• ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, March 12

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Turkey’s relations with Europe continue to decline. The latest: Netherlands deny entry to Turkish foreign minister; Turkey’s leader, Erdogan calls the Dutch “Nazi remnants.” (Fox News)

    Comment: Erdogan is transforming his country, and not for the better. For years, Turkey was secular, a legacy of Ataturk’s revolution after World War I. Erdogan has turned it toward Islam, though not as strident a form as some other countries. For years, Turkey was a semi-democracy. He has increasingly assumed dictatorial powers and is in the midst of an election to reinforce those powers.

    Having failed to enter the European Union, his latest gambit was to hold up Europe for ransom to slow the flow of refugees fleeing regional wars. Now, Erdogan sounds less and less interested in that bargain.

     As North Korea’s arsenal grows, experts see heightened risk of ‘miscalculation’  (Washington Post)

    ZipDialog has frequently focused on the growing threat from this belligerent, erratic country with an unstable regime.

    Over the past year, technological advances in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have dramatically raised the stakes in the years-long standoff between the United States and the reclusive communist regime, according to current and former U.S. officials and ­Korea experts. Pyongyang’s growing arsenal has rattled key U.S. allies and spurred efforts by all sides to develop new first-strike capabilities, increasing the risk that a simple mistake could trigger a devastating regional war, the analysts said.

    The military developments are coming at a time of unusual political ferment, with a new and largely untested administration in Washington and with South Korea’s government coping with an impeachment crisis. Longtime observers say the risk of conflict is higher than it has been in years, and it is likely to rise further as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seeks to fulfill his pledge to field long-range missiles capable of striking U.S. cities. –Washington Post

     Saturday Night Live has become an editorial page. Will viewers prefer that or comedy? 

    The New York Daily News, which shares SNL’s politics, puts it this way: “Trump-dominated SNL showdown features ‘complicit’ Ivanka Trump, ‘racist’ dog, ‘distracted’ Jeff Sessions” and called it a “mud-slinging showdown.”

     Harvard Library lists many legitimate, conservative news sites as fake. (Washington Examiner)

    Included on their “fake, false, and misleading” list are the Washington Free Beacon, the Weekly Standard, the Daily Caller, the Washington Examiner, and Independent Journal Review, but not Fox News. The sites listed are legitimate sites with strong conservative leanings (of different varieties). Comparable progressive sites, such as Mother Jones, are not listed.

    Comment: If this were an editorial for Slate or the New Republic, it would be par for the course. But it is not. It is presented as a seemingly-neutral, professional guide for students and scholars. In that guise, with Harvard’s official imprimatur, it is truly shameful

     Genetic testing and the workplace: major privacy issues  CNBC reports

    Workers participating in so-called workplace wellness programs reportedly could be ordered to get genetic testing — and hand over the results — by their employers or face financial penalties, if a bill being pushed by congressional Republican becomes law.

    That bill, passed by a House committee Wednesday, could end up as part of the second phase of planned Obamacare-replacement legislation, the STAT health-care news site reported Friday. –CNBC

    Comment: Expect a slew of ethical, legal, financial, and political issues to arise as medical-testing technology improves. We will have ever-increasing capabilities to link genes to future diseases and even behavior. Employers and insurers will want to know. Individuals will want privacy.

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  • A Pleasant Day Protesting All Things Trump (My latest at Real Clear Politics)

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    The latest Chicago protest against Donald Trump was a strange one. It was a gentle, spring day in February, and the crowd was milling around on the sidewalk, courteously making way for pedestrians, chatting with friends, and occasionally repeating slogans tossed out by the speakers.

    The police were leaning casually against their cars or traffic barricades. Nobody was looking for trouble.

    Everybody had a sign showing their disgust: “Not My President.” “Stop Fascism.” “Fake President.” “People, Not Billionaires.” And a few demanding, “Impeach Him Now.”

    What made it all so interesting?

    The juxtaposition of this happy crowd, guarded by polite officers, and their insistent chants that they were being oppressed by fascists.

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Tuesday, February 7

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Conrad Black op-ed: “Struggle for America’s Heart Is Erupting on a Scale Unseen Since the Civil War (New York Sun)

    This battle will continue to escalate. The Democrats have promised scorched earth . . . . ” [They] are trying to sandbag Mr. Trump’s Cabinet nominees, especially those who have promised to promote charter schools, crack down on the abuses of labor organizations, strip all the bunk about global warming out of environmental policy, promote oil and gas production, incentivize job-creating economic growth, reform health care, and reactivate the Justice Department. The Democrats will probably not be able to stop confirmation of his Cabinet nominees, but he will have to engage in some degree of cajolery from the driver’s seat of the Trump bulldozer to get his program through.

