February 24, 2018

Curling, the egalitarian sport from hunter-gatherers of Northern Europe

Usually I find the Winter (and Summer) Olympics boring like most other sports, but over the past week curling has caught my attention. It seems more grounded in and derived from real-life activities, rather than sports whose goals are made up for their own sake (like baseball), while also being more complex and strategic than other naturalistic sports (like running and jumping).

It's like a team of hunters trying to take down a large prey. They're launching a projectile toward a stationary target, planning it out, acting slowly and from afar at first to get the element of surprise, then working more frantically and calling to each other to coordinate the hit when they're closer to the target. Sometimes they've got a clear open shot, other times there are environmental obstacles in the way that they have to either remove or go around.

After landing enough direct hits, they've brought down the target -- or they fail to land enough hits, have no more arrows left in their quiver, and feel disappointed at having to let such a large target escape.

It's not like other games where someone sends a projectile toward a target, since those tend to be individual efforts (like archery), or team efforts that involve a hierarchy, division of labor, and a central leader (like football). Those clearly derive from warfare -- especially when there are antagonistic teams facing off -- rather than a smaller-scale activity like a hunting party tracking and pursuing a large game animal.

The egalitarian nature of hunting is reflected in the other behaviors and conduct of the participants. Hunter-gatherers tend to be self-effacing rather than braggadocious, plain-looking rather than gaudy, and sacrificing for the team rather than self-centered. These traits are also found in large-scale agriculturalists, but farm hands tend to be more isolated despite being in close proximity to the other hands, more like an insect hive. Hunter-gatherers work directly and intimately with their teammates while up against a large animal, and have a more happy-go-lucky social attitude than the joyless drone attitude of farm hands.

So, too, in curling do we see the emphasis on good sportsmanship, not bragging or showing off, not pouting or raging when you mess up, congratulating the rival hunting party when they win, and conceding when there's no point in continuing (as though the prey had already gotten away, and you don't want to waste any more arrows shooting at nothing). The gold medalists from Team USA could not look and act any more like drab dads than the gaudy cads we see in other sports.

There's also a strong sense of honesty and not making the game so zero-sum against the other team. In warfare, it's either kill or be killed, and war-derived sports could not suffer any more from the lack of honesty and fair play. That's why the referees must always be present. And even then, there's still the incentive to cheat -- anything to keep from being the side that gets killed -- as with the endless fake injuries in soccer, or fake fouls in basketball.

In hunter-gatherer societies, the only other rival hunting party you might run into would still be from the local area, and would not be in such direct competition with you -- at least for very large game. When a party takes down an elephant, there is simply too much meat for only a few people to eat -- it feeds the entire band for awhile.

If it were a neighboring band who took down the mastodon, they would have more than enough left over to feed your own band as well. And vice versa if your band took down the mastodon, and the neighboring band looked hungry. Sharing when you've enjoyed good luck is risk management for hunter-gatherers, assuming other bands will reciprocate. Another reason for the teams to treat each other graciously as fellows rather than as hostile enemies.

The roots of curling in hunting also explain which groups of people do the best at it. In most of the world, hunter-gatherers were driven extinct by large-scale farmers, small-scale gardeners, or livestock herders -- all of which activities support a far larger population size than hunting and gathering, allowing them to overwhelm the hunters in number and take over the desirable land. That's why most of the world has no interest in the sport, let alone the knack to excel at it after practicing long enough.

One of the few places where there's still a good chunk of hunter-gatherer DNA is the northernmost latitudes of Europe, especially in Scandinavia but also around the North Sea like Scotland. The British Isles have a strong imprint of pastoralist culture and genes, too, because of the Celtic invaders from the mainland of Europe thousands of years ago.

But if you're looking for genetic signatures of the aboriginal hunter-gatherers of Europe, before the early farmers from the Near East began colonizing it, it's in the remote northern areas like Scotland and Sweden. You don't find it much among Slavs, who are a quite recent expansion from Southeastern Europe.

An earlier post touched on some aspects of these hunter-gatherer Europeans having a more egalitarian and trusting culture, which can get taken advantage of by groups who are not descended from hunter-gatherers and have a more zero-sum mindset and behavior toward out-groups.

Sure enough, curling was born in rural Scotland (where Great Britain's Olympic teams are from). From there it spread to Canada and America with settlers from northern Britain. And it's spread to the Scandinavians who also instantly click with egalitarian team sports. No surprise to find out that the winning American men's team is from northern Minnesota, with one teammate hailing from neighboring Wisconsin. Their surnames all point to Germanic or British roots.

Oddly for a cold-weather sport, Slavs are nowhere to be found, either within Europe or among Canadians and Americans. But that follows from them not being descended much from the ancestral hunter-gatherers of Europe (they began as roving pastoralists in SE Europe, then either settled into large-scale farming in the fertile Great European Plain, or remained pastoralists in the hardy climate of the Balkan Mountains). Russia might do better if they searched Siberia for descendants of NE Asian hunters.

Also oddly for such a northern population, on the medal podium for men's curling, hardly any of the athletes had blond hair. No one from Switzerland, no one from the Upper Midwestern US, and just two of the five Swedes. Only one blond on Team Denmark. The women's teams have plenty of blondes, though, so who knows what to make of it. For what it's worth, the ancestral hunter-gatherers were darker colored than the later blond-haired and light-skinned invaders of the north.

There's suddenly a bunch of speculation that the gold medal for America is going to cause the sport's popularity to explode here, but I doubt it'll get far outside of people descended from the North Sea lands. Even our Scots tend to be the more rambunctious and attention-seeking pastoralist type (like Trump), and not so much the severe self-effacing Calvinists who stayed back in Scotland.

Still, it'll at least garner more of an audience, since our founding stock does have a good chunk of that hunter-gatherer DNA, and we would be happy to finally discover sports that offer something other than ritualized warfare. There's still some form of aggression, and throwing projectiles to strike targets. But it feels like there's more of a practical point to it, aside from group A trying to exterminate group B.

February 23, 2018

Gun nuts are libertarian and embody liberal, not conservative, morality (harm prevention + fairness)

With its roots in the second half of the 1970s, and scoring one win after another beginning with the Reagan era, the gun nut movement does not fit with the timeline of socially and culturally conservative values -- that would be the Midcentury, whether under FDR or Eisenhower -- but rather with the timeline of libertarianism, whether under Reagan or Clinton.

The NRA did not begin its hardline lobbying efforts until the mid-'70s, which also saw the birth of the Gun Owners of America, an even more hardline group. For both organizations, the main goal is deregulation of gun laws, placing it squarely within the broader laissez-faire trend of the past 40 years.

Such groups are kindred spirits with other deregulatory organizations that represent business interests (here, firearms manufacturers), like the Chamber of Commerce, who have been mainstays of the Reaganite era that we are still in, and that have actually scored big under the regime. They are no more of an "activist" group than the CoC, and we gain nothing from emulating their model if we are not also a deregulatory lobby group.

Social-cultural conservatives have seen jack squat in results from Reagan's two terms, Bush Sr., two terms of Bush Jr., and now Trump. Take any top issue for the Moral Majority types that libertarians don't care about -- pornography, homosexuality, divorce and broken homes, drugs and alcohol, gambling, religion in public places -- and all they've received is lip service.

And it's not for lack of electoral commitment to the GOP -- they just don't fit in with the laissez-faire impulse behind the Reaganite revolution. In fact, conservative morality is defined by placing all sorts of regulations on individual and collective behavior in order to obtain a more harmonious state of being at a collective level, such as the community (a difference explored in this post).

The gun groups won't even dignify the candidates of conservatives with an endorsement. Indeed, the more hardline the gun group, the more libertarian they prefer their Republican candidates to be -- in the 2008 primaries, the GOA endorsed Ron Paul, not the social-cultural conservative Mike Huckabee.

To explore what moral themes the gun nut movement resonates with, we'll rely on Jonathan Haidt's model of five: harm prevention / provision of care, fairness / justice, deference to authority, in-group loyalty, and purity / taboo.

Liberals tend to resonate primarily with the themes of harm and fairness, and less so with the other three. Conservatives resonate with all of them, and are most distinct from liberals in resonating with the theme of purity / taboo. Libertarians, as it turns out, are even more liberal than liberals in their moral themes. It is not primarily about harm and fairness, but entirely about these two themes. Liberals are at least somewhat in agreement that certain things are immoral, despite being legal and practiced by consenting adults, like disgusting forms of pornography or buying and selling human organs on a market.

So what are the gun nuts' main concerns?

First, bearing arms in order to practice self-defense from harm and destruction, whether of one's body or property. Preventing the harm of others also enters into the mindset, although theirs is mostly an individual-level focus -- showing down mano-a-mano with a bad guy who would do the gun-owner harm in a situation where the gun-owner is alone, or at least with no companions to have his back.

And second, doing so in order to re-balance the cosmic scales of justice, which have been thrown outta-whack by the bad guy. The gun nuts don't imagine drawing their weapon on someone who doesn't deserve it, but on someone who has already violated the law. They are also quick to emphasize that guns are the great equalizers, leveling the playing field between a skinny introvert like Bernie Goetz and a pack of beasts who try to prey on him on the subway.

This shows that their concerns are urban and suburban forms of violent crime, not the kind that rural residents face where there literally is no government nearby to protect them.

There's no relation to the theme of preserving purity from corruption, or upholding taboos, which makes it feel not distinctly conservative.

