Apologies for radio silence, I've been on honeymoon for the last couple weeks in New Zealand. It's an interesting country, much more similar to the United States than I was expecting. There are big highways built right through the middle of Auckland (the largest city), which is also extremely sprawly. Detached single family homes are the norm, and housing prices are apparently a big problem across most of the country. Overall it's a heavily car-dependent society with the attendant problems of obesity and ill health.
That said, New Zealand also shows the signs of responsive government that are largely absent from the U.S. National health care is largely free at point of service (at least compared to the American version) and the broader welfare state is far more generous. All over we saw pedestrian and bike infrastructure either freshly finished or under construction, including a big train station in downtown Auckland. It might be 30 years behind the Netherlands, but it's moving in the right direction.
What's more, again like the U.S. (in a more positive fashion), New Zealand is also extremely diverse with tons of immigrants. There is social tension as a result but it's not nearly as toxic as what we see in Denmark or elsewhere in Europe. That's probably related to the fact that while European settlers behaved terribly towards the native Maori in the 19th century, the history is not nearly so brutal as what happened to indigenous peoples in the U.S. or Australia. The Maori, while still quite disadvantaged, survived and have become a constituent element of New Zealand culture—one sees Maori-named cities and locations everywhere, as well as dual-language signs and Maori cultural traditions that have been adopted more broadly.
Overall, it's a wonderful country and I highly recommend visiting if you can manage it.
Since I've been on vacation, I only have a couple of pieces of work to share. First is a video project on Matt Taibbi explaining how he went from leftist rabble-rouser to oligarch handmaiden:
Vested interests and ideology are the real obstacles to fixing the IRS. Numerous attempts to streamline the American tax system have run into a wall of money from the tax-prep industry. As Justin Elliott and Paul Kiel reported for ProPublica in 2019, for more than two decades, these companies, led by Intuit and H&R Block, have aggressively mobilized to stave off attempts to create a government system for free tax filing online. They swatted down an attempt from the George W. Bush administration to move in this direction and also blocked the Obama administration from pushing the idea.
See you again soon!