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Wow, this must be the first election day in years that a ballot didn’t arrive in the mail for me to fill out–due I think to the state and local municipalities tightening up off-year ballot initiatives and local elections. This is a good thing. Now if only they’d just let county judges and community college trustees just be appointed by the proper authorities, with the understanding that if they suck you can vote out those authorities, hey, that would be nice, but you can’t get everything in life.

The biggest local thing is San Francisco’s ballot measure Proposition F to tighten the use of AirBNB in the city, along with a host of other ballot initiatives relating to affordable living there. Of course, a better idea would simply be to junk the city’s archaic zoning laws and begin building tons of dense housing everywhere, right now. But this will happen around the twelfth of never, as according to the Times article, as much as you might blame the rich for these problems, the real problem (as it has long been) is local progressives who refuse to be pragmatic about housing, prefer no loaf to half a loaf, and are very, very good at stopping things in their tracks:

If current trends continue, by 2025, the Hispanic-Latino population segment will fall to about a third of the neighborhood’s overall number of residents, from about half today, according to a city report. Those trends are why the supervisor David Campos, whose office is a few steps down a marble hallway from Mr. Wiener’s, is pushing for an 18-month moratorium on Mission residential construction that is not 100 percent affordable.

The idea has been excoriated by people who fail to see the logic of halting development in a city that desperately needs new housing. But Mr. Campos is undeterred, calling this the “trickle-down housing” theory.

“You can’t just build more luxury housing and expect working and middle-income people to be there,” he said.

I guess a few more decades of this same failed strategy will finally make affordable housing just appear. Meanwhile, those existing Mission rents will keep climbing. Well done!

Other than that, there’s a good chance that Kentucky will decide to continue to have a Democratic Governor in spite of the last seven years, and also a good chance that Democrats will lose a ton of special state legislative elections. Seriously, the list is here, and it is not good when the best possible pickup opportunity is in Missouri. Not good at all.

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I don’t freak out too much about Uber, because I think that, in the long run, it will either cease to exist or become indistinguishable from the cab companies it seeks to replace. Yes, it’s true, that it manages to get much of its profitability from–and there’s no other way to say it–exploiting workers. It pushes all the risk onto them that cab companies assume for their drivers. Such as, for example, not offering the sorts of benefits that come with a full-time job, like health insurance to pay for injuries incurred on the job, or drivers not being liable for damage to vehicles they drive, or driving others around for money without a commercial-grade insurance policy. Speaking of which, I was in a minor auto accident a few months back. I was the middle car in a three-car accident, and incurred pretty much all the damage–the others had no real damage, at worst a paint touch-up would have been needed. It worked out okay–I wasn’t at fault, nobody was injured, and I didn’t have to pay a dime for repairs, just a couple small incidentals like paying for the police report. But the cost of replacing front and rear bumpers (and, as was discovered later, repairing some damage to the chassis that wasn’t initially visible) wound up amounting to $4400. Seriously. Thanks, rentier capitalism! Which, again, I didn’t have to pay for. My out of pocket expenses were probably in the $20 range, which to me is annoying but bearable. But when I called my insurance company to report the accident, they must have asked me five different questions where the point of each was essentially, “Do you drive for Uber?” I do not, of course. But I can only imagine the poor guy who’s driving people around to afford San Francisco rents and gets his policy invalidated because he was driving for Uber, and then has to come up with that kind of scratch out of pocket. And if there were injuries? Forget about it. Game over. And for a second job? Who needs it?

This is why it simply isn’t going to last, at least not in its present form. Uber and its competitors are still quite new, and people in expensive urban centers who want some additional spending money are going to be drawn to the freedom of it at first. All the benefits of owning your own business with no capital investment needed! But it is ultimately the freedom of the temp worker, and eventually, they’re going to have a hard time getting people to sign up for a job that is, in fact, very dangerous and risky, and thus underpaid. Disagree? Just look at law school applications over the past decade. People eventually get wise to the con. Which means that Uber will have to assume much of that risk, or they’ll fall apart.

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Josh Marshall brings up the obvious point:

Well, as far as I can see basically no one, neither the networks institutionally nor the high profile journalists have said anything about the RNC’s fairly comical decision to ax NBC news.

