Us versus them

As a white man myself, aggrieved by all the incursions on my special rights, mindful of all the times I can blame someone else for my problems, unsettled to see people who talk in funny accents passing me in the grocery store, I can certainly understand white supremacy. If white men ease back from our incessant push to keep up the illusion, soon no one will think we are supreme any more.

And that’s the heart of it: we whites are only supreme because we want to believe we are. All that claptrap about the source of Western civilization overlooks the complex and thriving societies that existed in parallel with Europe in China, India, Africa, Central and South America. We are so good at ignoring the massive contributions from other cultures to the learning we claim as European. If you choose to ignore who made stuff out of iron, there are still more, successful societies in North and South America, Africa, Asia.

It’s what we made of iron that makes us think Europe is the Supreme Pinnacle Peoples. In addition to useful things, we made swords. What Europe did to make the claim of Supreme Pinnacleship was go make war. We beat them all, didn’t we?  I question that claim. There is a decent argument the centuries-long Crusades Tournament was fought to a draw against all them Muslims.

As far as I can see with my limited, white male vision, Europe had a fair bit of luck coming out with a claim at Supreme Pinncleship.

White supremacists seem to overlook that history moves on. England had a century of dominance, so did France. ‘Way back when so did Greece and Turkey. Iraq had a good run, back when it was known as Babylon. China had a millennium of dominance over their region, starting before we even knew they existed. Iran, then Persia, is one of the sources of the learning we seem to think was Europe’s alone. The United States is desperately clinging to its ending century of dominance. Russia wonders why they can’t have a century like that.

The land of Europe, the people who lived there before migrating to many other places, have no magical properties giving us, descendants of Europeans, any rights different from anyone else. There is nothing we’ve done that gives us any more claim to mastery of the world. In fact I’ll claim the opposite: we have royally screwed up the place where we live.

My point has just been demonstrated, again, in New Zealand. Still another sorry excuse for a white male exercised his God-given white male rights and killed people. He went to their church, on their sabbath, for the sole purpose of making sure we all know what he thinks of these pesky immigrants.

The man is from Australia. How many white men are native to Australia? None. He’s the descendant of immigrants. But it’s okay, they were European immigrants, and we’ve made the rules different for ourselves.

He took the lives of 49 people. He messed up the lives of countless more who lost friends and family, who were wounded, who will now spend months (or years, or the rest of their lives) caring for wounded people they love.

I agree with Jacinda Ardern , the Prime Minister of New Zealand. “They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home,” she said in a short statement. Those immigrants are now “us,” Just as the English, Welsh, Scots and others assimilated upon their arrival to New Zealand.

Another bad guy with a gun thought it was an us versus them situation. He was completely wrong. It was him versus all of us, together.

There is no them. There is only us. There is only the vast majority of us who believe in human rights and the rule of law, and the people who live outside the norms of civilization.

We are one community. And we are now mourning the loss of good people who were some of us.

There is no them. We’re all in this together.

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Taylor Swift has grown up

Even on an exceptionally idle day, I still pay scant attention to personalities in popular culture.  I admit I’ve generally found the songs Taylor Swift writes distinct because they are more self-aware than most popular music.

I clicked on a headline, “30 things I learned before I turned 30,” not knowing who wrote it. It’s in Elle, not a publication I seek out to read.  I clicked because over in my other, other life I’m working at writing fiction, so it was the kind of thing that might inform my attempts to write characters who ring true and are relatable. The rule is to write what you know about, so I try to know about as much as I can.

The author was Taylor Swift, and I was impressed.  Sure, she says things about vitamins and skin care, but far more of what she has to say is about caring for your own soul.

The article is worth a read to absolutely anyone.  It is marred only by the high-fashion photos of Ms. Swift punctuating the contents.

More on that humanitarian crisis

February saw about 75,000 people apprehended at the border. You have to look back about a decade to find that many in one month. Keep in mind, that larger number a decade ago was the end of a decade-long period of far more illegal immigration than we’re seeing now.

Is February a trend, or an anomaly? This question matters because February is influencing the forecast of how many will cross the border illegally in 2019.

The Secretary of Homeland Security, testifying before Congress, said these numbers are clear evidence of a humanitarian crisis. She argued the current crisis shows we need money to build the proposed border wall to fight this humanitarian crisis.

I don’t agree.

The program to build a structure will take years. A crisis calls for immediate action. The response to the crisis has to take other forms, things that can be done quickly. If the crisis is larger numbers of people crossing the border in the near future, then our response isn’t a capital project, it is a change in operations. More funding to support more people on patrol, more capacity for holding detainees, is the response to the crisis.

Here is a specific example. In her testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee, Secretary Nielsen said one of the things the Border Patrol is seeing is more people who need medical aid. Increased funding could provide more capacity for healthcare for detainees. Starting to build a wall in response to sick people appearing right now doesn’t make sense, if the crisis is a humanitarian one.

