November 11, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


A Moderate's Manifesto: Ideologues get all the love in today's political environment, but moderates have one key thing on them: workability. (Ronald W. Dworkin, 11 Nov 2020, American Purpose)

The moderate carves out a middle position in all this, accepting the state as promoter, regulator, and guarantor, but not as partner. True, different shades of thought are at work here. Some ideologues may reach a conclusion similar to that of the moderate. Yet they generally do so grudgingly, as if they feel guilty for violating some faith. All ideologies come with a body of doctrine, and while the more flexible ideologues recognize doctrine might not apply in all cases, their natural inclination is to deduce from doctrine. Ideological thinking typically extends from the top down, while the moderate mixes experience with observation to build from the ground up. Ideologues and moderates may arrive at similar conclusions, but how they get there makes all the difference in what position is actually arrived at and how things are managed going forward.

Consistent with the state's guarantor duties, bailing out the airlines during the pandemic made sense to the moderate, as these essential companies operated responsibly until a unique blow hit them. So also did the one-time bailout of small business under the CARES Act that enabled employers to meet payroll. But a moderate might oppose the Federal Reserve's recent massive intervention into the credit markets, which threatens to create the kind of "zombie" companies that have dogged Japanese economic growth for decades. This borders on state partnering, as the government rallies around certain businesses the way loyal family members circle the wagons when one of them does something stupid. Some companies took on too much debt over the last decade, while investors who bought their low-rated bonds for yield were equally rash. At some point these companies and investors must be allowed to go under; otherwise, the notion of competition becomes meaningless.

The "competition" aspect of capitalism's definition looms larger for the moderate than its "division between state and economy" aspect. Competition among businesspeople channels capitalism's vital source of energy--the drive to make money--into tasks that society wants done, and at prices that society will pay. It leads to wealth and excellent service.

The state's role as regulator ensures competition, which is why the moderate supports it. At the same time, that regulatory duty can also be used to stifle competition and further the state's partnering activity. The ICC, for example, began by regulating railroad rates and preventing railroad monopolies from abusing customers. By the mid-20thcentury, however, the ICC became the protector (that is, the partner) of the railroads, establishing freight schedules for trucking that prevented this new form of freight handling from threatening the profits of "their" industry. A regulatory agency that had been charged with the suppression of the railroad's abuses had, over time, partnered with the railroads to protect them. This change in purpose has been repeated in other fields, such as banking and pharmaceuticals, and makes supporting the state's regulatory duty and opposing its partnership activity a difficult needle to thread. It is why the moderate prefers regulation by law rather than by bureaucratic rule. A judge applying a law is less likely to go native than is a regulator applying an agency rule that is only partial law, especially when that regulator aspires to work some day in the very industry he or she is regulating.

The confusion surrounding what capitalism is has led to state partnering being called a form of capitalism known as "crony capitalism." Although pejorative, the label misleads people, as they mistakenly view crony capitalism as an anti-competitive variant of capitalism, which it cannot be. Competition is essential to capitalism. When the state partners with a business, it means the game is fixed. There is no competition, and so no capitalism.

Consumers these days keenly feel competition's absence in price, especially in three areas that come up repeatedly in activist politics: health care, higher education, and housing. In 1973, American families put 50 percent of their discretionary income toward these three services; today they put 75 percent. Lack of competition keeps costs high in these fields, as when health insurance companies are barred from selling products across state lines; or when an alliance between higher education and the state hobbles for-profit college competitors, or suppresses national tests of achievement that might let young people bypass college and enter the world of work directly. The moderate opposes these examples of crony capitalism.

The purported connection between corporations and capitalism is equally maddening. The moderate looks favorably upon corporate America as the producer and distributor of great products at low cost. Yet the corporation is not inherent to capitalism. It grew out of government's promotion and regulatory activities during the second half of the 19th century. State legislatures decided to safeguard investors through the concept of limited liability, to keep a company's investors from having to pay out of their personal wealth a business's debts during bankruptcy. Eliminating that risk made the corporation possible, although some critics at the time thought it an unnecessary government intervention.

For the moderate, defending capitalism does not necessarily mean defending corporate America. On the contrary, the new trend toward state partnering demands protection for small business against corporate America, whom state partnering favors. For fifty years, capitalist ideology flowing out of the influential Chicago School of Economics has criticized anti-trust enforcement as unnecessary, arguing that markets self-correct. In the meantime, new business formation has steadily declined. In 1982, young small businesses made up half of all firms and a fifth of total employment. By 2013, they made up a third of all firms and a tenth of total employment.

