Friday, March 10, 2017

Cruising the Web

JOnah Goldberg argues
that we're not as polarized ideologically as people might think. When people talk about polarization in today's politics, they're ignoring how many positions that Trump has taken are actually quite similar to those of the Democrats.
Consider Trump. His position on trade, his signature issue, represents not a sharp break from the left, but a closing of the gap with it. Protectionism and “fair trade” have been staples of the Democratic party’s base for a very long time, which is why both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Likewise on infrastructure spending and entitlement reform, Trump hasn’t staked out some extreme libertarian stance, he has stolen the issues from Democrats. Just look at health care. The Republicans just unveiled their plan to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. It’s likely no Democrat in the House will vote for it, not because of its radicalism, but because it is an insult to Barack Obama’s legacy. I can understand their frustration, but their anger isn’t proof of a major ideological disagreement.

And this points to the source of the confusion. There is a natural human tendency to believe that those we hate must believe the opposite of what we believe. This is part of what psychologists call “the narcissism of minor differences.”

George W. Bush campaigned on “compassionate conservatism,” triangulating against the libertarian rhetoric of (the old) Newt Gingrich and the dour pessimism of social conservatives. His first legislative priority was bipartisan education reform, supported by Senator Ted Kennedy. Bush’s prescription-drug benefit constituted the largest expansion in entitlements since the Great Society (at least until Obamacare). He rejected the conservatism of William F. Buckley Jr., arguing that “when somebody hurts, government has got to move.”

And for these sins, Democrats instantly and continuously insisted he was some kind of radical.

Before Bush, Republicans denounced Bill Clinton as a left-wing extremist, even though he was a free trader, supported the death penalty, and campaigned on — and signed — welfare reform.
Even on social issues, they're not that far apart.
Even on social issues, where there are certainly significant ideological differences, the two sides are rarely on opposite sides of the issue. They are merely on opposing sides of some narrow questions. Conservatives don’t seek to outlaw homosexuality or transgenderism. They don’t seek to ban women from the workforce. To the very limited extent there are Republicans still seeking to forbid gay marriage, their position is the same one that Obama and Hillary Clinton held until a few years ago. Were they right-wing extremists in 2012?
Polarization today is more tribal than ideological. We saw that during Trump's speech to Congress when Democrats refused to applaud Trump's call for a federally funded childcare program. They despise Trump so much that they're not even willing to support him when he advocates for something they want. Or they're that afraid of being seen to applaud Trump while the cameras are on that they prefer to just sit on their hands.

And then there are attitudes like this from a prominent journalist.
New York Times bestselling author Mark Halperin said the election of President Donald Trump has “convulsed the country” more than any event since World War II, including the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Outside of the Civil War, World War II, and including 9/11, this may be the most cataclysmic event the country has ever seen,” Halperin said on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert Thursday, appearing with collaborator John Heilemann.

“I don’t want to minimize the loss of life in 9/11, and in the wars,” Halperin said. “Obviously that is beyond anything that has happened. But if you think of how this has convulsed the country — More than half of the country that voted against him and is upset about his being president — it’s self inflicted.”

Halperin commented on the divide between how Trump supporters and others in the country view the new administration. “I’ve traveled a lot since [Trump] got elected and there are people who are hopeful, and optimistic, and really think this is the kind of change we need. And there are adults who say to me, ‘This is the worst thing that’s happened to me in my life.'”
Yes, there are people who feel this way. But what an ignorance of history to discount so much of our past and think that, just because there is someone in the White House whom half the country has contempt for, that this political polarization is more cataclysmic than other periods is just ludicrous. All throughout our history we've had major depressions or panics, as they were called before 1929, in which large percentages of the population were out of work and out of hope. Mr. Halperin should go back and read about the Panic of 1893 or the Great Depression if he thinks people marching because they're afraid of what Trump might do is more cataclysmic. Go back and read about the Gilded Age when we had hundreds of labor strikes paralyzing large parts of the economy. We had all the problems resulting from rapid urbanization and the political corruption in so many cities as machines took advantage of mass immigration and bribery to solidify political control over cities and some states. And doesn't he think that the Great Depression was a cataclysmic event for the country? Give me a break!

And if he wants to talk about division, has he ever heard of the 1960s with demonstrations against the Vietnam War? That was a pretty divisive time. He should be old enough to remember civil rights activism in the 1950s and 1960s. Remember urban riots of the "long, hot summers"? We don't have cities burning across the country as they burned back then. We don't have the assassinations of a president, political candidate, and revered civil rights leader. Then there was Watergate and the economic stagflation of the 1970s? That was pretty cataclysmic, eh?

