March 6, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


The Case for More Immigration (David R. Henderson, March 6, 2019, Defining Ideas)
Economists are almost unanimous in their view that when barriers to trade fall, the vast majority of residents of the country whose government reduces those barriers gains. They gain as consumers from the increased availability and variety of goods they can buy and from lower prices of imports, and their gains usually exceed by a big margin the losses to domestic producers who face new competition. That's the main reason that the vast majority of economists favor free trade.

Does this reasoning carry over to movement of people rather than just movement of goods? Yes. In the remainder of this article I explain why that's so, and discuss possible objections to immigration, whether those objections hold water, and ways of handling those objections. I'll give the bottom line here: Virtually every objection to immigration to the United States has been exaggerated. For every objection, there are persuasive, evidence-based defenses.  

Consider first why immigration is good for immigrants and good for the existing American residents. The reason is one of the simplest and yet most powerful ideas in economics: both sides gain from trade.  If they didn't gain, they wouldn't do it. The vast majority of the adults who come here do so to work. So they produce something valuable here that is sold to someone here. Both the buyer and the seller gain.

These gains are huge. The reason is that people who come here from poor countries are automatically two to eight times as productive as they were in the country they left. Think about the person who leaves Haiti to come to the United States. Even if, as is likely, he has few job skills, those skills will give him an income in the United States that is a large multiple of what he could earn in Haiti. The majority of the gain goes to the immigrant. But we who are already here gain too. We gain from lower prices and more variety in the goods and services that immigrants produce. The American mother, for example, who wants to work outside the home, can more easily find someone to take care of her child. The person like me who loves nice lawns but hates mowing them can more easily find someone to do so.

Michael A. Clemens, an economist at the Center for Global Development, estimates that allowing a lot more people from low-productivity poor countries into high-productivity rich countries would increase world GDP by trillions of dollars. That's not a typo. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


Far-Right, White Supremacist Group Identity Evropa Worked the Phones to Keep Steve King in Office (Colin Kalmbacher, March 6th, 2019, Law & Crime)

Far-right, white supremacist group Identity Evropa, which has been designated as a hate group, worked feverishly to keep Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) in office, according to internal chat logs released Wednesday by an independent media organization.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


What Trump's secret school records tell us about 2016 and 2020 (Paul Waldman, March 6, 2019, Washington Post)

Obviously, if Trump were a straight-A student who aced his SATs, he would have been more than happy to have those records made public. But why would it have mattered so much even if he wasn't? Who would really care whether a man in his 70s got a C in history class a half century ago?

It's more than just embarrassment. The answer lies in the narrative Trump was writing, not just about himself but about Obama and the entire American system.

That narrative told white voters that their resentments and disappointments were both perfectly valid and not their fault. When Trump told them that the system was "rigged" against them, he wasn't talking about wealth and power. He was talking about white people supposedly being held back, by immigrants and undeserving black people who had been pushed ahead of them to the front of the line.

Central to that picture was the idea that Obama was the most undeserving of all. Trump turned himself from a reality show character to a political figure by becoming the country's most prominent advocate of birtherism, the racist theory that Obama was not a real American but, in fact, had been born in Kenya.

What may be not quite as well remembered is that Trump also repeatedly demanded that Obama release his transcripts, and claimed over and over that Obama could not possibly have gotten into Columbia University and Harvard Law School on merit.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


DO KURDS HOLD KEYS TO SYRIAN PEACE? (Karlos Zurutuza, 3/06/19, OZY)

[I]n recent days, Syria's Kurds have released 300 former ISIS militants, having determined that the fighters didn't have blood on their hands. This sign of leadership is helping Kurds gain credibility outside their own circles. Syria's Kurds are credited with much of the success against the militants, but Salih Muslim Muhammad, the best-known face of Kurdish opposition in the Syrian civil war, believes he and his colleagues deserve far more credit for the revolution inside Syria. Meanwhile, Kurds are negotiating with the Australian government, asking it to take Australian ISIS fighters back -- underscoring how the Kurds weren't just central to the fight against the ISIS but also to the creation of a post-ISIS future for Syria.

Muslim, the former co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the main political party for Kurds in Syria, which he founded in 2003, today serves as head of international relations for the party and as its spokesperson. OZY sat down with him to discuss the American withdrawal from the region and its repercussion for the Kurds. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. [...]


