Joe Biden and Swing Voters

I want to call attention to Nate Silver’s most recent comments about Joe Biden’s polling data:

Democrats usually assume that they win elections though turnout rather than persuasion. It’s not a crazy proportion, by any means. But it looks like a losing approach for 2024.

Read the whole thing. You may find it interesting.

IMO Joe Biden’s problem is not only that the media has become more partisan but that Americans, generally, are becoming increasingly disenchanted with both political parties. Maybe securing an ever-higher percentage of a decreasing percentage of the population is a winning formula but I doubt it.

And maybe that’s one of the risks of both of our political parties becoming gerontocracies (rule by the old). Their reflexes are off. They may have worked 30 years ago but maybe not so well today.


What Should We Think About the Dropping of Aid in Gaza?

I’m of sharply mixed mind about our air-dropping aid to Gaza. On the one hand I think our motives are good. However, I’m concerned that it’s a kneejerk response that hasn’t been thought out very well.

There are many factors behind that reaction. For one thing I think that either the Israelis have erred in their tactics in Gaza or it is their intention to remove or exterminate the Palestinians in Gaza, neither of which is morally defensible. What they’ve done was not the only approach to accomplishing their stated goals that was available to them.

For another thing I can see no moral justification for entering into Israel’s war against Hamas on Hamas’s side and there is danger of our doing that. A state that provides medical and/or material support for a belligerent “indiscriminantly”, to use the phrase being applied to Israel’s bombing of Gaza, is in a sort of gray area of the laws of war. Again, I think we’re well-intentioned but not particularly thoughtful.

One of the things that concerns me about the aid we’re providing to the Gazans it that I’m afraid that President Biden is trying to make a course correction. He was too supportive of Israel at the outset of the war and he may be too supportive of the Gazans now. As is not uncommon it’s harder to correct mistakes after they’ve been made than not to make them in the first place.

So, what should we think?


One Day

Last week there was one day in which no one was shot in Chicago: February 28. It’s the first such day I can recall.


A Two-State Solution for Israel Won’t Be Liberating

I really, truly try to avoid sticking my nose into other countries’ political squabbles but sometimes I just can’t resist. So here it is. I won’t talk about it a lot.

I think what’s referred to as a “two-state solution” for Israel and Palestine is nonsense. IMO there is no solution to the problem between the Israelis and the Palestinians. A “one-state solution” in which Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank are all incorporated into Israel is neither just nor sustainable. Why? Simple—the number of Muslim Arabs would be greater than the number of Jewish Israelis. If the Muslim Arabs of Gaza and the West Bank get the vote, Israel would quickly cease being a Jewish homeland, liberal, or democratic. If Muslim Arabs of Gaza and the West Bank do not get the vote, Israel would cease being liberal and democratic by definition.

To understand why the “two-state solution” is nonsense just consider the situation of Gaza over the last couple of decades. There has been a de facto two-state solution in place over that period. Have the people of Gaza flourished economically, politically, or socially? No. Gaza has been an incubator for Islamist extremism. Why would a de jure two-state solution be any different? I don’t see it.

I think the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is what’s called a “wicked problem” but it’s not our wicked problem. We need to be a little less full-throated in our support for Israel than we have been.


Pick One

I wanted to make one point about the development of which James Joyner took note the other day: the change in guidelines on COVID by the Centers for Disease Control, e.g. “treating it like the flu”.

Here’s my comment. The CDC can either be professional and technocratic or political not both. The latter inevitably undermines the credibility of the former.

That’s one of my objections to technocracy. Everybody has preferences even experts. Stepping beyond one’s expertise into one’s preferences is inevitable. My other objection to technocracy is that in practice it means rule of everything and everybody by one group of experts which isn’t technocracy at all. It’s plain old oligarchy and, if the oligarchs pass their status on to their kids, aristocracy.

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Are There Too Many Chicago Police Officers?

I don’t usually butt my nose into other cities’ and states’ problems but I found this editorial from the Pittsburg Post-Gazette thought-provoking. It’s notionally a lament about the paucity of police officers in Pittsburg:

Last March, the Post-Gazette Editorial Board revealed that “the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police faces a staffing crisis unprecedented in its modern history.” Nearly a year later, that crisis has only deepened — at an even faster pace than predicted.

On the night of Monday, Feb. 26, the Editorial Board has learned, only 14 officers patrolled this city of 300,000 people.

How does that compare with other cities?

At 743 officers for about 302,000 people, there’s one cop for each 408 Pittsburghers. Compare that to benchmarks Baltimore (271 people per officer), Cleveland (308), St. Louis (322) or Cincinnati (344). The idea the Pittsburgh Police are overstaffed — peddled by last year’s controversial Matrix Consulting Group staffing study — is absurd.

Chicago has one police officer for every 227 Chicagoans. But that brings us to the actual subject of the editorial. It’s actually a complaint about the consultant’s report:

When the Matrix study was released, both Mr. Scirotto and Mr. Gainey praised the document while distancing themselves from its most eye-popping recommendation: taking one-third of patrol officers off the streets. But they’ve done just that, and more. In fact, many of the changes to the bureau announced last week come directly from the study.