I can't stand this presentist view of history that looks at whatever is going on right now as the worst thing that has ever happened. Pick up a history book, Mr. Halperin. This is a time of great political unrest and uncertainty. But it is not a cataclysm. Democrats are upset and worried about what policies Trump and the Republicans might implement. But we'll get through this. The pendulum will swing back and Democrats will win elections in the future. And Republicans will be upset about that. But neither result is a cataclysm on the par with some of what we've endured in our nation's history.

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We have another reason to be glad that Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn is no longer part of the government. Apparently, he had been lobbying for the government of Turkey.
Flynn disclosed a slew of details about that lobbying contract this week in documents filed for his firm, Flynn Intel Group, with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act....

The Daily Caller first reported in November, just after the election, that Flynn Intel Group had a lobbying contract with Inovo BV, which is nothing more than a shell company registered in the Netherlands.

The relationship was puzzling because of Alptekin’s position as head of a business group with connections to the Turkish government called the Turkish-U.S. Business Council. An op-ed that Flynn wrote for The Hill on Nov. 8, Election Day, was also peculiar given the timing of the piece and Flynn’s rhetoric.

Flynn staked out positions in the op-ed he had never before expressed publicly. He expressed support for the Turkish government, an Islamist regime, and was heavily critical of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric in the U.S. whose extradition is sought by Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ugh! Just what we don't need - a national security adviser who took money from Erdogan's government to do his bidding to target the cleric whom Erdogan blames for the attempted coup last year.
Erdogan's power base is Turkey's Islamic voters, and since a failed coup in July, he has accelerated a crackdown against the nation's weakening secularist faction. Erdogan has accused cleric Fethullah Gulen of orchestrating the aborted coup and called for his extradition from the U.S., where he lives. The Obama administration did not comply, and Gulen still lives in a compound in Pennsylvania.

According to the filing, Flynn Intel's work involved collecting information about Gulen and pressuring U.S. officials to take action against the cleric, including a meeting in October between Flynn's firm and a representative of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Flynn Intel arranged the meeting to discuss a technology developed by another Flynn Intel client. But after discussing the technology, the firm changed the subject to Gulen, pressuring the committee to hold congressional hearings to investigate the cleric, said a U.S. official with direct knowledge of Flynn Intel's work. That request was rebuffed. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The official said Flynn Intel never revealed whom it was representing during the meeting.

The October meeting came as Flynn was working on an op-ed promoting Turkey's political and business affairs that was later published in The Hill, a Washington-based political newspaper. Flynn wrote that Turkey needed support and echoed Erdogan's warnings about Gulen, whom he called a "shady" Turkish Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania. Flynn argued that Gulen should not be given safe harbor in the U.S.
Flynn has admitted that he relied on research provided by Inovo BV, a shell company registered in the Netherlands by EKim Alpetkin, the head of a Turkish-U.S. Business Council and a man close to Erdogan's government. And here we have another important part of his past that he, apparently, neglected to share with the Trump administration. And they should have known about this if they'd done any proper vetting of him before Trump appointed him.

Charles Krauthammer has some good advice
for everyone. Just cool down.
Hard to do with Washington caught up in one of its periodic conspiracy frenzies. Actually, two. One, anti–Donald Trump, is that he and his campaign colluded with Russian intelligence. The other, anti–Barack Obama–CIA– “deep state,” is that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower to ensnare candidate Trump.

The odd thing is that, as of today, there is no evidence for either charge. That won’t, of course, stop the launch of multiple all-consuming investigations.

(1) Collusion:

James Clapper, Obama’s director of national intelligence, who has been deeply and publicly at odds with Trump, unequivocally states that he has seen zero evidence of any Trump-campaign collusion with Russia. Nor has anyone else.

The contrary suspicion arises because it’s hard to explain why Michael Flynn falsely denied discussing sanctions with the Russian ambassador and why Jeff Sessions falsely denied having any contacts at all. That suggests concealment. But there was nothing inherently inappropriate with either behavior. So why conceal?

Suspicion, nonetheless, is far short of assertion — and a fairly thin basis for a major investigation, let alone for a special prosecutor. To prosecute what exactly?

(2) Wiretap:
The other storyline is simply fantastical. Congressional Republicans have uniformly run away from Trump’s Obama-wiretap accusation. Clapper denies it. FBI director James Comey denies it. Not a single member of Trump’s own administration is willing to say it’s true.

Loopier still is to demand that Congress find the truth when the president could just pick up the phone and instruct the FBI, CIA, and DNI to declare on the record whether this ever occurred. And if there really was an October 2016 FISA court order to wiretap Trump, the president could unilaterally declassify the information yesterday.

