Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Kwende Kefentse
by Kwende Kefentse
Thu Dec 10th 2009 at 3:14am UTC

Congrats to a Beautiful City

Thursday, December 10th, 2009


A massive congratulatory shout out and thank you is due to Devon Ostrom and the Beautiful City Alliance on behalf of the city of Toronto. With little but an imperative to act, a willingness to collaborate, and the long-suffering of an ascetic, this determined group of young people were able to establish some cultural sustainability within the city by successfully petitioning council for a new tax on billboards, with a percentage of the monies generated going to a fund for city beautification through local arts. The billboard tax passed a day or so ago, at $10.4 million in revenue annually along with the new bylaw! But don’t take it from me.


This massive step forward means that thousands of arts projects will eventually be funded and that many of the problems associated with excessive and illegal billboard signage are finally being addressed… It needed to be done this way to get it through Council at the amount necessary to compensate Torontonians properly for use of public space — and not have a bunch of Councillor’s personal projects and agendas eat away at the allotment. To be short, it was the best way to get a clean vote.

While some councilors with their eyes on the corporate dollar are non-plussed right now, I can’t imagine that this is really so bad for them. Canadian cities have a very limited set of tax-tools that they can use to generate income and a disproportionate amount of it comes from property tax. Moving in the direction of diversification in this way should be welcome, even if it feels pyrrhic from their perspective. Especially with all of the public buy-in. Not to mention the overwhelming media support. If you have some time, definitely read up on this initiative. It was a very, very long and tough battle that tested organization, commitment, and resolve but this alliance of artists and supporters got it done.

I had actually been asked to depute on behalf of the alliance before the Toronto city council, but because things were constantly getting pushed back it wasn’t possible. While I won’t break out the full deputation here, I’ll riff on what I wrote briefly to reflect upon the victory.

So Mississauga, where my parents eventually moved to, is west of Toronto. This means to come into the city there were two ways to do it. Either by car taking the Gardiner Expressway, or by public transit – the bus-to-subway mission. Both ways gave you very different entries into the city and I loved them both.

When you’re flying down the Gardiner, just as you hit the curve by Ontario Place, there’s this straightaway where the city just opens up, and it’s pretty breathtaking. One of the things that can be seen is an impressive stretch of billboards on the left. I always liked reading the advice that would come across the Inglis billboard or seeing the new 3-D ones that the airlines would sometimes mount. I had no idea how or when they changed them, and that was cool to me. But then coming in by the subway there were other things to see, particularly the wall in between Keele and Dundas West stations. It was and still is one of the most famed graffiti spots in the city and a place where I saw some of the most iconic images of my young life. That space between those two stations was endearing me to the city every time I’d pass it by. The idea that there were people out there making the city more beautiful of their own volition made it seem more alive and vibrant to me.

This initiative is a way to bring those two experiences of very different art into a mutually supportive relationship, and there’s something about that that’s really cool.

Now, toasting to success, let’s take a look around this beautiful city with the homie Drake:

Wendy Waters
by Wendy Waters
Tue Dec 8th 2009 at 9:21am UTC

What Copenhagen Tells Us About Workplace Trends

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009


This week, thousands have flown across oceans or traversed continents to be in Copenhagen for the UN Climate Change Conference.  There, politicians, scientists, rock stars, journalists, and academics will discuss reducing the carbon dioxide and monoxide humans are spewing into the atmosphere.

It’s intriguing to me that thousands of people, all theoretically committed to reducing their own carbon footprints, see a reason to be in Copenhagen, rather than listening in from home via technology.

The actual scheduled events, speeches, etc. can all be viewed at home. A few bloggers and writers on site could provide additional context. Yet, thousands had to go for themselves.

Two key reasons why they likely traveled reveals some workplace trends for the 21st century:

1. Making human connections in today’s global economy trumps carbon concerns.

A main reason why so many are in Copenhagen this week is to network — to meet other world leaders, scientists, activists, journalists. Sharing ideas, comparing notes could result in new ideas and innovations going forward. Moreover, making new friends and allies never hurts. Finally, even knowing one’s enemies better can be worth the trip.

