Friday, October 27, 2017

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Short Takes

Trump’s tax plan is great for business.  Deficit?  What?

National parks endangered by Trump’s plan to reverse course on preservation.

“Freedom Caucus” approves warmed-over healthcare bill.

Which are the highest — and lowest — rated U.S. airlines?

Talk about your native Americans…

R.I.P. Jonathan Demme, 73, director of “Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia.”

Monday, April 17, 2017

Short Takes

U.S. “working with China” over North Korea.

Thousands of refugees saved off the Libyan coast.

Turkey’s Erdogan claims victory in referendum; critics cry fraud.

United changes their overbooking policy.

Border wall could leave some Americans in the Mexican side.

The Tigers are off to a respectable start: They’re 8-4 and atop the AL Central.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sunday Reading

Millennials vs. Trump — Doug Bock Clark in Mother Jones on Jon Ossoff’s run for Congress in Georgia.

Jon Ossoff doesn’t like to talk about his age. His reticence is understandable. Since the media and liberal voters foisted the 30-year-old political neophyte from the Atlanta suburbs into the national spotlight, he’s been celebrated by Democrats as a wunderkind who might lead the resistance against Trump and simultaneously ridiculed by Republicans, who fear the same thing, as a “spoiled frat boy.” As the front-runner in the heated special election race to replace Tom Price, whom Trump elevated to be his secretary of health and human services, in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District—a seat not held by a Democrat since the 1970s—he has endured numerous attacks targeting his relative youth. One ad spliced authentic clips of Ossoff costumed as Han Solo from a college spoof video with stock footage of frat boys doing keg stands. “I don’t want to marginalize youth,” recently mused Bruce LeVell, 53, former head of Trump’s national diversity coalition and one of 11 Republican, five Democratic, and two independent candidates who will face off against Ossoff on April 18. “But I think that a wealth of life experiences can be a tremendous asset for a congressional seat.”

Speaking last week in Alpharetta, Georgia, at a mansion overlooking a lake, Ossoff had attracted so many supporters that the property’s owner nervously joked his deck might not be able to support the crowd. In the previous three hours, we’d visited four separate rallies where hordes of Democrats lined roads with signs reading “Vote Your Ossoff.” “I’m trying to make the case to voters across the political spectrum,” Ossoff told the assembly, “that someone who brings a younger perspective”—then he corrected himself—”a fresher perspective… can change the culture in Washington more effectively than someone who has run for office nine or ten times.”

With his campaign promise to “Make Trump Furious,” Ossoff is riding a wave of disaffection among all Democrats, but millennials are an especially important part of his coalition. Consistently polling in the mid-to-low-40s, Ossoff needs only a handful more percentage points to break the 50% threshold on April 18 and claim outright victory. If he fails to obtain a majority he’ll face a much tougher runoff vote on June 20 versus the second-place finisher, in support of whom a critical mass of Republican voters might unite. The Sixth District is deeply Republican, with a white, elderly, and affluent voter base, which may be hard to sway from their traditional voting habits. But the district includes 146,000 people aged 18 to 34—about 27% of all eligible voters in the district—and Ossoff is relying, in part, on these young voters to turn out in unprecedented numbers and nudge him to victory. The race is so close that one of the only ways for Ossoff to win, in other words, is for large numbers of millennials to do for him what they didn’t do for Hillary Clinton: vote.

“My generation has gotten complacent about our rights,” Alison Curnie, 31, said on the deck overlooking the lake, as she endorsed Ossoff to the cheering crowd. “We thought they would be there in perpetuity. But if anything good has come out of this last election, it’s that we’re no longer complacent.”

During the two days I spent on the campaign trail, young people were an inescapable presence. Most staffers and volunteers I encountered were of the millennial generation, though there were plenty of older people as well. Ossoff’s supporters believe his youth is a positive quality, a way to bring a new mindset to Washington. As Matt Tompkins, 26, told me, “Ossoff is the first time we’ve had someone who represents our socially conscious values. Someone who’s 60 doesn’t have the worldview of being raised in modern reality with technology, the internet, diversity, and everything else.”

So far, millennials have been a dormant power in politics. As John Della Volpe, the Director of Polling at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, told me: “There are more millennials than any other generation on earth, but they don’t vote in the same proportion that other generations do. The main reason they don’t vote is they don’t see a tangible impact from it, so the degree to which Ossoff can convince them that this election matters is going to be key.”

And so while a flurry of punditry in recent days has interpreted Ossoff’s campaign as a predictor of whether or not anti-Trump sentiment will be enough to buoy Dems to congressional victories over the next two years, his race also raises another and perhaps more pressing question: Can this 30-year-old, and the anti-Trump resistance of which he’s been anointed figurehead and bellwether, re-energize young voters’ enthusiasm for democracy in general and Democrats in particular?

“Previously, I’d been a registered Republican, even Libertarian leaning,” Curnie told me on the deck. “I used to have the luxury of being a Republican because I didn’t think anyone was coming for my birth control and civil rights. But this election has made me realize we’ve got to stick up for our civil rights before we worry about tax brackets.”

Ossoff’s success owes a great deal to his becoming an internet phenomenon. When he launched his campaign in early January with an email telling voters to “Make Trump Furious,” it caught the attention of liberal bloggers anxiously following the third Congressional contest of the Trump era. Daily Kos, the left-leaning website, began promoting him. Donations poured in, with each fundraising success spurring more coverage. Today he has amassed more than $8.3 million in about three months, much of it from out-of-state voters—a record for a candidate who is not self-financed. His campaign says he has received nearly 200,000 separate donations from all over the nation, at an average size of $43.

