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Wait, why are the Kennedys still relevant? Will our fascination with them ever fade out?

I’ve been seeing a lot of Kennedy stuff on the news recently — RFK Jr. married Cheryl Hines (RIP Suburburgatory) this weekend with a bunch of mostly-famous people around, the Michael Skakel case is still in the news, and there was that whole Katy Perry-linked break-in at the Kennedy Compound a few weeks back.

Here’s the question I have: why exactly are the Kennedys still relevant to the United States and beyond?

I understand on face that JFK was a young, generally-attractive President with a nearly picture-perfect wife, and he died before his time. I understand RFK could have been President as well, and again, died before his time. JFK Jr., of course, also died before his time. And then Ted Kennedy, while by some measure a disaster and a drunk, was also one of the most effective U.S. Senators of all-time.

So I do understand the fascination with that generation — namely, the three brothers of JFK, RFK and Teddy. But at this point, why are we still so fascinated with them? Is it because of the seeming tragedy linked to Camelot? Is it because they were the closest thing America had to royalty (before the Kardashians, of course)? Is it because we want to see them secretly succeed or fail at any turn?

I feel like the Kennedys represent a central American (and perhaps global) question: what are the factors in others that we’re really, truly, tangibly interested in? I literally just saw Good Morning America this morning, and three consecutive stories had something to do with the Kennedy family. Is it really, truly, tangibly that relevant of a group of people anymore?

Here’s one logical theory on why we’re all still collectively obsessed with the Kennedys:

“My sense is that it is largely a story of interrupted promise,” said Russell Riley, co-chairman of the Presidential Oral History Program at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.

“The elevation of Kennedy in the public mind is inextricably linked with the tragedy of his death. So much would have been possible had he lived.”

Americans have also romanticized the “nostalgia and mythology” of the early 1960s, a time before the war in Vietnam escalated and college campuses erupted in protests and violence, Miller said.

“In no place is there a bigger cottage industry than in what Kennedy would have done if he were still alive,” he added.

Here’s maybe a more direct way of saying that:

None of this sustains the Kennedy fascination. It’s too wonky and nuanced. The fixation has other sources. For starters, it’s history as soap opera. Vigorous president gunned down in his prime. Beautiful wife. Young children. But this appeal is superficial. Its real power is that for many Americans — baby boomers, members of the World War II generation — Kennedy’s life and death represent a larger personal and historic metaphor.

Mad Men, you may recall, did a whole sequence on the Kennedy assassination. Peggy was having a nooner at the time!

There’s a whole thing about how 3/4 of current Americans weren’t even born when Kennedy was assassinated, so it’s potentially possible that our fascination with the family / brand (because at heart, they are a brand) might be on its final couple of laps. That said, there are four new Kennedys on the scene who could make some noise, including Caroline’s son (so JFK’s grandson), who looks quite a bit like his grandfather.

What do you think: is the fascination with the Kennedys rooted in our collective fascination with beauty, tragedy, and historical mile markers? Or is it something else entirely?

Here are some of the best lines from the Joe Biden New Yorker profile

I just read this on a plane from BOS to DFW. I laughed out loud about six times; when the plane landed, the guy across the aisle from me was like, “Hey, I have to ask … what could possibly make a person laugh that hard from The New Yorker?” Here’s an attempt to answer that.

Here’s the main article; there are no video clips as The New Yorker is, well, a magazine — but I embedded a few at the bottom of this post regardless, just for Biden intrigue and context.

No. 1:

John Marttila, one of Biden’s political advisers, told me, “Joe and Barack were having lunch, and Obama said to Biden, ‘You and I are becoming good friends! I find that very surprising.’ And Joe says, ‘You’re fucking surprised!’ ”

No. 2:

Last November, Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych scrapped an agreement with the European Union, triggering protests that plunged the country into crisis. Biden had known Yanukovych since 2009 and struck up a towel-snapping rapport. “He was gregarious,” Biden told me earlier this year. “I said, ‘You look like a thug!’ I said, ‘You’re so damn big.’ ”

No. 3:

The Vice-President had a private cabin with a foldout bed, a desk, and a guest chair, but if a second visitor arrived a plastic cooler passed as a seat. “If you want the trappings, it’s a hell of a lot better to go into some other line of work,” Biden said.

