Club Soda and Salt

No more stains

Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

On the election

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on May 28, 2010

Trinidad had an election on Monday. We’ve known about it for six weeks, of course, but I didn’t post anything. Frankly, I just didn’t have much to say – while I wanted to see Manning repudiated for his incompetence, I found Kamla and company totally uninspiring (quick: name 5 policy promises made by the People’s Partnership. “No more Calder Hart” doesn’t count.) Still, the size of Monday’s landslide was heartening, and it’s hard not to feel at least some of the optimism that our predecessors must have felt in 1986 – with Manning’s resignation, we now have new leadership on both sides of the aisle, and maybe, just maybe, we can put the foolishness that ran rampant between 1991 and now behind us.

In fact, every time Trinidad pulls off an election, it’s hard not to feel a little tinge of pride. We take the peaceful transfer of power as a given in much of the English-speaking Caribbean, but it’s worth remembering that in Trinidad, it hadn’t happened before 1986 (because it hadn’t come up, not because of resistance). It might not seem like a big deal, but it’s a basic requirement of democracy, and incredibly rare occurrence in human history. We’re doing pretty well in this respect, especially for a former colony with two equally balanced ethnic groups, each aligned with one party or the other.

And I have to admit that I also swelled a little while reading about Kamla Persad-Bissessar being sworn in with the Baghavad Gita. It really drives home how unique Trinidad is. I live in a country that considers itself the melting pot to end all melting pots, but where people head to their fainting couches at the mere suggestion that our President (or even a couple of members of Congress) may have read the Koran a couple of times. Meanwhile, Trinidad elects a Hindu Prime Minister and no-one there bats an eyelid (well, about the Hinduism, in any case). Trinidad is a place where diversity is just a part of daily life, rather than an aspiration or a political billy club, and I feel lucky to be from there.

That’s enough positivity. Time to return to the usual complaining about the sad state of Trinidadian government! I’m sure seeing Jack Warner in the cabinet will provide plenty fodder down the road…


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They can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on April 18, 2010

Usually, articles about how New York is oppressing drivers by making them pay their fair share for space and infrastructure are the province of rags like the Post and the Daily News. Sadly, it seems like the Grey Lady has decided to horn in on the action:

For [Broad Channel’s] roughly 3,000 residents, daily trips to the peninsula over the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge are something of a necessity. The toll is $2.75 for drivers without an E-ZPass. But for the past 12 years, residents of Broad Channel and the Rockaways have been allowed to cross it without charge.

But their free ride is about to end.

Broad Channel is a middle-class neighbourhood on the fringes of New York City. As you can see below, it is located on a tiny island in Jamaica Bay, and is connected to the rest of the city by two bridges:

The bridge to the north goes to Howard Beach and the rest of New York, and is free. The bridge to the south goes to the Rockaways (another neighbourhood in the bay), and is the bridge at the center of the “controversy”. Since both bridges have been free, the rest of the city has been subsidizing the transportation costs for Broad Channel residents for 12 years. Some would say that the end of this subsidy is a reasonable step given the dire financial situation at the MTA. The New York Times, however, decides to focus on the fact that the locals – shockingly – are upset that the rest of the state will no longer pay to maintain a bridge that largely serves just them:

Under the new rules, residents of Broad Channel and the Rockaways who have an E-ZPass will no longer be credited the $1.13 toll they pay each time they cross the Cross Bay Bridge, although they will not be charged if they make more than two crossings a day.

To many people in Broad Channel, a largely working-class enclave, it means paying to get to the doctor’s office, go to work, pick up a child at school or attend a meeting of the local community board. It is not uncommon for families to have lived there for generations; many of the residents are civil servants.

How cruel! Of course, residents of Broad Channel have another way to get to the Rockaways:

Of course, the subway costs $2.25, but I guess it’s ok for transit riders to pay while drivers use the bridge for free. The times doesn’t think the subway is good enough, though:

The A train stops there, but the ride to the financial district often takes 90 minutes. Someone who uses the bridge to get to work will now have to pay nearly $600 a year.

