Monday, June 27, 2016

The Top Ten Ways Hillary Can Ensure Victory

As you know, this blog is about 65% travel, 15% around town, 12% skiing and running, and 8% politics ... and here's some of the last category. I've been in a political mood ever since I was interviewed on Salt Lake's ABC 4 and wrote this op-ed.


Man I wish I had Brian Carlson's tan. (But seriously, he was super nice and quite engaged on the issues off camera.)

I certainly claim no original thoughts on Trump. American politics are bizarre and getting more bizarre by the day. Now apparently all along the Second Amendment has really protected the right to serve in a terrorist militia. (Christ, even Scalia wrote about how Second Amendment Rights are not absolute. And I rarely quote Scalia. Indeed, his screen time was the only unenjoyable part of the PBS docuseries The Italian Americans, which I highly, highly recommend.)

But I digress. I will say that the Republican establishment got what it deserved. These folks profess to be shocked shocked!by the Donald but haven't seemed to consider that maybe 25 years of intellectual decadence have taken their toll. Sarah Palin anyone? Trump, in other words, is what you get when you profess a cheap anti-intellectualism and don't say "no" to anything ... to the birthers, for example, or to prayers by Senators for the president's death. (Hmm, how could it be, as claimed, that you are praying, with Psalms 109:8, that his days in office are numbered, when they are constitutionally guaranteed to be just that? You know, when the Psalms continues, "Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow," and "Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places").

I do take satisfaction in the fact that, given the choice between movement conservatism and nastiness, Americans chose nastiness. But then again, the Trumpenproletariat is proving just how racist many Americans are, which isn't very comforting. And maybe they would have chosen movement conservatism were not Ted Cruz one of the most unpleasant people on the planet. Perhaps what is really comforting is how increasingly marginalized evangelicals are at a national level.

Which leads to my humble effort to ensure Hillary's election. Without further adieu, here are the ten things Hillary needs to do. That is, beyond the obvious, which is highlighting Trump's remarkable misogyny, his truly reckless endorsement of Brexit, and his almost comic flip-flopping (2000: "I support the ban on assault weapons"; 2012: "Hillary Clinton I think is a terrific woman. I am biased because I have known her for years ... I really like her and her husband both a lot. I think she works hard"; 2000: "We must have universal health care"; 1999: "Well look, I'm very pro-choice").

1) Embrace the Culture Wars 

Somewhere along the way, between the impeachment of Bill and the Defense of Marriage Act and the GOP's successful strategy of getting anti-gay voters out to the polls in midterm years and the cultural-anxiety-induced backlash against Obama to Obergefell v. Hodges, a strange thing happened. We progressives won the culture wars (I ain't talking about unions here.) Have you noticed, for example, that attempts to foster a backlash against the gay marriage decision have gone nowhere? Of course the Right can still rally the troops in deeply red, noncompetitive districts, but at the national level, and even in the key swing states, anything Hillary can do to get the cave men to rattle their cultural swords (did people in the iron age still live in caves?) can only help. Yes, this is the year of the angry old white voter, but America is less white and younger than Great Britain ... and the Brexit vote does not equal the presidential vote.

2) Explain the GOP's Racist Effort to Build a Whiter Electorate 

A lot of us have had the sense that Voter ID laws are thinly veiled efforts to destroy Democrats at best, simply racist at worse remember that priceless Daily Show segment with the North Carolina official who admitted as much? Watch it. But until I went to an excellent panel at the recent Policy History Conference, I never realized just how orchestrated the racist campaign against non-existent voter fraud has been since the 2008 elections ... when Obama got something like 5 million new voters (many of them non-white). If you're interested in this issue, and the general war on the Voting Rights Act, check out Ari Berman's Give us the Ballot. Hillary's obviously guaranteed to win the non-White vote regardless, but she should have the courage to call a spade a spade here. The rhetoric after Romney's loss was that the GOP had supposedly learned that it can never win on explicit appeals to whiteness, and by squeezing out even more white votes, but Trump seems to have doubled down on these strategies. She should also have the courage to call for reforms to reduce the effects of gerrymandering (doubtful that she will, of course; gerrymandering protects many safe minority districts, and thus many minority members of the House have zero incentive for rocking the boat).

3) Acknowledge but educate about the deficit and the debt.

If I learned one thing on the campaign trail with my good friend Jim, it's that average Americans are obsessed with the debt and deficit.

Of course, I realize the title of number 3 is foolishly optimistic. People have always believed mostly what they want, but now more then ever we now live in a post-factual democracy, to use my favorite term from the Brexit debacle. If you want one depressing fact our own post-factual democracy, it's that 73% of Americans believe that the deficit has increased under Obama, when it fact it has gone from well over a trillion to $400 billion, or about 2.5% of GDP. 


