The 1400.

Chicago has a population of about 2.7 million people.  In the first quarter of 2016, it had more than 1,000 people shot—of whom 141 died.  That makes the “City of Big Shoulders” the murder capital—sorry, tired phrase—of the United States.[1]  Most of the violence appears to spring from wars between drug gangs.

“Da Cops” think that 1,400 young, black men did most of the shooting.[2]  It appears that most of those young men belong to a group of “social networks.”[3]  In an interesting experiment that smacks of Philip K. Dick,[4] the police have been analyzing 10 variables[5] to assign a likely-to-be-involved-in-violence score to people on its “Strategic Subject List” (SSL).[6]  It may not be perfect, but it’s not inaccurate: 70 percent of those who were shot so far in 2016 were in the list.

One question is how to respond.  A “public health” response takes the form of visits to the homes of people on the SSL by teams of police officers, social workers, and community organizers.  The purpose is to warn them that they have come to the attention of the authorities, and to offer them what meager support a bankrupt city can afford if they want to go down another road.[7]  Any life redeemed is a win.  One official says that 21 percent of the SSL figures “they had succeeded in talking to”[8] had accepted the offer of help and only 9 percent had been shot since a visit.[9]

Another question is about civil liberties.  People who care about civil liberties (practically an endangered species in America, they’re going to end up being released into the wild in Yellowstone or something like that) might be concerned about the fact that 80 percent of those arrested for involvement in shootings, and 117 of the 140 people arrested in a spate of drug and gang raids also were on the SSL.  Do the police have any evidence or do they just “round up the usual suspects” based on the SSL?  That approach is more cost-effective and emotionally satisfying in a country in love with “getting tough” with everyone except ourselves.

What do the variables themselves tell us?  Take “having been shot.”  If somebody shot me, then I would certainly want to shoot that person.  Fair’s fair.  However, I’d settle for the police arresting that person and the courts trying that person, and the judge assigning some inadequate sentence.  Walk away grinding my teeth.  None of that is true for the shooters and the shot in Chicago.  They don’t accept the court system.  They don’t delegate “justice.”  They don’t walk away.  Probably, that would undermine what little personal dignity they possess.

[1] “Chicago in crisis,” The Week, 13 May 2016, p. 11.

[2] They’re mostly terrible shots.  If you take 14.1 percent lethality as a measurement, the ROI is low.  Still, what if the thrill of the experience is what people are after, rather than actually killing somebody?  Also, it’s not like there are lots of places to practice one’s aim and receive expert instruction.  I suppose the cops could subpoena the records of gun ranges.  Find out who is buying time on the range, renting muffs and safety glasses, buying 9-mm ammo.

[3] See Andrew Papachristos, http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/11/18/can-predictive-policing-be-ethical-and-effective/use-of-data-can-stop-crime-by-helping-potential-victms

[4] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minority_Report_%28film%29

[5] The variables include things like “trend lines” of previous arrests, arrest for possession or use of a weapon, and having been shot.  They exclude race, gender, age, and geography.  Why include things that can be taken as a given, but which will end up in a lawsuit over profiling?

[6] Monica Davey, “Chicago Police Try to Predict Who May Shoot or Be Shot,” NYT, 24 May 2016.

[7] That aid includes drug treatment, housing assistance, and job-training.  To put the worst possible spin on it, become a minimum-wage food-service worker, so you can go to bed early and can get up before dawn to take public transit, and be a complete pussy in the eyes of everyone except your grandmother.

[8] That is, most weren’t at home because they were “at work” or laying up with a girl or just told them to go away.

[9] They visited 1,300 people.  So, 9 percent would be 117 people.  Out of 470 killed and perhaps 3,300 shot.  Murky.

Advertisements

The Pornography Industrial Complex 1.