The bugging story is less plausible than a zombie invasion. Nevertheless, one could spin a milder — and more plausible — scenario of executive abuse. It goes like this:

The intelligence agencies are allowed to listen in on foreigners. But if any Americans are swept up in the conversation, their part of it is supposed to be redacted or concealed to protect their identity. According to the New York Times, however, the Obama administration appears to have gone out of its way to make sure that information picked up about Trump associates’ contacts with Russians was as widely disseminated as possible.

Under Obama, did the agencies deliberately abuse the right to listen in on foreigners as a way to listen in, improperly, on Americans?

If they did, we will find out. But for now, all of this is mere conjuring. There is no evidence for either the collusion or the wiretap charge. We are headed down a rabbit hole. An enormous amount of heat and energy will be expended, ending — my guess — roughly where we started.

What a waste. There is a major national agenda waiting to be debated and enacted. And there is trouble beyond the cozy confines of the capital that needs to be confronted. Self-created crisis can leave us distracted, spent, and unprepared when the real thing hits.

It’s unquiet out there. North Korea keeps testing missiles as practice for attacking U.S. bases in Japan. Meanwhile, we are scrambling to install an antimissile shield in South Korea as early as next month. Fuses are burning. When the detonations begin, we’d better not be in the rabbit hole.
Excellent advice for everyone.

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I just got around to reading Nicholas Eberstadt's very important article, "Our Miserable 21st Century" about how many elements of life in the U.S. started trending down in the year 2000. Eberstadt writes to demonstrate that, for those people living outside the areas of prosperity where so many of our political commentators and activists live, life is quite different.
Whatever else it may or may not have accomplished, the 2016 election was a sort of shock therapy for Americans living within what Charles Murray famously termed “the bubble” (the protective barrier of prosperity and self-selected associations that increasingly shield our best and brightest from contact with the rest of their society). The very fact of Trump’s election served as a truth broadcast about a reality that could no longer be denied: Things out there in America are a whole lot different from what you thought.

Yes, things are very different indeed these days in the “real America” outside the bubble. In fact, things have been going badly wrong in America since the beginning of the 21st century.
For a lot of us, the 21st century has been quite good. The net worth of American households has more than doubled from 2000 to 2016. But other signs point out that the economy was weak even before the 2008 recession.
Between late 2000 and late 2007, per capita GDP growth averaged less than 1.5 percent per annum. That compares with the nation’s long-term postwar 1948–2000 per capita growth rate of almost 2.3 percent, which in turn can be compared to the “snap back” tempo of 1.1 percent per annum since per capita GDP bottomed out in 2009. Between 2000 and 2016, per capita growth in America has averaged less than 1 percent a year. To state it plainly: With postwar, pre-21st-century rates for the years 2000–2016, per capita GDP in America would be more than 20 percent higher than it is today.
Labor participation rates have also been dismal.
Between early 2000 and late 2016, America’s overall work rate for Americans age 20 and older underwent a drastic decline. It plunged by almost 5 percentage points (from 64.6 to 59.7). Unless you are a labor economist, you may not appreciate just how severe a falloff in employment such numbers attest to. Postwar America never experienced anything comparable....

U.S. adult work rates never recovered entirely from the recession of 2001—much less the crash of ’08. And the work rates being measured here include people who are engaged in any paid employment—any job, at any wage, for any number of hours of work at all.
As Eberstadt and others have pointed out, the overall unemployment rate has looked good, but that is deceptive because it doesn't include all those people who have just stopped looking for work.
Alas, the exodus out of the workforce has been the big labor-market story for America’s new century. (At this writing, for every unemployed American man between 25 and 55 years of age, there are another three who are neither working nor looking for work.)

....By the criterion of adult work rates, by contrast, employment conditions in America remain remarkably bleak. From late 2009 through early 2014, the country’s work rates more or less flatlined. So far as can be told, this is the only “recovery” in U.S. economic history in which that basic labor-market indicator almost completely failed to respond.

Since 2014, there has finally been a measure of improvement in the work rate—but it would be unwise to exaggerate the dimensions of that turnaround. As of late 2016, the adult work rate in America was still at its lowest level in more than 30 years. To put things another way: If our nation’s work rate today were back up to its start-of-the-century highs, well over 10 million more Americans would currently have paying jobs.

There is no way to sugarcoat these awful numbers. They are not a statistical artifact that can be explained away by population aging, or by increased educational enrollment for adult students, or by any other genuine change in contemporary American society. The plain fact is that 21st-century America has witnessed a dreadful collapse of work.
These numbers are sadly true for both men and women. For a whole lot of people, times are bad and they've been bad for quite a while. That helps to explain why both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump's populist message resonated with so many.