Now maybe some of those 73% aren't just the usual willfully ignorant Obama haters. A nearly $20 trillion dollar debt is a problem, if more for its psychological implications than for its actual macroeconomic effects (I shudder to think of the percentage who know that because of low interest rates, and the security of US bonds, the US is paying a lower percentage of its GDP in debt payments than it did in the 1970s):

Still, the looming entitlement squeeze is real enough (even if it has been oversold), and so Hillary should acknowledge the problem of the debt, remind people that the deficit has come down, and then also remind them that the Republicans blocked every effort at a grand compromise on taxes and spending and absolutely refuse to consider raising taxes, even on the richest Americans. Oh, and she might also remind people of what happened to the deficit the last time she lived in the White House, you know, before that trillion dollar war of choice and those Bush tax cuts.


4) Speaking of the economy, celebrate the Obama recovery, damn it!

Democrats love to complicate. Bad idea. It IS true that underemployment remains a serious problem, and it IS true that wage growth has been sluggish. (Of course, it's also likely that we have entered into a long-term era of low economic growth completely divorced from short-term pubic policy; if you haven't seen Robert's Gordon The Rise and Fall of American Growth, it's worth reading this excellent review of it). But can you imagine what the Republicans would be saying about their president if this had occurred under his or her watch:

I mean, that blue line looks like the Dow since a couple days before the Brexit vote. C'mon Hillary, print t-shirts with this chart. And progressives, please stop complicating things with talk about secular stagnation, lower rates of male labor force participation, meager productivity gains, blah blah. Look where we've come from!

5) Talk about inequality as a macroeconomic problem

I'm a broken record here, but look, could just once a Democratic politician try explaining to Joe Sixpack that if people are broke (and their wages have been flat in real terms for 40 years), they can't buy all the goods? Is this so much to ask? Yes, we all agree homelessness and poverty sucks, and that America has way too much of them for a wealthy democracy. But when Hillary's giving a speech at the Miami Chamber of Commerce, she should give them straight Keynesian consumption function.

6) Tear Down the Fourth Wall

This one is in honor of Gary Shandling, who just passed away (if you don't get the reference, you're under 40 and never saw the Gary Shandling show, during which he would talk to the audience). Now, I'm not suggesting that Hillary run a TV ad along the lines "Gee Chelsea, if I could only figure out how to work this darn email," but she should try and joke about the fact that, next to Obama, she is decidedly challenged rhetorically, and that she has unfavorable ratings. Part of Trump's appeal is his supposed "authenticity" ... his supposed proclivity to speaking his mind (even when flip-flopping). Americans eat this stuff up think House of Cards.

7) Run TV ads with Henry Paulson and Brent Scowcroft ... and remind Americans that you're the real hawk

Look, I may not have agreed with Hillary's position that we should have intervened in the Syrian Civil War, but that was her position and Americans make excellent armchair warriors. If 73% of Americans believe the deficit has gone up under Obama, then I wonder what percentage know that Hillary was calling for such intervention, and that in general she has no qualms about American military intervention (to say nothing of her genuine respect for the armed forces; everyone should read "How Hillary became a Hawk" in The New Yorker.) Too bad people conflate Trump's bluster and bigotry against Muslims as hawkishness.

8) Embrace corporate tax reform 

Hillary has Wall Street in the bag assuming she does not pick Elizabeth Warren as her running mate. Which reminds me, here's a picture I took of Elizabeth Warren's house in Cambridge.


Actually pretty modest ... but I digress. Hillary's husband ran one of the most pro-business administrations in history, and she's of course made plenty of money on Wall Street herself. She's genuinely pro-capitalism. But she doesn't advertise this well enough. What she lacks is the current hackneyed lingo emanating from undergraduate business programs all around the country. She needs to spend a day at the Marriner Eccles (speaking of Keynesians) Business School at the U of U, where she too can learn to use the words "innovation" and "disruption" so much that it hurts. And more seriously, she should call for lower business tax rates. They are too high. Let's have a carbon tax instead. 

9) Boldly defend expertise

Educated people of the world unite! Brexit and Trump's inane endorsement of it has reminded people that the Establishment, for all its flaws, doesn't actually wake up each day thinking, "How can I entirely screw the world today?," and it maybe it's reminded a few morons that sometimes, people who study a thing for years on end actually know a bit about this thing. (Leave-the-EU leader Michael Gove: "people in this country have had enough of experts.") So sorry Trump, no, you don't get to play a climate change scientist, just like you don't get to play shortstop for the Orioles or become an economist for the EU because you made money in the easiest real estate market in the world. Here's hoping Hillary openly defends science and expertise as she rightly positions herself as a defender of the reasonable center.