    The level of antagonism of his opponents is obvious almost every day, and is not unrequited by the president and his supporters. . . . 

    Against such witless and compulsive animus, the president and his supporters should prevail, but he might like to be more careful and have occasional recourse to subtlety. The reason the country appears so divided is that it is divided. About half the country thinks the entire power structure is flabby, corrupt, and useless; and the other half, including the serried ranks of its members, think it is adequate to commendable and that it has been assaulted by a maniacal demagogue. Most of the Trump program will work if he can enact it, and then he will have his honeymoon.

    We are witnessing a struggle for the heart and mind of America, and for the apparatus of its government, on a scale that has not been seen since the Civil War. –Conrad Black

     “Berkeley, Identity Politics, and the Progressive Assault on Campus Free Speech,” an opinion piece by Richard Cravatts (Times of Israel)

    Of the many intellectual perversions currently taking root on college campuses, perhaps none is more contradictory to what should be one of higher education’s core values than the suppression of free speech. With alarming regularity, speakers are shouted down, booed, jeered, and barraged with vitriol, all at the hands of progressive groups who give lip service to the notion of academic free speech, and who demand it when their own speech is at issue, but have no interest in listening to, or letting others listen to, ideas that contradict their own world view. –Richard Cravatts

    Cravatts is particularly critical of a “on the one hand, on the other hand” letter sent out by Cal-Berkeley’s chancellor.

     One of those amazing personal stories of Cold War spies (New York Times) The story is told in the obituary of a CIA officer, John Platt.

    John C. Platt, a Central Intelligence Agency officer who forged a remarkable and secret friendship with a Soviet K.G.B. agent in the midst of the Cold War, only to see their friendship betrayed by a Russian mole inside the C.I.A., died on Jan. 4 at his home in Potomac Falls, Va. He was 80.

    Mr. Platt, who was known as Jack, was a gruff former Marine officer who for years ran a training program in Washington to teach C.I.A. case officers how to operate under cover. But he was best known in the spy world for his longtime friendship with Gennadiy Vasilenko, a K.G.B. officer whose betrayal by Aldrich Ames, the Soviet mole at the C.I.A., led to Mr. Vasilenko’s imprisonment in Moscow. …

    Even as they developed a friendship, Mr. Platt kept trying to recruit Mr. Vasilenko to become an American spy, but Mr. Vasilenko always rebuffed him.

    “I never stopped trying to recruit him,” Mr. Platt said in 1997. “But he never crossed the line.”  –New York Times

     “What Steve Bannon Really Wants”  (Quartz) The article is a personal profile–and an interesting one.

    Bannon’s political philosophy boils down to three things that a Western country, and America in particular, needs to be successful: Capitalism, nationalism, and “Judeo-Christian values.” These are all deeply related, and essential.

    America, says Bannon, is suffering a “crisis of capitalism.” (He uses the word “crisis” a lot—more on that later.) Capitalism used to be all about moderation, an entrepreneurial American spirit, and respect for one’s fellow Christian man. …

    Underlying all of this is the philosophy of Edmund Burke. [In Burke’s] view that the basis of a successful society should not be abstract notions like human rights, social justice, or equality. Rather, societies work best when traditions that have been shown to work are passed from generation to generation. The baby boomers . . . failed to live up to that Burkean responsibility by abandoning the tried-and-true values of their parents (nationalism, modesty, patriarchy, religion) in favor of new abstractions (pluralism, sexuality, egalitarianism, secularism).

    For both Burke and Bannon, failure to pass the torch results in social chaos. . . .

    Once in power, the liberal, secular, global-minded elite overhauled the institutions of democracy and capitalism to tighten its grip on power and the ability to enrich itself. . . .

    In short, in Bannonism, the crisis of capitalism has led to socialism and the suffering of the middle class. And it has made it impossible for the current generation to bequeath a better future to its successors, to fulfill its Burkean duty. –Gwynn Guilford and Nikhil Sonnad, Quartz profile of Steve Bannon

     FBI agent under investigation for leaking  (New York Sun)

    [The alleged misconduct] could fuel already substantial public and congressional concern, stemming from the presidential election and the probes of Hillary Clinton’s emails and of Russian political interference, about lack of professionalism by the FBI related to disclosure of investigative information. –New York Sun

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ John Kriegsmann
    for the Steve Bannon story

  • The Tale of a Pennsylvania County: From Solidly Democratic to Solidly Republican in One Decade–and what that means for Democrats as they Rebuild

    Linked articles are in bold purple

     How did one county go from 70% Democratic in 2006 to 70% Republican today?