They do try to relate it to the sacred by linking it to the Second Amendment, and viewing the Constitution as a sacred text. But carrying and wielding a firearm is not done in service of preserving something sacred from being defiled -- as though they drew their weapon to stop a bad guy who was defecating on a copy of the Constitution or burning the American flag (the secular sacred), let alone to defend something that is religiously sacred like the Christian cross.

It's conceivable that the gun nuts could mobilize to defend Us against Them (in-group loyalty), but they do not behave that way, and do not have that in mind. Look at the hordes of immigrants pouring in -- no call to arms from the NRA, whether to collectively defend against invaders generally or, say, radical Muslims specifically.

At best, the Minutemen might organize to defend the border against illegal immigrants, but again that only has to do with fairness and justice -- mass immigration is permissible, as long as it's done legally. If mass immigration is to be challenged, they think it should be done by peacefully lobbying Congress rather than taking up arms in collective defense.

And the gun nut movement flies in the face of the theme of respecting and deferring to authority. It is explicitly about assuming an authority unto oneself, rather than delegating it to the usual authorities. If the authority figure insisted on its prerogative to use force to defend against harm and destruction, at the expense of the individual gun-owner doing so, the gun nut would escalate this into a turf war over who has the say-so, rather than deferring.

Indeed, the gun nut has a low view of authority figures, who are either too inept, too ignorant, or too callous to properly protect people from harm and property from destruction. In the nut's view, the authorities have too many protocols and regulations (imposed by that hidebound District Attorney), and too rigid of a chain-of-command structure (imposed by that out-of-touch desk jockey Chief of Police). The nut imagines liberating himself from these constraints by carrying a weapon himself, and following intuitive guidelines instead.

No one should overlook how anti-Establishment and anti-authoritarian the tough-on-crime movies of the 1970s and '80s were felt to be by contemporary audiences, whether the protagonist was an insider railing against the system like Dirty Harry or an outright vigilante as in Death Wish. The governmental authority structure was too unreliable for whatever combination of causes, and had to be substituted by a private citizen's use of force to prevent harm. Nor were they group-oriented -- it was not an organization of fellow citizens banding together as a para-police force, but a lone wolf defending himself or opening fire on behalf of others.

These movies reflected rather than shaped popular opinion of the time, but they're useful to study since they're so well preserved, unlike the opinions of real-life ordinary people.

It is this kind of vigilante fantasy that all Boomers share as a reference point for how to prevent crime, including the president (all the more so in his case, being so immersed in the media/entertainment world).

Even the Boomers who are against vigilantism assume that that's the only real option being discussed (it is), and spend their time arguing against vigilantism and by extension the whole gun nut movement associated with it, including arguing against gun rights broadly (Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC). It's not that the anti-gun Boomers are as deferential toward authority as conservatives are, they're just more confident in the government than are their libertarian peers. Thus with no conservatives among them, the Boomers argue between liberals and libertarians -- on this and all other issues.

We really need to hear a sober, reflective, cogent view on the role of guns in society from a social-cultural conservative who has communitarian rather than libertarian leanings. Look to Gen X for these voices.

In the meantime, here are three earlier posts with variations on the general theme of this one:

First, the myth of "Christian terrorism," which suggests a link to social-cultural conservatives, when right-wing violence actually comes from libertarian types who reveal a secular liberal morality, lack of church attendance or other religious practice, and a suspicion and antipathy toward authority and government.

That includes some school shooters, who are described as conservative despite abundant evidence of being libertarian and hostile to conservative values. Perhaps this is why the gun nuts get all the more defensive after a school shooting -- the killer's beliefs are more akin to their own, only acting out of a vindictive sense of justice (settling scores) rather than in self-defense.

Second, the pro-life movement as just another form of victimhood feminism (mother = victim, abortion doctor = criminal). It focuses on the liberal morality of preventing harm -- i.e., advancing the argument that abortion is murder. Ironically, this turns the debate away from morality, as everyone agrees that murder is wrong, and makes it a scientific debate about when "life" begins. A conservative view would focus on the warping of a natural process -- terminating a pregnancy -- and resonate with the theme of preserving what is natural over what is artificial (purity).

Third, prepping for cataclysms and neglecting ordinary emergencies. The gun nuts focus more on zombie apocalypse scenarios, causing them to neglect the kinds of problems that the typical conservadad has to show stewardship over at the home, office, and neighborhood.

As we shift out of the Reagan regime, first under the attempted but failed re-alignment of the GOP under Trump, and then by the Bernie sympathizers, we will adopt a new morality that focuses on the re-regulation of social life -- whether that's the economy or personal behavior. Remember, the Progressive Era was coincident with the Temperance movement.

Bernie is not a degenerate libertine like Bill Clinton, or Hillary for that matter, and his Millennial supporters want to be free of crushing student loan debt so that they can get married and start a family like normal people -- not so they can waste their newfound income on strippers and skipping out on child support payments like the Boomers. And Tulsi Gabbard could not be a more wholesome role model unless we saw her knitting slouchy beanies in between catching waves.

The late Gen X-ers and Millennials have lived through just about enough chaos and anarchy, from their vulnerable formative years up to the present, and they wouldn't mind a return to regulated life, to finally enjoy the normalcy like the ungrateful Boomers grew up under during the Wonder Years.

February 21, 2018

Mass murder and anti-social norms in rootless places

A striking fact about the deadliest mass shootings is their geographic distribution, lying mostly in areas that are heavily colonized by transplants, rather than in places with deep historical roots and communities.

This tends to be a fractal phenomenon -- at the regional level, they're most likely in the Sun Belt, but even within such states, they're from newly founded suburban enclaves (ironically intended to be "safe" unlike the dangerous old towns and cities nearby), and often the killer's family and perhaps the killer himself are transplants (including immigrants or sons of immigrants).

They are unlikely to happen in deeply rooted places like upstate New York (unless it's an immigrant like the Binghamton shooter), or Ohio. If there's a spree shooter from northeastern Ohio or western Pennsylvania, he'll end up killing people in a transplant area like the San Ysidro McDonald's shooter. For that matter, cult leader and mass murderer Jim Jones was from Indiana but picked up the most followers once he moved out to San Francisco, and then really lost it when he moved them all down to Guyana.

Rootless places attract people guided by a laissez-faire approach to behavior, who don't mind throwing away the constraints of living in a place where traditions are strong, family ties are extensive, and even strangers know each other. Perhaps that's the exact reason they're fleeing a rooted place -- so they can just live their own lives without being bound to others.

As a place comes to be colonized more and more by such people, normlessness becomes the norm. Do whatever, say whatever, think whatever. Fuck the haters. If it feels good, do it. If you got it, flaunt it.

The residents may think this low-lying level of anti-sociality is no big deal. They're being true to their individual selves, and at worst it produces bratty and entitled children. Nothing devastating, certainly not worth going back to the rooted environment with all of its constraints on individual behavior.

But it's precisely this code of "do whatever" that allows the small handful of truly warped individuals to carry out their warped fantasies. Typically these are revenge fantasies (rape or murder), as the social reject killer has no other ties to sustain him, and seeks to lash out at those who have rejected him. He has no extended family, no neighbors, no other communal links that would keep him calmed down despite being a loner at school.

Once he stews in those revenge fantasies long enough, what constraints are there to hold him back from carrying them out? He lives in a world of his own, with no palpable policing presence.

Although such cases may be rare, their impact is catastrophic when they do hit -- there could be dozens of innocent people brutally murdered for no reason in a public spectacle. In addition to the immediate loss of life, there's the permanent scar left on the area. It is exactly these rare-yet-catastrophic cases that social norms are supposed to protect against. They may feel annoying sometimes when you want to do your own thing, but they're there for the greater good of preserving the community, like a form of insurance.

These kinds of spree murders have become more common as more people have dislocated themselves and their families in pursuit of higher career prospects. It's generally not dirt-poor people reluctantly moving to the nearest city after the good jobs vanished in rural areas. It's middle class people moving from Nowheresville to an up-and-coming "it" place. This is what makes the shootings so counter-intuitive to most observers -- they happen in middle-class enclaves with good schools and promising children.

The status-striving trend began with the Me Generation of the 1970s, and has only gotten worse since then. So has the concomitant moral code of laissez-faire, which most middle-class people probably assume is written into the Constitution or the Bible at this point.

Only when we reverse this trend by staying put where our roots are, and accepting the duties and constraints that this places on our behavior, will these kinds of warped revenge fantasies no longer be thought of, let alone acted upon. The moral code will change from "do whatever" to "rein it in for the greater good".

That will mean denying yourself the attempt to climb the status ladder by moving around all over the place -- but by now that's mostly a fool's game anyway, all of the good spots having been taken and held onto for awhile. If a handful of people do this, it may not wreck society, but if enough people uproot themselves, then the entire society gets destabilized -- behaviorally and morally.

To put it bluntly, we do not have the right to "do whatever" as long as it doesn't immediately harm others. Acting as though we did have that right leads to patterns of behavior that, after a sufficient percolating delay, cause far more destruction to ourselves and others than we imagined was possible.

There's a contradiction in the liberal approach to these problems, where they hold the role of the government to be regulating the society to be safe for libertinism -- to allow law-abiding individuals to indulge in as much atomized laissez-faire behavior as they feel like. Allowing AR-15s to be sold to teenagers conflicts with the safety of the do-whatever enclave, who may become targets and have to watch their back rather than go about their do-whatever-ism. So they want that practice regulated out of existence.

