Welcome to the Next Four Years

$100 million here and $100 million there and pretty soon you’re starting to talk about real money. Staffers on the Senate Finance Committee have determine that Trump Treasury Secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin failed to disclose $100 million of personal assets in the paperwork he’s filed. The Washington Post reports:

President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Treasury Department initially failed to disclose his interests in a Cayman Islands corporation, as well as more than $100 million in personal assets, according to a memo by Democratic staffers on the Senate Finance Committee that was obtained by The Washington Post.

Steven T. Mnuchin faced lawmakers Thursday in a testy confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. Mnuchin has already come under fire for his management of a California bank accused of aggressively foreclosing on homeowners and discriminating against minorities — charges that he denies. Democrats have also sought to highlight the former Goldman Sachs executive’s deep ties to Wall Street in hopes of undercutting Trump’s populist appeal, and the new details of his financial holdings are likely to provide them more ammunition.

I don’t believe that these sorts of revelations will end. I think that we’ll have a steady drip, drip of them for the next four years or, heavens forfend, the next eight years.

In seeking nominees for high political appointments you’re either going to get party nomenklatura or prominent people from outside government. In the 21st century that means rich people. That’s what voting for change means.

The financial affairs of rich people are complicated. They will unfold over a period of years and a lot of what we’ll learn won’t look good.


The Pervasive Weakening of the Democratic Party

Here’s a snippet from William Galston’s assessment of President Obama’s legacy in his piece at Democracy:

Hillary Clinton’s narrow loss exposed a basic reality—the pervasive weakening of the Democratic Party during the eight Obama years, in part because the party machinery stepped away from its party-building mission. Democratic majorities in the House and Senate have disappeared and seem unlikely to return until at least 2020. Republicans have seized control of governorships and state legislatures across the country. Numerically, the party is at its lowest ebb since the 1920s.

There are certain places in the country, e.g. coastal California, Cook County where the party is as strong as ever. But in much of the country that is just not the case. And, like Mr. Galston, I think a good deal of the blame for that state of affairs should go to the present Democratic leadership, particularly the Democratic National Committee. I think that laying the blame at the feet of the president is an exaggeration if not completely wrong.

The purposes of the DNC among others are to

  1. Raise money.
  2. Distribute money to candidates to elect more Democrats.
  3. To encourage some candidates to seek office and discourage others.

Clearly, they’re doing something wrong.

Honestly, I’m surprised at how staunchly the leadership is being defended in some circles. Res ipsa loquitur.


The Changing Landscape

The graph above, from Sean Trende and David Byer’s analysis at RealClearPolitics of the 2016 election in the Midwest, was so dramatic I wanted to highlight it. It illustrates the Democratic vote in Michigan in four presidential elections: upper left—1996;upper right—2004;lower left—2012;lower right—2016. There are similar maps for Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ohio.

I don’t agree with their interpretation, however. I continue to think that these results can be explained by people moving and people dying.


The Real Culprits

I wanted to take note of a passage from Jonathan Turley’s USA Today op-ed:

While Bill Clinton insisted that his wife lost because Trump figured out “how to get angry, white men to vote for him,” the fact is that it was the Democratic leadership that secured the election for Trump. Despite long-standing polls showing that voters did not want an establishment figure, the establishment pre-selected Clinton, who is not only one of the most recognized establishment figures but someone carrying more luggage than Greyhound. She is also someone who had even higher negative polling on character and truthfulness than Trump.

More importantly, it is a well-maintained myth that Clinton was the candidate of women who overwhelmingly rejected Trump. Clinton pulled basically the same percentage of female votes as Obama did four years earlier. Indeed, Clinton actually did slightly worse this election than Obama did in the prior two presidential elections with women. She received just 54% of women’s votes while Obama received 55% against Romney and 56% against McCain. Trump handily beat Clinton among many groups of women. For example, 62% of white women without college degrees voted for him over Clinton. Even among college-educated women, Clinton only won 51%. She lost the votes of white women by a whooping 52-43% against Trump. It was her margin among black female voters (over 90%) that eked out an overall majority of women.

The emphasis is mine. That’s what I’ve been saying for some time. It wasn’t racism, the FBI, or Russian tampering that lost Hillary Clinton the election. She was the wrong candidate, forced on the party by the DNC.