    As the old car ads used to say, “Your mileage may differ,” and that’s true for county-by-county voting, as well. Still, the story of this county around Johnstown, Pennsylvania, is instructive–or at least it should be for Democrats hoping to rebuild a decimated national party.

    As Salena Zito reports

    This isn’t the story of Donald Trump. This is the story of how the Democratic Party fell into the darkness of the wilderness in a county that was once one of the most Democratic counties in this state.

    It is also the story of the near extinction of the Blue Dog Democrat, a moderate, pro-life, pro-gun legislator and fiscal hawk who used to fit like a glove in regions like this all over the country. –Salena Zito, Washington Examiner

    As late as 2006, there were 44 moderate Blue Dogs in Congress, 4 of them from Pennsylvania.

    Today, that dog don’t hunt. Only 17 are left in Congress, only 2 are women, and all of them are facing tough challenges from the Elizabeth Warren/Bernie Sanders wing of the party.

    The question is whether the Democrats can regain a majority in Congress or dominance in state capitols without a broader coalition than the one emerging today: coastal elites, liberal suburbs, and impoverished inner cities.

    As one Democratic strategist put it:

    “Ignoring, deflecting or not facing the problem is just digging our heads in the sand, and quite frankly we are running out of sand.”

    If I know Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, they will urge the EPA to declare sand an endangered habitat.

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    Comment: When then-candidate Obama referred derisively to voters like these as people who “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” they noticed. They noticed, too, when Hillary spoke of a “basket of Deplorables,” when Democratic legislators ignored the plight manufacturing workers and told coal miners “we’re killing your job so you can install solar panels,” and when they refused to see the opioid addiction and heroin deaths in rural America. They knew that, for these politicians, their concerns–their lives–did not matter. If they held up a sign saying their lives did matter, they would be accused of racism.

    These citizens were not simply being overlooked. They were being treated with sneering contempt.

    Quick hint to politicians: voters don’t like that. In fact, they won’t stand for it. And they damn sure won’t vote for it. (Charles Lipson comment)

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Thanks for suggesting this article:
    ◆ Bob Lipson, with much appreciation
     

     

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Sunday, January 29

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Trump reorganizes membership on his National Security Council, removing Director of National Intelligence and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, adding political adviser Steve Bannon (Wall Street Journal)

    Comment: THIS IS NUTS. Any serious national security decisions require direct input from the leaders of the military and intelligence communities. Besides their judgment, the president needs their efforts to implement decisions taken by the NSC and to coordinate their actions with other agencies. Removing them from the “NSC principals committee” is truly alarming.

    So is the inclusion of Bannon. Although the president needs political advice before making national security decisions, his decision to include his top political adviser on the NSC itself is a major error and another troubling sign for how foreign policy will be made.

    Where do Rex Tillerson (State) and James Mattis (Defense) stand on this? What does Dan Coats, the incoming DNI, think about this marginalization before he takes office?

    They have to wonder whether Trump, Bannon, and NSC Adviser Michael Flynn plan to run foreign policy out of the White House, with Flynn trying to dominate the Cabinet secretaries. (Charles Lipson commentary)   

     California, unhappy with Trump and happy with Sanctuary Cities, is looking for ways to block payments to Washington  (CBS San Francisco)

    The state of California is studying ways to suspend financial transfers to Washington after the Trump administration threatened to withhold federal money from sanctuary cities, KPIX 5 has learned. –CBS San Francisco

    Here’s a Quick Tip to Sacramento: Jerry Brown might want to check with George Wallace, Ross Barnett, and Lester Maddox and see how well this strategy works.

     Two Big Stories on Immigration

    ⇒ Congress to consider supplemental appropriation to build wall with Mexico (Fox News)

    ⇒ Federal Judge issues “emergency stay,” blocking Trump order on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries  (Washington Post)

    The Post also emphasizes global outrage at the Trump order.

    Judge Ann Donnelly of the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn granted a request from the American Civil Liberties Union to stop the deportations after determining that the risk of injury to those detained by being returned to their home countries necessitated the decision.