But you can't push for tough regulations on other people's behavior without accepting more regulations on your own personal behavior. Pointing to potential "harm" done by the other person is no good, since your own laissez-faire behavior is corroding and destroying others, just not in as concentrated of a way. It's long-term and diffuse, but no less offensive to social norms.

And of course the ultimate form of regulation comes from feeling social pressure, whether from extended family, neighbors, peers you've known your whole lives, and so on. Accepting tougher regulations on your own behavior means accepting the plan to stay put where your roots are, rather than wander toward anonymous crowd-places like some Gypsy thief.

February 20, 2018

New major party would replace Dems and shut out zombie GOP, if last time is guide

In looking forward to the final years of a viable Republican party, after the failure of the would-be re-aligner Trump to transform a hated globalist elitist party into a populist nationalist party, we can clearly see the Bernie style candidates sweeping into office in order to do populism for real, and likely doing a lot on the anti-globalist front as well (at least, getting out of de-industrializing trade deals, and winding down so much of our fruitless global military occupation).*

But would this mean a rehabilitation of the Democrats as a party, or perhaps the birth of a new major party that displaces one of the old ones? Bernie has been an Independent, albeit one who caucuses with the Dems, and whose initial core of voters would be more sympathetic to the Dems than the GOP.

Two major changes coming up suggest it might actually become a new major party that displaces one of the existing major parties.

The first is generational turnover. Those born after the 1970s (roughly, the Millennials) have the highest rates of affiliating as Independents rather than Democrats or Republicans, and have the highest desire for a new party to emerge. This is a true generational cohort effect, as it remains true no matter how old they are when you poll them -- the same holds for the Boomers being the most stridently partisan, which holds no matter at what age you poll them. (Data from the General Social Survey.)

Do they want a permanent third party of roughly equal influence to the other two existing ones? Or do they have in mind a new party to replace one of the existing ones altogether? If that's what they're thinking, then it would be the Democrats that they'd be targeting. They are more frustrated Democrats than frustrated Republicans, so they're looking for something that's definitely anti-Republican, but that doesn't suck so pathetically as the Democrat party does.

The second is that we're in an era of partisan polarization that has only been this high during the lead-up to the Civil War (see Peter Turchin's Ages of Discord). Separately, there are 50-year cycles in collective violence (such as riots), with a peak coming circa 2020. That certainly sets the stage for something similar to the Civil War, rather than any old changing of regimes. The transition out of Reaganism and into Bernie-ism will be far more disruptive and violent than the transition out of the New Deal and into Reaganism.

With that intense level of regime change, it could result in a whole new party that triumphs over the old dominant party, in the same way that the Republican party was born during the Civil War era, taking the place of the earlier Whig party as the opposition to the Jacksonian Democrats.

If the historical analogy holds up this time -- and admittedly we only have one previous time period to examine -- the old dominant party will be the Reaganite Republicans, who will continue to formally exist but who will get shut out of power for several decades as the triumphant post-Civil War 2.0 party lays a whole new foundation. The new dominant party will come out of the old opposition to the Reaganites, namely the Democrats, and will replace them as a new second party. Call it the Populist party.

It's not that hard to imagine, given that Bernie or someone like him is the only viable candidate in the next elections to oppose the Reaganites. Since he's not really a partisan Democrat, that would replace the Dems at the presidential level. And Lord knows the Dems have already shut themselves out at the state and local level during Obama's two terms.

That would only leave the Congressional Dems to re-affiliate with the new Populist party -- and if they want to win back Congressional seats that they've lost, they might as well re-brand as an entirely new party, to make sure the stink of Pelosi and Schumer never gets stuck to them in the first place. If they want to pick up more seats in the South, or the Rust Belt, a Populist party would stand a far greater chance at unseating Republicans than the Democrats would.

It still could happen that the regime change will be a re-alignment and triumph of the Democrats, but I think the context being something akin to the Civil War will make people feel more like a revolution -- a word Bernie and his followers are fond of in their branding. Making a decisive break with the polarized past -- not just the old dominant party, but the milquetoast opposition that squandered its chance to rein in that dominant party.

Sometimes the can that the weak opposition kicked down the road is something banal like marginal tax rates or cultural values, and they can be forgiven for punting. But when they punted on something that can shred the societal fabric to the point of civil war, like corporate elitism and globalization, the old opposition will look so irresponsible that they cannot be trusted to lead the way out of the carnage.

Here's to hoping that I get to keep Democrat blood off of my hands and only cast presidential votes for Nader '00, Trump '16, and an Independent / Populist Bernie ticket in 2020.

* Contra libertarian-leaning folks like Peter Schiff, who also see this happening, I think the Bernie politicians would make major cuts to federal government spending -- like not inflating multi-trillion-dollar finance bubbles to benefit Wall Street and Silicon Valley or military bubbles to benefit the Pentagon and the CIA. The Bernie people's forerunners were the New Deal Democrats, and they did not balloon the debt, let alone term after term. They were not permanently at war, there were no too-big-to-fail banks to bail out, and taxes were a lot higher.

February 16, 2018

Deal: assault weapon ban for closed borders? Or other paired deals?

With yet another round of nauseating sanctimony about gun control following another spree shooting, it's time to make liberals put up or shut up on what they claim is the most pressing issue of our time.

They know there will never be a standalone gun control law because the climate is too polarized, with zealous extremists on each side who either want to ban all guns or deregulate the gun market entirely, and that the deregulatory side is more zealous than the ban-it-all side. So the gun-favoring status quo remains.

We just saw the same failure to pass "commonsense bipartisan" deals on immigration, as the open borders extreme is more well funded and zealous, including most Republican politicians, compared to the side that wants to deport illegals and close the borders. So the immigrant-favoring status quo remains.

Well then, what if the side that wants to up-end the Reaganite status quo on each of these issues cut a deal with each other? It would not be a grand compromise on a single issue -- that's impossible in a hyper-polarized climate -- but a compromise on a pair of issues, with each side of the polarized spectrum gaining something big while giving up something big in exchange.

If it's really the most dear-to-your-heart policy to ban assault weapons, then you ought to be prepared to give up something that is just as dear-to-your-heart that the other side wants dearly.

This process could get hairy if too many issues were included in a single bill, as each side would squabble about how much each component was worth. There is nothing objectively quantitative to argue about -- it's either a subjectively big issue or it isn't, and something big is worth trading for something big.

So if the point were to include as many issues as possible, they should be split up into a series of bills. Too many issues in a single bill gives partisans too many distinct reasons to hate it, and it's all or nothing, so the outcome would probably be nothing.

If gun control advocates aren't prepared to give up anything of real value to the other side, then they reveal themselves to just be full of shit, pretending that it's the most serious and tearjerking cause of our time while being unwilling to pay a red cent to solve it.

Ditto for those who think America is already over-crowded in its labor and housing markets, and wants more or less zero immigration. If it's that important, they should be willing to give up something important too.

You'd think they'd get their way after electing the most hardline immigration candidate to the presidency we've seen in a long while, but evidently that's not how it works, and some kind of compromise ought to be struck -- but on a separate issue, not a watered-down immigration bill, which wouldn't pass even in weak form due to Democrat partisans not getting enough.

The immigration restriction side is more than rational and willing enough to compromise, as shown by this wheel-and-deal proposal from Ann Coulter way back at the early stage of Trump's campaign:


One side is dead serious about getting its way, and holds very little sacred in relationship to it. Abortion on demand? Ban assault weapons? Cover Reagan's official White House portrait in the gay rainbow flag? Conditional on deporting the illegals (maybe excepting the DACA enrollees) and closing the borders -- you've got yourself a deal. If a future government opens the borders and refuses to deport illegals, then abortion becomes illegal, assault weapons become available at CVS, and Obama's official WH portrait gets a giant red MAGA hat painted onto it.

The liberal side had better cut deals while it still has control over the Democrat party, since disillusionment with the GOP among Trumpian populists is about to send a whole shitload of moderates and conservatives over to the Bernie party and begin influencing that party for a change, making it far less beholden to liberal causes.

At that point it'll be the Democrats who start feeling as much heat from their angry new voters that those voters used to direct at gun-squishy Republicans.

I think the Democrats still believe that pursuing a "fifty state strategy" to recover the more than 1,000 offices they've lost since Obama, means they're going to impose their liberal extremist views on their newfound voters -- rather than having to cut deals with immigration restrictionist Alabamians after a Democrat wins a Senate seat there, for example.

But again, I don't see that taking the form of presenting middle-of-the-road positions on every issue, a la the failed neoliberal approach to win over red and purple states. They'll have to do what Trump and Bernie did -- give them a big unequivocal win on X, while asking for an unequivocal concession on Y. The middle-way pragmatic approach leaves everybody unsatisfied across all issues, while the trade-and-barter pragmatic approach leaves everybody satisfied on at least half the issues.

Ending back on the topic of gun control, I only trust Bernie type Democrats to pull this off. See his positions on the issue. He's at least trying to find a compromise with both sides on the issue, rather than doing the neoliberal culture war schtick of inflaming the emotionally retarded cable news junkies with phony heroism in order to distract them from the reality that they're just shilling for Wall Street banks and Silicon Valley digital slave plantations.

Certainly Stephen Miller should be willing to strike a bargain like that. If we got enough conservative media figures like Ann Coulter or Lou Dobbs to sign onto it, it would satisfy both the immigration restriction side as well as the gun-grabbing side. That would be a real sacrifice on their part in order to get something that their side really wants. And likewise for Bernie and others who want to make the Democrats more competitive around the country again.

