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Donald Trump Is Not Well

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 22:04

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark said today that talk of selling Greenland to the US was an “absurd discussion,” adding that Greenland Premier “Kim Kielsen has of course made it clear that Greenland is not for sale. That’s where the conversation ends.” Donald Trump responded by canceling his upcoming visit to Copenhagen:

Can we finally start talking publicly about Trump’s mental state? This is the action of a child, not an adult in full control of his faculties. Everyone aside from Trump understood that his Greenland compulsion was a sign of cognitive regression in the first place, and this episode demonstrates that it was no passing fantasy. Trump took it seriously enough to treat Frederiksen’s comments as just another incitement to a feud with a political enemy.

The man is not well. I don’t care what you want to call his condition, but he’s not well. I can only shiver at the thought of what the folks who work regularly with Trump really think of him these days.

Categories: Politics

Volcker Rule Shredded By Trump Appointees

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 19:05

You remember the Volcker Rule, don’t you? It was the brainchild of former Fed chair Paul Volcker, who wanted to prohibit banks from proprietary trading—that is, betting their own money on risky investments. Volcker figured that prop trading should be done by hedge funds and investment banks, not by regulated commercial banks using house money with an implicit government guarantee.

Well, say sayonara:

The FDIC and four other independent agencies have dropped their proposal to tie the rule to a strict accounting standard — a move that banks argued would have made it more burdensome by subjecting additional trades to heightened supervision. Instead, regulators will give banks the benefit of the doubt on a much wider range of trades, according to the text of the final rule.

….The inclusion of the accounting provision in the original Volcker 2.0 proposal had been key in securing the support of Martin Gruenberg, then FDIC chairman and now a regular board member at the agency. Gruenberg, an Obama appointee, voted against the revised rule Tuesday morning, saying it would “effectively undo” the Volcker rule’s ban on proprietary trading. As amended, “the Volcker rule will no longer impose a meaningful constraint on speculative and proprietary trading by banks and bank-holding companies benefiting from the public safety net” of insured deposits, Gruenberg said.

What could go wrong?

Categories: Politics

Lunchtime Photo

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 15:30

Here’s a lovely image from Sumapaz National Park in Colombia. The flower, if I’ve identified it correctly, is Arcytophyllum nitidum. In California, every wildflower you can imagine seems to have been given a common name, but several of the ones I photographed in Colombia apparently don’t have them, this one included.

Generally speaking, the flora in Colombia looked pretty familiar to a Southern California native. A. nitidum, however, is found only in Colombia and Venezuela.

August 8, 2019 — Sumapaz National Park, Colombia
Categories: Politics

Conservative Report on Facebook Provides No Information At All

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 14:44

Sen. Jon Kyl released his interim report today on whether Facebook is biased against conservatives. Ali Breland and Pema Levy describe it here, summing it up with, “Kyl’s report did not find any evidence of conservative bias at Facebook.”

OK, sure, but there has to be more than that. I mean, what did he find? So I went over and read it for myself. And the answer, almost literally, is that he found nothing. In fact, he didn’t even look. All he did was talk to a bunch of conservatives to find out what they thought Facebook might be doing to them. As a public service, I’ll provide this abridged version:

In January 2018, Facebook changed its content ranking algorithm to favor content that a given user’s friends and family comment on and share, as well as news from broadly trusted sources. Several interviewees believed that this change disproportionately decreased the reach of conservative news content….Facebook has made a concerted effort to de-prioritize clickbait and spam. Interviewees generally supported this goal, but found Facebook’s policies for doing so too opaque….Interviewees expressed significant concerns about Facebook’s efforts to combat what the company refers to as “false news.” In particular, interviewees pointed to examples of instances when some of the third-party fact-checkers utilized by Facebook at various times…have skewed to the ideological Left.

….Interviewees’ concerns stemmed both from the notion of having a “hate speech” policy in the first place and from unfair labeling of certain speech as “hate speech.”…Interviewees frequently expressed concern over Facebook’s perceived reliance on the Southern Poverty Law Center (“SPLC”) and other left-leaning organizations to identify hate groups….Interviewees believed that other aspects of Facebook’s Community Standards also disproportionately affect conservative content.