The ride to the FD is indeed long, but the whole article is about these people needing to go in the *opposite direction*! Total non-sequitur. Moreover, driving to Manhattan will still be free for Broad Channel residents, since the bridge that connects them to the rest of Queens (and ultimately to downtown) is toll-free! So the 90 minute complaint is a total red herring.

So to summarize, rather that be forced to use the subway just like everyone else, middle class folks  people who have chosen to live in a relatively remote part of New York should have everyone else’s taxes pay for their free bridge(s). Do I have that right, NYT? Thanks for clearing that up.

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Half the story has never been told

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on February 8, 2010

Focus on coinage, not carbon (image from size8jeans on Flickr)

If  you’re trying to convince the public of anything, the face you put on your efforts is fairly important. This is especially true for a movement livable streets and urbanism, which seeks to do unpopular things like remove highway lanes and charge money for parking. Unfortunately, the movement is terrible at this. Despite pushing policies that disproportionately help the working class (good transit, jobs in downtowns, etc.), urbanists manage to be viewed as a bunch of white cycling-crazy technocrats, while people pushing for more lanes and parking and cars get to claim the populist mantle. It’s bloody tragic. And Streetsblog – and I don’t mean to pick on them, because they do great work – provided a pretty good example of why this week with this post talking with some degree of fascination about the fact that a lot of people bike not by choice, but out of necessity.

So what to do about this? How can people who love cities and transit claim the social justice mantle? I’m not ready to do the heavy lifting here, but I’ve got a few ideas about how to start:

1. Dial down the climate-change rhetoric: I hear a lot on the blogs about how transit is great for the environment, but fair or not, environmentalism is frequently viewed as a luxury concern of the upper-middle class. Hitching our star to the climate change bandwagon just confirms people’s suspicions that livable streets advocates are part of the nanny state that wants to tell them how to live and judge them for using cars. It certainly doesn’t broaden the appeal, even if it helps get the message out there a bit more.

2. Talk about jobs: Why is transit great? Why do we love walkability? For me, a big part of it is that transit helps everyone get to work more cheaply, and walkability can allow for more vibrant and healthy downtowns that create more jobs. I know that this gets a lot of play in a broad way, but there’s not that much focus on the impact on the working class. Yes, a walkable and accessible downtown is a delight for middle class families, but it’s a lifeline for a working class person looking for and commuting to a service industry job. This should be a bigger deal.

3. Talk about suburbanites too: Suburbs continue to grow, and grow faster than the cities they surround. But their faces are changing – inner ring suburbs in particular are becoming more diverse, and poverty is on the rise. These towns are going to look more like cities in some ways, and while I don’t expect a subway in every suburb, I do think that tweaking our solutions to appeal to different settlement models will provide an opportunity to widen the constituency.

4. Faces matter: Let’s be honest – it’s pretty rare to see a minority face or voice on Streetsblog. When it is, it’s usually a child or an elderly person. This is a serious problem. Streetsblog NY likes to get annoyed with NYC pols who avoid making hard decisions about transit funding, but then turn around and stage rallies with a bunch of “regular folks” about how awful all the subway cuts are, but it works. It’s time to play that game and make the movement look as diverse and grassroots as it is, or at least as it should be.

The fact is that livable streets are a huge boon for the middle and working class. Lower transportation costs, more jobs, and greater variety of affordable housing are all goals that have every right to be popular, but are currently painted as “elitist”. It’s time to think about how to turn that around. Recognizing that we’re not our own target audience is the first step.

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Because we all know how much the Bushies hated Saudi

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on April 13, 2009

I was giving a quick read to the Economist’s take on Obama’s G20 tour, and the reaction to it back here in the US. Two things annoyed me in this article. Thing 1:

So far, the optimists form a sizeable majority. Pundits lauded Mr Obama’s performance in Europe. Public approval for his handling of foreign policy rose from 54% in February to 61% at the end of March, according to Gallup. These are impressive numbers. But the same poll found that disapproval of his handling of foreign policy had also gone up by six points, from 22% to 28%. Only the “don’t knows” declined. As Mr Obama starts to have a track record, more Americans are forming opinions about it.

