American Daily: February 25, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

25 February 2015


Most bias has to do with the industry's norms (stories involving the president get more play than articles about governors, and so on). In some cases, the self-interest of the media plays a role, whether it’s promoting freedom of the press, for example, or building up anyone who might take on Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination as a way to build interest in that snooze fest.

When Oregon was granted statehood in 1859, it was the only state in the Union admitted with a constitution that forbade black people from living, working, or owning property there. It was illegal for black people even to move to the state until 1926. Oregon's founding is part of the forgotten history of racism in the American west.

  • Rahm Emanuel faces a run-off vote in his bid for a second term as Chicago mayor.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who breezed into City Hall four years ago, fell short of winning a majority against four opponents and will face Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in an April 7 runoff.

The failure of Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff, to win more than 50 percent of the vote in the nonpartisan election is a clear sign of discord in the third-largest city, where $20 billion in unfunded pension liabilities threaten insolvency and citizens are plagued by persistent violence.

The word most often used to describe Parks and Recreation among its fans was "nice." (The series ends its run at 10 pm Eastern on Tuesday, February 24, 2015.) It was a show about nice people, who tried their hardest to be nice to each other. It was a show about a small town — Pawnee, Indiana — that seemed to be filled with demonstrably insane people that was, nevertheless, an incredibly nice place to live. And it was about the virtues of niceness.


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American Daily: February 23, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

23 February 2015


Earlier this month, it was far from a done deal. Although the Windy City was where Barack Obama launched his career and started his family, and where his former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel now serves as mayor, a seemingly mundane land use dispute nearly derailed the proposal to build the library at the University of Chicago. Meanwhile, Columbia University, Obama’s alma mater, stepped into the breach — offering 17 drama-free acres in upper Manhattan.
Pre-European economy in North America

It’s fair to say that the most impressive feat Two and a Half Men pulled off is that it existed for so long: 12 seasons and 262 episodes, from Charlie Sheen to Ashton Kutcher, with a little bit of Amber Tamblyn thrown in. Since 2003, it has transformed from Two and a Half Men to Two and a Half Different Men to Two Men and a Kid Who Skypes From the Military to Two Men and a Random Lesbian to, finally, Two Straight Men Who Are Married to Each Other. It’s a sitcom that is simple but never makes any sense. It’s universally despised by culture critics, and the easiest of punch lines to jokes about the worst of television. But it’s also one of the most popular comedies on any broadcast network, ranking in the top 20 for its first 10 seasons. Who’s watching a despised program that is aggressively redundant and gleefully misogynistic, and just churned out a final season that is basically one 16-episode-long gay joke? As it turns out, millions and millions of people watched. And I was one of them.

Of course, Sydney Ellen Wade is a fictional character played by Annette Bening in The American President. Like most people, much of what I know about D.C. I’ve learned from fiction — either movies, television, or the form that is the stock in trade of most other D.C. insiders. In fact, Hollywood and Washington are the two cities in America that depend the most on fantasy, storytelling, and deception. That’s why it perhaps makes sense that one of the biggest trends for beautiful people in Hollywood is to star in television shows about the Hollywood for ugly people. That’s layers upon layers of, well, fiction is still the most polite word I can think of for it. And given the sheer number of such shows today and the limited amount of time you may have, we think it is our duty here at Foreign Policy to provide you with an insider’s guide to those shows.

"Suspect is a blonde female last seen wearing a long blue dress and is known to burst into song 'Let it Go!'" reads the department's all-points bulletin. "As you can see by the weather, she is very dangerous. Do not attempt to apprehend her alone."


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American Daily: February 19, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

19 February 2015


The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.
  • Oregon's new leader Kate Brown is America's first out bisexual governor.
Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown was sworn in as the state's governor Wednesday, after John Kitzhaber resigned due to a corruption scandal.

Brown is the first openly bisexual governor in American history. She's also the only current openly LGBT governor of a US state, and the second openly LGBT governor in US history (after New Jersey's Jim McGreevey, who announced he was gay shortly before resigning).
For those unfamiliar with the phenomenon, a Megyn moment, as I have taken to calling it, is when you, a Fox guest — maybe a regular guest or even an official contributor — are pursuing a line of argument that seems perfectly congruent with the Fox worldview, only to have Kelly seize on some part of it and call it out as nonsense, maybe even turn it back on you. You don’t always know when, how or even if the Megyn moment will happen; Kelly’s political sensibility and choice of subjects are generally in keeping with that of the network at large. But you always have to be ready for it, no matter who you are. Neither Karl Rove nor Dick Cheney have been spared their Megyn moments, nor will the growing field of 2016 presidential aspirants, who can look forward to two years of interrogation on “The Kelly File.” The Megyn moment has upended the popular notion of how a Fox News star is supposed to behave, and led to the spectacle of a Fox anchor winning praise from the very elites whose disdain Fox has always welcomed. In the process, Kelly’s program has not just given America’s top-rated news channel its biggest new hit in 13 years; it has demonstrated an appeal to the younger and (slightly) more ideologically diverse demographic Fox needs as it seeks to claim even more territory on the American journo-political landscape.