The moderate sympathizes with progressives and even radicals who decry excessive corporate power and "corporate welfare"--not because corporations block the path to socialism but because they block the path to entrepreneurship. Even Black Lives Matter leader Hawk Newsome, who recently threatened to "burn down" the American system, complained that the system stifles entrepreneurship in both black and white communities. Small businesses cannot thrive when large corporations allied with government rig the system.

For the moderate, the most troubling aspect of the emerging state-corporation partnership is the threat to democracy. Even Marx fretted over how the independent farmer and small businessman, the "basis of America's whole political constitution," were giving way to "giant farms" with employees and large factories with a "mass industrial proletariat." The trend picked up speed over the next 140 years. Today, more Americans work at large or very large companies (2,500 employees or more) than work at small businesses (100 or fewer employees). Although the Constitution protects free speech, the fusion of corporation and state, along with the rise of the dependent employee, gives anti-democratic forces a way to control speech indirectly. Although the state cannot restrict speech, it can use corporations as proxies to do so, both at work and at home (as when companies scrutinize a worker's after-hours social media posts). Many politicized corporations have proven to be eager and willing censors.

The moderate strongly supports laws that prevent corporate America from discriminating against viewpoint. When most Americans were independent owners of some kind, such laws were unnecessary. Today, most Americans are dependent employees, and many are even subject to non-compete clauses, such that when fired for a speech violation they must move to a new city to find work. Democracy demands updated free speech protections.

Capitalist ideology defines capitalism as a series of inviolable laws, including the law of supply and demand. Progressive ideology, on the other hand, refuses to believe that anything about capitalism is hard and fast. Modern monetary theory, for example, argues that a sovereign country can safely print all the money it wants, with higher tax rates used to slow inflation whenever necessary, thereby allowing the state to fund any social program.

The moderate takes a middle position in all this, not to split the difference, but out of intellectual conviction.

In the mid-19th century, around the same time Thackeray used the word "capitalist" in his novel and Marx described capitalism as a system, the philosopher-economist John Stuart Mill published his Principles of Political Economy, in which he argued that rigid laws apply to economic production but not to economic distribution. Although nothing arbitrary exists in capitalism's laws of wealth creation, he wrote, no laws govern how that wealth should be distributed other than the arbitrary laws and customs of society. Rather than straitjacket society, as capitalist ideology does, or destroy the means of wealth creation, as progressive ideology risks, Mills's moderate position preserves capitalism's wealth-creating mechanism while allowing that wealth to be spread around to keep social peace.

An economy exists to generate wealth--which the past several centuries demonstrate is best achieved using capitalism (The First Way). In exchange for affording the freedom that capitalism requires, the citizenry of developed nations expects so level of social security net to guarantee a certain standard of living (The Second Way). The modern insight is that we can use First Way mean--like 401k's, HSA's, home ownership, etc--to fund Second Way ends; thus, the Third Way.  The particular genius here lies not just in placing the financing system on a more effcient footing but in giving even the least wealthy members of society a vested interest in maintaining the regime.   

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Trump inquiries coming, House Democrats warn three years jail if documents destroyed (Paul Bedard, November 10, 2020, Washington Examiner)

In the surest sign that House Democrats plan a wave of investigations into the Trump administration, leading committee chairs have sent a letter to more than 50 agencies warning that all documents and texts, even on private phones, be preserved.

"This preservation request should be construed as an instruction to preserve all documents, communications, and other information, including electronic information and metadata, that is or may be potentially responsive to a congressional inquiry, request, investigation, or subpoena that was initiated, continued, or otherwise undertaken during the 116th Congress," said the 173-page package sent out today.

For good measure, it included a jail threat. "Any employee who conceals, destroys, or attempts to conceal or destroy a federal record may be subject to fine and imprisonment for up to three years," said the letter to 53 agencies.

It is already the law that documents be preserved. White Houses store their documents, texts, and photos, typically in a presidential library.

But the memo is a signal that there are potentially many more investigations coming targeting the Trump administration by House Democrats, and possibly a reinvestigation of past inquires.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Remote education is decreasing anxiety, increasing wellbeing for some students (KEVIN DICKINSON, 11 November, 2020, Big Think)

[A]ccording to a survey performed by the National Institute for Health Research, the kids are doing all right. By some metrics, they've been doing better in our era of lockdowns and remote education.

"The Young People's Mental Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic" report surveyed more than 1,000 Year 9 students (ages 13 to 14) in the United Kingdom. This ongoing study aims to chronicle the relationship between social media use and adolescents' mental health. Because the study participants took the initial survey in October 2019, researchers were able to compare the students' pre-pandemic baseline with their responses several months into lockdown. (Schools closed in the U.K. in mid-March; follow-up surveys were completed in April and May.)