Intellectuals “theorize” what ordinary people need no theory to explain or justify.[1]

Both Christianity and bourgeois capitalism deprecated sex.[2]  They built a great civilization on impulse-repression.  Arguably, though, that civilization left people psychologically maimed.  Sexual repression produced “moodiness” in men.  The solution?  Widespread resort to brothels.  Sexual repression produced “hysteria” in women.  The solution?  Manual manipulation of the afflicted area by gynecologists.  Later, the electric-powered vibrator became a favored household appliance.[3]

Not everyone cared to play along.  If enough specialist history books are consulted, it soon becomes apparent that lots of men and women liked sex.  They also didn’t care what “high” culture said on the subject.[4]  The written evidence for this is patchy.  One has to imagine the milk-maids and swineherds in Meissen going for a roll in the porcelain hay.  Surely some of them did.  In the 18th Century, the English “Hell Fire Club” engaged in all sorts of depravity.  Late in the 18th Century, a “quack sexologist” named James Graham[5] created an electrified “celestial bed” that was supposed to facilitate conception.  In the 19th Century, sexual dissidence went hand in hand with political radicalism.  “Owenites,” “Fourierists,” and the myths of Brook Farm all spread stories of “free love” early in the 19th Century, while Havelock Ellis and Edward Carpenter provided a scientific rationale at the end of the century.

One of the dissidents was Wilhelm Reich.  Soon after the end of the First World War, Reich got the idea that what we are most ashamed of—sex in all its variety–might actually be the thing that could heal our psychic wounds.[6]  Later Reich used the term “sexual revolution” to express a causational link between sexual emancipation and political change.  (Subsequently, the German Communist Party expelled Reich for his sexual militancy and the International Psychoanalytical Association expelled Reich for his political militancy.)

The slow percolation into a broader society of Reich’s ideas helped set off the “sexual revolution” of the post-war period.[7]  Blindly, Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex (1972) ratified a belief that sexual liberation began in the Sixties.

In fact, “sexual revolution” did not bring political revolution.  Probably this is an example of “sensualism” (the satisfaction of short-term physical desire) diverting people from revolutionary activity, just as Bolsheviks feared that “economism” (the satisfaction of short-term material wants through union bargaining) would divert the working class from revolution.[8]

Again and again, change-agents are appalled by what they have wrought.  Reich ended his days as a Republican.

[1] Ariel Levy, “Novelty Acts,” The New Yorker, 19 September 2011.

[2] For an illustration of this, see Brian Moore, Black Robe (1985).  The Stone Age hunting and gathering Indians are sexually promiscuous, while the Iron Age French colonists are materially secure and frustrated.

[3] See Rachel Maines, The Technology of Orgasm (2010).

[4] Inevitably, historians have fastened on the more talky and twisted among them.  People like Richard Burton (the explorer). Algernon Swinburne, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti tend to hog the limelight.

[5] Graham was a one-time resident of Philadelphia, but I find no statues to his memory.

[6] You got a bad back?  That’s a different story.  And for God’s sake, never try to do it in the driver’s seat of a Camaro.

[7] Yes, yes, everyone wants to believe that the sexual revolution began in the Sixties (or—for Catholics—in the Seventies and Eighties).  However, it actually began much earlier and is related to post-war housing construction and the urban job market as much as to “the Pill.”  All of these things empowered women to define their own lives.  See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_m67JbGjWnc

[8] For an example of this with contemporary applications, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4y_mXLYh_PA

Nostalgia.

“Compared with 50 years ago [i.e. 1966], life for people like you in America is worse.”  Agree or Disagree.[1]

 

Almost half (46 percent) of voters agreed with this statement.  The distribution was pretty much balanced between men (45 percent) and women (46 percent).  Fifty years into Women’s Lib and almost half of women think that life for people like them is worse?  Maybe the half of guys who think that life is not worse are married to the women who think life is worse, while the half of women who think life is not worse are married to the guys who think that life is worse.  Or perhaps gender isn’t the salient identity for men and women.  Maybe race or social class is more important.

Thereafter, the distribution breaks down in interesting ways.

While a majority of whites (54 percent) think that life is worse, only 17 percent of blacks think that life is worse.  Despite all our failings and short-comings, the Civil Rights movement and the government policies which it compelled is a huge success.  Do whites feel worse off because blacks don’t feel worse off?  Not likely: too few people lost anything from the formal end of white supremacy.  America remains largely segregated; and black people remain at a lower income than do whites.

Better than half of people who actually were alive 50 years ago think that their condition is worse: 55 percent of people aged 65 or older and 53 percent of people aged 50 to 64.  Presumably they know what they’re talking about.  The first group was born before 1952; the second group between 1952 and 1966.  Then the sense that things are worse is higher for those with only some college (49 percent) and high school or less (51 percent) than for those with a BA (39 percent) or post-graduate education (37 percent).[2]

The sense of decline is much stronger among Republicans than among Democrats. Some 70 percent of self-identified Conservative Republicans and 58 percent of Liberal/Moderate Republicans think that life is worse.  In contrast, only 20 percent of self-identified Liberal Democrats and 35 percent of Conservative/Moderate Democrats think that life is worse.