No. 4:

In 1979, on one of his first trips to the Soviet Union, he listened to an argument from his Soviet counterpart, and replied, “Where I come from, we have a saying: You can’t shit a shitter.” Bill Bradley, then a fellow-senator on the delegation, later asked the American interpreter how he had translated Biden’s comment into Russian. “Not literally,” the interpreter said.

No. 5:

It leaves him vulnerable to what members of Obama’s campaign team called Joe Bombs, the things he says but doesn’t mean (“Folks, I can tell you I’ve known eight Presidents, three of them intimately”) and the things he means but shouldn’t say (“The middle class has been buried the last four years”—this nearly four years into the Obama-Biden Administration). Biden improvises more on matters of domestic politics than on foreign affairs, and in Kiev he only ad-libbed a poke at Russia’s pledge to reduce tensions: “Stop talking and start acting.” In New York, Senator John McCain heard that and said, “Or else what?”

No. 6:

In one of our interviews, Biden brought up the Gates book. “Gates gets upset because I questioned the military. Well, I believe now, believed then, that Washington and Jefferson were all right: war is too important to be left to generals. It is not their judgment to make! Theirs is to execute. So I think you’ve seen a President who is loyal and supportive of the military but realizes he’s the Commander-in-Chief.” At one point, I started to speak, but Biden interrupted. “I can hardly wait—either in a Presidential campaign or when I’m out of here—to debate Bob Gates. Oh, Jesus.”

There’s a bunch more, but this is a good start.

Now, some videos? Of course.

Marco Rubio seems to be gunning for the young people in 2016 with this student loan debt bill, right?

We all know Marco Rubio is a potential 2016 Presidential contender on the Republican side, with the whole “water gaffe” thing put aside. The GOP field is odd / interesting / weak — which maybe describes the entire party right now — and Rubio could emerge from it as the front-runner, to potentially be smote by Hilary Clinton or run kinda-tight with Elizabeth Warren / Joe Biden (or none of the above). Regardless, he made a play for that brass ring recently by leaping into the student-loan discussion:

Payments would be based on a percentage of an individual’s annual income in excess of $10,000. Borrowers could prepay any time without penalty.

Loans of less than $57,500 would be forgiven after 20 years, while loans in excess of that amount would be forgiven after 30 years.

The measure would apply to all new loans, and existing borrowers would be eligible to convert their loans into the new system.

“Our current loan repayment system often turns what should be reasonable debts into crippling payments,” Rubio and Warner said in a statement to Bloomberg News. “Some graduates find they are forced to work multiple jobs, often in fields they didn’t train for, simply to avoid defaulting on student loans.”

And from the same article:

Still, the issue may give Rubio, 43, a toehold with college-age voters and recent graduates, a segment of the electorate that overwhelmingly backed Obama in 2008 and 2012. Escalating student-loan debt, now at $1.2 trillion, is of growing importance to younger voters and a subject that’s also gotten attention from Democrat Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor whom some Republicans have encouraged to consider a presidential run.

Yep. You win with youth — we saw that in 2008 and 2012, right? And Republicans typically don’t get that youth turnout, but by targeting a key issue for them — everyone hates debt, especially when the job market also sucks — Rubio could position himself nicely. Plus, at 45 when he ran, he’d be about 20 years younger than Clinton, who’d be a grandmother to boot! The age dynamic could be shifting … but the Electoral College still isn’t very favorable to Republicans in its current iteration.

Slate also points this out:

Here’s the good news: A bipartisan bill has been introduced into the Senate that might just solve the single most pressing problem with student debt.