10) Convene a town-hall meeting of all millennials. 

And then show them two slides. The first shall be of Ralph Nader, whom I'm not sure most millennials have heard of. Surely if they had heard of him, they would not be arguing that all other candidates besides Bernie are Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. (Gee, I guess the election of 2000 didn't have consequences). The second slide shall be of the current 8-member Supreme Court a court right on the inflection point. I was talking to a certain millennial supporter of Bernie, one who shall remain nameless, and even he conceded that, you know, protecting a woman's right to choose is reason enough to vote for Hillary. Elders those who speak of floppy disks go forth and hold court with the millennial of your choice.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Paris

Sorry to be slow writing up Paris. We've had a late-season revival of this out West, and there's still kilometers to be had ... so enjoy the picture-heavy entry.


Before spring break, I'd been to Paris two times: with my parents in 1984 (before the d'Orsay Museum even opened, to give you an example of how long ago that was), and for 6 hours in 1993, where I started a train ride to Barcelona with Isaac and Reilly (long story there about a long night listening to a man hack up a lung and say the phrase "Barcelona si?" about 2500 times). So I was looking forward to seeing some of the iconic sights. And to finally tracking down the duck à l'orange that eluded me in Strasbourg

But this is No Place Like Homes, and I know you want me to begin with my updates on the beer and coffee scenes. I can report some modest progress, but think New York City circa 1992 … 

First of all, the Nespresso Crisis is worse than I thought. My God, Parisians don’t observe lines in supermarkets or train stations, but they’re happy to wait in line for their awful Nespresso pod refills.


And I didn't even know that Korean had a word for Nespresso. 


I can confirm that what I wrote last time via David Lebovitz — that café workers seem to treat the espresso tamper as a decoration — is 100% correct. I was standing at a bar one day (enjoying the standing price of 1.10E for an espresso — something I do like about Parisian coffee culture), and I saw the guy draw the portafilter (half) full of coffee and then proceed to lock it in its place sans even a perfunctory tamp. Incredible! Luckily, however, John and Sarah had tracked down the coffee map of Paris, showing where one can find an American-style café. Next time you’re in Paris I recommend Cafeotheque, Craft, and Strada.

I can also report a couple green shoots in the beer garden, so to speak. The situation at the typical café is utterly hopeless (and look, I’m a liberal not a revolutionary; I’m not calling for the end of Parisian café culture and the triumph of only American-style taphouses — just the availability of something other than 1664 or Kronenburg …). I almost hate to blog this place, because it already gets crowded, but do not go to Paris without visiting the cave-like goodness of Le Fine Mousse. I especially enjoyed my IPA from Crazy Hops. So yes, it is possible to get an exquisite, locally made beer in Paris. 


Paname Brewery on the canal was also excellent.


Kansans reading this, there's progress in the stores, too.
 

Still, the crap continues to rule the day. When I discovered Sagres, from Portugal, my brain instantly filled with happy images of epic man-dates with Brian at Tallest Man on the Earth concerts, and future idyllic trips to the rugged Portuguese coast listening to T.M.O.T.E. while J drives because I'm too scared to drive along cliffs ...



But alas, Sagres turned out to be just another bland and too-sweet adjunct lager. Best song of 2015 at least. Maybe song of the decade.

With the ongoing search for decent beer, I didn't even try this famous local drink:


The first cultural order of business in Paris, of course, was checking out the 17th-century Dutch art at the Louvre. Navigating an entire suburb of Shanghai on the way in was the easy part. The hard part was finding the main Dutch rooms open ... and I was 0 for 2 days tried. So I had to make do with just the bare minimum of Dutch ice scenes. 


We also stumbled on a few statues by somebody or other.

And I guess a church had ordered some stained-glass.



After seeing a bunch of pretty pictures of flowers and water lilies

It was back to doing what the Parisians do best ... sitting at a bistro. We found a great little absurdly narrow one with excellent duck confit.



And man there's a lot of chocolate in Paris.























And I couldn't write this entry without including a picture of a chou (some choux?), little stuffed pockets of sugary goodness. Can one find these in Brooklyn? If not, I see a serious goldmine ... 
























And this doesn't even scratch the surface of the eclairs and Paris-brests we had (the latter an amazing giant Hazelnut-stuffed concoction).


And then there were the lemon tarts and Yiddish pastries in the Jewish Quarter ...

... and so on and so on. Looking back, it seems all we did was walk around Paris eating pastries and looking for third-wave coffee cafes (and I wouldn't have had it any other way). Well that and play Hint Hunt, one of those new hour-long escape games. Very fun, and we almost prevented our sub from sinking, but unfortunatly we were too egalitarian in our problem solving when clearly I simply should have been put in command. 

