Man on the spot #23: The other downtown, JFK and the rise of McMansions

Posted by on December 15, 2013 in Blog | 0 comments

paul_krugman1Better Pay Now

’Tis the season to be jolly — or, at any rate, to spend a lot of time in shopping malls. It is also, traditionally, a time to reflect on the plight of those less fortunate than oneself — for example, the person on the other side of that cash register.

The last few decades have been tough for many American workers, but especially hard on those employed in retail trade — a category that includes both the sales clerks at your local Walmart and the staff at your local McDonald’s. Despite the lingering effects of the financial crisis, America is a much richer country than it was 40 years ago. But the inflation-adjusted wages of nonsupervisory workers in retail trade — who weren’t particularly well paid to begin with — have fallen almost 30 percent since 1973.
An increase in the minimum wage, on the other hand, just might happen, thanks to overwhelming public support. This support doesn’t come just from Democrats or even independents; strong majorities of Republicans (57 percent) and self-identified conservatives (59 percent) favor an increase.
In short, raising the minimum wage would help many Americans, and might actually be politically possible. Let’s give it a try.

The Changing American Family
Science Times, NATALIE ANGIER takes stock of our changing definition of family.
Families, they say, are becoming more socially egalitarian over all, even as economic disparities widen. Families are more ethnically, racially, religiously and stylistically diverse than half a generation ago — than even half a year ago. In increasing numbers, blacks marry whites, atheists marry Baptists, men marry men and women women, Democrats marry Republicans and start talk shows. Good friends join forces as part of the “voluntary kin” movement, sharing medical directives, wills, even adopting one another legally.

The children of more than a million inmates are left to cope as best they can.
One variant of the modern American family — sadly characteristic, if often ignored — is the family struggling with the impact of an incarcerated parent. Largely as a result of harsh drug laws and mandatory minimum sentences, the nation’s prison population has almost quadrupled over the past 30 years, according to a 2010 Pew Charitable Trusts study.
Today the United States is the world’s leading jailer by far, housing more of its citizens behind bars than the top 35 European countries combined. And of the estimated 2.3 million inmates serving time, more than half are parents of children under age 18. That translates into 2.7 million affected children nationwide, or one of every 28, up from one in 125 in 1990.

McMansions Are Making a Comeback
When the housing bubble burst in 2007, there was a glut of unsold inventory on the market, and the size of newly built homes began to shrink. In both 2008 and 2009, Census Bureau figures show, the median size of a new home was smaller than it had been the previous year. It seemed that after more than a decade of swelling domiciles, the McMansion era was over. But that conclusion may have been premature.

Pope Sets Down Goals for an Inclusive Church, Reaching Out ‘on the Streets’

Pope Francis spoke to a group of Argentine labor union leaders in Vatican City on Tuesday.
“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” he wrote, in the folksy language that has already marked his as a memorable papacy.

Poor in the Land of Plenty

Sasha Abramsky’s ‘American Way of Poverty’
“What should we do,” Abramsky asks, “with someone like Emily?” His answer is not to blame the victim, and he skewers conservatives for doing so. Whether poverty “is caused by dysfunction, or the dysfunction is itself a product of the poverty, or, as is likely, the dysfunction and the poverty interact in ever more complex feedback loops, for the larger community to wash its hands of the problem represents an extraordinary failure of the moral imagination.”


To the Editor:
To fully appreciate the presidency of John F. Kennedy, one had to experience it. The excitement of Camelot is never in its reality; the excitement of Camelot is always in its promise.
Those of us who were present on that bitterly cold January day in 1961 to hear the Inaugural Address, with its memorable lines and cadences, knew instantly that something significant was taking place. A torch was indeed being passed to a new generation.
The excitement was the promise; the legacy is the dream. As Wordsworth wrote, “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive / But to be young was very Heaven.” In my three score and more, I was never more excited about the potential of my government as I was during those three years.
Norcross, Ga., Nov. 19, 2013

As Legal Graffiti Walls Disappear, Street Artists Ponder Future

The gradual loss of these walls, like last week’s sudden whitewashing of 5Pointz in Queens, has street artists wondering where they — especially younger, less established artists — will be able to paint. For J. J. Ramirez, an “original school writer” whose tag, Mico, covered subway cars and walls starting in the late 1960s, the implications are clear.

“The whole thing boils down to class warfare,” Mr. Ramirez said. “People all over the world are wondering why they did that to 5Pointz. My answer is, why not? Do we really think some landlord is going to give a damn about the culture of the working class? This was an art form invented by the children of the working class, not children with last names like Trump or Rockefeller.”

In Kennedy’s Death, a Turning Point for a Nation Already Torn

A Divided, Dangerous Camelot: The anniversary reverie surrounding President John F. Kennedy’s death has obscured the anarchic disorder that was present in America.
Mr. Schlesinger had predicted a new “politics of hope” with Kennedy’s election. But Kennedy’s own hopes were more tempered. While others basked in the excitements of Camelot, Mr. Schlesinger wrote, Kennedy himself had become acutely aware of the difficulties of governing “a nation so disparate in its composition, so tense in its interior relationships, so cunningly enmeshed in underground fears and antagonisms, so entrapped by history in the ethos of violence.”

$13 Billion, Yes, but What Took So Long?
After weeks of pre-deal chatter about its $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan Chase, the Justice Department finally nailed it down last week. And for the first time, the department provided a glimpse of the investigatory findings upon which the settlement was based.

“Without a doubt,” Eric H. Holder Jr., the attorney general, said in a statement, “the conduct uncovered in this investigation helped sow the seeds of the mortgage meltdown.”
Eager to see what the Justice investigation had found, I consulted the statement of facts that accompanied the settlement and that JPMorgan had to acknowledge. There, I reckoned, would be some juicy, new evidence of the bank’s mortgage misdeeds “uncovered” by assiduous investigators armed with subpoena power and other government might.
Perusing the 11-page document, I quickly saw that I’d reckoned wrong. Much of it was the same-old-same-old, a not-very-lively description of a corrupted Wall Street mortgage factory, based largely on some facts that have been in the public domain for years.

The Other Downtown

Ian Douglas for The New York Times
Downtown Brooklyn is on the march again.
A second wave of residential development is expected to expand the market by 3,384 apartments in 12 buildings in the next three years, altering the skyline and boosting the population by more than 60 percent to some 21,000 people. The first construction boom, spurred by a 2004 rezoning, resulted in more than 29 buildings with nearly 5,000 apartments, according to the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership; the longtime office and shopping district thereby became a fledgling neighborhood. But because some basic services lagged behind, early residents did their grocery-shopping and barhopping in better-established enclaves, including Fort Greene, Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill.
“I want to see a really good coffee shop,” said Harris Salat, who runs Ganso. “You can’t get a good cup of cappuccino here yet.”

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