Archive for the ‘Government’ Category.

Drugs, Employment, Change, and Community

The misuse of prescription painkillers, heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl is, by now, painfully well known. The U.S. tops the world in drug deaths; in 2015, more people died from overdoses — with two thirds involving an opioid — than from car accidents or gun violence.

The epidemic is also having a devastating effect on companies — large and small — and their ability to stay competitive. Managers and owners across the country are at a loss in how to deal with addicted workers and potential workers, calling the issue one of the biggest problems they face. Applicants are increasingly unwilling or unable to pass drug tests; then there are those who pass only to show signs of addiction once employed. Even more confounding: how to respond to employees who have a legitimate prescription for opioids but whose performance slips. “That is really the battlefield for us right now,” said Markus Dietrich, global manager of employee assistance and worklife services at chemical giant DuPont, which employs 46,000 worldwide.

The issue is amplifying labor shortages in industries like trucking, which has had difficulty for the last six years finding qualified workers. It’s also pushing employers to broaden their job searches, recruiting people from greater distances when roles can’t be filled with local workers. At stake is not only safety and productivity within companies — but the need for humans altogether, with some manufacturers claiming opioids force them to automate work faster.

The opioid crisis is creating a fresh hell for America’s employers

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Just a few miles from where President Trump will address his blue-collar base here Tuesday night, exactly the kind of middle-class factory jobs he has vowed to bring back from overseas are going begging.

It’s not that local workers lack the skills for these positions, many of which do not even require a high school diploma but pay $15 to $25 an hour and offer full benefits. Rather, the problem is that too many applicants — nearly half, in some cases — fail a drug test.

The fallout is not limited to the workers or their immediate families. Each quarter, Columbiana Boiler, a local company, forgoes roughly $200,000 worth of orders for its galvanized containers and kettles because of the manpower shortage, it says, with foreign rivals picking up the slack.

“Our main competitor in Germany can get things done more quickly because they have a better labor pool,” said Michael J. Sherwin, chief executive of the 123-year-old manufacturer. “We are always looking for people and have standard ads at all times, but at least 25 percent fail the drug tests.”

The economic impact of drug use on the work force is being felt across the country, and perhaps nowhere more than in this region, which is struggling to overcome decades of deindustrialization.

Economy Needs Workers, but Drug Tests Take a Toll

[W]hen it’s suggested that our current set of arrangements won’t last forever people immediately imagine Mad Max, as if no other alternative exists. Things are going to change. They always have and they always will. The future will just be different. That’s absolutely not the same as saying the world is coming to an end. Clear eyed individuals who are paying attention can start to get a feel for who the new winners and losers are likely to be and place themselves in the best possible situation ahead of the curve. That’s a pragmatist’s view – not a doomer’s.

. . .

If small scale agriculture was made redundant by mechanization and industrial scale production, then industry itself was hammered by other equally powerful forces. Everything has a beginning, middle, and end.

. . .

The most recent iteration of the Zombie Apocalypse has already begun to unfold in some places. Suburbia was exactly the right thing for a particular period of time. But that era is winding down. The modest tract homes and strip malls built after World War II are not holding up well in an increasing number of marginal landscapes. I have been accused of cherry picking my photo ops, particularly by people who engage in their own cherry picking when discussing the enduring value of prosperous suburbs. But there’s too much decay in far too many places to ignore the larger trend. The best pockets of suburbia will carry on just fine. But the majority of fair-to-middling stuff on the periphery is going down hard.

. . .

The future drivers of change will be the same as the previous century – only in reverse. The great industrial cities of the early twentieth century as well as the massive suburban megaplexes that came after them were only possible because of an underlaying high tide of cheap abundant resources, easy financing, complex national infrastructure, and highly organized and cohesive organizational structures. Those are the elements of expansion.

But once the peak has been reached there’s a relentless contraction. The marginal return on investment goes negative as the cost of maintaining all the aging structures and wildly inefficient attenuated systems becomes overwhelming. The places that do best in a prolonged retreat from complexity are the ones with the greatest underlying local resource base and most cohesive social structures relative to their populations. The most complex places with the most critical dependencies will fail first as the tide recedes.