Now, the additional wrinkle here, of course, is that this isn’t really NBC. It’s CNBC. Not a conservative network in the Fox News sense precisely but one that is more or less totally captured by the ideology of Wall Street and thus leans heavily right on key economic and regulatory issues.

As I noted, this whole drama seems more or less ridiculous to me on all counts. Everybody’s got an angle. No one is pure. And mainly this is a spectacle of a political party unable to root out “media bias” from debates it’s running itself! Whatever. But again, we’ve been to this rodeo before when Fox gets excluded by Democrats or the left.

So media bigwigs, why so silent?

I have to admit that it is more than a little surprising. I mean, it’s obvious enough that the mainstream media lives in almost abject fear of Republican criticism. It’s why the New York Times used euphemisms for torture during the Bush era. It’s why any flimsily sourced nonsense about the Clintons gets breathlessly reported, while Marco Rubio’s fingernail dirt goes unexposed for now. It’s why Bill Kristol and Erick Erickson fall ass-backwards into MSM commenting gigs, while neither one has ever been credible as a disinterested analyst. Post-Rathergate, it’s just sort of how it is, and we all know this. But why would a whole news ecosystem just sort of accept a politically useful Republican judgment like this without forceful pushback that cuts off their access in a material way, maintenance of which was presumably the whole point of this whole exercise?

It’s also worth pointing out that, in terms of survival, the mainstream media’s existential threat comes from liberals losing faith and no longer consuming it than from conservatives criticizing it as irreparably biased. Righties are going to do the latter no matter what, as that very idea forms the basis of the hugely profitable and powerful conservative media complex. Judging by Gallup’s most recent survey, it’s unambiguously the case that older liberals are what’s keeping the MSM afloat–younger people are just about as mistrustful as Republicans, though presumably for different reasons as that’s a demographic that has tilted strongly left over the past decade. It’s also the demographic that propelled Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show to ratings success, not coincidentally. But what one sees is an industry that is apparently so locked into a weird version of the “twice as good” paradigm that it is plainly obvious leads only to oblivion. There’s just no way to for the MSM to inoculate itself against bias charges from the right without becoming FOX News. One would figure that after both giving and not giving the schoolyard bully a dollar leads to the same beating, they’d realize there’s no incentive to giving the dollar and would instead just stand up to them. And yet they don’t. Maybe if The Wire‘s fifth season had focused on this stuff, it wouldn’t have been such a boring waste of time.

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Wardrobe for the film was borrowed from what Roger Moore wore in the horse auction scene from A View To A Kill

Well, faithful readers, I reported to you on the trainwreck that was Jobs, the Kutch-starring cheapie cash-in that came out right after the man died. So it’s time to talk about the recent film about America’s most beloved Bond villain (seriously), which I saw last night. First off, it must be said that Steve Jobs is a vastly better film, though must it be said? You’d have to dig deep into the archives of Ed Wood or Coleman Francis to find more inept filmmaking than that film. There are some fine performances in the film, and there was stuff I liked, but essentially it only met my expectations and didn’t really exceed them in most respects. I do think that Danny Boyle was the wrong choice to direct the film, though given the film’s famously tortured path to the screen, I understand why they had to go with what they could get (I also see why David Fincher dropped out of the project now, not because it sucks so much as that it’s unfocused and the intent of it is unclear). Boyle’s shtick is frenetic activity, as opposed to Fincher’s fanatical restraint. One of these styles works well with an Aaron Sorkin script that’s mostly about people in rooms talking, and one does not. Boyle seems to think that many of the dialogue scenes need to be broken up, and he does this by frequent cross-cutting and flashbacks (and sometimes rapid cross-cutting to flashbacks) which simply don’t work. The movie is structured into three real-time blocks of forty minutes, and constantly taking us out of the present-time, real-time drama just detracts from the drama. There’s also the matter of the deeply odd twee touches he seems to feel the film needs–during the interstitial media montage between the first and second segments, he feels the need to have the word “fired” appear on screen, punctuated by a gunshot sound effect, or to flash some Bob Dylan lyrics graphically on the floor at one point (this is a side note, but there’s nothing that loses me faster than someone other than Bob Dylan reciting Bob Dylan lyrics, especially the over-cited ones in the movie), or the end of the second segment, in which images pertaining to what Jobs is saying are digitally projected onto the blank wall behind him. I’m not a Dogme advocate or anything, but these touches provide no real information to the audience, it just seems to be Boyle needing more visual dynamism in his film. But The Social Network is also a film that’s mostly people talking in rooms, and Fincher is able to bring considerable visual dynamism to it. Boyle clearly doesn’t have the imagination to pull it off without cheap gimmicks. And I don’t mean to nail the guy! Trainspotting was great. But still.