I think more people, better equipped, at the border is where to spend the money. Better capacity in detention facilities is where to spend the money.

I think figuring out that we’re wasting a lot of money on detaining those people who present no threat is how to stop spending too much money.

I remember the caravan that ended in up Tijuana. Better use of our tax dollars is putting bringing more people in San Diego to work at the port of entry so these people can be processed in a timely manner. Processing a few dozen a day makes it look like we’re deliberately slow-walking the process of applying for asylum.

One of the things that can be done about immigration is putting in more effort in El Salvador, Guatemala, and other countries these people are leaving, emphasizing the consequences of crossing the border, suggesting legal alternatives.

But a wall? If the crisis is before us right now, how will a wall built a year, two years from now help?

The economic benefits of the December 2017 tax law changes, Episode 2: after 12 months

Here is a report on what impact the tax changes passed into law in December 2017 appear to have had, at the national economic level, in all of 2018.

This installment is later than expected, for some reason most of the statistics the government puts out at the end of January have been running a month late.

There are most certainly more people working now. From January 2018 to December 2018, the number of people employed rose from 154.0 million to 156.8 million, a change of 1.8% (right on line with the six-month change of 0.9%). (Data source: https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS12000000) The figure below allows us to look at the trend of emplyment. The dashed lines show the historic trend from 2000 through 2017. The solid lines show the trend for 2018, after the law was in effect.

2018_full_employed

I just don’t see a change in the employment trend. It’s arguable the trend has been just about constant since 2010.

Also shown on this graph is the change per month, up or down, from the previous evaluation period. Don’t be fooled by the jagged lines for the changes, out of sheer laziness I evaluated the historic data once per quarter, but the recent data every month. It isn’t clear to me that the change adds any detail, except to illustrate just how deep the 2009 recession was, and how much the employment picture jumps month by month.

It’s true, as the President has said, many more people have jobs than at any time since 2000 (and, I expect in history). That’s not only because the economy is growing, the population is also growing so you’d expect more people at work. I learned a few months ago to pay attention to what fraction of the population is working. (Population data source: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/POPTHM).

2018_full_empl-per-capita

The trend is in a good direction, but it is consistent with a continued recovery that started in 2009. And, despite White House assurances of the size of the impact, the fraction of the population working isn’t at any all-time highs. There might be one a year or two from now, if the current trend continues, but keep in mind all those Baby Boomers are retiring at a pace of about 10,000 retirements per day.

Let’s ignore the interesting little blip in the February numbers.  I’m watching long term trends.

Okay, then, what about the unemployment rate? The figure below shows the unemployment rate has fallen consistent with the number of people employed. (Data source: https://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.us.htm)

2018_full_unempl

Again, I see a steady trend for the unemployment rate with no evident impact (yet?) of the change in the tax law. The trend that started in 2009 has been pretty steady up to today, with the usual hiccups and bumps along the way. Keep in mind, the Federal Reserve thinks 4% unemployment is consistent with their definition of full employment.

The Gross Domestic Product has been doing great, surely the GDP shows a difference. For 2018, the GDP rose from $19.7 trillion to $20.9 trillion, an annualized rate of 2.9%, up from 2.2% in 2017 (Data source: https://www.bea.gov/national/index.htm#gdp) The figure below shows both the GDP trend and the changes from quarter to quarter. (This data is available by fiscal quarter only, so it’s all evaluated on the same basis.)

2018_full_GDP

Again, I’m just not seeing a change in the GDP trend from 2010 to the present.

Have wages begun to rise? The figure below shows the trend in average hourly wage, and average wage adjusted for the effect of inflation. (data source: https://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.us.htm )

2018_full_wages

From December 2017 through December 2018, average wages have risen from $26.64 to $26.92 per hour, a change of 3.3%. Inflation has been about 2.5% across the same time period (Data source: https://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.us.htm). The figure also shows wages adjusted for inflation, a line which is just about flat from 2006 to the present. (It appears I will not find average wage data from before 2006.)

Okay, then a new measure of the economy. The President continues to talk about how great the stock market is doing. The graph below shows the Dow Jones Industrial Average, month-end closing valuation from 2000 to the present. I looked at other numbers, including month’s lows and highs, and they all gave about the same picture.

2018_full_DJIA

I’m seeing the usual, unpredictable stock market. The long term trend hasn’t really changed. There’s a little, downward hook in recent months, but let’s wait and see what happens. A glance at the historic information shows we can’t look at stock market data covering a few months and claim a long term trend is evident. On the other hand, ten years of rather steady growth, the DJIA about doubling, is quite a long time for steady rises in valuation. It may be regular fluctuations of the market will give us some unsettling news.

