Almost Heaven

I’m passing through West Virginia this weekend. That song makes more sense when you see the place. The mountains aren’t as high or rugged here as they are elsewhere, but what a beautiful place.

"Things that Happen in Silicon Valley, and also the Soviet Union"

A highly amusing thread, recommended by our old "Winds of Change"-era friend Armed Liberal.

The "Scars" Shown by Full Employment

This piece from the Atlantic hits the high notes from yesterday's piece, but it tries really hard to find a downside. Employers are "desperate," and the ability of workers to demand higher wages 'exposes the scars that even a hot economy is unable to heal.'
Plus, though central Iowa’s low jobless rate has helped workers of color, less-educated workers, younger workers, and others who face discrimination in the labor market, it remains true that it is the best-off that have done the best.
They have to work pretty hard to find that downside, in an economy in which wages are rising faster than ever, and even the convict they interviewed -- who couldn't get hired for years due to his past -- now has a job he loves, making $21/hr plus benefits.


Z-Man discusses how not to be boring.  It's an engrossing topic for me, not only because I don't like to be bored ("conversation rape," one of his commenters calls it), but because I have just enough self-awareness to know I too can natter on pointlessly when I'm uncomfortable and oblivious.

One commenter described his father:
Once I called him on having told a story many, many times before and he seemed genuinely shocked that this wasn’t the first time I’d heard it – this being a story that he’d told me maybe two or three times a week since I was five years old or so. That was when I realized that he wasn’t talking to communicate to me, but for some internal reason, maybe as a form of talk therapy. Whatever the case, it turned out that he was paying even less attention to what he was saying than I was.

Affordable housing

Manhattan Contrarian:
On Monday, [New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA)] housing officials unveiled the staggering price tag to remedy the conditions and restore Nycha’s infrastructure to good working order: $31.8 billion over the next five years. . . .
Now we're closing in on $200,000 per apartment. The Zillow website gives the median value of a home in the U.S. as $216,000. So it looks like, any day now, it will be cheaper for NYCHA to buy each resident family a median home somewhere in the U.S., rather than trying to fix the deteriorated mess they have made for themselves.

Service Guarantees Citizenship

If I were in a position to do so, I would probably support something like a Starship Troopers model of citizenship: not a birthright, nor something easily gained, but something that is won by military or other physically arduous service. Something that demonstrated commitment to the American way, not just an accident of birth one way or the other. After all, as we were recently discussing, some of the best Americans are first-generation immigrants; and, too, some of those who despise America and its traditions most are native born Americans.

So, I believe I oppose this move. One never knows if the media is painting it accurately, but if so it's a problem.
Some immigrant U.S. Army reservists and recruits who enlisted in the military with a promised path to citizenship are being abruptly discharged, the Associated Press has learned.

The AP was unable to quantify how many men and women who enlisted through the special recruitment program have been booted from the Army, but immigration attorneys say they know of more than 40 who have been discharged or whose status has become questionable, jeopardizing their futures.

“It was my dream to serve in the military,” said reservist Lucas Calixto, a Brazilian immigrant who filed a lawsuit against the Army last week. “Since this country has been so good to me, I thought it was the least I could do to give back to my adopted country and serve in the United States military.”

Some of the service members say they were not told why they were being discharged. Others who pressed for answers said the Army informed them they’d been labeled as security risks because they have relatives abroad or because the Defense Department had not completed background checks on them.

Spokespeople for the Pentagon and the Army said that, due to the pending litigation, they were unable to explain the discharges or respond to questions about whether there have been policy changes in any of the military branches.

Eligible recruits are required to have legal status in the U.S., such as a student visa, before enlisting. More than 5,000 immigrants were recruited into the program in 2016, and an estimated 10,000 are currently serving. Most go the Army, but some also go to the other military branches.
Spokespeople from the Army may not be able to comment on this to the press due to litigation, but they can answer to Senators. If you're inclined to call yours, you might press them to make an inquiry here and find out whether or not this is as bad as the story implies.