The Post-Gazette Editorial Board reported exclusively that members of the Gainey administration had lied as part of securing a no-bid contract for Matrix. Further, the consultants only visited Pittsburgh once in compiling the study, whose recommendations are nearly identical to other studies completed by the firm. It’s a cookie-cutter, slapdash document.

But it’s quietly determining the future of policing in Pittsburgh, even though those in charge won’t admit it.

and the city officials embracing it.

I have no idea how many police officers Pittsburg should have. Or Chicago for that matter. I do know that at 11,900 police officers Chicago was unable to dispatch police officers to more than half of the 911 calls deemed to require police intervention. And that arrests were only made in a fraction of those.

Although I’m sure there is some number of police officers, population of the jurisdiction, and geographical size of the jurisdiction below which there is a direct relationship among number of police officers, crime, and civil order but I’m skeptical there is any general relationship. There is definitely no straight line relationship among those things.

At least in Chicago I don’t believe that compensation has much to do with staffing problems for the CPD. As I’ve said before I think that the cops on the beat, the CPD, City Hall, the Cook County District Attorney, and the members of the judiciary need to be aligned better in their commitment to law enforcement. What impedes hiring police officers is widespread discontent. When police officers aren’t respected by City Hall, the Cook County DA, or the judiciary and when arrests are made they rarely come to trial and even when they do come to trial they rarely result in convictions, what’s the use?


Why Are European Leaders Behaving the Way They Are?

After recounting what European leaders have been doing, Thomas Fazi gives his answer to the title’s question at UnHerd:

I see three options, all equally alarming.

The first is that European leaders have started to believe their own propaganda and are truly convinced Russia is bent on attacking Europe. If this is the case, it risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy: Putin would view an increase in defence spending as a sign of a growing threat. The second explanation is that Europe’s leaders know that Russia is unlikely to invade, but are raising this phantom threat to justify the continuation of the proxy war in Ukraine, as part of a wider strategy aimed at containing the Russo-Chinese challenge to the US-centric system. The third possibility is that the continent’s leaders have simply gone bonkers and are deliberately trying to precipitate a war with Russia, for reasons unfathomable to sane-minded people.

I think it’s a combination of his first and second explanations but it’s the first that should concern us. I don’t believe that Russia is preparing to invade Poland but I do think it could be pushed to doing so. The typical “look what you made me do” explanation is disheartening.

I don’t believe that Russia has no agency but do believe that we have agency, too.

I think the sole moral reason to support Ukraine is for the Ukrainian people. Consistent with that I think that if the U. S. objective was to hurt Russia and the Russian economy, that was immoral because it was treating people (the Ukrainians) as means rather than as ends. Note also that objective has flopped. The other possible objective, to sunder the growing ties between Russia and Germany, has been a resounding success. Whether it will stick or not as the costs to Germans increase as they will I can’t tell you.


The Story of the Day

The story of the day, of course, is Mitch McConnell’s announcement that he’d be leaving his Republican leadership position including resigning as Senate Minority leader.

I try to avoid getting involved in party politics or partisan squabbles. I’m more interested in policy. McConnell has played a relatively weak hand pretty well in the Senate but I think his record on policy is mixed and that’s because the establishment Republican record on policy is mixed. As I’ve said before at this point the only thing I’m sure Republicans can agree on is that marginal tax rates should be cut. And that Democrats are bad, of course.


The “Strategic Moment”

George Friedman writes about “Europe’s strategic moment”. This is the passage that caught my eye:

The wars on Russia prosecuted by Napoleon and Hitler were foiled by the great distances the invaders had to travel to reach Moscow – and by no small amount of Russian blood. That distance exhausted the attackers, breaking them by the time they reached the Russian heartland. The events of 2022 to me were no different: The war was intended to put more miles between Moscow and the West, especially NATO. Russia’s suspicion owes to the Maidan uprising in Ukraine in 2014, which toppled a pro-Russian leader and installed a pro-Western government and for which Moscow believes Washington was responsible.

In my opinion, America’s intentions were not to launch an eventual invasion of Russia, though it did have a small interest in limiting Russian influence. Russian intelligence is competent, and it is unlikely that the Kremlin received reports of American invasion plans ahead of the war in Ukraine. But in statecraft, intention is simply the quacking of ducks. Intentions can change in minutes. What Russia paid more heed to was capabilities. Whatever their intentions, the U.S. and NATO were in no position to invade Russia. Yet Russia feared that their intentions could change, as could their capabilities. A war should begin when the enemy has no intention to fight and has limited capability.

This calculation led Russia to invade Ukraine and thus acquire a vast buffer against American incursion if the U.S. changed its stance.