First off, the last sentence should have been left on the editing room floor, as it says nothing. But secondly, if you are going to try to draw conclusions based on 6- and 7-point poll movements, you absolutely have to provide the margin of error. Did we learn nothing from Nate Silver, people?

Thing #2:

For many conservatives, the defining image of Mr Obama’s European tour was not the adoring crowds but the way America’s new president bowed before the king of Saudi Arabia. Bloggers juxtaposed his cursory nod to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth with the deep bow he gave to the dictatorial ruler of a far less reliable ally.

Now, look. I don’t think that Obama is going to be particularly groundbreaking when it comes to relations with Saudi Arabia, and I actually have some sympathy for the argument that we should be less friendly with them. However, this is an odd argument for conservatives to make, given Bush’s famous friendliness with the Saudi royal family (oh wait, I forgot – Bush isn’t actually conservative, or… something — activate competence dodge!). Moreover, our freedom to rile up the Saudis has been thoroughly compromised by the need to keep our bases there, due to some unpleasantness above their northern border that we apparently had something to do with. Gah! One set of war-mongering foiled by previous ill-advised war-mongering! Must remember to lay off the couscous while making mongering plans!

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Wake me up when it’s over

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on July 27, 2008

Another July 27th, another anniversary of the worst day in our nation’s history swept quietly under the rug. Our leaders have once again demonstrated how deeply unserious they are. Former PM and President Robinson puts it best:

I don’t think they understand the significance of the anniversary and of the memorial in the grounds of the Red House! That is part of our problem in Trinidad & Tobago: we really don’t have the sense of what it means to be a nation.

Of course, when I heard what was said about the then leaders of the opposition-that one had said, “Wake me up when it’s over” and the other that it was a matter between the Robinson and the Muslimeen man-when I heard that, I said, “No, this is not a country at all!” I just couldn’t understand it.

Given the uninterested reactions of Manning and Panday during the coup, I’m not sure why we’re surprised about their actions today. They’ve never cared about the country, and they’ve given us plenty of opportunity to see that, from 1990 on.

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Originalism indeed

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on June 27, 2008

I’ve always thought that the terms “originalist” and “strict constructionist” are — pardon me — bullshit. It’s all just a game of interpretation, and it’s just a cover for conservative justices to come to the conclusions they like. I say they should just have the balls to admit that they take their retrograde moralist conservative worldview and apply it to their judgments. Liberal justices clearly do it all the time, but at least they’re honest about it.

Anyway, I was just thinking about this now because of this ridiculous 2nd amendment ruling yesterday. Someone needs to explain to me how a “strict constructionist” or an “originalist” or whatever the would-be sex police who currently run our court are calling themselves these days can read an individual right to own a handgun into the second amendment. Unless we’re at the NRA museum, where they replace the amendment’s preface with an ellipsis, I just don’t see it. I’m left to conclude that Scalia sees the document as living and breathing too.

One hopes that the media sees this as well, and will start calling Republicans on their “activist judges” nonsense. This is one of the most baldly “activist” rulings to come down in ages. Who will be the first to ask John McCain what he thinks of “activist judges” who read their own views into the Constitution? I’m not holding my breath.

In other news, sorry for the lack of posting. I’m traveling and have also gotten quite busy. Must try harder. In related news, a Trinidad and Tobago passport is a massive pain in the ass if you want to go anywhere.

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Free money for all: a fresh new approach

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on April 27, 2008

The continuing spike in food prices seems to be making people say deeply silly things. On the one hand, you had the recent comments by the Consumer Affairs Minister, in which he declared that he’s had just about enough of this “specialization of labour” fad, and told everyone to plant vegetables in their backyard. Then today, I chance upon this.

Government should reconsider its refusal to subsidise basic food items for T&T citizens, as publicly announced by Prime Minister Patrick Manning.

Economist Dr Dhanayshar Mahabir said Government did not base its decision on a detailed consideration of subsidies and how such a programme could be implemented and managed and should be reconsidered in light of the hard times being suffered by citizens.

“I completely disagree with the Government,” Mahabir said during a telephone interview last week.

“There is no basis why we can’t offer a subsidy to consumers on rice, flour, cooking oil-if the price of that is also to rise-and milk.”

