An Election Like No Other

The graphic above was sampled from David Brady and Douglas Rivers’s post at the Hoover Institute on why the various predictive models probably won’t be effective in predicting the outcome of this particular and peculiar presidential election. I include it because it highlights a number of important points.

First, if Donald Trump wins Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida, he wins the election. Can he do that? Beats me.

Second, will Hillary Clinton’s divide ut regnes strategy be effective in holding the states Barack Obama carried in 2012? The Clinton Campaign certainly seems to think so.

Third, the Clinton Campaign’s strategy requires it to spend enormous amounts of money in some expensive media markets. If she is to continue that strategy, she’ll need the prodigious amounts of money she’s been raising ($350 million) and then some.

Regardless, it will be an election like no other. A man running against a woman. The combined ages of the two candidates is the greatest in American history (particularly when neither is an incumbent). Two candidates with such low approval ratings and high disapproval ratings have never faced off. The Clinton Campaign, at least, is likely to spend more money than any campaign in history.

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The View From the Trenches

In his column at the Washington Post, Robert Samuelson publishes a letter from a reader that pointedly identifies everything that Mr. Samuelson’s column has not:

I am 54. My background includes a Master’s degree in history and a Certificate in Teaching English as a second language (ESL). I have worked as a journalist and was an ESL instructor for five years at a local college before my job was downsized in 2014 due to budget cuts. Since then, I have been unable to find full-time work, even though I have been diligently networking and applying for jobs. I currently write a monthly business column for The Spartanburg Herald-Journal (for free) about employment issues and also write contracts to try to stay solvent.

Although I agree that our economic expectations were raised during the 1990s’ boom, I don’t think it is a false expectation for Americans to want good-paying, full-time jobs. Unfortunately, many of the 14 million jobs created (since the employment low-point), which you mention in your column, are low-wage, part-time service jobs which are not what people need in order to support themselves and their families. In Spartanburg, very few white-collar jobs have been created. Instead, the new jobs are in fast-food restaurants and distribution centers, which are popping up everywhere due to our low cost of land.

Every day, I read articles from national newspapers, and I am continually dismayed and angered by journalists that accept without question the government statistics of glowing successes in job creation. Whatever happened to investigative journalism? Why aren’t reporters looking beyond the statistics to the thousands of real people still suffering from long-term unemployment?

which are that

  1. GDP growth doesn’t reflect the reality of the lives of ordinary people and that will remain true as long as the lion’s share of income growth is captured by, well, the lions.
  2. The decreasing rate of unemployment (to whatever extent it’s real at all) has come through an increase in the number of minimum wage jobs in hospitality and retail rather than an increase in white collar or blue collar jobs that carry decent pay and benefits.

His feeble retort:

It’s hard not to be moved. But it’s also worth remembering that the employment situation has improved.

He still doesn’t get it.

Note the key points of Ms. Lang, the reader’s, letter. Not only does she have a college degree, she has a post-graduate degree. Neither qualify her for any of the jobs being created other than minimum wage jobs or voluntarism. The jobs created? Low wage jobs.

I’ve pointed that out before. When I was in high school and college (and dinosaurs ruled the earth), any student who wanted one could get a part-time job. Nowadays that’s impossible because adults are trying to support themselves and their families doing the jobs that young people used to perform on a part-time basis while still being supported wholly or in part by their parents.

Raising the minimum wage will only solve that problem if the minimum wage doesn’t reflect the demand for minimum wage labor. If it does it will result in fewer minimum wage jobs, a perverse outcome. More education won’t solve the problem if most of the jobs being created pay minimum wage.

What, then, is to be done? I think the solutions are to suspend the importation of workers from other countries, reducing the supply of low wage workers and the competition for jobs that pay higher wages, and to focus less attention on the top .1% of income earners and a lot more on the balance of the top decile of income earners. Many of those earners work in sectors that are highly regulated and their wages are a consequence of rent-seeking. If you can’t raise the bridge, lower the water.


The Truman Reconstruction

I’m not entirely sure what to make of Michelle Obama’s remarks about waking up every morning in a White House built by slaves. I believe that only the facade of that White House remains, that the White House was completely gutted and rebuilt nearly 70 years ago (not by slaves), and that the present White House was only symbolically built by slaves.

When Harry and Bess Truman moved into the White House following Franklin Roosevelt’s death in office it was in falling down condition and woefully out-of-date to boot. Between that and the remodeling done by Jackie Kennedy in the 1960s it’s materially a different White House. For symbolic effect I’ll take Truman’s gutting and rebuilding the White House which coincided with his integration of the military over waking up in a White House the facade of which was partially built by slaves any day.


