Friday, January 26, 2024

Bidenomics Works

From Philipp Plein's Billionaire clothing line, via Yahoo Sports

Heather Cox Richardson puts together a couple of things I really should have put together myself: Bidenomics, seen as a definitive turn from Reagan-era neoliberalism, and the amazing character of the US economy at the moment, as reflected in the current numbers on growth, unemployment, and consumer spending:

with the election of Republican president Ronald Reagan, lawmakers claimed that concentrating wealth on the “supply side” of the economy would enable wealthy investors and businessmen to manage the economy more efficiently than was possible when the government meddled, and the resulting economic growth would make the entire country more prosperous. 

The problem was that this system never produced the economic boom it promised. Instead, it moved money dramatically upward and hollowed out the American middle class while leaving poorer Americans significantly worse off. 

Thursday, January 25, 2024

War on Reality

6th-grade journalist Sarfaraz, of Jharkhand state, via TribuneIndia

A goodhearted little story on NPR the other morning, reported by Pien Huang, about an elementary school in Tampa Bay with a substantial number of unhoused students, and a mindfulness program:

HUANG: Sullivan Elementary School is a public school. It partners with a local nonprofit called Metropolitan Ministries which supports poor and homeless families in Tampa Bay. Principal McMeen says many of the students come from the homeless shelter across the street, and they're dealing with serious stressors outside of school.

[PRINCIPAL] MCMEEN: Students experience these traumas of which sometimes they don't have control over. While we have them, what do we have control over? It's those few moments to say, OK, take that hurt, take that pain, let's figure out how we can release it.

HUANG: Research shows that chronic stress can shrink the brain, especially the parts that play a role in learning and memory, and that mindfulness helps reduce that stress. It's now 8:50 in the morning. Principal McMeen takes us to the second and third-grade classroom, where a mindfulness session plays over the loudspeaker.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Breathing in and out. Placing the hands on my heart. Repeating to yourself, I have the power to make wise choices.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: I have the power to make wise choices.

HUANG: The transformation is amazing. Seventeen rambunctious kids are now settled at their desks. Their eyes are closed, and today's session is about forgiveness.

I was enchanted with it until an unwelcome thought showed up: that there are people who would want to destroy it, for one reason or another, maybe for the same reason they've objected to school yoga, because mindfulness is the property of a religion that's not "Judeo-Christian" and it might endanger the children's souls; it might be some kind of Satanic plot.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Burdens: Postscript


Black-figure amphora ca. 510 B.C.E., now in the British Museum: Sisyphus pushes his boulder up a slope using his arms and a knee while Hades, Persephone, and Hermes look on. Via.

After I posted a piece yesterday on the David Brooks column on administrative burdens, Mr. Administrative Burden himself, Don Moynihan, published a commentary on his Substack—on Brooks, not on me, fortunately, and a different kind of piece, but certainly more important than the thing I wrote. And somewhat fairer to Brooks, perhaps, and making the point that I originally got from him and his colleagues in a different tone. Also, on the subject of how Brooks sees DEI as a "dangerous ideology":

Let's just pause for a moment to reflect upon how quickly and easily the far right has succeeded in persuading moderate voices that offices who dedicated to the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion are promoting a “dangerous ideology.” It is seemingly so self-evident that no evidence is needed.

Brooks also bemoans administrators and managers “doing things like designing anti-harassment trainings, writing corporate mission statements, collecting data and managing “systems.”” Let's assume that Brooks and many others value harassment trainings at zero. The evidence on the efficacy of such trainings is, at best, mixed. But those other tasks seem important. Having a clear mission, having data that tells you how well you are doing, and functional “systems” (let's say an IT system) matter a lot to organizational success! 

I also really wish I had gotten into one big thing involving the presidential campaign: the question of whether Trump, the traditional Republican hater of red tape and bureaucracy and overregulation, will do anything to reduce administrative burden in a second term, should voters give him one:

if [Trump voters] are angry about bureaucracy, will they be served by Trumpian solutions? Probably not. Such solutions include not just massive politicization that will reduce the quality of public services. Based on Trump’s record, we know that he will directly impose more bureaucracy, by, for example:

  • massive politicization will lead to a terrified bureaucracy, unable to make the smallest decisions without the say-so of political appointees. It is a recipe for burdens.
  • Deconstructing parts of the government whose job it is to stop citizens from being scammed: this included changing the mission of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or refusing to offer citizens the help they were legally entitled to having been ripped off by private higher education institutions.
  • Introducing administrative burdens in the social safety net - Trump signed an executive order calling for adding work requirements to any social program. When this was applied to Medicaid, the results were disastrous, leading to eligible people losing benefits because of the red tape involved in documenting work, and generating no labor market benefits.
  • Reducing capacity in government to benefit industry or those who don’t want to pay taxes - for example, Trump and other Republicans have opposed badly needed investments in IRS capacity that have improved customer service and allowed the IRS to pilot a free tax filing system. Trump wants you to pay Turbotax, and spend more time fruitlessly trying to get an IRS employee on the phone.