Now, one more new measure of potential interest. What’s happened to the national debt? I recall hearing the tax cuts would pay for themselves. The graph below shows the trend of national debt.

2018_full_NDebt

The national debt looks, to me, like it’s still rising at the higher rate that started with the response to the 2009 recession.

On the whole, the data doesn’t show me much impact of the tax law – except national debt keeps rising.  I’ll report back again in six more months.

I’ll continue looking for different measures which might show the tax law changes having an impact on the economy.

Failure?

I’m not clear why the New York Times and NPR, among others, are calling the trip to Hanoi to meet North Korea a failure. Lots of productive diplomatic meetings are neither successes nor failures. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is quoted saying Kim was “a big winner.” It seems to me it’s rather early in a prolonged process to call winners and losers.  The objective, after all, is for both sides to win something.

Was mr t being measured in the same manner as the stock market, disappointment if the company doesn’t achieve what outside analysts say they should? That he didn’t actually close a deal during the second meeting? That he didn’t set the expectations for us to measure him?

Is it simply because he walked away from the table? “The art of no deal” is a textbook negotiating technique, a cold and definitive message to your counterparty. The White House didn’t tell us in advance what to expect. Why should they have? Perhaps the Hanoi summit was being treated as part of the process, not an event expected to deliver tangible progress.

Let’s face it, the regime governing North Korea needs sanctions lifted a lot more than the United States needs that regime to give up all nuclear weapons. One can imagine mr t planned in advance he could walk away from the table. Perhaps he arrived in Hanoi mindful that, after Singapore, he’d been described as too easy-going.

I am confident Kim was not happy to be treated that way. It is quite likely he thought his charm offensive was going to bear fruit. Anyone who expected Kim to strike a deal on the second meeting is ignoring North Korea’s history. This isn’t the first time a regime from Pyongyang has come to this dance, made polite noises then failed to actually commit.

It isn’t surprising the two sides tell different stories about what disagreement ended the discussion. The two sides probably each saw the situation differently, and are further spinning the story to support their viewpoint. That all sounds like any negotiation with a public element, for example a teachers contract.

Our experience is that deals to de-nuclearize, even to limit nuclear capability, takes years. The Iran nuclear deal took two years of intensive, frequent meetings to put together.

Fox News, of course, reported how much “bipartisan praise” mr t was getting.

That’s my point. Any news organization that wants to claim credibility needs to show that it’s not over-eager to tell only the negative view of the story about the President, nor only the positive. Under the general heading of “fair and balanced,” Media, I’d like to see the news reported as news, the analysis reported as analysis, and the opinions reported as opinions.

I also criticized calling last year’s summit in Singapore a great success, and for the same reason.

Anyone who claims the trip to Hanoi was a failure is ignoring the big picture. The same is true for calling the trip a success. It was a step, just a step. There must be many more steps, many more meetings before we can declare success.

The President and his White House do plenty of spin, we don’t need the media to add to it.

The Boston Massacre

March 5th is the anniversary of the Boston Massacre in 1770. In American memory, it is the occasion when British troops turned and fired into a crowd of Bostonians.

There is more.

There was still snow on the sides of King Street as a lone British soldier, in his scarlet red uniform coat, stood guard outside the Custom House. The city’s mood had been sour for quite some time, the Townshend Acts having been in effect for about two years. A minor squabble between an apprentice wigmaker and an officer of the British Navy turned ugly as blows were exchanged. A crowd gathered.

The bells of nearby churches were rung vigorously. More and more Bostonians, called from their houses by the bells, joined the crowd around the Custom House. Perhaps fifty people surrounded the lone sentry. Led by former slave Crispus Attucks, they dared him to fire his gun at them.

The Custom House sent for more troops to support the sentry. They were likely worried about the mob storming the custom house, in a day when all payments were in cash.

Led by an officer, Captain Thomas Preston, seven more soldiers came onto the steps of the Custom House with bayonets fixed on their muskets. People started throwing snowballs. The snowballs were themselves hard and icy. One can imagine stones might have found their way into the snowballs, and soon the mob was also throwing stones. The crowd continued to grow, to a few hundred. Captain Preston, confident in the discipline of his soldiers, stood between their guns and the crowd. He expected no shots would be fired unless he gave the order.

Something hit one of the soldiers hard enough that he lost his footing and dropped his musket. He retrieved the gun and was back on his feet quickly enough. Captain Preston did not order the men to fire, but on the other hand, many of the crowd were shouting “fire!” As soon as the private was in control of his weapon, he gave an angry shout and fired into the crowd.