Lord knows Trump would eat up the opportunity to sign a grand bargain that solved two of the major issues of our time, in the eyes of otherwise polarized camps of people.

The Democrats have never faced a Republican electorate and a Republican president who held so few things sacred from the Reaganite orthodoxy. They'd better strike while the iron is hot, or they'll get nothing once we storm their party's primaries in the wake of disillusionment with the GOP, and become a dug-in zealous voting bloc of closed-border Democrats.

February 14, 2018

A $20 minimum wage to defeat GOP and steal immigration issue from them

As Democrats plan their attacks for the mid-term elections, they must focus on economics and not on culture (any aspect of "Trump's persona" goes under cultural issues).

The main line of BS that Republicans have been spoon-feeding voters is the same old failed trickle-down supply-side economics of the Reagan years. Only now they figured out that if they could convince major companies to throw some breadcrumbs to their workers in the form of small one-off bonuses, it would make for better propaganda than an IOU.

The natural response is that one-time bonuses of small size do nothing to improve a person's standard of living, even over the next two years, forget the next 5, 10, or 20 years. They need to double their income, not halve their taxes.

The long-term solution is to impose tariffs on foreign manufacturing so that these plants will be built in America and employ Americans at the high wages that such economic activity naturally provides, unlike the unprofitable activity related to agriculture. Since Trump ran on this issue, it would be one where Democrats would help Trump achieve his good policies, from the Democrat perspective, since he basically ran his campaign as a Democrat who wanted to restrict immigration.

For a shorter-term solution, which would have longer-term benefits as well, the Democrats must push for a higher minimum wage -- some are saying $15 an hour, but why not a nice round $20 opening bid? (And index to inflation.)

It is a no-brainer to prove the superiority of higher wages over a one-time bonus, so there goes what little the GOP had to point to for economic benefits to the sub-elite classes. Not to mention the no-brainer of portraying this as benefiting the vast majority over a handful of wealthy elites and corporations.

The mid-terms would make a nice time to use this single issue to branch out into other populist issues in time for the next general election, making it a non-reformist reform.

For example, the Democrats could steal all of the anti-immigration voters away from the GOP by proposing a $20 minimum wage. The entire purpose of open borders is for employers to have infinite access to cheap labor, rather than pay Americans a decent wage. By making it illegal to employ cheap labor -- $20 an hour is certainly not cheap -- there goes 90% of immigration.

If employers had to pay $20 an hour, they would not bother with immigrants, who don't do as good of a job as Americans do, and who are not as well integrated into our society. If you're forced to pay $20 an hour, you're going to try to get the absolute best workers you can -- and those will be Americans, not desperate foreigners.

That will be true whether the foreigners tried coming here illegally, or were brought in legally on visas. At $20 an hour, there would simply be no more demand for them. You might as well hire an American and get more bang for your buck.

This will also work even better than E-Verify to force foreigners out of our country who do not belong here. They are only sustained by cheap-paying employers. Once employers have to pay $20 an hour, all employment will dry up for the 50 million foreigners here, and most of them will pack up and go home.

That is true not only for the illegals, but a good chunk of the legal immigrants too. Even if they had naturalized status as citizens -- if nobody wants to hire you, because you don't produce as much as an American would for $20 an hour, you'll be permanently unemployed. You came to America to enjoy higher wages than your homeland, while still steeply undercutting American workers' wages. But if that's no longer possible, you won't get hired, and you might as well go back, where you'll be better socially and culturally integrated anyway.

Democrats would not have to emphasize this pleasant side-effect on immigration that would come from raising the minimum wage to a living wage, but they would peel off far more voters from the other party, including in red districts, come into office with a larger mandate, and remove the sole major issue that anyone even bothers voting Republican for anymore.

Trump won the general election by stealing two major issues from Democrats -- trade and foreign policy (and the minor issue of not touching the social safety net) -- while Bernie and similar Democrats would only have to steal one major issue to dominate the elections -- immigration.

Framing it entirely in terms of class and standard-of-living avoids making it a cultural issue tinged with race or ethnicity. And the non-white base of the Democrats are African-American citizens -- not foreigners of any race. They will not get offended just because raising the minimum wage to $20 an hour will slash the amount of immigrants coming in, and ramp up the number of them leaving the country. "I got mine, bitch, now you go getcho own back in Mexico or India or China."

There's more to be said on how raising the minimum wage would re-configure the business landscape, since there's plenty of scare-mongering there, but suffice it to say that it would cause a re-allocation of investment away from crappy ventures that only survive by paying $2 an hour wages (a Mexican hole-in-the-wall "restaurant"), and into ventures that were profitable while paying at least $20 an hour (a manufacturing plant).

Consumer prices stay the same when labor costs go up, due to competition on price among rival firms in a sector. Instead, it is profits that get affected by higher costs. Still, lower profits won't necessarily be borne by stockholders -- maybe they can pay the same dividends to shareholders, while making the bloated management eat the losses caused by higher low-end labor costs. Instead of $10 million a year in compensation, an executive makes "only" $5 million or just $1 million a year, while the amount going to shareholders stays the same.

(This reduces inequality, and makes for a more harmonious society.)

Managers could not threaten to leave for greener pastures, since all companies would be facing higher low-end labor costs with a $20 minimum wage. And no group of stockholders would want to eat the lower profits themselves; all would do their best to make the managerial class eat those losses instead via lower compensation.

There may be differences by sector, where in some the managers would have relatively more power than stockholders, and executive pay would not suffer as much as dividends. And in others, managers would have far less power than stockholders, and executive pay would really take it up the ass. But on the whole, it is likely to be the lavishly compensated ranks of managers who would suffer from a higher minimum wage, rather than the owners of the companies themselves.

Labor and capital coming together to squeeze the cancerous managerial class -- a natural fit for the Democrats, whose coalition includes not only financiers but trade unions, as opposed to the yuppie managerial specialty of Congressional Republicans. Democrat sectors of the economy (finance, tech, media) are not labor-intensive, so they wouldn't be harmed much anyway, compared to the GOP's sectors which are all labor-intensive (manufacturing, energy, agriculture, armed force).

It is also the managerial class that is most forceful in bringing in cheap labor -- stockholders don't care how costs are kept down, and that could just as well happen by slashing managerial compensation while keeping labor costs at a living wage, which would exclude immigrants. Pursuing their own class interests, the managers and professionals want to make labor the one to shoulder the burden of the stockholders' orders to cut costs, while keeping their own costs comfortably high.

The people who Americans always hear complaining about "I can't find Americans to do this job" are managerial types, not stockholders, who are too removed from the hiring and firing process. The managers cannot find Americans to do the job at the low wage being offered. Raise the wage, fill the job immediately with Americans.

In this way, a movement for a $20 minimum wage would heighten their class consciousness as well as their national consciousness. Who benefits the most from immigration? Employers of cheap labor. Not so much the stockholders, who are invisible to workers and who are not involved much in day-to-day operations of a company. Working people have much more contact with, and hatred of, the managerial layers above them, and these are the ones responsible for hiring and firing, including the drive to hire cheap immigrants over "costly" Americans.

The Trump movement was primarily anti-yuppie rather than anti-investor, another way in which it was attacking the Republican orthodoxy (of appealing to managers and professionals rather than workers or wealthy investors).

The Bernie movement is more explicitly anti-investor, yet remains vague and squishy about how anti-managerial it is. Typical of socialist and Marxist movements, which are primarily composed of managerial and professional types, who are happy to attack stockholders while continuing to exploit the working class in distinctly managerial ways, like wanting open borders for cheap-labor immigrants.

If the Bernie-style Democrats want to appeal to more Americans and confront the most pressing problems, they have to take on the managerial yuppies more than the uber-rich stockholders. That's not so far from the class orientation of the party already. And the main issue to do this -- jacking up the minimum wage -- is already on the Bernie agenda. And its side effects on immigration would steal away large swaths of GOP voters without alienating core Democrat voters, as long as these were pointed out in neutral terms.

February 12, 2018

Killer debt driven by parasitic elites, leads to populist revolution

In another instance of campaign-Trump getting out-maneuvered by the Republican party, the budget bill passed last week has dispelled once and for all with this fiction that the GOP gives a damn about not crushing America under an unpayable debt burden.

It was a constant of his rallies that emphasized how broken the nation has become -- "We owe $19 trillion in debt," he always said in a disgusted tone.

And unlike the passing mentions that this topic may have gotten from the other candidates, he pointed to the major factor that his own party was contributing to the debt -- our over-extended military occupation of the entire world, while getting nothing in return for it. No rent, no spoils, no tribute, no nothing. Germany, Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea -- all ripping us off big-league.

Not to mention the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- even after having been effectively co-opted, he continues to openly complain about the "seven trillion dollars wasted in the Middle East".

In fact, he promised to bring down military spending while getting more out of the suppliers and contractors, making a cost-efficiency argument for sending a killer negotiator businessman to clean up the waste in Washington's spending.

He didn't realize, as an outsider, that the purpose of the political parties is to provide patronage to the sectors of the economy that prop up either party, meaning that his plan would've cut off the gravy train for the defense contractors and weapons manufacturers who control the GOP.

Every spending bill passed since he took office has ramped up military spending far more than even "Trump" asked for in proposals.

This reveals to the public just how expensive it is to endlessly occupy the entire world with a nation's military. Trump tapped into popular anger at all this money getting sucked into far-flung imperial projects by saying that we should get out of Afghanistan and other places, and spend that money improving America instead. "We could have re-built our country many times over," he said to drive home the magnitude of the waste.

