you would expect me to stick in a big “but” here, but no, I agree, and so too does Paul Krugman who wrote that:

Think of Spain as facing a three-level problem. The topmost level is the problem of the banks; set that aside for now. Below that is the problem of sovereign debt. What makes the debt problem so serious, however, is the underlying problem of competitiveness: Spain needs to increase exports to make up for the jobs lost when its housing bubble burst. And it faces years of a highly depressed economy until costs have fallen enough relative to the rest of Europe to achieve the needed gain in competitiveness.

The issue of competitiveness basically comes down to the fact that it had a huge real estate bubble which inflated prices in the country until 2007 and then, since Spain has no control over its own monetary policy or the value of its currency, it was unable to make the changes the way most countries do: looser monetary policy which stimulates the economy and a devalued currency, which adds stimulus by making exports more competitive.

And it is not just Spain, but all the peripheral countries that had recessions in excess of Germany’s since that country has defacto control of the monetary policy for the whole Eurozone and by and large makes changes to suit its own economy’s needs, the rest of the Eurozone be damned.  That has created a cascade of problems from Greece with various cop outs for why those countries deserved what they got (Ireland had to bite the bullet in taking on bank liabilities as sovereign debt to win confidence with the markets, Greece lied to get into the Euro and spends too much, Portugal was, well, I’m not sure what the reason they would give why Portugal deserved to get thrown into the fire).

However, the cases of Italy and Spain present different challenges.  They are, for one, much larger.  Spain is about 8% of the Eurozone European Union’s economy, Italy is about 12% so between them they represent one-fifth of the Eurozone European Union’s economy.  Italy also has a $2.6 trillion bond market, the third largest in the world.  If it melted down it would cause much greater chaos than the already large impact of the Greek tragedy.

These countries entered the Great Recession in relatively good shape: Spain had a surplus and even now Italy has a small primary (i.e. before interest payments on the debt) deficit even though Italy has a lot of debt.  So the moralizing is not as easy for why these countries deserve the fate of Greece, Ireland (?) and Portugal (??).  Even Germany’s Finance Minister who is wrong on basically everything said that Spain’s debt is not unsustainable, although he resorted to just saying markets were wrong (ignoring the root problem of inaction on a European level to end crisis of confidence in European debt markets that requires ECB action).

So, at the end of the day, we have two economists who agree on very little agreeing that the main issue in Europe is a lack of competitiveness in Southern European countries, and that devaluation (aided by monetary policy) could help speed up the devaluation by loosening monetary policy.  They largely agree, I think, that the ECB has to buy Spanish and Italian bonds to prevent the spikes in interest rates we see now, although I think they would disagree on whether the ECB should target higher rates of inflation in Germany and how the Eurozone will ultimately prevent future crises. However, now, the case is in for why the ECB must act is pretty well resolved, except within the ECB and the German Finance Ministry, which is why the crisis will continue to live another day.

UPDATE: The ECB President Mario Draghi is saying:

  • YIELDS DISRUPTING POLICY TRANSMISSION ARE IN ECB REMIT
  • ECB WILL DO WHATEVER NEEDED TO PRESERVE THE EURO

This presumably (unless it is just another head fake) is the ECB acknowledging, at last, what everyone else has realized for quite a long time.

Does Orange County Have A Police Problem?

by evanmcmurry

None of the Anaheim shooting case sounds good. Here’s the police union’s take:

The Anaheim police union issued a statement saying that the officer had fired in self-defense after seeing Diaz, a documented gang member, holding a “concealed object in his front waistband with both hands.” At that point, “the officer opened fire on Diaz to stop the threat,” said Kerry Condon, the union president.

When the police’s defense doesn’t even involve an actual gun, they’re on shaky ground. But the family’s version doesn’t sound particularly plausible either:

But Dana Douglas, an attorney for the Diaz family, said the statement was inaccurate…Instead, she said he was shot in the lower back of his body, brought to his knees and then fired at “execution-style” in the head.

Anybody want to over/under on the chances of that being the actual sequence of events?

I ordinarily can’t get behind community rage over a police shooting, as it always seems like such a displacement of legitimate anger over socio-economic conditions onto a single incident that ends up being indicative of nothing more than the panic that caused it.

But Diaz was the first of two people killed by Anaheim police last week, adding to the city’s larger-than-normal number of police-involved shootings this year (recall also that Riverside had a similar incident earlier this year). The city blames gang violence, which is also getting the blame for growing homicide rates in Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, and more.