Really? You’re an economist and you can’t think of why subsidies on specific products might be a bad idea? You’re a professor at the main tertiary insitution in the Anglophone Caribbean, and you can’t think of a reason? I would like to suggest that UWI serious consider opening a vacancy in their economics department, because, yikes.

Anyway. He continues.

“But given the information technology available to us now, [black markets, and other inevitable results of this kind of plan] need not happen. For example, of the total cost of a package of flour, if it is to be $55-it is easy now for a company like the National Flour Mills to send a package of flour to a supermarket, charge the supermarket $35 and then send a bill to the Government for $20.

“At the same time, the flour can be stamped ‘Maximum Retail Price $40’, so the consumers are aware.

Oh, thank GOD we can use technology (ink? paper?) to stamp an MSRP on the packs of flour. Surely when there are flour shortages (which there will be if the government does this), people will not happily ignore those kinds of controls and pay whatever the market will bear. Because that never happens.

“I think that in the short period, given the incredible hardship being faced by the poor and middle class, the latter also slowly slipping into poverty, I now call them the working poor, the Government has to re-think its position on the four basic items.”

Emphasis mine. I hope he doesn’t think that using the term “working poor” to refer to the lower end of the middle class is somehow creative. In any case, this illustrates the problem I have with this sort of thing quite nicely. He is assuming that flour, rice, milk, and cooking oil are the “basics” for everyone, and would have the government assume the same. But why? I actually tend to eat more vegetables rather than starches. Why don’t I get a subsidy?

Also: Mahabir is correct to say that the working poor are struggling with the jump in food prices. But his subsidy plan doesn’t transfer money to just the working poor who need it – it transfers money to *everyone* (except me and my quasi-Atkins eating habits — I’m bitter!). If you want to help the poor, why not just help them directly with food vouchers and/or plain old cash? Then they could spend it as they saw fit, rather than having the pointyheaded elite decide for them, Dr. Mahabir.

Mahabir pointed to what he said was a fact being lived by thousands across the country-four years ago, a food bill that was around $1,000 has now doubled while salaries have remained the same.

We are in agreement that this is a huge problem, for the record. I just don’t think we should be subsidizing food purchases for people in Westmoorings and Fairways to solve it. Call me crazy.

But the good doctor isn’t done yet.

Along with subsidies on food items, he also suggested the removal of Value Added Tax (VAT) on more items, including electricity.

“There is no good reason why the Government, in its healthy fiscal position, can’t subsidise a basic commodity like electricity,” he said, noting that a subsidisation programme does not have to be permanent.

Oh. My. God.

In a country that is already one of the world’s most prodigious polluters (per capita, granted), and a country with comically heavily subsidized energy costs, we should encourage *more* pollution? In fact, you’d like us to subsidize it?

Dr. Mahabir and John McCain should really hang out.

Also, the idea that the government could remove VAT on electricity, and then have the nuts required to put it back is either really stupid or really naive.

He also argued that it was time that T&T adopted the long-held European method of subsidy, where a cash transfer was made to farmers should prices fall below a mark set by the State and it was found that farmers’ profits were reduced.

You know, having given this a little thought, this isn’t the worst thing in the world. It sure beats price controls, and it’s not like the Trinidadian market is big enough for this to cause the problems caused by subsidies in the US and EU. On the other hand, it would direct capital to farming when it could be better applied elsewhere. Yes, this might be OK as a temporary effect, but things like farm subsidies have a funny habit of becoming permanent.

“There is nothing wrong at all with subsidising the farming sector of the economy,” said Mahabir, noting a significant decline in agriculture-the farming community has shrunk from 30,000 in 1988 to 20,000 today while the acreage cultivated has also declined, with lands either being abandoned or going to housing and other industries. Following the closure of Caroni (1975) Ltd, the contribution of agriculture to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) went from four per cent to half a per cent, he also noted.

1. What’s wrong with the land being used for housing? People need houses.

2. The decline in acreage tells me nothing about the food being produced on the land (yields may well be down too, but he doesn’t talk about that). Ditto the decline in the number of farmers.