He did not touch on the other major source of our current sky-high debt burden -- bailing out the big banks after their airhead bubble popped in 2008. Like military bubbles, finance bubbles are also incredibly expensive to inflate -- on the order of trillions of dollars. That, plus the massive troop surge in Afghanistan during Obama's whole first term, sent the debt soaring by trillions in just a few years.

These policies are only continuing a policy begun since the start of the Reaganite paradigm that still reigns -- slashing tax revenues, off-shoring manufacturing, deregulating the economy, and soaring military budgets. All these interact to send the debt off into outer space, as wealthy individuals and especially institutions escape having to pay for anything, to protect ever-rising profits, while charging all sorts of goodies on a government credit card.

Before the Reagan era, we allocated large sums to all sorts of "social" or "domestic" spending, and never ran up the debt. Only the occasional war could send it temporarily high, before coming back down.

The main reason was that social programs are not very expensive, as they exploit economies of scale for the benefit of the people they serve -- Medicare is cheaper than private insurance, because the program collectively bargains with healthcare providers on behalf of the entire population in that age range. And it is not for-profit, so there is little in overhead costs such as CEO salaries.

Even cash payments were never large, and few relied on them anyway, as they were emergency measures rather than guaranteed basic income. Rather, the government guaranteed prosperous wages and incomes by restricting cheap labor tactics from employers -- union-busting, immigration, and off-shoring were all restricted by federal regulations.

The lesser reason was that tax rates were far higher back then compared to now, so even if some program was on the expensive side, it didn't matter since the wealthy paid over 90% in taxes on their top level of income.

The New Deal was fairly simple: don't get bogged down in very expensive endeavors like indefinite military occupation or bailing out too-big-to-fail banks every business cycle, and collect a lot in taxes from the wealthy in order to cover what you do spend money on.

As we shifted out of the New Deal and into the era of profits over people, we have slashed social and domestic spending. Even the liberal multicultural twist on the Reagan regime, Clinton's presidency, put an "end to welfare as we know it" in a time when "the era of Big Government is over". So the long-term rise in the national debt that began under Reagan has nothing to do with increased social spending -- our reforms there should have lowered the debt.

Nor can we put all the blame on slashing taxes since Reagan, although that has made things worse. We never took in stratospheric amounts of tax revenues back in the 1950s -- we just didn't waste so much on the really expensive things like endless war and bank bailouts.

What changed was the sense of duty that the elites felt toward the commoners. Before, they felt they had to protect and provide for them, and paid for it with high taxes. Now, they felt like the commoners would have to look out for themselves, even as the elites removed the good-paying jobs from the economy. Rather than pay for popular programs with taxes, the elites would simply run up a massive debt in order to enrich themselves.

That is the key lesson -- a debt that large can only be run up by elite parasitism. No commoner or group of commoners will ever get trillions of dollars dropped into their bank accounts after making the mother of all investment fuck-ups like Wall Street has done repeatedly across several business cycles. Nor will commoners get multi-billion-dollar contracts for consulting with the Pentagon or CIA on how to help jihadist militias in Syria take down the Assad government, or how to drone-strike a funeral procession in Yemen, or how to train one tribe of Afghans to battle some other tribe of Afghans.

We must never forget that it's the elites who have run up the debt for their own profiteering. As the nascent Tea Party movement reacted against the bank bailouts (and perhaps military spending?) of the early Obama years, it became rapidly co-opted by the Koch Brothers type of austerity ideology.

That is, the national debt was soaring because "we" were living beyond our means -- all that welfare spending giving Cadillacs to ghetto single mothers, university studies on the sexual fetishes of chinchillas, and removing lead from drinking water plumbing. Solution: "we" have to give up those things, as the alternative -- RAISING YOUR TAXES -- would be too much to ponder.

In this way, the conservative think tankers brainwashed the Tea Party people into identifying their own burden on gubmint spending with the burden of the elite sectors on gubmint spending. Despite the commoners not being a drag on the government, and the elites using federal spending bills as a great big fat credit card, enough commoners accepted that "we" -- they -- had to give up basic government functions in order to not go broke in the near future.

We are certainly going to see this attempt to bamboozle and hoodwink another generation of disgruntled commoners when the coming financial crash sends the banks with their hands out to Uncle Sam for even more bailout money than the last time, since this bubble is bigger than before. Or even now, as the Pentagon parasites hoover up as much as possible in order to not lose the mission to impose multicultural tolerance on Afghanistan.

We don't have to give up anything, but should be demanding a restoration of the social domestic spending from the good old days, which was never that expensive anyway, and we'll put in higher taxes on the wealthy just in case.

The main push is to cut off the senior partners in each party's coalition from using the federal spending bills as a credit card for elite profiteering -- whether the big banks or the big defense contractors.

Populists on the Left already get most of this, and those on the Right are at least halfway there (the only confusion being about how expensive social spending is -- or rather, is not, given the balanced budgets from the New Deal era).

What can we do to appeal to those who are not fiery populists but still don't want to see the society explode? There we can draw the historical parallels, where every time the national debt gets out of control, it has been due to the elites running up the bill for their own benefit -- mainly for the military aristocracy, but also the decadent courtier lifestyles.

Well, what's so bad about that, thinks the comfortable upper middle-class liberal/conservative? Because not long after that, the state broke down into a mob uprising or revolution that hollowed out the ranks of the elites. Most famously, leading up to the French Revolution, with their crushing debt coming mostly from war (the Seven Years War, and their aid in the American Revolution). As now, their elite sectors found one way or another to escape taxation, as compared to harmonious periods where they submit to taxation for the public good.

When the government starts to slash its functions that benefit the commoners, in a desperate and futile attempt to tame the debt (which is instead caused by elite over-spending and under-paying), it provokes a riot from the commoners. Nobody wants to get collectively punished at such a basic level (e.g. food prices spiraling out of control) for a crime they didn't commit.

Yet that's just the kind of thing that happens when the government tries to pay off the debt by diluting the value of its money in order to pay off an unpayable debt. If the debt required 10 tons worth of gold coins, and the treasury only has 1 ton worth of gold coins, why not just melt that 1 ton of gold in with 9 tons of worthless metal? Now you've got enough coins to fork over to your lenders.

Only now you've produced massive inflation, as a coin is now only worth 1/10 of what it used to be worth. Now the commoners have to pay 10 times as much for their daily bread, all in order for the government to pay off a debt that was run up by the elites -- and now the elites have a major riot or revolution on their hands, and heads will begin to roll.

Our government will find itself in a similar situation before too long, whether it defaults on the debt and makes it so that no one will invest in our country again, or whether it inflates it away and sends consumer prices through the roof -- and all while continuing to decimate their incomes by off-shoring their jobs, bringing in hordes of cheap-labor immigrants, and downsizing labor forces through monopolistic mergers and acquisitions.

The task for the populist backlash, led by Bernie Democrats, is to go after the elites and make them cough up as much as possible to re-pay their share of the national debt, which is just about all of it. Jack up their taxes, confiscate ill-gotten wealth, seize properties like university dorms and turn them into revenue streams like publicly owned apartments, charge rents for the military bases that we begin to depopulate in foreign lands (or at least collect a big lump sum for their transfer).

That's in addition to stopping the further explosion of debt by popping the bubbles in both the finance and military sectors. No more free money for their elites, that they just waste anyway. This argument will appeal to moderates and conservatives among the electorate, rather than a moral argument against imperialism. Forget moral, just on a practical level our military occupation of the entire world is untenable.

I doubt that a Bernie-style Democrat could cut off the supply of free money to the elites of both parties and not get immediately assassinated or impeached, without a mass movement backing him up and demanding the end of elite parasitism. That way the elites see that it's either go along with the peaceful transition proposed by Bernie and his cabinet -- or else the angry mob takes over, and literally heads begin to roll.

If the elites don't want to end up on the wrong end of a French Revolution, they must accept those terms of surrender. We don't have a long history to draw on, but at least last time the whole world was on fire circa WWI, we enjoyed a relatively peaceful transition out of the Social Darwinist Gilded Age and into the Progressive / New Deal era beginning in the 1920s.

We are a far more fractured country now than then, though, as we were still nationally unifying after just closing up the frontier and had yet to add Alaska and Hawaii into statehood. Things could get ugly this time around -- all the more reason for the elites to not assume the transition will be divinely guided into a peaceful transfer, and to take deliberate efforts to ensure that the transition is peaceful and defusing, rather than stoking populist anger with "let them eat cake" pronouncements.

February 7, 2018

Meme project: Destroying society through immigration to own the hicks

To underscore how suicidal the Right's partisanship has become, Matt Christman from lefty podcast Chapo Trap House has developed an ongoing meme about harming yourself just "to own the libs".

It began with more graphic variations on the corporeal theme of "cutting off the nose to spite the face":


It then moved to absurdist scenarios on sociopolitical issues, to make it clearer that the partisan Republicans are harming themselves not in an unrelated domain like their physical health, in a warped trade-off, but were entirely self-defeating within the political domain itself:


And now to show that truth is more absurd than fiction, basing them on themes that are ripped from the headlines:


The point is taken about how self-destructive partisanship can get. But given that it was the Trump campaign who so decisively broke with the Reaganite orthodoxy of the past 40 years, and battled the leaders of its own party so openly, suicidal partisanship has clearly begun to fade more on the Right than on the Left.

After Trump became co-opted in office -- both through institutional pressures overwhelming a neophyte with no political capital, as well as the lifelong media star preferring a theatrical rather than an instrumental role in government -- a good chunk of his supporters have reverted along with him back to cuckservative partisanship. But these were mostly GOP-ers to begin with, who fell into relapse. I doubt as many of his hardcore Independent supporters have followed the GOP lemmings in their march toward the cliff's edge.

And we still haven't seen much improvement from the Left to whistle a different tune on immigration, the one issue where they could break with their party's orthodoxy in a way similar to Trumpian populists warming up to single-payer healthcare, forgiving student loan debt, closing down most of our failed imperial military outposts around the world, and gutting the free trade deals to boost incomes for the American working class at the expense of multinational corporate profits.

Here is the one effort post from a Democrat to question why a Left devoted to improving the material welfare of the American working class should so blindly support an open-borders immigration policy, which tends to lower wages and increase rents, especially at the lower strata of the class pyramid. It appeared in The Atlantic, and the author Peter Beinart was a familiar Bernie supporter from the 2016 campaign season. Yet since it was written last summer, no broader group of progressives or socialists has run with it.

That means we need a complementary meme campaign that highlights how the Left is willing to sabotage its own goals on improving the lot of the working class, just to own the cultural conservatives.

Not a counter-campaign to the original, since that message is true enough, and needs to be reinforced as former Trumpians slide back into kneejerk cheerleading for failed Reaganism. But complementary, to make the Bernie people reflect on their own suicidal partisanship. Otherwise they won't win over the Trumpian populists in a compromise or alliance, and the neoconservative and neoliberal wings of both parties will remain dominant, if moribund.

I'm not on Twitter, but here are a few suggestions to get the ball rolling. Remember, the goal is not to complain about how open borders hurts Republicans or conservatives, but to show how an open-borders policy defeats their own progressive agenda. Bonus points if it harms blacks or urban residents -- so that the policy harms only the Democrats themselves, rather than harming the entire society in order to harm their Republican enemies.

Common themes are cheap labor leading to lower wages, higher population sizes leading to higher rents, and diversity leading to the breakdown of common norms and civic institutions.

Dissolving myself into a vortex of mutually distrusting ethnic groups to own the hicks.

Coughing up blood after contracting tuberculosis from my Somali neighbors to own the hicks.

Helping management strangle the handful of surviving trade unions by importing 50 million scabs, to own the hicks.

Carving "#FuckIslamophobia" into my arm during subway ride home as Pakistani father honor-kills his daughter in the seat next to me after discovering Tinder on her phone. To own the hicks.

Re-settling 627 immigrant groups who can cooperate on nothing other than driving blacks out of their own historical neighborhoods, to own the hicks.

Paying $4000 more per month on rent after welcoming a million refugees into the overcrowded Brooklyn housing market, to own the hicks.

Fracturing low-income urban civic associations because no two residents speak the same language, to own the hicks.

You get the idea. Might want to modulate the straight vs. absurdist tone depending on the audience.

February 5, 2018

Partying the crash

With the fake economy unraveling, everybody has plenty to celebrate tonight -- whether it's indulging in schadenfreude or numbing away the pain.

To keep the mood contemporary, let's return to the most recent peak in the 15-year bouncy music cycles, around 2012-'13. Here's "Take My Hand" from Charli XCX:



Listen to the whole album True Romance here.

In order for the economy to become real again, it must first be cleansed of its fake-ness. The evaporation of the Dow-S&P and crypto bubbles is unequivocal good news, so enjoy the mood!

February 2, 2018

Donald Trump, cat person

For a man who has so meticulously crafted his persona over many decades, whose career is in fact defined by playing up his persona, there's one detail that is curiously missing from Donald Trump's public image -- his pets.

His wives and girlfriends, his children, his grandchildren, his parents and siblings, his many residences and how they are furnished -- he has carefully cultivated all of these to reflect on him in just the right way.

But something's absent from this detailed portrait of the household side of his persona -- where are the pets? An obsessive image-maker like Trump would never leave that detail out of his home life.

And now he's the first president in a very long while to not bring any pets with him into the White House. He has obsessed over the color and pattern and material of the curtains in the Oval Office, which presidential portraits to hang, what kind of furniture there should be. There's no way he simply overlooked the obligatory "pets" aspect of the White House's image.

What is Trump trying so painfully to hide? If he were to own some dogs, how would that subtract in any way from his persona as a no-nonsense, ruthless alpha male who calls the shots at the top of an empire? It would seem to only enhance the overall image.

His children and his first wife are all dog owners, and they don't hide it. They're proud to be photographed with their dogs.

It must be that -- unlikely as it sounds at first -- Donald Trump is actually a cat person.

That would explain why he is so scrupulous to not have pets. If he gave into his natural inclination, he'd have one or likely several cats. But that would totally kill the image he has sought so hard to project -- an alpha gorilla... who has a soft spot for kittens? His image would be done for, never to recover.

And maybe Trump's media persona, which points to being a dog owner, is not quite who he really is when the cameras are off. The portrait that comes from journalists who he calls every day, like Maggie Haberman from the NYT, or from sources close to him, as recounted in Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury, is of a man who is spontaneous and discursive rather than no-nonsense and to-the-point, magnanimous rather than ruthless, averse rather than drawn to confrontation, and being an impressionable marshmallow rather than a rigid ideologue.

Other telltale personality traits of cat people that Trump possesses in spades -- mercurial rather than predictable, a cad rather than a dad, prickly rather than tough-skinned, neurotic rather than level-headed, uncomfortable with intimacy, socially isolated (having few close friends), and generally being suspicious and mistrustful of others.

His career field is likewise full of cat people and devoid of dog owners. His career is performing a role -- being Donald Trump -- and he's made most of his fame and fortune in the media and entertainment sector. He's in show business, not real estate development, and creative types are far more in favor of cats than dogs.

So, too, are those from the pastoralist culture of honor that his mother's side of the family comes from (Isle of Lewis, Scotland). Anywhere that people make a living by herding livestock instead of planting and harvesting crops, they may keep some work dogs, but are always inclined to cats for household pets. Islam, the religion of honor-driven pastoralists, considers dogs to be unclean and taboo. But the feeling is only somewhat lesser in the rest of the Mediterranean, or in Britain, a nation of shepherds and cat fanciers.

Trump is also a notorious germophobe -- no way he'd take a liking to dogs, with their smells and their slobber. Nope: he'd insist on an animal that actually cleaned and groomed itself.

As high-strung as he is, he would benefit greatly from having a pet that would jump onto his lap, begin purring, and let him pet its fur. Prickly cat people know that there's nothing as soothing as that little ritual bonding experience.

However, Trump craves everyone's undivided attention and obedience -- so perhaps there's another reason, aside from the death blow to his image, that he has not taken a cat into the household. He would respond well to it, and it would totally suit his personality -- but the cat being on its own social schedule might set off Trump's temper about being ignored or rejected, even if only temporarily.

"And after all I've done for you. No, that's OK, you just go ahead, take your nap under the chair over there. I didn't want you taking a stupid nap on my lap anyway."

It must be burning him up to have to restrain his cat fancying side. If he got a really large, rambunctious Maine Coon that looked and behaved more like a tiger, it wouldn't hurt his image. Maybe in retirement.

Related: earlier posts on the topic of pets and their owners

February 1, 2018

Mass retirements show disintegration of Reagan party after Trump's failed hostile takeover

The wave of retirements by Republican members of Congress contradicts the hopeful narrative among Trump supporters that he is re-aligning the party in his own image, as well as the hysterical Resistard narrative that the GOP has abandoned its former respectability and fallen in line behind the party's new authoritarian leader.

Both narratives assume that Trump is pulling the party together like never before, solidifying its cohesion, and strengthening its resolve to go do battle as a united front.

If that were true, nobody on the team would even dream of jumping ship right as they're about to launch an invincible assault on the enemy, throwing away so much glory.

And yet we see historically unprecedented numbers retiring -- not defecting to the other team, but quitting political battle altogether.

And they are not marginal members of the team, but include many committee chairmen. Nor are they from the powerless fringes of the party, but from its supposed governing center -- hailing from the Tuesday Group rather than the Freedom Caucus or the Tea Party. Nor are they freshmen who quickly discovered they bit off more than they can chew, but long-serving members with accumulated political capital that they are prepared to deprive the party of.

These are the ones who Trump was supposed to win over and make "bend the knee" to the populist-nationalist re-alignment of the GOP. They had the connections, the favors owed, the know-how of the ins and outs of governing, and he was supposed to harness their power but apply it in a whole new direction.

Rather than submitting to his hostile takeover of their coalition, they are committing mass suicide instead. "Let's see him wield control over a party with no one left in it!" (At least, no one left who can make things happen inside Washington.)

A self-congratulatory narrative from the Dems has it that these Republicans sense the coming wave of blue victories in the mid-term elections, and are getting safely out of the way early.

But that did not happen during the last mid-term when Republicans held control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, and faced increasing hostility toward their agenda, which under this theory should have sent them heading for the exits. That was 2006, when just 9 Republicans and 6 Democrats retired, yet Democrats netted 30 seats in the House and took it back.

Nor did it happen the last time the Democrats controlled all three elected bodies and were facing a tidal wave of opposition in the mid-terms. That was 2010, when both parties were evenly matched and not so high in their retirements, with 14 D's and 13 R's retiring, yet the Republicans netted a whopping 63 seats in the House to take it back under the Tea Party.

