United States

De facto segregation in the US 4-07-18

Source: "Coming apart"  

Segregation Over TimeIn February of 1968, the Kerner Commission report was released, warning of deepening divisions between black and white America. Fifty years on, de jure segregation has been virtually eliminated. A 1948 Supreme Court decision prohibited race-based covenants that forbid whites from selling or renting to anyone of a different race. The 1968 Fair Housing At eliminated "red lining" where real estate agents herded peoole into separate neighborhoods based on race. However, since 1968, de facto segregation by both race and income has increased. 

 14 million Americans live in areas of concentrated poverty, defined as a region where 40% or more of the population makes less than the federal poverty level or about $25,000 of annual income for a family of four. This number has doubled (!) since 2000 and it applies disproportionately to people of color. 25% of all low income black families live in areas of concentrated poverty versus 17% of Hispanics and only 8% of poor whites. Today's most segregated areas (see chart above) are inthe urban Northeast.

The impacts of segregation take a long time to right themselves. Even today as shown by a 2016 Pew study, the median income for a black family headed by the holder of a college degree is $26,300. The median income fr the same type of white family is $301,000! Sean Reardon of Stanford has demonstrated that the achievement gap between low income and high income students is twice as great as the gap between black and white students.

Possible solutions: HUD had a "Moving to Opportunity" program in which poor families were given vouchers to move into more affluent areas. Chidren in this program who moved before age 13 grew up to have incomes 30% higher than children who stayed behind in areas of concentrated poverty. The HUD program is underfunded - only one in four of those who qualify for it can obtain entry into the program. Waiting lists are years long.

Spanish is slowly moving to America's 'language graveyard' 3-31-18

Source: The long adios   

From this article: "Linguists have often referred to America as a “language graveyard”. Despite being a country of immigrants, it has tended to snuff out foreign languages within two or three generations. Spanish might be different. Hispanics account for 18% of America’s population and are projected to make up 28% by 2060, according to the United States Census Bureau. Given the large size and rapid growth of the Hispanic population, some people used to fear that Spanish would not only endure but overtake English, especially in states like California and New Mexico, where Latinos are the largest ethnic group. That concern has turned out to be unfounded. Between 2006 and 2015 the population that speaks Spanish at home in America grew from 31m to 37m. But during the same period the share of all Spanish-speaking Hispanics who speak Spanish at home shrank by five percentage points, from 78% to 73%. Data from the Pew Research Centre show that, in 2000, 48% of Latino adults aged 50 to 68 and 73% of Latino children aged 5 to 17 spoke “only English” or “English very well”. By 2014 those figures had increased to 52% and 88%. The explanation has a lot to do with changing demography. Net migration to America from Mexico has been negative since the end of the financial crisis. More Hispanics in America today were born in the United States than arrived from other countries as immigrants, making them less likely to speak Spanish at home—or at all. In 2000, 59.9% of Latinos were born in America. By 2015 that share jumped to 65.6%. Lower birth rates and a stronger economy in Mexico mean such trends are likely to continue, rendering the future of Spanish in the United States uncertain."

Again, from article: "In his well-known study on “linguistic life expectancies” in southern California in 2006, Rubén Rumbaut, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, found that Spanish was following the same trajectory as other languages in America had—just more slowly. He established that only 5% of fourth-generation Mexican-Americans in southern California could speak Spanish very well: “After at least 50 years of continuous Mexican migration into southern California, Spanish appears to draw its last breath in the third generation.”

US suicide rate increasing 3-31-18

Source: "How and where growing numbers of Americans are taking their own lives"  

US SuicideFrom the article: "In nearly all other OECD countries, suicide has declined since 2000. In America, however, from 2003 the number began to grow by 1,000 a year and did not stop. This climb has been almost perfectly constant. In 2016, the latest year for which detailed data are available, there were 45,000 suicides in America: 23,000 of them by gun, 11,700 by hanging and 5,300 by overdose. For every two women who committed suicide in 2016, so did seven men. White men kill themselves at nearly three times the rate of black, Hispanic and Asian men.The suicide rate in rural counties is 78% higher than that in big cities. Alaska and Montana, two of the states with the lowest population density, are the worst-afflicted—suicide is five times as likely there as in the District of Columbia, which has America’s lowest rate."