    Minutes after the judge’s ruling in New York, another came in Alexandria when U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema issued a temporary restraining order to block for seven days the removal of any green-card holders being detained at Dulles International Airport. –Washington Post

    ⇒ Meanwhile, spontaneous protests break out at airports opposing Trump’s ban. (AP)

     Professor of health management says Obamacare is fiscally unsustainable but asks if replacement will help people with preexisting conditions  (Forbes)

    Prof. Scott Harrington (U. Penn’s Wharton School, chair for health care management) notes Obamacare is in deep trouble:

    The subsidies and mandate have yet to produce balanced and stable risk pools in many states. Individual market enrollment has been much lower than projected; the average age and morbidity of enrollees has been higher. . . . The current law’s structure [is] at best uncertain without significant changes, such as larger taxpayer subsidies and/or tougher penalties for violating the mandate. –Scott Harringon in Forbes

    Harrington stresses the need for “greater flexibility in coverage design under state authorities,” and adds

    The devil will be in the details concerning benefits that could be dropped in streamlined plans, and the details will certainly be controversial. –Harringon

    Comment: In other words, the current arrangements cannot continue, the quality of replacements depends on details we do not know, and the Democrats are currently trying to block Trump’s appointee, Dr. Tom Price, who will help design the replacement.

     

     

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  • The Political Implications of Very Low Union Membership

    After decades of declining membership, only five unions have more than one million members today.

    Across the country, less than 15 million workers are now unionized.

    And about half of those are public employees. In fact, three of America’s six largest unions represent public employees. (Source: InfoPlease)

    These are stunning numbers, and they carry major political implications, as I discuss below.

     

    An analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank, reports that

    as the share of private-sector workers in a union has fallen precipitously—from one in three in the 1950s to about one in 20 today –Economic Policy Institute 

    US Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show that, in 2015

    Public-sector workers had a union membership rate (35.2 percent) more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.7 percent). … In 2015, 7.2 million employees in the public sector belonged to a union, compared with 7.6 million workers in the private sector.–Bureau of Labor Statistics

    Political Implications of Low Union Membership: 

    The political weight of organized unions, even within the Democratic Party, is declining.

    That lessened clout is most apparent when unions and environmentalists clash within the Democratic Party. The unions want construction jobs and lower energy prices. Environmentalists don’t care about construction jobs and want higher energy prices to spur growth of renewable energy. Who wins? Just look at the symbolic Keystone Pipeline battle within the Democratic Party. Chablis beats Miller High Life in the “working man’s party.”

    Politicians have another reason, besides low union membership, to downplay the preferences of union leaders. They have figured out that union leaders’ political views often differ from those of their members. The unions uniformly backed Hillary Clinton; many of their members voted the other way.

     Since almost half of union members now work in government jobs, they have fought tenaciously against any cuts in public spending at the state and local level.

    Since two of the six largest unions represent public-school teachers, they have fought hard against school choice programs. You can expect them to wage a holy war against Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, a strong, experienced, and fearless advocate for school choice. (DeVos will still be confirmed unless some scandal is uncovered.)

    One of the five biggest unions represents food-service workers. You can bet they will pour everything into the fight against Andy Puzder, Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary. Puzder ran fast-food chains and is a staunch foe of minimum wages.

    Puzzle about unions and trade protection: Not one of these big unions represents manufacturing workers, although the Teamsters obviously carry a lot of US-manufactured goods. In fact, all the members of these big unions (except for the Teamsters) have an overwhelming economic incentive to buy low-cost imported goods, not to pay higher costs to protect US companies and workers from foreign competition. Yet the unions have been strong and unified in their opposition to free trade. True, it is not their highest priority, but it is still a major policy issue for them–and they are not globalists. Perhaps the reason is “solidarity” with manufacturing workers in the US. Perhaps there are other reasons. I’d be interested in informed comment.

  • Requiem for Obamacare–and a comment about how to discuss policy differences

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    A childhood friend, an intelligent progressive, told me that her views and mine had parted ways when I attacked the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare). Her objection was that I wanted to repeal-and-replace it, rather than improve it. I will explain why in a moment.

    Her view is perfectly legitimate, even if I disagree. What is not legitimate, I think, is her effort to convert a disagreement over policies into “moral shaming,” implying that my values are contemptible.

    How to Discuss Policy Differences

    I don’t want to defend my values here. Rather, I want to say two things:

    ◆ First, converting policy differences into moralistic stances of right-and-wrong ends all discussion and creates serious problems for broad engagement in policy issues. The failing is bipartisan. Conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans are both guilty of it. The side that you think does it more probably says more about your own position (they do it) than it does about the distribution of moralistic arguments. Arguments about “rights” have the same quality.