This left only left two items of unfinished business. Get a decent shot of both boys at once, and find that duck à l'orange. The first count, as you can see, is nearly impossible ...


Luckily, the three of us stole away for a guys' half hour in Montmartre. Hemingway would have been proud.

On the second front, I figured we couldn't leave things to the vagaries of the French. So grabbing the bull by the horns, on our last night we all ate at the Petit Canard, which, if your 7th-grade French escapes you, all but guaranteed duck à l'orange, unless the orange-truck drivers were on strike. It did not disappoint, even though the French are closer to the Germans in their disdain of decent vegetable servings (of vegetables not names potato) than I imagined (I had expected mounds of herbed carrots in Paris ...). 

The kids were so happy from duck 4 ways that I even came close to the money shot. 
























The true money shot came one night after dinner at Le Clos des Gourmets, Dad and Laura's favorite restaurant when they lived here. After dinner we rounded the first corner and voilà ...


Monday, March 14, 2016

Lyon

Before settling into Paris we took a quick weekend trip to Lyon, France’s second largest city. I didn’t know much about the city going in, except that I enjoyed the Anthony Bourdain Lyon episode when he ends up at legendary chef Paul Bocuse’s hunting lodge for an outrageous meal. (Lyonnaise food is every American offal-loving hipster’s dream; think veal feet and liver and pig’s ears etc.). And it’s true that Paul Bocuse is a major figure looming over the city.


We stayed ten feet from Lyon’s beautiful theater.


The old town above the Seine is a Saltzburg-esque, Rick Steves–approved playground, complete with a beautiful cathedral, the ruins of a Roman theater, and requisite adorable squares.


The view down the hill is great, too.


On the way to (Paul Bocuse’s) Les Halles (the big indoor market), we stopped at a memorial/chapel to look for the name of an ancestor of mine on a list honoring victims of the Reign of Terror of 1793–94 (when the French revolution went really, really awry. We have a fascinating memoir of a 19th-century relative detailing the horrors). 



I can only do so much (grim) history on vacation, so Les Halles was a needed corrective. I’ve been reading Julia Child’s wonderful memoir of her early years in France, in which she explains that  French chickens are better because, in part, Americans are much more squeamish about how they buy theirs.


 If Life in France mentions Brittany Sea Urchins, I haven’t gotten to that section yet.

A flavorless and watered down espresso at Les Halles — at what was supposedly a new-style coffee roaster — confirmed the stereotype that coffee isn’t very good in France. Julia Child wrote that one of the few things she missed about the U.S. in the late 1940s and early 1950s was the good strong coffee … and given the state of coffee in America in 1950, this tells you all you need to know about coffee in Paris. Another book I read for this trip (and which I highly recommend), The Sweet Life in Paris, by David Lebovitz, riffs hilariously about the bad coffee in Paris and how even when a cafe has an actual manual espresso maker, French café workers (I won't call them baristas) seem to treat the espresso tamper as ornamental. John insists that this 2009 book is a bit out of date, and that if you know where to find the bearded hipsters, you can secure a good espresso in Paris. I don’t doubt it — actually, I intend to verify this hypothesis in the next few days — but these new American-style cafes are the exception that proves the rule. European coffee overall remains trapped in a terrible no man’s land of automatic machines that often deliver something between an espresso and a cup of drip. Couldn't they at least pick one and do it well? This morning I tried one of those Nespresso pod machines that tennis star Roger Federer is always hawking — and I was amazed at just how flavorless something that looks like espresso can be. And really, Louvre, a Nespresso in your café? The fact remains that a café near any American college, even one in, say, a small city in central Kansas, likely delivers a better coffee than the thousands of generic cafés (outside of Italy) where Europeans linger over cigarettes pretending that it's warm, or at least that they are warm in their thin urban-wear jackets and scarves. 

And speaking of what else the French could learn from Americans … well not even this blogger was stupid enough to drink beer rather than wine at a nice restaurant in Lyon. But it still broke my heart to see this:

To think this is what Lyoners (? ... the Lyonnaise?) must think is a high-end, specialty-store American beer. I mean holy %^&9, $32.50 for a 6-bag of InBev’s Blue Moon? Then again, maybe the beer wasn’t so expensive compared to 11 Euros for corn syrup and 8 for flour.


Not sure what a doughnut costs here.


We stuck with what the French do best. Julia Child described learning how to make basic fish soup during her year in Marseilles (on the Mediterranean), and so at Paul Bocuse’s bistro in Lyon, Le Sud, where one can get a great meal without taking out a loan, like at his three-star, I had to try it.

Excellent, and as much a classic as a Dover sole. Much better than the veal’s feet.


Speaking of classics, check back in a few days after I’ve had a chance to search for Duck a l'Orange in Paris ...