From the article: "There is a strong correlation between the suicide rate and the Republican share of the vote in the presidential election. Solidly Democratic east-coast states like New York and Massachusetts have some of the lowest rates. America is an extraordinarily violent country. Its firearm-murder rate is far above the rest of the rich world. Yet there are roughly two gun suicides for every gun homicide. Easy access to guns undoubtedly worsens matters. Guns are perhaps the most efficient means of getting the job done: 83% of attempted suicides by gun are successful, compared with 61% of hangings and a mere 1.5% of intentional drug overdoses. Those who try to commit suicide and fail can receive therapy and recover. According to a Harvard study, only one in ten people who survive a suicide attempt go on to kill themselves. In Britain, where guns are much less easily available, hangings make up nearly 60% of suicides."

From the article: "Determining the cause of these dispiriting trends has proved hard. The suicide rate seems to have risen independently of the lurches in America’s economy. Anne Case and Angus Deaton, two Princeton economists, have argued that a toxic cocktail of opioid addiction and stagnating economic prospects is worsening the problem of premature death, including by suicide, among middle-aged whites."suicide

Two Supreme Court cases on gerrymandering 3-31-18

Source: "Drawing the line"  

From the article: "On March 28th they were to hear Benisek v Lamone, a case pitting Republican voters in Maryland against Democrats in the state’s House of Delegates. In 2011, the voters complain, legislators sabotaged the Republican Party in the sixth congressional district. A year after this “devastatingly effective” gerrymander, a House seat which a Republican, Roscoe Bartlett, had won for a tenth time in 2010 by 28 points went to John Delaney, a Democrat with presidential ambitions for 2020. Mr Delaney’s 21-point win in 2012 may show that Republicans were “singled…out for disfavored treatment”—“retaliation” barred by the First Amendment. The freedom of association, the plaintiffs contend, “guarantee[s] that no state may punish its citizens for their political beliefs”.  

The Supreme Court heard Gill v Whitford last October (2017), and some seemed intrigued by is statistics-based approach pegged to the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection guarantee. But the conservative wing of the court was sceptical of the standard offered by those challenging a Republican gerrymander in Wisconsin. Chief Justice John Roberts derided it as “sociological gobbledygook”. For the statistics-shy, the First Amendment approach in Benisek may present an attractive alternative.

 

Gun laws - what works 3-24-18

Source: Economist: 24 Mar 18 "What works to reduce gun deaths"      

Gun laws and suicideThings that work in reducing gun violence: first, increase scrutiny of gun buyers (better background checks). Federal law requires background checks for anyone purchasing a firearm through a licensed dealer, but says nothing about private sales or transactions at gun shows. Many buyers slip through this loophole. A survey of 1,613 gun-owners published in 2017 found that 42% had acquired their most recent weapon without a background check. A probe by private investigators hired by NYC in 2011 found that 62% of online private sellers agreed to sell guns to people who stated they “probably could not pass a background check”.19 states now require background checks for at least some private gun sales. Most people seem to comply. In states that regulate private sales, 26% of gun-owners who bought their guns privately said they did so without a background check, compared with 57% in states without such regulations. The Giffords Law Centre to Prevent Gun Violence found that between 2009 and 2012 states with universal background-check requirements on handguns had 35% fewer gun deaths per person than states with looser regulations. Other research shows that in states that require background checks for private handgun sales women are less likely to be shot by their partners, police are less likely to be killed by handguns, and gun suicides are rarer than in states with laxer laws. In a study published in 2014, researchers looked at what happened after Missouri scrapped its permit-to-purchase law, which required all handgun purchasers to obtain a licence confirming they had passed a background check. Controlling for changes in poverty, unemployment, crime, incarceration, policing levels and other factors, they found that the repeal was associated with a 23% increase in gun homicide rates. Another study from 2015 found that 75% of Americans (and nearly 60% of gun-owners) support licensing laws. Almost everyone wants broad background checks.