The researchers discovered that mental health among the U.K.'s adolescents has, surprisingly, improved during these trying times. Although 90 percent of students agreed that COVID-19 is a serious issue, their responses indicated an overall decrease in their risk of anxiety, an increase in their well-being, and no major changes to their risk of depression.

The most improvement was seen in students struggling with poor mental health. Students with low well-being scores in October last year showed a 10-point gain on the Warwick-Edinburgh Wellbeing Scale; meanwhile, students with previously average-to-high well-being scores showed no significant change. Students at risk of anxiety and depression also showed small advances in their Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale scores. The only group showing a heightened risk of depression were girls, and the difference was slight.

And no one misses offices.

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


Egypt assembles bipartisan lobbying team for post-Trump era (Julian Pecquet, 11 November 2020, Middle East Eye)

"They're clearly worried," said Michele Dunne, the director of the Middle East programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and co-chair of the bipartisan Working Group on Egypt.

"When it became clear that Biden would be named the winner, [President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi] sent his congratulations and now you see all of these former foreign ministers and major figures being called out onto the talk shows to reassure government supporters in Egypt that everything's going to be fine with Biden."

Trump, who famously called Sisi "my favorite dictator" at last year's Group of Seven summit in France, largely insulated Cairo from congressional efforts to punish Egypt for its human rights violations, including the death in custody of US citizen Moustafa Kassem earlier this year. [...]

US human rights advocates have also been ramping up their activities.

The Freedom Initiative, the organisation started by US citizen Mohamed Soltan, a former political prisoner in Egypt, hired its first lobbying firm in August to "advocate for political prisoners in MENA".

Meanwhile, the newly launched Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), the brainchild of murdered Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, has made Egypt one of its three priority countries, along with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Egyptian opposition groups and advocates also see an opening.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which Sisi's government has labeled a terrorist group, has urged Biden to "reconsider previous policies of support for dictatorships around the world", Middle East Eye reported on Tuesday.

"We implore the Biden administration to repudiate the crimes and violations committed by tyrannical regimes against the rights of peoples," the group said in a statement.

"We regard policies that ignore the free choices of people and which foster relations with authoritarian regimes as absolutely inappropriate. They represent a choice to stand on the wrong side of history."

...they're our democratic Brothers.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 PM


Trump lost religious voters -- and it cost him in multiple states: analysis (Meaghan Ellis, 11/11/20, AlterNet)

President Donald Trump's overwhelming support from evangelical Christians slipped during the 2020 election as President-elect Joe Biden managed to sway a substantial margin of those voters. Now, Trump's campaign team is searching for someone to blame for its election defeat, according to Politico. [...]

"There is perhaps no better illustration of how the Trump campaign failed to neutralize the threat of Biden's outreach to Christian voters than in Kent County, Mich. An evangelical enclave in the Midwestern battleground state, the county gave Biden 50,000 more votes this cycle than Clinton drew four years earlier, ultimately flipping it from red to blue."

One of Trump's campaign advisors has warned the next Republican presidential nominee not to assume Christian conservatives will automatically back the party in 2024.

"When we look back on this moment from the lens of, 'Here's what the Republican nominee needs to do to win in 2024,' I hope there will be people saying we shouldn't take Christian conservatives for granted," said one adviser to the Trump campaign, who added that future GOP presidential hopefuls "should never again assume white evangelicals can't be persuaded by the right candidate with a D next to his or her name."

Blame? Credit. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


Biden's Popular-Vote Win Is Beginning to Look More Impressive (Ed Kilgore, 11/11/20, New York)

As votes continue to trickle in, Joe Biden's national popular vote lead over Donald Trump, and his percentage of the total vote, is beginning to look pretty impressive despite how close the Electoral College vote has remained, -- and also despite Trump's increasingly empty claims that he somehow actually won. Biden currently leads Trump by over five million votes, or by 3.4 percent of the total. Both numbers are certain to go higher. His popular vote percentage lead is already higher than that of the popular vote winner in 2016, 2004, 2000, 1976, 1968 and 1960. And with the exception of the two earlier Democratic tickets on which Biden appeared (2008 and 2012), the 50.8 percent of the national popular vote the Biden-Harris ticket has won is higher than that of any Democratic ticket since 1964. And that total could soon eclipse the 51.1 percent Obama and Biden received in 2012.

Even House Democrats outpolled Donald by over one million votes.