We're just asking for the decentralization of the country, constitutional reforms and a democratization process, not just for the Kurds but for all Syrians. We haven't received any answer, because Syria has to agree on every move with Russia and Iran. Our delegation visited Moscow with a road map, which received good feedback from the Russians. Neither the so-called Syrian opposition nor the regime has a plan for the country; they don't follow any democratic principles, they don't recognize society's most basic rights. But we do, and we truly think that's the only way to achieve peace in Syria. [Muslim is referring to decentralization of Syria, recognition of non-Arab demographics like Kurds, Syriacs and Armenians and a true democratization process.]

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Brazil's Bolsonaro tweets obscene video, draws fire (Al Jazeera, 3/06/19)

Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has become embroiled in a firestorm of criticism after re-publishing obscene footage from the Latin American giant's ongoing carnival festivities.

The new president, frequently criticised for remarks disparaging women, gay people and black people, posted a tweet on Tuesday including a video showing a man urinating on another man's head, as a way of denouncing what he sees as moral degeneracy in the country.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Lawyers claiming ties to Rudy Giuliani approached Michael Cohen after FBI raids; investigators looking at contacts (ELIANA LARRAMENDIA, JAMES HILL LAUREN PEARLE Mar 6, 2019, ABC News)

The sources familiar with the contacts said the two lawyers first reached out to Cohen late in April of last year and that the discussions continued for about two months. The attorneys, who have no known formal ties to the White House, urged Cohen not to leave the joint defense agreement, the sources told ABC News, and also offered a Plan B. In the event Cohen opted to exit the agreement, they could join his legal team and act as a conduit between Cohen and the president's lawyers.

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM


Cohen gives documents to House panel on Trump attorney alleged changes to 2017 testimony (Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb, March 6, 2019, CNN)

Michael Cohen on Wednesday provided the House Intelligence Committee with new documents showing edits to the false written statement he delivered to Congress in 2017 about the Trump Organization's pursuit of the Trump Tower Moscow project into the 2016 campaign season, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

It's tough to choose which guy you respected who has done the most damage to his soul on behalf of Donald, but Jay Sekulow ranks right near the top.

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


New poll: Americans' support for Israel declines to lowest point in a decade (ERIC CORTELLESSA, 3/06/19, Times of Israel)

Whereas 65 percent of Americans said they were "more sympathetic" to Israel over the Palestinians in 2018, 59% said the same in 2019, marking a six point drop. That decline is the biggest over a one-year period in the history of the poll, which began in 2001.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


U.S. trade deficit jumps to 10-year high in 2018 (Reuters, 3/06/19)

The U.S. trade deficit surged to a 10-year high in 2018, with the politically sensitive shortfall with China hitting a record peak, despite the Trump administration slapping tariffs on a range of imported goods in an effort to shrink the gap.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Enhancing Medicare Advantage (Chris Pope, February 28, 2019, Manhattan Institute)

Medicare funds health-care services for 60 million elderly and disabled Americans. Of these, 39 million receive coverage through a plan known as "Traditional Medicare" or "Medicare Fee-for-Service" (MFFS) that the federal government administers directly. Increasing numbers--21 million in 2019--enroll in Medicare Advantage (MA), choosing Medicare coverage from competing plans managed by private insurers.

Medicare's Fee-for-Service payment system has hampered appropriate coordination of care and inflated costs by paying separately for each medical procedure or service delivered to beneficiaries, regardless of their value. As every detail of its operation is highly politicized and hard to reform, MFFS has an outdated benefit structure that leaves elderly and disabled enrollees exposed to potentially catastrophic out-of-pocket costs.

By contrast, MA plans have broad flexibility to upgrade operations. They are able to reduce costs and improve medical outcomes by making better use of primary care, negotiating discounts with preferred networks of providers, and managing chronic conditions to avoid expensive hospitalizations. This allows them to attract enrollees by reducing out-of-pocket costs and enhancing benefits.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


From video game to day job: How 'SimCity' inspired a generation of city planners (JESSICA ROY, MAR 05, 2019, LA Times)

Jason Baker was studying political science at UC Davis when he got his hands on "SimCity." He took a careful approach to the computer game.

"I was not one of the players who enjoyed Godzilla running through your city and destroying it. I enjoyed making my city run well."

This conscientious approach gave him a boost in a class on local government. Instead of writing a term paper about three different models for how cities can develop, Baker proposed building three scenarios in "SimCity," then letting the game run on its own and writing about how his virtual cities fared.

