March/April/May 2015

“As a Job creator…”

In 1999, I started an internet business that, at its peak, employed about fifty people. I never thought of myself this way, but I guess I was what Mitt Romney and John Boehner obnoxiously call a “job creator.” But the funny thing is that the success of my business was not affected by regulation, taxes,… Read more »

Mortgage refinancing and nasal cleansing

My neighborhood in Brooklyn is heavily populated by Caribbean immigrants. As in most immigrant neighborhoods, you find the occasional store created by some incredibly hardworking person offering a particularly disparate collection of services that he or she happens to know how to do. The store closest to me offers mortgage refinancing, faxing, and nasal cleansing. Another… Read more »

The X-Men voting bloc

In the not-too-distant future, the technology will be available to provide genetic enhancements before and after birth to improve your intelligence, strength, memory, empathy, bravery, and just about anything else. My younger son, who brought this to my attention, pointed out the mind-boggling ethical implications. Naturally I went to the far more important question: Who… Read more »

The politics of community college

I know there are some substantive challenges with President Obama’s proposal to make community college free. But, damn, isn’t it brilliant politics? Republicans have long cast the Dems as being only for education of the elites. By focusing on community college, Obama makes the case that higher education matters for the working class, not just… Read more »

It worked

My older son has been working in Democratic campaigns in Wisconsin while going to college and has developed important skills. A few weeks ago, I forgot to send money for college, and got the following email: Subject line: Steven, I need your help Steven, I need your help now more than ever. The cost of… Read more »

We preempt this program…

One of the greatest special interest triumphs of the last decade has been the successful drive by the phone companies, cable companies, and other internet service providers (ISPs) to wipe out local efforts to provide municipal wi-fi. In nineteen states, they used their awesome power in the state legislature to override local programs. (Another reason… Read more »

The crisis of statehouse reporting

That 2011 FCC report on the state of the media raised special concerns about international and local reporting. There are some signs of hope on the international side, thanks to new players like Vice and Ground Truth and the ability Americans now have to easily read journalism created by foreign publications and citizens. On the… Read more »

In which a bureaucrat tries to find stuff out

A few years ago I did a stint in the federal government, working for the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. The experience certainly makes me agree with the gist of the argument Lee Drutman and Steven Teles make in this issue (“New Agenda for Political Reform”) that one of the most important, and least… Read more »

Did homophobia hurt traditional marriage?

The story in the current issue (“Can Gay Wedlock Break Political Gridlock?”) about the possibility for a new left-right coalition around marriage makes me wonder whether religious conservatives made a history-altering blunder when it comes to marriage policy. They were among the first to express concern about rising rates of out-of-wedlock births. In the 1980s,… Read more »

Obama’s sleeper legacy

One of the great sleeper legacies of the Obama administration may be another idea he got from Bill Clinton: income-contingent college loans. Back in 1991, when Clinton talked about national service—what would eventually become AmeriCorps—his pitch actually had two parts: “Opportunity for all means giving every young American the chance to borrow the money necessary… Read more »

Priorities in order

Vox recently ran a chart based on Facebook activity showing what Americans were most grateful for. The contrasts were delightful. California thanked the stars for YouTube. South Carolinians were most grateful for salvation. And for New Yorkers? The word was “apartment.”

Who ruined Mike Huckabee?

I’ve long felt that Fox News has done the Republican Party far more harm than good. It promotes issues like Benghazi and the IRS scandal that drive ratings but don’t appeal to a broad range of voters. It is the main overseer of the conservative bubble that insulates their leaders from actual public opinion. There’s… Read more »

Freudian slipping

My younger son came home from college after his first semester reporting that one of his favorite courses had been Intro to Psychology. “Oh,” I asked, “what did you think of Freud?” “He didn’t come up,” my son reported. The focus, appropriately enough, was on neuroscience, which has dramatically improved our understanding of the brain…. Read more »

Be careful in the echo chamber

In the 1980s, we bemoaned that the rise of talk radio was polarizing. The types of shows that succeeded pushed outrage and extremism, usually on the right. When cable TV exploded, we thought, Oh, good, with hundreds of channels, we’ll have a real diversity of voices. Instead, the economics of niche programming brought us Fox… Read more »

Speak softly and carry a venti latte

There were many amazing moments in the Ken Burns series about the Roosevelts that ran last year. But none was as significant as this: Teddy Roosevelt drank a gallon of coffee a day. This changes everything. All this time I thought TR had a preternatural zest for life. Now we must wonder if the bursts… Read more »

What Obama and Taft should have in common

If Hillary Clinton wins, Obama should be her first Supreme Court appointment. It’d be good for her, and very good for progressives. Would he want it? It’s possible he’d view it as too confining, but it may be the only job a former president can get that won’t seem like a step down.

Obama and Clinton complete each other

The Game of Thrones fans among us can’t help but speculate about the behind-the-scenes relationship between the Clintons and the Obamas. Surely these bitter rivals must be planning how to poison or impale each other. Conservatives, meanwhile, enjoy stoking a conflict, arguing that Obama has abandoned the centrism of good-ole Clinton in favor of 1970s… Read more »

Four regulations and a funeral

A few years ago, my wife became a funeral director. She has a special emphasis on “back to basics” funerals: simple caskets, avoiding embalming if possible, woodland burial, personal attention from the funeral director. She’d like to set up her own small funeral establishment some day, but she discovered a roadblock. New York State requires… Read more »

Washington’s Biggest Problem: Not Agreeing on the Problem

Gridlock rules Washington not just because the parties can’t agree on solutions to our nation’s problems, but because they can’t even agree on what the problems are. Senate Republicans didn’t block Barack Obama’s cap-and-trade bill in 2010 because they favored different policies—say, a carbon tax—for controlling global warming. They blocked it because they didn’t believe… Read more »

The Future of Work

The American Midwest and the Mexican border are the twin faces of economic globalization—and the upheavals they have endured
are the new normal.