The present Democratic National Committee is packed with Clintonistas. That doesn’t represent today’s Democratic Party let alone the Zeitgeist.


President Obama’s Greatest Accomplishment

In the post mortems of the Obama presidency relatively few analysts have pointed to what I think is likely to President Obama’s most influential accomplishment and the one most likely to endure: the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same sex marriage in all fifty states.

I agree with Mr. Dooley’s observation that even the Supreme Court reads the election returns. The modern version of that is that the Supreme Court pays attention to opinion polls. When President Obama announced his change of heart on the issue of same sex marriage, public opinion, particularly among blacks, public opinion on it began to rise and that made the Supreme Court decision possible.

I also think it’s likely to persist if only because of the social upheaval that would result if it were reversed.


Know Your Audience

Vice President Joe Biden’s statement at Davos illustrates the problems I have with the man. As reported by CNBC:

Vice President Joe Biden delivered an epic final speech Wednesday to the elites at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The gist of his speech was simple: At a time of “uncertainty” we must double down on the values that made Western democracies great, and not allow the “liberal world order” to be torn apart by destructive forces.

So far, so good. This is the part I had a problem with:

Biden didn’t merely urge the world leaders at Davos to maintain the status quo. He warned that the reason for the pressure on the democratic order is the rise in income inequality and the hollowing out of the middle class, as the rich get richer and people in developing nations see their lives gradually improve.

He said the top 1 percent is not paying their fair share, and as a result we are seeing social instability increase.

As Clark Clifford said of Ronald Reagan, the man is an amiable dunce. Saying that to a domestic audience would be fine. Saying it to an international audience is an error.

Anyone in the United States with an income greater than $32,400 is in the global top 1% of income earners. Did he really mean to say that Americans with incomes over $32,400 should be taxed and the revenues given to the governments of sub-Saharan African countries, as a group the poorest countries in the world? I doubt it.

It reminds me of Shimon Peres’s wisecrack that foreign aid consists of taking money from poor people in rich countries and giving it to rich people in poor countries. IMO income inequality is best understood as a factor primarily within countries and only secondarily between countries.


Kissinger’s Advice

At The American Interest Niall Ferguson summarizes Henry Kissinger’s advice to an incoming administration:

  1. Do not go all-out into a confrontation with China, whether on trade or the South China Sea. Rather, seek “comprehensive discussion” and aim to pursue that policy of dialogue and “co-evolution” recommended in World Order. Kissinger sees the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, quite regularly. When he says that Xi regards “confrontation as too dangerous” and thinks that “adversarial countries must become partners and cooperate on a win-win basis,” he speaks with authority. The questions the Chinese want to ask the new President, according to Kissinger, are these: “If we were you, we might try to suppress your rise. Do you seek to suppress us? If you do not, what will the world look like when we are both strong, as we expect to be?” Trump needs to have answers to these questions. The alternative, as Kissinger has said repeatedly, is for the United States and China to talk past each other until they stumble into 1914 in the Pacific, not to mention in cyberspace.
  2. Given a weakened, traumatized, post-imperial Russia, the recognition Putin craves is that of “a great power, as an equal, and not as a supplicant in an American-designed system.” Kissinger’s message to Trump is well calibrated to appeal to his instincts: “It is not possible to bring Russia into the international system by conversion. It requires deal-making, but also understanding.” The central deal, Kissinger argues, would turn Ukraine into “a bridge between NATO and Russia rather than an outpost of either side,” like Finland or Austria in the Cold War, “free to conduct its own economic and political relationships, including with both Europe and Russia, but not party to any military or security alliance.” Such a non-aligned Ukraine would also need to be decentralized, increasing the autonomy of the contested eastern regions, where there has been intermittent conflict since separatist movements received Russian support in the wake of the Crimean annexation. The alternative to such a deal is that we may inadvertently over-use our financial and military superiority, turning a post-Putin Russia into a vast version of Yugoslavia, “wracked by conflict stretching from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok.”
  3. Treat Brexit as an opportunity to steer the continental Europeans away from bureaucratic introspection and back to strategic responsibility. (“They’re talking about tactical matters while they’re in the process of giving up the essence of . . . what they’ve represented throughout history.”)
  4. Make peace in Syria rather as we made peace in the former Yugoslavia nearly twenty years ago. Kissinger now recommends a “cantonization” of Syria similar to the federalization of Bosnia under the Washington and Dayton agreements, with an “off-ramp for Assad” lasting around a year, all under the “supervision” of the interested outside powers. Iran must be contained, much as the Soviet Union was in the Cold War, because it poses a similar threat, acting as both an imperial state and a revolutionary cause. But keep the Iran agreement because to abandon it now “would free Iran from more constraints than it would free the United States.” And finally take advantage of the new-found, albeit tacit, anti-Iranian and anti-ISIS alignment of the Arab states with Israel to achieve a new kind of Arab-sponsored peace deal that would “improve the lives of Palestinians to the greatest extent possible, perhaps including quasi-sovereignty . . . that is, de facto autonomy without a legalistic superstructure.”