What about the rest of the film? I could talk about the performances, but if you’re really curious, just head over to imdb and look at the cast list. The people who you’d expect to have given good performances did, though in all fairness nobody was completely terrible. I found Jeff Daniels to be a little flat as famed Jobs-firer John Sculley, though I fully admit my bias that I don’t really care for him as an actor (also, fuck you movie for making me realize that the Sorkin-Daniels pairing is a Newsroom reunion). Fassbender gives his usual tour-de-force, successfully modulating Jobs in each time period while still keeping the character consistent, from the intoxicating highs of 1984 to the depressing lows of 1988, and then the weathered upswing of 1997. What interested me about the movie was this very structure, and it is an interesting idea for a film. But I’m not sure Sorkin really makes it work–apparently Jobs talks to the same five people before each launch, and doesn’t see any of them in the intervening years? It pushes it on plausibility. The film seems to argue that Jobs’s obsession with total control over the user experience stems from being an orphan twice over, though this does feel a little too-movie psychology and pat. There’s a throughline about whether what a person makes matters more (or can make up for) what a person is, which is an interesting dynamic, except that the character of Steve Jobs is depicted in a much more sympathetic way than in Jobs or Pirates Of Silicon Valley, which despite its flaws is still the best treatment of this subject matter on film. Yes, he explodes at people and cynically denies his paternity of his daughter Lisa for a portion of the film, withholds money that she and her mother desperately need, but he always relents and the film does give him a redemptive arc of sorts. There are a couple of points where it feels like maybe Sorkin is trying to comment on his well-known last line of The Social Network, but I’m not sure what the point is. Generally speaking, Steve Jobs is far less focused than that film thematically (and a bit less narratively), and far less propulsively plotted. What else to say? Boyle doesn’t rein in the Sorkinness of the dialog in the way Fincher did, though obviously this will be a plus to some people and a minus to others (this might also have something to do with Sorkin not using any primary sources in Steve Jobs). Even the soundtrack seemed a bit underachieving, beginning with edgy electronic music in the first segment and then switching to operatic themes for the second, but then returning to the electronic music for the last segment, which seems like a mistake as it makes it seem as though the soundtrack is repeating and the result is less sonically interesting. Either go with electronic music throughout, or pick something else for the last segment. It’s also probably not a good sign that I was paying a lot of attention to the soundtrack during the first viewing, but the film does give you ample opportunity to do so: the Steve Wozniak scenes are long and repetitive, the film lets everything breathe just a tad too much, and too many scenes that go on longer than it takes to make the point. There’s no snap to it. Kate Winslet seems to figure into the movie to the extent she does because Sorkin couldn’t write banter for one person. The iPod origin story at the end is strange, almost tacked on. The ending hints at a grand gesture that doesn’t come, and I’m genuinely torn if I would have liked him to invite Lisa onto the stage at the end or not. All in all, the film doesn’t stun at any point, nor does it make us see Apple or Jobs in any particular new way. There are some interesting ideas here that aren’t fully developed. It’s far from terrible, though it’s also far from essential.

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History’s Greatest Monster

Hillary Clinton supports the death penalty because of course she does. A part of her will always be stuck in 1972, organizing the hopeless McGovern Texas campaign before that defeat taught her to forever avoid his issues. It’s not even necessarily conservative or liberal type distinctions, so much as “hippy” issues versus non-hippy issues. The legal aspect of gay rights issues are over with, at least, but I wouldn’t expect her to propose any changes to drug laws, and despite her rhetoric I’d be pleasantly if she actually pushed much on criminal justice reform and policing reform. She’ll just leave them to the states, as she promises on each and every one of these types of issues, and will talk about how hard a job cops have and how we need more dialogue while police unions snub her from coast to coast, and minority communities continue to suffer. I’d love to be wrong but I do have some memories of the Clinton Administration. To be fair, Barack Obama flip-flopped on the death penalty in 2008 for literally no reason at all (yes, I know, that source is a little gross, though the facts are indisputable) in an election he could not have possibly have lost. Even from a man who was in grade school in 1972, the fear is there. And in all honesty, in the ’70s and ’80s that’s where the public was. Michael Dukakis didn’t lose just because he didn’t say he’d become Charles Bronson from Death Wish in a debate. But it was a dramatic, highly public moment that was universally deemed a disaster for him, and could well have contributed to his loss. Willie Horton didn’t come out of nowhere. There was a reason he got in that tank. And it’s not as though Dukakis was proposing anything particularly ambitious on those issues, or was altogether much different from the Clintons in his basic political approach. But it’s over forty years later and public opinion is quite different. Marijuana legalization has polled about as well as marriage equality, and is actually extremely popular now, but virtually all elected Democrats support the latter and hardly any the former. If anyone else has another explanation other than McGovernphobia, I’d be happy to hear it.