Just as Ossoff has seized national attention in a particularly social media-savvy way, his life before the race shows how a generation of millennials may be preparing for politics. Raised in the suburb of Northlake, Ossoff always dreamt of becoming a politician. He planted yard placards with his parents in support of local Democrats as a boy. By 2003, his childhood friend Karl Langberg, 30, remembers that he was running a blog devoted to politics and debating online with older readers, who didn’t know they were arguing with a teenager behind the screen. At Paideia, a pricy private high school, he started an alternative publication to the school newspaper, which he named the Great Speckled Pi in homage to a liberal underground Atlanta newspaper of the sixties and seventies. By then, his friends knew he wanted to one day run for office. “There was an understanding among our group,” says Dustin Chambers, another childhood friend, “that he wanted to run someday and he was equipping himself to do so.”

Ossoff’s focus on government continued while studying at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, during which he also worked part-time for Representative Hank Johnson. Facebook went global when he was a freshmen, forever transforming politics by recording every embarrassing moment of one’s youth. “But,” Chambers said, “Jon immediately became aware of how that altered the political landscape. It made clear to him that he needed to be a squeaky-clean guy.”  After graduating, he managed Johnson’s 2010 reelection campaign and then worked for him fulltime on the Hill, specializing in national security issues.

Ossoff’s work for Johnson has been the substance of the one attack that has dinged his reputation. He carefully claims: “I’ve got five years of experience as a national security staffer in the U.S. Congress. I held top secret security clearance.” All of which is true—though two of those years he was working part-time and he only held top-level clearance for five months at the end of his time on the Hill. “Technically, Ossoff walks a very careful line,” a Washington Post fact-checker wrote. “But the overall impression is misleading.”

In 2013, he earned a master’s degree at the London School of Economics, and then became CEO of Insight TWI, a VICE-like new media company, whose films have documented corruption among judges in Africa and the front-line battle against ISIS. As he traversed the globe with a camera, he still thought about seeking office, but assumed it would be far in the future.

On the night of November 8, he was filming a right-wing militia in rural Georgia as men sat around a campfire and watched the election results roll in on their cellphones. Distraught, he drove an hour-and-a-half to Manuel’s, a famous Atlanta watering hole for politicos, where he met his childhood friend Chambers and watched Trump claim victory. “I had never seen him so scared, so unsure,” Chambers, who is now a volunteer on Ossoff’s campaign, recalls. “He is one of those people who always has the answers. That night, I could see him calculating a lot of different disturbing outcomes for the next four years.”

The day after his appearance at the lake house, Ossoff sat onstage in the Dunwoody High School auditorium along with 17 other candidates—the full spectrum of American political opinion, from the Tea Party to moderate Republicans, including Karen Handel, his nearest competitor, with 15% of the vote in polls. The majority of voters were white-haired or bald, and paged through programs as each candidate spoke, making notes. But most millennials in attendance already had their minds made up: they wore Ossoff blue and loudly cheered him.

While he waited for his turn to speak, Ossoff kept his gaze fixed on each speechifying opponent, as a Republican tracker in jean shorts and hiking boots aimed a mini-cam at his face. A tracker has been video-taping Ossoff’s every move for about two months, sometimes shouting questions at him, trying to force a reaction that can be turned into an attack ad or negative news story.

When Ossoff took the microphone, he said, “I worked on Capitol Hill for five years, and I saw how things work and how they do not. I saw the partisanship, the gridlock, the pettiness, and the corruption. I think it’s time for fresh leadership in Washington.” Speaking, he kept his hands clasped in front of him, his fingers carefully interlaced, never flourishing his arms or stabbing a finger to emphasize a point. The rest of his speech sketched plans to grow the district’s burgeoning technology sector and to fight government corruption, though it presented few details and lacked the shots at Trump that initially fired up the base. If there’s one signature issue that Ossoff has promised to tackle in Congress, it’s bringing his investigative documentary chops to bear on Washington—but the specifics of what muck he’d rake are hazy.

Ultimately, this is probably part of his strategy. Acknowledging the Republican tilt of the district, Ossoff has kept his recent statements just a few inches left of the center and vague. He has appealed to progressive Berniecrats primarily by positioning himself against Trump, but without pushing their core platform positions like single-payer healthcare, free tuition, or steep taxes on the rich.

Ossoff also has to appeal to the nearly 317,000 minorities in the district, especially in DeKalb County, where many are concentrated. However, the worst early voting turnout has been in the heavily Democratic DeKalb County, though this may partially be due to the fact that it has the worst voting access in the district.

It’s in regard to Ossoff’s fuzzy policies that this race circles back to larger questions about the fight against Trump. Can a classic liberal, whose positions seem more in line with the pre-Trump-era Democratic party establishment, spark millennials to vote in significant numbers? If Ossoff ducks leading youthful progressives, is anti-Trump fervor and the implicit promise of shared life-experience going to be enough for them to identity with him?

It’s a question the party is wrestling with on a national scale. Many liberals are angered that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee didn’t invest in the race for the seat vacated when Trump picked Mike Pompeo to become Director of the CIA, believing they didn’t have a shot to win in the deeply red Wichita, Kansas, district—only to find that the Republican candidate barely triumphed. Ossoff’s surprise front-runner status is a testament to the power of the anti-Trump movement, but the flaws in his coalition also speak to fractures in the larger Democratic party alliance that may sabotage his chances of electoral success.

Ossoff’s reticence to deeply engage with policy questions, and his statuesque self-control on the campaign trail, has led some observers to criticize him as stiff and lacking depth, including a recent New York magazine profiler. When I asked Ossoff for his response to the article, he said: “I’m trying to win a congressional race, not give spellbinding magazine interviews.”

