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When Somebody Called “Mad Dog” Is The Only Adult In The Room

When Somebody Called “Mad Dog” Is The Only Adult In The Room

In the last few days it has come to pass that twice US Secretary of Defense, James “Mad Dog” Mattis has shown himself to be the only adult in the room in the Trump administration.  His first such exhibition of adulthood came during the bizarre spectacle of Trump’s first full televised cabinet meeting.  Trump openly demanded verbal obeisance from those assembled, promptly delivered by all but one in the room, with some of them embarrassingly effusive, such as Reince Priebus declaring it to be a “blessing” to serve Trump.  Ugh.  Even SecState Tillerson chimed in with a relatively perfunctory bit of praise for Trump.  Only Mad Dog Mattis refused to go along, making a statement praising US military personnel around the world without a single word about Trump.

And then we have the under reported event yesterday that I saw on Juan Cole’s blog that Mattis signed a $12 billion dollar deal for F-15s with Qatar.  Now I am not in general a big fan of  these Middle East arms deals with anybody, but in this case this blatantly goes against Trump’s absolutely stupid and probably corrupt (Saudis paid $270,000 in hotel bills at Trump’s hotel in Washington since Trump took office) support for the Saudi move to blockade Qatar and pressure it into  going along with Saudi aggression in Yemen and more generally against Iran.  Both Tillerson and Mattis made verbal statements last week arguing for a more balanced approach there, only to have Trump double down on supporting this very stupid policy.  Tillerson is  not able to cut deals independently supporting Qatar, but Mad Dog Mattis has just done so.
Maybe Trump will fire him, but I kind of think that maybe even he is  not quite that stupid in the current circumstances.  So there we have it, having to thank somebody nicknamed “Mad Dog” twice in a few  days for being the much=needed adult in the room.

Barkley Rosser

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Exiting the Planet

by Joseph Joyce

Exiting the Planet

The full impact of President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate accord will not be fully realized for years, and indeed, decades to come. But the withdrawal is part of a series of disavowals of international agreements and commitments that were created after World War II. It represents a fundamental change away from engagement with allies and partners in the global community to a mindset sees every interaction with a foreign partner as a zero-sum situation, with only one country benefitting from the dealing.

The administration’s actions can be analyzed in the framework offered by Albert O. Hirschman’s in Exit, Voice and Loyalty. A member of an organization or an agreement that commits its members to a course of action, who is dissatisfied with the current arrangements, can decide whether to leave (“exit”), or remain and seek to correct the perceived problems. Those with more basic loyalty to the goals or principles of the existing arrangement are more likely to choose the latter option. Clearly the Trump administration does not share the loyalty to the international liberal order.

This position has its roots in U.S. history. The country initially sought to avoid involvement in World War I, and it took years of German offenses (such as the sinking of the Lusitania) before President Wilson could obtain agreement to enter the war. However, the Senate failed to approve U.S. membership in the League of Nations, and during the 1930s there was little interest in opposing German expansion in Europe or Japanese incursion in Asia. Only with the bombing of Pearl Harbor could President Roosevelt receive approval to take up arms against Japan, and Hitler’s declaration of war on the U.S. solved the problem of justifying a European conflict at the same time.

These experiences and the emergence of the U.S. as a global superpower after the war led to a fundamental change in the U.S. position. John Ruggie and others have described the rise of multilateralism, a system of international alliances and intergovernmental organizations formed under U.S. leadership for the purpose of achieving shared objectives. In many cases, these were  global public goods. The institutions ranged from the United Nations to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and more recently, the Paris Accord. While the fortunes of these organizations and pacts fluctuated over time, they contributed to international peace despite a half century of “cold war” between the Soviet Union and the U.S. They also facilitated the process of economic globalization that accelerated during the 1990s after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the entry of China into the global economy.

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Backstepping

No, not the Control Theory version of Backstepping developed around 1990 by Petar V. Kokotovic. In the Marine Corp there was a Back Stepping cadence. The entire squad or platoon would move in 15 inch steps backwards after coming to a complete halt.

It appears DOE Secretary has started to backstep on her comments on allowing states, Charter schools, and parents decide what is acceptable discrimination. The Senate Committee on Education was not too happy with her comments about letting states and schools decide. One problem still remaining is cutting the funding for the Department of Education and it’s Office of Civil Rights. This will curtail the oversight the DOE has today on local schools.

“Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday said she will pursue allegations of discrimination “in any form,” pushing back against criticism that the Trump administration might allow private and religious schools to accept federal funding while at the same time rejecting or discriminating against LGBT students.”

Who would have thought the Michigan billionaire-iron-lady of the DOE could be moved by so called “hurtful” remarks about her very apparent indifference to discrimination? In a follow-up comment, Betsy lamented;

“’Anyone who knows me knows that they (the Senate Committee) couldn’t be further from the truth,’ she said. ‘Discrimination in any form is wrong. And I’ve said before and I’ll say again: the department is committed to ensuring that every child has a safe and nurturing environment, and we are and will be continuing to pursue allegations of discrimination in any form as well. So that has been a really hurtful thing for me personally, because it’s not who I am.’”

I guess I do not know her either and my Vulcan Mind-Meld is not working on her to find out what she is really like. Sorry Betsy, we have to take you at your word or what you do not say too! A case in point as to the impact of Betsy Devos’s efforts with school choice and the results of it can be found in Holland, Michigan very close to the DeVos homestead. “Betsy DeVos and the Segregation of School Choice.” Ms. DeVos knew what was happening in Holland and the rest of the state all along. Michigan is the laughing stock of the nation when it comes to Charter Schools.

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“Flat Earthers”

President Trump has proposed budget cuts to programs and the departments running them. Amongst those departments impacted by Trump’s proposals is the Department of Education and it’s Office of Civil Rights. “ The DOE Department of Civil Rights function is to investigate discrimination complaints in school districts across the nation and create standards for responding to allegations of sexual assault and harassment.” Trump’s decreased budget would force cuts in departmental staffing making it more difficult to investigate complaints and also enforcing the law.

As the new Secretary of the DOE, Betsy DeVos proposes giving more power to states and communities in an effort to allow them to make decisions based upon local needs. This sounds good in the telling of it as people living in these communities would probably know what is needed for their schools. Often times what is ignored in state policy, is the favoring of wealthier districts over poor districts, majority citizens over minority citizens, the disabled, and those needing special education in order to learn. These are costly additions to a budget and local citizens do not like to pay taxes. Nowhere else can this be seen more vividly as it is in DeVos’s home state of Michigan where Detroit and Flint needs are played off against richer school districts. In her recent appearance in front of the Senate Education Committee, DeVos is proposing a “leap-of-faith” proposal of states getting the needs of public and private school educational correct without oversight or direction by the DOE.

In a “Return of DeVos-2″ visit to the Senate Education Committee, she discusses along similar lines a proposal of allowing states to determine if private schools accepting publically funded vouchers can be allowed to discriminate amongst students. Again DeVos claims the states know better than the DOE about what is needed and necessary locally. In which case, why would we need a DOE Office of Civil Rights if states protected the needs of all students? That is sound reasoning; although historically, states do not protect all students and many fall through the cracks without the oversight.

Not liking the pushback from Democrats and those arguing back against her push to expand school of choice with no oversight, DeVos goes on to call those who oppose the program “flat-earthers” accusing those who find fault with and question her programs lacing vision and refusing to face the facts.” Some of her comments during this last meeting with the Senate Education Committee were quite revealing. Perhaps if during her nomination process, if these remarks she made had come out then, others might have voted against her. A Big If for Republicans . . .

Some of Betsy DeVos’s ideology:

1. Should states have the flexibility to decide whether private schools that accept publicly funded voucher students have the ability to discriminate amongst students for any reason?

Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.): One private voucher school in Indiana says it can deny admission to any LGBT student or a student who comes from a homosexual or bisexual family. With regard to federal funding, Rep. Clark posed a question to Ms. DeVos of whether she would tell the state (Indiana) it could not discriminate in that way and extended the question to include involved African American students.

DeVos: “Well again, the Office of Civil Rights and our Title IX protections are broadly applicable across the board, but when it comes to parents making choices on behalf of their students …”

Rep. Clark: “This isn’t about parents making choices, this is about the use of federal dollars. Is there any situation? Would you say to Indiana, that school cannot discriminate against LGBT students if you want to receive federal dollars? Or would you say the state has the flexibility?”