Orange County is an extremely affluent area with a burgeoning minority population; if any place is a candidate for the type of simmering racial and class tension that can boil over at any moment, it’s the OC.*

Don’t call it that.

Tearing Down The High Culture / Pop Culture Pseudo-Hierarchy

by evanmcmurry

I’m with Jed Perl:

MOCA, Deitch, and Broad are part of a much larger catastrophe, a catastrophe that began in the last years of the last century, when Thomas Krens mounted a show at the Guggenheim in New York called “The Art of the Motorcycle.” Krens filled the ramp of Frank Lloyd Wright’s great rotunda with motorcycles, and mused at the press preview that he might or might not ride his own bike up the ramp. Don’t get me wrong. Motorcycles are beautiful. But “The Art of the Motorcycle” was not really about motorcycles. Krens was telling the world that all cultural institutions are pop culture institutions. He was a populist demagogue with an Upper East Side pulpit. He was preaching to the Wall Street types who were hankering for some cultural glamour, telling them it didn’t matter if they didn’t know or care what distinguished a Mondrian from a Kandinsky. Krens has been swept aside. But his message—make it dumb and then make it dumber—has been resonating around the world.

[…] The question is not pop culture versus high culture. We live in a world where there are many opportunities to experience pop culture and many fewer opportunities to experience painting and sculpture. In a wealthy society—and recession or no, this remains a wealthy society—why can’t there be a place dedicated to Mondrian, Kandinsky, Rothko, and Pollock? Is that such a sin?

Hey, replace museums with bookstores, motorcycles with Jonathan Lethem novels, and you’ve got a half-decent literary manifesto, too.

Seriously, Perl’s is an astute and crucial point, and it finally offers a substantive riposte to pop culture’s irritating claim to authenticity that’s so effectively exiled literary fiction (and art). You can’t suggest that perhaps people could read other books than Harry Potter, or maybe feature another book in their book club besides The Hunger Games, or gather famous minds together to discuss something other than Fifty Shades of Gray, without being called an elitist. To insist that literary fiction have a spot in the public consciousness is automatically interpreted as a proposal of a qualitative hierarchy. And everybody wants to play rebel by sneering at a caste system, even—especially—an imaginary one.*

But nobody’s saying that high culture must take precedence over pop culture; we’re saying that pop culture is plenty successful on its own, and it doesn’t need institutions that could be benefiting smaller, more independent, and, yes, more serious artists, to further endow its success. Popular discourse is finite and exclusive; if Feministe is discussing Hunger Games, or if Erica Jong is discussing Fifty Shades of Gray, then they’re not discussing The Vanishers, or By Blood, or Threats, or Other People We Married, or Why The Child Is Cooking In The Polenta, or any of the other books published this year by lesser-known, up-and-coming female writers who composed texts that didn’t start out as Twilight fan fiction.

This is not saying that one is more or less entitled than the other; it’s saying that since Fifty Shades of Gray already has every facet of capitalism working overtime on its behalf, we shouldn’t feel bad about petitioning for attention to be paid to other novels. In fact, we should, like Perl, demand it without shame. (via TNR)

* That pop culture products eternally benefit from this faux-hierarchy by using the strawman of high culture to excuse its flaws is a post for another time.

Mitt Romney Likes Firing People, Like His Ghost Writer

by evanmcmurry

LISTEN UP, HATERZ:

“I spent almost nine months writing [No Apology],” Romney said at one of his first town halls in 2011. “A ghost writer … came back with the first chapter, I read it and said, ‘This’ll never do.’ And so I sat down and did the research and did it myself. So you’ve got me in there. The English isn’t that great, but the thoughts are in there.”

You hear that?!? Mitt Romney doesn’t outsource his book writing. Though he, um, tried. Maybe a Finnish ghostwriter next time? (via Weigel)

Republicans are holding middle-class tax cuts hostage to get high-end tax cuts extended

by pdxblake

Now that the Democrats have passed by 51-48 an extension of the Bush tax cuts, there is a clearly defined line for politicking the differences between the two parties’ positions.  Of course, the Senate bill is meaningless because it would have to be first introduced in and passed by the House, and if that ever happened, hell would freeze over the Republicans would not hold their filibuster fire that they direct towards anything Obama supports.

The economics of the two plans are clear though: the Senate bill continues the tax cuts for the middle and upper-middle classes (all the way up to income levels of $250,000).  The wealthy get the same tax cuts for the most part, but not the additional tax cuts that make the cost much higher with little economic benefit.  To benefit the economy as a whole the money would have to get invested, which is unlikely since there is plenty of capital already around and insufficient demand to justify much more new investment, or be spent, and the wealthy spend a smaller proportion of their income than people with lower incomes.  All it does is balloon the deficit further (which the Republicans sometimes like to pretend they care about, but actually don’t).