But many of his millennial fans interpret his self-possession differently: as the result of growing up in an era when every stray bit of speech can end up broadcast across the world. “He knows that he’s being recorded every second,” Alexandra Brosovich, 24, whom I met at a rally, later told me on the phone. “Someone who grew up in the 1960s before cellphone videos and social media just doesn’t understand how careful you’ve got to be when everything’s recorded. He made an instant connection with me and my friends.”

Political reporters often want to call the same back-slapping, Big Mac-chomping extroversion authenticity. But maybe at heart Ossoff is simply an even-tempered, conscientious, and deliberate man. He’s the kind of guy who used the word “duplicative” in casual conversation, and at rallies tried to substitute ten-dollar words for ones like “folks.” According to his childhood friend Chambers, Ossoff even studied Barack Obama as a public persona to emulate. Ossoff summed up his own character to me by saying, “I think, for me, it’s important never to get too high and never to get too low. I just try to remain in a grounded, balanced place.”

One day, we visited a baseball field just a few minutes walk from the redbrick house where Ossoff grew up (which still had a fallen Clinton-Kaine yard sign lying by its driveway).

As Ossoff and I slung a grass-stained baseball back and forth, even after he shucked his suit jacket, his speech remained precise. When I asked about his strongest memory of that field, he answered: “Just playing catch with my dad, man, in the crisp autumn air, just as the leaves are starting to turn, when you can taste the first bite of winter, coming down here for that last time before it gets too dark, before it gets too cold.”

Those close to Ossoff acknowledge he is meticulous, but also point out that his exactingness is subordinate to his adventurousness—whether running for Congress or producing documentaries about a female battalion in Iraq. Ossoff has had a pilot license since he was a teenager. Today, in rare interludes of free time, he will gather a small group of friends before dawn, rent a Cessna, and then fly them to remote airstrips in the Appalachian Mountains, where they will hike all day before returning to Atlanta by dusk. “I love the challenge of mountains,” he told me, “the accomplishment of the summit, the vantage point, and the solitude.”

Despite Ossoff’s discipline, spend enough time with him and you’ll find his intensity palpable. The unspooling way he pitched the baseball at me looked effortless—he didn’t even break a sweat despite his button-up and tie—but as he pounded my palm with pinpoint accuracy, my hand numbed. Walking off the field, I asked, “What’s the event that made you who you are today?”

He looked around at the backstop and the basketball courts of the nearby elementary school. Twenty-four seconds slid by. He was new enough to this that he didn’t have an answer immediately at hand.

Then he said, with a bit of a snarl curling his voice for the first time, “I remember kids getting bullied on the playground. It really pissed me off. And right now, there are a lot of people being bullied in this country.”

Take A Deep Breath — Robert Bateman says that North Korea’s nukes are not worth freaking out about.

I was not all that concerned when the news first broke last week. The Strike Group based around the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was diverting from a visit and exercises with the Australians and instead heading north from Singapore towards the Western Pacific (and, possibly, the Sea of Japan). The move was seen as saber rattling by many on cable news and in various op-eds, and a positive invitation for chaotic hand-wringing by those of a more anxious nature. But my own assessment was more along the lines of a giant yawn. This has not changed, a whit, since the talking heads here and there have lost their collective minds, worrying about an American strike on North Korea.

People, it ain’t happening.

Were something like that in the plans, you would see a whole lot of other moving military parts: Other carrier groups heading west from California, Marines being mobilized on Okinawa, amphibious ships being sent out, and Air Force and Army units being sent to staging bases.

None of that has happened, so let’s all relax.

North Korea, of course, responded with their normal bluster. As reported by The New York Daily News they issued this warning:

“This goes to prove that the U.S. reckless moves for invading the DPRK have reached a serious phase of its scenario,” the spokesman said in a statement, using an acronym for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “If the U.S. dares opt for a military action, crying out for ‘preemptive attack’ and ‘removal of the headquarters,’ the DPRK is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S.”

They react this way every single time, to every single item, so this press release went in the “so what” file immediately.

The bottom line is that, beyond all this hyperbole, the reality of the situation is much less about any American strike on North Korea. Here is why: We do not have the assets in that group to really do much, and in this case, conducting a strike against their homeland would be utter idiocy.

The US Navy battle group is assigned to the 3rd Fleet and it consists, officially, of just four major warships, the Aircraft Carrier Carl Vinson, the Aegis Destroyers USS Wayne E. Meyer and USS Michael Murphy, and the Ticonderoga class Cruiser USS Lake Champlain. We do not know, but it can be assumed with some degree of confidence that the group may also be operating in concert with one or more submarines, either regularly or temporarily as the situation dictates.

In conventional terms, a group like that does have the potential to pack a pretty good wallop. That close to Japan they would not be overly worried about using a larger percentage of their missile load such as the TLAMs I wrote about last week. But you might as well leave aside the carrier and its air wing, because that is moderately useless for offensive options in any North Korean scenario. (Except, perhaps, as a deception or distraction.) Each of the destroyers, however, has some 96 vertical-launch tubes that can carry both TLAMs and “Standard” air-defense missiles (the SM-2 to be specific), among others. The cruiser Lake Champlain carries an even bigger load, with 122 launching tubes. But as explained last week, those TLAMs would not necessarily be all that useful, given their fairly limited munitions options. The TLAMs carry either pure High Explosives, or a scatterable sub-munition option. Neither of which is much good for punching into things like hardened runways or caves dug into the sides of mountains.

So why send that naval package up north? Well, there is one system that has not gotten a ton of media attention, though I am not sure why. That system really could be a useful tool, and one that might be used to send a message while at the same time not leave us open to blame for conducting an offensive strike. It is a combination of the very sophisticated “Aegis” radar system carried by both the destroyers and the cruiser, and the upgraded “Standard” missile known as the SM-3.