Eberstadt goes on to look at a series of very depressing statistics about the health for middle-aged whites with high-school degrees or less.
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that for the first time in decades, life expectancy at birth in the United States had dropped very slightly (to 78.8 years in 2015, from 78.9 years in 2014). Though the decline was small, it was statistically meaningful—rising death rates were characteristic of males and females alike; of blacks and whites and Latinos together. (Only black women avoided mortality increases—their death levels were stagnant.) A jump in “unintentional injuries” accounted for much of the overall uptick.
A large part of this is due to the opioid epidemic. Here's a startling statistic.
y 2013, according to a 2015 report by the Drug Enforcement Administration, more Americans died from drug overdoses (largely but not wholly opioid abuse) than from either traffic fatalities or guns.
Eberstadt is right that those of us in the bubble don't really have a sense of the how dire this epidemic is. I know I would never have guessed that statistic. But we can look to opioids to explain a lot of the problem of working-age men dropping out from the labor force.
But how did so many millions of un-working men, whose incomes are limited, manage en masse to afford a constant supply of pain medication? Oxycontin is not cheap. As Dreamland carefully explains, one main mechanism today has been the welfare state: more specifically, Medicaid, Uncle Sam’s means-tested health-benefits program. Here is how it works (we are with Quinones in Portsmouth, Ohio):
[The Medicaid card] pays for medicine—whatever pills a doctor deems that the insured patient needs. Among those who receive Medicaid cards are people on state welfare or on a federal disability program known as SSI. . . . If you could get a prescription from a willing doctor—and Portsmouth had plenty of them—Medicaid health-insurance cards paid for that prescription every month. For a three-dollar Medicaid co-pay, therefore, addicts got pills priced at thousands of dollars, with the difference paid for by U.S. and state taxpayers. A user could turn around and sell those pills, obtained for that three-dollar co-pay, for as much as ten thousand dollars on the street.
In 21st-century America, “dependence on government” has thus come to take on an entirely new meaning.

You may now wish to ask: What share of prime-working-age men these days are enrolled in Medicaid? According to the Census Bureau’s SIPP survey (Survey of Income and Program Participation), as of 2013, over one-fifth (21 percent) of all civilian men between 25 and 55 years of age were Medicaid beneficiaries. For prime-age people not in the labor force, the share was over half (53 percent). And for un-working Anglos (non-Hispanic white men not in the labor force) of prime working age, the share enrolled in Medicaid was 48 percent.

By the way: Of the entire un-working prime-age male Anglo population in 2013, nearly three-fifths (57 percent) were reportedly collecting disability benefits from one or more government disability program in 2013. Disability checks and means-tested benefits cannot support a lavish lifestyle. But they can offer a permanent alternative to paid employment, and for growing numbers of American men, they do. The rise of these programs has coincided with the death of work for larger and larger numbers of American men not yet of retirement age. We cannot say that these programs caused the death of work for millions upon millions of younger men: What is incontrovertible, however, is that they have financed it—just as Medicaid inadvertently helped finance America’s immense and increasing appetite for opioids in our new century.
It's a depressing, but important article. Until we acknowledge the problem, we can't begin to look for solutions.
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Katherine Timpf has a righteous rant
about a controversy that has erupted at Pitzer College in California when a resident assistant, Alegria Martinez, sent a mass email to the entire student body to complain about white women wearing hoop earrings because, apparently only "WOC" or "women of color" can wear that style of earring. Otherwise, they're appropriating "black and brown" culture. Another student demands that white women "take off those hoops." Timpf responds,
Now, I can admit that I did not invent hoop earrings. Hell, I can even admit that I’ve never done any research on the history of hoop earrings. But does this mean that I can’t wear them? Hell no, because it is literally a piece of metal twisted into a circle, and if you are going to try to tell me that I cannot wear a piece of metal because that piece of metal has been twisted into a circle, then I am going to tell you to shut up. It does not matter who started it, nobody owns circles, and you really, really need to calm down.

Spoiler alert: The people on this earth right now are not the first people to ever have existed . . . and at this point, every single style of anything ultimately goes back to someone else’s idea. Truly, I would challenge you to think of even one modern “original” idea that cannot be traced back to inspiration from someone or something else. What’s more, we live in a country where people from many different cultures are interacting with each other, which means that some elements from one culture are inevitably going to influence the people of another. And do you know what? That’s not bad. In fact, some might even say that it’s one of the things that makes this place so special.