DeVos: “I believe states should continue to have flexibility in putting together programs . . . ”

Rep Clark: So if I understand your testimony — I want to make sure I get this right. There is no situation of discrimination or exclusion that if a state approved it for its voucher program that you would step in and say that’s not how we are going to use our federal dollars?”

Me: Going back and forth with Ms. Devos claims it was a hypothetical question, Rep. Clark countered with it not hypothetical and her allotted time ended.

DeVos: “I go back to the bottom line — is we believe parents are the best equipped to make choices for their children’s schooling and education decisions, and too many children are trapped in schools that don’t work for them. We have to do something different. We have to do something different than continuing a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach. And that is the focus. And states and local communities are best equipped to make these decisions.”

Rep. Clark: “I am shocked that you cannot come up with one example of discrimination that you would stand up for students.”

Me: Except in many cases, states have not made those decisions and often times the decision-making dies in the legislatures who will not spend the money or make a political decision impacting themselves.

2. States should have the flexibility to decide whether students with disabilities who are using publicly funded vouchers to pay for private – school tuition should still be protected under the IDEA federal law.

Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-NY): In voucher and voucher-like programs in which public money is used to pay for private school tuition and educational expenses, families are often required to sign away their IDEA protections, including due process when a school fails to meet a child’s needs. Lowey asked DeVos if she thought that was fair.

DeVos: “Each state deals with this issue in their own manner,”

Tens of thousands of disabled students attend private schools in Florida. Florida requires voucher recipients to give up their IDEA rights.

Me: There was a time, you could not sign away your legal rights and protections. Individuals should not have to do this.

3. High-poverty school districts get more funding than low-poverty schools.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA): Proposed education budget’s Title I plan reduces funding to high – poverty schools, according to numerous experts. Rep. Roybal-Allard asked DeVos whether she believes that high – poverty school districts should get “more funding resources” than schools with lower levels of poverty.

DeVos: “Yes, I think the reality is that they do receive higher levels of funding.”

Rep. Roybal-Allard: “Just to be clear … you do agree that high – poverty schools should receive more federal resources than lower levels of poverty schools? Was that your testimony?”

DeVos: “Yes, I think that this is the case.”

Rep. Roybal-Allard: “They don’t.”

It is clear, Ms. DeVos does not know whether schools in higher poverty areas receive more funding or not. It is relatively certain most states and local government make no additional exception for schools in higher poverty area either.

Me: Betsy lives about as far away from Detroit and Flint as she can get. Detroit schools were under State of Michigan management and were released from it in almost the same fiscal shape as when they started. Uncertified teachers can instruct in Detroit as determined by the state.

4. The administration is not shifting money for public schools in the budget in order to fund school choice experiments.

DeVos: “It is. If there are cuts to public schools, and there is new money going to school choice, that can’t mean anything else.”

5. DeVos would not say whether private and religious schools accepting students paying with public funds should be accredited or held accountable in the same way that traditional public schools are.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI): On teaching practices, private schools taking public dollars claim students could learn how to read by simply putting a book in their hands. Asking DeVos if she was “going to have accountability standards” in any new school choice program.

DeVos: “States should decide what kind of flexibility they are going to allow.”

Me: I have seen similar happen in Michigan. Charter Schools may or may not offer a better education than a public school and often times the results are worse. The standard is not the same for both types of schools and there is a need for accountability. Ms. DeVos will not be bringing the much needed improvements to public education any time soon and may indeed hurt it more.

Five startling things Betsy DeVos just told Congress” Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post, May 25, 2017

The Impact of Cutting Public School Funding and How It Pays Out in Oklahoma Emma Brown, The Washington Post, May 28, 2017

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Boring Comment on Kabaservice

Lifted from Robert’s Stochastic Thoughts:

Boring Comment on Kabaservice

Have I come up with a title less attractive than “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative” ? I certainly don’t expect anyone to read this post. Also I advixe against reading it — it is a waste of time.

I am commenting on this NYT op-ed “The Great Performance of Our Failing President”. My first thoughts are that it is too kind to Trump and displays shocking ignorance of history (Kabaservice is a historian who’s op-ed harshly condemns Trump). My later thoughts are about me, myself, Robert Waldmann and my reactions to the conventions of the essay (or more exactly the op-ed).

