One Size Fits Progressives

Politico reports that a small group of vulnerable House Democrats is floating the idea of censure rather than impeachment:

A small group of vulnerable House Democrats is floating the longshot idea of censuring President Donald Trump instead of impeaching him, according to multiple lawmakers familiar with the conversations.

Those Democrats, all representing districts that Trump won in 2016, huddled on Monday afternoon in an 11th-hour bid to weigh additional — though unlikely — options to punish the president for his role in the Ukraine scandal as the House speeds toward an impeachment vote next week.

IMO that ship has sailed. If such a move were to garner anything resembling bipartisan support thereby giving those “vulnerable House Democrats” political cover, it would need to have happened within a week or so of the revelation of “Ukrainegate” while Republicans were still criticizing the president over it.

The House leadership has determined that forcing Democrats representing districts that went for Trump in 2016 to walk the plank is worth it.


If Technology Is the Future…

then a lot of us have no future. There are 382 metro areas in the United States. From 2005 to 2017 just five of them accounted for 90% of the tech jobs that were created, reports the Wall Street Journal:

Just five metropolitan areas—Boston; San Diego; San Francisco; Seattle; and San Jose, Calif.—accounted for 90% of all U.S. high-tech job growth between 2005 to 2017, according to the research by think-tank scholars Mark Muro and Jacob Whiton of the Brookings Institution and Rob Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

The nation’s 377 other metro areas accounted for 10% of the 256,063 jobs created during that period in 13 high-tech industries such as software publishing, pharmaceutical manufacturing and semiconductor production. Among the smaller cities that gained tech jobs were Madison, Wis.; Albany, N.Y.; Provo, Utah; and Pittsburgh. Some prominent cities— including New York and Austin—lagged in tech job creation, according to the study.

Over that period Chicago and Los Angeles have actually experienced a decline in the number of tech jobs.

I would speculate that the reason for the phenomenon is two-fold: nameplates and money. Most of the increase in tech jobs has been concentrated in a handful of companies—Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc.—and those companies are concentrated in those metro areas and it’s easier to get financing for your start-up if you are located in one of those metro areas.


The Horowitz Report

I haven’t commented about the Department of Justice’s Inspector General report because I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. Until that happens everything else will be battlespace preparation.


The Struggle Between Political and Strategic Interest

In the comments section of Doug Mataconis’s post at Outside the Beltway on the WaPo’s “Afghanistan Papers” series, the commenters are refighting the war in Afghanistan.

Okay, I’ll play. What should we have done in Afghanistan?

In my view our invasion and occupation of Afghanistan exemplified a struggle between political and strategic interest. Politically, President Bush had to respond militarily. Thinking objectively and strategically about it, while a military response was politically necessary, its most persistent effect has been the deaths of more Americans. Nuking Afghanistan, as wanted by some, would have been widely condemned and might well have resulted in U. S. leaders becoming subject to war crimes charges.

Or, said another way, I think that practically everything we’ve done since September 12, 2001 has been wrong, counterproductive even. I said so at the time and I still think so. Political interest has triumphed over our strategic interest again and again.


Mead on “Ukrainegate”

I thought you might be interested in Walter Russell Mead’s take as expressed in his Wall Street Journal column:

Much of the American foreign-policy establishment, both inside and outside the government, is liberal internationalist and Atlanticist. They believe that America’s chief task is to build a world order on liberal principles and that America’s chief allies are the NATO and European Union countries that share our convictions. They see Russia as the primary opponent of this effort and therefore of the U.S. Moscow’s efforts to interfere in European and American domestic politics threaten the cohesion of the EU and the liberal democratic principles for which the West stands. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea are direct attacks on liberal order and the Atlantic world.

From this perspective, the war in Ukraine matters to the whole world. To use Ukraine’s aid as a bargaining chip in a cynical domestic political ploy isn’t merely a political dirty trick. It’s collusion with the enemy. It’s like blocking Lend-Lease during the Blitz to make Winston Churchill investigate Thomas E. Dewey. President Trump’s exact feelings toward the Kremlin aren’t of great importance. It doesn’t matter if he is being blackmailed into it, sees the Russian president as a soul mate and fellow traveler on the road to destroying American democracy, or is a malignant clown bent on destroying a complex international system that he doesn’t understand. Donald Trump, his most determined opponents believe, has committed something very close to treason even as he shamelessly abuses his office to enrich himself.

For most Republicans, the Ukrainegate question is much narrower: Was Mr. Trump’s attempt to hold back congressionally authorized aid to force Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden a constitutional crime that requires removal from office, or can the decision be left to the voters? Unless investigators can show that Mr. Trump pressed Ukraine to frame the Bidens, to concoct false evidence and make false charges to discredit them, the president’s hold on the White House through January 2021 looks secure.

It isn’t that Republicans don’t care if Mr. Trump is a Russian agent. They approach Ukrainegate differently because many of them, uneasy as they may be about some aspects of his foreign policy, see some much-needed changes taking shape.