Lesson for workplace trends: Even the most ecologically committed will likely commute to the office regularly (even if they telecommute some days), as well as travel to business and client meetings. They’ll do this not for the formal agenda, but for the informal spin-offs from unexpected encounters and conversations.

2.  Being seen at the important meetings is crucial to many people’s personal “brands.” One reason leaders like U.S. President Obama and Canadian PM Harper are going is because a significant number of voters at home are concerned that their country’s government is not doing enough to help the environment. Other aspiring green leaders would not be considered “players” if they were not there, mingling, networking, and being seen.

Lesson for workplace trends: Image is important. And again, appears to trump carbon concerns. (I assume some at the climate change conference will “green wash” their trips by purchasing “offsets” involving planting trees in Africa — but this is not the same as not flying or driving in the first place.)

There are likely additional lessons, but those two stand out for me.

Your thoughts?

Michael Wells
by Michael Wells
Thu Sep 17th 2009 at 1:40pm UTC

Stimulus Impacts

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

The first wave of ARRA (stimulus) spending was just dollars out the door – tax cuts and saving state and local services. It served the purpose of stopping the free fall and keeping us out of a depression, but otherwise didn’t contribute much to the future. And I’m not sure what good the “cash for clunkers” or $8,000 down payment money for first-time home buyers did, although they probably didn’t hurt anybody.

Now we’re moving into investments. The money for highway repairs you saw starting this summer, and for mass transit, are 20 years overdue and vital if we’re to stay a first-world nation.

But the real impact will be from funds spread through various federal agencies that have worked through the bureaucracy and have started to emerge as RFPs that will have longer-lasting effects. These will probably be awarded this fall and may be spent over the next one to three years. I’m currently working on two stimulus grants. One is part of $1 billion from National Institutes for Health to modernize laboratories and research facilities. If our grant is funded, it will leapfrog the small agency I’m working with 10 years ahead of where they could get on their own. The other is Department of Labor training grants which have a major component for training nurses and medical support personnel. Health care is being hampered by, among other things, the nursing shortage, so this fits into a larger picture.

I’m not tracking all of the ARRA RFPs by any means, but from what I understand the agencies are on one hand making long-overdue investments and on the other are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of programs and proposals.

What are you seeing in your fields?

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Sat Aug 22nd 2009 at 12:45pm UTC

City Residents Pay More… Taxes

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

A new study by University of Michigan economist and MPI associate David Albouy, published in the Journal of Political Economy, finds that workers in expensive cities – including those in the Rustbelt and even hard-hit Detroit – pay a disproportionate share of federal taxes. Overall, urbanites pay 27 percent more in federal income taxes than workers with similar skills in a small city or rural area. Here’s a summary of the study.

“Workers in cities are generally paid higher wages than similarly skilled workers in smaller towns, so they’re taxed at higher rates. That may sound fair, until one considers the higher cost of living in cities, which means those higher wages don’t provide any extra buying power. The federal income tax system doesn’t account for cost of living. So the effect is that workers in expensive cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago pay more in taxes even though their real income is essentially the same as workers in smaller, cheaper places.

“The extra burden wouldn’t be so excessive if more federal tax dollars were returned to urban areas in the form of higher federal spending. But according to Albouy’s research, that’s not the case. His data show that more federal dollars are actually spent in rural areas, despite the fact that cities send far more cash to Washington. The net effect of all this is a transfer of $269 million from workers in high-cost areas to workers in lower cost rural areas in 2008 alone.

“Over the long haul, Albouy says, the larger tax burden causes workers to flee large urban centers in the Northeast and settle in less expensive places in the South. So to some extent, it may have been the federal tax system that put the rust on the rust belt.

“Detroit is a perfect example of a city that gets the short end of the stick.

“With its high wage levels, Detroit was, until recently, contributing far more in federal revenues per capita than most other places for over one hundred years,” Albouy said. The recent federal bailout to Detroit automakers “is peanuts relative to the extra billions the city has poured into Washington over the 20th Century.”

“Albouy says that city folk shouldn’t expect relief from this system anytime soon.