If you were in that first group back then, you may still be mad, not just for what you missed out on but because so many of the questions people were arguing about back then—civil rights, Vietnam, sexual liberation—have been settled, and your side lost. Many of those people looked at Bill Clinton and saw every hippie they ever wanted to sock in the jaw.

Judis has now recanted his own analysis. In an election postmortem, Judis now argues, “the idea of an enduring Democratic majority was a mirage.” His essay, headlined “The Emerging Republican Advantage,” now swings in the opposite direction. To say that conservatives have welcomed Judis’s apostasy would be an understatement. A sampling of the giddy responses on the right include Karl Rove, Fred Barnes, Megan McArdle, Conn Carroll, Henry Olsen, Sean Trende, David Frum, Noah Rothman, Walter Russell Mead, and Michael Barone. The outpouring of conservative celebration takes as a given that Judis’s concession proves the emerging democratic majority is dead, or was never alive. But the evidentiary basis for the original thesis is as strong as ever.


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American Daily: February 18, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

18 February 2015


Since these are matters of presidential discretion, Obama has no obligation to compromise with congressional Republicans. If he took the strongest, most climate-protective stance at every opportunity, he might then have something to trade with congressional Republicans — like drilling offshore or coal mining on public lands — in exchange for a carbon price. More realistically, Republicans will continue to reject a carbon price and refuse to make any compromises. But why does Obama compromise with himself? Six years into his presidency, he still shies away from using the levers of power that are readily available to him. Perhaps he just doesn’t care about climate change as much as he claims to.

  • How serious is the legal threat to Obama's immigration reforms?
This doesn't mean that Judge Hanen believes that the deferred action programs are kosher. His ruling makes it clear that he thinks the federal government has abdicated its responsibility to enforce immigration law. And Josh Blackman, a professor at the South Texas College of Law who filed a brief on behalf of the states in this case, points out that Judge Hanen's arguments that the government violated the Administrative Procedures Act could also be used to argue that the government violated the "take care clause" of the Constitution — so he might be laying the groundwork for a future ruling that the programs are unconstitutional.

To escape culpability, Senate Republican leaders are trying to kick the issue back to House Republicans; and all Republicans want everyone to blame Democrats for filibustering the House's rider-laden DHS funding bill. It’s reached the point where a few House conservatives are pushing Senate Republican leaders to nuke the filibuster altogther, and where even House Speaker John Boehner is calling Democratic obstruction of the House bill “as senseless as it is undemocratic.”

  • Canada isn't where Americans think it is.

Look at a real map — one that shows degrees of latitude north from the equator. Follow those lines around the continent. Then watch those bar-trivia-night winnings pile up. Here’s a good (non-trick) opening question for your friends: How many Canadians live south of the Peace Arch in Blaine?

Answer: Most of them. That’s right, tundra-dwelling Puget Sound peeps: about 72 percent of the roughly 35 million supposedly Great White North-dwelling Canucks live well south of the top end of Whatcom County, most of them clustered in the dangling appendage of Hockey Nation that dips far below the 49th parallel in the Great Lakes region.

Thanks Obama


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American Daily: February 17, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

17 February 2015


In 1789, Washington became the first president of the United States, a planter president who used and sanctioned black slavery. Washington needed slave labor to maintain his wealth, his lifestyle and his reputation. As he aged, Washington flirted with attempts to extricate himself from the murderous institution — “to get quit of Negroes,” as he famously wrote in 1778. But he never did.

  • Is Vermont trying to steal New Hampshire's thunder on the primary calendar? 
But this potential Vermont challenge is slightly different than the normal threat to New Hampshire's first in the nation status. This is similar to the North Carolina threat to South Carolina. This is not a situation where a state has drawn a specific line in the sand (see Texas) that only requires New Hampshire to jump to an earlier date. Rather, Vermont -- like North Carolina -- has tethered the date of its contest to that of another state. In other words, there is no escaping the challenging state.