in which long-time readers of this blog might discern echoes of things that I’ve been writing for years. Perhaps it could be said that Dr. Kissinger’s recommendations are not incompatible with my views. Whether Mr. Trump is temperamentally, intellectually, or politically able to pursue any of those courses of action remains to be seen. I strongly suspect that the incoming president will be more transactional than either tactical or strategic in his apprroach.

Dr. Kissinger is, however, significantly more Hamiltonian in his views than I. Like Dr. Kissinger there is not a Wilsonian bone in my body. I esteem our values but seek to maintain them here rather than shoving them down the throats of people in other countries.

I suspect that this remark of Dr. Ferguson’s will prove controversial:

…merely by changing Obama’s foreign policy President Trump is likely to achieve at least some success.

To whatever degree I might have been dissatisfied with President Obama’s approaches and accomplishments, I suspect that Dr. Ferguson’s objectives are drastically different from mine.


Good News

I think we could all use some good news for a change and I’ve just heard some. Contrary to the rumors there will be two additional series of Doc Martin:

Martin Clunes’ popular ITV drama Doc Martin will finish its run with the ninth series next year, RadioTimes.com can reveal.

This year will see ITV air series 8 of the Martin Clunes drama in which he plays the uptight but brilliant GP who has been relocated to the fictional Cornish village of Portwenn.

But despite rumours that this would be the final series, the show will in fact conclude in 2018 with series 9. Both shows are likely to air in the autumn of their respective years.

Clunes himself, whose wife Philippa Braithwaite runs the production company Buffalo Pictures that makes the show, assures RadioTimes.com that there will be a series 8 this year and a series 9 next year. And then that really WILL be it.

“We start making [series 8] in spring and it’ll probably be on air in the autumn,” he says. So [series 8] is the second to last.”

If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching the quirky British dramedy, check it out. You’ll be hooked. IIRC it’s streamable on NetFlix, Amazon, Hulu, and Acorn.


O Tempora O Mores

I encourage you to read Chris Cilizza’s post mortem of President Obama’s term in office and the failure of his biggest idea at Washington Post. Read the whole thing.


Trigger Warning

If you are easily offended by assaults on the English language and attacks on freedom of speech, you probably don’t want to read Ross Pomeroy’s history of the idea of the “microaggression” at RealClearScience. Every utterance, however anodyne, may well be a microaggression.

He also reports on one lonely psychologist’s reaction to the onslaught:

This one-sided view of microaggressions surprised Emory University Professor of Psychology Scott O. Lilienfeld, who sees a lot of problems with the term “microaggression” as well as the associated scientific work being conducted. He outlined a number of his concerns in a blistering review just published to the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Publically, Lilienfeld is best known for dispelling misconceptions about psychology in his book 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology. He’s a vocal advocate for evidence-based treatments and methods in his field, and has frequently policed his peers, encouraging them to pursue quality research practices. It was with that noble aim in mind that he turned his attention to microaggression research.

On the whole, Lilienfeld found the sub-field to be plagued with bias and sloppy methods. He also determined the definition of “microaggression” itself to be vague, allowing “a vast number of potential behaviors, many of which hinge on highly subjective retrospective judgments.” He further noted that “there is no evidence that microaggressions are statistically associated with aggression or prejudice in deliverers.” Lilienfeld also discovered that studies generally featured subjects strongly predisposed to believe in microaggressions and almost exclusively relied on subjective, self-reported data.

My advice is to care about other people. It’s impossible not to give offense to somebody. Express yourself naturally and freely but don’t go out of your way to be offensive. My experience has been that, when people know you care about them and their feelings and respect them, they’ll cut you some slack.