I got stuck for many minutes objecting to this sentence

President Trump won the election in large part because he was one of the few candidates from either party to address terrible problems in the left-behind parts of the country, including the drug epidemic, declining labor force participation rates and the rising cost of health care.

I think it is both appallingly vague and clearly false. Before typing on, I want to start with myself. I understand that the passage is a to be sure passage

1) it’s role in the essay is to avoid monotony.

2) The denunciation of Trump is made more interesting by suggesting that promise was betrayed.

3) Kabaservice is trying to prove that he isn’t a knee jerk Trumpaphobic by noting some appeal of Trump.

4) Exactly because Kabaservice is conceding a tiny bit to Trump supporters here, he doesn’t feel any need to be careful in the claim. It is a concession. It isn’t really an assertion he is making in his voice.

As often, I find myself fiercely objecting to a “to be sure” passage.

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Class Resentment and the Center-Left, or the Politics of “We Are the 80%”

by Peter Dorman (originally published at Econospeak)

Class Resentment and the Center-Left, or the Politics of “We Are the 80%”

I’ve just read the suitably downbeat piece by Thomas Edsall about the travails of the Democratic Party in today’s New York Times.  Edsall, citing a recent symposium of political strategists in The American Prospect and a report by Priorities USA, a DP polling outfit, describes the widespread abandonment of both the center and the left by a wide swath of the American working class.  As he says, it’s not just that working class (non-college) Trump voters have opted for “populism”; their political disposition radically excludes activist government programs, multiculturalism, and other principles that no one on the left could reasonably run against.

Evidence from public opinion polls depends on the questions pollsters take to the people.  Questions are framed in particular ways to test the suppositions in the pollsters’ minds, which means it’s difficult to find evidence for suppositions they aren’t considering.  That in turn means that those of us with different hypotheses can only speculate, at least until the stories we tell get enough traction that pollsters and focus group organizers decide to test them out.

A further caveat is that the population is extraordinarily diverse, and almost any hypothesis is going to be true for someone.  The question is not who is “right”, but how influential particular political trends are among various portions of the electorate, in combination with other trends.

So here is one approach, based on a quote Edsall culled from Nick Gourevitch, a contractor for Priorities USA:

So it may be that within economically distressed communities, the individuals who found Trump appealing (or who left Obama for Trump) were the ones where the cultural and racial piece was a strong part of the reason why they went in that direction. So I guess my take is that it’s probably not economics alone that did it. Nor is it racism/cultural alienation alone that did it. It’s probably that mixture.

How to think about this interaction?

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The London Bridge Attack

reader alert: I am going to quote and discuss Trump tweets

“Do you notice we are not having a gun debate right now? That’s because they used knives and a truck!”

My immediate reaction was to tweet this this is why we should have a gun debate right now. The fact that 3 terrorists killed 7 victims not 70 shows the benefits of UK gun control. In the USA a single terrorist killed 49 people . My reactions to the horrible news from London included the thought that UK gun control is a very good thing as shown by the fact that the depraved killers were armed only with a truck and knives.

As is often the case, I think we learn something from Trump about the defects in human cognition. When something horrible happens, it is not at all natural to think that it could have been even worse. However, it is often useful.

I worry about writing this post. It seems (even to me) that I am heartless — that if I could grasp the suffering of people who loved the 7 victims — I couldn’t think that things could have been worse. I think that this reaction of distaste for my post (or disgust) which I feel myself is a problem. Reducing the number of deaths due to terrorism requires pragmatic thinking which involves moral arithmetic.

On the other hand, at least Trump is simple. In addition to a refusal to consider how the number of deaths was reduced by gun control, Trump also immediately connected the attack to the policy debate with

“We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!”

This tweet was very widely denounced as an effort to exploit a tragedy for political advantage (which it was) and a sign that, for Trump, it is always all about Trump. Fewer people (including @mattyglesias) noted that the tweet makes no sense. Trump doesn’t know if the terrorists are refugees, immmigrants or travellers from the banned countries. The argument is a Sir Humphrey syllogism: we must do something, the travel ban is something, we must do the travel ban.

