Archive for the Category Social trends


Election observations

A few observations on the election:

1.   Focus on the referenda.  Marijuana was legalized in Michigan, by a fairly wide margin.  This suggests that it’s only a matter of time before other Midwestern states follow suit.  Legalization failed in North Dakota, which doesn’t bode well for  . . .  South Dakota?  Voters approved medical marijuana in Missouri and Utah.  Minimum wages continue to be highly popular, even in red states, while expanded rent control failed in California by 62-38.  Go figure.   I actually voted for a tax increase (on gasoline), and it was approved.

2.  Conservatives continue to push for expanded Obamacare, as three more deep red states voted for Medicaid expansion, which was part of the original Obamacare. The GOP insists that Obamacare represented the socialization of health care, but somehow forgot to repeal it.  And now it’s growing with support from GOP voters.

3.  Colorado voters rejected progressive income taxes.  Voters in other blue states like Massachusetts and Washington had previously rejected progressive income taxes.  Progressives should just give up; it’s a bad idea.  Instead, institute a progressive payroll tax.

4.  The election was not actually a referendum on Trump, although it’s being interpreted that way.  The Dems won the popular vote by about 9%, which suggests the public opinion polls were broadly correct.  Betting markets don’t show much change in the odds of Trump being re-elected (currently 38%.)  I actually don’t think Dems should be all that pleased with those odds, as the leading Democratic possibilities at Betfair all look like losers to me.  (Except Biden—and I doubt he’ll get the nomination.  He would have won in 2016.)  They need to nominate someone who can win Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

5. I voted for a left wing Democrat in CA-45 district, who appears to have lost.  But I’m fine with that, as I only voted for her to get a House that would investigate Trump—the only issue that mattered to me.   I don’t like the idea of a President who is above the law, as has been the case since Trump took office.  I recall how the GOP was willing to hold Nixon to account back in 1974, and am disgusted by the spinelessness of the modern GOP.

It would actually be doing Trump a favor for Congress to subpoena his taxes, allowing him to fulfill his campaign promise to release the tax returns.  The Dems may pass some bad legislation, but if it becomes law I’ll blame Mitch McConnell, who now has tight control of the Senate.  After doing nothing to fix our country over the past 8 months, I’m expecting a bunch of foolish big government legislation from the GOP Senate.

6.  I was glad to see Brat lose in Virginia.  In retrospect, his upset win in 2014 was a signal of the GOP’s descent into Trumpism.  Sad to see Steve King re-elected by the voters in Iowa.  A state that voted strongly for Dukakis in 1988 (when California went for Gerald Ford Bush) is now so right wing that they elected a white nationalist anti-Semite with views too noxious for even the National Review.  Also glad to see the GOP’s most notorious Putin supporter (in my very own Orange County) likely went down to defeat.

7.  Only 13 districts voted for both Romney and Clinton, and I live in one of those districts.  I’m pretty sure that you’d find the more numerous districts that went Obama then Trump are on average dumber that the Romney/Clinton districts, even though both types are swing (purple) areas.  There’s a logical explanation for going Romney then Clinton.  There is no logical explanation for going Obama then Trump.

8. The Dems need to adopt a “patriotism, not nationalism” theme. I associate nationalism with European politics: protectionism, authoritarianism, xenophobia, and bigotry against Jews, Roma and Muslims.  In America, the bigotry is usually directed against Mexicans, Muslims, and blacks.  A true patriot supports Americans of all ethnicities, and favors free trade and expanded immigration.  Imagine where America would be today without all the immigration of earlier decades, which was opposed by the nationalists of the 19th and early 20th century.  David Brooks has a recent column where he claims to be a nationalist, but he’s actually describing patriotism:

Donald Trump says he is a nationalist, but you can’t be a nationalist if you despise half the nation — any more than you can be a good father if you despise half your children. You can’t be a nationalist if you think that groups in the nation are in a zero-sum conflict with one another — class against class, race against race, tribe against tribe.

Perhaps Brooks is not familiar with how the term ‘nationalism’ has actually been used over the past 100 years.  It’s all about zero-sum thinking, us vs. them.  Reminds me of millennials who say they favor “socialism”; you know, like in Denmark.  :)

Cheesecake dreams

I came across some interesting tidbits while putting together a post on LA mass transit over at Econlog, which I’ll share with you over here.