I think that’s a mixture of the actual thinking and imagination or, more accurately, lack of imagination. I agree that Russia seeks a buffer between itself and its neighbors. That’s rooted in Russia’s historical experience going all the way back to the 13th century. Russia has few natural boundaries other than “great distances”. What I think is being neglected is the interests of Russia’s neighbors. All of Russia’s neighbors have border disputes with Russia. Poland’s pre-1772 borders have been a political issue for the Poles for 250 years, cf. the Polish-Soviet War. It might well be the case that the U. S. has no plans to invade Russia but our NATO allies would very much like to whittle away at Russia to reduce its power and influence. Could we be drawn into such a conflict? Note that I’m not justifying Russia’s attack on Ukraine. I’m just pointing out that it’s not entirely baseless.

I don’t think that any consideration of “Europe’s strategic moment” is complete without considering the recent statements by the presidents of France and Slovakia about the need for NATO troops to enter the war in Ukraine. Here are France’s military expenditures as a percentage of GDP since 1960:

Do you see a ramping up of France’s military spending in reaction to the war in Ukraine? If there is any it has been slight. That pushes me to the conclusion that France and Slovakia are playing a very dangerous game, namely “Let’s You and Him Fight”. Do they actually have any intention of sending their own troops to fight in Ukraine? What’s holding them back? Or do they want the United States to be an active belligerent in the war between Russia and Ukraine?


What Is the Complaint?

At The Nation via MSN there is a jeremiad by Jonathan Kozol about the schools in Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. Here’s a snippet:

There is an elementary school in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood that bears the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It’s an old and tired-looking structure, built in 1937 and originally named for a former school official. In 1965, Dr. King stood on the front steps of the building and spoke through a megaphone to a crowd of parents and religious figures who were leading the charge in the integration struggle. Three years later, after his assassination in April 1968, the school was renamed in his honor.

But ironies abound. In a building that held about 500 students, as the principal told me when I visited the school in 2019, “I think I may have 12 white children.” In academic terms, the school was rated in the bottom 10 percent among public elementary and secondary schools in Massachusetts.

The building had long been in a state of disrepair. There was an ugly water hole in the ceiling of the first of several classrooms that I visited and peeling paint in the gloomy metal stairways. I sat in on an eighth-grade science class (the school included seventh and eighth grades at the time), which took place in an ancient-looking lab that had no lab equipment on the tables. It was a long and narrow room in which the rows of science tables took up so much space that the students in a back row, beside whom I was sitting, could barely hear the teacher and couldn’t see what he was writing on the whiteboard. One of the students, a tall Black girl who was toying with her cell phone, turned to me with a friendly but sardonic smile. She shrugged her shoulders, with her hands spread out, as if to say, “This is what we’re used to.”

For the life of me I can’t quite tell what he’s complaining about. Is it racism? Is it the poor upkeep of Boston schools?

The author implies without actually stating it that the federal government should take action:

In a column for The Washington Post in 2018, the journalist Rachel Cohen noted that public schools in the United States were, on average, 45 years old—and in former industrial cities, usually much older. “The last time Congress debated school infrastructure spending was in 2009,” Cohen wrote, when school construction funds were initially included in President Obama’s “stimulus deal.” But the line item was subtracted from the deal when the president found himself unable to win even minimal Republican support. Over a decade later, the infrastructure bill passed by Congress in November 2021 still did not include funding for schools. And President Biden’s ill-fated Build Back Better bill, although it did originally include funding to build new schools and modernize old ones, was taken off the table when congressional conservatives rejected it. By the fall of 2022, the average age of a public school had risen to nearly 50 years.

The piece concludes with a plaint over shaming students for the condition of the schools:

Shaming or otherwise penalizing children for the damage we have done to them is, sad to say, not a new phenomenon. During the civil rights campaigns in Boston in the late 1960s, one of my mentors, the psychologist William Ryan, coined the term “blaming the victim” to describe the way that people of color were held to account for their social disadvantages and suffering. He later used the phrase as the title of the enduringly important book he published in 1971. Putting a child in a shaming zone in order to control the behavioral consequences of the toxic setting in which we’ve placed that child is a telling example of blaming the victim for the sins of our society.

When state and city leaders tell parents in poor neighborhoods that they empathize with their concerns about the presence of lead and other toxins as well as other dangers in their children’s schools, but say they cannot act on those concerns for now, they typically claim that their hands are tied because of fiscal shortages. And sometimes, this is obviously true. When the local economy goes into a sudden steep decline, cities are forced to put off renovations for a period of time and also cut back on routine funding for their schools. When the economy recovers, parents are told, the needed funds will be restored.

Here in Chicago lead paint and asbestos are issues that have been remedied for at least the last ten years. As new issues are discovered they are addressed quickly. The State of Illinois mandates it.

Mr. Kozol never quite makes an argument that the schools of Boston or Philadelphia are a federal responsibility. He seems to assume it. I would contend rather that the states of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have been remiss and should take action.

What appears to be the case is that the Democratic mayors of Boston (Democrats for the last century), Philadelphia (Democrats since 1952), and Washington, DC (Democrats since home rule began in 1975 have had priorities other than the schools which took precedence. My conclusion is that they need better Democrats.