Patterico's Pontifications

1/3/2017

Examples of Stories I Don’t Care About

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:28 pm

Megyn Kelly going to NBC.

Billary going to the inauguration of their pal.

Donald Trump tweets about Ford.

Celebrities acting like celebrities again.

Maybe you care. I have no idea why you would. But maybe you do.

The way I feel these days reminds me of what Thomas Sowell wrote in his farewell note:

During a stay in Yosemite National Park last May, taking photos with a couple of my buddies, there were four consecutive days without seeing a newspaper or a television news program — and it felt wonderful. With the political news being so awful this year, it felt especially wonderful. This made me decide to spend less time following politics . . .”

I’ve spent the last two weeks with family, paying very little attention to what is going on in the world. I read books, and played games, and reconnected with the piano, and talked, and laughed.

I don’t feel like I missed much of anything by reading very little news.

Unlike Sowell, I’m not planning on retiring from writing any time soon, but if the stories listed at the head of this post are what passes for “things to care about” these days, then you can count me out.

P.S. When I get more sleep and energy, I plan to write about Sowell’s retirement. He has arguably had as great an impact on my way of thinking as any living man or woman (at least among people I don’t know personally). He’s certainly in the top five. His departure is a loss but his contributions were great, and I am still exploring them. A great man and a life well lived.

This Sounds Familiar: Small Vermont City Pins Hopes On Refugees To Increase Population, Fill Work Gap

Filed under: General — Dana @ 3:52 pm

[guest post by Dana]

In the small Vermont city of Rutland (pop. 15,824 ), Mayor Christopher Louras is using an interesting, if not familiar argument to justify a plan to resettle 100 Syrian and Iraqi refugees in his town throughout this new year. The plan was originally hatched in 2015, right after the terrorist attack in Paris.

The plan’s fiercest advocate has been the mayor of Rutland, Christopher Louras, who has cited not the moral argument for resettling refugees, but an economic one: This shrinking city, long removed from its heyday as a marble producer and regional railroad hub, needs every new resident it can get. Syrian refugees, he has said, are an opportunity.

“Rutland’s demographic condition right now is not just one of a declining population, but it’s also a graying population,” said Mr. Louras, who became the mayor about 10 years ago as a Republican, but has since become an independent. “We need people,” he added.

According to local associate professor of Economics, Art Woolf, the result of an aging population and lower birth rates results in a lack of workers:

“I think we’re right on the beginning of the cusp of serious, serious labor problems,” said Mr. Woolf, who added that the state’s unemployment rate, at 3.6 percent, was a sign of more trouble to come. “We’re low because there’s nobody available to work.”

Here is a look at the downturn in numbers:

Rutland County, here in the center of the state, which has lost residents since 2000. The city of Rutland has 15,824 residents, according to an estimate by the United States Census Bureau, which said the city had lost 4 percent of its population since 2010. The highest population for Rutland recorded by the Census Bureau was 19,293, in 1970.

It is a striking community, lately hobbled by isolation: There are mountains on the horizon, but the city is an hour from major highways. Its status as a railroad hub and a marble powerhouse is long gone, and recent decades have seen the loss of major factory employers.

In addition, the Census Bureau reports that in 2015, the rate of Rutland city residents living below the poverty line was 17%, and Rutland is also struggling with a serious heroin problem among its young people.

However, not all residents are supportive of the plan. Along with a group of residents actively working to prepare for refugees, there is another group, Rutland First, which is working to block, or at least delay, the decision:

We do not think this decision should be based on feelings of kindness. We are aware of burdens experienced by some communities who have accepted refugess as well as difficulties of those resettled. We think we must understand facts that have not been forthcoming and must consider the consequences of refugee resttlement in our City. Rutland has numerous unaddressed problems. We are asking the City of Rutland to hold a public vote on whether to:

A – Go forward with the Mayor’s proposed refugee resettlement beginning in October 2016

OR

B – Decline the opportunity for resettlement for the present time

Until city officials and the public feel assured of the vetting of refugees and are clearly informed of the process, the economic impact on Rutland and surrounding communities, details of the role of the contractor placing refugees here, the obligations the contractor has or does not have to the City, and the financial and legal responsibilities left to Rutland after the contractor completes its task.