Hillary is and always will be a Watergate Baby, i.e. someone who responded to the McGovern defeat by basically repudiating what he stood for and calling it pragmatism. In other words, she’s liberal but not that liberal, and she’ll always avoid issues that Baby Boomers considered controversial during their younger years. Obviously this includes peace. Don’t be surprised.

If I had one guess why Republican party actors have been so reluctant to back Marco Rubio in spite of his being the least weak general election candidate and the only polished communicator in the “establishment lane,” my guess is that it’s because corporate elites are more than a little concerned that he’d start a war with China. And they’d right to, considering that an op-ed he wrote promises both an arms race with China (silly because we have way more arms, but nevertheless) and confrontation and aggression in the South China Sea in the name of “strength”, along with a policy of antagonizing and insulting Chinese officials. Politicians, of course, attempt to keep their promises, and while there are bigwig Republicans who are major China hawks and would appreciate this sort of saber rattling (Rubio backer Shelly Adelson and FOX News Chief Roger Ailes are known to have these attitudes), I suspect people in the business and finance worlds are very, very wary about the consequences of a rupture with China. Perhaps that’s why he can’t fundraise for shit (though it could also be that, you know, he hates fundraising, it just bores him).
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There’s no denying that George W. Bush left Barack Obama a huge mess to clean up on practically every front, and anyone who doesn’t acknowledge this is being shifty and dishonest. This is why I don’t criticize him too much on Afghanistan, for example: everyone basically knows that the place is just going to collapse and become a disastrous war zone again as soon as we leave, and it’s hard to believe that sticking around for another fifteen years is going to bring the country any closer to Western-style democracy and stability. History is strewn with the graves of empires who tried. There is something less-than-courageous about Obama basically just running out the clock until he leaves office so that it won’t besmirch that Presidential Library foreign policy achievements wall (as if it would actually be mentioned there, but you get the point), but to use a construction popular with the youth, politicians gonna politic.

But this Friday news dump story announcement to escalate the Administration’s nonsensical Syria policy by putting boots on the ground (i.e. a very small deployment of special operations advisers and facilitators, or whatever other euphemism you prefer) isn’t that. Obama had to deal with the difficulties faced by a post-U.S. withdrawal Iraq, but he didn’t have to make bold, excessive pronouncements about destroying ISIS where reach exceeded grasp. Just like he absolutely didn’t have to turn Libya into a demi-Somalia, just like he didn’t need to deliver a bunch of tall talk about who had to go in Syria, or what constituted a red line, etc. He chose to do those things unprompted by anything Bush left for him. He owns them. And they truly, truly stink. There have been some nice moments, don’t get me wrong–Iran, Cuba, New START–but in the final analysis, Obama has been utterly disappointing on foreign policy. He buys into too much of the previous Administration’s ideas about war and regime change, and he seems fundamentally indifferent to peace unless it is politically advantageous to him personally, or fulfills a separate goal of his. Again and again, he has allowed the hawks to persuade him to follow an unwise course of action that follows no strategy and makes no sense, other than as the path of least resistance in the face of political pressure. Obama has revealed himself as a man who lacks a principled foreign policy vision or even a coherent one, the public I believe has realized this and his approval ratings in this area will never recover. This announcement is the perfect time for progressives to cut bait and denounce this betrayal of the promises he first made as a candidate, and I think it’s long past time that this occurred. It would also be helpful in laying down a marker for Hillary Clinton going forward, over which she dare not cross.

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