Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why the alliance between blacks and liberal Democrats works.

Star Parker is a conservative African-American who puzzles over what Caroline Kennedy has in common with black America besides the Democratic Party. After all, economic inequities are more pronounced inside the Democratic tent than inside the Republican one. Exit polls showed Barack Obama captured 52% of those with incomes over $200,000, and 60% of those under $30,000.

Church attendance correlates reliably over time with party affiliation. Those who attend church frequently vote Republican. Those who don't usually vote Democratic. Except blacks. They have the highest church attendance in the country, with 76% attending church regularly, along with 67% of Republicans. Only 50% of white Democrats do.

A Gallup poll shows blacks aligned with Republicans on social issues -- moral acceptability of homosexuality, abortion, and sexual promiscuity. On energy and environmental issues, blacks poll more closely with conservatives than with liberals. Working blacks have little interest in paying higher taxes to fight global warming, while blacks favor offshore drilling because it lowers energy costs. And Parker notes wealthy liberals, despite having their own kids in private schools, oppose school choice. By contrast, black families jump at the chance to pull their children out of failing public schools and send them elsewhere.

So what pulls wealthy liberals and blacks together? The answer: income redistribution. A Zogby poll found that 80% of Democrats, 90% of liberals, and 76% of blacks support taxing the wealthy to help low-income Americans. And you know, it makes sense. The people best able to afford income redistribution are those at the top; they really do have more money than they need, unlike the folks working hard below them.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sparing Tony Blair from Eternal Damnation

Now comes New York magazine’s Jennifer Senior’s profile of Tony Blair, drawn from watching Blair teach a class at Yale. Senior seems to love Blair in spite of the ex-P.M.’s 1) support of the Iraq War; 2) continued loyalty to George Bush, and; 3) his openly professed Catholic faith. Senior attempts to overcome this disastrous trinity of errors by explaining how different Blair really is from Bush:

 While Blair believes “faith can become a means of self-identity [that] defines [one’s] culture [and] political attitude,” leading to wars with religious components (I’m Sunni, and you’re Shia; I’m Catholic, and you’re Protestant), faith can also represent a “spiritual awakening” that defines one’s values and beliefs, “not in a cultural sense but in a personal sense.” That’s Blair, according to Senior. “His faith is personally and deeply felt, something he’s studied and thought hard about.”

 Senior contrasts Blair’s faith with that of Bush. Bush’s faith “absolutely distinguishes him politically. Though he may never have said outright that he’s the leader of a Christian nation, he reportedly told Palestinian leaders that he believed God told him to end the tyranny in Iraq, and he has described, now infamously, the war on terror as ‘a crusade.’” Senior sees Bush’s faith as “thin,” a “cultural resource that provides a canopy over who we are, and it functions to legitimize, to sacralize, what we would have done in any case,” and “when you have a thinning out of religion, it’s more likely to promote violence.”

Senior believes Bush’s faith led us into an immoral war, but she strives to exempt Blair from the exact same decision. According to Senior,

Blair’s analysis [shows] how two very different kinds of politicians who call themselves Christians can get to the same place. Blair believes in just wars. It was he, ultimately, who convinced Bill Clinton to intervene in Kosovo and halt the ethnic cleansing of Albanians. Says [Blair’s Yale co-teacher Miroslav] Volf, “Blair is standing at the center of faith, and he’s asking, ‘How can this faith and the good of that faith be socially promoted?’ Whereas Bush stands almost at the boundary of the faith, meaning, ‘How do I defend from incursion from the outside?’”

Senior agonizes, “if God is the ultimate judge, will He factor in good intentions, when so many lives were lost in Iraq?” The sentence gives away both Senior’s personal lack of faith (“if God is the ultimate judge”) and her view of Iraq (immoral war). Bush, she proclaims, “will vanish without a trace, and good riddance to him. But Blair will not. If he figures out how to make real amends—to contribute something to the world” he may yet justify his faith.