Member of the Rutland First group, Timothy Cook, who is also a doctor and an Army Reserve colonel, pointed to the economic impact:

We’re kind of stuck out here, with our level of economic depression, with our level of crime and drug issues.

We’re the ones who are gonna have to foot the bill for this.

Mayor Louras’ justification for the resettlement of refugees echoes that of Prime Minister Angela Merkel, when she too was faced with an aging population and decreased birth rate. Merkel also saw the resettling of refugees and asylum seekers in Germany as both a humanitarian effort, and as a way to fill the country’s work gap.

Aside from the most obvious problem of a Western country opening its doors to citizens from specific regions in the world, Germany has also been faced with the problem that the vast majority of those admitted into the country have been uneducated and low-skilled workers at best. Thus they are unable to fill the vacant skilled positions. (Note: On average, an eighth-grader in pre-war Syria had a similar level to a third-grade student in Germany, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).)

Even more problematic has been a serious work ethic lacking in some of Germany’s able-bodied, male refugees:

According to mayor Bernd Pohlers of the eastern town of Saxony Waldenburg, the asylum seekers refused to accept the work that was offered to them after they arrived in the country.

The local council spent £600 arranging for the men to have uniforms but were stunned when they were told they would not complete it because they were “guests of Angela Merkel”.

While asylum seekers are not allowed to work under immigration rules within the EU, they are allowed to do voluntary work.

However officials in the district of Zwickau came up with a plan to help encourage those without employment to get back to work and to help them become more accepted within the local community.

In order to do this they created voluntary jobs which included a nominal payment of £18 for 20 hours work.

But all of the male residents of the local refugee accommodation who initially agreed to get involved in the charitable activities quit after discovering there was a minimum wage £7.30 (€8.50) in Germany.

The men had been picked up and offered transportation from their paid-for housing where they are also given food and then dropped home.

Mayor Pohlers said: “It was subsequently argued by these people that they are guests of Mrs. Merkel and guests do not have to work.

“Furthermore, they were of the opinion that there is a minimum wage (€8.50) in Germany, and that this had to be paid by the City Waldenburg.”

Despite attempts at mediation the asylum seekers refused to return to work.

As opponents to the Rutland plan, and others, have pointed out, it’s not simply a matter of helping those in need, or a matter of needing reassurances that the vetting is solid, but this plan would result in the merging of intensely different cultures. And that is a very serious matter, and one fraught with obvious risks and complications.

Which leads to this: Last month, Vermont Public Radio quoted Mayor Louras as saying:

My response to people who say Rutland’s not ready for this type of thing is: Then when? And how has this been working out for us? Not too well. Our population has continued to decline, and we need an infusion of new blood and new culture.

–Dana

First New Year Decision: House GOP Moves For Less Accountability And Transparency

Filed under: General — Dana @ 10:42 am

[guest post by Dana]

[Ed. note: I wrote this post earlier this morning. Since then, there has been an update to the story. I’m publishing the original post, and will include the update at the end of it.]

According to reports, GOP House rank-and-file members have moved to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics:

In one of their first moves of the new Congress, House Republicans have voted to gut their own independent ethics watchdog — a huge blow to cheerleaders of congressional oversight and one that dismantles major reforms adopted after the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Despite a warning from Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Republicans adopted a proposal by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to put the Office of Congressional Ethics under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee.

The office currently has free rein, enabling investigators to pursue allegations and then recommend further action to the House Ethics Committee as they see fit.

Now, the office would be under the thumb of lawmakers themselves. The proposal also appears to limit the scope of the office’s work by barring them from considering anonymous tips against lawmakers. And it would stop the office from disclosing the findings of some of their investigations, as they currently do after the recommendations go to House Ethics.

The report also states that the organizers of the amendment were individuals “who felt they had been wrongfully accused of unethical behavior by the OCE.”