American real incomes, life span, and medical care are much better than 50 years ago, so it is likely to be something else that gives them the sense of decline.  It is more than likely that the discontent among older people/white people/Republicans springs from factors like the impact of economic globalization and the advance of information technology, but also from the long string of domestic and international reverses.[3]  Perhaps this is an artifact of the Republican Party having progressively captured the heart of the old New Deal coalition (Southerners, the Northern working class) over the last 50 years.

Is it possible that the next election(s) will be a struggle between those who have lost from the big changes that have overtaken America and those who have at least survived them unscathed?  Will it be a struggle between Nostalgia for a by-gone age and Complacency about the new age?  That seems a poor basis for deciding the fate of young people in the face of what looks to be several decades of grave challenges at home and abroad.

[1] Charles M. Blow, “A Trump-Sanders Coalition?  Nah,” NYT, 2 May 2016.  OK, it’s Charles Blow.  Still…

[2] Still, better than a third of people with a post-graduate degree think that life is worse?  They can’t all be college professors.

[3] I just finished Gregg Herken, The Georgetown Set, and now I’m listening to Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, That Used to Be Us.  So, those books probably are shaping my interpretation.

The Social Trampoline.

In 2012, 46 percent of the US Government’s non-interest spending went to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; by 2030 it was projected to rise to 61 percent.  That is, these safety-net programs either will crowd out spending on other things or force a substantial increase in in government spending over-all.[1]

One driver here is the retirement of the “Baby Boom.”  In 2012 there were 49 million people on Medicare (and presumably s slightly smaller number receiving Social Security).  By 2030, that number is projected to grow to 80 million.

Another driver is high medical costs.  In 2011, Medicare spent $560 billion.  By 2022, Medicare spending is projected to rise to $1.1 trillion.

“Reforming” entitlements really means cutting someone’s income.  Whose ox is going to get gored?

Hoping to avoid this ugly reality, people grasp at straws.  Medicare is already “means-tested” (that is, individuals/couples making more than $85,000/$170,000 a year pay higher premiums).  Raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 would cut costs by about 5 percent over the long run because those people are basically still healthy.  Raising the Social Security retirement age to 70 would cut spending by 13 percent by 2060.

Cutting medical costs would involve reducing the incomes of medical personnel, hospitals, and drug manufacturers.[2]  Democrats want to do this through government regulation by bureaucracies subject to pressure from elected representatives.  Yea, right.  Republicans want to do it “through the market:” by giving everyone some miserly sum and making individuals bargain with big corporations.  Yea, right.

Avoiding these fights by just raising taxes on the wealthy could have a certain broad appeal.[3]  However, rich people are adept at defending themselves.  Even if they had to put up with higher taxes for a while, they would eventually get them over-turned.  Democrats are always going on about how high taxes on the rich were commonly accepted for a long time after the Second World War.  Where do they think that the Reagan and Bush II tax cuts came from if not from simmering resentment of high income earners?

The simplest fix for Social Security would be to raise or remove the cap on payroll taxes on incomes over $110,000 a year.  That would solve the problem for 75 years at least.  Additionally, reducing inflation-indexing of Social Security could save a lot of money.  Depending on how far it was pushed, this could save $100 billion over ten years.  Probably one would have to do both to limit the political reaction by high-income earners.

One argument against raising the retirement age is that it would disproportionately penalize lower class and middle class people.  They generally don’t live quite so long as do rich people.  So, it would cut into their retirement “golden years.”  Doctors and nurses aren’t going to want to give up a big chunk of their income.  Rich people aren’t going to want to pay an even more disproportionate share of taxes.  “Baby Boomers” have a notion that they have a bargain with America and that America needs to honor its “promises” to them.  However, the truth is that they promised themselves these benefits and that they promised that a younger generation—which had no voice in the bargain—would pay the costs.  The simple human truth here is that people are selfish.  Not much sign of civic solidarity.

[1] “Fixing the safety net,” The Week, 21 December 2012, p. 9.

[2] See: “Single Payer.”  https://waroftheworldblog.com/2016/05/17/single-payer/

[3] “A poor man with a ballot box can rob you as easily as a rich man with a pen.”—Woody Guthrie.

Mandatory Sentences.