Now the bad news: One of the sponsors is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. And as Jonathan Chait once so succinctly put it, “Everything Rubio touches has turned to shit.”

Should be noted that for some people, this is only the second-most relevant thing Rubio did this week. Earlier in the week, he lobbed a grenade at LeBron James, speaking for Miami (I don’t think most Miami residents want him doing that, actually) by saying that MIA “has moved on.”

Rubio previously dipped into poverty as an issue, and part of his current strategy involves releasing a number of “white papers” on different topics over the next year, all towards shaping the future of America. Interesting: this is the first Presidential run-up where the idea of content marketing has caught on for the GOP side. Will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

Brief thought exercise: has modern politics mostly become about Big Data and targeting?

Famous narrative of Obama winning in 2008 (and again in 2012) was that the Democratic machine had better data, analysis, and targeting methods. This has been discussed for years. The Republicans have a good deal of problems at the national level right now, not the least of which is their Electoral College situation, but they clearly need more of a focus on field data and analytics — in sum, BIG DATA — and less on large TV ad buys, etc. But an elderly white GOP member, Thad Cochran, did get a big win last night in Mississippi — a state where you’d never assume African-American Democrats would turn out for a white, long-term Republican Senator — and it harkens the question: is most politics now just about the data and the analysis? For years — decades, even — politics was akin to sports in the popular culture theater. You could endlessly debate and argue about it: why do people get elected? What about partisan shifts? Blue states? Red states? Open primaries? Moderates? Excessive liberalization? Southern Strategy? There were talking points galore. Those haven’t necessarily gone away, but in the modern world they seem to mean less. Rather, what seems to mean more is simply being better at targeting and analyzing. You want data scientists and marketing gurus, not passionate storytellers. This rolls up with the broader narrative that, as society has become more automatic, some of the charm of days of yore has been replaced. Miranda Lambert, ever the soulful poet, speaks to this in a recent hit.

Remember, FiveThirtyEight is a whole thing now; 15-20 years ago, would it have been?

What do you think: has the passion been replaced by the micro-targeting in politics?

Does Robert Aderholt want your children to be fat?

Robert Aderholt is a Congressman from Alabama, and, as a House Appropriations sub-committee chairman, he’s ultimately responsible for setting funding levels on school nutrition programs. You might know that “healthy eating” is a big focus of Michelle Obama — think the White House vegetable garden — and, frankly, should be a big focus of more people. Aderholt is one of 29 Republicans who is trying to pass a waiver presently; the waiver states that if a school has lost money for six or more months, they can get an exemption from, essentially, trying to be healthy. Aderholt is the primary architect of the waiver, which many critics view as ironic because Alabama is clearly part of America’s “diabetes belt.”

This is a moderately complex issue, though: we want children in school to ultimately learn and grow and be healthy, and eating crap isn’t going to help with any of those three words, but there is a cost issue. Healthier food is, generally speaking, more expensive. Aderholt wrote an op-ed for USA Today explaining some of the issues:

While I may not have the White House’s ability to summon Hollywood figures to events to discuss this, I do have Ms. Evelyn Hicks. Ms. Hicks serves more than 300 children every school day in rural Winston County, Ala. In many places in the United States, school lunch is the only full plate of food students will see that day.

She takes her job very seriously, so much so that she called me about this issue and asked her fellow school nutritionist to meet with me in a school cafeteria to talk through these new regulations.

There they explained that while many of the new regulations may seem like a good idea in Washington, in practicality they do not work in the local school cafeteria. Be it the dearth of foods that comply with the new standards, or the lack of new equipment necessary to prepare them, there are real implementation problems out where the food meets the student’s plate.

Zing! on that first paragraph, eh? I used to teach in a public school down in Houston, and I can tell you the school cafeteria prep area is one of the most interesting, and horrifying, places in a given school. In even a smaller school, that place is feeding 300 children five times a week — and in the six or seven school cafeterias I’ve been in, they often don’t seem 100 percent prepared (not their fault; it’s more a supplies thing, often).