Next, make it easier to take guns away from high-risk individuals. Today six states—California, Washington, Oregon, Connecticut, Indiana and, as of March 9th, Florida—have “extreme-risk protection order” laws. These allow cops to petition courts to remove guns temporarily from those thought to pose a risk to themselves or others. In the first three states, family members can petition, too. Judges can order guns to be impounded for a limited time and, in some states, can bar people from buying new ones. An order can be extended for a year if the judge is given additional evidence that the person continues to be a threat. Connecticut’s law, which was enacted in 1999, seems to have saved lives. One study published in 2017 estimated that for every 10 to 20 gun seizures in the state between 1999 and 2013, one suicide was averted. On average, the police removed seven guns from each person. Earlier this year American State Legislators for Gun Violence Prevention announced that members in 30 states had introduced or were planning to introduce extreme-risk protection order bills. Even before the Parkland shooting, at least 19 legislatures were considering such bills.

Third, some states have tightened rules on gun storage. Whereas Israelis whose weapons are stolen can be prosecuted, most Americans have little to fear. A survey by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has found that 54% of American gun-owners did not store their firearms safely. This invites trouble. David Hemenway at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has estimated that 380,000 guns a year are stolen from gun-owners. Data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives shows that licensed dealers lost 18,394 weapons in 2016. Stolen guns often find their way to dangerous criminals. Even if they are not stolen, unsecured guns are dangerous. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, a government agency, has reported that about 20,000 people under 18 were killed or seriously hurt in accidental shootings between 2004 and 2015. News reports suggest that children under four shoot about one person a week—often themselves. The Johns Hopkins researchers classified secure storage as locked in a gun safe, cabinet or case, locked into a gun rack, or stored with a trigger lock or other device on the gun itself. Massachusetts is stricter. If a firearm is not kept “secured in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock or other safety device” the owner could face fines up to $20,000 and up to 15 years of imprisonment. The law seems successful at keeping guns out of the hands of minors. Only 9% of suicides among young people in Massachusetts involve a gun, compared with 39% nationally. The state’s youth suicide death rate is 35% below the national average. Soon after a mass shooting in Las Vegas last October, a poll found that 77% of those asked supported a requirement that all gun-owners should store their guns safely.

Sidebar: "Switzerland does not prove the NRA's case" - From the article: "Yet Switzerland is not a gun-lover’s paradise. In fact, it is a model for the benefits of restricting gun use. Ownership rates have tumbled in this century, especially after the army cut the number of conscripts by four-fifths. It now puts recruits through psychological checks to weed out the violent, depressive or criminal. Soldiers may still store weapons at home, but no longer with ammunition. On leaving the army, ex-soldiers must be cleared by police before buying their military-issue weapons. As a result, fewer do so. Civilian buyers need police permits too, while juries screen applicants at shooting clubs."

Overview of Trump's Russia Denial 2/20/18

NYT Article: Opinion - Leonhardt "Who Still Thinks Russia Didn't Meddle in the Election?"      

> From the article: 

1. Russia attacked the United States in 2016 by disrupting the presidential election.

2. The origin of the attack is a matter of consensus among American intelligence agencies.

3. The current president of the United States refuses to acknowledge the attack, refuses to respond to it and refuses to help protect the country against a likely follow-up attack.

4. In the wake of the mass murder of 17 Americans in Florida, the president falsely claimed that the F.B.I. failed to prevent the massacre because it was too occupied with the Russia investigation. In doing so, he repeated his frequent lie that the Russian operation did not exist.

There is no longer any doubt that President Trump is failing to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, as he solemnly swore to do.

 “At every turn, Trump has failed to do what a patriotic president would do — failed to put the national interest first,” writes David Frum in The Atlantic.

Stresses on democracy NYT 1-27-18

Source NYT 1/27/18: "How Wobbly is our Democracy?"  