The SM-3 missile (technically the RIM-161, Standard Missile -3) can shoot down other missiles, even ballistic ones. Even satellites in outer space for that matter. And although we do not know if those type of missiles are loaded aboard the Lake Champlain at this instant (information like that would be classified), if I was a betting man, I would probably lay some money that they are.

Why does this matter? Because in addition to being pretty loud lately, you might have noticed that North Korea has been testing a lot of missiles. On top of that, the North Koreans just hosted another one of their big self-congratulatory military parades. Sometimes they like to fire off hardware around the time of these events, international treaties and sanctions be damned. Usually those missiles are fired to the east, into the Sea of Japan, and sometimes into Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone. According to preliminary reports, this hasn’t happened yet. But if it did?

Let’s get back to our battlegroup, equipped with the SM-3s aboard an Aegis cruiser, operating in international waters well away from North Korea itself. What would international opinion be if we shot an illegally fired missile out of the sky when it was headed towards Japan? It would mean demonstrating at one stroke both North Korea’s inability to actually use those missiles they are trying so hard to develop, and enforcing the sanctions against those same launches that are already in place from the international community.

For now? Let’s all take a deep breath.

Fly The Arrogant Skies — Kaveh Waddell in The Atlantic.

A security guard stops a customer as she tries to enter a well-stocked aisle in a large department store. “Sorry, ma’am,” the guard says. “This sale is for our silver, gold, and platinum shoppers only.” He points her toward the meager discount corner at the back of the store, where bronze-status shoppers are allowed. She passes attendants who smile only at the elite shoppers, offering them refreshments and guiding them toward the best deals. When she stops for gas on the way home, she gets in a long line for the basic pump, while the priority pump sits empty and unused. At the grocery store, she doesn’t have enough points to approach the organic produce.

This beleaguered consumer lives in an alternate reality where businesses can discriminate between their high-value and low-value clientele at will, enticing the biggest spenders to stay while marginalizing bargain hunters and coupon cutters. Most companies couldn’t get away with triaging their customers this way. But some already do: airlines.

This inequality is enshrined in frequent-flyer programs. They’re not like typical rewards systems, which simply encourage loyalty with discounts. Instead, they create elaborate hierarchies, discriminating between platinum flyers and coach passengers in nearly every step of the air-travel experience, from booking to baggage claim.

These programs also help airlines gather data on their passengers. They track details like customers’ favorite routes, the fares they pay, and extra services they buy, says John Strong, an aviation expert who teaches at William and Mary’s business school.

David Dao, the doctor who was dragged from his seat on a United flight last weekend, was a victim of the airline’s algorithm (and, of course, of security officers in Chicago, who left him with a concussion, a broken nose, and two missing teeth). United’s contract of carriage, which lays out how the airline will treat its passengers, outlines how passengers might be “denied boarding involuntarily”:

The priority of all other confirmed passengers may be determined based on a passenger’s fare class, itinerary, status of frequent-flyer program membership, and the time in which the passenger presents him/herself for check-in without advanced seat assignment.

Dao was more likely to be chosen than others because he wasn’t connecting to another flight, and based on the fact that the algorithm selected him, he probably didn’t rank very highly in United’s rewards program. Strong says a passenger’s itinerary and his or her value as a customer are the main criteria an airline considers when picking who to bump from a flight. “While airlines have the information to create a more detailed pecking order, they don’t go much beyond that in practice,” Strong said.

Airlines can game out just how much each customer is worth, and treat them accordingly, said Joseph Turow, a professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania. “Irrespective of any individual fare, they have this overarching notion of who their valued customers are, and what their lifetime value is,” he said. “And because of the structure of the system, they can take advantage of it to the point of being mean to people.”

Business travelers, who are less likely than leisure travelers to comparison-shop for airfare, reap the rewards of pricey, company-sponsored travel in the form of miles. They’re pampered, while passengers in the back, who are more likely to have simply searched for the best deal, are left without many frills.

Giving priority to some isn’t a practice unique to the airline industry, says Strong. “More valuable customers at brokerage houses get dedicated access communications and cheaper trades; hotels offer free wi-fi and other complimentary benefits to their best customers,” he said. “Almost anyone who has a loyalty program differentiates benefits by the value of different groups of customers.”

But the gap between coach and business class is particularly wide. That might partly stem from a lack of competition in the industry, which gives airlines a relatively large amount of control over their customers. Because of the disparity between premium and economy fares—and companies’ willingness to buy expensive seats for their employees, sometimes at the last minute—airlines are mostly interested in luring business passengers. But as they attract those travelers with fancy perks, they provide the economy cabin with only the bare minimum.

One reason this is the status quo is that there’s little budget passengers can do to avoid an airline they don’t like. The big U.S. carriers have near-monopolies over air travel from many (though not all) major American airports, leaving price-sensitive travelers little choice when they fly. That makes boycotting a major airline nearly impossible, as Christopher Ingraham wrote in The Washington Post this week. And so carriers can get away with a lot more than, say, retailers or gas stations: If Nordstrom’s starts treating its low-margin customers poorly, they’ll just walk on over to Neiman Marcus, or Bloomingdale’s, or Saks.

Those retailers can, however, discriminate between their high- and low-value customers more subtly. They might dole out coupons and discounts to encourage their “best” shoppers to keep coming back—and withhold them from the “bad” ones, like those who have a habit of returning items, or who buy things that don’t make the company very much money. Online stores can do this more surreptitiously, by showing different shoppers different prices and ads, and nudging them toward—or away from—certain products and services.

One thing that might be warding off the platinum-sale alternate reality in these other industries is antitrust law. These regulations help keep retailers from forming huge, inescapable monopolies—the kind that United, Delta, American, and Southwest enjoy in parts of the country, thanks to lax regulation of the industry in recent years—and prevent them from deploying these airline-perfected tactics.