. . .

Over the long haul Main Street has a pretty good chance of coming back along with the family farm. But the shorter term in-between period of adjustment to contraction is going to be rough as existing institutions attempt to maintain themselves at all costs.

Postcards From the Zombie Apocalypse

A slew of reports finds a fresh reason for the chronic inability of American companies to fill skilled jobs: not a lack of skills, and hence a training-and-education crisis, but a surfeit of drug abuse, per the NYT’s Nelson Schwartz. Simply put, prime-working age Americans without a college diploma are often too drugged-out to get the best jobs. Opioids remain at high levels, but the surge in drug use is now heroin and the powerful contaminant fentanyl.

The reports suggest a circularity to the crisis in America’s rust and manufacturing belts: the loss of jobs and wage stagnation has led to widespread disaffection, alienation and drug abuse; and drug abuse has led to joblessness, hopelessness and disaffection.

But the numbers are all over the map. Some employers and economists say up to half of job applicants do not clear drug tests; others say it is 25%. In the chart above, Indeed economist Jed Kolko, using data from the U.S. Current Population Survey, found that 5.6% to 5.7% of working-age adults didn’t work last year because of illness or disability, an unknown percentage of which were because of drug use.

Many Americans are too drugged-out to work

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Poverty is not the root cause of abortion

You do not have to be a libertarian to say that you do not trust this government to be the first responders for mothers in crisis pregnancies. As a Christian you know you have a responsibility to care for those in need, which requires your sacrifice and your presence, not your abdication of responsibility to a government that requires that the Gospel be left out of its services to the vulnerable.

Poverty is not the root cause of abortion

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Evil in This World

I fear that, except for a few of us remaining graybeards and some immigrants from the world’s manifold tyrannies and anarchies, most Americans are too young to remember, even vicariously, the ills that the world can inflict and the effort it takes to withstand and restrain them. They have studied no history, so not only can they not distinguish Napoleon from Hitler, but also they have no conception of how many ills mankind has suffered or inflicted on itself and how heroic has been the effort of the great, the wise, and the good over the centuries to advance the world’s enlightenment and civilization—efforts that the young have learned to scorn as the self-interested machinations of dead white men to maintain their dominance. While young people are examining their belly buttons for microaggressions, real evil still haunts the world, still inheres in human nature; and those who don’t know this are at risk of being ambushed and crushed by it.

Slogans, placards, and chants won’t stop it: the world is not a campus, Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler, the Israelis are not Nazis. Moreover, it is disgracefully, cloyingly naive to think—as the professor hurt in the melee to keep Charles Murray from addressing a Middlebury College audience recently put it in the New York Times—that “All violence is a breakdown of communication.” An hour’s talk over a nice cup of tea would not have kept Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine, or persuaded an Islamist terrorist not to explode his bomb. Misunderstanding does not cause murder, and reasoned conversation does not penetrate the heart of darkness.

Much as I revere Yeats, I do not share his theory that history is cyclical, with civilizations rising and decaying, until something new arises from the ashes. Perhaps it’s the ember of mid-century optimism still alive in me, but I can’t believe that “All things fall and are built again.” I don’t want to believe, with Conrad in his darkest moods, that “we live in the flicker,” that moments of enlightenment shine but briefly between the eras of ignorance and barbarism.

But who can deny that there are some truths that history has taught—the Copybook Headings, Rudyard Kipling calls them—that we ignore at our peril? Has not history’s recurring tale been, as Kipling cautions, that “a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome?” So beware of UN-style promises of perpetual peace through disarmament, which you’ll find will have “sold us and delivered us bound to our foe.” Beware of a sexual freedom that will end when “our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith.” Don’t believe that you can achieve “abundance for all,/ By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul,” because the eternal truth is, “If you don’t work you die.”

See No Evil? Then it will take you by surprise.

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New Jersey and the Culture of Death

New Jersey became the third state in the nation to prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21, Gov. Chris Christie announced Friday, saying, “no one should lose their life due to any addictive substance.”