Written by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. Democracy is reinforced by two main principles. First, mutual toleration - we assume that the other side also sincerely cares for the country and will do a decent job of governing. Examples of this from history: first, Chile in the 1960's became increasingly polarized over Cold War issues of capitalism versus socialism. Each side adopted "win at all costs" mentality which eventually resulted in their 1973 military coup. In the US in the 1850's, Democrats and Republicans felt the other was an abomination. Joanne Freeman of Yale has shown there were 100 instances of violent acts on the floor of Congress between 1830 and 1860 (the caning of Republican Charles Sumner being the most infamous).

Second: forbearance - those in power don't use it to win at all costs. Instead, they show restraint or forbearance in the use of power. For example, a President without forbearance could change the size of the courts and then pack the new seats with his cronies. Or a President without forbearance could use their pardon power to excuse all types of transgressions. A Congress without forbearance could shut off funding and stop the government. Or refuse to consent to executive appointees. Examples from history: Juan Peron in Argentina had three of five Supreme Court justices impeached and removed. In 2004, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela added 12 seats to a 20-person Supreme Court and packed the new seats with his supporters. 

Our current polarization is more about race and religion than politics. From the article: "This is not a traditional liberal-conservative divide. People don’t fear and loathe one another over taxes or health care. As political scientists have shown, the roots of today’s polarization are racial and cultural. Whereas 50 years ago both parties were overwhelmingly white and equally religious, advances in civil rights, decades of immigration and the migration of religious conservatives to the Republican Party have given rise to two fundamentally different parties: one that is ethnically diverse and increasingly secular and one that is overwhelmingly white and predominantly Christian. And white Christians are not just any group: They are a once-dominant majority in decline. When a dominant group’s social status is threatened, racial and cultural differences can be perceived as existential and irreconcilable. The resulting polarization preceded (indeed, made possible) the Trump presidency, and it is likely to persist after it."

The real Russia scandal NYT 12-15-17

Source - NYT Stephens opinion piece (PDF) December 15, 2017: "The Real Russia Scandal"         

In 2006, Russia seemed to be a problem. They were at that time bombing Chechnya into submission and had killed dissidents Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko. This was before the annexation of Crimea and the trouble in Ukraine. And before their involvement with the Assad regime in Syria. None other than Mike Flynn wrote in a 2016 book ("The Field of Fight") that "there is no reason to believe Putin would welcome cooperation with us". Once part of the Trump transition team, Flynn moderated his stance on Russia (in addition to his consulting firm receiving $65,000 in payments from Russian companies).

Review of Trump's positions on Russia. He refused to fully accept the verdict of the intelligence services that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 US Presidential election. Trump told Bill O'Reilly that our behavior as a nation was "no better" than Putin. In the spring of 2017, he actually proposed a joint cybersecurity task force with the Russians and then quickly backpedalled after the idea was roundly condemned. Trump fiercely resisted Congressional efforts to sanction Russia for the 2016 interference. He ended US support for anti-Assad Syrian moderates, which helped Russian ally Assad consolidate his hold on power. 

How to explain these behaviors? The ideological explanation is that Trump is very sympathetic to autocrats - like Erdogan, like Duterte, like Putin. That he is sympathetic to the elements of "Putinism" - crony capitalism, foreign policy opportunism and general hostility to critics. There is also a possible financial explanation - Trump may be deeply in debt to Russian oligarchs. 

"No need to obsess about electoral collusion when the real issue is moral capitulation."

How to drain the swamp NYT 10/26/17

Article (Opinion): "Trump Made the Swamp Worse, Here's How to Drain It"  

 Hard copy here.

> Trump won in part because of our eroding faith in our governing institutions. Long-term wage stagnation and income inequality has convinced many that the system is corrupt and rigged in favor of the elites - only an outsider like Trump can “clean it up”. The slow growth/income inequality economy that has been the norm for the last decade is a sign that powerful insiders (big business, the wealthy) are using the system to both increase their own wealth and protect themselves from competition.