Thank you Ms. Senior. You are so noble to have found a way to have spared Blair, a Christian friend of George Bush who like Bush still supports the war that liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule, from the depths of the liberal hell and eternal damnation to which in your view Bush and his pals so richly deserve to be consigned.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Outliers: Cultural Determinism

David Brooks has reviewed Malcolm Gladwell (Turning Point, Blink)’s [picture] latest bestseller, Outliers. Brooks believes Gladwell has offered us kind of a cultural-deterministic version of history. As Brooks writes:

Chinese people work hard because they grew up in a culture built around rice farming. Tending a rice paddy required working up to 3,000 hours a year, and it left a cultural legacy that prizes industriousness. Many upper-middle-class American kids are raised in an atmosphere of “concerted cultivation,” which inculcates a fanatical devotion to meritocratic striving.

In Gladwell’s account, individual traits play a smaller role in explaining success while social circumstances play a larger one. As he told [New York's Jason] Zengerle, “I am explicitly turning my back on, I think, these kind of empty models that say, you know, you can be whatever you want to be. Well, actually, you can’t be whatever you want to be. The world decides what you can and can’t be.”

“Concerted cultivation”? According to Wikipedia, it

causes a transmission of differential advantages, meaning [the beneficiaries] end up having an advantage in life over children reared based on other methods. [Such] children . . . are set apart in academic environments and they also learn to have more confidence when confronted with social interactions.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Education Secretary Arne Duncan

We earlier identified Arne Duncan as one of the two leading reformist candidates to be Obama’s education secretary. So Duncan’s selection should be great news for those of us upset with the current state of U.S. public education (that should be all of us).

It actually helps that Duncan reportedly has backing from the teachers unions. He has worked with them in Chicago, managing reform in part by seeing schools get more resources, and by making teachers part of the reform process.

Still, we need to see more from Obama. It seems quite possible that the teachers unions’ favorite—Linda Darling-Hammond—will land a key role alongside Duncan, once Obama fleshes out his appointments list.

Power to Gen X

Michael Barone captures the sense to which the Obama presidency constitutes passing the torch to a new generation. Bush 43 and Clinton, both born in 1946—Baby Boomer Year One—governed for 16 years, and represent the two halves of that badly divided generation. Obama, Barone says, “born in 1961, is technically a baby boomer. But his early years were straight out of Generation X—abandoned by his father and, for a time, his mother; experimentation with drugs; a sense of drifting.”

Obama wants to move America beyond Boomer divisions. His goal has the younger generation’s strongest support. It's a fact. Barone has found that:

The constituency Obama assembled during his campaign has a decided new-generational tilt. The Edison-Mitofsky exit poll tells us that Obama carried voters under age 30 by a margin of 66% to 32%. On the flip side, by my calculation, he won voters 30 and over by just 50% to 49%. That means that he won by a larger percentage among young voters than any president, and that among [older] voters . . . he may or may not have carried . . . a majority of electoral votes.

Nixon and the FBI

Mark Felt [picture], associate director of the FBI during Watergate, died last Thursday. In its obituary to Felt, the man best known as “Deep Throat”—the source the Washington Post used to bring down the Nixon presidency—the Post wrote Felt “was, by all accounts, loyal to [FBI boss J. Edgar] Hoover. He was also suspicious of the Nixon White House effort to bring the FBI under its control.”

How could Nixon, a person who shared Hoover’s and the FBI’s perspective on who was loyal to America and who wasn’t, have been so unwise as to make an enemy of Felt, the country’s number #2 G Man? We know that after graduating from Duke law school, Nixon applied to become an FBI agent but was rejected. Did that scar him for life, and prevent the close working relationship with Hoover that might have held Felt’s loyalty? Possibly. More likely, though, Nixon knew Hoover loved power enough to blackmail presidents of any political persuasion, and determined that he, not Hoover, would be Washington’s chief dirty trickster. Nixon played rough, so in the end, lost to Felt and Hoover’s career G Men.

