Alan

US urban rail transit costs two to seven times as much to build as European urban rail transit. Similarly, British Columbia is better at controlling infrastructure costs than the Northwest states. American exceptionalism?

As for most State of the Union addresses, I paid no attention to this year’s. The real state of the union in the United States is better captured by this piece by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt: spiraling toward constitutional crisis to a degree not seen since the run-up to the Civil War. Which brought up this piece by Robin Wright from last summer.

Kristin

What would the United States have looked like if we had really listened to MLK? He wasn’t only a civil rights leader, but a philosopher, economist, and spiritual leader who asked us to change the very basis of American society. The historical and current basis being that brutality, harm, competition, exploitation and enslavement make for a good society. Changing that would have led us to curb inequality, stop wars, build a society that works for all, and foster a democracy instead of a plutocracy. He said that more brutality and harm and abuse in fact exert a hidden price: they make us mean and foolish and blind, and in that way, a society fails to develop — norms, institutions, systems soft and hard, cultural and mental, physical and emotional, that allow every human being to realize his or her possibility, no matter what their race is.

Work is not working, for ever more people, in ever more ways. Work is badly distributed: some people have too much, others too little, or sometimes both in the same month. For many, work is often insufficient for subsistence, much less prosperity. Work is increasingly precarious. And bad for your health. And automation may make all of this worse. Could we finally realize Keynes’ vision and move to a world with much less work?

Post-work may be a rather grey and academic-sounding phrase, but it offers enormous, alluring promises: that life with much less work, or no work at all, would be calmer, more equal, more communal, more pleasurable, more thoughtful, more politically engaged, more fulfilled – in short, that much of human experience would be transformed.

The disappearance of the paid job could finally bring about one of the oldest goals of feminism: that housework and raising children are no longer accorded a lower status. With people having more time, and probably less money, private life could also become more communal, she suggests, with families sharing kitchens, domestic appliances, and larger facilities. 

Here is a fascinating look at how people live around the world and across the income scale. It shows that, when it comes to your bed and toilet and cutlery, income matters much more than nationality. In other words, your life looks more similar to that of a person in China of similar income, and pretty different from an American of a different income level.

Eric

The New York Times investigation into the influence of social media bots reads like it’s a script for Black Mirror. There’s growing evidence that a good share of the “reality” you experience online is manufactured, falsified, and designed to deceive you:

These accounts are counterfeit coins in the booming economy of online influence, reaching into virtually any industry where a mass audience — or the illusion of it — can be monetized. Fake accounts, deployed by governments, criminals and entrepreneurs, now infest social media networks. By some calculations, as many as 48 million of Twitter’s reported active users — nearly 15 percent — are automated accounts designed to simulate real people, though the company claims that number is far lower.

In November, Facebook disclosed to investors that it had at least twice as many fake users as it previously estimated, indicating that up to 60 million automated accounts may roam the world’s largest social media platform. These fake accounts, known as bots, can help sway advertising audiences and reshape political debates. They can defraud businesses and ruin reputations.

If you have any interest in Seattle city politics then Eli Sander’s latest is mandatory reading: Staffing the Accused: Inside the Intense Six-Month-Long Downfall of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.

I need more reading like this: American Conservative magazine on Donald Trump’s empty governance. The underlying worldview is way outside my ideological structure (my bubble?), but I found myself agreeing with a surprising amount of the political analysis and it sharpened my thinking in helpful ways.

Only 25 years after a woman I had a crush on called me out for wearing a hat with a racist logo, the Cleveland Indians inch toward progress. Good for them.

This week I stumbled across the history behind my neighborhood’s name. The story of Chief Leschi is a Northwest tragedy of racism, corruption, and a miscarriage of justice that I’d never heard about.

Ed

The Super Bowl is Sunday, with the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles set to square off. I enjoyed this piece in Forbes about one intangible reason the Patriots are successful: they seem to have several key players who were designated captains of their college teams. Are they putting a premium on leadership ability and all its accompanying positive attributes to help create a successful workplace culture? It seems that way, and there also seems to be a correlation. The Eagles, for instance, have nearly as many former captains.

Aven

I usually try to focus on positive things for this particular forum, both for my own sanity and to avoid being a Debbie Downer all the time, but every now and then something comes along that makes me so mad that I feel compelled to share it wherever I can. The Interior Department’s recent rollback of protections for migratory birds is one of those things. I hope other people get mad enough to take action.