UPDATE: AVI wins the prize for this one. The lawyers behind the story are Perkins Cole, a notorious firm of Clinton-faction Assassins. It looks like the program was suspended as early as 2014, and largely killed in 2016 as it generated a backlog the Army couldn't handle. Which makes it an Obama-era problem, spun up as an anti-Trump story.

That said, I still like the idea of service-guarantees-citizenship. Figuring out how to make it work could be worth doing.

The Declaration of Independence as Hate Speech

It is a document that endorses violent revolution, I guess. And it has some very harsh things to say about King George. And after all, other symbols of America like the Gadsden flag are said to be hateful, even racist.

Vocational Training

The booming economy needs more skilled labor. That means wages are going up.
"Pressure is building for employers, and both hard data and anecdotal reports indicate that wage pressures are building,” Jim Baird, chief investment officer at Plante Moran Financial Advisors, said in a note. “With the economy still humming, employers are able to justify stronger wage increases to retain or attract talent, but it’s becoming a more challenging proposition.”
A 'skills mismatch' is exactly what we have been told to expect for decades as automation changes which jobs do or don't need to be filled with people. So you need to retrain people for the jobs you have now, not the ones they did before. There are a number of ways to address that challenge. Labor unions do a lot of training, in spite of the negative press they tend to get on the right. So one option for companies who need electricians (say) is to go to the IBEW. In return for a collective bargaining agreement, the union can make sure that skilled labor is available as needed. Of course, that means higher wages and benefits -- but from my perspective, higher wages and benefits for US workers is an ideal outcome.

Alternatively, a company may decide it doesn't want to bargain with a union. It can then invest in its own training program. Workers who come to work for such a company won't necessarily receive higher wages or benefits, but they will receive marketable skills. Once they have satisfied whatever contractual obligation the company puts on them in return for their training, they can compete for higher wages and benefits using those skills.

And of course, vocational schools can allow workers who have access to some capital to invest in themselves, recouping their training costs by competing for wages directly. Companies can also ally with such schools, covering the costs for training (and probably bidding for a lower tuition rate in return for regular business) in return for a worker's commitment to work for them for a period of time.

These are all solvable problems. They're good problems to have. All the solutions -- except one -- point to a more skilled, better paid American worker. The only thing to avoid is allowing these companies to import labor at higher rates, so that they can avoid paying higher wages, higher benefits, or for training more skilled American labor. If we can do that, our working men and women will begin to see their lives getting better.

Except for Maduro, I guess

Don Surber notes with amusement that the new President of Mexico's post-election rhetoric is not an exact match for his campaign-trail rhetoric:
AMLO. Kim. Putin. About the only communists who are not willing to negotiate with President Trump are the Democratic Party.


Jill Abramson writes in the UK(!) Guardian, "Justice Clarence Thomas leading the US supreme court? A scary thought."

She winds up her screed, "And a Thomas court is exactly what people who truly value the constitution and human rights must fight to make sure we never see."

I will grant that there is a plausible reading of 'truly valuing human rights' -- e.g., for those who think abortion could somehow be a human right -- for which that makes sense. How can one 'truly value' the Constitution, however, and object to an originalist like Thomas? Why not just admit that you're more attached to your view of 'human rights' than to the Constitution, and want to see the Constitution modified or subordinated accordingly? After all, you're already a citizen of the United States criticizing your government for a foreign newspaper. A British newspaper, even. And the week of Independence Day.

Socialism in the People's Paradise of Venezuela

Stephen Green: "That the world’s most oil-rich nation has to import crude oil, and that a semi-tropical country can run out of water, should tell you everything you need to know about socialism."