> Four ways in which this is done - first, the financial sector lobbies for laws (like the mortgage interest deduction) that encourage high levels of debt which can then be securitized (and monetized). With regulations removed, the financial sector has grown too large. Next, intellectual property laws protect both media and pharmaceutical conglomerates. Third, at the state and local level, occupational licensing artificially boosts the pay of those being licensed and restricts entry. And finally, at the local level, zoning laws inflate the home values of the current owners while making it more difficult for newcomers to move in.

> High profits and wealth have been used by the incumbents to fund think tanks and policy research centers and pay for lobbyists who promote policies that support the status quo and stifle competition. Example: Big Pharma funds research that shows loosening patent laws would stifle innovation, instead of increase it. Lawmakers get only one side of the issue.  

> Reform idea - Congressional staffs need to be expanded, upgraded and professionalized so that members of Congress are no longer dependent upon lobbyists for research.

> Reform idea: at the federal level, the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) independently reviews the impact of federal regulations. No such agency exists at the state level. There should be one.

> Reform idea: private philanthropy should fund new interest groups and think-tanks that will make lawmakers aware that other points of view exist besides those of the entrenched wealthy and powerful.

> Authors Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles work for libertarian think-tank the Niskanen Center and have authored the book The Captured Economy.

Immigration trends in North America 6-10-17

Source: "Six degrees and separation"  

Educated ImmigrantsSome breakdowns on American immigration - for 2015, the last year with data, when looking at the 1 million people given green cards (i.e. permanent resident status), about half or 50% were immediate relatives of citizens (the so-called 'chain migrants'). Then 20% more got their cards because of preferences given to other family members. Then about 15% were sponsored by companies and about 10% got in as refugees. That left about 5% who got in through our lottery system. However, what stands out is how many of these green card holders have college degrees. That percent was about 27% in the late 80's - it has risen to 50% in 2015. Immigrants were more educated than the average American in 26 different states. 

Some background on a points-based immigration system. From the article: "In 1967 Canada became the first country to introduce a points system for immigration; Canada and Australia now both give priority to would-be migrants with degrees, work experience and fluent English (and, in Canada, French). Some of the president’s advisers think this more hard-headed system is better than America’s family-centered approach. The doomed immigration bill from 2013 that died in the House of Representatives also reflected widespread enthusiasm for a points-based system. Two things ought to temper this enthusiasm. First, Canada and Australia have concluded that pure points systems do not work well. A surprisingly high share of the people admitted this way ended up unemployed. Both countries have since changed their immigration criteria so that applicants who have job offers in their pockets may jump the queue. Second, migrants who move to America to join family members have become much better educated."

A charity, Upwardly Global, helps highly educated immigrants translate their foreign degrees into American equivalents. 

New Democratic Party Economic Policy 6-3-17

Source: "Free exchange: Left behind"          

During the 1970's, rising inflation and unemployment convinced even Democrats that freer markets were the only way to guarantee growth. By 1992, the Democratic Party had abandoned its Big Government approach in favor of technocratic centrism - using education and mildly progressive taxation as a way to smooth off the rough edges of economic inequality. 

In the 2000's, wage growth stalled as George Bush spent Clinton's budget surplus on tax cuts for the wealthy. Income inequality has continued to increase. The election of Trump has now liberated those on the left to abandon centrism for bolder approaches.

Senators Sanders and Warren talk of free college, reduced student debt and single-payer health care (which would allow people to leave jobs they loathe without losing health insurance, increasing worker power). Others like the Center for American Progress, have advocated for job guarantees in which the government would be the employer of last resort. Finally, there is universal basic income or UBI which would create efficiencies as it replaces the welfare bureaucracy with a single cash payment. It also solidifies the idea that everyone should benefit from economic growth. 

American foreign policy under Trump

Source: "Goodbye to values"           

A timeline of American foreign policy positions.