….Some interviewees provided specific examples of instances in which they believed Facebook unfairly removed or downgraded content or Pages because they were conservative…Interviewees were concerned that conservative ad content is disproportionately removed or rejected as compared to liberal content and described a general lack of transparency with respect to why Facebook removes or rejects certain ads.

So that’s it. A bunch of conservatives repeated standard conservative talking points about how they’ve been treated unfairly but provided no evidence that they had actually been treated unfairly. Nor was it part of Kyl’s remit to check this out independently or to compare it to the way liberals and independents are treated. There is literally nothing here.

Categories: Politics

Are Boys Getting Dumber While Girls Get Smarter?

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 13:53

A new study has been published with some startling news: pregnant mothers who drink fluoridated water have babies with lower IQs. More accurately, they have baby boys with lower IQs. But if they have a girl, their baby will have a higher IQ. Here’s the basic table:

A 1 milligram increase in maternal urinary fluoride levels was associated with a decrease of 4.49 IQ points in boys and an increase of 2.40 IQ points in girls. This seems implausibly large, doesn’t it? But I can think of at least one crude way to check it. In 1950 virtually no water in the US was fluoridated. Today, fluoridated water reaches more than 70 percent of the population. At a minimum, this suggests that over the last 70 year the IQ levels of boys and girls (a) should have gone down, and (b) should have diverged by about 7 points. Has this happened?

In a word, no. Overall IQ scores in the United States have increased since 1950 and that steady upward trend has continued at least through 2014. And I’m unable to find any evidence that the mean scores of boys and girls has differed by more than one point or so during this entire period. Obviously lots of other things have been going on at the same time, so this doesn’t prove anything. But it sure puts a high burden on anyone claiming an IQ effect that affects boys and girls differentially by 7 points.

Categories: Politics

Health Care Plans Are Duking It Out in the Democratic Primary

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 12:38

The Washington Post declares today that enthusiasm for full-blown Medicare-for-All is waning:

Democrats back off once-fervent embrace of Medicare-for-all

Leaning back on a black leather sofa as her campaign bus rumbled toward Fort Dodge, Kamala D. Harris tried to explain why she spent months defending a plan to replace private health insurance with Medicare-for-all, only to switch to a more modest proposal that would allow private insurance to continue after all.

“I don’t think it was any secret that I was not entirely comfortable — that’s an understatement,” Harris said, holding a to-go cup from a Mexican restaurant at a recent stop. “I finally was like, ‘I can’t make this circle fit into a square.’ I said: ‘We’re going to take hits. People are going to say she’s waffling. It’s going to be awful.’ ” But, she said, she decided it was worth it.

So what is Harris’s plan these days? Here’s the nutshell version:

  • Anyone can immediately buy into Medicare, which will be improved in various ways.
  • A 10-year phase-in of an expanded Medicare for newborns and the uninsured.
  • Allow private insurers to offer coverage similar to today’s Medicare Advantage program.
  • “At the end of the ten-year transition, every American will be a part of this new Medicare system. They will get insurance either through the new public Medicare plan or a Medicare plan offered by a private insurer within that system.”

That’s fine. I have no argument with any of it. However, it leaves out a big issue: how much will people have to pay for it? Is it literally free, paid for entirely by taxes? Or do consumers have to pay an annual premium? Does the premium increase with income, like Obamacare? If so, what’s the top premium level? And what are the caps on copays, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses?

The truth is that Obamacare could basically be fixed with a couple of simple changes:

  • Higher premium subsidies all the way through the middle class, including an absolute cap of 8 percent of income no matter how rich you are.
  • Stricter rules on deductibles and OOP, which would also apply to private plans.
  • Add a public option to buy in to Medicare.

That’s it. There are other things it would be nice to fiddle with, but those three would turn Obamacare into something very, very close to a national health care plan. Whether you prefer this to Harris’s plan or Sanders’ plan is, frankly, more a matter of personality and mood than it is of actual dedication to the best possible health care. All three of them would work fine.

Categories: Politics

The Fed Wants to Loosen Bank Rules. It Shouldn’t. Not Yet, Anyway.

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 11:44

More and more, it looks like ten years is the official period for financial regulators to exhale and declare that what happened in 2008 can never happen again:

A decade after big banks needed government support to dig out of the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve is slowly, but steadily, making a series of regulatory changes that could chip away at new requirements put in place to prevent a repeat of the 2008 meltdown.