Democracy at Work

“Abolish ICE” isn’t a solution, argues my colleague Ed Morrissey at the Daily Beast today, it’s a slogan. Indeed, and that’s being generous. It started as a Twitter hashtag, per HuffPost. As the phrase started showing up more online, desperate opportunists like Kirsten Gillibrand who are looking for an angle to shore up their left flank in the 2020 primaries glommed onto it. Just like that, the hashtag #AbolishICE had become the slogan “Abolish ICE,” which had in turn become a semi-serious policy proposed by a semi-serious U.S. senator. And once it did, other supposedly serious 2020 contenders had to keep pace with Gillibrand by proposing it too.

Suddenly Democrats have a problem.
How big a problem? Richard Cohen:
The socialist label, combined with the demand to obliterate the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, is the nitro and the glycerin of a bomb that Trump can throw at the Democrats. It combines the bugaboo of socialism with the irrational fear of immigrant hordes rampaging through the countryside.

The latter fear is not to be messed with. In Germany, it may yet bring down Angela Merkel’s government and has already made doughty Denmark mad with anti-immigrant regulations that reveal a nation demented by cultural paranoia.
Yeah, you're definitely winning back Rust Belt voters by describing people who share their views as "irrational" and "demented." And this is the sane part of the Left, the part that isn't openly advocating abolishing immigration enforcement and opening the border. They may still want to do it, and consider any opposition to doing it crazy and/or racist. But they're at least sensible enough to know not to say it out loud.

Back to Allah:
Overall, across the total population, “abolish ICE” sits at 21/44 — and that’s the more encouraging of the two recent polls for progressives. The other outfit to poll this question, Harvard-Harris, found trainwreck numbers for liberals when it asked if ICE should be disbanded...
So what should be done instead? The polling on this is pretty clear, too.
“Do you think that people who make it across our border illegally should be allowed to stay in the country or sent home?”

Sixty-four percent -- 83 percent of Republicans, 47 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of independents -- said they should be sent home. Only 36 percent said they should be allowed to stay.

Penn then asked: “Do you think that parents with children who make it across our border illegally should be allowed to stay in the country or sent home?”

“The presence of children made little difference in the result,” York stated before noting that “61 percent -- 81 percent of Republicans, 40 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of independents -- said they should be sent home, while 39 percent said they should be allowed to stay.”
This shouldn't be that surprising, because our actual laws say the same thing as these supermajorities. Crossing the border away from a port of entry is illegal; it's a misdemeanor, but nevertheless a Federal crime. Smuggling a child across the border is a felony. The laws haven't changed, and it is pretty clear based on last week's song and dance in Congress that they aren't going to change. The laws aren't going to change because the laws already say what most Americans want them to say.

In fact, given the strength of the polling numbers, what should be surprising is that we're discussing the issue so hotly. One suspects that there is a coordinated campaign to try to create a controversy where, in fact, the American public has a large degree of consensus. Who would benefit from such a controversy?

NNT on "Fake News"

The piece is over a year old, but it just came across my desk this morning. Nassim Nicholas Taleb argues from his own experience that "The Facts are True, the News is Fake."
In the summer of 2009, I partook of a an hour long discussion with David Cameron, who was in the running for, and later became, the U.K. Prime Minister. The discussion was about how to make society robust, even immune to Black Swans, what structure was needed for both decentralization and accountability, and how the system should be built, that sort of thing. It was an interesting fifty-nine minutes around the topics of the Incerto and I felt great communicating all the points in bulk for the first time. The room in the elegant Royal Society for the Arts was full of journalists. I subsequently went to a Chinese restaurant in (London’s) Soho to celebrate with a few people when I received a phone call by a horrified friend. All London newspapers were calling me a “climate denier”, portraying me as someone part of a large anti-environment conspiracy.

The entire fifty-nine minutes were summarized by the press and reported from a tangential comment that lasted twenty seconds taken in reverse. Someone who didn’t attend the conference would have been under the impression that that was the whole conversation.
It turns out the reporter's understanding of the comment he did make was exactly backwards, but the only thing he heard during the whole hour that grabbed his interest. The news suggested both that Taleb was hotly advancing an agenda he wasn't, and that advancing this agenda was crucial to his argument.