For now, Turow says, other industries “don’t have nearly the ability to be as arrogant as the airlines are.” They have to be quieter about their discriminatory tactics, and maintain a pleasant enough atmosphere that won’t drive away their customers. “Whether this will ever change so they can get such a grip on people,” Turow says, “I don’t know.” But as antitrust policies weaken—as they have over the past few decades—and monopolies grow in power and number, the distance between airlines and the rest of the business world might be in danger of shrinking.

 Doonesbury — I got your facts right here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Government Isn’t A Business

Here we go again, reinventing government.

Trump plans to unveil a new White House office on Monday with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises — such as reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction — by harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions.

The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump. Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements.

“All Americans, regardless of their political views, can recognize that government stagnation has hindered our ability to properly function, often creating widespread congestion and leading to cost overruns and delays,” Trump said in a statement to The Washington Post. “I promised the American people I would produce results, and apply my ‘ahead of schedule, under budget’ mentality to the government.”

[…]

Kushner proudly notes that most of the members of his team have little-to-no political experience, hailing instead from the world of business. They include Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council; Chris Liddell, assistant to the president for strategic initiatives; Reed Cordish, assistant to the president for intergovernmental and technology initiatives; Dina Powell, senior counselor to the president for economic initiatives and deputy national security adviser; and Andrew Bremberg, director of the Domestic Policy Council.

Ivanka Trump, the president’s elder daughter and Kushner’s wife, who now does her advocacy work from a West Wing office, will collaborate with the innovation office on issues such as workforce development but will not have an official role, aides said.

We’ve seen this before.  Someone running for office promises to run government like a business and get rid of all the red tape and bureaucracy.  It makes a great sound bite, but there are problems with the comparison.

For one thing, government and business may have similarities in terms of structure: they both work out of offices, they have a corporate structure in terms of chain of command, they have departments that handle various duties such as finance, legal, and public outreach, but there the similarities end.  Businesses exist to provide a product or service to a segment of the public and in doing so make a profit, thereby staying in business.  They don’t necessarily exist to serve all of the people all of the time and their most important product is a profit and a happy board of directors.  Governments, on the other hand and in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” and the goal of that government is, as the Preamble to the United States Constitution succinctly puts it, “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”.  With all due respect to capitalism, that is not the mission statement of a business, and if it tried to do that, it would go out of business in a hurry.  That’s why we have government; to do the things no business should attempt or be expected to do.

The chief complaint of those in favor of running the government like a business is that government is slow, bureaucratic, and at times wasteful.  They have a point, but then this is a large and very complex country with a multiplicity of challenges and situations that face our most basic needs; getting essential services to the all the people both fairly and without endangering life and property isn’t like running a lemonade stand or even a Starbucks.  In my world, the task of providing elementary and secondary education to all the children of my county and meeting their needs is incredibly complex; it’s not a one-room school anymore.

And if there is anyone who is going to attempt to make government perform like a business, the last person who should be doing it is Trump.  His record of bankruptcies, shoddy and questionable dealings, and hyperbole in trying to pass off cheap crap as the crown jewels is well-documented and the stuff of civil suits.  If anything, he should be the first-year MBA seminar in how not to run a company if morality and honest practice are to be considered.

The best historical model of how Trump operates and probably how Jared Kushner would SWAT government is enshrined in business lore to the point that the very name has become a term for disaster.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Edsel.

Developed at the height of the fabulous ’50’s, it was to be the car of the future with styling and features to stagger the imagination and set the tone for cars to come.  Ford Motor Company invested millions of dollars in the concept, created a whole separate division, and built up the hype to the point that when it was unveiled in September 1957, the automotive world couldn’t wait to see it.

It turned out to be all of the above on a grotesque scale.  The styling was too radical — or laughable — even for the finned and chromed cars of the era, and underneath, it was just another Ford with a lot of features that either didn’t work or were just too much for the public who were still getting used to the idea of automatic transmissions.  Not only that, they weren’t very well built.  Ford, in an effort to keep costs low, built the cars on the same assembly lines as Fords and Mercurys so the people putting the car together might in their haste put the wrong parts on the vehicle coming down the line.

The car quickly became a laughing stock and furious efforts by Ford to save it by toning down the styling, cutting back on models, and merging the new division with Lincoln-Mercury failed.  A little more than two years after the Grand Opening the plug was pulled and the name Edsel entered the lexicon of America as a synonym for ignominious failure and a cautionary tale in business schools everywhere.

Given the record so far, I fully expect the name Trump to become the Edsel of government and a model for how not to run a country.

Bonus Track: At my request, CLW offered some thoughts on the subject.

As you note, the objectives of government and business are diametrically opposite. Businesses serve themselves. They exist to generate profit for the shareholders, and to insure not only their continued existence but their growth and success. The only real reason companies provide good customer service is that it tends to be good for further business, not out of some altruistic sense of “good.”

Government, on the other hand, is there to serve the country and insure its objectives: peace, tranquility, general welfare, etc. In that sense, the government could be considered the largest US non-profit. And everything about a non-profit is different — they exist for altruistic reasons, they often run extremely lean, they distribute or reinvest all profits, and they attract an entirely different employee. Employees of government or a non-profit are usually there because of the overall mission, and often forego more lucrative occupations in the for-profit world.

As organizations, government needs very different leadership. At the very least there’s scope. The US Gov’t has 4+ million employees (and perhaps that many contractors). That makes it at least twice the size of the world’s largest private employer Wal Mart with just over 2 million. The sheer scope of that means the organizational challenges are staggering. It takes an incredible depth and breadth of leadership skill to manage that, and it’s not a part-time job. That’s why the career employees in government are so important: they provide the experience and skill necessary to lead such a mammoth organization.

