Lessons Not Learned

Speaking of not learning lessons, take a look at this post by Jeffrey Dorfman at Forbes on our lack of meaningful reforms after the financial crisis of 2007-2008:

All the features of the mortgage market that contributed to the mortgage crisis still exist. No new regulations put in place since the recent recession have done anything to prevent a recurrence of a financial crisis. The incentives for mortgage originators still favor volume over systemic risk management. Borrowers are getting deeper into debt again after paring back following the recession.

This is not a case of those who don’t know history being doomed to repeat it. Virtually everyone in the financial industry remembers what happened and understands at least many of the causes. Yet, we still may repeat the last housing crisis because we are currently busy duplicating all the conditions necessary for another mortgage market meltdown. If we don’t change paths soon, we will pay a price for failing to learn the lessons of the recent financial crisis.

I disagree with his interpretation of Dodd-Frank. I don’t believe that Dodd-Frank was intended to reform anything. I think it was intended to demonstrate to the voters that the Congress was doing something. However, to paraphrase Upton Sinclair, never underestimate the ability of people to avoid reform when their livelihoods depend on not reforming.

I would hope that in reaction to the next financial crisis and there will be a next financial crisis we have the good sense to let the big banks fail. The consequences can hardly be worse or last longer than what we actually did. And a good bit of those consequences will fall on those whose imprudence caused the problem in the first place rather than on those who couldn’t have done anything to stop it.

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The Year of Decision

Do you remember the post I linked to last week in which the author took the position that there’s still time for us to turn back the clock and do everything we’ve done wrong in Afghanistan right this time? Well, he’s back at Small Wars Journal, unchastened, although apparently he received some pushback. Here’s the opening of his new piece:

This article is in response to feedback on my previous article Going Back to the Future: It is Time for Change in Afghanistan. I want to thank all that took the time to comment and for their insightful thoughts and feedback. The feedback ranged from:

  1. There is no political will or military patience to go back to bottom up constructs
  2. You cannot win in Afghanistan without Pakistan’s support in the sanctuaries
  3. What have we been doing for the past 17 years and where is the accountability
  4. A broken diplomatic approach
  5. Not setting conditions for reconciliation
  6. The detour to the Iraq War
  7. Inability to understand all politics is local
  8. Failure to understand how Afghanistan’s secures itself
  9. And an over investment in ministries that exacerbate corruption

All valid and great observations. As in the previous article, I am not going into the minutia of the problems as there have been millions of dollars spent on studies diving into the deep end of the minutia pool and they have been largely ignored. I will however, endeavor to point out critical missteps that we seem to keep investing in despite the negative consequences of doing so.

Note that he doesn’t like the gravest problem: counter-insurgency is completely unworkable in Afghanistan, at least in a form that can be practiced by the United States.

There is no right way to do counter-insurgency in Afghanistan. We did have alternatives. For example, we could have engaged in a significant punitive strike and then, having proved that we’d “done something”, gone home to tighten our own defenses. Alternatively, having deposed the Taliban government we could have set up a permanent base in Afghanistan, established a perimeter, ensured that there was peace and safety within that perimeter, maintained a spoiling force in Afghanistan with the missions of preventing Al Qaeda or similar groups from establishing the sort of base they’d had in Afghanistan ever again there, and otherwise allowed Afghanistan to go to hell in its own peculiar way.

But insisting that if we’re just smarter, more patient, spend more money, etc. we can make what we’ve been doing work there? You don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

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Helping Yourself

Another piece I want to commend to your attention is this one by John McWhorter at The American Interest. In it he traces the rather bizarre turn that race relations has taken:

By the age of 50, you have lived long enough to remember being a mature adult in what is now a distant era. I recently recalled a conversation I had as a graduate student in 1991 that demonstrates a key change in America’s “conversation” on race over the past 30 years.

A white humanities graduate student was a member of a campus organization that had brought black activist and filmmaker Marlon Riggs to campus to give a talk. The student recounted that in his critique of racism, Riggs had leveled some potshots at the students themselves. This surprised and hurt her, as she had supposed that Riggs would consider her and her friends on his side in having invited him to speak.