….Some current and former Fed officials worry that the central bank and its fellow regulators are giving large banks, which are making big profits, an unnecessary gift that could leave the economy exposed in the next downturn. They say the overseers should be forcing banks to maintain or even build up their defenses given the strong economy, which is in its longest expansion on record, rather than eroding those buffers.

….The changes, some put into place and others still under consideration, range from making it easier for big banks to pass the Fed’s annual “stress test” of their financial health to allowing some to borrow more. One idea being floated could quietly reduce capital levels at the biggest American banks over the course of the business cycle.

What could go wrong?

If regulators had a laundry list of smallish changes they wanted to make in the name of efficiency or ease of regulation or something like that, and they were willing to trade the whole package for, say, a small increase in crude leverage requirements, I’d go along. But unilaterally making capital requirements looser simply because banks look to be in pretty good shape these days is as dumb as it comes. Of course banks look pretty solid after ten years of economic expansion. The question is how will they look after they’ve faced their first recession? At the very least, shouldn’t we leave current policies in place until Wall Street successfully navigates an entire economic cycle from trought to trough before deciding that we’re being too tough on the poor babies?

Categories: Politics

Trump: Weak Economy Is Fake News, But We still Need a Huge Stimulus

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 18:11

According to Donald Trump, the economy is booming: all the talk of a possible recession is just fake news and Democratic propaganda. America has the best economy in the world and, possibly, the best economy in all of human history.

Also according to Donald Trump, we need an immediate gigantic cut in interest rates and a big reduction in the payroll tax in order to . . . um, stimulate a weak economy? But that can’t be. Trump says our economy, as always on his watch, is “very strong.”

It’s a mystery, but not a very baffling one: facts don’t matter anymore. Politics is now just a matter of who can invent the most potent fantasy. Here is Jennifer Rubin on Trump’s economic record:

President Trump came into office promising some fabulous yet unspecified health-care plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. No plan existed…. Trump said he’d bring back manufacturing. In fact, it slowed and now has slumped…. Trump said he’d get tough on drug companies. He hasn’t. He said his tax cut would be aimed at the middle class, deliver $4,000 a year to the average American family and permanently boost business investment, pushing growth above 3 percent. Nope, nope and nope…. The biggest economic lie was Trump’s declaration that trade wars are quickly and easily won, American consumers and farmers wouldn’t be hurt and we somehow would get richer by making Americans pay more at stores. Actually, they are paying a lot.

Rubin is in her element these days. She’s always been very compelling in an attack-dog-attorney kind of way, but it never worked that well back when she was hating on President Obama. There just wasn’t enough there, and it forced her to stretch and exaggerate too much. Now there’s no such problem. Hating on Trump is easy, and there’s really never any need for anything but the bare truth. It’s all clover for someone with a lawyerly mind.

Categories: Politics

Republicans Really Hate Universities These Days

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 16:44

According to a new study from Pew, the 2016 presidential campaign apparently produced a huge increase in the number of Republicans who think universities are bad for America:

I’m a little puzzled by this. Conservatives have been railing about universities forever, from Bill Buckley’s quip about the Boston phone book to Spiro Agnew’s nattering nabobs to the post-Gingrich assault on research of all kinds and continuing to this day with the more recent indignity over safe spaces and trigger warnings. So if this sentiment has been around so long, how did Trump produce such a sudden and large jump in the space of a single year? He mostly goes after the news media, not universities.

Or is it due to something else? I know that National Review has substantially upped its coverage of the latest outrages in higher education, but how about Fox? Have they been campaigning to scare old people about America-hating professors? Or is something else afoot? Does anyone have any ideas?

Categories: Politics

Lunchtime Photo

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 15:30

Seven years ago, when it was still in the construction stage, I mocked Levitated Mass, a planned installation on the grounds of the LA County Museum of Art. It was basically a long trench with a 340-ton rock placed over it, and my contention was that it was ridiculous.

But it got installed over my objections, if you can believe it, and a couple of months ago I finally saw it. I have two pictures for you. The first is taken from down in the trench and attempts to make photographic lemonade out of quarried lemons. The second just shows you what it looks like.

So: Is it art?