Finally as someone noted on the interweb the other day, we’re not customers of government, we’re the board of directors. You don’t do right by us, you’re fired. Try that at Koch Industries…

To expect someone like theDonald, or worse Jared Kushner, who have zero proven track record at managing organizations of more than a few thousand, to “fix” an organization that is 1000x larger is simply ridiculous.

Governing is the only profession where having no experience and open disdain for the mission is considered by some to be an asset.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Friday, January 13, 2017

Monday, December 5, 2016

Short Takes

Army Corps denies Dakota pipeline access route.

Will North Carolina governor concede re-election loss this week?

Survivors describe escape from warehouse fire in Oakland; toll rises to 30.

Austrians reject far-right candidate for president.

Jury appears to be one vote shy of conviction in Charleston shooting case.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sunday Reading

Sickly Sweet — David Singerman on the shady history of Big Sugar.

On Monday, an article in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that in the 1960s, the sugar industry paid Harvard scientists to publish a study blaming fat and cholesterol for coronary heart disease while largely exculpating sugar. This study, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, helped set the agenda for decades of public health policy designed to steer Americans into low-fat foods, which increased carbohydrate consumption and exacerbated our obesity epidemic.

This revelation rightly reminds us to view industry-funded nutrition science with skepticism and to continue to demand transparency in scientific research. But ending Big Sugar’s hold on the American diet will require a broader understanding of the various ways in which the industry, for 150 years, has shaped government policy in order to fuel our sugar addiction.

Today’s sugar industry is a product of the 19th century, when the key federal sugar policy was not a dietary guideline but a tariff on sugar imports. In the decades after the Civil War, Americans’ per capita consumption of sugar more than doubled, from 32 pounds in 1870 to 80 pounds in 1910. As a result, the government got hooked on sugar, too: By 1880, sugar accounted for a sixth of the federal budget.

To protect domestic refiners, then the largest manufacturing employer in Northern cities, the tariff distinguished between two kinds of sugar: “refined” and “raw.” Refined sugar that was meant for direct consumption paid a much higher rate than did raw sugar crystals intended for further refining and whitening. But by the late 1870s, new industrial sugar factories in the Caribbean began to jeopardize this protectionist structure. Technologically sophisticated, these factories could produce sugar that, while raw by the government’s standard, was consistently much closer to refined sugar than ever before (akin to sweeteners such as Sugar in the Raw today). The American industry now faced potential competition from abroad.

The country’s largest refiners mobilized on several fronts. They lobbied the United States Congress to adopt chemical instruments that could measure the percentage of sucrose in a sugar cargo, and to deem sugar refined when its sucrose content was sufficiently high. Previously, customs officers had judged the purpose of a sugar cargo by its color, smell, taste and texture, as people throughout the sugar trade had done for centuries. Now refiners argued that such sensory methods were ripe for abuse because they depended on a subjective appraisal. They demanded a scientific standard instead — one that would reveal some “raw” sugar to be nearly pure and thus subject to higher tariffs — and they prevailed.

Their plea for scientific objectivity may have sounded sensible, but it masked nefarious aims. Like the tobacco industry in the 1960s, these refiners knew that scientific questions were hard for outsiders to adjudicate, and thus easier to manipulate to an industry’s advantage. If refiners were to bribe a customs chemist to shade his results in their favor — as they were routinely accused of doing for decades, beginning in the 1870s — such corruption would be much harder for the government to detect than it had been when everyone could see and smell the same sugar.

In addition to their lobbying, refiners waged a public campaign to dissuade Americans from eating raw sugar. One of their common advertisements featured a disgusting insect that supposedly inhabited raw sugar and caused an ailment called “grocer’s itch” in those who handled it. Other pamphlets suggested that Cuban factories operated by slaves or Chinese indentured workers would “give the people sugar teeming with animals and Cuban dirt.”

The refiners’ real agenda, of course, was not Americans’ health; it was to maximize their profits from selling sugar. Thanks in part to their influence over both tariff policy and the new methods of customs collection, the big refiners were soon able to form the Sugar Trust, one of the most notorious and successful monopolies of the Gilded Age. By the early 20th century, belief in the health benefits of refined sugar was so widespread that increasing Americans’ consumption of it actually became a goal of federal policy.

Looking back at the industry’s transformation of sugar (an edible substance derived from a plant) into sucrose (a molecule), we also see the roots of “nutritionism” in United States policy. That’s the idea that what matters to human health is not food per se but rather a handful of isolable biochemical factors. As food critics like Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle have argued, nutritionism is better at helping processed-food companies market their products as healthy (“with Omega-3 added!”) than it is at promoting our well-being.

Today, the sugar industry remains politically powerful, with consequences for both public health and the environment. The Miami Herald reported this summer, for example, that the industry contributed $57 million to Florida elections in the last 22 years; meanwhile, state officials have resisted efforts to make sugar companies pay for their damage to the Everglades.

If we want to check the power of Big Sugar, we’d be well served to acknowledge the long record — past as well as present — of the industry’s machinations.

The Astringent Power of Edward Albee — Hilton Als in The New Yorker.

Writing that gets under your skin, in your bones, will play in your head and memory like nothing else. While painting, photography, and movies can come at you with a very particular force—an in-your-face power that, when done correctly, unearths hitherto unexamined or marginalized feelings—dramatic literature lives in your ear, and, when it’s truly great, shapes how you shape words yourself.