“Highly taxed areas tend to be in large cities inside of populous states, which have low Congressional representation per capita, making the prospect of reform daunting,” he writes.

The full study is here (PDF).

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Wed Aug 19th 2009 at 6:37pm UTC

Economics and Ideology

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Political scientist Andrew Gelman has some great graphs on the connection between economics and ideology. Comparing income levels, ideology, and party identification, he and collaborator Daniel Lee found the connection between income and party identification was strongest among conservative Republicans. But the relationship was “close to zero” for liberals. Liberal Dems were spread across all income groups, while conservative Dems had much lower income levels.

My reading is that class continues to play a considerable role in American politics: With the exception of liberal Dems who draw from across the spectrum of classes, the parties and their key factions increasingly represent class blocs. Gelman notes that the connection between economic status and party/ideology underpins America’s increasingly polarized policy debates. He’s right. In the current zero-sum economic climate, it’s only likely to get worse.

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Tue Aug 11th 2009 at 1:00pm UTC

This is Your Candidate on Drugs

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Ryan Grim’s new book, This is Your Country on Drugs, has revived interest in drug use and drug policy. Around the time it hit the streets, this map of drug use by state (via Map Scroll) started circulating around the Internet.

As it turns out, the map is based on detailed data from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health on the use of various types of “illegal drugs” by state.

So, with this treasure trove of data in hand, and with the help of two colleagues, the Swedish regional economist, Charlotta Mellander, and Cambridge University personality psychologist, Jason Rentfrow, we decided to take a look at the relationship between drug use and various political, economic, and psychological characteristics of states.

There’s lots and lots of research that examines the effects of factors like income, poverty, and race on the propensity to use drugs. But our team has been focusing on the role of psycho-social as well as economic factors on state and regional outcomes. A pioneering study by Rentfrow, Sam Gosling, and Jeff Porter identified the effects of personality factors on state-level economic and social outcomes. So we wanted to extend this line of research to see if and how these various economic, demographic, and personality factors might be related to drug use. We are knee-deep in a more extensive research project, but our preliminary results looked so interesting we thought we would report them and encourage feedback.

Some of the results reinforce the conventional wisdom, but others are surprising – at least for us.

Let’s start with an indicator of politics that’s sure to spark some interest – whether a state voted for Obama or McCain in 2008.

When it comes to the use of illegal drugs overall, there’s no real correlation. But that changes when we look at marijuana and cocaine. Both are significantly and positively related to with Obama states. The converse is true of McCain states, where the correlations are negative. Let me reiterate that these are provisional results which point to general relationships – or should I say associations – which could have many causes.

Conservative commentators might take this as evidence of the anything-goes, libertine lifestyles of “latte liberals” and of the need to return to more traditional, “all-American,” working class values. But that misses the bigger point. There are real differences in the economic and social environments of Obama and McCain states, as John Judis and Ruy Ruy Teixeira’s Emerging Democratic Majority, and Andrew Gelman and his collaborator’s Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State, along with other studies have shown – particularly in their levels of development, economic and occupational structure, and, I would add, in their psycho-social environments as well.

Tomorrow, we’ll start to dig a little deeper into economic correlates of drug use. And, later this week, I’ll look at the relationships between drug use and certain kinds of occupations, and also to the personality types of states.

Correlation coefficient: .42**

Correlation coefficient: -.44**

Correlation coefficient: .37**

Correlation coefficient: -.36**

Note:  * indicates statistical significance at the .05 level; ** indicates significance at the .01 level.

David Eaves
by David Eaves
Tue Jul 21st 2009 at 6:27am UTC

Open City Challenges – The Counter Reaction

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Interesting piece over at Washington Monthly about how some bureaucracies are having a reactionary (but albeit unsurprising) reaction to open data initiatives. The article focuses on how the data used by one application, Stumble Safely “helps you find the best bars and a safe path to stumble home on” by mashing together DC Crime Data, DC Road Polygons, DC Liquor Licenses, DC Water, DC Parks, and DC Metro Stations.

