The Best Campaign Ad of 2016

is for a Texas county commissioner.


Will the Anger End?

Believe it or not, the election will take place in just two weeks and for most of us I presume it couldn’t happen soon enough. I expect the temperature to continue to rise until then.

My question is will the anger end? Regardless of who is elected president, I suspect it may not. A lot of attention is focused on the alt-right, the right-wing ideologues who reject mainstream conservatism but I don’t we should ignore the alt-left, either. Those would include groups like BLM or people like the Bernie Bros.

I think it’s patently obvious that Trump is incapable of fulfilling the promises that attract the alt-right to him but Hillary Clinton isn’t even promising anything to the alt-left.

I don’t think there will be a honeymoon period. I think the anger will just continue to grow.


Pogo Lives!

You might want to take a look at this post by Dominic Tierney at The National Interest on America’s need for an enemy:

A threatening rival can also reinforce a sense of national identity. The Harvard political theorist Karl Deutsch described a nation as “a group of people united by a mistaken view about the past and a hatred of their neighbors.” According to the political scientist Clinton Rossiter, “There is nothing like an enemy, or simply a neighbor seen as unpleasantly different in political values and social arrangements, to speed a nation along the course of self-identification or put it back on course whenever it strays.”

The role of foreign peril in cultivating a sense of national identity may be especially important in the United States. American self-identity is not based on an ancient shared heritage, but rather on a set of political ideals: the creed of individual rights and democracy. This is a fragile basis for unity in a continent-sized country populated by huddled masses from all over the world. The existence of the other may be essential to shore up American identity and reinforce a sense of political exceptionalism.

My college education was in part financed by an NDEA loan (National Defense Education Act). The Interstate Highway system, originally called the “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways”, was justified as necessary for U. S. defense. Our system of locks, dams, and flood control systems isn’t maintained by a civilian agency. It’s maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Many expensive, large scale government programs in the United States have historically been sold on the basis of national defense. A shrewd politician could sell a national health system on the basis of defense.

Whenever I read analysis of this sort, always sadly, I’m reminded of Walt Kelly’s waggish parody of Oliver Hazard Perry’s message to President Harrison following the Battle of Lake Erie, which Kelly put in the mouth of his Everyman, Pogo Possum: we have met the enemy and he is us.

With ourselves for an enemy we hardly need an external one.


Friedman on Putin and Russia

I recommend that you read George Friedman’s remarks on Putin and Russia at RealClearWorld. Here’s a snippet:

But the Russians were not in Syria to save Bashar al-Assad, control pipelines, build naval facilities or intimidate the United States. They were there so Putin could appear to be more powerful than he was, and that was primarily for the benefit of his public. As the economy weakened and privations increased, he had to give it all a meaning, and Syria made him appear to be restoring Russia’s greatness. Convincing Western public opinion of his power was of secondary value, and in the course he made the cover of the Economist.

I think that’s quite astute. Putin is more of a politician than he is a strongman dictator in the stamp of Stalin. A lot of what he does from seizing the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine to his support for Bashar al-Assad is to maintain his domestic support. These actions have geopolitical implications and strategic value for Russia but don’t ignore their domestic political value.

Putin does what he does because it maintains his popularity. The polls that show 80%+ approval may be in part because Russians are afraid to speak their minds or the polls are manipulated but a lot of it is that he’s doing things that are popular in Russia.

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Check Your Assumptions

Why does every analysis of the battle to re-take Mosul assume victory? This post at Hurriyet Daily News by Tolga Taniş is no exception:

ISIL may also play the Turkey card and try to draw Ankara into the clashes by staging attacks at risky and critical locations in the region.

They will lose Mosul sooner or later, but they will not finish; because then, they will turn to their “classic terror acts” of assassinations, bombings and suicide attacks. They will continue with their idea of territorial control in Syria. However, even though in Iraq all anti-government armed forces have been consolidated, in Syria there are several different radical groups, whom some of them are fighting ISIL. This too will constitute another difficulty for ISIL.

Losing Mosul will strike a major blow to ISIL in terms of financing. They made $500 million in 2015 from oil sales. They sold their oil to the people living in the region they were in control of. They also made $360 million from tax revenues. When they lose the largest city they are controlling, these figures will decline; thus lessening their operational power.

I’m not even sure what victory in the conflict would be. If you remove DAESH’s control over Mosul but destroy the city in the process, would that be a victory? Or if a substantial chunk of the city’s population flees? Or if most of DAESH’s operational strength remains undegraded?