3. That tidbit about Caroni, if true (sounds pretty hard to believe to me), really drives home what a great idea closing Caroni was (no wonder both the UNC and PNM supported it when each was the party in power). Apparently, 3.5% of our economy was tied up in a horrible inefficient and unprofitable industry, and now that land and capital can be used for better things, like, say, planting food.

“We need to look at the capabilities of the existing 20,000 farmers and at their impediments. Their impediments are largely State-induced. They are not getting the research that allows them to produce high-yielding crops. We have to put the farmer at the centre and gear all policy-making towards that.”

If they don’t have information about high-yielding crops, then why not give them that information, instead of the taxpayers’ money? I don’t see how dulling competition with subisidies is going to solve this at all.

To Dr. Mahabir’s credit, he does point out the obvious: that the run up in food prices is *global*, something that frequently gets lost when Trinidadian media address the issue. There are a lot of things that are the PNM’s fault. This isn’t one of them. Of course, he makes some rather stupid comments about how farmers are UNC and so the PNM hates them, as though (1) the UNC did much of anything for poor farmers when it was in power and (2) the PNM doesn’t depend on people who, you know, have to buy food for its votes. So it’s a mixed bag, but it’s like 80% crap.

Frankly, it’s pretty disheartening to see an economist spouting this sort of thing. Neither of these plans is likely to work. Perhaps it’s a reflection of how desperate the food situation is becoming that learned folks are running around calling for price controls and farm subsidies and other plans that just. don’t. work.

Not that I can think of anything better, to be honest.

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On Haters

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on April 26, 2008

I suppose I should be used to Paul Krugman’s crochetyness about the Democratic primary by now, but this was especially silly on his part:

Despite [his focus on issues of process rather than economic issues], Obama is still the clear favorite for the nomination. But if he is the nominee, and runs this way in the general election — if it’s about the candidate’s awesomeness, not about why progressive policies make peoples’ lives better — it’s a formula for defeat.

I don’t even know what this means. Is talking about government reform somehow talking about how awesome you are? Does Krugman, of all people, not get why saying “the system is broken” is actually a relevant issue to raise right now? And I’m not even going to get into the Shapiro nonsense he quotes, except to say that implying that Iraq isn’t a big part of Obama’s insurgency is either painfully stupid or willfully ignorant.

But of course Krugman gets it. He’s just bitter about the loss of his preferred candidate. That’s fine, but seriously, this campaign is over. It’s time for people like Krug to focus the guns on McCain, rather than keeping the circular firing squad going. I’m sure he will, but when is he going to start? For all the stupid shit people talked about those of us who supported Dean in 2004, we were 100% behind Kerry as soon as the writing was on the wall. It’s time for the Clinton folks to extend the same courtesy, even though Obama is supported by *gasp!* young people.

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Shark Jumping Complete

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on April 19, 2008

Well, this is charming:

“We have been less successful in caucuses because it brings out the activist base of the Democratic Party. MoveOn didn’t even want us to go into Afghanistan. I mean, that’s what we’re dealing with. And you know they turn out in great numbers. And they are very driven by their view of our positions, and it’s primarily national security and foreign policy that drives them. I don’t agree with them. They know I don’t agree with them. So they flood into these caucuses and dominate them and really intimidate people who actually show up to support me.”

Shorter version: I’d be winning if not for all these damned voters! (I suppose you could be charitable and interpret this as a complaint against the undemocratic nature of caucuses, but come on.)

I’m not sure why Hillary (and Bill) continue to drag their heretofore excellent legacy through the mud, but it’s bloody painful to watch. Hopefully she loses PA by some miracle and finally, mercifully drops out.

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Obama’s big problem…

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on February 7, 2008

… is that he doesn’t seem to have made any headway in the Hispanic community. I’m not sure that he can. One ominous nugget appears in the form of this map of precincts in NYC from the NYT:

If you are familiar with the city, you can clearly see that the Hispanic neighbourhoods were overwhelming Clinton strongholds. Bear in mind that this seems to cut across subgroups: Dominicans in Washington Heights, Puerto Ricans in the Bronx, Mexicans and South Americans in Corona — they all went for Hillary.

I’ll be interested to see if he can overcome this. I guess we’ll find out in Texas!

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