Shorts

1. Commenter Future Bus Riders Union Member over at Human Transit points out that the recent installation of a cyclist Green Wave on Valencia St — San Francisco’s Hipster Highway — doesn’t just save cyclists energy, but it also reduces potential conflicts with buses:

“I suspect this is probably the best way to reduce the problem of bikes and buses continually overtaking each other. While bikes and buses often travel at roughly the same average speed, they don’t have the same acceleration profile. When you set traffic lights at the same speed you tend to ameliorate the jockeying for position problem.”

Speaking of green waves, something I hadn’t really noticed until last week: Chicago, probably due to its Midwestern scale and density, sometimes doesn’t have that many stop lights. I rode 3 miles down side streets from Ukrainian Village to Logan Square and encountered only one red light. As much as I like 11th St NW to take me downtown from Columbia Heights, the lights are always against me — and they’re every two blocks, well outside downtown. (Particularly frustrating is the light at Florida, at the base of the 100′ ridge; I very rarely have managed to not have that turn red as I’m going downhill.)

2. Blair Kamin writes about how public space and virtual space have reinforced one another in the Mideastern revolutions — and, ironically, that the incident that started it all involved an internet cafe, that rare space which stands at the border of both:

“There was a time when some viewed the Internet and social media as the enemies of public space. These critics had nightmarish visions of a world where people lived in lonely isolation, lured away from the public square by the seduction of Internet chatrooms. The picture was of people sitting in the dark, in the basement, staring at the computer screen, always by themselves.

“But if Friday’s resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak proves nothing else, it is that social media and public space can be complementary, rather than in conflict. The social bonds built in the virtual world can spill over into the physical world–and with such seismic force that they can topple an autocrat.

“The revolt is Egypt is said to have begun with the killing of Khaled Said, a 28-year-old Egyptian businessman who was hauled out of an Internet cafe by plainclothes policemen last June and beaten to death. As the New York Times reported last week, a graphic Facebook page tribute to Said provided an outlet for people’s rage.”

3. One possible bright side to Chicago’s steep population decline: people largely seem to have moved away from several hypersegregated neighborhoods, from gentrifying neighborhoods, and from the formerly racially homogenous Bungalow Belt. (See this tract-level map, from the Tribune.) The net result is that segregation on the south & southwest sides may have declined from its former levels.

4. Like Donna Dubinsky, writing in the Times recently, I recently had a discouraging experience securing an individual health insurance policy:

“how broken the market for health insurance is, even for those who are healthy and who are willing and able to pay for it… I have no doubt that the system is broken and reform is absolutely essential. If we are not going to have universal coverage but are going to rely on employer plans, then we must offer individuals, self-employed people and small businesses a place to purchase insurance at a reasonable price.”

I’ve always suspected that at least part of the reason why Canadian cities are filled with small businesses while American cities are “food deserts” (besides their superior, investment- and entrepreneur- oriented immigration policies) is because universal health insurance unleashes their entrepreneurial potential; Americans are tied to their big-company jobs by health insurance. If even successful, hundred-millionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneurs find that going it alone proves perplexing, then how can we expect others to navigate the system?

5. Speaking of socialized medicine, socialism sure seems to work in the imperfect market of HIV transmission, where treatment is prevention. Vancouver gets headlines for its supervised injection sites, but the other half of its successful anti-HIV strategy (infections have fallen by over half, yielding incalculable long term cost savings for everyone) is to eliminate free riders through widespread testing and treatment, as Donald McNeil Jr. reports:

By offering clean needles and aggressively testing and treating those who may be infected with H.I.V., Vancouver is offering proof that an idea that was once controversial actually works: Widespread treatment, while expensive, protects not just individuals but the whole community.

6. The myopic cut-spending-at-all-costs agenda being pushed by Congressional Republicans now reminds me of the intergenerational warfare that typifies issues like school funding in Florida or Arizona. There, largely White homeowning seniors systematically veto taxes that would pay for schools educating a largely Latino student population — starving the future to feed the present. Of course, though, this is the natural result of a GOP that’s beholden to old white voters:

It is difficult, for example, to fulfill your promises to balance the budget and reduce the national debt without enacting substantive reforms to Medicare and Social Security, and it’s almost impossible to reform Medicare and Social Security if your most important constituents are the people who benefit the most from those programs. The result is a lot of hypocrisy—like Republicans resisting precisely the kind of Medicare cuts they’ve advocated for decades—and a potential split between spending-obsessed Tea Partiers and the establishment conservatives who know they owe their jobs to seniors.

This hysterical hue and cry of Republican stupidity drowns out any number of more reasonable proposals to reduce the deficit. The GOP is blind to the 800-pound gorillas in the room; they’re slurping up buckets of cash for seniors’ transfer payments and cushy security contracts. Extracting all of their spending cuts from the remainder of the budget is like a lobbyist fat on steakhouse dinner trying to diet by foregoing side salads.

Those transfer payments are so huge that Ezra Klein writes: “the business of the American government is insurance. Literally. If you look at how the federal government spends our money, it’s an insurance conglomerate protected by a large, standing army.” I guess it’s only appropriate that we own AIG, right?

(Seems like that “insurance” line was first used by Peter Fisher.)

One bipartisan panel has already advanced nearly $100 billion in cuts (that somehow magical figure that needs to be gutted out of existing discretionary programs) just to the Department of Defense, with appreciably no impact on Americans’ daily lives or long-term security. Instead, it stops the age-old practice of giving the Pentagon toys that it didn’t want. Obvious to me, but evidently many Americans don’t think that’s a folly.

The “cut & invest,” feed-the-future tone that Obama’s budget puts forth — one similar to what NYT columnists like Tom Friedman have been advocating — certainly sounds more promising to this young voter. It inspired me to try that NYT budget exercise again; my latest plan gets the spending cuts : tax ratio up to 77 : 23 — and still notably including a fully refunded carbon tax. (Or, of course, a fraction of that could be set aside for investment in market-tested decarbonization.)

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