 

As someone who reads a lot of undergraduate writing, I’m all in favor of mandatory sentences.  Also, mandatory knowing the differences between the possessive and the plural.  Still, that’s not what most people mean.

What most people mean by “mandatory sentences” is an artifact of the violent and politically-polarized 1970s.[1]  Plagued with violence and the early stages of the now-failed “war on drugs,” Americans supported the passage of laws that took sentencing out of the hands of “bleeding heart liberal” judges.  The first of these appeared in liberal Republican Nelson Rockefeller’s 1973 drug laws in New York state.  Although the laws were passed as a response to a heroin epidemic, anyone arrested in possession of 4 ounces of “narcotics” got 15 years in prison.  Other states followed suit, but the federal government held back.  Then, in 1982, Boston Celtics first-round pick Len Bias dropped dead of a coke overdose before he could play a single game.[2]  House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill (D-Massachusetts) immediately pushed for and won a new federal law that mandated at least five years imprisonment for anyone found in possession of 5 grams of “crack” cocaine.[3]  Anyone convicted of involvement in a “continuing criminal enterprise” (i.e. a drug gang) caught a 20 year bit.

As a result, from the 1970s to today, America has gone from having 600,000 people in prison to having 2.4 million people in prison.  This is, purportedly, the highest per-capita imprisonment rate in the world.  Of those 2.4 million people in prison, 1.3 million are there for non-violent, drug-related crimes.  This costs taxpayers a lot of money: $80 billion a year.

The thing is, most (50+ percent) of the people involved in the drug trade are black.  Really?  Well, not necessarily.  Blacks are four times as likely as are whites to be arrested for possession of marijuana, and they usually catch a 20 percent longer sentence than do whites for the same charge.  That leaves the whole issue of white boys who deal drugs, but don’t get caught, or who get caught and are allowed to plead down.  Not that this happens in every case.[4]

How does imprisonment affect political participation?  About 7.7 percent of the adult African-American population is barred from voting because of having been convicted of a felony.[5]  If African-Americans constitute about 13.0-14.0 percent of the population, then the dis-franchised probably constitute about 1 percent of total potential voters.  That could be enough to swing a tight election.

[1] “Rethinking mandatory sentencing,” The Week, 20 September 2013, p. 11.

[2] The Boston Globe lobbied for Boston to be granted a supplemental draft pick because Bias had never been able to play for the Celtics.  The NBA wasn’t having it.

[3] See: Governor Earl Warren and Japanese  internment.

[4] http://www.phillymag.com/articles/fall-main-line-drug-ring-high-hopes/

[5] “Noted,” The Week, 18 October 2013, p. 16.

Annals of the Great Recession XIII.

A couple of polls from back in late 2015 may give some indication of fundamental beliefs that will play out in the general election in November 2016.

Back in September 2015, almost half (49 percent) of Americans saw the free-market as the best escalator out of poverty, while a mere 18 percent disagreed.[1]  That still leaves a disturbing 33 percent “not sure.”  Similarly, when asked if the American economic system gave everyone an equal chance to succeed, 52 percent said that it did, while 45 percent said that it did not.[2]  This second report is bizarre.  Do most Americans really believe that the children of upper middle class suburban whites have an equal chance to succeed as a fifteen year-old black girl living with her mother or grandmother in North Philadelphia?  Perhaps it depends on the meaning of “success.”  No two people have an equal chance to end up in the same place, but perhaps they have an equal chance to improve on their starting position.  Perhaps it reflects a belief that people don’t have an equal chance, but that if you admit that there is a problem, then the Democrats or Republicans will come up with some new scheme that doesn’t work any better than the previous ones.  In any event, faith in capitalism has been undermined—by capitalists.

Just under half saw the economy as good, but a plurality saw it as stagnating.  That is, the country had recovered from the “Great Recession,” but it wasn’t moving forward to new heights.  Why was it stagnating?  Not for the reasons that Bernie Sanders might think.  On the issue of government regulation’s impact on the economy, 54 percent said that it posed a more urgent danger than did economic inequality, while 38 percent said that too little regulation posed a more urgent problem.  Republicans and a majority of Independents believed that the Republicans would do a better job managing the economy and creating jobs.[3]  This in the wake of the financial crisis, the “Great Recession,” and Republican opposition to a big stimulus bill!  How is this possible?  Well, perhaps things like the roll-out of Healthcare,gov have made lots of people go “even those idiot Republicans would be better than these clowns.”  Democrats and a minority of Independents beg to differ.  On the question of priorities, the vast majority (61 percent) saw unemployment as a greater problem than inequality (12 percent).[4]  Since the “Great Recession,” Democratic politicians and their favorite economists have been talking about the injustices and economic problems created by income inequality.  Broadly, Americans weren’t buying it.  Get the economy growing again and the inequality stuff will go away.