It might be a better idea to figure out what the objective is before declaring victory. And many hazards remain. If DAESH harasses the Kurds enough they might withdraw to defend their own territory. There’s no guarantee that the Iraqi military will retain force cohesion. The Turks might just decide to occupy the territory between their borders and Mosul. There are all sorts of things that could go wrong.


The Great Compromise

In their post at RealClearMarkets, Sita Slavov and Alan Viard provide a valuable insight. The U. S. tax system is the result of a grand compromise between our two major political parties:

Our smaller, more progressive tax system has emerged as a compromise between the two parties. Republicans would probably prefer a smaller and less progressive fiscal system. That approach would promote economic growth by imposing smaller penalties on earning income, saving, and investing, but it would also reduce redistribution and harm those with lower incomes. Democrats would probably prefer a larger and more progressive tax system with larger benefit payments. That approach would reduce income inequality, but it would also impede economic growth. Neither of these extreme combinations is likely to be politically feasible.

In addition there’s something that cannot be emphasized too much. If you think that the purpose of our tax system is to raise the money necessary to fund the federal government, to restrain the growth of government, to redistribute from the rich to the poor thereby reducing income inequality, or some chimera of those three, our system is a failure. The deficit, the amount that we’re borrowing or creating to fund the government, continues to rise without bound. The federal government continues to grow. Income inequality is the highest it’s been in a century.

Most actual federal revenue is produced either by income taxes (58% including individual and corporate taxes) or payroll taxes (33%). By comparison in Germany about 40% of federal revenue is from individual and corporate income taxes while 32% is from consumption taxes.


The Source of the Conflict

The key to any good magic act or con game is misdirection. At the Boston Globe Canadian diplomat and entrepeneur Scott Gilmore while noting that there are a lot of Muslims at war fails to connect the dots:

The end of war in the Americas is part of a larger global trend. According to data collected by the Human Security Project, since the end of the Cold War, the number of armed conflicts has fallen by almost half. Peace is breaking out everywhere.

Everywhere, that is, except in the Islamic world. According to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Conflict Tracker, now that there is peace in Colombia, there remain only six civil wars in the world. Five of those are in Islamic nations. Similarly, all four of the current sectarian wars involve Islamic groups, and all five of the ongoing transnational terrorism conflicts involve militant Islamic groups. All told, of the 28 remaining global conflicts of all kinds being tracked by the council, 22 involve an Islamic state or faction.

He then proceeds to drag a number of red herrings across the trail including homicide rates, the “resource curse”, and Islam itself.

Let’s start with Islam itself. The five largest majority-Muslim countries in the world are Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Nigeria, accounting for just about half of all Muslims. Although all of them have internal problems with radical Islamists, Indonesian terrorists aren’t raising hell in non-Muslim countries.

Norway, Canada, and North Dakota are all enjoying a boom in oil production. Nonetheless Norse terrorists aren’t setting off bombs in Norway let alone in the United Kingdom or the United States.

What do Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Chechnya, Bosnia, and even Pakistan have in common? I would submit that it’s the influence of wealthy Gulf Arabs. Which is where the “resource curse” comes in, too. I would further submit that isolation and lack of economic are the consequences of a pathology rather than its causes.

Rather than looking at where the problems aren’t, perhaps it might be more productive to look at where they are. When you do it’s blindingly obvious that radical Islamism, being fomented from the Philippines to Nigeria by wealthy Gulf Arabs, is the source of the conflict that’s spilled over from the Middle East into Europe and the United States. To deal with the problem you’ve got to deal with its source.


The Dream

I had the strangest dream last night. I dreamt that the Chicago Cubs won the National League pennant:

One drought down, one to go.

Wrigleyville erupted in a joyous celebration Saturday night when the Cubs’ 71-year World Series wait at long last came to an end. When Yasiel Puig hit into a double play for the final outs of Saturday night’s 5-0 victory over the Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, the Cubs sealed a date with the Indians in the 2016 Fall Classic, beginning Tuesday night in Cleveland.

It’s OK to say it out loud now, Chicago. The Cubs are National League champions. The Cubs are in the World Series for the first time since 1945.

In recognition of the Cubs’ achievement the Trib re-published its front page new article from the last time the Cubs won the pennant on September 30, 1945.

To place the upcoming World Series between Cleveland and Chicago in some perspective, it’s been 108 years since the Cubs last won the world series. We had never heard of a world war. The first Ford Model-T had yet to roll off Henry Ford’s revolutionary assembly line. The world was dominated by empires (British, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, Ottoman, Japanese, and metropolitan France’s colonial empire). The average life expectancy was 47 years. Only 8% of home had a telephone. About 230 murders were reported in the entire country. There was no such thing as television and there was no such thing as commercial radio—radio itself was a curiosity. It wasn’t just a different time. It was a different world.