He ended up getting an A. Playing "SimCity," Baker said, "helped remind me of the importance of local government, which is what I ended up doing for a living."

Today, Baker is the vice president of transportation and housing at the nonprofit Silicon Valley Leadership Group. He served as a council member in Campbell, Calif., from 2008 to 2016, a tenure that included two stints as mayor.

Thirty years ago, Maxis released "SimCity" for Mac and Amiga. It was succeeded by "SimCity 2000" in 1993, "SimCity 3000" in 1999, "SimCity 4" in 2003, a version for the Nintendo DS in 2007, "SimCity: BuildIt" in 2013 and an app launched in 2014.

Along the way, the games have introduced millions of players to the joys and frustrations of zoning, street grids and infrastructure funding -- and influenced a generation of people who plan cities for a living. For many urban and transit planners, architects, government officials and activists, "SimCity" was their first taste of running a city. It was the first time they realized that neighborhoods, towns and cities were things that were planned, and that it was someone's job to decide where streets, schools, bus stops and stores were supposed to go.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM

HURRY 2021:

Trump in trouble in Florida poll (MARC CAPUTO, 03/06/2019, Politico)

Just 40 percent of Florida voters said they believed the president should be reelected, while 53 percent were opposed to a second term, according to a new Bendixen & Amandi International poll.

Trump's approval ratings were also poor, with 43 percent having a favorable impression of Trump, and 52 percent viewing him unfavorably -- and 46 percent very unfavorably. Trump's approval ratings look even worse when compared with the man he helped make Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, who has a 50 percent approval rating while only 23 percent disapprove.

Mr. DeSantis morphed into Andrew Gillum as soon as he took office.  Donald has consistently doubled down on David Duke. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


John Bolton puts his singular stamp on Trump's National Security Council (Karen DeYoung, Greg Jaffe, John Hudson and Josh Dawsey March 4, 2019, Washington Post)

The contradictions of Bolton's tenure were apparent in the wake of last week's collapsed Hanoi summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Bolton dutifully reiterated Trump's assessment that the summit was a success. But he offered little support for that judgment or the president's approach beyond saying in an interview with CNN on Sunday that Trump "remains optimistic."

Asked whether the summit effort was worth it, Bolton took a pass.

"He obviously thinks it's worth trying," Bolton said of the president.

Asked about Kim's insistence that he wasn't involved in the death of American college student Otto Warmbier, Bolton declined to back Trump, who had said he took Kim "at his word."

"My opinion doesn't matter. . . .," he said. "I am not the national security decision-maker. That's [Trump's] view." [...]

He has cut to a bare minimum meetings in which top national security officials present and vet options for the president. In some cases, he has replaced subject experts detailed to the National Security Council from other agencies with ideological soul mates who have little experience serving at the most senior levels of policymaking.

His approach to the job and the president's disinclination to read lengthy briefings or consult experts have afforded Bolton vast power over an often disorderly foreign policy process.

And Donald is so blinded by his hatred of Iran he doesn't even notice the Neocon coup. Comic gold.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Trump Pushes for China Deal to Fuel Market Rally, Sources Say (Jennifer Jacobs  and Saleha Mohsin, March 6, 2019, Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump is pressuring U.S. trade negotiators to cut a deal with China soon in hope of fueling a market rally, as he grows increasingly concerned that the lack of an agreement could drag down stocks, according to people familiar with the matter.


Posted by orrinj at 12:05 AM


This Is Your Brain on Nationalism: The Biology of Us and Them (Robert Sapolsky, March/April 2019, Foreign Affairs)

The human mind's propensity for us-versus-them thinking runs deep. Numerous careful studies have shown that the brain makes such distinctions automatically and with mind-boggling speed. Stick a volunteer in a brain scanner and quickly flash pictures of faces. Among typical white subjects in the scanner, the sight of a black man's face activates the amygdala, a brain region central to emotions of fear and aggression, in under one-tenth of a second. In most cases, the prefrontal cortex, a region crucial for impulse control and emotional regulation, springs into action a second or two later and silences the amygdala: "Don't think that way, that's not who I am." Still, the initial reaction is usually one of fear, even among those who know better.

This finding is no outlier. Looking at the face of someone of the same race activates a specialized part of the primate brain called the fusiform cortex, which recognizes faces, but it is activated less so when the face in question is that of someone of another race. Watching the hand of someone of the same race being poked with a needle activates the anterior cingulate cortex, a region implicated in feelings of empathy; being shown the same with the hand of a person of another race produces less activation. Not everyone's face or pain counts equally.