He'll definitely make it worse.

Sunday, January 21, 2024



Jen Sorensen, November 2023.

Things David Brooks ("Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts") is worried about:

In a recent essay in Liberties Journal, [University of Virginia English professor Mark Edmundson] illustrates how administrators control campus life by citing the rules they have devised to govern how members of the campus community should practice sadomasochistic sex: “When parties consent to BDSM 3, or other forms of kink, nonconsent may be shown by the use of a safe word, whereas actions and words that may signal nonconsent in non-kink situations, such as force or violence, may be deemed signals of consent.” Do institutions really need to govern private life this minutely?

Uh, yes. There are surely lots of overregulated campus activities, but you really do need to be careful about this one. Before somebody, as they say, gets hurt, I mean when they didn't actually want to.

Anyhow, Professor Edmundson's main complaint in the Liberties article seems to be that he is now expected to do some extra work when he's reporting on his year's academic activities:

Friday, January 19, 2024

All My Trials


From Trump's petitioner brief to the Supreme Court re Trump's Colorado disqualification; I think it's pretty much the same as what the Minnesota Supreme Court decided in their version of the case, and it's what I've been saying since August—Section 3 doesn't say insurrectionists should be kicked off the ballot, it says they can't hold the office.

That's what the text plainly says, and it's how the provision has historically been applied, most notably the only time it was applied between Reconstruction and Trump, in the Red Scare expulsion of Victor L. Berger (Socialist-WI), who was convicted of espionage in 1919 over his opposition to World War I, subject of numerous editorials in his newspaper, the Milwaukee Leader, and given a 20-year sentence:

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Ross Has an Insight

Monsignor Ross Douthat, apostolic nuncio to 42nd St., seemed to be letting his inner Bill Kristol out for a spin over the weekend with this fantasy ("The DeSantis Campaign Is Revealing What Republican Voters Really Want"):

If Ron DeSantis surprises in Iowa and beyond, if he recovers from his long polling swoon and wins the Republican nomination, it will represent the triumph of a simple, intuitive, but possibly mistaken idea: That voters should be taken at their word about what they actually want from their leaders.

Based on his own inquiries into what Republican voters wanted, which had led him to believe that a plurality of the party, maybe 40%, would really like to vote for somebody like Ron DeSantis, Trumpish in his style of appointing judges and managing the economy, and opposing "progressive cultural hegemony" fiercely but perhaps in a less annoying manner; though I don't know where he got his opinion that Trump had been managing the economy, as opposed to the TV personalities like Larry Kudlow and out-and-out cranks like Peter Navarro who stumbled into his path; and Douthat's research methods on public opinion may have left something to be desired:

I talked to a lot of these kind of Republicans between 2016 and 2020 — not a perfectly representative sample, probably weighted too heavily toward Uber drivers and Catholic lawyer dads, but still enough to recognize a set of familiar refrains. These voters liked Trump’s policies more than his personality. They didn’t like some of his tweets and insults, so they mostly just tuned them out. They thought that he had the measure of liberals in a way that prior Republicans had not, that his take-no-prisoners style was suited to the scale of liberal media bias and progressive cultural hegemony.

I assume the Catholic lawyers were Connecticut neighbors he met in church and school functions, assuming his kids and theirs were in the same parochial schools, and he didn't talk to the moms. No, that's not a representative sample, Ross.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Literary Corner: God Made a Former

After the celebrated routine by radio commentator Paul Harvey (1918–2009), first presented at the 1978 Future Farmers of America convention.

And on the 8th Day, God looked down on his planned paradise, and said, "Paradise needs a parasite."

So God made a Former.

God said, "I need somebody ready to rise before dawn to watch Fox & Friends, grab a cheeseburger and post some tweets, wander into the Oval Office around 11:00 for more TV, call in some of his yes-men to tell him how great he is, post some more tweets, watch some more TV, post some more tweets, and still be ready after midnight to waddle down to the bar in the hotel he owns to enjoy the sound of the bribe money tinkling into the cash register."

So God made a Former.

"I need somebody strong enough to play 36 holes of golf every weekend day yet tender enough to put on his own makeup and style his unique hair;* somebody who screams at his subordinates and then threatens the press, and gets back to the East Wing hungry enough for two cheeseburgers and a fishwich before he settles down to compose a few more tweets and maybe a little leering or snatch-and-grab with the ladies in what Alyssa Farah Griffin described as 'countless pieces of what [she] considered impropriety in the White House that [she] brought to the chief of staff because [she] thought the way he engaged with women was dangerous,' and afterwards maybe ask for one of them to be brought back so he can look at her ass again." 