My own commemoration will be to treat you to the late, great Stevie Goodman’s classic, “A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request”:


Not So Expert

At The Guardian Sebastian Mallaby presents what I presume is an extract from his recent book on Alan Greenspan, illustrating rather neatly how experts are failing. Here’s his peroration:

Two decades ago, in his final and posthumous book, the American cultural critic Christopher Lasch went after contemporary experts. “Elites, who define the issues, have lost touch with the people,” he wrote. “There has always been a privileged class, even in America, but it has never been so dangerously isolated from its surroundings.” These criticisms presciently anticipated the rise of Davos Man – the rootless cosmopolitan elite, unburdened by any sense of obligation to a place of origin, its arrogance enhanced by the conviction that its privilege reflects brains and accomplishment, not luck and inheritance. To survive these inevitable resentments, elites will have to understand that they are not beyond politics – and they will have to demonstrate the skill to earn the public trust, and preserve it by deserving it. Given the alternative, we had better hope that they are up to it.

In the past I’ve expressed my distaste for the phrase “rootless cosmopolitan” and my reaction was the same in this instance. It has a bad pedigree.

The whole article is a long read but well worth it.


Those Were the Days

The ideas presented in Ben Domenech’s review at Modern Age of Yuval Levin’s book, The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism, are so intriguing that I may haul off and read the book.

The gist is that the primary impulse that unites progressives and conservatives in the United States is nostalgia. For conservatives it is a sort of reactionary, irredentist longing for a 19th century that never existed; for progressives for the 1950s—when manufacturing formed the largest part of the U. S. economy and trade unions were strong, viz.:

Whether rooted in a need for a system of governance that still runs on earmarks and smoke-filled rooms or a desire for a shared culture where everyone says “Merry Christmas,” Levin identifies a crippling sentimentality that is hardly monopartisan. His opening chapter cites the same from Paul Krugman’s The Conscience of a Liberal (2007), which opens with “a characteristic example of the sort of homesickness, or longing for a time that got it right.” The economist is referring to his childhood in the 1950s, “a paradise lost.” It is the cultural dominance of this vision—not as a period that breaks with the rest of the nation’s history, but an apotheosis of our greatness—that has skewed politics to the point that many citizens long for a time when schools were segregated, taxes were high, and you had to save for a year to buy a refrigerator.

He continues:

In Levin’s telling, America began to grapple with the fact that you can’t go home again—that the global economy was here to stay, for good or for ill—beginning in the 1970s, only to cast the challenge aside. He writes: “The lesson many Americans implicitly learned in the 1970s was that the emergence of a new national ethic of liberation and fracture could not be reversed, and so had to be channeled to the good.” But after twenty years of wrestling with these challenges under first Republican and then Democratic administrations, decades in which every household of every race experienced significant income gains, the nation turned toward the softer appeal of nostalgia.

Levin’s explanation is that Americans have suffered a disconnect from the traditional core institutions that make life in America better—family, faith, work, and neighborhood. At the same time, the failure of our policies to mitigate or moderate the dramatic changes in our economy and culture have left Americans feeling abandoned by their government. Levin identifies many examples of this, particularly when it comes to the experience of workers who no longer benefit from the security of employment in the postwar economy. Our entire system of welfare, health care, and entitlements is built for a bygone era that was the exception to the American economic experience.

This loss of faith in mediating entities—churches, schools, unions, fraternal organizations—whether founded in the community or buttressed by government, to meet the needs of the people has generally accelerated levels of distrust for large bureaucratic institutions as well. Today the American people view many of them as irresponsible or corrupt, stagnant dinosaurs incapable of responding to the speed of an advancing and evolving society. Coupled with a decline in shared values and cultural experiences—moving from an era when two-thirds of television sets were tuned to I Love Lucy to one where highly developed subcultures thrive without any overlap—we see the disintegration of our common vision. We no longer share what it means to be American, instead viewing the pursuit of happiness as a purely individual act of self-actualization.

There are differing views, as one would expect under the circumstances, on how we can continue without tearing ourselves apart. My preference would be for devolution of power, subsidiarity, a more networked society that is tolerant of differences. Others, much more influential than I, look forward to increasing centralization of power, presumably to be followed by forcing their views on the reluctant.

That has been tried in many countries and at many times. It has invariably resulted in violent repression and catastrophic failure. Maybe it will be different this time.