The conventional conclusion from this is, first of all, that anti-Semitic violence in Europe is triggered by events: Israeli incursions into Gaza, the various intifadas, copycat attacks, etc. So you see peaks that correspond to these events, which drives up the trend numbers as triggering events increase. Beyond that, there's a broad increase in attacks that's most likely related to the influence of far-right parties in European countries. The U.S. is different because it has no equivalent far-right parties of any strength, and because, apparently, American anti-Semites aren't especially motivated by specific events. We just have a subset of violent criminals who decide to take out their anger on Jews, and do so fairly randomly.

  • Why do Americans still measure temperature in Fahrenheit?

Why does the United States have such an antiquated system of measurement? You can blame two of history's all-time greatest villains: British colonialism and Congress.

  • New York Times media reporter David Carr died last week. His last column was on Jon Stewart and Brian Williams.

Both men spent more than a decade on top of their businesses for good reasons. Mr. Stewart had a remarkable eye for hypocrisy, found amazing writers and executed their work and his own with savage grace, no small feat. Mr. Williams managed to convey gravitas and self-awareness at the same time while sitting atop one of the best television news operations in the business. They were kings of their respective crafts.


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When is a politician running for president?

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

17 February 2015


Jonathan Bernstein wants the media to be more explicit about who and who isn't running for president:

Patrick O’Connor in the Wall Street Journal has an excellent short list of the tactical, strategic and legal reasons for delaying a formal declaration, ranging from efforts to create drama to catch the media's interest to the regulatory rigmarole that official candidates must submit to.

[...]

What O’Connor doesn’t add is that the rest of us have no reason to join in the pretense. Take, for example, today’s Washington Post headline: “As Scott Walker mulls White House bid, questions linger over college exit.” Walker isn’t mulling over a bid; he’s running! He’s hiring staff, attending candidate forums, and meeting with important donors and other Republican Party heavyweights. He’s doing everything a candidate would be doing at this point.

That goes for Hillary Clinton. It goes for Marco Rubio and Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee and for anyone doing the things presidential candidates do. Sure, there are harder calls (Mike Pence of Indiana has taken some steps, but he’s well behind many others). As always, I follow Josh Putnam on this: The key is to ask whether they’re currently running for 2016, rather than to guess whether they will be running in 2016.

The idea here is that long before the primary voting starts, a process called the "invisible primary" has begun. This is the series of actions by which a candidate will begin courting donors, seeking endorsements from leading party figures, stoking exciting amongst supporters, establishing policy and constituency credentials, and any number of other activities designed to show people involved in party politics that he or she is a serious contender for the presidency. By the time candidates undertake the formal step of forming exploratory committees or officially announcing thier entry into the race, much of the work has been done. In some cases, a candidate won't even reach that point; as Bernstein mentions in this post on Mitt Romney's failed 2016 campaign, that means he ran and failed to win, not that he consider running and decided against it:

The story was pretty simple: Republican party actors, including many who had been with him in 2012, strongly signaled to Romney that they had little use for him this time around, as many observers expected. He could have continued anyway, but with a much better chance of humiliation than of winning the presidency. He sensibly decided to fold.

Another example of this process can be seen in John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's account of Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign in their book Game Change. In July 2006, they say, the then-Senator was summoned to Majority Leader Harry Reid's office:

As Obama listened to the senior senator from Nevada, he wasn't sure where the old man was going. But then Reid's disquisition took an unexpected turn, surprising Obama in both its bluntness and adamancy.

Twenty minutes later, the meeting was over, and Obama headed back to his warren in the Hart building. He breezed through the lobby, down the hall and into Gibbs's office, closing the door behind him.

"So," asked Gibbs from behind his desk, "what did we fuck up?"

"Nothing," Obama replied. "Harry wants me to run for president."

[...]

Harry Reid wasn't alone among Senate Democrats in the dawning desire to see Obama chuck his hat into the ring. Although Clinton hadn't yet formally declared her intention to enter the race, in political circles it was seen as a foregone conclusion, as was her status as the heir apparent, the prohibitive front-runner-in-waiting. And that was making Democrats distinctly nervous in the summer of 2006.

By 2006, long before Clinton or Obama had announced, they were competing with one another for support among party members and gauging their chances at a successful campaign on the basis of the extent of their backing. If Obama had then, like Romney did this year, heard that influential people in the party did not want him to run, he would likely have not bothered challenging: it would be time-consuming, expensive, and embarrassing. 

