Thursday, August 10, 2017

Cruising the Web

Tom Nichols, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, analyzes the situation with North Korea. He has some good news and a whole lot of bad news. The leaked news from the DIA that North Korea has made a nuclear warhead that could fit on a long-range missile doesn't scare him as much as the breathless reporting on TV would have us think. At least for now. However, as everyone has probably realized, there are no good options for what we should do now. This has been the situation since North Korea got nukes. Whatever posturing the administration might be doing, this is still true. Any attack runs the risk of North Korea retaliating against South Korea or Japan. We're not going to use nuclear weapons against North Korea and risk either retaliation or environmental fallout on surrounding countries including China and Russia. Nichols doesn't have as much faith in our missile defense system which has never been tried shooting down an ICBM in combat. So there really isn't a preemptive military option. And the options short of military action aren't all that good.
North Korea is already the most heavily sanctioned nation on earth, and its rulers care little for whether their own people live or die. President Trump has insisted that China should deal with North Korea, but the status quo is right where China wants it, with neither peace nor war, which Beijing finds preferable to a unified, pro-American Korea sitting on the Chinese border.
At some point China should realize that they would prefer a North Korea that wasn't perpetually provoking conflict. I would think that China might prefer to get rid of the Kim family and bring in another puppet ruler who might be less incendiary and unreliable. That's assuming that China has the ability to bring about a regime change in Pyongyang.

Jonah Goldberg has a similarly depressing analysis
about the calls for "discussion" and "negotiations."
This seems crucial to me and it gets lost in the world of diplomacy all the time. Talk is not an end in itself. Talk is a means to an end. Talk is always preferable to war if talk can do the same job war can. Talk can even be preferable to war if it can’t deliver outcomes war might be able to deliver. A diplomatic half-a-loaf is very often preferable to total victory in war (and, we should remember, total victories are few and far between these days).

But here’s the thing: If you go into negotiations with an enemy who sees negotiations as nothing more than a stalling tactic (or shakedown operation) in its pursuit of a goal, then you have to decide how far you’ll take negotiations. There will always be loud and large constituencies insisting there is more time to talk. There will always be strong forces encouraging leaders to kick-the-can to some future administration. If you don’t decide before you enter negotiations what you want from negotiations, all you are doing is negotiating for more negotiations while your opponent is negotiating for more time in pursuit of a concrete goal. In the meantime, their position becomes stronger and ours weaker, which means future negotiations are less likely to yield more desirable outcomes.

That has been the story of the bipartisan failure that has been our North Korea policy for decades and why we have no good options now. And, it seems obvious to me, if we get through this mess, we’ll be saying something very similar about the mess we made for ourselves in Iran as well.

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Franklin Foer has an in-depth article
in The Atlantic about the Democratic Party's decision to rely on demographic trends that would eventually sweep them into power. They were willing to lose statehouses and governors' races as well as House seats because they would win the White House election after election. Until they didn't. Foer is hoping that the Trump victory has sharpened the Democratic Party's ability to analyze what went wrong and adjust. But he's worried that the party is allowing "the Resistance" to take over their party.
Leaderless and loud, the Resistance has become the motive power of the Democratic Party. Presidential hopefuls already strive to anticipate its wishes. Elected officials have restructured their political calculus to avoid getting on its wrong side. The feistiness and agitation of the moment are propelling the party to a new place.

But where? The question unnerves Democrats, because the party has no scaffolding. All the dominant leaders of the last two generations—the Clintons, Barack Obama—have receded. Defeat discredited the party’s foundational strategy—or, at the very least, exposed it as a wishful description of a more distant future, rather than a clear plan for victory in the present. Resistance has given the Democrats the illusion of unity, but the reality is deeply conflicted. Two of the party’s largest concerns—race and class—reside in an increasing state of tension, a tension that will grow as the party turns toward the next presidential election.
None of this will help the party win back the white working class. Foer points out that Clinton's primary fight with Sanders became a battle of race against class, something that is not going to be good for the party.
To win the Democratic presidential nomination, it helps to secure the African American vote. But another path to victory involves rallying white voters with a populist bent. This can create an uncomfortable dynamic in presidential primaries, where race vies with class to become the defining concern of the party. Politicians rarely vocalize the tension. But the socialism of Bernie Sanders—which hindered his efforts to explain the centrality of race to American life—made this split less subterranean than usual.