So God made a Former.

God said, "I need somebody who won't get all shook up by the deaths of soldiers (losers and suckers who 'knew what they were signing up for'), victims of mass shootings ('It's just horrible, so surprising to see it here, but we have to get over it'), and the casualties of a pandemic virus (most of them came from Blue states anyway, his son-in-law told him). I need somebody who can make standup shtik out of tragedy, federal crimes out of somebody's stolen dick pics, and innocence out of his own fraud indictment; somebody who can invent upwards of 7,000 lies a year, and not even get tired; somebody who can't be bothered to hide his own attachment to dictators and white supremacists but cheerfully calls others fascists when they call him out for it."

So God made a Former. 

God said, "Give me a man who would go any length, spend any money, use any weapon, for retribution against those who dared to criticize him or speak out against his criminal behavior, but defend a flatterer to the end ('When Putin goes out and tells everybody -- and you talk about a relationship, but he says Donald Trump is going to win and Donald Trump is a genius, and then I have people saying you should disavow. I said, I'm going to disavow that?')."

So God made a Former.

It had to be somebody who'd neglect no opportunity to funnel taxpayer money into his failing businesses, no matter how small the gain; somebody who'd spend night and day begging for money for his alleged political purposes and then spend it all on his lawyers instead; somebody who'd kill to stay in the White House and then could never think of anything to do when he was there, other than watch more TV and post more tweets; somebody who'd give endless time to meeting with pastors and rabbis and clergymen of all kinds but was visibly uncomfortable and unfamiliar with how to behave in a religious institution and avoided them as much as he could; somebody who held his family together with bonds of greed and fear of losing out on the inheritance; somebody who would sigh and smile when his son said he wanted to spend his life "doing what Dad does," and reply, "Not as long as I'm alive, you won't! GTFOOH!"

So God made a Former.

*The authorized parody in the "Truth" video suggests that Trump's gentle arms are those of a trained obstetrician, and that he has delivered at least one of his own grandchildren, I just want to emphasize that.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Gaza Update


Israeli journalist Noga Tarnopolsky said something that especially struck me on BBC, on the attitudes among the families of the hostages still held in Gaza, in reference to Antony Blinken's latest visit: that they trust President Joe Biden, because they're confident he's doing everything he can to bring the hostages back, and that they don't feel that way about their own prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

I'm glad to hear somebody does. I'm not myself ready to give up on Biden in this context, but it's really not easy and not getting easier. What I've supposed could be his plan, to get a Palestinian state out of this horror, still looks delusional to seasoned observers, who understand that there's less appetite in Israel for such a thing than ever, especially inside the government, now completely dominated by parties that have been absolutely opposed to it since their deadly enemies of the Israeli "center-left" signed the Oslo accords (though I wonder if the inclusion of center-left ministers in the war cabinet makes a difference to that), but also in a general population that gets its information from extraordinarily biased TV coverage; and my own idea of how it might work could be ridiculously baroque.

Starting with the observation that there is no direct action Biden can take that will save a single life in Gaza, because of the situation inside the US as well. Biden cannot threaten to cut off military aid to Israel because Congress is not going to allow it. Lobbying groups like AIPAC make sure it doesn't happen. American Jews, overwhelmingly liberals and Democrats, may not like it, but we can't do much about it; it's not our money that makes the difference. And putting qualifications on support for Israel is a new and untested position for Democrats; for traditional Democrats in Congress, likely the party majority, it's hard to imagine questioning Israel on anything. 

And, most important. Netanyahu really doesn't care: he's the first Israeli prime minister to take open sides in a US election (for his old Boston private equity colleague Mitt Romney in 2012, and for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020), because he's confident it will never threaten American support for any government he puts together. Whatever Biden does has to deal with this lack of the leverage Americans had on earlier Israeli governments.

Monday, January 8, 2024


There's something else worth talking about, that Subotic sort of points at here but doesn't come out and say: that while we weren't looking the job of identifying plagiarism has been turned over to an AI device that matches the words in the text with all the previously published words it knows about—it's been automated, meaning it finds a lot more stuff than anybody ever found before, much more than your professors could find when they had to rely on Google to search it out for them, and almost infinitely more than in the millennia before Google existed (the term was invented by the Latin epigrammatist Martial, annoyed with a fellow Roman who was in the habit of reciting his, Martial's, poems in public with the claim that he'd written them himself—Martial liked to think of his published poems as slaves that he had set free, and called the impostor a plagiarius, a slave-kidnapper).

Robots shouldn't be tagging plagiarism for the same reason they shouldn't be tagging pornography, really; because unlike Justice Stewart, they don't and can't "know it when I see it." They don't know anything. They can be furnished with an algorithm that labels pictures as "porn" and "not-porn" by the criteria the algorithm supplies, and that's it, and you already know how well that works: