Archive for the ‘Pundits’ Category.

Marriage Matters

Though young people take a variety of paths into adulthood—arranging school, work, and family in a dizzying array of combinations—one path stood out as most likely to be linked to financial success for young adults. Brookings scholars Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill have identified the “success sequence,” through which young adults who follow three steps—getting at least a high school degree, then working full-time, and then marrying before having any children, in that order—are very unlikely to become poor. In fact, 97 percent of millennials who have followed the success sequence are not in poverty by the time they reach the ages of 28 to 34.

Sequence-following millennials are also markedly more likely to flourish financially than their peers taking different paths; 89 percent of 28-to-34 year olds who have followed the sequence stand at the middle or upper end of the income distribution, compared with just 59 percent of Millennials who missed one or two steps in the sequence. The formula even works for young adults who have faced heavier odds, such as millennials who grew up poor, or black millennials; despite questions regarding socioeconomic privilege, our research suggests that the success sequence is associated with better outcomes for everyone. For instance, only 9 percent of black millennials who have followed the three steps of the sequence, or who are on track with the sequence (which means they have at least a high school degree and worked full-time in their twenties, but have not yet married or had children) are poor, compared with a 37 percent rate of poverty for blacks who have skipped one or two steps. Likewise, only 9 percent of young men and women from lower-income families who follow the sequence are poor in their late twenties and early thirties; by comparison, 31 percent of their peers from low-income families who missed one or two steps are now poor.

Even more significantly, it appears that marriage in itself reduces millennials’ chances of being poor. Why? Young men and (especially) women who put “marriage before the baby carriage” get access to the financial benefits of a partnership—income pooling, economies of scale, support from kinship networks—with fewer of the risks of an unmarried partnership, including breakups. By contrast, millennials who have a baby outside of marriage—even in a cohabiting union—are likelier to end up as single parents or paying child support, both of which increase the odds of poverty. One study found that cohabiting parents were three times more likely to break up than were married parents by the time their first child turned five: 39 percent of cohabiting parents broke up, versus 13 percent of married parents in the first five years of their child’s life. The stability associated with marriage, then, tends to give millennials and their children much more financial security.

. . .

If young adults make bad choices about education, work, and family, all the jobs and policies in the world will not give them an equal shot at realizing the American Dream as their peers who follow the sequence to success.

Marriage Matters

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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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“Winning”

Even the sainted William F. Buckley derived no small part of his appeal from the fact that he could always one-up any condescending liberal egghead. That was a big part of his legacy. At a time when the media wanted desperately to paint conservatives as paranoid, anti-intellectual bigots in the George Wallace mode, Buckley’s sesquipedalian erudition served as a kind of reassurance.

But Buckley brought something else to the table: civility, self-deprecation, and a playful wit that could be intellectually devastating without being humiliating. Even when he explained that Robert F. Kennedy was ducking his invitations to appear on Firing Line — “Why does baloney reject the grinder?” — liberals had to chuckle in admiration.

It’s that touch which has largely gone missing of late. Intellectually, Buckley was a passionate believer that liberalism was the Enemy. But liberals themselves were merely the opposition (Gore Vidal notwithstanding).

Where did that come from? Again, much of it is a product of the times, stemming from new technology, economics, and other deep-rooted causes. But I want to focus on one. Over the last decade, conservatives have developed a severe case of Alinsky envy.

It is one of the oldest insights into human nature that envy corrupts the soul. (Aquinas defined envy as sadness for the good of others.) But Alinsky envy is corrupting in a different way. For years now conservatism has convinced itself that the Left wins by, in effect, cheating. They lie. They only care about power. They demonize and slander their opponents. I’m not going to sit here and claim that there’s zero merit to that argument. There’s a lot of merit, even if it’s often an exaggeration.

My objection is the conclusion conservatives draw from it: We’ve got to take the gloves off and play by the same rules! Alinsky’s rules! As David Kahane (eye roll) puts it: “Become what you behold.”

A whole cottage industry on the right has thrived around this argument, and on the whole, it’s grotesque. You cannot argue that your enemy is evil and uses evil means and at the same time argue, “We should do it too!”

It’s particularly hypocritical given that Alinsky envy blossomed alongside obsessions with conservative purity. It is a circle that will not square: Our ideology has a monopoly on virtue, but in order for virtue to triumph we must act like people we claim are virtueless. The effort to make this argument work is inherently corrupting because it inexorably replaces ends with means. “Winning” gets redefined before our eyes into anything that fuels our ecstatic schadenfreude over the suffering of our opponents. Whenever Trump did something indefensible the “defense” “But he fights!” would pour forth.

. . .

Bill O’Reilly grew up in Long Island before the city started to decline, but he is incontestably a product of the nostalgia-besotted working-class worldview that Giuliani tapped into. He doesn’t call himself a conservative, but a “traditionalist.” And his vision of tradition isn’t Burkean, Oakshottian, or Hayekian. He doesn’t harken to Russell Kirk’s Mecosta, but to Levittown. And to an extent that’s fine. America could use a bit more 1950s Levittown morality. Sean Hannity, born in New York City but raised in Long Island, is another who largely fits that mold. More broadly, as I’ve written dozens of times, Fox News was always more populist than conservative, but its populism is often infused with a New York sensibility.

This was always the core of Donald Trump’s act, even when he was a proud Democrat. A bridge-and-tunnel billionaire, he always had a chip on his shoulder about New York elites. It wasn’t quite the same Irish-Catholic chip that O’Reilly had, but the similarities are more interesting than the differences. O’Reilly’s intellectual insecurity drives him to churn out gimmicky histories, written by someone else. Trump’s spills out in boasts about his grades and his superior brain. They both insist they’re the smartest man in the room and that people who disagree with their meniscus-thin judgments are not just wrong, but bad or stupid.

Trump’s nostalgic appeal to Make America Great Again using common sense to defeat the pinhead elites combined with his implied promise to humiliate his enemies with his strength and will was simply a variant of O’Reillyism. Indeed, Bill O’Reilly was the John the Baptist of Trumpism long before Donald Trump appeared on the political scene.

I should say that I wish Donald Trump were a Rudy Giuliani, and I hold out the barest glimmer of hope that he could turn into one. But my suspicion is that he is a creature who mimicked the aesthetics and style of a Giuliani without anything like his discipline or expertise. And that in itself is a sign of the toxic corruption of celebrity conservatism that David French describes. Too many people think being a conservative is all about the public posture, the performance in front of the camera and not the performance on the job.

Bill O’Reilly’s Nostalgia Factor

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Peace in the Middle East!

Let Israel run the Middle East.

“Here’s the difference between us,” Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained on Fox News Sunday. “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.”
. . .
It’s just a hunch, but if the Israelis wanted to wipe out as many Palestinians as possible, never mind commit genocide, they probably wouldn’t issue warnings to Gazans (by phone and leaflet) to get out of harm’s way. Nor would Israel continue to allow hundreds of trucks of food and medical aid to enter Gaza even as hundreds of rockets leave Gaza.

And if Hamas were chiefly concerned with protecting Palestinian lives, it would not implore Gazans to stay in their homes — serving as human shields and inflating the body count as a propaganda prop to increase international pressure on Israel.

One perverse complaint, often subtly echoed in the mainstream media, is that it is somehow unfair that Israelis are not dying, so far, from Gaza rocket strikes. The Israelis have the Iron Dome defense system, which intercepts the rockets aimed at civilians. They also have bomb shelters; the Palestinians do not. They have these things because, as Netanyahu said, Israelis are interested in protecting their citizens.

As Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin notes, no one is asking why the Palestinians don’t have bomb shelters. The assumption seems to be that the Gazans don’t have the wherewithal to build them. This is untrue because they do have bomb shelters — they just reserve them for Hamas’s leaders and fighters. Indeed, Hamas has dug thousands of tunnels under Gaza, largely so it can smuggle in, and store, more rockets to fire on Israel. Better that those tunnels were used as shelters for civilians, but that would mean not letting them die for the greater “good.”

The Palestinian ‘Genocide’ Lie

Continue reading ‘Peace in the Middle East!’ »

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Pessimists and Optimists

We are to regard existence as a raid or great adventure; it is to be judged, therefore, not by what calamities it encounters, but by what flag it follows and what high town it assaults. The most dangerous thing in the world is to be alive; one is always in danger of one’s life. But anyone who shrinks from that is a traitor to the great scheme and experiment of being.

GK Chesterton

“The most dangerous thing in the world is to be alive; one is always in danger of one’s life.”

Continue reading ‘Pessimists and Optimists’ »

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Parliament of Whores


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The government is huge, stupid, greedy and makes nosy, officious and dangerous intrusions into the smallest corners of life….

Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’Rourke


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Parliament of Whores


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The federal government of the United States of America takes away between a fifth and a quarter of all our money every year. That is eight times the Islamic zakat, the almsgiving required of believers of the Koran; it is double the tithe of the medieval church and twice the royal tribute that the prophet Samuel warned the Israelites against when they wanted him to anoint a ruler:

    This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you. … He will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and you shall be his servants. … And you shall cry out in that day because of your king….
    1 Samuel 8:11-18

Our government takes more than thugs in a protection racket demand, more even than discarded first wives of famous rich men receive in divorce court. Then this government, swollen and arrogant with pelf, goes butting into our business.

Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’Rourke


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Surveillance State Run Amok

In one of his many overreactions to the events of 9/11, however, President George W. Bush changed all that with an ill-conceived executive order that unlawfully unleashed the CIA inside the U.S. and the FBI into foreign countries. Rather than facilitating a cooperative spirit in defense of individual freedom and national security, this reignited their rivalry. FBI agents, for example, publicly exposed CIA agents whom they caught torturing detainees at Gitmo, and Bush was forced to restrain the CIA.

Isn’t it odd that FBI agents would be reading the emails of the CIA director to his mistress and that the director of the FBI, who briefs the president weekly, did not make the president aware of this? The FBI could only lawfully spy on Petraeus by the use of a search warrant, and it could only get a search warrant if its agents persuaded a federal judge that Petraeus himself—not his mistress—was involved in criminal behavior under federal law.

The agents also could have bypassed the federal courts and written their own search warrant under the Patriot Act, but only if they could satisfy themselves (a curious and unconstitutional standard) that the general was involved in terror-related activity. Both preconditions for a search warrant are irrelevant and would be absurd in this case.

All this—the FBI spying on the CIA—constitutes the government attacking itself. Anyone who did this when neither federal criminal law nor national security has been implicated and kept the president in the dark has violated about four federal statutes and should be fired and indicted. The general may be a cad and a bad husband, but he has the same constitutional rights as the rest of us.

No keen observer could believe the government’s Pollyanna version of these events. When did the CIA become a paragon of honesty? When did the FBI become a paragon of transparency? When did the government become a paragon of telling the truth?

Silencing General Petraeus: No keen observer could believe the government’s Pollyanna version of these events. (emphasis added)

The affair between Petraeus and Broadwell was discovered by the FBI and revealed late last week when Petraeus resigned as director of the CIA. But while the salacious details have kept Washington’s press corps busy, the details about how the bureau ever got this information should concern us far more.

Every turn in the investigation that led to Petraeus’s resignation perfectly illustrates the incredible and dangerous reach of the massive United States surveillance apparatus, which, through hundreds of billions of dollars in post-9/11 programs — coupled with weakened privacy laws and lack of oversight — has affected the civil liberties of every American for years. The only difference here is the victim of the surveillance state’s reach was not a faceless American, but the head one of the agencies tasked to carry it out.
. . .
While these details may shock the average reader, these privacy-invasive tactics are used regularly by both federal and local law enforcement around the United States. In fact, as the New York Times reported, referring to Petraeus, “Law enforcement officials have said they used only ordinary methods in the case.” The only difference here is the target was the director of the CIA and one of the most decorated soldiers in modern military history.

The Petraeus scandal — or perhaps we should call it the FBI snooping scandal — dovetailed with Google releasing its semi-annual transparency report, which again showed that government requests for ordinary user data continues to skyrocket. The last six months showed the U.S. government requesting data from Google alone on more than 12,000 users, a marked increase over the six months prior. And this number doesn’t even include some Patriot Act demands, National Security Letters with gag orders, or secret FISA court orders for intelligence operations. As Google said in conjunction with the release of its report, “This is the sixth time we’ve released this data, and one trend has become clear: Government surveillance is on the rise.”

Congress is now demanding to know why it wasn’t informed by the Justice Department about the details of the Petraeus affair earlier. Lawmakers should instead be worried about why the public was informed of these details at all, given that no crime was committed. And instead of investigating one man’s personal life, they should investigate how to strengthen our privacy laws so this does not happen to anyone else.

The U.S. government has so far been unable to keep its colossal surveillance state in check. Now that it is so bloated it is eating itself, one hopes more people will finally pay attention.

Investigate the FBI: The real Petraeus scandal is why the bureau was rummaging around in his private communications in the first place.

This is a surveillance state run amok. It also highlights how any remnants of internet anonymity have been all but obliterated by the union between the state and technology companies.

But, as unwarranted and invasive as this all is, there is some sweet justice in having the stars of America’s national security state destroyed by the very surveillance system which they implemented and over which they preside. As Trevor Timm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation put it this morning: “Who knew the key to stopping the Surveillance State was to just wait until it got so big that it ate itself?”

It is usually the case that abuses of state power become a source for concern and opposition only when they begin to subsume the elites who are responsible for those abuses. Recall how former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman – one of the most outspoken defenders of the illegal Bush National Security Agency (NSA) warrantless eavesdropping program – suddenly began sounding like an irate, life-long ACLU privacy activist when it was revealed that the NSA had eavesdropped on her private communications with a suspected Israeli agent over alleged attempts to intervene on behalf of AIPAC officials accused of espionage. Overnight, one of the Surveillance State’s chief assets, the former ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, transformed into a vocal privacy proponent because now it was her activities, rather than those of powerless citizens, which were invaded.

With the private, intimate activities of America’s most revered military and intelligence officials being smeared all over newspapers and televisions for no good reason, perhaps similar conversions are possible. Put another way, having the career of the beloved CIA Director and the commanding general in Afghanistan instantly destroyed due to highly invasive and unwarranted electronic surveillance is almost enough to make one believe not only that there is a god, but that he is an ardent civil libertarian.

FBI’s abuse of the surveillance state is the real scandal needing investigation

How interesting that last night I was speaking to a former field-grade Marine infantry officer about l’affaire Petraeus wherein we marveled at other senior Army or Marine officers we had known in our careers who could not keep their pants zipped and ruined their otherwise-stellar careers. For my buddy it was a regimental commander, years ago. The one that I recollected first was an armor brigade commander who decided to poke his Spec 4 driver, and I don’t mean on the then-nonexistent Facebook.

I confess to having a more jaded view of the whole sordid mess than a lot of folks for two main reasons. One, my final assignment in the Army was as a principal staff officer of US Army Criminal Investigation Command – and you do that for awhile and you will never again be surprised at anything stupid or criminal that anyone does, no matter his/her reputation, accomplishments or station in life. Two, I’ve been in ecclesial ministry for 15 years, same lesson (including, sadly, fellow clergy).

Petraeus and Broadwell: The FBI circles the wagons

Google received more requests from the U.S. government to hand over user data during the first half of this year than from any other country, according to the search company’s biannual “Transparency Report” released on Tuesday.

