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Value capture is the concept of the government taxing entities that benefit from an infrastructure project. For instance, if a new subway station is built in a neighborhood, the value of the nearby businesses and real estate rise dramatically and should be taxed to help pay for that new station.

Value capture is a fair and reasonable way to finance public sector projects that is more commonly used abroad, but we really need to make it standard procedure in the States. It would not only make funding badly needed infrastructure projects easier, perhaps just as importantly, it would remind the public of how important government services and investments are for private wealth creation.

You can read more about value capture here.

There’s an excellent article in Fast Company about Amazon’s design aesthetic being a key to it’s success.

Designers, like everyone else, tend towards complication. But simple is better for users and harder to accomplish.

The best movie ever made about American politics is Michael Ritchie’s 1972 move, The Candidate. It speaks very directly to what’s wrong with the Trump Campaign today.

The movie is about an idealistic California liberal, Bill McKay, (played by Robert Redford), who is talked into running a long shot campaign for the Senate by political operator Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle).  Redford, whose dad was governor of the state, is not interested.  But Lucas has a convincing argument:

McKay: You’re saying I can say what I want? Do what I want?  Say what I want? Go where I please?

Lucas: That’s right.  Here’s your guarantee.

Lucas scribbles something on a pack of matches and hands it to McKay.  He opens it:  “You lose.”

McKay agrees, as long as he can control his image and his message.  He runs against a group of obscure candidates and wins the primary.  At the celebration, Lucas grabs McKay and pulls him into an empty bathroom to talk.

Lucas holds a printout in his hand, gives it to McKay.

Lucas: I’m a little disappointed.

McKay:  Why?  I’ve got 47% of the primary field.

Lucas: Yeah, but if you look at the projection on the printout, it adds up to 32% of the election.

McKay:  So?

Lucas: So, those figures hold to November, it’ll be Jarmon 68, McKay 32.

McKay: I thought I was supposed to lose.

Lucas: Now I’m telling you you’ll be wiped out.  You’ll be humiliated.

McKay: That wasn’t part of the deal.

Someone tries to enter the bathroom.  Lucas shouts him away.

Lucas: Somebody’s in here!

McKay: Maybe I should just quit.

Lucas: You can’t quit.

McKay: Go back –

Lucas: Don’t be ridiculous.  You can’t go back.  You’re the Democratic nominee for Senator.

McKay: You make that sound like a death sentence.

Lucas:  No no no.  (Pointing to paper) All that means is that you’re just reaching the people who agree with you already.  Now we have to go after the rest.

McKay: Yeah, and what does that mean?



For the filmmakers, it means compromising his message, backing away from anything controversial, and selling out in general. Nobody talks about selling out anymore, they call it “moving to the middle.”

Paul Manafort obviously never had this conversation with Trump.  He’s still running in the Republican primary, continuing to firm up a base that’s not going anywhere.




In response to Donald Trump’s apparent suggestion that someone kill Hillary Clinton to protect gun rights, Congressman Paul Ryan dismissed it as “a joke gone bad.”  Although trivializing another Trump appeal to violence probably isn’t a good thing, I think Ryan has put a button on the whole Trump phenomena.  The whole Trump campaign is a joke gone bad.

When Trump began his campaign with supporters he had to pay for at Trump Tower, there was every indication he had no intention of actually winning. He had no platform, no organization, had done no research, and hardly had any idea of the issues.

But that was OK.  For some years now, Republicans ran for president not to be president, but to sell books, increase their speaking fees, and if they’re incredibly successful, get a gig on Fox News.  Newt, Huckabee, the pizza guy, are all examples of this trend, and Sarah Palin is their shining example of national elections as a get-rich-quick scheme.

Trump’s TV show was falling in the ratings; he knew it wouldn’t last much longer.  His best shot was to get a show on Fox, and his best shot at doing that was making a splash by running for president.

Tragically, Trump has a history of failing upwards, making bigger mistakes the higher up the ladder he goes.  And this last one was a whopper — he actually became the nominee.  At first, it was great: he left a field of wanna-bes in his wake; he sucked up all the attention in the country; every night, thousands of strangers would cheer him.  This was primo heroin to an addict; life couldn’t be better; he was making Trump Great Again.

But then he needed to run a convention and then build and manage a real national campaign.  Both projects were beyond him. So he’s left with his same old racist act, saying outrageous things to get media attention, and watching his poll numbers slip away.  He won’t just lose, he’ll be humiliated, and then he’ll be assigned to the Republican dustbin.  No Fox News, no high speaking fees.  Just a joke gone bad.

In 1964, Nelson Rockefeller was the odd man out at the Republican National Convention. His brand of big government, socially progressive Republicanism had been killed by Barry Goldwater, who took the nomination.

Goldwater was humiliated by President Johnson in the election, but he had redefined the Party. Richard Nixon won the 1968 Republican nomination and the presidency with the ‘Southern Strategy” — coded racist appeals to white Southerners to win the South for the Republicans, while holding onto the traditional Republican base — small town voters and the rich.

The Republicans have been drifting to the right ever since.

We had a similar Rockefeller moment this year with Ted Cruz. Cruz no doubt had a variety of reasons not to endorse Trump (Trump calling Cruz’s wife ugly and his father an associate of Lee Harvey Oswald certainly didn’t help.) But like Rockefeller, Cruz was preaching an old vision of Republican ideology to a crowd that has moved on. The new Republican Party of 2016 is a knockoff of nationalist movements in Europe — direct appeals to racism, fear of white’s loss of control, and a dose of xenophobia.