Of course, Hillary Clinton would have preferred to avoid an argument about the primacy of race versus class. But African American voters provided her the surest path to primary victory. They gravitated to her, in no small measure out of loyalty to Obama. Where Clinton posed as the president’s anointed successor, Sanders questioned Obama’s legacy and called for revolutionary change. He never dedicated himself to making meaningful inroads with African American or Latino voters, and so Clinton doubled down. After she lost New Hampshire in February, she began traveling with the grieving mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and other African American casualties of violence. Criminal-justice issues became an elevated feature of her standard pitch.
When it got to the general race, she continued to occupy that ideological ground since she was so worried about not garnering Obama-like support among African Americans. While continuing to reach out to those voters, she had difficulty winning over the white working-class voters even those who had voted for Obama. And those were exactly the voters who seemed most attracted to Trump. So Clinton compensated by trying to appeal to professionals to offset losses among lower-class whites.
With hindsight, it’s possible to see the risks of her strategy. Her campaign theorized that dentists, accountants, and middle managers needed to fully understand how Donald Trump surrounded himself with bigots and anti-Semites. “From the start,” she argued in a sharply worded speech in August, “Donald Trump has built his campaign on prejudice and paranoia.” Her campaign ads against Trump emphasized his misogyny. The attacks highlighted Trump’s greatest weakness, but also played to his greatest strength. Trump had spent the entirety of his campaign trying to foment a culture war, and Clinton zealously joined it. He talked endlessly about political correctness—trying to convince his voters that they weren’t just losing the debates over gay marriage or immigration, but that the elite wanted to banish them as bigots if they even dared to question the prevailing liberal view. Clinton boosted that cause when she told donors in September, “To just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables.’ ” It was meant to be a sotto voce comment, but that’s never how it works, as Mitt Romney could confirm.

Clinton apologized, but she didn’t have any credibility to fall back on. She never fully met her most important political challenge: the need to both celebrate multiculturalism and also cushion the backlash against the celebration.
I don't know that any other message would have won those voters for Clinton. They just didn't like her. In fact, I had thought some of her ads using Trump's own words were quite effective. But then I'm not the target audience that Foer is talking about. Foer also explains how, contrary to how he governed, Obama campaigned as a populist and tried, in his campaigns, to not exacerbate racial tensions and still win over working-class voters.

As several people have pointed out, including David Wasserman at 538, there is a geographical disadvantage for the Democrats in the House and Senate and thus in the Electoral College. Democrats have long thought that white working-class voters who voted Republican were doing so out of racism. But Stanley Greenberg, the Democratic pollster who originally posited that theory, is surprised to find that today's Trump's supporters in Macomb County outside Detroit were not as motivated by race as he'd supposed even though he still found complaints about immigrants' taking their jobs.
The spectacle of Democratic elites flagellating themselves for their growing distance from these voters has the whiff of the comic—the office-tower anthropologists seeking to understand Appalachia from their Kindles. But there’s another way of putting the problem. If the stagnation of the middle class and the self-reinforcing advantages of the rich are among the largest issues of our time, the Democrats have done a bad job of attuning themselves to them. The party that has prided itself on representing regular people has struggled to make a dent in the problem—and at times has given the impression of indifference to it. A healthy republic can’t afford for a seething populace to fall deeper into its hostilities.
Trump is vulnerable and Greenberg did find populist attack lines that did register with those Trump supporters.

Looking toward 2020, Foer worries that the plethora of Democrats possibly running for the nomination, will be moving so far to the left that they will once again abandon a centrist position to allow them to appeal to such voters. He is hoping that the party won't see a similar battle between the cultural left and the economic left in 2020 that they saw in the 2016 primary fight. He sees hope in such candidates as Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren. He has some decent advice for whoever ends up being the Democratic nominee.
To win again, the Democrats don’t need to adopt an alien agenda or back away from policies aimed at racial justice. But their leaders would be well advised to change their rhetorical priorities and more directly address the country’s bastions of gloom. The party has been crushed—not just in the recent presidential election, but in countless down-ballot elections—by its failure to develop a message that can resonate with people beyond the core members of the Obama coalition, and by its unwillingness to blare its hostility to crony capitalism. Polling by the group Priorities USA Action shows that a stunning percentage of the voters who switched their allegiance from Obama to Trump believe that Democratic economic policies favor the rich—42 percent, nearly twice the number who consider that to be true of Trump’s agenda.

The makings of a Democratic majority are real. Demographic advantages will continue to accrue to the left. The party needs only to add to its coalition on the margins and in the right patches on the map. Doing that does not require the abandonment of any moral principles; persuasion is a different category of political activity from pandering.... A decent liberalism, not to mention a savvy party, shouldn’t struggle to accord dignity and respect to citizens, even if it believes some of them hold abhorrent views.

Victories in the culture wars of the past decade seemed to come so easily to liberals that they created a measure of complacency, as if those wars had been won with little cost. In actuality, the losers seethed. If the Democrats intend to win elections in 2018, 2020, and beyond, they require a hardheaded realism about the country that they have recently lacked—about the perils of income stagnation, the difficulties of moving the country to a multicultural future, the prevalence of unreason and ire. For a Democratic majority to ultimately emerge, the party needs to come to terms with the fact that it hasn’t yet arrived.
That's certainly a better path forward than continuing to talk contemptuously about Trump supporters as racist ignoramuses. Insults don't win over voters.

In the same issue of The Atlantic Peter Beinart discusses "The Rise of the Violent Left."
If you believe the president of the United States is leading a racist, fascist movement that threatens the rights, if not the lives, of vulnerable minorities, how far are you willing to go to stop it?