1.  It seems that in today’s election the affluent neighborhood of Eagle’s Landing will try to secede from the majority black city of Stockbridge, Georgia.  (BTW, don’t read “black” as poor and “affluent” as white.  Stockbridge is not a poor city, and a substantial number of affluent blacks live in Eagle’s Landing.)  What caught my eye is the motivation for this attempt at secession:

The Eagle’s Landing plan seeks to merge into its boundaries the primest real estate and wealthiest households from the city of Stockbridge, leaving behind a smaller, mostly African American population with fewer resources to pay for Stockbridge city services. The Eagle’s Landing city proposal will be voted on via ballot referendum on November 6, but Stockbridge residents who live outside the Eagle’s Landing footprint—the people who will be most hampered by the division—are not eligible to vote on it. Meanwhile, neither lawsuits nor letters from global finance agencies warning that the proposal could wreck economies across Georgia have been able to stop it.

And the reason for tearing Stockbridge apart to start this new city? It has something to do with cheesecake. Or at least cheesecake is what was emphasized in a conversation with Vicki Consiglio, the chair of the Committee for the City of Eagle’s Landing, held at the Eagle’s Landing Country Club.

 “I serve on the Henry County zoning board,” said Consiglio, “and so I kept seeing all of these places like Bojangle’s, Waffle Houses, dollar stores, and all this going up in our county. And I was like, why can’t we get a Cheesecake Factory, or a P.F. Chang’s or a Houston’s? We have areas that have high incomes, so what’s the deal?” . . .

According to Consiglio, The Cheesecake Factory did consider coming to Stockbridge at one point, but balked after an income study revealed that the average median income was too low to justify placing a restaurant there. Consiglio blames this on Stockbridge, where median household income is $54,769. So in 2016, Consiglio and her neighborhood colleagues, some of them former Stockbridge city officials, began meeting to figure out what they could do to land if not a Cheesecake Factory, then a Cheesecake Factory-esque restaurant, because the dining halls and pubs in the country club would no longer do.

I’m sure Tyler Cowen or Scott Alexander could find a witty title for this story, but I’m sort of speechless.  Any attempt on my part would (already has?) come across as condescending.  BTW, there actually is a serious economic story here, relating to questions such as who absorbs Stockbridge’s bond obligations.

As an aside, I like key lime cheesecake–how’s that for bad taste! 

2.  Last week my wife and I drove through LA’s skid row neighborhood, which has an extremely dense concentration of homeless people.  This is by far the poorest neighborhood I’ve ever seen while traveling throughout the US.  Just a few miles away you have the ultra rich suburb of Beverly Hills.  But here’s what I find surprising, the difference in poverty rates between Skid Row and Beverly Hills is less than I would have imagined.  Beverly Hills is 10.2% poor while Skid Row is 41.8% poor.

You may be asking, “What’s so confusing out that; Skid Row is 4 times more poor, exactly what’s you’d expect.”  No, I get that it’s poorer; I’m surprised the gap is not even larger.  If you asked me to guess, I might have estimated that Beverly Hills was 2% to 4% poor—a few live-in nannies, plus the odd 30-year old living in his parents’ basement, while Skid Row was 80% poor.  I’m surprised the gap is not even larger.

I’m too lazy to do the research, but is there some sort of national tendency for poverty rates to cluster close to the national average of 14%, regardless of how rich or poor a neighborhood is?

3.  LA’s homeless problem got me thinking about the today’s rent control referendum in California.  Obviously, I oppose all rent controls.  At the same time, I doubt that rent controls are a major cause of homelessness.  Think about the following three groups of people:

a.  My daughter, and 5 other UCLA students who share two small rooms and one bath in a dorm.

b.  Six illegal immigrants from Fujian who share a single room in a Chinatown apartment building, work in a restaurant, and send money home.

c.  Six homeless men living in tents on LA sidewalks.