WW 1 and Wilson - the idea that the US should use its power for good in the world.
1950’s - rivalry with the Soviet Union meant that the US wanted to serve as an inspiration to those who dream of freedom (Acheson) but must also deal with the realpolitik of the Cold War. This meant sometimes supporting dictators like Somoza in Nicaragua (“a bastard but our bastard” said Truman).
1970’s: Nixon puts detente with the USSR above “grandstanding” on human rights.
1975: President Ford, following the policy of detente, refuses to meet with Alexander Solzhenitsyn. This refusal to acknowledge the reality of the gulags earns Ford accusations of appeasement from both Republicans and Democrats.
1977: In a return to Wilson, President Carter “reaffirmed America’s commitment to human rights as a fundamental tenet of our foreign policy”. This move had bipartisan support. Reagan followed Carter’s lead.
1990’s: post Cold war - the emergence of neo-Wilsonianism based on three ideas with bipartisan support. First, “democratic peace theory” holds that the more democracies there are, the fewer wars. Hence, encourage democracy whenever possible. Next, “democratic transition theory” holds that there is a great worldwide movement towards democratic government. The US should be a leader here. Finally, R2P or “responsibility to protect” - the US must engage in measured military action to prevent tragedies (like Rwanda). The NATO interventions in the Balkans are R2P in action.
Obama viewed R2P differently. He preferred to fund civic groups inside authoritarian regimes to push them towards democracy rather than use military power.

Now we have Trump and the return to “America First”, to purely transactional considerations when dealing with foreign governments and the abandonment of the Wilsonian idea of using American power as a force for good in the world. Trump made phone calls of support in April ’17 to Erdogan of Turkey (100,000 arrested after a failed 2016 coup) and Duterte of the Philippines (9,000 killed in a drug law campaign).

From the article: “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson conveyed a similar impression to his department’s employees on May 3 017. He used the loaded phrase “America First”—coined by isolationists seeking to keep America out of the second world war—to define the new administration’s foreign policy. Central to his theme was that the pursuit of interests must take precedence over the promotion of values. Diplomats could express support for democracy, the rule of law and human rights, but only if that did not put an “obstacle” in the way of national-security and economic interests.This represents a rupture with at least four decades of bipartisan consensus in favor of liberal internationalism. Far from conflicting with America’s interests, argues Ted Piccone, a former foreign policy adviser in the Clinton administration now at the Brookings Institution, advancing normative values is essential to those interests, and is the basis for America’s national prestige and international legitimacy.”

From John McCain:“Depriving the oppressed of a beacon of hope could lose us the world we have built and thrived in.”

A surge in left-wing activism 6/3/17

Source: "A surge in left-wing activism"           

Progressive activism has surged since Trump’s election. 4 million turned out for the Women’s March in January 2017. Move On has 8 million members now and donations have tripled since Trump’s inauguration. The Center for America Progress estimates that over 140 new groups have formed since Trump became President.

Indivisible is a national organization with hundreds of local chapters dedicated to helping progressive candidates.They now have a political arm dedicated to recruiting strong candidates - and then promoting them in elections.

Compare this to the Tea Party Movement - at its peak, the Tea Party had about 650 groups, made up primarily of white middle-aged men. The progressive resurgence is being driven primarily by women. The new progressive activism is being driven by small individual donations. Much of the Tea Party infrastructure was funded by large cash gras from Koch-controlled organizations like FreedomWorks.

Unrealistic White House budget 5/27/17

Article: "Zero sums"      

Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, has delivered a budget proposal to Congress. Entitled “A New Foundation for American Greatness”, it leaves Social Security, Medicare and military spending alone, but slashes everything else (the non-defense discretionary spending) by 40%. Medicaid would be cut by half, food stamps by 25%. Combining these cuts with a robust 3% annual growth prediction would eliminate any budget deficits in ten years.

> Problem: the extra $2 trillion in tax revenues generated over a decade by the unlikely 3% growth estimate has already been earmarked by a massive tax cut. Another problem: Mulvaney’s budget counts on increased revenues from the inheritance tax in one section while promising to abolish it in another.