Taleb goes on to make recommendations about how to handle this. Aquinas is involved.

George Washington's Rules for Civility

Washington wasn't so civil that he wouldn't fight a war over a political point -- aye, and win one. But he was a man who aspired to gentility, and he set out to make himself a man of manners as a result. Given the current talk about civility, it might be worth looking over his rules.

The collector notes:
Many of these “rules” are outmoded etiquette, many are baroque in their level of detail, some should never go out of style, and many would be mocked and derided today as “political correctness.” Brookhiser “warns against dismissing the maxims” as mere politeness, noting that they “address moral issues, but they address them indirectly.
The first rule, for example: "Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present." That's an issue of honor, but honor has significant moral consequences.

Street Brawl in Portland

Looks like a fun weekend on the Left Coast. Communists describing themselves as anarchists attacked a march called the Patriot's Prayer march, which is the one carrying all the flags. (What a collection of flags, too: US and UK and Polish flags, plus a host of historic ones including a black-and-white rather than white-and-black variation of the Culpeper rattlesnake flag). As you can see from the progression of the flags once the explosions start going off, the communists were not prepared.

Not that they didn't bring weapons. Here a masked Communist loses his metal baton to one of the guys he wanted to beat up. I note that the masks seem to be worn only by one side here, which might indicate something about which side intended to lawfully protest, and which side came to do unlawful things to the other.

CBS news (top link, above) quotes a radio station interview with the leader of the Patriot's Prayer march, where he claims that -- as has happened in several other marchers in liberal cities -- the police stood down and allowed the attacks to go on unmolested.
Patroit Prayer organizer Joey Gibson told KOIN the clashes "good in terms that we showed that there's a political move right now to have the police stand down in order to impact free speech in some of these big cities."

"Portland's the last city on the West Coast that's doing that, so we just have to keep hitting it -- I don't see what else to do other than that," Gibson said. "We'll make Portland so ugly in terms of how they allow these protesters to charge us when we have a permit. The police stood down, we were told they would not stand down, so we have to challenge it."
It does seem like this is a recipe for disaster. I think that local governments that order their police to allow protesters to be beaten and attacked are asking for a mess of trouble, and they're likely to get it.

Stop Hyperventilating

Worries in the New Yorker about what a "brazen conservative majority" on SCOTUS would produce.

I for one doubt that Donald J. Trump, of all people, is hot to use this opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade. Donald Trump has affairs with porn stars. If the Left had succeeded in impeaching and removing him from office, and Mike Pence was picking the next Justice, then I'd think that overturning Roe was a priority. But c'mon. Donald Trump is not the guy who is going to impose a chaste sexual morality on the United States.

Trump, also, was openly pro-gay-marriage well before Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton were. Like 2005 earlier -- ask the NYT.

Conservatives of all stripes are glad to have Trump rather than Clinton picking the next SCOTUS justice, but not because we expect an activist. I don't even want an activist. I want an originalist, textualist Justice who will attempt to understand what the ratifiers of the Constitution or its amendments intended to enact, rather than attempting to impose a meaning that the Justice might prefer. I want someone who will be very disciplined about that, even though that means there are cases -- 16th Amendment cases, for example -- where the Constitution does not say what I would wish it might say.

The reason I want that is the same reason I always wanted it. We can change the Constitution through Article V processes, but those require a large degree of consensus. Attaining that degree of consensus before altering the basic law of the nation means that the result is stable. Imposing rapid, radical changes on society without that degree of consensus results in the instability and anger that we see in our politics today.

That is not to say that strictly interpreting the Constitution might not produce radical changes in and of itself, especially where the 10th Amendment is concerned. Those changes will push power down to the people in the States, though. That means that liberals will be able to live as they wish in many states, especially the highly populous ones they tend to dominate. It will protect their interests where they tend to live; and those who do not live there now are free to move.