While it remains to be seen just how big of an impact this change will actually have in real time, the optics of it are unarguably bad. Any veering away from transparency and accountability is but an inevitable move toward potential corruption and cover-up. Even the appearance of such should be stridently avoided by the GOP. And if nothing else, how about Republicans, right out the gate, go with demonstrating a little good faith effort “drain the swamp,” rather than keep it clogged up with political sewage?

To his credit, President-elect Trump expressed his displeasure, and publicly admonished Republicans:

untitled

untitled

For clarity: It appears Trump is not necessarily objecting to the vote itself, but rather the priority it’s been given in light of weightier issues deserving and demanding Republicans’ attention. Obviously, he is right, and good for him to point this out.

UPDATE: It is now being reported that Republicans have scrapped their plans:

House Republicans have dropped plans to gut the independent ethics office after widespread criticism and questions from President-elect Donald Trump about GOP priorities.

In a reversal, the House GOP decided on Tuesday to strip the provision from a package of rule changes that lawmakers will vote on later in the day.

Said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma: ‘‘People didn’t want this story on opening day.’’

–Dana

Garry Kasparov: The United States Has a Putin (and a Partisanship) Problem

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 9:30 am

Garry Kasparov, the Russian human rights activist and former chess champion, has a piece in today’s Washington Post titled The U.S. doesn’t have a problem with Russia. It has a problem with Vladimir Putin.

When the entire U.S. intelligence community united to accuse Russia of tampering in the 2016 presidential election, it seemed redundant to later add that Vladimir Putin was directly involved. Nothing significant happens in Russia, and no action is taken by Russia, without the knowledge of the man who has held total power there for 17 years, first as president and later as unchallenged dictator. Having steadily eliminated every form of real political and social opposition in Russia, Putin turned his attacks on the foreign powers that could — should they decide to act — weaken his grip.

The United States, in other words, doesn’t have a problem with Russia — it has a problem with Putin.

And instead of deterrence, President Obama continues the policy of belated responses that has enabled Putin’s steady escalation of hostile acts. The sanctions against Russian intelligence assets that the White House announced last Thursday, while welcome, left me searching for a Russian equivalent for the proverb “closing the barn door after the horse is gone.”

Kasparov also has a warning for those who place partisanship over country: you are playing right into Vladimir Putin’s hands:

The Russian meddling in the 2016 election documented by the Obama administration last week relied on partisan enmity to disregard its origins and the eagerness of American news outlets to take their cues from social media by turning stolen emails into daily headlines about their trivial content. Editors and algorithms designed to maximize social sharing were woefully unprepared for a coordinated and well-funded propaganda assault.

. . . .

Hacking is an ideal new front in this type of shadow war. It’s difficult to trace and, like terrorist attacks, cyberwar has a very high impact-to-cost ratio. Once data is stolen, it barely takes any work at all, since the media is delighted to distribute it far and wide. Stolen information has the irresistible allure of forbidden fruit, no matter how banal the actual content may be. Social media has no vetting at all and has become fertile soil for Kremlin trolls and fake news organizations. These digital tools will only grow in power and in influence. After the tremendous success of the Democratic National Committee hack, there will only be more such attacks unless very strong deterrence is put in place to discourage them.

. . . .

Putin’s classic KGB strategy of divide and conquer is perfectly suited for this era of hyper-partisanship. Americans have forgotten Abraham Lincoln’s admonition that a house divided against itself cannot stand. A divided America cannot defend the values of the free world.

Even if, as seems likely, Putin probably did not swing the election, there is something very disquieting about the spectacle of many pro-Trump Republicans rushing to minimize Putin’s actions. Also laughable is the blatantly partisan manner in which Democrats have suddenly discovered a menace in Russian hacking that they couldn’t find in Putin’s murders of journalists, opposition figures, and other innocents over the last 17 years.

If Americans can’t recognize who their real enemies are, they are bound to be crushed by them.

P.S. Over the winter break I purchased and read Kasparov’s latest book: Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped. I plan to review it in the next day or two. I recommend it to anyone who wishes to learn more about the true enemy.

[Cross-posted at RedState.]


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