However, arming citizens with precise knowledge doesn’t appear to make one group of people happy: The Washington, D.C. police department. As the article notes:

But a funny thing has happened since Eric Gundersen launched his application: Stumble Safely has become less useful, rather than more so. When you click on the gray and red crime-indicating dots that have appeared on the map in the past few months, you don’t get much information about what exactly happened—all you get is a terse, one-word description of the category of the incident (“assault,” or “theft”) and a time, with no details of whether it was a shootout or just a couple of kids punching each other in an alley.

This isn’t Gundersen’s fault—it’s the cops’. Because while Kundra and the open-data community were fans of opening up the city’s books, it turned out that the Metropolitan Police Department was not. Earlier this year, as apps like Stumble Safely grew in number and quality, the police stopped releasing the detailed incident reports—investigating officers’ write-ups of what happened—into the city’s data feed. The official reason for the change is concern over victims’ and suspects’ privacy. But considering that before the clampdown the reports were already being released with names and addresses redacted, it’s hard to believe that’s the real one. More likely, the idea of information traveling more or less unedited from cops’ keyboards to citizens’ computer screens made the brass skittish, and the department reacted the way bureaucracies usually do: it made public information harder to get. The imperatives of Government 2.0 were thwarted by the instincts of Government 1.0.

This is just one in a long list of ways that old-style government (1.0) is reacting against technology. The end result sadly however is that the action taken by the police doesn’t reduce crime, it just reduces the public’s confidence in the police force. This is just a small example of the next big debate that will take place at all levels of government: Will your government try to control information and services or will it develop trust by being both accountable and open to others building on its work? You can’t have it both ways and I suspect citizens – particularly creatives – are going to strongly prefer the latter.

Michael Wells
by Michael Wells
Tue Jul 14th 2009 at 2:57pm UTC

Was the New Deal a Bad Deal?

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Interesting article in the latest Milken Institute Review which argues that the fiscal policies of the New Deal lengthened the Great Depression. It seems like a thoughtful critique without the right wing polemic that flavors so many of these discussions.

The current economic crisis has made some nostalgic for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, an era that we are now inclined to remember as a grand – and successful – struggle to bring the economy back from the brink of chaos. After all, Roosevelt’s social insurance programs, including Social Security, unemployment compensation and the WPA did aid millions of Americans.

But despite the benefits of the New Deal safety net, and despite the success of Roosevelt’s financial reforms – notably, the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Securities and Exchange Commission – this nostalgia is misplaced. The central component of the New Deal – the programs aimed at restoring private-sector jobs – was highly problematic, and largely accounts for why the Depression ground on through the 1930s.

I’m not convinced, but I’m not an economist either. Today, as then, we’re in uncharted waters. You can download the article as a PDF here.

Martin Kenney
by Martin Kenney
Mon Jul 13th 2009 at 8:35am UTC

Pollyanna Has All the Friends…

Monday, July 13th, 2009

…Cassandra is universally disliked (h/t to Bob Eberhart).

What are we to make of this poll that shows Obama rapidly losing altitude with voters, particularly the Independent voters? Just as Obama was being inaugurated, and immediately afterward, I wrote a number of posts on this blog warning about his mistakes in taking ownership of the Bush mistakes. After taking heat from my friends and the incredible (the root word here is credit, which means trustworthiness etc.) rise of the stock market, I decided to keep my mouth shut.

Now we are nearly six months into the new presidency and what do we have? Obama has invoked Bush era Imperial Presidency secrecy rules, signing statements, and even willingness to torture. The CIA has admitted lying to Congress, the direct representatives of the people, and there are no prosecutions. Unemployment that is reaching ever new highs, and the green shoots the Administration promised shriveling and dying. Wars in Afghanistan and now Pakistan are spiraling downward. For those who admonished opponents of these wars that there was no choice, I can guarantee you that the war will be lost and we will be worse off for having gotten involved. It is existential bad faith and terrible politics to say there are no choices. The Iraq War continues on. Our treasure is being squandered even as we are going bankrupt as a nation.