Among the administration’s most consistent features is a belief that the U.S. should change the priority it gives to the different theaters in world politics. From this perspective, the center of gravity of American policy must move from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific. Latin America deserves more attention as a growing social and political crisis creates larger threats in the hemisphere—of which the chaos on the Southern border may be only a foretaste.

After Latin America, the threats of jihadist violence and Iranian expansionism make the Middle East the next-highest priority for the Trump administration. Europe, America’s highest priority for much of the Cold War, has fallen to fourth place. For the Trump administration and many of its Republican allies, Russia, because it is weaker and poorer than China, comes after Beijing on America’s list of geopolitical concerns—an important disagreement with the liberal Atlanticist foreign-policy establishment and not the only one.

Beyond geopolitics there is ideology. The rules-based world order means much less to Mr. Trump and to many Republican senators than it does to liberal Atlanticists. The president isn’t a believer in the application of the broken-windows theory of foreign policy—that a violation of one rule in one place materially increases the chance of other rules being broken in other places. A “realist” in the jargon of international relations, Mr. Trump thinks that national power matters much more than international law.

which I expect will evoke quite a bit of skeptical commentary.

I’m trying to distinguish between supporting Trump which I don’t do and supporting a realignment of U. S. foreign policy which I do. I think that most of our European allies aren’t allies at all but passive aggressive clients and there is no practical prospect of their becoming allies. They know what they need to do but they also know they’d be voted out of office if they did.


What Would the End of “Magical Thinking” Mean?

In a piece at Atlantic career diplomat William F. Burns urges the U. S. to end its “magical thinking” about the Middle East:

President Donald Trump’s October decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria produced a rare moment of bipartisanship in foreign policy. With a shared sense of alarm, Republicans and Democrats alike accused Trump of betrayal.

Certainly, it was a betrayal of the Kurdish partners who bled for us in the fight against the Islamic State. It was also a betrayal of process—leaving our military leaders and diplomats struggling to keep up with tweets, our allies in the dark, our messaging all over the map, and chaos on the ground.

If all this episode engenders, however, is a bipartisan dip in the warm waters of self-righteous criticism, it will be a tragedy—or worse, a mistake. We have to come to grips with the deeper and more consequential betrayal of common sense—the notion that the only antidote to Trump’s fumbling attempts to disentangle the United States from the region is a retreat to the magical thinking that has animated so much of America’s moment in the Middle East since the end of the Cold War.

an observation with which I agree wholeheartedly. He continues by outlining the efforts of George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump which I would summarize as approving, perfunctory, mixed, apologetics, and disapproving, respectively.

He concludes:

So where do we go from here? American policy is in a deep hole in the Middle East, the product of decades of intermittent digging, a major excavation project in Iraq in 2003, and now more determined Trumpian burrowing. Climbing back to more stable terrain post-Trump will require at least three ingredients.

The “three ingredients” are

  • Rightsize our ambitions
  • Recalibrate our relationships across the region
  • “we need to find a better balance between a counterterrorism effort that we can’t afford to neglect and a longer-term drive to help address regional economic and political malaise that we can’t ignore either”

in which he engages in his own magical thinking. I would ask Amb. Burns these questions:

  • Was stationing troops in Saudi Arabia at the conclusion of the Gulf War realistic or the product of magical thinking?
  • Was the Clinton Administration’s policy of “dual containment” and its emphasis on democracy promotion in the region realistic or the product of magical thinking?
  • Was the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq based in realism or magical thinking?
  • Was the Obama Administration’s role in the overthrow of Qaddafi based on realism or magical thinking?
  • A tougher question: how about withdrawing our troops from Iraq?

I think they were all based on magical thinking.

A realistic policy with respect to the Middle East would include the following elements:

  • We must recognized the countries of the Middle East have interests of their own and virtually none of them are aligned with ours.
  • The Arab countries of the Middle East have little or no interest in liberal democracy.
  • Although we don’t need Saudi Arabian oil any more, the Saudi ability to affect the price of oil means that we aren’t actually disinterested in them, either.
  • Although Israel is the closest thing to a liberal democracy the Middle East has to offer, their interests are poorly aligned with ours.
  • Government will be either authoritarian or tenuous in all of the Arab countries of the Middle East for the foreseeable future.
  • Selling or, worse, giving arms to the Arab countries of the Middle East that we wouldn’t care to have fall in the hands of terrorists is not in our interests.

My conclusion based on all of that is that our Middle East foreign policy has been based on magical thinking for at least the last 30 years and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.


Renewing START

The editors of the Washington Post urge President Trump to take Russian Federation President Putin up on his offer:

IT IS not very often that the Kremlin issues a transcript of remarks by President Vladimir Putin with a sentence marked in highlighter, but that’s what happened Dec. 5 when Mr. Putin met with leaders of Russia’s defense industry. The highlighted sentences said Russia is willing to renew the New START nuclear weapons treaty immediately, before the year is out, and without any preconditions. This is an offer that President Trump ought not refuse.