This change has been driven by economic stagnation of the middle class, as more and more of the wealth the economy generates goes to the one percent. (The increase in the concentration of wealth since the Reagan years have been staggering.) But demographic changes have also been a major factor. With more and more Latinos moving into Southern States — or at least the promise of it — the imbalance of power between whites and blacks might change. This is the loss of control in peoples’ lives Trump likes to talk about.

Although Trump’s political amateurishness and evil buffoonery will, I suspect, cause him to lose this election, Tom Cotton or another Republican politico will be this generation’s Richard Nixon in 2020, turning down the heat a tad, but mainstreaming Republican white nationalism. Cruz thought he was standing up for principal and paving the way for his own 2020 nomination by striking out against Trump, but instead, he’s consigned himself to the past.

As unique and daring a product as Google Glass is, it’s hard not to dislike its users. Glass users (or “Glassholes” in contemporary snark) are displaying not so much their hipness with technology, but their access to exclusivity. Google Glass is difficult to get and expensive to buy; in that sense, it’s no different than a fine watch. However, Glass also comes along with a critique of everyone else’s existence. Mere reality is not enough for Glass users; they need enhancements. Let the peasants be un-augmented.

New technologies that expand our choices and enable better communication are usually embraced, not mocked. Think of how excited millions of people get with the latest iPhone update. You’d think a whole new technology category like Glass would be embraced. But the context of any new technology is more important than the technology itself in determining its reception in the marketplace. As long as Glass signals exclusivity, glassholes will be mocked.

What America needs is a Bill James of politics — someone who can crunch the numbers to predict elections not simply based on polls, but before meaningful polls even occur.  I am not that person, but I am prepared whoever the right person is to give him or her a good start.

Unlike our mates, where we find ourselves attracted to the same kind of person (“mommy” or “daddy”) despite our best intentions, we are not so emotionally involved in electoral choices.  We vote for someone, maybe even enthusiastically, but our enthusiasm almost always wains, and we look for another candidate.

My observation is that the candidate we choose next is not based on party or ideology (which few people in America really know much about) but on personality.  The current president is always found wanting, and we want someone new, someone different — in fact, someone who is as much the opposite as the existing president.

These comparisons are easy to generate for those playing at home, but let me give you 2 examples and you’ll see what I mean:


1992 Election
Poppy Bush Bill Clinton
Intelligence Not so much Smart
Class Upper Lower
Temper Reserved Hot
Body Type Lean Not so much


2000 Election
Bush Jr. Obama
Intelligence Not so much Smart
Class Upper Lower
Temper Obstinate Cerebral
Body Type Athletic Athletic

I think the political Bill James can build this out, but it’s easy to see that each successful presidential candidate is almost exactly the opposite of the other, with the exception of body type.

So let’s use this simple rubric to examine how might be the next president.

Chris Christie is extraordinarily well positioned (negating even the body type), even though he might have gone a bridge too far.  Hillary is in trouble if she runs on her intelligence and extensive experience.  She needs to dumb it down while emphasizing her somewhat bourgeois roots.  Jeb Bush would also have to dumb it down (although for him, maybe not a whole lot).  Rand Paul, however, really shines.

I’m sure there are many other variables that need to be considered (by the Bill James type), but until then, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the next president of the United States — the dumb, rich and obstinate Rand Paul.



Bush Clinton
Intelligence Lean Not so much

There’s an interesting post an Alexander Stille in the New Yorker with some information from a recent poll in France:

Seven per cent of French people (according to the last C.N.C.D.H. report) acknowledge being “rather racist,” while another twenty-two per cent consider themselves “a little racist,” twenty-five per cent “not very racist,” and forty-four per cent described themselves as “not at all racist,” down by ten per cent.

I suppose it’s great that racist people have the self-knowledge to call themselves “rather racist.”  And the twenty-two percent who consider themselves “a little racist,” for all we know, could be liberals with a sense of realism and not a little guilt. (“C’mon, folks, we’re all prejudiced on some level.”)

The really intriguing group to me is the twenty-five percent who consider themselves “not very racist.”  Who, exactly, are they comparing themselves to?  “Sure I’m a racist.  But my next door neighbor, boy, is that guy really a racist!”  Of course, the next door neighbor is saying the same thing about him.

Like pregnancy, I don’t think that racism ultimately is a question of degree.  You either are or you aren’t.  Everything else is a detail.

What also impresses me is how up front the French are with their racism.  It seems that in America, everyone but the fringe will deny being a racist, even as they are saying something racist: “Well, you know, I’m no racist, but…”  Actually, I don’t know, and you are a racist.

I’m not sure which version I prefer — French or American — naked xenophobia or shallow self-delusion.


Interesting column in the Times today from Hao Qun, a novelist and blogger from China.  He was having a meal with some other bloggers, trying to figure out who will be the next person to be arrested by the government.  Microblogging, according to Hao, has become the public square for China, the only way for information to quickly spread around the country.  Popular microbloggers in China have literally millions of followers, so even in a vast country, information on blogs can spread quickly.

A quote from Hao:

I have been asked if I’m afraid. A couple of years ago, in the early days of my blogging, I was scared. Now I am not. I think my shift is representative of that of many popular bloggers, who have been emboldened by the freedom we’ve found online, as my friends have.

I’m moved by Hao’s courage.  Nothing appeals to me more than an individual’s struggle for freedom of expression.  But Hao’s column gives me great hope for China.  In Poland, the communist regime collapsed when the opposition stopped being afraid and started to organize and agitate in the open.  If democracies rule with the consent of the governed, dictatorships rule by the fear of the governed.  When enough people stop being afraid, even the harshest dictatorships can collapse.