June 30, 2019 — Los Angeles, California June 30, 2019 — Los Angeles, California
Categories: Politics

Donald Trump and the Great Google Vote Heist

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 14:59

I actively try not to spend any time reacting to Donald Trump’s idiot tweets these days, but it’s a little slow this morning and this tweet has people genuinely puzzled:

This is old stuff that Trump is just catching up to, for some reason. The nickel version is that several years ago celebrity psychologist Robert Epstein got into a tiff with Google in which he turned out to be embarrassingly in the wrong. Ever since then Epstein has been gunning for Google, and prior to the 2016 election he claimed that they were deliberately manipulating search results in a way that favored Hillary Clinton.¹

So that’s the proximate source. But where do Trump’s numbers come from? That’s a little harder to figure out. Last month, in a conspiracy-laden conversation with Sen. Ted Cruz, Epstein testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Google was responsible for shifting 2.6 million votes to Clinton in 2016 and that in 2020 all of big tech together could shift as many as 15 million votes without anyone ever knowing—and probably would. I assume that Trump misheard this and thought he said 16 million.

Fine. But where does Epstein get those numbers? This is a bit murky, but a couple of years ago he published a paper showing that search results can bias decisionmaking. The limits of the paper are so breathtaking that I’m not sure how you can draw any real-world conclusions from it, but basically he came to the unsurprising conclusion that if you (a) give people a choice of two politicians they’ve never heard of and (b) provide search results that are unanimously positive toward one and negative toward the other, then (c) they’ll tend to support the person who got the positive results. No kidding.

This year he presented another paper, but I can’t find it and there’s a limit to how deeply I’m willing to dive down this particular rabbit hole. However, here’s the LA Times report:

In his latest study, which he and a co-author plan to present in April at the 99th annual meeting of the Western Psychological Assn., in Pasadena, Epstein tracked 47,300 searches by dozens of undecided voters in the districts of newly elected Democratic Reps. Katie Porter, Harley Rouda and Mike Levin.

Mainstream outlets, including the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, dominated the Google search results. By contrast, searches conducted on Yahoo and Bing more often showcased links from deeply conservative outfits such as Breitbart.

Using a model he has developed to gauge the subliminal effect of what he sees as tilted search results, Epstein projected 35,455 voters who were on the fence were persuaded to vote for a Democrat entirely because of the sources Google fed them.

You read that right: Epstein thinks Google’s algorithms are biased because they give too much weight to mainstream news outlets and too little to folks like Breitbart. Then he fed this alleged bias into a model of his own devising, which claims it was responsible for 35,455 Democratic votes in three congressional districts in 2018. Presumably this is then projected yet again to produce the 2.6 million number for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

This is a house of cards and appears to have virtually nothing behind it aside from the initial grudge against Google that Epstein brought into it. However, because Epstein is a liberal Democrat, conservatives are in love with him. They can’t get enough of the Hillary supporter who nonetheless claims that Trump was cheated out of votes by the evil geniuses at Google.

Maybe someone else will dive into this a little more deeply, but that’s about as much as I’m willing to do. In any case, I’m not sure how much more we’re going to see from Epstein. He’s busy on a whole bunch of books right now and probably won’t have much time for this.

¹FWIW, Google looked at Epstein’s claims last year and dismissed them as methodologically flawed.

Categories: Politics

The South Just Loves Executions

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 12:28

In an op-ed about the death penalty in the New York Times today, I came across a link to a fact sheet about executions in America. I guess this is no surprise, but if you want to know which region keeps the whole industry alive, here it is:

Breaking it down by state is also instructive. If you live someplace that was never a slave state (or territory), the death penalty is all but gone these days. But if you live someplace that was formerly a slave state, executions continue to be a big part of your cultural heritage. Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

Categories: Politics

RV Sales Are Down

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 10:57

I guess we should all be prepared for a spate of articles using various home-brew metrics to predict whether a recession is near. You know the drill: sunspots, hemlines, banana consumption, whatever. Today the Wall Street Journal takes a look at RVs:

Shipments of recreational vehicles to dealers have fallen about 20% so far this year, after a 4.1% drop last year, according to data from the RV Industry Association. Multiyear drops in shipments have preceded the last three recessions. “The RV industry is better at calling recessions than economists are,” said Michael Hicks, an economist at Ball State University, in Muncie, Ind. Mr. Hicks says softening consumer demand for RVs coupled with rising vehicle prices due to tariffs suggests the economy is either in a recession or soon headed for one.

