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The Burrito Dash

I went to my first-ever NBA game tonight: through work, I scored free tickets to watch my hometown Pistons play my adopted-hometown Wizards. Aside from Rodney Stuckey’s game-winning jumper, the highlight was surely the Chipotle “Burrito Dash.”

It’s moments like these that remind me of how little time I spend in mainstream American society. It’s not like I’ve never seen burritos fired out of a cannon before, but I was taken aback by the theatrics of it all. The crowd was cheering wildly. As the cannons fired and music blared, the Wizards’ hype man belted play-by-play. (“Freeeee foooooooood!”) Chipotle logos jittered across the jumbotron and—most bizarre of all—stone-faced, bare-bellied cheerleaders gyrated along the sideline.

I say it was a highlight for me, but it seems like others shared my opinion. For the 11-and-38 Wizards, burritos elicited as much fanfare from spectators as any moment of actual gameplay. Guy Debord said that we experience capitalist society as “spectacle.” I wonder if this is the type of thing he means. Thousands cheering your product as cannons deliver it to a lucky few? What CEO wouldn’t kill for that?

Robin Hood in Reverse

No redistributive bandit justice in Paul Ryan’s new budget proposal. From the Economic Policy Institute:

Ryan’s plan would cut taxes by roughly $4.6 trillion, with most of the tax cuts benefiting those earning more than $200,000. His proposed cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and food assistance would fall heavily on seniors, the disabled, and children. Ryan’s budget is doubly bad for children because his proposed cuts to public investments (mostly infrastructure and education) would leave our nation’s young people with crumbling roads and bridges—and would cause them to enter the labor market with fewer skills.

Further, Ryan’s budget does nothing to address the nation’s jobs crisis. Conversely, Ryan’s plan would slow job growth. The shock to aggregate demand from near-term spending cuts would result in roughly 1.3 million jobs lost in 2013 and 2.8 million jobs lost in 2014, or 4.1 million jobs through 2014.

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Sierra Maestra, Cuba. 2010

Why Don’t Lobbyists Target Undecided Voters?

According to a poll by Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig, 71 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Democrats believe that “campaign contributions buy results in Congress.” But a must-read piece by Ezra Klein suggests that’s not quite how American politics works.

Is Congress beholden to special interests? Very much so, Klein argues in a review of recently-published books by Lessig and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But few, if any, lobbyists are swapping cash for the favorable votes of undecided legislators. Instead, Washington is a “gift economy” in which lobbyists seek not to alter votes, but rather the legislative agenda—what bills are introduced and how those bills are crafted.

So instead of pursuing reps and Senators on the fence, lobbyists paradoxically focus on the members who already agree with them. Klein writes:

Lobbyists build up relationships with politicians they like and, in many cases, agree with. They give those politicians money and they invite them out for dinner, or to their corporate box to watch ball games. They argue for the client’s interests, but they don’t argue too hard, or cross any ethical boundaries. And, over time, the politician comes to see the lobbyist as a friend. After all, the lobbyist is doing all sorts of thing that, in a person’s normal life, would lead to friendship, or at least a warm business relationship: he’s supporting the politician’s work and spending lots of time having interesting conversations with him and showing up at his events. The lobbyists are smart and personable and interesting and connected. They have expertise he needs, and connections that can help him, and information about what other political actors are doing that gives him a leg up. It is a perfect mixture of ideological comradeship, financial perks, and personal affinity. But it is the sense of comradeship and affinity that makes the whole thing work.

Again, well worth your time to read.