At every turn, humans make automatic, value-laden judgments about social groups. Suppose you are prejudiced against ogres, something you normally hide. Certain instruments, such as the Implicit Association Test, will reveal your prejudice nonetheless. A computer screen alternates between faces and highly emotive terms, such as "heroic" or "ignorant." In response, you are asked to quickly press one of two buttons. If the button pairings fit your biases ("press Button A for an ogre's face or a negative term and Button B for a human face or a positive term"), the task is easy, and you will respond rapidly and accurately. But if the pairings are reversed ("press Button A for a human face or a negative term and Button B for an ogre's face or a positive term"), your responses will slow. There's a slight delay each time, as the dissonance of linking ogres with "graceful" or humans with "smelly" gums you up for a few milliseconds. With enough trials, these delays are detectable, revealing your anti-ogre bias--or, in the case of actual subjects, biases against particular races, religions, ethnicities, age groups, and body types.

Needless to say, many of these biases are acquired over time. Yet the cognitive structures they require are often present from the outset. Even infants prefer those who speak their parents' language. They also respond more positively to--and have an easier time remembering--faces of people of their parents' race. Likewise, three-year-olds tend to prefer people of their own race and gender. This is not because children are born with innate racist beliefs, nor does it require that parents actively or implicitly teach their babies racial or gender biases, although infants can pick up such environmental influences at a very young age, too. Instead, infants like what is familiar, and this often leads them to copy their parents' ethnic and linguistic in-group categorizations.

Sometimes the very foundations of affection and cooperation are also at the root of humankind's darker impulses. Consider oxytocin, a compound whose reputation as a fuzzy "cuddle hormone" has recently taken a bit of a hit. In mammals, oxytocin is central to mother-infant bonding and helps create close ties in monogamous couples. In humans, it promotes a whole set of pro-social behaviors. Subjects given oxytocin become more generous, trusting, empathic, and expressive. Yet recent findings suggest that oxytocin prompts people to act this way only toward in-group members--their teammates in a game, for instance. Toward outsiders, it makes them aggressive and xenophobic. Hormones rarely affect behavior this way; the norm is an effect whose strength simply varies in different settings. Oxytocin, however, deepens the fault line in our brains between "us" and "them."

Put simply, neurobiology, endocrinology, and developmental psychology all paint a grim picture of our lives as social beings. When it comes to group belonging, humans don't seem too far from the families of chimps killing each other in the forests of Uganda: people's most fundamental allegiance is to the familiar. Anything or anyone else is likely to be met, at least initially, with a measure of skepticism, fear, or hostility. In practice, humans can second-guess and tame their aggressive tendencies toward the Other. Yet doing so is usually a secondary, corrective step.

...Donald and the Trumpbots are post-Christian party that has surrendered to Nature.  It's an understandable impulse given how hard Man must work to be decent.

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 AM


In Defense of Andrew Yang's Freedom Dividend (Samuel Kronen, 3/06/19, Quillette)

There are three major critiques of Universal Basic Income: Cost, Inflation, and Incentive.

To provide 1000 dollars a month to every American citizen today, the headline cost would be about $2.4 trillion a year. The federal budget is around $4 trillion a year, distributed between mandatory spending (i.e. Social Security and Medicare--about $2.4 trillion), discretionary spending (i.e. military programs--about $1.11 trillion), and interest on federal debt (about $364 billion). With that in mind, $2.4 trillion sounds pretty steep.

But there are other avenues through which UBI could be paid for. If the gains from artificial intelligence and new technologies were harnessed, there would be a surplus of wealth to invest into the economy. Yang has proposed instituting a value added tax on all goods and services, at every level of production and distribution, putting the onus on large companies who benefit most from automation.

This is estimated to generate almost $1 trillion in national revenue, and when we take into account the $800 billion spent on welfare that would decrease in the wake of UBI, along with the tax revenue generated from the extra $1000 a month circulating back into the economy and the 100s of billions that would be saved in healthcare, incarceration, and homelessness services, the Freedom Dividend could end up paying for itself. That is not to mention the potential value gains from having a population with higher rates of education, health, nutrition, and productivity that are estimated to improve with UBI according to a number of studies on already existent trial runs. (The state of Alaska, the leading example, instituted a dividend for its citizens over 30 years ago primarily funded by oil money, and Yang is quick to note that technology is the oil of the twenty-first century.)