Wait. What’s this about rising prices due to tariffs?

RVs can range in price from about $12,000 for a folding camping trailer to $212,000 for a high-end motor home, according to average retail prices collected by the RV Industry Association. The prices have been sensitive to the U.S. tariffs imposed on some Chinese goods. The industry estimates that as many as 523 items could be hit by the tariffs, everything from the toilet-seat covers that go into RV bathrooms and cow hides for leather furniture to the aluminum or steel used throughout the vehicles.

Divya Brown, the president of Houston.-based TAXA Outdoors, a small RV manufacturer, said her company bought most of its parts from Elkhart. Her suppliers are raising their prices to account for the hit they are taking from imported goods such as aluminum and steel. Ms. Brown said the company saw a 22% jump in the cost of steel and a 9% jump in the cost of aluminum.

So there you have it. The yield curve has inverted and business is bad in Elkhart, Indiana. We are all doomed.

Categories: Politics

Let’s Make the Military Into a Trump Reelection Machine!

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 00:34

Over at the Washington Post, Hugh Hewitt gives Donald Trump some advice about how to win reelection: tell the Navy to build more stuff in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. I’m not joking or exaggerating. Hewitt is very explicit about the whole thing:

A focus on Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin need not be limited to the Defense Department. Recently, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) pushed successfully for the planned relocation of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management to Grand Junction, Colo., in a brilliant move to bring bureaucrats closer to the citizens they regulate and whom they are supposed to serve. Sending large parts of the Environmental Protection Agency to Flint, Mich., or nearby locations would drive home the same message.

Trump has the chance to drain the swamp while making government agencies much more attuned to the people in flyover country. But he must act soon.

Behold modern conservatism: the way to drain the swamp is to order the military to spend more money in swing states, with the express purpose of helping a Republican win the election. And don’t even bother trying to hide what you’re doing. Go ahead and write about it openly in one of the most influential newspapers in America. That’s making America great again, my friends.

Categories: Politics

Organized Religion Is Having a Bad Few Decades

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 18:50

The last few decades sure have been bad ones for organized religion. Conservative Christians have decided that the sum total of the Bible is about reestablishing the sex and gender mores of the 19th century. Liberal protestantism is so gutless that hardly anyone even remembers it exists. The Catholic Church has been responsible for the deaths of millions in Africa thanks to its mindless belief that God hates condoms. Much of Islam has been taken over by the toxic Saudi strain. Israel has turned into an apartheid state. Hindus in India are apparently now dedicated to creating a religiously pure state. And even Buddhists have been acting badly lately.

Meanwhile, science keeps churning out new wonders. Cell phones. The internet. Cures for cancer. Robotic prosthetics. Solar panels on rooftops. Talking computers. Antidepressants. Google Maps. Cheap genome sequencing. Virtual reality. Machine learning. Meatless meat. Missions to Mars. Electric cars. Fiber optics.

Seems like no contest to me. But who’s winning?

Categories: Politics

Friday Cat Blogging – 16 August 2019

Fri, 08/16/2019 - 15:00

How about if we feature a red-blooded American cat this week? That would be Hilbert, named after a German mathematician but still an all-American boy. In this picture he is sitting in his favorite box but has gotten distracted by a gray-and-white cat wandering through his field of vision. Obviously that demands a good, long stare.

Categories: Politics

How Worried Are People About Climate Change?

Fri, 08/16/2019 - 14:51

I was on the phone with my editor yesterday and we happened to get on the topic of public opinion about climate change. I thought that concern about climate change had peaked around 2006-08 after Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth tour, while she thought it was peaking now. Gallup has a series of questions about climate change that they’ve polled for the past couple of decades, so I headed over there. Here’s what they show:

It turns out we were both right. Concern about climate change did peak after Al Gore’s tour and then slumped during the Great Recession. But it began picking up again when the economy improved and is currently at about the same level as the post-Gore peak. Now here’s a look at where climate change ranks compared to other environmental issues. This is the percentage of people who said they worried “a great deal” about each of the listed problems:

Climate change hangs out in the middle with four other issues that poll at the same level. Put these two charts together and it’s clear that people are thinking more about climate change these days, but without a ton of urgency.