So, now we wait for the election to get any resolution on the automatic budget cuts in the sequester and the run up to the December 31st deadline for the entire Bush tax cuts to expire.  And, from where we sit now, Obama refuses to let the high-end Bush tax cuts be extended (rightly, in my view) and the Republicans say they will hurt the economy by allowing the parts of the tax cuts expire that have the most impact on consumer spending, at a time when the economy is weak.

Go here for more of our commentary on tax policy and the Bush tax cuts.

The next Brooklyn/Boulder/Austin/Portland …

by drewnilsen

“I’m not from here/
but people tell me/
it’s not like it used to be.
They say I should have been here/
back about ten years/
before it got ruined by folks like me”

— “I’m Not From Here,” Austin, Texas musician James McMurtry

By the time everyone knows a place is cool, it’s already well on its way to yuppification and losing the spirit that made it cool in the first place. Asking “What’s the next Austin?” (or Portland, or Prague, or wherever) has become a cliche — one I’m happy to perpetuate.

Pondering The Next Big Place is certainly a fun exercise, but beyond that, it has practical applications. It can be helpful in figuring out where to move if you’re a recent college graduate or planning a life change. It can identify what cities are thriving and reviving, in contrast to those withering and dying. It can identify fun, off-the-radar places to visit. (Yesterday, the New York Times had a nice profile of a local benefactor single-handedly revitalizing downtown in the small Appalachian city of Roanoke, Virginia. It’s nice to see these things happening in places that aren’t preciously hip. I’ll have to add this to my East Coast road trip list, maybe on my 39th trip to Asheville.)

Obviously, merely considering job growth and overall pay ignores a multitude of factors. Matt Yglesias — an insightful urbanist as well as political commentator — recently posted a chart of Bureau of Labor Statistics figures showing the metro areas with the highest-paying jobs. On its own, though, these figures are pretty meaningless, as the entire graph consists of some of America’s highest-cost-of-living counties (NY, Boston, DC, SF, etc.). This information would be more useful if translated into a “best bang for your buck” metric.

Joel Kotkin did just that, and Houston comes out tops. [Side note: Although “Houston” is almost a pejorative to most coastal/Yankee city dwellers, it’s a surprisingly diverse and fun city, with great arts and walkable inner-core neighborhoods. Yeah, the metro is a sprawly mess, but Houston — with its re-elected lesbian mayor — is a fairly progressive, nice city with good museums, great food and drinking establishments ranging from nouveau cocktails (The Anvil) to old school, outdoor walk-up bars (Alabama Ice House).] Other good value cities: Austin, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Nashville, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Dallas-Fort Worth.*

Moreover, the Web has no shortage of slideshows with the top 10 places where people are moving. Many of these, however, are often the product of the growth of a particular industry, not the character of the town.

As I discussed last week regarding the personality traits of cities, we’re all looking not for raw data, but rather the je ne sais quoi of what makes a place great. Kotkin extrapolates his “bang for your buck” data into predicting the next big cities, but its too objective and not subjective enough. San Antonio is a lovely place with a thriving economy (and seriously great tacos), but its too undereducated and unintellectual to comport of to Richard Florida’s idea of a “creative class” city any time soon. It may boom, but SAT will not be a PDX or an AUS or even an MSY anytime soon.

Earlier this year, an Austinite postulated on what the next Austins might be.  I was surprised to hear Chattanooga, though a friend of mine has played up Richmond to me (both: road trip list). I’ve been a decade-long champion of Pittsburgh, Detroit is a perennial favorite of journalists to lament or, simultaneously, exalt. I adore Asheville, but I’m not sure it can ever grow enough economically to be The Place (though it might have the best weather in the South). Burlington has been a hippie haven since Phish was playing Nectar’s, but I doubt it will ever blow up.

This is a curious list that has added some new spots for me to check out. I’m curious to hear feedback about the list (tell me more about Chattanooga!), but also readers’ own picks. What off-the-cultural-radar places are fixing to bust out big?

My picks: Milwaukee, Portland (Maine), Missoula or Bozeman, and Orlando.

*You can do your own cost-of-living conversions between metros using this calculator http://www.bestplaces.net/col/; $1,600 per week in DC is the equivalent of only $1,100 in Kansas City, for example.