“All who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Healthcare Reform is Coming

Last Thursday, Barack Obama announced he wanted “swift action“ on healthcare reform. "It's hard to overstate the urgency of this work," he said. He has Tom Daschle [picture] poised to drive the program through, working with the Democratic coalition from one end of the spectrum to the other (Daschle is the former Senate Democratic leader), and with key interest groups including the American Medical Association (unhappy with a current regime that often leaves doctors undercompensated).

But Daschle has also said he will use “the Senate's rules to prevent opponents from filibustering healthcare legislation", a move that one senior Republican staff member warned would make it "extremely difficult" to get any GOP support for major reform. One good way to drive reform through—have an enemy to build your movement around. On healthcare reform, that enemy would be Republicans.

Conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer has highlighted some of the difficulties with the Obama-Daschle anti-GOP approach to reform. Speaking on “Special Report with Brit Hume,” Krauthammer, an M.D. himself, noted Daschle explained he will cut costs:

in part by saying he will work on prevention. Now, I have been in the business for 30 years, and you hear it every year, and you want to weep when you hear it again and again. Prevention is a nice thing, but it doesn't save money.

HUME: Why?

KRAUTHAMMER: For example, the biggest preventative healthcare success in American history is the reduction in smoking. What happens instead of dying young if you smoke, you die older, spending years in a nursing home, and the costs end up higher. I'm not in favor of dying young, but it's more expensive if you live longer.

If you die of a heart attack at 50, that's awful, but it's cheap. If you live into your 80's, you will end up with Alzheimer's or cancer or a chronic disease that's expensive. . .

The way to save money in healthcare, the most immediate and effective, is to eliminate defensive medicine. I was a chief resident 30 years ago and a lot of our tests are entirely unnecessary and are a way to prevent lawsuits. The Democrats will never do that because of their dependence on the trial lawyers.

With a coalition built on excluding Republicans, you know trial lawyers will succeed in keeping medicine expensive for the rest of us.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thirty Years On

China has now been longer in the Deng mode than it was in the Mao mode.

--Tom Grimmer, Toronto Globe and Mail

In December 1978, the Chinese Communist Party put Deng Xiaoping in control of the country, the U.S. recognized China, and Deng headed for America; TIME's Man of the Year [picture]. Tom Grimmer punctuates that historic turning point by writing:

Thirty years on, we know what Mr. Deng set in motion. By now, we can almost recite the gee-whiz statistics: the world's third-largest economy, 40 million new Internet users every year, 600 million cellphones, $2-trillion (U.S.) in foreign-exchange holdings and — my own favourite — the planet's biggest consumer of cement. This country has seen the greatest poverty-alleviation effort in history. Yes, yes, we've heard it all. But somehow, knowing this does not quite do this place justice.

I arrived in China seven years after Mr. Deng's triumph, in the fall of 1985. I was employed by a Chinese "work unit." My local colleagues lived in cold-water flats they didn't own, rode ancient bicycles and looked forward to the annual train ride to see their parents in another province. Getting a passport was next to impossible, and you needed permission to read certain papers containing foreign news. Now they own their apartments, many have cars, and they go online to book their holidays abroad. Most surprising, they don't seem to find this transition, in less than a generation, the least bit jarring.

It’s jarring, it’s wonderful. China’s success benefits us too.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The G-20; My “Top 15; ” A New G-20

The G-20 emerged as a big deal last month when its member-nation leaders gathered in Washington D.C. for an emergency summit to take on the world financial crisis. Actually, the G-8 (U.S., Japan, Germany, U.K., France, Italy, Canada, Russia) created the G-18 in 1999. The G-8 wanted to broaden their Euro-centric group to include other “systemically important countries” or “emerging markets”. So the G-8 invited finance ministers from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, and Turkey to join them in Berlin that year, and the enlarged finance minister grouping has met annually since. The G-18 later became the G-20 when it added Indonesia and the European Union.

