Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Your Life In Weeks

That's the title of this Huffington Post article, which does a remarkable job of making you think about the time you spend by representing it graphically.

One Thing About The Internet I Like Very, Very Much

It's killing big-box stores.

"Locatecture" Versus "Starchitects"

Confused?  If you care about whether or not your city looks like Everycity, you owe it to yourself to read this discussion.

How Do You Respond When A Gun Owner Wants To "Flaunt It"?

You walk out.  And make the business pay.

Colonial Borders That Still Bedevil Us

There is no better example of this than the post-World War I division of the Ottoman Empire by the British and the French.  This explains it all.

Immigration: Where Conservatives Collide

And, as a result, liberals and libertarians meet up.  Take a look.

Why The Export-Import Bank Is NOT "Corporate Welfare"

First of all, you're probably wondering:  the what Bank?  Well, just because you may never have heard of it, that doesn't mean that it doesn't matter to a lot of people.  Angry Republicans on Capitol Hill, for starters.  And every one else as well.

The Ex-Im Bank (for short), as described here,  provides guarantees for loans that help American companies sell goods abroad.  That's all it does.  And, amazingly, it makes a profit while doing it.  In other words, it not only costs the taxpayers absolutely nothing, it actually helps to reduce the deficit.  And, for those reasons alone, it differs tremendously from most forms of "corporate welfare."

For the most part, "corporate welfare" consists of actually handing money over to private companies, without any strings attached, either in the form of direct subsides or preferential tax treatment.  Not surprisingly, this is always rationalized as being in the "public interest" in some sort of specious way.  And, in some cases, there may have been at one time some justification for that label, if the industry in question has long-term potential for public good and needs a short-term boost to realize its potential.  Thus, the oil industry may have actually required subsidies at one time.  But anyone familiar with the profits from oil knows that the need for that short-term boost expired decades ago.  I believe that solar power needed and deserved to benefit from public subsidies but, now that it's taking off as a private industry, there is clearly an argument for re-directing those subsidies.

That's the beauty of the Ex-Im Bank.  It does not enable long-term spending of public money for any one industry, or segment of the private sector.  It primarily serves as a guarantor of risk, one that has actually created tax revenue rather than re-directing it.  As the Slate article to which the link above is connected, the basic concept behind the bank has been duplicated and expanded in application around the world, and as close to home as Canada.  The article mentions President Obama's proposed "infrastructure bank" as an example of how the Ex-Im Bank model could be expanded to create a whole new range of private-public partnerships that could meet public needs in ways that expand the private sector as well--but without the inherent cronyism of "corporate welfare."

But that brings us back to Republican determination to kill the bank.  Why?  Not because they object to using government in ways that help the private sector.  For them, helping the private sector is the only reason that government exists.  And the Ex-Im Bank does much more than help Wall Street; it also helps Main Street, in the form of jobs that frequently are union jobs.  Even worse, the Ex-Im bank was a New Deal creation.  Unions!  F.D.R!  No wonder they can't wait to kill it.  Today's modern Republican Party isn't about serving everyone through compromise; it's about serving its contributors through fascism.

The Ex-Im Bank could actually serve as a beacon toward America's future.  Instead, it seems destined to become a victim of the insatiable conservative appetite for power.  As will we all, unless we wake up.

The Emptying Pot Of Casino Gold

A little bit of full disclosure (as well as self-promotion) at the outside: in my life as an actor, I am currently working on a Web series about life in Atlantic City.  It's written, produced and directed by a professor at Rutgers University who is also a native of the city, and has watched first hand the rise, and now fall, of the Casino Age in his home town.  Without giving away any of the plot points in the season we're currently working on, I can tell you that, right now, we're wondering whether art is imitating life, or vice versa.

Because Atlantic City, which rose and fell once in the early part of the last century, and rose again in the 1970's with the advent of legalized casino gambling, is falling again.  Not a little bit, but spectacularly.  You can get an overview of what's happening here.

Are you surprised?  If so, you shouldn't be.  This is the most foreseeable trend many, including me, have had the lack of pleasure in foreseeing.  We've been foreseeing it, in fact, ever since states neighboring New Jersey--New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and my home state of Maryland--looked at Atlantic City's success and thought they could duplicate it.  In each state, the political leadership started to look at casino gambling as a unlimited pot of revenue gold, one that would spare them the unpleasant task of raising taxes, cutting services, or doing both.