Today, that same graduate student would be much less likely to take remarks like Riggs’s that way. Rather, today’s “woke,” educated white people would quite often lap up being apprised of the racism inside of them by a black speaker they paid, lodged, and fed. That speaker as often as not today is Ta-Nehisi Coates, who charismatically limns America as a cesspool of bigotry in his writing and in talks nationwide, and is joyously celebrated for it by the very people he is insulting.

Again, read the whole thing.

I don’t think that anyone under about the age of 70 can possibly appreciate quite how terrible things were in the United States, particularly in the Deep South, or how much race relations have improved over the years. Those who deny it are simply too young to remember. Perhaps we need a Shoah Project dedicated to race relations.

Over the period of the last 70 years we have passed through a number of phases but sometime in the 1980s I think things began to take a wrong turn. Now the exercises in self-flagellation, courses in white privilege and other like consciousness-raising exercises have ceased to be about improving the conditions for blacks in the United States so much as to demand recognition of how virtuous its white practitioners have become. It’s about recognition not about improvement. I don’t for a minute believe that 10 million or 50 million or 150 million white folk decrying their white privilege will do a darned thing to stop black kids from killing each other on the South Side of Chicago and I don’t see how anyone else can, either.

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Why Do They Do What They Do?

Here’s an interesting piece of scholarship from Phillip D. Waggoner at American Politics Research. Are the bills sponsored by a Congressional legislator constituent service?

Here’s the answer which I presume will surprise practically no one:

Through numerous tests across several issues spanning the 109th to 113th Congresses, I find a largely indirect effect of preferences on sponsorship through employment proxies, yet no consistent direct impact from constituents, opposite expectations of the delegate model of representation.

In other words, no. I’d very much like to see a related study investigating whether the bills a legislator sponsors are donor service. As might surprise many, I think the answer to that is negative as well.

I think that our legislators don’t do what they do as constituent service or donor service or for reasons of sincerely held conviction. I think almost all of what legislators do is what the party leadership tells them to do and it’s in service of somebody else’s constituents or somebody else’s contributors. Is it barely possible that it’s in service of the interests of the party leadership itself?

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Where’s the Beef?

At The Federalist Saritha Prabhu thinks she’s being “gaslighted“:

By Saritha Prabhu
MAY 24, 2018
I am an ordinary voter living far from the Beltway who feels gaslighted by our political and media establishments regarding the Russia investigation. Our current Yanny versus Laurel political moment is probably confusing even for professional political commentators. But for ordinary Americans it is a bewildering, disorienting spectacle.

Which is it: Is Donald Trump a threat to the republic, or is the deep state the threat? Was the Russia investigation legit, or was it concocted by an out-of-control Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency? Was it an FBI “informant,” or was it a “spy”?

Has America become Venezuela, as Republicans say, because the Obama administration spied on the campaign of a political adversary? Or has it become Venezuela, as Democrats say, because our current president is attacking his investigators?

The answers to the above questions depend on which camp one is in. In our hyperpartisan times, each side has its own narrative.

Read the whole thing.

I continue to support Robert Mueller’s investigation but, as the late Mayor Daley used to say, let’s look at the record. So far no compelling evidence has been produced that a single vote was cast fraudulently or even one voter convinced by Russian meddling in our elective process. Might it have happened? Sure. But the preponderance of the evidence available publicly fails to support it.

The Mueller investigation has produced a handful of indictments, mostly on charges arising from the investigation itself. Might those who lied to federal investigators have been concealing collusion with the Russians? Sure. But the preponderance of the evidence available publicly fails to support it.

To date no compelling evidence has been produced of a criminal conspiracy between Donald Trump and the Russian government to swing the election in his favor. Might it have happened? Sure. But the preponderance of the evidence available publicly fails to support it.

There are some who want the investigation to continue as long as the Trump Administration does in retaliation for overreach on the part of Republicans during Bill Clinton’s presidency or Barack Obama’s presidency or both. As Ms. Prabhu notes, that is not a “good look” for Democrats. They’re ignoring similar behavior by Democrats during the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and W. Bush presidencies. Rather than seeking revenge why not model the behavior you’d like to see in others? Do-unto others, etc.? The maxim of reciprocity goes back at least 4,000 years. It is traditional wisdom that continues to be valid.

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The Golden Thread

After working on them for a bit, I realized that there is a common, golden thread running through my posts this morning. There is a profound pathology in present-day American politics. I think that Donald Trump is reflective of that pathology rather than its cause but who knows? What I see is that people are condemning their political enemies for everything, forgiving their political friends anything, and all without much evidence.