Wall Street’s reputation hadn’t recovered from the financial crisis.  A large majority (61 percent) expressed Not Much (29 percent) or No (32 percent) confidence in Wall Street bankers and brokers.  Almost a third (31 percent) expressed only Some confidence.  Related to this lack of confidence in Wall Street itself, a majority (58 percent) expressed Not Much (34 percent) or No (24 percent) confidence in the ability of the federal government to regulate financial institutions.  Again, almost a third (31 percent) expressed only Some confidence.  Perhaps this is one source of the distrust and unpopularity of Hillary Clinton?  We know that the Republicans are sold to the big money, but it’s disconcerting to see the guardian of Main Street “walking hand in hand with the one I love.”[5]

[1] Tim Montgomerie, “A Fading Faith in Capitalism,” WSJ, 7-8 November 2015.

[2] Andrew Ross Sorkin and Megan Thee-Brenan, “Many Feel American Dream Is Out of Reach, Poll Shows,” NYT, 11 December 2015.

[3] Then how come Romney didn’t win?  Because, although a very nice and accomplished man, he was an incredible bust as a national level politician?

[4] Montgomerie, “A Fading Faith.”

[5] See—if you can bear it– https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVpqtsy1o_4

Is Donald Trump a fascist? If so, is that a bad thing?

According to Robert Kagan in the Washington Post, Donald Trump constitutes a “singular threat to our democracy.”[1]  Trump’s chief pull on his supporters “is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence.”  He “provoke[s] and play[s] on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger [directed against] Muslims, Hispanics, women, Chinese, Mexicans, Europeans, Arabs, immigrants, refugees…His program,…consists chiefly of promises to get tough with foreigners and people of nonwhite complexion. He will deport them, bar them, get them to knuckle under, make them pay up or make them shut up.”

According to Kagan, Trump has aroused the “mobocracy” dreaded by the “Founders.”  Alexander Hamilton feared that “the unleashing of popular passions would lead not to greater democracy but to the arrival of a tyrant, riding to power on the shoulders of the people.”  “[I]n other democratic and quasi-democratic countries over the past century, [this] has generally been called “fascism.”  “Fascist movements had no coherent ideology,… fascism was not about policies but about the strongman, the leader (Il Duce, Der Führer), in whom could be entrusted the fate of the nation.”  “[If Trump] wins the election, his legions will likely comprise a majority of the nation.”  “This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him.”

Well, no.  “Fascism” and “national socialism” (another term that Kagan throws around in a devil-may-care fashion) were born of grave social and economic crises ineffectually faced by liberal[2] governments between the two world wars.  The fascist movements adopted an emphatically anti-democratic stance.  They commonly resorted to “exemplary” violence.[3]  They sought to commandeer elections to create an obstructionist group in the legislature so as to paralyze democratic politics.

None of this is true of Donald Trump.  He has never proclaimed his opposition to democracy.  The Trumpsters have engaged in minor violence on rare occasions and usually only when provoked by leftists trying to prevent Trump from speaking.  Trump has no party.

Undoubtedly, the established parties have been put through the wringer in the past decade.  The Republican Party has been battered by the Tea Party movement and now by the Trump insurgency.  The Democrats saw their settled succession overthrown by Barack Obama and now tested by Bernie Sanders.  American voters aren’t just falling into line.  The question of what is behind these movements is enormously important.

I’m not planning on voting for Trump, although his opponents may yet talk me into it.[4]

[1] See: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/this-is-how-fascism-comes-to-america/2016/05/17/c4e32c58-1c47-11e6-8c7b-6931e66333e7_story.html

[2] Small “l” liberal: representative governments; an executive that can be evicted from office when it loses the support of the majority in the legislature; checks and balances; bills of civil rights and the rule of law; more or less free and fair elections.  The New Deal’s reliance on Southern white voters doesn’t disqualify it.  I suppose.

[3] Tying a Socialist mayor to a tree in the town square, then pouring castor oil down his throat, or kicking a newspaper editor to death in front of his wife and children for example.

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiM9L49j7HY