See the chart at the end of the post for the history of Congressional retirements and outcomes of Congressional elections, since 1974, from this post at FiveThirtyEight. (That was made back in September, and does not include the large number of retirement announcements for 2018 since then.)

If it is not foreseeing a coming rout and wanting to avoid the bloodbath, what is it about?

The only other times similar to this mid-term year, from the chart of 1974 to present, are 1994 and 1978. Those saw high retirement numbers, which were lop-sided toward one party. Strangely enough, the retiring party held control over the WH, House, and Senate. In both cases, there were decent gains for the rival party in the mid-term elections -- enough to flip control of both houses of Congress after the '94 Gingrich wave, although not enough to flip control of either during the milder '78 wave.

The '18 mid-terms feel like a milder wave than a tsunami, so the situation is likely closer to '78 than '94.

In both of the previous cases, it was the Democrats who broke down. They were not much of a powerful force after their most recent heyday of the New Deal and Great Society period. That suggests that it is now the Republicans' turn to break down after their Reaganite heyday.

Someone would have to track down who belonged to the mass suicide of Congressional Democrats in '78, but I'll bet that they were from the more established yet long-in-the-tooth lineage of FDR and JFK, who were refusing to surrender to the would-be re-aligner Carter's vision of deregulation and shrinking the welfare state.

Some of them, of course, did not retire -- like Ted Kennedy, who tried to hold the old-way line and gave a bruising primary challenge to the sitting new-way president. That primary hobbled Carter in his general election fight against Reagan, who campaigned on out-Cartering Carter.

That would place the current wave of retirements within the broader pattern of evidence that Trump is the Jimmy Carter of the Reagan coalition, at once struggling to hold it together while re-aligning it in an entirely new direction. That would mean that, notwithstanding all of the Republicans who are offing themselves rather than be taken hostage, some will remain who will try to wound the sitting invader president in the next primary. Mitt Romney is not suddenly heading off to the Senate in order to help Trump carry out the re-alignment.

See this post that makes the Trump-Carter comparison more in depth using Skowronek's theory of rising and falling political regime cycles. Google "disjunctive president" for further examples.

Looking forward, this means that there will be a leader from the rival party who will campaign on out-Trumping Trump on populism and economic nationalism -- Bernie Sanders. The other Reaganite-in-disguise Democrats will be in no more demand than the New Deal-friendly Republicans were during the Reagan revolution.

As mass numbers of Republicans evacuate the Congress this year and in the 2020s, they will be replaced not by populist Republicans -- of whom there are none in existence other than the president himself -- but by Bernie-style Democrats who are more natural embodiments of the economic nationalist zeitgeist.

History of retirements and electoral outcomes:


January 31, 2018

The fundamental trumps the theatrical: Reminders from the last GOP president

Consider a Republican president in a mid-term election year delivering a State of the Union speech that is received positively by 75% of viewers, peppered with appeals to bipartisan cooperation through difficult issues, and full of variations on feel-good words like "hope" and "courage".

Consider that this speech touts its recent successes in passing "tax relief" that has brought home however-many billions of dollars into the pockets of American workers, families, and businesses. Not to mention its successes in "pursuing the enemies of freedom" with its military, particularly in the Muslim world.

Consider the president asking the Congress, on the basis of those past successes, to take it to the next level going forward -- after cutting taxes, to privatize Social Security, and after helping millions of Iraqis to vote in free elections, to stand behind our military as they push ever further into that country to secure these newly won freedoms. Cut to: family members of an American soldier killed in the Middle East during this project.

Consider the speech's tough-but-fair proposal on immigration that reads:

Keeping America competitive requires an immigration system that upholds our laws, reflects our values, and serves the interests of our economy. Our nation needs orderly and secure borders. To meet this goal, we must have stronger immigration enforcement and border protection. And we must have a rational, humane guest worker program that rejects amnesty, allows temporary jobs for people who seek them legally, and reduces smuggling and crime at the border.

And consider that the president is speaking to a Congress controlled by his own party in both chambers, a seemingly invincible force.

Folks, we're not considering Trump's speech from last night -- but the SOTU speech of George W. Bush from 2006, which did in fact poll very well.

But by that fall, Bush supporters were given a rude awakening about the lasting influence of speeches. In a wave election, the GOP lost control of both the House and the Senate, as well as the majority of governorships. In the next presidential election, the party would get wiped out so bad that even "safe" states like Indiana and North Carolina would fall to the rival party.

How could that have happened? I thought Bush had EXPOSED THE DEMONRATS as the party that opposed American workers getting billions of dollars dumped into their pockets from tax cuts. I thought he had painted them into a rhetorical corner, where they were now the party advocating cowardice and abdication of responsibilities in Afghanistan and Iraq. I thought he had given so bipartisan and aspirational of a message, that he mortally branded them as the party of obstructionist killjoys if they objected to his agenda.

The persuasion framing was win-win -- either they surrender, or they struggle against your agenda and make themselves hated by all. The rhetorical figure-four leglock was impossible for them to escape from!

In fairness, the same could be said of Obama's uplifting bipartisan SOTU speeches -- touting recent successes as a way to ask for near-term goals -- delivered right before his party lost the House and the governorships, then the Senate, then even the White House.

And of course, sometimes these predictably, uniformly well-received speeches precede electoral gains rather than losses.

The elites will never internalize this lesson, but quite simply: culture does not matter, only the cold hard fundamental material conditions. Speeches, framing, branding -- rhetoric in general -- has no impact on an audience that views politicians merely as agents to implement a set of agenda items that they were elected to carry out, rather than as performers to make them feel good in unison with other feel-gooders.

Below the elite level, people are too concerned with the basic layers of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, not the higher ones like a sense of cultural belonging. They don't discount the higher layers, they're just too preoccupied with a precarious material situation. Polarizing "hot-button" culture war issues only play out among well-to-do voters, whereas low and even middle-income voters are concerned strictly with material welfare (see the work of Andrew Gelman and colleagues).

Predictive models of presidential elections, like that of Allan Lichtman, do not include cultural variables but things like the direction of the economy, success or failure in foreign policy, major legislative achievements, division vs. cohesion within the incumbent party, and so on. The only non-material variable is whether the politician is charismatic, which is more of a personality trait than an aspect of his logic and rhetoric in speeches.

So, enough already with devoting so much attention to speeches, branding, and messaging, whether they're coming from Trump or anyone else. No one cares about them, and they are immediately forgotten. All the voters care about is whether or not the incumbent party can deliver the goods that they were promised in exchange for electoral support.

Partisan Republicans may have voted for Trump in order to enjoy tax cuts, see conservatives nominated to the courts, and stand behind the generals as they send more Americans into Afghanistan.

But the Independents and cross-over Democrats (largely Bernie supporters), who barely put Trump over-the-top in a handful of Obama-voting states, are still waiting to see those major changes that were supposed to break the GOP away from its zombie-Reagan program of cutting taxes, deregulation, widening trade deficits, and soaring military budgets.

All inside sources are saying that Trump is in fact softening on protectionist trade measures, for the personal reason that he feels that they would threaten the stock market boom that he has hitched his wagon to, and more importantly for the institutional reason that the sectors of the economy that control the GOP (like manufacturing, energy, and agriculture) would rather assassinate Trump than see him terminate NAFTA or slam tariffs on foreign steel used to build pipelines for oil and gas.

These are the major legislative or executive items that they will be judging the incumbent party on in 2020 (and even in 2018). There will be no foreign policy successes since the military is hell-bent on antagonizing the major regional and global powers in the Middle East, where we have only ever lost, and perhaps provoking North Korea into attacking us after the generals' "bloody nose" strategy. The economy does not go on for 12 years without a major correction, especially when the finance sector that controls the out-of-power party can pop the biggest ugliest bubble in world history and pin the blame on its rival party. And the fragmentation of the incumbent party will only get worse as the occasional attempts by Trump to re-align the party only expose and hammer on the faultlines within the GOP that resists his re-alignment, relating to immigration, trade, war, and Russia / NATO.

For the Bernie wing of the Democrats who will be taking on the GOP in the mid-terms and especially the next presidential election, it is only these kinds of things that candidates should focus on. Hillary screamed "racist" and "sexist" and "xenophobic" until she was blue in the face -- and still lost! Culture schmulture. Focus instead on undoing the corporate and military empires that are ruining our once great nation.

January 29, 2018

Black vs. immigrant tensions heating up; nationalists should ally with blacks

A few weeks ago I advocated mobilizing blacks in order to defeat amnesty for illegal immigrants and the broader push to import all 10 billion of the world's population in the coming years. Black people hate other races (while tolerating American whites since they're used to us), especially immigrants who just came here and think they own the place -- and especially when they try to hog all the credit and benefits of being minorities.

The 50-year cycles of collective violence that Peter Turchin has documented will see another peak circa 2020, and as usual these riots will be more easily inflamed between people of different racial, ethnic, and national origin groups. Only this time, the twist is that the political zeitgeist is all about the split between immigrants and Americans -- pitting African-Americans against the new immigrant groups who are Latino and Asian.

These groups are all at open war with each other on the West Coast, where gangs are entirely along ethnic lines. But it's about to boil over into the mainstream as well. Right on cue, here is Tariq Nasheed blasting a Grammy speech by Cuban immigrant singer Camila Cabello, who was promoting the feel-good new-immigrant narrative about how "America was built by DREAMers" (lots of "thank you for telling it like it is" in the comments from blacks):


Whereas the African-American narrative history is about having been brought here against their will to toil in the fields for no pay, the new immigrants' narratives are about coming here eagerly to enjoy a higher standard of living. Blacks resent these prospering newcomers for trying to marginalize the black narrative about having been unwilling victims. "Being a minority in America," in the black view, is supposed to reflect historical victimization, not being in charge of your own fate and seeking a better life in another country.