We are not without problems but, as I’ve said before, I’d rather have our problems than China’s. I sincerely believe that our economic prospects are better than China’s, we are less racist than France or the United Kingdom, and we’re less sexist than Sweden.

But, as noted, we do have some problems. Unfortunately, our present pathology renders actual progress on any of our problems difficult if not impossible and is only really good for our political leadership and those who already have their cabins in the woods or beach houses on Maui.

I think our present situation is tremendously dangerous. It has already resulted in more than 25 years of continuous warfare, so much war that I presume that young people today assume that we have always been at war with Eastasia.

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An Achievement of Sorts

You know, it isn’t every day that somebody dishonors two races.

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Now It All Makes Sense

I eagerly await Beyonce’s proving she is not a member of the Illuminati. The scales have fallen from my eyes, I can tell you that.

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Russia Is Paranoid

Russia is paranoid; the Tsars (some of them) were aggressive; the Soviet Union was expansionist. That’s the very short summary of my views about a big country. For the counter-argument see James Kirchick’s article in the National Review:

Our present-day problems with Russia stem from two utterly different, and fundamentally irreconcilable, understandings of what the end of the Cold War meant. It wasn’t just a side that lost but a whole understanding of how the world should work. From the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand to the Sudeten crisis to the division of Germany, most of the 20th century’s major conflicts erupted over border disputes in Central and Eastern Europe. Vladimir Putin’s refusal to acknowledge that small countries have the same rights as larger ones has pitted a rules-abiding West against a rules-flouting Russia. Faced with neighbors wishing to break free of their post-imperial yoke, Russians have not paused to consider that maybe it’s their behavior, past and present, that has led the former “captive nations” to be wary of Moscow’s designs. Rather, Russians have internalized, in the words of former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer, the attitude that “nobody likes us, what’s wrong with everybody?” For Western policymakers to endorse such myopia is like giving car keys to a drunk.

As Russian troops marched into Crimea under the same pretext as German forces did into the Sudetenland — claiming to “protect” the rights and lives of allegedly threatened ethnic comrades — German chancellor Angela Merkel was said to have remarked that Putin lives in “another world.” He does. It’s a dangerous world where might makes right, one that successive generations of Western statesmen, along with courageous Poles, Czechs, Romanians, and countless others, fought to overcome. The post–Cold War “ideas and assumptions” of America and its allies were not “triumphalist” diktats meant to humiliate or “encircle” Russia by “rubbing its nose” in defeat, but fundamental principles of sovereignty and national self-determination established to avert war on a continent repeatedly plagued by it. Far from being too “triumphalist” in its dealings with Russia, if anything, the West was not triumphalist enough.

to which I would respond what aggression? The aggressor in every single instance cited by Mr. Kirchick was the United States. Russia reacted to our provocations.

Disagreeing with the Russians’ interpretation of events is well and good. Ignoring what actually happened? Not so much. Russia didn’t merely side with the Serbs during the ethnic wars in the Balkans. The U. S. took the side of one group engaging in genocide against another. It also bombed the Serbian capital, destroying the Chinese embassy in the process. That is not purely benign and it was aggression.

Coming up to the present day, the U. S. took the side of a clique of neo-Nazis to overthrow the legitimately-elected government of Ukraine to install a pro-U. S. government there. That, too, was not purely benign and it was aggression.

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What About Tesla?

Tesla has boosted its production up to 500 cars a month, still far below the 5,000 a month predicted by Elon Musk and it’s started to run into the same sort of problems with its autonomous vehicles that Uber has.

Predictions. What’s the most likely future for Tesla?

  1. Tesla will overcome its production problems, get more financing, and ultimately become the leader in both electric cars and autonomous vehicles. In 50 years Elon Musk will be viewed as a visionary genius.
  2. Tesla will never really overcome its production problems but it will get additional financing and continue to struggle along for the foreseeable future.
  3. Tesla and Elon Musk more generally will continue to produce what are essentially concept models of products. There will always be people willing to throw money at it and him, including the taxpayer.
  4. In 5 years Tesla will fold and Elon Musk will be thought of as a rent-seeking flimflam man.
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