In my discussion of the “Top 15” [see above chart] last year, I focused on countries that belong on some revised version of the Security Council, a political/economic/security power grouping, not the G-8, which groups economic powers. Still, it’s noteworthy that Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and Indonesia are already in my “Top 15” along with the G-8’s U.S., Japan, Canada, Russia, and the E.U. (two slots for the West European nations).

In 2006, I also looked that the “next 25” nations, ranked in power just below the top 15. If we had used the “next 25” ranking to expand the "Top 15" from 15 to 20, we would have added Turkey and South Korea to a new “Top 20”. The remaining countries currently in the G-20—Argentina, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa—ranked lower on my “next 25” list.

The countries from my “Top 15” not part of the G-20 are Pakistan, Iran, Nigeria, and Bangladesh. These four nations represent far more people than Argentina, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa (515 million to 131 million). Furthermore, Pakistan has nuclear weapons, Iran may soon have, and Iran and Nigeria, like Saudi Arabia, have oil.

Three of the G-20 nations not in my “Top 20”—Argentina, Australia, and South Africa—are among the top 20 economic powers; the basis for selecting the G-20. Saudi Arabia isn’t. It ranks 23rd in GDP measured by purchasing power parity (GDP/PPP). Iran, on the other hand, ranks 19th in GDP/PPP (19th if we are able to hold the EU to two G-20 representatives rather than its current five).

One can understand, I guess, why the big economic powers chose to include Saudi Arabia instead of Iran in their G-20. Still, I would make the G-20 our top big power grouping by reducing the EU from five to two representatives (whatever two they choose), replacing Saudi Arabia with Iran, and adding Pakistan, Nigeria, and Bangladesh.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Checking on Election Predictions (II)

Polls get a bad rep. They called the 2008 election very well. In my election predictions item, I said that drawing from the “Real Clear Politics” and “Rothenberg Political Report” poll-based analyses, Obama-Biden would win by about 8%, with roughly 380 electoral votes. Obama-Biden won by 7%, with 365 electoral votes, but lost Missouri by only 3,632 votes. A Missouri win would have given Obama-Biden 376 electoral votes.

In the senate, I predicted Democrats would pick up 8 seats to reach 59, taking Saxby Chambliss’ Georgia’s seat—but not Coleman’s in Minnesota nor McConnell’s in Kentucky. I was wrong about Chambliss. He won, but only after a December runoff, and Coleman’s lead in Minnesota of less than 200 votes is the only thing preventing Democrats from in fact gaining 8 seats.

In the house, I guessed Democrats might gain 28 seats, for a margin of 90. They have gained 21 for a margin of 80, meaning I was off by 7. I also said, “It will be an historic victory for liberals, their greatest triumph since 1964.” That’s true. 1965 is the last time liberals totally controlled Washington. On many senate votes, liberals will have the 60 needed to cut off debate, pass legislation, and confirm liberal justices and judges.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Coming Obama Disappointment #1: Public Education

Terry Moe, educational specialist at the Hoover Institution, wrote the seminal study (with John E. Chubb), Politics, Markets, and America's Schools, when he was at the Brookings Institution in 1990. Moe argues that while Democrats genuinely want “to help disadvantaged kids stuck in bad schools,” the party:
is immobilized. Impotent. The explanation lies in its longstanding alliance with the teachers' unions -- which, with more than three million members, tons of money and legions of activists, are among the most powerful groups in American politics. The Democrats benefit enormously from all this firepower, and they know what they need to do to keep it. They need to stay inside the box.

Acceptable educational “change,” therefore, cannot “affect anyone's job, reallocate resources, or otherwise threaten the occupational interests of the adults running the system.” Moe says Democrats should instead get serious about 1) accountability, 2) school choice, and 3) the downside of collective bargaining—onerous rules, assignments based on solely on seniority, and absolute tenure. Moe hopes Obama will somehow make the changes Democrats should favor.