Where I depart ways with Bernstein is on how the media should report this. Yes, we can safely say that one-and-a-half to two dozen Republicans are currently competing for the presidency, even if they won't admit to it in public. That's good enough for analysts and academics, but news reporters need solid, on-the-record facts rather than inferences drawn from a pattern of policy speeches, book releases, and public profile engineering. Scott Walker, for instance, is absolutely running for president, but to say so in black-and-white would require rewriting standards of journalism that, while not perfect, are still useful for determining basic facts. A news reporter who would definitively describe Walker as a presidential candidate is to my mind claiming an omniscience from which even confident reporters should be wary.

When people ask me if I think so-and-so is going to run for president, I try to be as informative as possible without pretending I know what's going through a politician's mind. (Maybe Scott Walker is running for president or maybe he simply enjoys talking to conservatives in Iowa!) I say that the candidate in question is doing all of the things a presidential candidate would be doing at this time. Perhaps that phrasing would be useful to journalists eager to cut through the theatrics without pretending to have definitive information about a candidates intention presentely unavailable to them.


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American Daily: February 16, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

16 February 2015


Perhaps most important, it would not repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF, which authorized force against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. The problem with this is that the administration has already cited the 2001 AUMF as the legal basis for the authority to wage war on ISIS. That was an absurd argument to begin with, but absent the repeal of that measure, the administration could theoretically still rely on it to carry out activities not sanctioned by a new authorization.

The contract workforce keeps much of Silicon Valley running. New York Magazine reported that companies like Lyft, Uber, Homejoy, Handy, Postmates, Spoonrocket, TaskRabbit, DoorDash, and Washio all classify their workers as independent contractors rather than employees. This has massive financial benefits for the companies: allowing them to forego benefits and minimum wages, to say nothing of pensions or unemployment insurance, while forcing employees to pay for necessary business expenses (e.g the Uber driver’s car). It also has huge legal advantages: by claiming they are just a “marketplace,” the services can deny all legal responsibility for the behavior of their contractor-employees, letting them ignore labor and safety regulations, and potentially saving them millions in individual liability lawsuits.

While these might seem like picayune regulatory changes, they come at a time when Airbnb is trying to gain favor with legislators at the state and local levels across the country, as well as around the world. As it has matured from a renegade hotel alternative to a sprawling lodging network valued at nearly $13 billion, Airbnb has trained its focus on rewriting the rules of the housing and rental market. In many cities, short-term rentals of 30 days or fewer are illegal. Airbnb, for obvious reasons, would like to see this change—and it hopes that formalizing its relationship with tax collectors is the first step toward gaining broader legal acceptance. In a small but growing number of cities, this is proving the case.

Little League International has completed its investigation into Jackie Robinson West, deciding to strip the team from the South Side of Chicago of its U.S. World Series title. Yes, the biggest scandal to rock the sports world since Monday is finally over. Everyone can rest easy that integrity has been restored to the baseball diamond.

Last year a guy I worked with asked if he could take me to his friend’s folk show at some cafe in a place people visit to see leaves, and what I thought was, “don’t you know I charged three hundred dollars to my credit card for One Direction tickets ???” but what I said was, “okay, sure.” The ride was a much longer ride than I believe in taking in the dark with a boy at the wheel whose middle name I don’t know, but then we got there and a girl with exactly the kind of middle-parted long blond hair you’re imagining was singing a slow song about a boyfriend who left her to go “out west.” This meant California like it does in every story and she was being very sporting about the whole ordeal, a pretty little mensch, about to rise above and remember him fondly in the liner notes, until the last chorus when she wailed, let her pain be graceless so everyone would have to know, sang sloppy and wondrous, and it felt wrong, then, how we clapped our hands sedately over tiny candles in red glass jars. I spilled my beer all over myself trying to wiggle out of my jacket in the cramped room, and when I made a big show of reenacting the incident for the group it was just a practiced aw-shucks aren’t I such a silly, clumsy girl, an easy song and dance routine that becomes like what your bones were made from if you aren’t careful, performed without even trying, which is trying, but the subtext was that the dude should go buy me another one immediately. He didn’t, and then the next act played seven songs.


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American Daily: February 12, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

12 February 2015


The father of Yosur Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha is contradicting the narrative that the motive behind his daughters’ killings was caused because of a parking dispute. According to newsobserver.com, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, the women’s father, says that Craig Stephen Hicks had intimidated his daughters and son-in-law on other occasions prior to the killings.
  • Same-sex couples have begun marrying in Alabama.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to stop marriage equality rulings in Alabama from going into effect this morning, denying a stay in the pending federal court cases there.