Don’t Confuse Me With the Facts

I’m not going to address the meat of Peter Beinart’s complaints about Bill Clinton’s comments about Muslim immigrants in his piece at Atlantic. I do, howeer, want to remark on this:

The problem with transferring that formulation to Muslims today is that Muslims aren’t asking for benefits from the welfare state.

That’s either wrong on the facts or sophistry. The fact is that more than 90% of recent Muslim immigrants receive federal welfare in some form. In addition the rate of unemployment among the Somali refugees who came here 25 years ago was 50% for decades and is still remarkably high (25% the last I heard).

I suppose you could weasel out of that statement by claiming that they aren’t asking they’re just receiving but the facts remain the same. The Europeans are complaining about the same thing. Why do you think they’re Middle Eastern migrants are trying to get to Sweden and Germany rather than Denmark or Switzerland? They’re venue shopping; Swedish and German welfare benefits are more generous.

The only thing I’ll say about the meat of Mr. Beinart’s comments is that Donald Trump does seem to have moved the Overton Window, doesn’t it?


The Movement

As France and Germany reel at Islamist terrorist attacks on a daily or near-daily basis, George Friedman points out something that should have been obvious at this point:

The essential problem has been a persistent misunderstanding of radical Islamism. It is a movement, not an organization. Or to be more precise, radical Islamism is a strand of Islam. How large or small it is has become the subject of a fairly pointless debate. Its size is sufficient to send American forces halfway around the world and it is capable of carrying out attacks in Europe and the U.S. Whether it is a small strand or a giant strand doesn’t matter. What matters is that it cannot be suppressed, or at least has not yet been suppressed.

Here in the United States we’ve been fortunate that we haven’t experienced what the Germans and French are experiencing.

Can we expect that to continue? It may be that we can. Our oceans continue to protect us, the demographics of the U. S. Muslim population is different from that of, say, Germany, and we’ve been lucky. However, the fear that it will not continue is what motivates remarks like Donald Trump’s famous demand that we end Muslim immigration “until we know what’s going on”.

I think that goes a step too far but I do think that it would be prudent of us to limit immigration from the Middle East and North Africa to people who’ve been thoroughly vetted which would in turn imply that those immigrants would largely be limited to people who’ve been working with the U. S. military for years in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere and their families.

I do think that we should abandon our efforts at suppressing the movement. That will remain beyond our ability as long as we eschew the means that would be required to do it which would result in our killing tens or hundreds of millions of innocents.


Why, Oh Why?

Megan McArdle has a few good if quotidian insights in her most recent piece at Atlantic. For example, she opens:

“If Trump wins (or comes close),” writes my friend Tim Lee, “liberals are going to need a better answer than writing half the electorate off as racist.”

As the Democratic National Convention lurches off to a chaotic start, let me offer one answer: Hillary Clinton is a terrible, terrible candidate.

I feel that quite a few people are losing touch with just how awful a candidate she is and persuading themselves that she’s the best of all possible candidates. In doing so they betray an inability to read a resume and a confusion of jobs held with accomplishments.

I hope that people don’t lose track of the fact that when you vote for the lesser evil, you’re still supporting evil. You’ve just made the assessment that this is as good as it gets.

Or this:

Bill Clinton could have defeated Trump with one hand tied behind his back, a bag over his head, and a debilitating case of laryngitis. His wife is, at this point, struggling to hold even. I still think she’s a favorite to win.

The greatest likelihood is that one of three things will happen after the Democratic National Convention. Either Hillary Clinton will get a big bounce in public opinion, she’ll get a moderate bounce, or she’ll get little if any bounce.

If she gets a big bounce, I think the election is practically over. Barring some cataclysmic revelation, Trump will never recapture the lead. If she gets a moderate bounce, anything could happen—it all depends on a handful of states and we will see what we will see. If she gets little or no bounce, we may well see Donald Trump inaugurated president next January. I still think that Trump has a good chance of carrying all of the states the Mitt Romney did in 2012 while winning Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, something I’ve been warning about for most of the last year.

I agree with this assessment of the state of the political parties.

Decades of “good government” reforms have systematically stripped the power that parties once had: to control money, to control committee assignments, to control how much pork politicians get to brag about to the voters back home.

That’s true as far as it goes. But it’s not true within the Congress. In Congress House Speakers and Senate Majority Leaders still wield enormous power. They control the agenda; they control committee appointments. People who have a Schoolhouse Rock view of the Congress still pooh pooh that.