New Jersey already had banned tobacco sales to anyone under 19. But the bill’s advocates pushed for a higher age pointing to studies that show youth who don’t take up smoking into their early 20s will never make it a habit.

Chris Christie just did something he says will save lives in N.J.

NJ joins 2 other states in raising the age to buy tobacco to 21: California and Hawaii

Meanwhile, in New Jersey if a pregnant girl under the age of 18, i.e., a minor, wants to have an abortion, that child is not required to involve their parents….

No parental notification required in California and Hawaii either….

Moral preening and the culture of death

Ozymandias

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D’s and R’s….

The Democrats are torn between being the party of Elizabeth Warren and the party of the guy who cuts her grass, and it is inevitable that the people who provide the Democrats with their votes and manpower are going to eventually start asking why it is that their policy agenda, which is economically focused, is being held hostage to the excretory and sexual obsessions of a relatively tiny cabal of Wellesley graduates and puffed-up assistant vice principals.

You’d think that Republicans, who like to think of themselves as the party of economic growth and opportunity, might reach out to a few of those voters interested in upward mobility for themselves and their children. But Republicans are locked in the political toilet with the Democrats.

. . .

As it turns out, Texas Republicans have a rich fantasy life, too.

Strange Obsessions

Ozymandias and statolatry

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Children of Divorce

Two new books written by Catholic authors—”Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak” by Leila Miller, and “Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children” by Jennifer Johnson—explore the inner turmoil of children of divorce, the lifetime consequences of divorce, and the unique pastoral challenges divorce presents for children, whether young or adult.

. . .

CWR: What surprised you most about the book contributors’ answers? Are there any unintended threads running through the book?

Leila Miller: What surprised me most was the raw pain, even and especially after so many years, and the fear of their true feelings being discovered. It was shocking to me! The pattern of the children protecting the feelings of the adults, sticking to the narrative they’d been given, and then acting out (or inward) in destructive ways as a way of coping with the explosion of their families—it was repeated again and again in their stories. Several of the contributors, upon reading the finished book, expressed shock that they were not the only ones who experienced the same feelings and patterns of behavior. In fact, some of them were surprised to see that certain entries were not their own! That is how similar many of their interior stories are.

Another surprising thing was that the devastation did not depend on the age of the child at the time of the divorce. Whether contributors’ parents had split when they were infants, small children, teens, or adults (even in their 30s!), the devastation, confusion, and sense of upheaval was profound. Also, whether the parents’ marriage had been abusive or low-conflict had no real bearing on their pain. We are told that “good divorce” is not damaging to children, and yet my contributors say otherwise.

The victims of divorce speak

Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak,” by Leila Miller

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Temperance

“Temperance” commonly is understood in a narrow sense as referring only to abstention from alcohol. But it has a classical meaning that takes in far more.

Aristotle understood that. “The temperate man desires the right things in the right way and at the right time,” he wrote. That may indeed involve swearing off some good thing, either temporarily or permanently, but more often it will mean using good things, but in a way that’s reasonable and suited to their purposes.

At first one might think this was so obvious that it hardly needs stating. But apparently that isn’t so for large sectors of American society today. Granted the exceptions, ours on the whole is a very wealthy country where pampered self-indulgence is not only accepted but held up as an ideal.

Doubt that? Then spend a little time watching TV commercials, with their unabashed appeals to easy, instantaneous gratification, whether by drinking beer or driving a luxury automobile. Pope St. John Paul II called this state of mind and soul “superdevelopment” and said that in its own way it was “as harmful as excessive poverty.” Whatever you call it, it’s the mortal foe of temperance.

Intemperance is typical of children and of adults with childish temperaments. That suggests that acquiring temperance is a matter of formation, a part of growing up. And that means temperance and the behaviors associated with it can and should be taught. Teaching temperance is a central task of formation agents who include parents, churches, schools, and the media.

And there’s the rub. There is money—big money—to be made by exploiting intemperance, and the formation agents of American popular culture seem bent on making it. Find a way to change that, and we will have taken a giant step toward solving the national crisis of addiction.