The problem, of course, is that casino gambling isn't unlimited in any sense.  In fact, quite the opposite is true.  Gambling in any form is just another form of entertainment.  And when hard times come for most people, entertainment dollars are the first thing to be cut.  Unless you're the kind of compulsive gambler who will literally sell his birthday suit for another shot at the tables, you can find far cheaper ways of being entertained than sitting on a casino floor, handing over your money to the house one quarter or C-note at a time, and promising yourself that you're going to be rich if you just let yourself get suckered one more time.  Read a book.  Surf the Web.  Have a nice, home-cooked meal with your family.  In fact, almost anything.

As an industry in America, historically, casino gambling has only looked lucrative for a long time because, for a long time, only one state legalized it--Nevada.  It's easy to get a big crowd if you're running the only pizza parlor in town but, as soon as everybody sees how much people like pizza, they're going to start opening other parlors, and test the limits of the market.  Soon, the market gets more parlors than it needs, and some of them start to go out of business.  Maybe a lot of them, if there's a really big number.

In fact, for a time, Atlantic City actually cut into Vegas' business, forcing Vegas to re-invent itself as a more family-friendly destination.  Now, local competition is going to force Atlantic City to make the same hard choices.  Will it go in the direction of Vegas?  Or will it bet on other forms of vice (pun intended)? Only time will tell.

But what is clear is that the free ride for politicians is over.  They will have to go back to growing spines, making choices, winning or losing elections in the process, and helping all of us to discover what we should always have know:  there's no such thing as a free lunch.  Not in Atlantic City, and not anywhere else.

Monday, September 29, 2014

From Your Mouth To God's Ears--Or, At Least, To The Moon

Thanks, Phil Plait.  We're a species of explorers, and it's time to start acting like it again.

Will The Democrats Be Saved By Southern Black Votes?

Let's hope that this author is right.

Why Redistricting Reform Matters More Than Campaign Finance Reform

I'm all for both, but this makes a compelling case for the primacy of the former.

Sweden Makes The Case Against School Choice

Take a look.

Tax The Shareholders, Not The Corporation?

This argument has come into vogue lately, and this article hints at why.

Proof That Immigration Works--From A Suprising Source

Germany.  Given its checkered (to put it politely) history with multiculturalism, one would not expect to see it serve as an example of how immigration makes a country better.  But here's the proof.

No. 2 Never Acted Like No. 1

And that's why, despite being an Orioles and Mets fan, I am willing to admit that I will miss Derek Jeter.

In some ways, Jeter was the perfect New York athlete.  On the field, one of the best shortstops to play the game.  With a multicultural background, he was a natural fit in the Big Apple's melting pot.  But, with rare exceptions, being a New York athlete has traditionally come with some unattractive personal bagging.  Self-aggrandizing comments in the media.  Controversial behavior on and off the field.  And a tendency, not always justified, to put personal goals ahead of the team.

Happily for all of us, Jeter never carried any of this baggage.  He always made the media happy by having something to say without patting himself on the back in the process.  He never courted controversy, and his reliability gave the Yankee teams on which he played a sense of stability even when some of his teammates seemed to turn into controversy magnets.  (Yes, Alex Rodriguez, I'm talking about you.  And good luck coming back next year and replacing even half of what Jeter brought to each and every game, without the assistance of science.)

Most of all, Derek Jeter did not play for himself.  He put up numbers, but the numbers he was proudest of were the ones associated with Yankee victories and, even more importantly to Yankee fans, World Championships.  There was never anything selfish about his play.  He let the situation and the moment dictate how his talent and experience would respond to it.  His last at-bat in Yankee Stadium, which led to a walk-off win against the Orioles, was a perfect example.  It may not have been a particularly spectacular hit, but it was enough to win the game.  His last one at home.  His last game at shortstop.  It's not surprising that the Oriole players joined everyone else in applauding him after the game.  That says something about the Orioles, but it says even more about Jeter.

Like another retired shortshop, one that played for the Orioles (hint:  his uniform number was Jeter's plus six), Jeter made the game better for everyone by being the kind of player he was.  Someone who not only embraced the moment, but also the larger truth that the game, like the country, is bigger and better than any one of us.  The game, like the country, is better when we work together, when there is more than one star, when the team, the game and the fans together are the ultimate star.

Enjoy your retirement, No. 2.  And find a way to stick around the game.  Here's hoping that more of you rubs off on the rest of us.