The real catastrophe that threatens to swamp Obama are the bailouts without end to Wall Street and, even more important, the increasing perception among Americans that Wall Street has become a rigged casino where citizens, pension funds, and 401Ks go to be sheared. Whereas Obama should have begun prosecuting executives who lied materially about the status of their companies, e.g., Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, and AIG, they have so far been given a free pass. There are stock market rumors about front running in on a massive scale, tip-offs from the Federal Reserve to selected banks about forthcoming actions that allow the equivalent of insider trading, etc. This is serious stuff.

It was these abuses that were the core of the Roosevelt clean-up of Wall Street. There have been massive bailouts, but no programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps etc. to put people back to work.

Consider the observed pecking order of bailouts: Wall Street gets trillions; GM and Chrysler 100s of millions; state and local governments tens of millions; ordinary citizens very little. If Obama is to save his presidency, then he needs to fight as hard for the Main Street as he has for Wall Street. Let’s hope the newest polls give him the message.

How are you folks feeling? Has the Obama Administration been doing the right things? Is this the way forward for the country?

Alex Tapscott
by Alex Tapscott
Thu Jun 11th 2009 at 12:55pm UTC

The Iranian Election: Youth, Facebook, and a Call for Change

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

The Iranian Presidential Election will be held this Friday. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, Hossein Mousavi, a moderate and progressive candidate (by Iranian standards) has emerged as a serious contender to the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

While his “Green Revolution,” at first seemed nothing more than a Sisyphean struggle by a group of young moderate Iranians against a totalitarian and despotic government – destined for failure despite their greatest efforts – the winds of change have dramatically and suddenly tipped in Mousavi’s favor and, at this point, it’s anyone’s race.

Iran’s state-controlled media has given Mr. Mousavi no air-time, the government has banned his party from hosting peaceful rallies in sports stadiums and other public venues, and those rallies which have occurred spontaneously in the street have been met with hostilities from government officials. Still, his candidacy built momentum.

So how did Mr. Mousavi, whose supporters promise “a new greeting to the world,” emerge as a serious contender to Mr Ahmadinejad despite a state-wide government campaign to quell his movement? The answer: FACEBOOK. Mousavi’s supporters – mostly young people and educated urban dwellers – have taken to the Web, garnering support and enthusiasm on Facebook and on blogs, posting videos of their candidate on YouTube, and organizing impromptu street rallies by mass-texting fellow supporters literally on the fly. The result: a highly organized, energetic, and sophisticated force for change.

Mousavi supporter Emad Mortazavi, a 24-year-old sociology student, said, “Last week, there was suddenly this feeling that it was possible, that Mousavi could get enough votes. Social-networking sites and text-messaging have played a big role in spreading the message.”

In typical form, Ahmadinejad blocked Facebook in May in an attempt to silence his opposition, but to no avail (it was opened back up three days later). In the end, Iran’s youth proved more tech-savvy than anyone in Ahmadinejad’s government.

In an uncanny mirror image of the U.S. election last year, it appears the Net-Generation – people born between 1980 and 1996 – may once again anchor the winning candidate by embracing progressive attitudes and exploiting the power of the internet to collaborate and organize for their candidate. Evidence of a seismic demographic shift, the precipitous rise of Mousavi proves that young Iranians are a force to be reckoned with.

The AFP reports:

“With more than 60 percent of Iranians born after their nation’s Islamic revolution in 1979, the under-30 vote will be crucial in next week’s election in which hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is being challenged by three fiercely critical rivals.

Several analysts predict a high urban youth turnout in favour of former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi…Tehran has been gripped by a new fashion frenzy ahead of the June 12 vote, with scores of teenagers and 20-somethings sporting green wristbands, scarves and T-shirts.”

Iranian youth ultimately face many of the same problems as young people in Canada, the U.S., and Europe. In a time of economic turmoil they want a candidate who can answer their questions and who can appeal to their better instincts; not some religious zealot who spends most of his time demonizing the Western World and threatening the extinction of its neighbors. The DailyKos writes,

“The economy is a key issue, and many young people with college degrees cannot find jobs or acceptable living arrangements in Tehran and other major cities…the ruling elites cannot ignore the desires of such an enormous percentage of the nation for long. Iran is in for some major shifts due to demographics alone.”

Tomorrow, the Iranian people will take to the polls. The sun may rise Saturday morning on a very different looking Middle East.