In Washington, D.C., the response to that question centers on how members of Congress can oppose Trump’s agenda, on how Democrats can retake the House of Representatives, and on how and when to push for impeachment. But in the country at large, some militant leftists are offering a very different answer.
Beinart goes on to talk about the rise of "antifa," tracing the group back to communist groups who fought street battles against fascists in Europe and then fought against neo-Nazism in the 1980s. And now, anti-Trump activists have glommed onto this tradition to organize violent reactions against those they regard as white supremacists and fascists. Sometimes, those efforts have left to violence. And the left has been rather uneasily supporting such actions. And anti-antifascists are responding with their own violence. The resulting cycle of violence is exposing the authoritarianism of the radical left.
What’s eroding in Portland is the quality Max Weber considered essential to a functioning state: a monopoly on legitimate violence. As members of a largely anarchist movement, antifascists don’t want the government to stop white supremacists from gathering. They want to do so themselves, rendering the government impotent. With help from other left-wing activists, they’re already having some success at disrupting government. Demonstrators have interrupted so many city-council meetings that in February, the council met behind locked doors. In February and March, activists protesting police violence and the city’s investments in the Dakota Access Pipeline hounded Mayor Ted Wheeler so persistently at his home that he took refuge in a hotel. The fateful email to parade organizers warned, “The police cannot stop us from shutting down roads.”

All of this fuels the fears of Trump supporters, who suspect that liberal bastions are refusing to protect their right to free speech. Joey Gibson, a Trump supporter who organized the June 4 Portland rally, told me that his “biggest pet peeve is when mayors have police stand down … They don’t want conservatives to be coming together and speaking.” To provide security at the rally, Gibson brought in a far-right militia called the Oath Keepers. In late June, James Buchal, the chair of the Multnomah County Republican Party, announced that it too would use militia members for security, because “volunteers don’t feel safe on the streets of Portland.”

Antifa believes it is pursuing the opposite of authoritarianism. Many of its activists oppose the very notion of a centralized state. But in the name of protecting the vulnerable, antifascists have granted themselves the authority to decide which Americans may publicly assemble and which may not. That authority rests on no democratic foundation....

Antifa’s perceived legitimacy is inversely correlated with the government’s. Which is why, in the Trump era, the movement is growing like never before. As the president derides and subverts liberal-democratic norms, progressives face a choice. They can recommit to the rules of fair play, and try to limit the president’s corrosive effect, though they will often fail. Or they can, in revulsion or fear or righteous rage, try to deny racists and Trump supporters their political rights. From Middlebury to Berkeley to Portland, the latter approach is on the rise, especially among young people.

Revulsion, fear, and rage are understandable. But one thing is clear. The people preventing Republicans from safely assembling on the streets of Portland may consider themselves fierce opponents of the authoritarianism growing on the American right. In truth, however, they are its unlikeliest allies.
It's no coincidence that this supposedly anti-fascist movement is strongest in liberal bastions where the authorities would prefer to stand down rather than exacerbate tensions. We'll have to see what happens if they carry their violent methods to less "liberal" locations.

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I so agree with Jazz Shaw. The media should leave Sasha and Malia Obama alone. They're 16 and 19 years old. Let them grow up without treating typical teenage behavior as something that is newsworthy. Just because the media acted that way for the Bush daughters doesn't mean that the Obama daughters are equally fair game.

Rick Moran finds that people respond to incentives and disincentives no matter what liberal policy-makers might hope.
If the definition of "crazy" is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result, then the Democrats who run the city of Philadelphia should all be locked up in a lunatic asylum.

City fathers imposed a whopping 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks. They confidently looked forward to a massive revenue stream from people who they believed were not going to notice how expensive soda would become.

But in the case of the soda tax, people who buy both beer and soda for their families couldn't help noticing that suddenly, they were paying more for soda than beer. This began an exodus of people to the suburbs to buy both beer and soda, and probably a lot more.

The result? The increase in revenue is not materializing.
And take three guesses asto which people are hurt most by the tax.
"Furthermore, soda taxes are regressive, hurting low-income earners the most. Philadelphia's experience serves as a cautionary tale for other areas weighing similar beverage taxes," t
And when beer now costs less than soda, I wonder what some people will choose to buy.

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A couple of days ago I linked
to a story about a University of Georgia business school professor who was planning to allow his students to change their grades and take open book tests in order to alleviate their stress. Well, it turns out that the university was not so thrilled with the professor's approach.
While Terry College of Business students may have applauded Richard Watson’s policies as posted this week, UGA did not. The policies have been stricken from Watson’s online syllabus and will not be allowed, according to the university. Watson is the J. Rex Fuqua Distinguished Chair for Internet Strategy.

“The syllabus stated that his grading policy would allow students inappropriate input into the assignment of their own grades. I want you to know that the syllabus did not conform with the university’s rigorous expectations and policy regarding academic standards for grading. I have explained this discrepancy to the professor, and he has removed the statement from his syllabus. Rest assured that this ill-advised proposal will not be implemented in any Terry classroom,” said Benjamin C. Ayers, Terry College of Business Dean and Earl Davis Chair in Taxation, in a statement Tuesday.
I'm glad to see some common sense. And this is actually a pretty strongly-worded repudiation of the policy.