My intuition is we’re either seeing the death throes of political parties as we’ve known them or a major political realignment. I just can’t tell and everything looks distorted to me right now—politics as seen through a funhouse mirror.

I think that the pillorying that even the most temperate and moderate of Republican candidates, e.g. Mitt Romney, have taken at the hands of the media, the Democrats, and absolutist Republicans has played a role. There’s a sort of Gresham’s Law at work—the bad is driving out the good.

And social media is a major contributing factor to this:

My other working theory is simply that the left committed the cardinal sin known as “reading your own press releases.” The left loved the “demographics is destiny” arguments that seemed to promise them a glorious future of uninterrupted rule.

Will that prediction fail as it has failed every time it’s been made? Or is this time really different?


Is Russia Our Enemy?

In the wake of the supposed leak of emails by Russia via WikiLeaks, I’m reading a lot of vituperation against Russia and, honestly, I don’t quite follow it.

Could someone please explain to me how the Russians are our enemies?

I can see much clearer arguments that the Iranians are our enemies. They’ve declared war against us. They’ve supported our enemies, e.g. Al Qaeda. There are demonstrations on practically a daily basis in Tehran with the demonstrators yelling “Death to the Great Satan!” (that’s us).

Or the Saudis. They, too, are supporting our enemies.

The Chinese are forcing U. S. planes down, making “unsafe intercepts” of U. S. aircraft, hacking U. S. government and corporate computers, and generally behaving in a truculent manner. If you follow the Chinese media at all, you undoubtedly know that the Chinese consider war with the United States inevitable.

But the way I see the Russians is that all they’ve done is have the temerity to have national interests of their own. I’m looking for a coherent explanation of how Russia is, in Mitt Romney’s phrase our “number one geopolitical foe”.


Marni Nixon, 1930-2016

You may not know her name or recognize her face but you’ve probably heard her singing hundreds of times. She gave the songs to Anna in The King and I, Eliza in My Fair Lady, Maria in West Side Story, and dozens of others. She was the greatest movie “ghost singer” in history. Marni Nixon has died at the age of 86. From the New York Times:

Marni Nixon, the American cinema’s most unsung singer, died on Sunday in Manhattan. She was 86.

The cause was breast cancer, said Randy Banner, a student and friend. Ms. Nixon, a California native, had lived in Manhattan, on the Upper West Side, for more than 40 years.

Classically trained, Ms. Nixon was throughout the 1950s and ’60s the unseen — and usually uncredited — singing voice of the stars in a spate of celebrated Hollywood films. She dubbed Deborah Kerr in “The King and I,” Natalie Wood in “West Side Story” and Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady,” among many others.

Her other covert outings included singing for Jeanne Crain in “Cheaper by the Dozen,” Janet Leigh in “Pepe” and Ida Lupino in “Jennifer.” “The ghostess with the mostest,” the newspapers called her, a description that eventually began to rankle.

Before her Hollywood days and long afterward, Ms. Nixon was an acclaimed concert singer, a specialist in contemporary music who appeared as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic; a recitalist at Carnegie, Alice Tully and Town Halls in New York; and a featured singer on one of Leonard Bernstein’s televised young people’s concerts.

Her concerts and her many recordings — including works by Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Webern, Ives, Copland, Gershwin and Kern — drew wide critical praise. Yet as late as 1990, decades after Ms. Nixon had made good on her vow to perform only as herself, she remained, in the words of The Los Angeles Times, “the best known of the ghost singers.”

A great and far too little appreciated talent.

Hollywood was funny about singing voices. Even actors or actresses with legitimate voices were sometimes dubbed. The most egregious example I know of that was George Sanders in Call Me Madam. Despite his having a legitimate classically-trained bass-baritone voice, his singing in that movie was dubbed, I believe by Giorgio Tozzi although there’s still some argument about it.


Apothegm for Today

Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Start a Federal Commission on Fishing Education and you’ll have grateful campaign workers for decades.


Ignorance Is Bliss

I didn’t watch a single second of the Republican National Convention last week and I plan to grant the Democratic National Convention the same honor. I think that at best national political party conventions are boring and a little alarming and, well, these particular national political party conventions are unlikely to be at best.

Tell me if I’ve missed anything.

Just as a reminder, I can’t envision circumstances under which I’d vote for either of the major party political candidates. We shouldn’t lose track of the fact that when you vote for the lesser evil, you’re still casting your support behind evil. As I watched the parade of people on the talking heads programs yesterday trying to convince us or, maybe, themselves that Hillary Clinton is a good candidate or even a good person, it nauseated me. The very best you can say about her is that she isn’t Donald Trump.

When evil is your good and good your evil, you’ve taken a step too far.