As a very young writer or, at any rate, as a young person who longed to write, I was especially taken by Edward Albee’s plays, the astringent power of all those speeches and curt one-liners that disinfected or seemed to scour a stage world lousy with illusions. He was a different kind of realist. As the youngest of the three artists who reshaped the architecture of the postwar American theatre—Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller completed the trinity, and were more than a decade older than their younger colleague—Albee didn’t make work that believed only in the story. That is, the playwright wasn’t entirely convinced that telling a story led to anything as trite as catharsis. While Williams and Miller believed their protagonists—and often identified with them—Albee was just as often skeptical if not down right distrustful of what his characters said, and how they said it.

Despite the violence of their words, Albee’s characters do not speak freely; they are always hedging their bets because life is disappointing, and who wants to have less of what they already have? The best that Albee’s characters manage to do is steel themselves or bulwark themselves against the fake, often within hollow conventions like marriage that his domineering women and seemingly passive men cling to and talk about wryly, and with more longing than their shared bitchiness would ever let on. Like many of us, Albee learned to cope—to build the defenses he felt were necessary to survive—while sitting on his mother’s knee. But he was rarely, if ever, coddled as a child. In an interview with Lillian Ross that appeared in this magazine in 1961, after three of his first short plays were performed in New York and abroad—1959’s “The Zoo Story”; and “The Death of Bessie Smith” and “The American Dream,” both from 1961—Albee told the reporter a bit about his background:

Born in Washington, D.C., on March 12, 1928, and came to New York when I was two weeks old . . . I have no idea who my natural parents were, although I’m sure my father wasn’t a President, or anything like that. I was adopted by my father, Reed A. Albee, who worked for his father, Edward Franklin Albee, who started a chain of theatres with B. F. Keith and then sold out to R.K.O. My father is retired now. My mother is a remarkable woman. An excellent horsewoman and saddle-horse judge. I was riding from the time I was able to walk. My parents had a stable of horses in Larchmont or Scarsdale or Rye, one of those places. I don’t ride anymore. Just sort of lost interest in it. My parents gave me a good home and a good education. . . . I went to Choate. . . . I was very happy there. I went on to Trinity College, in Hartford, for a year and a half. I didn’t have enough interest in it to stick it out for four years. . . . After a year and a half, the college suggested that I not come back, which was fine with me.

Memory has a way of trivializing the truth—and smoothing over the past—in a way that is misleading. Albee’s mother may have been an excellent horsewoman, but her skills did not extend to mothering. She treated her only child as something of an accessory, and lived for herself—for her idea of power. The best and most troublesome of Albee’s female characters are her. After Albee left home, he never saw his father again, and he had no real contact with his mother until seventeen years before her death. By then he had made a different kind of family—with like-minded gay men such as the poets Richard Howard and James Merrill, who had troubled relationships with their mothers, too, men who could go toe to toe with Albee in the Village bars they frequented, places where language was a performance in itself, and cruelty a badge of honor.

One gets the sense that, growing up and beyond, Albee was rather proud of his put-downs; he wanted to hurt the world he could never show had hurt him. For all the tension and confrontation in his plays, there’s a lot of avoidance. Mystery informs his best-known play, the 1962 Pulitzer Prize-winning “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” While Pamela McKinnon’s superlative 2012 production brought out so much in the famous text—including the fact that the warring married couple, George and Martha, were very turned on by one another—it only increased our interest in why, for instance, Martha drank, lied, cheated. Unlike Williams and Miller, Albee did not believe in backstories—that the child was, artistically speaking, father to the man—and when his characters “share,” none of it is cozy. It’s as if, when he left home, Albee wanted to be a different person—a person who would not describe his past as the past was attached to other people.

But, of course, we are always attached to other people: our relationships to them are, to some extent, who we are. Albee learned cruelty at home—one could call his domestic dramas the living room of cruelty—and he wrote most exquisitely about how cruelty can, for some, make a home. As a young artist, he borrowed too heavily from Ionesco—an early and permanent influence, along with Beckett—who thought characters existed for the sole purpose of making theatre. Albee was attracted to that idea, but he was also an American, which meant that storytelling of one sort or another was in his blood. He erred on the side of theatre as theatre when he came out with “Tiny Alice,” in 1964. I am very fond of this piece, which purports to be about the richest woman in the world—the Alice of the title—but what it’s really about is unfathomable. (Sir John Gielgud, who starred in the original production, told Albee that he didn’t know what the play was about. Albee said he didn’t really, either.) To my mind, the play is about meta theater, and role-playing; it borrows quite a bit from Jean Genet’s 1957 masterpiece, “The Balcony,” especially when it zeroes in on organized religion, another form of theatre. Here’s how it opens:

Lawyer: Oomm, yoom, yoom, yoom, Tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. Um? You do-do-do-do-um?. . . .

The Cardinal enters

Cardinal: Saint Francis?
Lawyer: Your eminence!
Cardinal: Our dear Saint Francis, who wandered in the fields and forests, talked to all the . . .
Lawyer: Your eminence, we appreciate your kindness in making the time to see us; we know how heavy a schedule you . . .
Cardinal: We are pleased. . . . We are pleased to be your servant . . . if we can be your servant. We addressed you as Saint Francis . . .
Lawyer: Oh, but surely . . .
Cardinal: . . . as Saint Francis . . . who did talk to the birds so, did he not. And here we find you, who talk not only to the birds but to—you must forgive us—to cardinals we well . . . . To cardinals? As well?
Lawyer: We . . . we understood.
Cardinal: Did we.
Lawyer: We find it droll—if altogether appropriate in this setting—that there should be two cardinals . . . uh, together . . . in conversation, as it were.
Cardinal: Ah, well, they are a comfort to each other . . . companionship. And they have so much to say. They . . . understand each other so much better than they would . . . uh, other birds.