That is optimistic. Allocating funds from the myriad social programs already in place into a UBI could prove to be a dicey process, and taxing powerful corporations has never been child's play. Another issue often brought up against a UBI platform is the prospect of inflation. If more wealth is being distributed across the population, won't that make for increased prices and lead to a decrease in the value of money?

According to Yang, inflation has been low for years because globalization and technology have been helping reduce the cost of goods and services, and there is no good reason to believe that trend wont continue. Even after the 2008 financial crisis, when the U.S. government printed $4 trillion, we have not seen a meaningful rise in inflation. If the Freedom Dividend were indeed able to pay for itself through a value added tax, the liquidation of other social services, and a general stimulation of the economy (the Roosevelt Institute estimates economic growth of about 13 percent and an increase in the labor force by about 4.5 million people), the money supply circulating in society would not increase substantially. This would produce little to no inflation. Yang also points out that the central areas of inflation tend to fall into the protected dysfunctional markets of housing, health care, and education rather than consumer goods where prices are actually falling.

Finally, one of the most common and reflexive arguments leveled against UBI is that it mirrors the fundamental flaw of the Welfare State: the absence of a stable incentive structure. If every American citizen is going to receive free money with not a single qualification or requirement, won't we all just become more lazy? I find this to be the least compelling argument against UBI, largely because it fails to acknowledge the actual problem with welfare policies. The issue with welfare is not that it creates no incentive, it is that it creates a disincentive. If a person is on disability, for example, getting better would mean getting off the dole, so there is actually an incentive not to re-enter the job market. If a single mother is on welfare and bringing a husband into the picture will suspend that monthly check, then she will be less inclined to find a husband. It is subtle shift in one's thought process that enhances an underlying feeling of dependency. The issue with welfare is not that it's free money; the issue is that the requirements necessary to receive welfare benefits tend to reward failure and punish success.

There has always been just one argument against such a program: you and I didn't need it.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


In the Middle of His Official Business, Trump Took the Time to Send Checks to Michael Cohen (Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, March 5, 2019, NY Times)

On a busy day at the White House, President Trump hosted senators to talk about tax cuts, accused a Democratic congresswoman of distorting his condolence call to a soldier's widow and suffered another court defeat for his travel ban targeting Muslim countries. [...]

[O]n the same day he reportedly pressured the F.B.I. director to drop an investigation into a former aide, the president's trust issued a check to Mr. Cohen in furtherance of what federal prosecutors have called a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws at the direction of Mr. Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Rand Paul: Sure, Vaccines Are OK, But We Shouldn't Trade 'Liberty' for 'False Sense of Security' (Sam Stein, 03.05.19, Daily Beast)

During a Senate Health Committee hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized the idea that parents should be required to vaccinate their children and perpetuated the notion that vaccines themselves could cause harm.  

The speech--which came during the opening moments of the hearing, and in the midst of two major measles outbreaks--was framed as an argument in favor of personal liberty, a posture that Paul routinely adopts. But in offering his thoughts, the Kentucky Republican furthered the argument that it is socially reasonable not to vaccinate your kids, a mindset that the scientific community says is already worsening communal health crises.

"As we contemplate forcing parents to choose this or that vaccine, I think it's important to remember that force is not consistent with the American story, nor is force consistent with the liberty our forefathers sought when they came to America," said Paul, reading off a paper.

Just another way in which libertarians oppose actual liberty.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


The federal deficit ballooned at start of new fiscal year, up 77 percent from a year before (Damian Paletta, March 5 , 2019, Washington Post)

When Republicans seized control of the House of Representatives during the Obama administration, lawmakers and White House officials embarked on a number of strained negotiations to try to reduce the gap between spending and tax revenue. During the Trump administration, there have not been any similar discussions, and President Trump has largely enacted an agenda of tax cuts and spending increases that had grown the deficit markedly.

...let's not hear from these guys about how it costs too much.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Bernie Sanders signs DNC loyalty pledge: 'I am a member of the Democratic Party' (Alex Seitz-Wald, 3/06/19, NBC news)

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has formally declared himself a member of the Democratic Party as he seeks its presidential nomination in 2020, abiding by new Democratic National Committee rules.

"I am a member of the Democratic Party," reads the statement to the DNC that Sanders signed and notarized Tuesday. It also asserts that Sanders will serve as a Democrat if elected president and that the DNC can determine who is "a bonafide Democrat."

Isn't he already pledged to the Socialist International?