The New York Times’ David Brooks has identified a camp of educational reformers within the Obama network that is championing for education secretary either Joel Klein, the highly successful New York public school system head who Brooks says has been “blackballed” by the unions, or Arne Duncan, according to Brooks “the reforming Chicago head who is less controversial.”

Brooks worries the job will instead go to some uninvolved governor, with Linda Darling-Hammond [picture], a defender of the status quo who heads Obama’s education transition team, named deputy secretary. If it’s Darling-Hammond, she won’t be the Washington Post’sideal candidate ":
someone who is not afraid to break with orthodoxy, who is more concerned with results than with ideology, who has a proven ability to lead large systems toward change and is passionate about regaining America's place as the best-educated country on the planet[, someone focused] on the only interests that matter -- those of America's schoolchildren.

Anyone betting on this kind of Washington Post-type outcome had better demand long odds.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Checking on Election Predictions (I)

In my election predictions item, I said of the impact of Obama’s election on Wall Street, “I believe the stock market will within 30 days show real unhappiness with the result.” Today is 30 days since the market closed just before Obama’s election, and my FOX INDEX, which measures the distance to a healthy market (12,000 Dow, 1,300 S&P, 2,500 NASDAQ), is at -5,133, or -1,744 below the -3,389 it stood at on November 4 [see chart]. This represents an index decline of -66%. To be sure, since word leaked Obama would appoint Tim Geithner treasury secretary, the index is up 1,046, or 20%.

And that’s to the good. Still a ways to go, however, before the market reaches pre-Obama levels.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Obama Puts Foreign Policy in Perspective

Barack Obama seems relaxed about how his administration will handle foreign policy. Obama should be for these reasons:

1. He just won the first election since 9.11 not dominated by foreign policy. Republicans used national security to win victories in 2002 and 2004, successfully painting the Democrats as soft on terrorism. Democrats are interested in big government at home, and crises overseas get in the way.

2. The Obama/Democrat policy on Iraq proved to be win-win. Liberals think the Iraq war was a stupid distraction, and were pleased when in 2006 Iraq became a disaster that helped Democrats control congress. But Obama and company are at least as happy that Iraq has turned out OK, allowing the U.S. to leave and put resources into problems at home.

3. Democrats want domestic issues front and center. Democrats are a coalition of interests that believes government should run the economy, education, health care, and labor relations, and seeks new resources to pay for government programs. Because Democrats are happy with Obama’s priorities, Obama is free to run foreign policy as he chooses.

4. Bush already moved foreign policy toward realism. No wonder Obama keeps Gates as Defense Secretary. Foreign policy today is much different than was in 2006 before Rumsfeld left, different in ways Obama likes. Building peace between Israel and Palestine, helping shore up a moderate government in Pakistan, facing head-on the danger of a nuclearized Iran, working with China to contain North Korea—all these policies carry over well for Obama.

5. Clinton fits into Obama’s foreign policy. Once Clinton turned against the Iraq war, there was no real difference between the two. It was, however, still in Obama’s political interest to continue bashing Clinton over her vote for the war. That was then. Now both share the same pragmatic approach to foreign policy, Obama will shift resources and attention toward domestic issues, and Clinton will work with the professionals to keep foreign policy from boiling over into a crisis. When crises do come, Obama will run the show.

The blog entries below provide perspective on an Obama foreign policy. The commontariat may be disappointed to be working with Clinton after having sought to engage Obama directly. The commontariat believes Obama’s willingness to turn over foreign policy to Clinton proclaims national security’s diminished importance. It forgets the world usually forces itself on sitting presidents.

The earliest entries show me wrong in thinking foreign policy would help McCain against Obama. Of course, the economy took over.

Clinton as Secretary of State: Second Thoughts?

Wow. Clinton as Secretary of State

Obama’s Sandbox

More Support for Obama Softness

Obama and "Soft Power"