Blacks resent not only Latino and Asian immigrants for trying to hijack their minority narrative in this way -- they react the same dismissive way to clueless liberal Ellis Islanders who try to commiserate with blacks about having been discriminated against when they first came here as an Other ethnic group. If you weren't brought over here in chains, if you weren't forced to literally slave away in the cotton fields -- save your sob story about "No Irish Wanted" signs.

Aside from cultural narratives, the cold hard economic reality today is that blacks are far more harmed by opening the floodgates of immigration, as immigrants compete with lower-skilled workers and pack themselves into urban housing markets, both of which disproprotionately hit African-Americans.

So it comes as no surprise that a Harvard-Harris poll finds that blacks are the most eager to dramatically reduce immigration numbers. Half of them want the lowest possible numbers that are still greater than zero (1 to 250,000). The current level is around 1 million.

According to the General Social Survey, blacks are about the same as whites when it comes to wanting lower immigration, when you control for population density. Generally, rural residents are more for reducing immigration than urban residents. But when you look within a large city, blacks and whites are about the same; within the suburbs, they're the same; within rural areas, the same. The only reason it looks like whites are the most in favor of reducing immigration is because they are more likely to live in rural and small-town areas than blacks are.

And of course, within each level of population density, the "other" racial group (a mix of Latino and Asian) is markedly different from both the whites and blacks in being against reduced immigration, and in favor of increasing it.

Now, the clueless cuckservative response to this is to tell blacks, "Well, guess you're gonna have to leave the DEMOCRAT PLANTATION and jump on board the Trump train!" Wrong. The solution is to form a bipartisan movement to reduce immigration going forward, to give as little amnesty as possible now, and to deport the most of the illegal population.

Blacks will never vote GOP in large numbers, whether it's Reagan or Bush or Trump or anyone else. And why should they? It's the Democrats who take care of them, with the exception of bringing in all these immigrants, who they then promote at the expense of black people. Everything else in the Democrat platform benefits blacks, though, so they're only going to want to change this one big issue within their own party -- not change parties.

But if that's a key area of overlap with Trump voters, why turn down an alliance just because the other side won't totally join your own side? To win, we only need to form alliances -- not to pull off total conversions.

Indeed, after the failure of a populist re-alignment on the GOP side, that's only more reason for the populist-nationalists who voted Trump to crash the Democrat party and serve as the cavalry for other groups among the Dems who have similar goals as ours.

Shrinking the military footprint after failed imperialism? We can ally with the peaceniks. Single-payer healthcare? We can ally with just about any grassroots Dem group. Reducing and undoing mass immigration? Not with white-guilt liberals, but with the African-Americans who form a large and influential chunk of the Democrat base.

Obviously the framing would be different to appeal to African-Americans than working-class whites, but it's already being put out there by blacks themselves for us to adopt. Being a minority in America means having gone through historical victimization and suffering a lower standard of living. Current government programs are meant to correct that historical injustice. None of that applies to Latino or Asian immigrants who willingly come here en masse to enjoy a higher standard of living. Only to Native Americans and African-Americans.

On an informal level, we can easily encourage black resentment at being marginalized by these new immigrants. It's already there, we just need to stoke it. They understand that it's zero-sum when it comes to cultural attention and government programs -- it's either blacks or the Latino/Asian immigrants.

Just remember: no lame give-away messages about why they need to vote Republican or read Milton Friedman or something retarded like that. Your goal is to sound like a New Deal liberal from the Civil Rights era who, in this strange new world of mass immigration of Latinos and Asians, wants protectionism for the historical black community against the immigrants.

It's going to take a shift that seismic to turn the tide on immigration in this country. When the black section of the Democrat base starts demanding an end to mass immigration, as a form of economic and cultural self-defense, then we'll see some real serious shit.

Populist-nationalists should join them outright in re-directing the Democrat party's priorities, while free-market conservatives who remain in the zombie-GOP should be willing to sacrifice something in order to get an end to immigration as we know it. Would Congressman Steve King be so opposed to "Medicare for All" if it could be traded for deporting most of the illegal population and reducing future immigration to a fraction of what it is now?

In these topsy-turvy endtimes for Reaganism, we're going to be striking all kinds of unusual deals.

GSS variables: letin1, race, srcbelt

January 26, 2018

Against Mueller, GOP defends Trump only after he rubber-stamps Reaganism and abandons populism-nationalism

During the breaking news last night that Trump tried to fire Mueller in June, several talking heads like the retarded Joy Ann Reid attempted to shame Congressional Republicans into turning on Trump. What will it take for the Establishment GOP to finally turn on him?, these pundits are wondering.

But that was then, and this is now. Trump campaigned against the GOP writ large -- its vision, its institutions, and its principal agents and flunkies. He came into the White House to shake up the party, re-align it in a populist and nationalist direction, away from the corporate elitist and globalist direction it had been pursuing for decades. He would make the Republicans in Washington "bend the knee" to his new movement, and the hostile takeover of the party would be complete.

During the time when Trump was at least somewhat of an oppositional figure to his own party, they had no interest in protecting him from the bogus charges of colluding with Russia during the campaign. Why defend him, when he's so determined to wipe out everything they're interested in defending as conventional Republicans?

The Democrats, we understand where they're coming from, folks. But I'm even more disappointed in the Republicans. Or as Michael Wolff puts it in the "Russia" chapter from Fire and Fury:

The congressional Democrats had everything to gain by insisting, Benghazi-like, that where there was smoke (even if they were desperately working the bellows) there was fire, and by using investigations as a forum to promote their minority opinion (and for members to promote themselves).

For Republicans in Congress, the investigations were a card to play against Trump’s vengefulness and unpredictability. Defending him -- or something less than defending him and, indeed, possibly pursuing him -- offered Republicans a new source of leverage in their dealings with him.

Last year I discussed the nature and extent of Trump's political capital -- it was the ability to galvanize a mass of citizens into collective action, like attending a Trump rally or voting for him in a primary or general election. He had no elite support anywhere, and indeed burned his bridges with them, meaning he came into office with political debt rather than capital.

Hence the GOP would make him work off his debt first before giving him any of his own Trumpian "asks," but beginning with such a massive debt, there was very little chance they would ever consider it cleared and begin taking up his populist or nationalist agenda from the campaign. They would only reward him to the extent that he folded to their corporate elitist and globalist demands.

Sure enough, that's exactly what's happened.

After -- and only after -- he played his part in passing the Reaganite tax cut bill, the zombie-Reagan party is more than happy to extend Trump a line of political credit, provided he only spends it in the GOP company store. No "get out of NAFTA," no "get out of Afghanistan," no "deport 10 million illegals". We don't sell those policies here in Washington.

But if you need some protection from that pesky investigation by the FBI and the Special Counsel, why sure we can help you out. We wouldn't want our rubber-stamper of Reaganism to have aspersions cast on him. Back when you were running that whole anti-Establishment thing, we didn't mind your legitimacy being threatened. But now that you're doing our bidding? Hell, that makes you one of us -- long as it may have taken you to come around -- and we wouldn't want the legitimacy of our new figurehead to come under question.

That certainly doesn't mean the GOP is willing to go to war against the FBI or Mueller, both of whom are solid Republicans. Trump hasn't amassed that much political capital just from passing a tax cut. Now, maybe if he could manage to privatize social security, Trump could get the Republicans to end the investigation for good. But that's not going to happen.

Their likely plan is to push back on the FBI's credibility in a limited way -- only against certain individuals, and in a certain case, without questioning the broad powers of the institution. They just re-authorized the practices that led to the FISA court approving surveillance of the Trump campaign, so they clearly are not going to weaken the institutional strength of the FBI or other intel agencies.

They can sense having a rough time keeping a majority in both houses of Congress after the mid-terms, especially in the House where impeachment proceedings would begin. So they just bide their time, and if the Democrats take back the House and start using Mueller's findings, regardless of whatever they do or do not say, as a pretext for impeachment -- hey, we did our best when we controlled the House, Don-arino, don't blame us for what the Democrats do when they've taken it over.

Trump could still fuck those plans up by firing Mueller, or firing enough of his subordinates until one of them fires Mueller. That would probably be a bridge too far for Republicans to reflexively and totally circle the wagons around him. That would require him to hit a real home run for team Reagan -- amnestying all tens of millions of illegals, say.

That may be why the news was leaked about him ordering Mueller fired in June, only for the White House Counsel McGahn to refuse, and Trump back down. It's a reminder that he doesn't have enough political capital for the Republicans to bail him out of a big-league jam like that -- don't do anything stupid, and we'll keep attacking the neutrality of the FBI, at least in a circumscribed way relating only to the bogus Russia allegations, which doesn't threaten the institution's larger powers.

This is yet another reason why the next major figure to carry out a re-alignment must come into office with a decent chunk of political capital already. If he does not, it makes him wholly dependent on those who do have capital -- the Establishment -- to fend off the inevitable attacks that his opponents will make, knowing how weak he is upon arrival. Otherwise, a would-be re-aligning president who enters the White House with little capital, and even worse with debt, gets easily co-opted by the conventional forces he was sent there to oppose.