Posted by orrinj at 11:35 AM


Progressives blame 'divide-and-conquer racism' for Democrats' House losses (Kathryn Krawczyk, 11/11/20, The Week)

While the memo did reflect Ocasio-Cortez's plea to stop "placing blame" before a campaign post-mortem was conducted, it did lay out progressive strategies to drive future House gains. Instead of playing into President Trump's "racist appeals against immigrants and Black Lives Matter," Democrats should "take on the Republican party's divide-and-conquer racism head-on," the memo says. Democrats should "invest in organizing the base," "connect economic justice to racial justice," and "drive an economic message that connects with all working people" as well, the memo details. As Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) put it, Democrats need to "really respect every single voice," namely those of marginalized people, instead of "silencing" them like Spanberger suggested.

Part of that economic message is clear in the suggested Biden Cabinet picks the progressive Justice Democrats and Sunrise Movement unveiled Wednesday. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as Labor Secretary and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as Treasury Secretary top their list. Tlaib would be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) would be secretary of state, and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison would be attorney general, among their other choices.

Boy, it's awfully hard to square that memo with Ron Brownstein's analysis of this election, on Kristol Conversations, and how the next few are likely to go.  At a minimum, Democrats need to avoid scaring the children.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Against 'Unity' (DAVID HARSANYI, November 11, 2020, National Review)

Unity is found in comity with your neighbors, in your churches and schools, in your everyday interactions with your community. Politics is not a place for unity. It is a place for airing grievances. And we've got plenty.

From adopting the Left's identitarianism, to its industrial policy, to its protectionism, to its grievance politics, it's been delicious watching the Right become everything conservatives have always opposed.  It's clarifying.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Resisting the Leviathan: The Mayflower Compact (JOSEPH LOCONTE, November 11, 2020, National Review)

The Mayflower Pilgrims, as they came to be called, were committed to "the advancement of the Christian faith" and designed and signed their compact "in the presence of God." But no one seemed to have a theocracy in mind; rather, they sought to form "a civil body politic." Importantly, their new political community would be framed by "just and equal laws" -- laws that would apply without discrimination to all their members. Here, at the very beginning of the American story, one can discern the concepts of equal justice and government by consent of the governed.

We need not romanticize the Pilgrims. These Puritans were seeking religious freedom for themselves, and for themselves alone. Moreover, not everyone signed the compact: Only the adult male passengers, including two indentured servants, were invited. The women, who would do so much to help the company survive, were excluded.

Nevertheless, they all participated in the civic affairs of the colony. After the Mayflower anchored again at Plymouth Rock, the survivors created a largely self-sustaining economy. Their faith gave them a raw determination to succeed, and the political consensus held: Plymouth became the first permanent European settlement in New England. More importantly, the Pilgrims introduced into the West an unprecedented experiment in consensual government, involving not a monarch but individuals acting on their own initiative.

The architects of the problematic 1619 Project have suggested that the year 1619, when enslaved Africans were first brought to America's shores, should be viewed as the authentic date for the American Founding. We should hold fast to 1776. Yet the seeds of that Revolution were indeed planted in 1620: the year when a rugged group of men and women, in a moment of existential crisis, resisted the Leviathan and gambled on self-government.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Sonny Rollins on Jazz as a Music of Freedom (The Quarantine Tapes, November 11, 2020)

Hosted by Paul Holdengräber, The Quarantine Tapes chronicles shifting paradigms in the age of social distancing. Each day, Paul calls a guest for a brief discussion about how they are experiencing the global pandemic.

On Episode 130 of The Quarantine Tapes, Paul Holdengräber is joined by acclaimed jazz musician Sonny Rollins. Sonny and Paul talk about the importance of always continuing to learn. Sonny tells stories from his early days as a musician, from first meeting his influences like Coleman Hawkins and Thelonious Monk to the hours he spent playing music on the Williamsburg Bridge. Sonny says that bravery and freedom have always been inherent elements of jazz that differentiate it from other genres of music. He tells Paul about the spiritual nature of improvisation and how music affects him today in a fascinating conversation that draws from Sonny's decades playing music and learning.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Visits to gyms, restaurants and hotels account for the build of COVID-19 infections, says new study (The New York Post, 10/11/20)

Most COVID-19 cases in large US cities stem from visits to just a few types of places, a new study suggests.

Restaurants, gyms, hotels and houses of worship are among the 10 percent of locations that would appear to account for 80 percent of the infections, according to research published in the journal Nature on Tuesday.

"These are places that are smaller, more crowded, and people dwell there longer," said study co-author and Stanford University Professor Jure Leskovec at a media briefing on the research, CNN reported.