Notably, the tweet shows that the travel ban is an expression of islamaphobia. The London terrorists said “Allah”. To Trump that means that the attack is evidence in favor of a ban designed to keep moslems out of the USA. He didn’t think that he is supposed to deny that the ban is about religion not nationality (he also didn’t remember that he isn’t supposed to call the ban a “ban”). The reaction (which I am sure is sincere) is that we have to do more to protect ourselves from them when they are an undifferentiated alien threat including UK born citizens of the UK and “ourselves” include other UK born citizens of the UK.

One immediate fear is that this instinctive reaction is universal and the absense of any filter between Trump’s lizard brain and his twitter feed strengthens him. He certainly didn’t act like a normal politician. In this case, I prefer the normal politicians reaction, but I think I understand why many voters prefer the irrational impulsive Trump response, which was sincere. I think this is how people can know he lies all the time and also say that he is not afraid to speak the truth.

But somehow Trump manages to unite two defects. The emotional reaction in which the horror of 7 deaths prevents one from considering that 70 would have been ten times as horrible (an observation which is, I think, both accurate and appalling) and also the appalling instant effort to use a tragedy to win a debate.

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The Cost of Climate Change: It’s Not About Psychology

by Peter Dorman   (originally published at Econospeak)

The Cost of Climate Change: It’s Not About Psychology


You know there are problems with economics when things that are perfectly reasonable in the context of economic theory are clearly absurd once you step out of it.  Case in point: the claim in today’s New York Times piece by Neil Irwin that the economic cost of climate change vs the actions we’d need to mitigate it depends on “how, as a society, we count the value of time.”

In economics?  Yes.  The present value of climate and climate mitigation costs depends on the discount rate, the extent to which we devalue something a year from now because it’s a year away.  That’s how you do a cost-benefit analysis.  It really matters for climate policy because the costs tend to be upfront and the benefits decades or even centuries down the road.  Economists wrack their brains over how to select exactly the “right” discount rate to perform these calculations.

But think about it for a moment.  While there’s a “technical” aspect to time preference—investing today can result in measurable returns over time—the discount rate also depends on psychology: how present-oriented are we?

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Ted Cruz failed to properly disclose Goldman Sachs loans: FEC

Via Salon, another Goldman Sachs story:

Ted Cruz failed to properly disclose Goldman Sachs loans: FEC

This has not been a good week for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. First he is the butt of a cutting joke by Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota (who told “USA Today” that “I like Ted Cruz probably more than my colleagues like Ted Cruz, and I hate Ted Cruz”), and now the Federal Election Commission has ruled against him — unanimously, no less.

The three Republican FEC members joined the two Democrats to find that Cruz failed to properly account for loans he had received from two banks, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, during the 2012 election, according to a report by Bloomberg. Cruz borrowed $1.1 million worth of loans from the banks during his Senate campaign in Texas, with the FEC determining that Cruz had loaned his campaign $800,000 from Goldman Sachs (where his wife Heidi works) and $264,000 from Citigroup.

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Fighting Zombies with Zombies

Fighting Zombies with Zombies

Larry Mishel and Josh Bivens enlist zombie government policy ponies in their battle against “the zombie robot argument“:

Technological change and automation absolutely can, and have, displaced particular workers in particular economic sectors. But technology and automation also create dynamics (for example, falling relative prices of goods and services produced with fewer workers) that help create jobs in other sectors. And even when automation’s job-generating and job-displacing forces don’t balance out, government policy can largely ensure that automation does not lead to rising overall unemployment.

The catch here is that the displacement of workers by technology and the investment that re-absorbs workers displaced by technology are largely, but not entirely, independent factors. “Government policy” in the quoted paragraph is just another name for investment. Hans Neisser observed in his 1942 article on technological unemployment that “it is impossible to predict the outcome of the race between the two [investment and displacement] on purely theoretical grounds.”

The conclusion is inevitable: there is no mechanism within the framework of rational economic analysis that, in any situation, would secure the full absorption of displaced workers and render “permanent” technological unemployment in any sense impossible.

The “robot apocalypse” is neither impossible nor inevitable. It is probably unlikely, but unlikely things do happen, especially when people become complacent about the impossibility of unlikely things happening.

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