    ◆ Second, the moral status of many policy outcomes depends on how well the policies work. (In philosophy, this is known as a “consquentialist” position and is opposed to a “deontological” one.)

    Example: Minimum Wage: You  and I could both want to help the poor. You might think a $15 minimum wage does that. I might think it leads to greater unemployment among the least-skilled, does not allow them to get a foothold on the job ladder, and will speed automation of low-skilled jobs, worsening their prospects in the future. Both positions are “pro-poor” ethically; which one is pro-poor practically depends on what actually works better.

    It is also possible to take either position and be anti-poor. That has an important implication. Your motives can be good and the outcomes very bad. The road to hell, as they say, can be paved with good intentions.

    Now, on to my views about Obamacare

    There is, I think, a national consensus that our country should provide health care to those who cannot afford it or qualify for it. I share that view. It is tenable because of our country’s wealth.

    That consensus existed, nationally and personally, before the ACA. The ACA debate advanced the national consensus that, instead of relying on emergency rooms, we should provide insurance for those who need it. I agree with that, too.

    I think (and most Americans agree with me) that the ACA was a poorly-crafted, overly-bureaucratic way to do that. It was sold to the public in a way Pres. Obama and his aides KNEW was deceitful at the time. The structure was fundamentally wrong and could not be remedied, in my opinion.

    Politically, it could not be remedied for a different reason. There were deep divisions between the parties when it passed. No Republican Senators shaped it or voted for it. The Democrats owned it 100% and, time after time, the voters threw them out of office for their votes. It was politically toxic. For the Republicans to remedy the law, they would have to have a major role in reshaping it (which the Democrats did not want) and would have to take partial ownership (which the Republicans did not want).

    You can blame either party, or you can blame the President and party leaders for being willing to pass the first major social legislation in modern American history without bipartisan buy-in.

    The public never bought in, either. Despite the President’s Sisyphean efforts, Obamacare has never been popular, although specific elements of it are.

    If you think my judgment about these issues a moral lapse, so be it.

     

  • Rex Tillerson and International Relations

    Donald Trump seems to have forgone a more traditional pick for Secretary of State, and may be on the verge of nominating Exxon CEO, Rex Tillerson for the position (as already noted on this page). Much coverage of the issue focuses on how the non-traditional choice affects the Republican coalition or how Tillerson might favor Russia because of past business dealings.  As those domestic political issues shake out, it is worth noting that Tillerson at Secretary of State would highlight important questions about the way foreign policy and international relations work.

    1. “How much is foreign policy a unique endeavor?” Foreign policy deals primarily in issues of power, which is a zero-sum interaction. Business is in the market, where there are “synergies” and where most interactions are cooperative relative to interstate interactions, even in competitive environments (e.g. the Cola wars were surprisingly bloodless). On the other hand, negotiations and information collection—the bulk of that a foreign ministry does—may not be materially different than the same tasks in any other similarly sized enterprise. Dan Drezner highlighted the painful implications these issues have for foreign policy practitioners in a recent post.
    2. How important is the leader of the State Department and the bureaucracy to foreign policy?” In business you can fire people. In the military you can jail subordinates. Neither is true, broadly speaking, in a foreign ministry, so will having someone with a different leadership style, and perhaps no institutional, ideological or intellectual ties to the community succeed? Can a bureaucracy push back successfully, thwarting any attempts at change, and if it does how will that alter the nations foreign policy?
    3. Does structure trump foreign policy?” Since the mid 20th Century, International Relations scholars have debated the role of international structure. Structuralists argue that structure matters far more to outcomes than who sits in what chair. Non-structuralists of all varieties say that, while structure is not irrelevant, things like leadership and policy matter much more. If structure truly matters most, then does it matter at all who becomes Secretary of State? While no one contends that actual interactions do not matter at all, is it possible that Sino-American or Russo-American conflict or cooperation are already baked into the cake?

    A Donald Trump candidacy already put many long-held ideas about elections to the test in American Politics. It seems Mr. Trump seems determined to do the same in International Relations and Foreign Policy.

  • Metaphor!! Fidel’s funeral car breaks down, has to be pushed

    ◆ Fidel’s funeral procession sinks into a metaphor for Cuba’s economic funeral.

    The Castro communist regime created this mess. And now they cannot even drive their old leader to his grave.

    This is a real picture, a real story.

    fidel-funeral-breakdown

    ◆ True believers probably look at his coffin and say, “He’s moving!”

     

    ♥ Hat Tip to
    ◆ William Easterly
     for this story