Given Albee’s interest in the stage as an arena for ideas, it seems strange that critics and audiences rejected important works such as “Box” and “Quotations From Mao Tse-Tung.” Those short plays are all about voice—indeed, “Box” is a monologue starring a woman we never see—and also the logical extension of an experimentalist who, throughout his life, worked within fairly conventional structures. Albee continued to work hard even as, inevitably, he began to lose favor with the critics. He knew theatre was as much subject to trends as anything. In his 1962 essay “Some Notes on Nonconformity,” he put out this warning: “One must always mistrust fashion, because it is, as often as not, arbitrary; and the assumption that one can become informed of, and participate in, the intellectual temper of our time through reliance on any breathlessly composed list of fashionable far outs is funny and sad—and, what is much worse, terribly conformist.”

Albee did like plot and ideas, and often in his work the idea was the story. Listen carefully to Agnes at the beginning of “A Delicate Balance,” from 1966. The drama is about her body—and her mind. In no uncertain terms, she lets Tobias, her husband of many years, know how much he disgusted her at one point, but not before she talks about a thought she has had: What would happen if she lost her mind? Agnes is sister to Nancy in Albee’s underrated and fantastic, in all senses of the word, “Seascape” (1975). There Nancy sits on a beach with another husband of many years, and it doesn’t take her long to goad him into talking about a past that he doesn’t want to share while she belittles him for taking more risks—risks she probably would have been averse to when she was younger. What Nancy is really talking about, though, is her life. And the bitterness of compromise that is part of life:

Charlie: Well, we’ve earned a little . . .

Nancy: . . . rest. We’ve earned a little rest. Well, why don’t we act like the old folks, why don’t we sell off, and take one bag apiece and go to California, or in the desert where they have the farms—the retirement farms, the old folks’ cities? Why don’t we settle in to waiting, like . . . like the camels that we saw in Egypt—groan down on all fours, sigh, and eat the grass, or whatever it is. Why don’t we go and wait the judgment with our peers? Take our teeth out, throw away our corset, give to the palsy . . . the purgatory before purgatory.

Life as a way station between the worse and the worst. Marriage and security as a holding pattern between many kinds of deaths. I don’t think Albee ever wrote an “out” gay play, though “The Zoo Story” and his 1966 adaptation of James Purdy’s “Malcolm” contain more than their share of homoerotic feeling. But, for me, the gayness was always there—the high-dudgeon witchery of a very smart queen who “read” the world. (One wonders what Albee made of gay marriage.)

Part of Albee’s genius was figuring out ways to bring his brilliant gay talk to an audience that, at the time, may not have known what informed his ice-cold torrent of words against coupling, against convention. But his gay fans knew what was going on. We unearthed Albee’s aesthetic by putting his words in our queer mouths and laughing. Once, long ago, on a trip to Amsterdam with my closest friend, we read aloud from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” over and over again. Calling ourselves George and Martha during the readings was, of course, part of the camp. The names didn’t matter. What did was Albee’s revenge against a world that said George and Martha, in all their awfulness and vindictiveness, were normal, while we weren’t.

Thank You — Andy Borowitz

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Calling this “the greatest day of my life,” a visibly moved Barack Obama held a news conference on Friday to thank Donald Trump for granting him U.S. citizenship.

“The issue of whether or not I was a U.S. citizen has been a dark cloud over my existence for as long as I can remember,” a tearful Obama told the press corps. “Only one man had the courage, wisdom, and doggedness to make that cloud go away: Donald J. Trump.”

The President, who had to halt several times during his remarks to compose himself, praised the Republican Presidential nominee for “never giving up” in his quest to prove that Obama was born in the U.S.

“A weaker man would have said, ‘I don’t need this in my life,’ but Donald Trump was always there for me,” the President said. “Over the past five years, barely a day went by when he didn’t call me and say, ‘Barack, I don’t care what a bunch of crackpots say. You were born here, and I’m going to prove it once and for all.’ “

The President said he planned to spend the day celebrating his U.S. citizenship with his family. “It’s great to be an American, at last,” he said.

When asked if he had any message for Trump, the President paused for a moment. “Just this: I love you,” he said, a tear trickling down his cheek.

Doonesbury — Welcome aboard Trump Airlines.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Short Takes

Senate Zika bill blocked by Planned Parenthood fight.

Trump denies any wrongdoing in donation to Bondi campaign.

ITT Tech shuts down after USDOE cuts off student loan support.

Gretchen Carlson gets $20 million and apology in Fox sexual harassment suit.

Giant pandas no longer on the endangered species list.

Tropical Update: Invest 92L isn’t moving yet.

The Tigers lost to the White Sox 2-0.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Short Takes

One year for murder: Don Blankenship, the former head of Massey Energy, will serve the maximum penalty for his conviction for conspiracy that resulted in the death of 29 miners.

Not Quite: The prime minister of Iceland didn’t exactly resign after getting caught in the Panama Papers.

San Francisco mandates six weeks of paid parental leave.

Friended Fire: Militia groups get their weapons via Facebook.

The Tigers beat the Marlins 7-3; the perfect season continues.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Wounded Warriors Cleans House

Following up on last Sunday’s Doonesbury, there’s been some soul-searching and firing at Wounded Warriors Project.

The two top executives of Wounded Warrior Project were fired Thursday by the board of directors.

Americans donate hundreds of millions of dollars each year to the charity, expecting their money will help some of the 52,000 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But CBS News found Wounded Warrior Project spends 40 to 50 percent on overhead, including extravagant parties. Other veterans charities have overhead costs of 10 to 15 percent.

Wounded Warrior Project’s Chief Executive Officer, Steven Nardizzi, and Chief Operating Officer, Al Giordano, were fired after a meeting Thursday afternoon in New York.

Maybe now they’ll give the donations to the people who need it, not the company from China that makes the cheap blankets made by child labor.