While LA’s housing policies undoubtedly make things a bit more difficult for the homeless, I’m really having trouble seeing how they could be a major cause of the problem.  Around here, fast food restaurants are desperate to get unskilled labor, even at a starting wage of $13.50/hour ($27,000/year.)  Now you may argue that $27,000/ year is a pretty low income in LA’s housing market.  But that’s entirely missing the point.  At no time in all of human history has it been assumed that poor people would be able to afford to live alone.  The expectation has always been that lower income people will live in groups, to spread housing costs.  If you have 4 people making $27,000/year, their combined income is easily large enough to share a decent LA apartment.  Lots of young professionals share apartments in California.

Please don’t read this post as offering advice to homeless people.  I understand that they may not be able to do what I suggest in the post.  My actual point is entirely different—homelessness has very little to do with high housing costs.  The reasons why it might be hard for 4 homeless people to get jobs flipping hamburgers and then share an apartment have little to do with cost; rather there are other more complex social issues.  Maybe some have drug issues that make it hard to hold a job.  Maybe some have mental health issues that make it hard to live with roommates.  Maybe they face discrimination from landlords. I could imagine any number of reasons why it’s hard to get housing.  What I can’t imagine is how any of this could be fixed by building more housing.  If I’m missing something here, please enlighten me.

Why lies matter

After the Berlin Wall came down, there was a brief period of liberalism in Eastern Europe:

The contemporary left disdains the open society as a neo-liberal capitalist dream; the right fears its skepticism toward tradition. But for the last five decades, most of America and Europe’s prosperity and peace have been based on an open society consensus, which for a brief moment after the end of the Cold War, it looked like Western thinkers like Soros had succeeded in importing to Eastern Europe. Markets opened to foreign investors. In 1991, Soros founded the Central European University with campuses in Prague, Warsaw and Budapest, a US-funded education center committed to critical thought and the study of democracy. Ironically, given recent developments, the CEU’s headquarters moved from Prague to Budapest when the Hungarian government of the time appeared more welcoming than the Czech.

Today it’s getting much darker in Eastern Europe:

That was then. The current Hungarian government, as Guy Verhofstadt wrote earlier this month, is probably the most illiberal and authoritarian in Europe, shutting down newspaperscorruptly capturing major facilities like water and energy, wrenching control of cultural and educational centers. Just like d’Souza, Barr and Trump Jr., the Hungarian government attacks Muslim migrants and Soros. During last spring’s election, when I was last in Hungary, you couldn’t turn without spotting the ruling Fidesz party advertisements, which featured crude photoshopped images of Soros personally cutting open the Hungarian border fences designed to keep out Muslim migrants. Like most authoritarian regimes, the Hungarian government inspires loyalty by stoking the fires of ethnic supremacy. Hungary, which spent centuries fighting the Ottoman Turks, has seen itself as Europe’s border with Islam since long before the current migrant crisis. The American alt-right laps up this talk of a clash of civilizations.

I know that some people think that it doesn’t matter if people lie about George Soros, if the President’s son calls him a Nazi collaborator.  All that matters (in their view) is corporate tax cuts.  In the short run it might seem like that is true, but in the long run you might say that honesty is all that matters.  A society built on lies will inevitably abandon liberalism.

Lies are a way of dehumanizing individuals like George Soros.  Once they are dehumanized, it’s much easier for troubled people to justify violence against them, or indeed against entire ethnic groups.  Hitler dehumanized the Jews through lies, and Mao dehumanized the rich through lies.  And that’s why for me there is only one overriding issue in the midterm elections.  Lies.  Yes, Hungary and Poland are still a long way from the 1930s, and America is further still, but I’d rather not experiment with how far this demagoguery can be pushed before causing major harm.  The risks are too great.

Two big egos

Imagine a leader with an enormous ego and a devoted fan club, who frequently behaves in a reckless and irresponsible fashion.  He sends out tweets full of bizarre and irresponsible attacks on other people, and also misrepresents important financial information, which misleads various stakeholders.

What should we do with a leader like this?

I guess the answer depends on where they work.  If they work in the private sector, then they need to be punished for their bad behavior, perhaps by the SEC.  If they work in the executive branch . . . well, you can guess.