Then there’s this aspect (always follow the money):

As the Environmental Working Group noted Tuesday in a blog posttax records show that $6.7 million of $10.5 million the School Nutrition Association collected in 2012 came from sponsorship fees from food companies like Schwan’s Food Service, a major provider of pizza to schools.

Lobbyists are lurking in this discussion.

So here’s the essential argument/issue: we want kids to eat healthy, but the focus of a school’s finances should be on the base education side, so we don’t want the eating healthy side to decimate the school fiscally, right? I never understood why the major players in the food industry don’t straight up donate more (I’m sure they donate a good deal, but there’s probably more that could be donated). I don’t think public school students should be eating for free (i.e. no one pays a cost anywhere down the line, as that’s ludicrous), but it seems like there’s a way to get local produce over to schools in most areas. That said, of course, the equipment present to prepare that food may not be there at the schools.

There’s another way to look at it, via AgSec (hehe, sounds weird) Tom Vilsack:

So is Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. He says that kids will eat healthier foods if they are provided with them and claims that, overall, school food revenues around the country are up by about $200 million dollars since the changes took effect.

“The facts just don’t basically support the notion that somehow school district are financially strapped to be able comply,” he said.

His advice for schools that are struggling: instead of asking to opt-out, ask for help.


Government employment actually FELL during this economic recovery. Is that why the recovery still doesn’t feel that strong?

Government Jobs Decline

The chart above is courtesy of here. It’s in turn via here, which notes that it’s fairly unprecedented, at least in modern times — government employment tends to rise during recoveries, but not so this time. The public sector has about 21.9 million jobs, which is the lowest point it’s been in years — and overall, they even employ slightly less people than they did in December 2007, pre-crash. Because these jobs account for 1 in 7 jobs, watching that sector is quite important; that’s explained more here. You’re also seeing more retirements in government jobs, beginning that millennial-Boomer narrative. And let’s be honest: it’s not a great market for getting a job (see more here). If anyone brings up the economy or the recession or the recovery in your next few social entanglements, be sure to reference this above chart.

Most urban sprawl, 2000-2010? Myrtle Beach. Least? Tallahassee.

Sprawl is a pretty big topic — and has ties back to politics, too – with a lot of impact on where people eventually want to move/settle. Now there’s a new report doing a longitudinal study of urban sprawl from 2000-2010; the report is also summarized here. Before we get too deep into this, consider a fairly large caveat at the beginning, from the report’s authors themselves:

Still, as another way to evaluate city growth policies, changes in the Sprawl Index deserve our attention. Ewing and Hamidi report that, as a general rule, the urban areas that were compact in 2000 remained compact in 2010, and vice versa for those that were sprawled. Overall, sprawl increased during the decade — “but only slightly,” they conclude. It may take another 10 years to know which way the momentum is heading.

The changes weren’t amazingly drastic, then, but across the top 162 population cities in the United States, these were the cities that became more compact:

Most Compact Cities

Overall, the five most compact cities as of 2010 were (1) Bay Area, (2) Reading, PA, (3) Madison, WI, (4) Eugene, OR and (5) Laredo, TX. Quick hits on that? College towns galore, and of course, the Bay Area’s compactness is one reason for insane rents. That’s both a large pro and a large con at the same time.

From 2000 to 2010, these were the cities that sprawled out the most:

Most Sprawling Cities

The overall most-sprawled cities in America as of 2010 were pretty much exclusively in the Southeast — Atlanta was No. 1 (see the video at the top of this post) and Charlotte and Nashville ranked high too. The only non-SE city in the top 10 overall was Victorville, CA.

You can also argue the time window (2000-2010) for this particular research isn’t ideal because it contained a major U.S. market crash, which is going to affect the rate of sprawl increase (this in addition to the caveat already presented). It may not mean much, but it’s interesting to consider.

I’ve been to Tallahassee and it seemed fairly sprawling, so I was intrigued by that index. In terms of how they did it, here are a few resources.




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