America’s opioid crisis says a lot about how we are forming our people

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High School and College Admissions and DECA

One thing that jumps out of the IHE article is that this proposal is a creature of elite prep schools. Most American high schools have, at most, a handful of students who are realistically competitive at elite universities, but elite prep schools aspire to place a substantial fraction of their students there. Alas, that college admissions offices expect to see grades puts elite high schools in the embarrassing situation of implicitly comparing their students to one another.

. . .

From 1898 to 1919, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton opened up their admissions requirements by adopting the College Entrance Exam Board and abandoning a Greek-language requirement. These reforms made admission more open to non-elite boys, who as a rule were unable to take the schools’ proprietary entrance exams and attended high schools that did not offer Greek. As a result, the Ivies saw a sizable increase in Jewish students, and Columbia even experienced WASP flight, which its peers dreaded. Although Harvard discussed an explicit Jewish quota in 1922, this proved unpalatable, and so between 1922 and 1926 the big three Ivies adopted admissions boards that gave a heavy emphasis to qualitative evidence of “character” (read: WASP culture emphasizing muscular Christianity, club membership, and athletics over book learning) as a pretext to limit Jews.

Decades later, the University of California system, within which both Karabel and I are sociologists, adopted a similar policy to ensure racial balance. Traditionally, about half of the UC class was admitted by a GPA and SAT formula. The beginning of the end of this policy came in 1995 and 1996, when a Board of Regents vote and ballot initiative barred the use of affirmative action at the University of California, without which the flagship campuses of the university admitted notably fewer blacks and Latinos and notably more Asians and “decline to state” as freshmen. (White students were stable.) In response, between 1998 and 2001, the university switched to a system of comprehensive review greatly emphasizing qualitative evidence of character, and this had the desired effect of bringing the undergraduate body a bit closer to the state’s overall ethnic composition.

Basing college admission on well-roundedness and character is both noisy and cumbersome. Anyone who regularly writes letters of recommendation knows that they consume an enormous amount of time to write, and anyone who regularly reads them knows that they typically convey minimal actual information, largely because by convention they are almost never negative. Admissions essays at the undergraduate level are even worse, serving primarily to demonstrate the insatiability of credulous admissions officers for bromides.

However, the time consumed by writing and reading the materials in the admissions packet is dwarfed by the effort that goes into shaping lives to fit them. One of the biggest impacts of the demand for well-roundedness is that making a well-rounded child is an enormous drain of time for families. Garey and Valerie Ramey’s NBER/Brookings paper “The Rug Rat Race” (72-page PDF) suggests that our culture of intensive parenting is driven by competition for college admissions. They find a pronounced rise in time spent on child rearing since the mid 1990s concentrated among college-educated parents. Tellingly, the pattern does not hold in Canada, which has a less hierarchical college system. Nor does the pattern apply to underrepresented minorities, whom colleges already seek and who experience diminishing marginal returns to résumé-polishing. To treat time spent raising kids as a problem sounds heartless, but when the increased time consists of chauffeuring kids from activity to activity or “helping” them with projects, this is a brutal war of attrition against rivals to the meritocratic elite, not quality family time. In the long run, this may lead not only to endless stress for parents and kids alike, but also to lower fertility, since if you make something more costly, you get less of it.

The sick irony is that giving great weight to well-roundedness and character is seen as egalitarian. Test prep serves the role of Satan in the theodicy of meritocracy, a ready explanation for the association between test scores and social class of origin. What this myth overlooks is that most scholarly studies of test prep estimate that it raises SAT scores by a piddling couple dozen points out of 1600. Nonetheless, our suspicion of the SAT’s well-known association with household income provides an egalitarian rationale for the regressive turn to all variety of precocious “achievement” as the basis of college admissions, as if test scores could be bought but résumé-padding could not.

. . .

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a plutocratic elite preening to college admissions officers about how sophisticated and nuanced it is, forever.

Elite High Schools Plot to Undermine College Admissions

For an alternative, see DECA:

– “Owning Their Future: The Joy of DECA, Part I

– “Inspiration in a Blue Blazer: The Joy of DECA, Part II

It is interesting to observe the moral preening among parents as they attempt to get their children into the “best” schools.