Some said it was several seconds that passed, some said two minutes. Surely the crowd was quieted, for at least a short time, but they may have then pressed forward again. Preston gave no order, but one of the soldiers fired his muskets and the others followed in an irregular volley. Eleven people had gunshot wounds, there were eight soldiers, someone else had also had fired into the crowd. Three were dead, two more would die overnight.

The entire regiment was called out from their barracks. The crowd moved away from the concentration of red coats, but grew larger before dispersing in the late evening.

The interesting part of the story is what happened after the crowd was gone.

Acting Governor Thomas Hutchinson kept a promise made that evening and carried out an investigation of the incident. On March 27, just 21 days after the incident, the eight soldiers who had fired, Captain Preston, and four civilians who’d been inside the Custom House, were charged with murder.

It was October before the trials began, and propagandists had filled those six months with descriptions and illustrations of that fateful day. After printing a black-ink engraving, it was only necessary to use one color to add the red uniforms and the red blood of the dead to make an image so popular people had it pinned up on their kitchen walls all over New England.

John Adams, one of America’s founding fathers and already a well known patriot, agreed to defend the soldiers at their trial in a civilian court. Adams and his team worked hard to bring in jurors prepared to be impartial. Well, not entirely. They worked hard to pack the jury with people who might even favor the British.

Preston was the first tried. He didn’t have a weapon beside his sword, so the only question was whether he had ordered the eight soldiers with muskets to fire. The jury acquitted him, it was impossible to conclude he had given the order to shoot.

With the trial of the eight soldiers in December, Adams emphasized that the soldiers had the right to defend themselves. Had they shot arbitrarily, he argued, it might have been murder. Had they been provoked, but not attacked, it might have been manslaughter. Under attack, they should be acquitted, they had only acted to defend themselves.

His closing argument included a famous sentence in response to all the sensational things said in the newspapers in the six months leading up to the trial. “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Some advice holds its value over the years.

Six of the soldiers were acquitted. Two, who had fired directly into the crowd, were convicted of manslaughter.

The four civilians were also acquitted, there were no credible witnesses to what might have happened behind the stone walls of the Custom House.

In our school history books, the Boston Massacre was a pivotal moment for the American colonies, leading up to the revolution. The incident should also be remembered for the trials six months later, when Americans with a commitment to the rule of law gave a fair and impartial trial to enemy combatants.

The rule of law is an essential part of the foundation or our nation.

“The Fixer” visits the Committee

Republican Congresspersons told us in advance Michael Cohen’s appearance in a public testimony would be a circus. I expected the same, and I think my expectations were met.

I happened to hear a small portion of the testimony, on the radio while out running an errand in the mid-day. The evening news played a few Greatest Hits for the audience. Nothing of what I heard surprised me, none of the accusations against mr t struck me as new information. The Democrats on the Committee asked questions seeking salacious details, evidence of wrong doing not already uncovered or evidence that evidence existed. The questioners reflected three viewpoints, respectively: isn’t he awful, what other charges might be raised, and is there enough evidence to convict. The Republicans on the Committee spent their energy questioning Cohen’s credibility. Cohen himself commented on the absence of actual questions from the Republicans facing him.

There is no denying he was a witness of uncertain credibility. He will go to Federal prison in a few months, because he pleaded guilty that he had lied to Congress.

But I noticed a particular way to deal with his testimony, from Ohio’s esteemed Jim Jordan to the President himself. They picked what they liked and ran with that. Jordan latched onto Cohens’ repeating on Wednesday that he had never been to Prague as definitive evidence the entire Steele dossier is invalid. I heard the five minutes between Jordan and Cohen on the radio. I found it ironic the Member of Congress who found the detail about Prague convincing opened his remarks, a few minutes earlier, by saying nothing Cohen said could be trusted.

In the press conference as the summit with North Korea ended in Hanoi, the President was asked about the hearing in the District of Columbia. Similar to Jordan, the President said Cohen told the truth when he said there was no collusion, adding everything else Cohen said is untrue. It appears he had followed the hearing with the cool, distant attention worthy of a world leader working on matters of state, quite far away.

I’m comfortable with recognizing Cohen is going to prison for lying to Congress, and therefore treating his current testimony to Congress with due caution. However, there is a term for choosing just the evidence you want to cling to, while dismissing the rest. Cherry-picking is not considered good legal practice.

There was Democratic cherry-picking going on as well. Both Congresspersons and the Sincere Pundits of the media made much of Cohen declining to answer some questions with the explanation there were topics he’d been instructed not to address, by the investigators of the US Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York.

No one knows what’s being investigated, perhaps the President is a habitual scofflaw about parking tickets, perhaps he drives over the speed limit on the Long Island Expressway. Until we know what the investigation entails, one side can dismiss it as a nothingburger while the other side winks and nods about just how awful the news will be. This just circles back to my earlier comment on good legal practice.

Fortunately, all of them were there for political theater, not to pursue the law.