The move comes even as the state’s Supreme Court chief justice, Roy Moore, has purported to bar probate judges there from granting same-sex couples marriage licenses.

One of this country's least relevant historical political leaders, 13th U.S. president Millard Fillmore, is remembered differently in Buffalo, New York, than he is anywhere else. That is to say, he's remembered differently there by being remembered at all.

And now the NAACP would like Buffalo to ease up on the Fillmore nostalgia.

I grew up with The Daily Show. It hit its stride during the 2004 election—my last full year in high school—and was critical viewing when Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination and then the presidency, my last full year in college. I attended Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in 2010 and have watched the show on a semi-regular basis for almost a decade. And as a liberal, college-educated millennial—the almost prototypical viewer for The Daily Show—I’m thrilled Stewart is leaving.

Ranking the filler from NBC's 1990s-era Must-See-TV line-up.

Like the rest of you, we've been binge-watching a lot of Friends on Netflix lately. (Poor Julie. She never had a chance against Rachel, did she?) And that takes us back to the mid-1990s: an era before DVRs and on-demand viewing, when we as a nation loved Friends, Seinfeld, and ER so much that we would sit through anything — literally, anything — that NBC chose to plop down between those shows.


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A new, multicultural Taiwan

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

12 February 2015


Off topic, but Centre alum and occasional contributor to the blog Sinclaire Prowse has an interesting piece up at The Diplomat about Taiwan's growing multiculturalism, and what it can do to encourage further immigration to the island:

As Taiwan has liberalized and opened, it has become a more attractive place for foreigners to visit, live, and invest. As such, Taiwan is gradually emerging as a multicultural society. But it is clear that in order to compete with its bigger, more popular neighbors in the region, Taiwan will require a larger immigrant population.

Taiwan’s economy is stable, but not impressive. A more open immigration policy is integral to revolutionizing Taiwan’s manufacturing and export-oriented economy. It would also address the glaring economic and social problems associated with Taiwan’s aging population and its status as possessing one of the world’s lowest fertility rates.

The Taiwanese government could address these challenges by better attracting and keeping foreigners on its shores. One of the biggest problems facing Taipei in this area is working out how best to entice foreign students and professionals already studying or working in Taiwan to stay and contribute to society.

The rest is here.


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American Daily: February 11, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

11 February 2015


Sociologists who study black America have a name for these camps: those who emphasize the role of institutional racism and economic circumstances are known as structuralists, while those who emphasize the importance of self-perpetuating norms and behaviors are known as culturalists. Mainstream politicians are culturalists by nature, because in America you seldom lose an election by talking up the virtues of hard work and good conduct. But in many sociology departments structuralism holds sway—no one who studies African-American communities wants to be accused, as the Times was, of “victim-blaming.” Orlando Patterson, a Jamaica-born sociologist at Harvard with an appetite for intellectual combat, wants to redeem the culturalist tradition, thereby redeeming sociology itself. In a manifesto published in December, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, he argued that “fearful” sociologists had abandoned “studies of the cultural dimensions of poverty, particularly black poverty,” and that the discipline had become “largely irrelevant.” Now Patterson and Ethan Fosse, a Harvard doctoral student in sociology, are publishing an ambitious new anthology called “The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth” (Harvard), which is meant to show that the culturalist tradition still has something to teach us.

Barack Obama misled Americans for his own political benefit when he claimed in the 2008 election to oppose same sex marriage for religious reasons, his former political strategist David Axelrod writes in a new book, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.

"It's really sort of the foundation of modern cinema, I think, in every sense. So historically it's important in that regard, but you can't separate — at least, I don't agree to separate — the technological prowess from the political baggage," says Boyd, who is the Katherine and Frank Price Endowed Chair for the Study of Race and Popular Culture at USC.

Beyoncé did win the 2015 Grammy for Best Surround Sound, recognising the album’s technical achievement. Beyoncé herself was one of the producers. There’s an argument to be made that Beyoncé has enough awards already – including twenty Grammys, after her three wins yesterday — and will do just fine without another one. She will do fine, but that’s not the point. The symbolic importance of Beyoncé being recognised as an album of consummate artistry should not be overlooked. Beck made an album that many people loved, but Beyoncé made an album that many people loved and which shook the music industry and which represents the creative pinnacle of her already formidable catalogue — and it still wasn’t enough. If you visit your nearest music store, you won’t find Beyoncé filed under “Popular”. You’ll find her under “Urban” — along with all the other black artists, like her husband Jay-Z and her colleague Kanye West, who can dominate the industry and yet still find themselves, artistically, placed into the category of ‘other’.
  • Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show.


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