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Trump as Mr. Magoo

I’ve been writing about Chesterton’s fence for years. For those of you who don’t remember because they lost most of their memory after waking up in that dumpster handcuffed to a horse’s severed leg (or for some other reason), here’s the relevant passage:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

I reference Chesterton’s fence all the time, usually in the context of progressives who are imbued with the fierce arrogance of now. They have special contempt for tradition, custom, etc.

And that is basically the context Chesterton had in mind. But I think there’s a lesson here for Trump as well. Trump’s glandular approach to every situation is a kind of lizard-brain version of progressivism. Tell Trump he can’t do or say something and he almost instinctively does it or says it. It’s like there’s a homunculus in there screaming, “You’re not the boss of me!” 24/7. His fans love this blunderbuss approach. And whenever you criticize it, the immediate response is some version of “It got him elected!”

And it’s true: Trump has been an improviser in the grand tradition of underachievers his whole life. His entire, spectacular, run to the White House was like a running spontaneous jazz performance. And he hasn’t stopped improvising. The problem is that the White House and Washington in general are a vast maze of what might be called Chesterton’s Invisi-Fences. Unlike the original Chesterton fence, these fences cannot be seen, but they exist all the same. Some of them, of course, should probably be gotten rid of — but, again, you have to know why they’re there before you try.

. . .

Liberals are still convinced Trump is some kind of autocrat-in-waiting. And he may well be in his heart. But the would-be autocrats who actually become real-life autocrats only achieve success because they are popular and know how to manipulate the system from within — and because they did their homework. That’s not Trump. Yes, he’s violating democratic and political norms, but he’s not doing it according to some master plan like an Erdogan or a Putin, he’s doing it more like a weird hybrid of Mr. Magoo and Chauncey Gardiner.

Anything Goes in Our New Bro Age

Ozymandias

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A NY Example of DC Corruption and Cronyism

You sometimes hear of a Congressman who raises more money from New York state, or from the D.C. region than he raises from his home state, reflecting perhaps that he’s out of touch with the place he’s supposed to represent.

Congressman Chris Collins (R-NY), though, represents a district in the Empire State, which makes it more amazing that he’s raised more money so far this cycle from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia than he has raised from New York.

. . .

Collins’ ties to the drug industry are a lot more intimate than that, though. He is a very wealthy businessman (subsidies from the Export-Import Bank have helped), and recently his net worth got a boost thanks to a pharmaceutical stock in his portfolio, in an episode that highlights Collins’ tendency to blend policymaking, fundraising, and investing.

Collins is the No. 1 shareholder in Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian drugmaker. The Daily Beast reported that Collins has been close to the company since 2005 and joined the board in 2006.

Collins also played a major role in shaping the 21st Century Cures Act. According to various news reports, Collins inserted a provision into the late-2016 legislation that allowed a fast-track approval process for investigational drugs. This provision boosted Innate’s stock by helping bring Innate’s sole product, a Multiple Sclerosis drug called MIS416, to market more quickly.

Collins just happened to have bought up about a million dollars in Innate stock in August 2016, as the 21st Century Cures Act wended its way through Congress. This purchase was part of a special stock offering — a VIP opportunity into which Collins brought some friends. “Sixteen people with close ties to Collins bought Innate shares at discounted prices of $0.18 or $0.26 cents per share,” the Daily Beast reported in April. “Those investors have given nearly $42,000 to Collins’s political campaigns over the years, a review of campaign finance records found.”

This brings us back to his donor list.

. . .

Collins’ friends who bought discounted stock in 2016 would have paid around 25 or 34 cents per share, according to the New York Times. Shortly after the bill became law, the price skyrocketed, eventually to $1.77 per share in January. Shortly before that peak is when reporters overheard Collins talking on the phone saying, “Do you know how many millionaires I’ve made in Buffalo the past few months?”

Being a donor or friend of Chris Collins pays off.

Chris Collins, self-proclaimed millionaire-maker, wades into another drug lobby fight

Revolving Door Tax, Crony Capitalism, Ozymandias

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