From January to June, Google received nearly 8,000 requests for user data from the U.S. government. The search company said it “fully or partially” compiled with roughly 90 percent of them. That’s up from the 5,950 requests for user data that Google received from the U.S. government during the same period a year ago.

Google: Surveillance ‘is on the rise’

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Optics (CongressionalGlossary.com)

From the Congressional Glossary – Including Legislative and Budget Terms

Optics

A “term of art for how a bit of news will be perceived by the public at large, which is only used by people who bill by the hour.”
Troy Senik

“The branch of physics which involves the behavior and properties of light, including its interactions with matter and the construction of instruments that use or detect it.”
Wikipedia

“The viewing lens of public perception. How the media will play a story. Political repercussions are all about optics. Bad optics would be giving the media or the political opposition a juicy story to play with.”
Urban Dictionary

How did optics achieve buzzword status in American politics? In his final On Language column last September, William Safire noted the trend: “‘Optics’ is hot, rivaling content.” When politicians fret about the public perception of a decision more than the substance of the decision itself, we’re living in a world of optics. Of course, elected officials have worried about outward appearances since time immemorial, but optics puts a new spin on things, giving a scientific-sounding gloss to P.R. and image-making.

Though the metaphorical expansion of optics into the political arena feels novel, it has actually been brewing for a few decades. On May 31, 1978, The Wall Street Journal quoted Jimmy Carter’s special counselor on inflation, Robert Strauss, as saying that business leaders who went along with Carter’s anti-inflation measures might be invited to the White House as a token of appreciation. “It would be a nice optical step,” Strauss said. The Journal was not impressed by the idea: the following day, an editorial rebuffed Strauss’s overtures with the line “Optics will not cure inflation.”

Optics,” by Ben Zimer, The New York Times, March 4, 2010

“The optics of a Solyndra default will be bad,” the Office of Management and Budget staff member wrote Jan. 31 in an e-mail to a co-worker. “If Solyndra defaults down the road, the optics will be arguably worse later than they would be today. . . . In addition, the timing will likely coincide with the 2012 campaign season heating up.”

Obama administration e-mails: Giving more taxpayer money to Solyndra was risky,” by Carol D. Leonnig and Joe Stephens, The Washington Post, September 15, 2011

Also see Fiscal Illusion; The Shadow of Enlightenment: Optical and Political Transparency in France 1789-1848.

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CongressionalGlossary.com, from TheCapitol.Net

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“A Better Congress” Author Joseph Gibson Interviewed on The Jim Bohannon Show

It’s one of the persistent complaints about our government: Why can’t Congress get anything A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results: A Modest Proposal - Citizen's Guide to Legislative Reformdone? Actually, getting issues debated and voted on is much simpler in the House of Representatives, where only a majority vote is required. But, in the Senate, the process can be much more difficult. Over the past two years, and in fact, over the past few Presidential administrations, the filibuster, which used to be more of a last-ditch tactic, has come into play more and more as our nation has become more closely divided in its views. It takes 60 votes to allow an issue to be debated before the full Senate, making it difficult to advance legislation on controversial issues. Plus, individual Senators can put a hold on some Senate actions, further grinding things to a halt. What can be done to get the Congress to work more efficiently? We’ll ask Joseph Gibson, an attorney who has worked in all three branches of the Federal government, and written the book “A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results: A Modest Proposal” (published by Two Seas Media). It’s not only a critique of how Congress currently works – or doesn’t work – it contains some bold proposals on how Congress can be changed so more of the people’s business can be accomplished.

Joseph Gibson, author of A Better Congress, interviewed on The Jim Bohannon Show, December 8, 2010

From a reader:

“Makes a great gift for your representatives in Congress!”

Journalists: To request interviews, contact Sandy Trupp at Planned Television Arts, trupps@plannedtvarts.com or 202-974-5002.

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