PS.  Make that three big egos—look who The Economist thinks has a good chance to become the next British Prime Minister:

Mrs May might well win such a vote, if only because Mr Johnson is so unpopular among Tory MPs. His problem is not just that the majority of Tory MPs voted “remain” in the referendum, and hate him as leader of the Brexiteers. MPs of all political persuasions regard him as a cad. One senior Tory says that “it’s 100% inconceivable that he’ll become leader of the Conservative Party…He’s a media clown, not a serious politician.” “He’s a shit who doesn’t give a shit about anything but himself,” says another. The list of charges against him is long: he doesn’t believe in anything but his own advancement; he doesn’t lift a finger to help his colleagues; he was a disaster as foreign secretary.

He has one big thing going for him, in the eyes of most Tory MPs: his performance at the polls. When he won two terms as mayor of Labour-leaning London he was praised for possessing the “Heineken factor”—the ability to reach parts of the country that other Tories couldn’t reach. . . .

But should Mrs May lose a confidence vote, Mr Johnson has a good chance. The two further hurdles are probably superable. He has to get onto a shortlist of two MPs that the parliamentary party sends to the party’s 124,000 members, and then he has to win the membership’s support.

On the first, the Brexiteers, who include not just the ERG but other eurosceptics, have enough votes to get one of their own onto the final shortlist, and are likely to coalesce behind Mr Johnson. Jacob Rees-Mogg, their leader, has already said that he thinks that Mr Johnson would make an excellent prime minister.

On the second, Tory party members like Mr Johnson more than Tory MPs do—and are getting keener with every suicide-vest jibe.

Could a conservative politicians who is hated by his elite of own party (but not the voters), who acts like a buffoon, and who likes to make outrageous attacks on a top female politician, actually become the leader of the UK?  Stranger things have happened.  Eventually every country in the world will elect a buffoonish nationalistic leader.  And then the world can pick up where it left off in the 1930s, before that unfortunate detour into the UN, EU, IMF, WTO, World Bank, NATO, NAFTA and all those other institutions that ruined everything accomplished during 1914-45, the golden age of nationalism.

PPS.  Speaking of big egos, a victim of the MeToo movement has just died:

  • Dennis Hof, the notorious pimp and Republican candidate for Nevada’s state assembly, died hours after a combination 72nd birthday party/campaign rally attended by GOP tax fighter Grover Norquist, recent Trump pardon recipient Sheriff Joe Arpaio and porn movie legend Ron Jeremy.
  • Hof died at the Love Ranch, one of his legal Nevada brothels, according to the Reno Gazette Journal. Another brothel of his, the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, was made famous by the HBO show “Cathouse.”
  • Multiple former prostitutes had accused him of sexual assault, but prosecutors did not file charges against Hof, who denied the claims.

As you’d expect, he was highly popular with evangelical voters.

One remaining man of principle

It’s hard not to be dismayed went you look at what’s happened to society.  We now live in a country where almost everyone, including those in the elite media, has a view of reality that is completely shaped by their politics.  Thus whether people believe decades-old accusations of sexual assault depends almost entirely on the relationship between the political party of the observer and the political party of the accused.  There are days when I wonder if we wouldn’t all be better off if a giant asteroid hit Earth and put us out of our hypocrisy, er, misery.

But then I recall that there is one moral giant with a long and consistent record on sexual assault, regardless of the politics of the accused.  I speak, of course, of Donald Trump:

Days after President Clinton admitted to having an inappropriate relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Trump said Clinton was a “victim” and critiqued the physical appearances of various women with whom Clinton had been accused of having extramarital relations at different times.

“It’s like it’s from hell, it’s a terrible group of people,” Trump said in an interview with FOX News’ Neil Cavuto on Aug. 19, 1998. . . .

“I don’t know if that’s a good thing in terms of what Starr has done or a terrible thing, I think it’s a terrible thing, actually,” Trump added, presumably referring to the former Whitewater independent counsel who expanded his investigation into the Lewinsky affair.

As far as his personal opinion of Clinton, Trump gave Clinton a strong rating.

My only quibble is that when Trump discussed Starr’s persecution of Clinton, he left out his sidekick, Brett Kavanaugh.  Today, Trump continues to relentlessly defend any and all men accused of sexual misconduct; Rob Porter, Roger Ailes, Roy Moore, Bill O’Reilly and one other name I can’t recall.