  • In better news, the Harley-Davidson set will soon have access to the electric vehicle revolution. Clearly, it’s not just for tech nerds anymore.

    I enjoyed this article about the role of eco-capitalism in conservation. Besides the contributions of social entrepreneurs, the author also highlights the essential role of workers and consumers:

    When Goldberg asked Bloomberg what role big employers play in the environment, Bloomberg replied, “Why will a corporation be environmentally friendly?  Today, if you go and recruit on campus for the best and brightest, they [young people] interview you. They ask, What are you doing for the environment? Employees want to work for an environmentally-friendly company. And then there are investors. If you talk to the managers of the big pensions and endowments, they want socially responsible investing. We don’t buy coal stocks, gun stocks, tobacco stocks.”

    I recently became aware of the existence of the Niskanen Center, a nonpartisan research and policy center with a focus on “the open society”. Their whole conspectus is food for thought, but it’s the opening paragraph that makes me wonder if they’re onto something that could actually work in this hyper-partisan world:

    We are globalists who share progressives’ desire to robustly address economic and social inequality, liberals’ commitment to toleration and civil liberties, moderates’ embrace of empiricism rather than dogma, conservatives’ belief in the wealthcreating power of free markets, and libertarians’ skepticism about the ability of technocratic elites to solve complex economic and social problems.

    Anna

    A national study that covered 90,000 schools across the US just published in the journal Environmental Research (and reported here by the Guardian), finds that Black, Hispanic, and low-income children are most likely to be exposed to harmful toxins where they go to school—and other dangerous toxics in their schools too. One reason, as the authors point out, is that schools—especially where resources are tight—are routinely sited on the cheapest available land, which is often beside busy roads, factories or on previously contaminated sites. School buildings are underfunded in low-income neighborhoods and less likely to get safety upgrades. The study used new EPA research and census data mapping air pollution exposure. Five of the 10 worst polluted school counties have non-white populations of over 20 percent. The racial imbalance is stark: “While Black children make up 16 percent of all US public school students, more than a quarter of them attend the schools worst affected by air pollution. By contrast, white children comprise 52 percent of the public school system but only 28 percent of those attend the highest risk schools.” The disparity remains after accounting for the urban-rural divide. The study found that pre-kindergarten children are attending higher risk schools than older students—a terribly disturbing finding given the vulnerability of developing brains to life-long health and cognitive impacts.

    How are you feeling about climate change? If you’re “somewhat” or “very” worried, you’re not alone. Yale recently released national polling that found that more than six in ten American adults are worried about global warming and one in five are very worried. Half or more American voters feel disgusted or helpless. (I always feel a little better when I hear stuff like this: “Americans who think global warming is happening outnumber those who think it is not by more than 5 to 1.”) Of course, you can feel disgusted even if you’re among those who don’t buy in to the overwhelming scientific evidence about climate change. So Yale looked at those feelings among US voters who know it’s happening: “Eight in ten (81 percent) of Americans who think global warming is happening say they are very or moderately ‘interested’ in it. Half or more feel negative emotions, including ‘disgusted’ (66), ‘helpless’ (63), ‘afraid’ (60), and/or ‘angry’ (59 ). Slightly fewer than half feel ‘hopeful’ (47 percent).” I, myself, feel it. I also feel “very or moderately interested” in figuring out how to channel all those emotions into political pressure to enact solutions. (One place to start is by talking about how you feel with the people around you. Four in 10 Americans say they talk about climate change with family and friends “often” or “occasionally.”)

    John

    There have been several items connected to the US Department of the Interior, and its efforts to transfer natural resources to extractive industries, including allowing offshore oil and gas drilling. Elizabeth Kolbert had this piece in the New Yorker. A segment on Democracy Now! included an appearance by Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown. And Timothy Egan, Seattle resident, Pulitzer Prize winner, and syndicated columnist, penned this opinion piece.

    On the proposal for offshore drilling, Interior is scheduling only one public meeting in affected states. Most of those are in state capitols, but the meeting in Washington will be held in Tacoma on February 5th. 350Seattle.org has scheduled a People’s Hearing, and offers a carpool signup via this link.

    John Abbotts is a former Sightline research consultant who occasionally submits material for Weekend Reading and other posts.