Be at ease, liberals. It won't be that bad.

Stop Feeling Guilty

In point of fact, it would be healthier for our politics if people would stop "feeling" their way to answers all together. I should make bumperstickers: "Stop Feeling, Start Thinking!"


From the NYT: "Some liberals now say that free speech disproportionately protects the powerful and the status quo."

What do you think regulated speech will do? Who regulates things? The powerful, right? Those in charge right now? Thus, the 'status quo'?

I know these people are not idiots, but they sometimes seem dead set on convincing me otherwise.

Enemies of the people

I yield to no one in my contempt for much of the press, though of course I hesitate slightly in emphasizing it this week, for sadness about the Maryland shootings.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed this National Review piece:  The First Amendment is not the "Be Nice to Journalists Act of 1791":
Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; nor shall any president troll Jim Acosta or describe Katy Tur as “little”; nor shall any president draw undue attention to honest errors committed by the press in their noble pursuit of speaking truth to power; nor shall any president say the New York Times or Washington Post are failing when they totally aren’t; nor shall any president fail to ensure White House briefings are televised to maximize exposure of journalists who have put a lot of work into their hair and makeup; nor shall any mouthpiece of any such president bestow undue prominence in said briefings to reporters from Newsmax or the Daily Caller; nor shall any president be unduly mean to the press in general.

Should we fear Amazon?

The Financial Times straddles the fence:
So: Amazon competes hard and invests heavily, just the things that make capitalism work as it should. Worries that Amazon is a threat to competition — and many people do worry about this — may therefore seem quixotic. The concern is that when the Amazon steamroller has flattened the industrial landscape, it will be free to raise prices and, more importantly, either crush or buy out any innovative rival to its established franchises.
To waive this away on the grounds that one day a new competitor will unseat Amazon, just as Amazon unseated Walmart, seems naive. Amazon has not only a huge edge in physical infrastructure, as Walmart once did. It also enjoys technological network effects to rival Microsoft’s and a trove of consumer data that would make Mark Zuckerberg blush.

Resurrecting other great ideas from the 1930s

Remember the "switch in time that saved nine"?  Why not trot it out again?  It's the Gandhi gambit:  it works only when you're up against an opponent whose principles can be turned against him.  Not, in other words, against the Second Coming of Hitler.

As a corrective, an example of more grown-up ways to resolve disputes:

My Facebook feed (now consisting largely of residents of my county who are involved with me only because of the recent election) is full of zhizzhing and dripping over who started all the incivility, and whether civility has a place in a world where whatever.  Lot's of talk about how we can't win ("any more") by being nice.  One neighbor even complained that people seem to think snowflakes just sit around singing "kum-bah-yah."  I don't think that's anyone's idea of a snowflake:  it's not their niceness that they're famous for but their thin skin, and there aren't many illusions about what's under the thin skin.  What is ever under thin skin but Old Adam?

Everything is Hitler-Eleventy

Feedback mechanisms: some tactics contain the seeds of their own destruction:
Rage is hard enough to direct, rage against everything is impossible to control.
And here's Trump-as-Hitler-Eleventissimo. Any minute now, he'll start murdering political rivals. He's already got ICE, which is just like a fascist militia, right?

Stuff that just has to be true

A blogger called "The Money Illusion" examines five widely held assumptions about important economic events of the last few years, and concludes that we too seldom re-evaluate our assumptions in the light of what later events should be teaching us:
Let’s consider 5 popular hypotheses:
1. The mortgage interest deduction has a major impact on the housing market.
2. The NASDAQ was obviously wildly overvalued in 2000.
3. Switzerland was forced to revalue its currency in January 2015.
4. The US housing market was obviously wildly overvalued in 2006.
5. Brexit would cause a recession in the UK economy.