Unlike 99% of Americans, he doesn’t let politics affect his moral compass, which never deviates from his core beliefs:

Trump: And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

Trump: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.

But Trump doesn’t stop there, he also understands the need for America’s President to mock and shame women who come forth with accusations of sexual abuse:

Playing to the crowd of thousands gathered to cheer him on, the president pretended to be Dr. Blasey testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday. “Thirty-six years ago this happened. I had one beer, right? I had one beer,” said Mr. Trump, channeling his version of Dr. Blasey. He then imitated one of her questioners, followed by her responses about what she could not recall about the alleged attack.

“How did you get home? I don’t remember. How’d you get home? I don’t remember. Where was the place? I don’t remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know,” Mr. Trump said, as the crowd applauded. “I don’t know — but I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember.”

Trump and his crowd of supporters must have had so much fun!  But there’s also a serious side to Trump; he understands the suffering endured by so many  . . .  er, people:

Asked if he had a message to men, the president said: “Well, I say that it’s a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of. This is a very, very — this is a very difficult time.” . . .

Asked if he had a message for young women, he said, “Women are doing great.”

(BTW, I want to reassure readers that I’m doing OK, despite being male.)

Trump has also reached out to foreign leaders who share his moral principles, like Philippine President Duterte:

Mr Duterte once joked about the gang rape and murder of an Australian missionary, suggesting that, because he was mayor of the town it took place in, he should have been allowed to go first. (US president Donald Trump has since said that he has a “great relationship” with the Filipino leader.)

In contrast to Obama, who preferred polite, wimpy leaders like Merkel and Trudeau, Trump likes tough guys like Italy’s Salvini:

Mr Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister and a Trump admirer, has also taunted female politicians. In 2016, at a political rally, he pointed to a sex doll on the stage and claimed that it was a “double” of Laura Boldrini, who was then president of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies. In a recent interview with Politico, Ms Boldrini said that she has received numerous rape and death threats in recent years, adding that Italy’s populists had targeted her because “I was a woman and I was advocating for refugees, for human rights, for women’s rights”.

And of course Putin:

Vladimir Putin’s international image was tainted today after it emerged he had let slip another of his infamous remarks – this time praising the president of Israel for alleged sex offences.”He turned out to be a strong man, raped 10 women,” the Russian president was quoted by Russian media as saying at a meeting in Moscow with Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert. “I never would have expected it of him. He has surprised us all, we all envy him!”

Israeli police announced on Sunday that the president, Moshe Katsav, could be charged with the rape and sexual harassment of several women.

Soon, Trump will be joined by a fellow traveller in Brazil:

Mr Bolsonaro has exploited their fury brilliantly. Until the Lava Jato scandals, he was an undistinguished seven-term congressman from the state of Rio de Janeiro. He has a long history of being grossly offensive. He said he would not rape a congresswoman because she was “very ugly”; he said he would prefer a dead son to a gay one; and he suggested that people who live in settlements founded by escaped slaves are fat and lazy. Suddenly that willingness to break taboos is being taken as evidence that he is different from the political hacks in the capital city, Brasília.

It’s so refreshing that politicians are now able to ignore taboos against racism and rape jokes.

PS.  Do I have to say the preceding was a pathetic attempt at satire?  I suppose so. If you want some seriously good satire, read Will Wilkinson’s set of tweets on Trump as a Shakespearean figure—it’s great.  If you don’t understand the context, you may need to look at the NYT’s recent demolition of Trump’s entire business career.  Yes, it was also built on a pack of lies and fraud, plus frequent bailouts from daddy.  I know; how can you demolish a reputation that is already a mere pile of rubble?

PPS.  And let’s not forget the National Review, who seems to think the biggest problem with the GOP is Jeff Flake.  Or CNN News, which never met a female accuser they did not believe.  Or the “trendy” parts of the academy, which was again discredited in an hilarious update of the Sokal Hoax.

I feel I’m overdosing on cynicism.  I need some sort of medication to deal with those 6-hour lulls in the news cycle where nothing Onion-level insane happens in the world.  Perhaps if I go kayaking in New Zealand and get slapped in the face by an octopus wielding seal, it will shake me out of my ennui.