I honestly don’t know enough about the merits to have a strong opinion one way or another but this sounds prudent to me.

I will repeat what I have said for years and what I heard Sam Nunn, now head of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, say yesterday: between our two countries we have 90% of the nuclear weapons in the world. Between us we have the ability to destroy life on earth. Consequently, the bilateral relationship between Russia and the United States is the most important one in the world.

For the last thirty years we have been the aggressors in poisoning that relationship. You may complain all you like about Russian interference in U. S. elections but there is practically no outrage about which we might complain with respect to Russia that we didn’t do first including that one.

Maybe it’s time we should heed that old proverb about not looking a gift horse in the mouth.


Lessons Not Learned

Shades of Vietnam. The Washington Post is publishing a series of articles which detail what should be an earth-shattering story:

A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.

How bad was it?

“Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to U.S. military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers. “Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”

This most telling quotation in the piece is probably this:

“We don’t invade poor countries to make them rich,” James Dobbins, a former senior U.S. diplomat who served as a special envoy to Afghanistan under Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. “We don’t invade authoritarian countries to make them democratic. We invade violent countries to make them peaceful and we clearly failed in Afghanistan.”

None of the key points, e.g. that we didn’t know enough about Afghanistan when we invaded, failed to tailor the post-invasion plan to Afghanistan’s circumstances, that we were able to occupy the country but not to pacify it, are a surprise to me, and that DoD, State, etc. officials have been lying for 18 years, is a surprise to me.

It’s not just that we have learned nothing. It’s that, as long as the same incentives remain in place, the same mistakes will be made.


How Work Changes

As I wrote my last post a number of thoughts came to me that weren’t completely relevant to the post but which I wanted to include somewhere. I’m going to try and bring them together in this post.

I think it’s a tremendous irony that in just 60 years the typewriter could go from a symbol of women’s liberation to one of oppression. From the nineteen teens through the 20s, the Underwood Typewriter was probably as great a force for liberating women as has ever been devised. It enabled women with ordinary educations and just a little training to hold jobs that enabled them to support themselves. Previous to that the only honorable jobs a woman could hold outside the home were teacher, nun, and nurse. By 1980 being clerk-typist had come to be considered demeaning. I think that exemplifies the differences between the First Wave feminists, interested in making the lives of ordinary women better, and the Third Wave feminists. I’m not sure what their interest has been but it’s pretty clear that they’re not particularly interested in ordinary working class women whose lives have frequently become much worse over the last 30 years, either trying to raise a family as single mothers or being expected to hold fulltime jobs while also being expected to be fulltime wives, mothers, and homemakers.

A “teamster” used to be someone who handled a team of horses or mules to haul loads. By 1920 the same men who had handled teams of horses were driving motorized trucks, represented by the same union. The skills required were very different but, since loading and unloading was generally the responsibility of the drivers, it still required big, burly men. Hauling the first load by motorized truck across the United States took place in 1912 and took 90 days. In the same period hauling a load across the country by railroad took four days.

Right now there’s a lot of hype about fully automated trucks. We already have them. They’re called “railroads”. IMO hauling loads on the regular public roads with fully automated trucks is far in the future if ever.

IMO American physicians’ greatest accomplishment has not been in the area of public health but organizational and political. They’ve managed to convince people that physicians educated in 1920 still had the skills to do their jobs in 1950, physicians educated in 1950 still had the skills to do their jobs in 1980, and physicians educated in 1980 still had the skills to do their jobs in 2010. When you reflect on it, what physicians did in 1920 resembles what they do today only superficially. Physicians of a century ago simply do not have the skills to practice medicine today and, in all likelihood, vice versa. Most of what they have in common is what they call themselves. Continuing education probably helped but it has its limits. I think that’s an issue that will only accelerate.


What’s the “Future of Work”?

At RealClearPolicy former Deputy Secretary and Acting Secretary for the U.S. Department of Labor Seth Harris remarks on other countries’ programs to align their peoples with the jobs that will be available in the future:

Consider Singapore, which launched the SkillsFuture program in 2016 to make career-focused education and skills training more accessible for individuals at every stage of their career. The program provides financial incentives, targeted training courses, and career assessment services to foster lifelong learning and skill mastery across the entirety of every Singaporean’s career. Or the French Personal Training Account (Compte personnel de formation), which all private and public-sector employees and job seekers use to track work hours, which turn into credits for vocational and professional training schemes. Better known are the vocational education and apprenticeship programs that have made countries like Switzerland and Germany darlings of the workforce development discourse.

I’m skeptical that there’s a relationship between education in any form and preparing for future work, other than in credentialization. You can prepare for present work but not for future work other than in the broadest possible terms.

I’m also skeptical that there’s much of a relationship between how much is spent on education and future prospects. If there is, Americans have little to worry about. We spend more per student than any other country in the world and the most overall per student than any country other than Norway.

The one thing about which I do not think we should worry much is that the “robots are coming for our jobs”. What will be true is that automation will change jobs in ways we cannot predict.