Categories: Politics

Democrats Need to Get Smart on Immigration

Fri, 08/16/2019 - 13:19

Peter Shuck thinks Democrats are right to favor legal status for millions of undocumented workers, including Dreamers. He also believes we should legally admit “many more” than the 1.1 million we do now. He also wants to raise refugee admissions to 75,000. But he also thinks Democrats should take enforcement of immigration laws more seriously:

Effective interior enforcement means mandating that all employers use an improved, pre-hiring E-verify status check, and occasionally using well-targeted work site audits and arrests to enforce employer sanctions, which have been on the books since 1986. No administration, Republican or Democratic, has made that a priority. But it could be a winning issue for a smart Democratic candidate appealing to American working-class and union voters.

I agree with all of that except for the “occasionally” part. This doesn’t have to be like a plague of locusts descending on America’s farms and slaughterhouses, but it needs to be routine enough that employers know it’s a real risk. It also needs to be focused 100 percent on businesses. Workers should be left entirely alone except insofar as they need to be questioned to confirm employer records.

Think of what this accomplishes. ICE is no longer in the business of raiding panicked workers in fields and sweatshops. They are dealing exclusively with fellow American citizens. The fines should be big enough to genuinely deter employers and to fund the agency. Over time, illegal immigration would steadily and humanely be reduced simply because the prospect of a job in El Norte would steadily be reduced.

Now add a national ID card to the mix and you’re really in business.

Categories: Politics

LA Democratic Party Turns On One of Its Own

Fri, 08/16/2019 - 11:43

Last month I wrote about LA County’s newly-elected sheriff, Alex Villanueva, whose top priority since taking office has been a project to reinstate deputies who were fired for things like domestic violence, using unreasonable force, lying, and so forth. Earlier this week, even the Democratic Party had finally had enough:

Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Democratic Party passed a resolution calling on Villanueva to restore trust in his department. It asks him to adhere to recommendations on hiring practices by the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, to end inmate transfers to federal immigration agents and their contractors, and to reverse all decisions by a panel that reinstated a deputy fired for violating department policies regarding domestic abuse and lying. The resolution also expressed concern that Villanueva’s son was admitted into the Sheriff’s Department academy despite a history of driving under the influence.

Party leaders said it was highly unusual — if not unprecedented in recent memory — for the organization to publicly express sharp disapproval of an official so soon after endorsing him. “We felt really misled, almost conned, by the difference between Villanueva’s rhetoric and the things he has done since he was elected,” said Damian Carroll, member-at-large of the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley, who authored the resolution.

You can never perform enough due diligence, folks.

Categories: Politics

In Big Non-Surprise, Trump Turns on Labor Unions

Fri, 08/16/2019 - 10:54

Back in 2016, North America’s Building Trades Unions endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. Once Donald Trump won, however, they responded warmly to his promise to be the Builder-in-Chief. Trump told them he planned to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure. Maybe $2 trillion! Here is Trump speaking to the group early in his presidency:

I know these people well, you wouldn’t believe it. I know them too well. I know them too well. They cost me a lot of money. (Laughter.) I spent a lot of money, but I love them, and they’re great, and their people are fantastic.

…..The fact is you take pride in every part of your work — every joist, bolt, and rivet. You’re not only builders, but you’re artisans, very talented people. A lot of people don’t understand, you’re very talented people — enriching our cities and landscapes with works of great beauty. And just as you take pride in your work, our nation takes great, great pride in you, believe me. And it’s time that we give you the level playing field you deserve.

….Washington and Wall Street have done very, very well for themselves. Now it’s your turn. And you’re going to be also sharing the wealth.

As we all know, the whole infrastructure thing never happened. Hell, it because the butt of a joke. Then the Trump administration proposed new rules for apprenticeship programs that would be governed by industry, not unions. NABTU’s president, in a spirit of solidarity, said that was fine as long NABTU was excluded from proposal. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta assured him it would be.

Well, as we all know, Acosta was forced out of office due to Epstein program related activities, and his chief-of-staff was already gone due to his management philosophy of “profanity-laced tirades and belittlement of subordinates.” So now Mick Mulvaney is running the show and he’s not the kind of guy who’s sympathetic to carve-outs for organized labor. They are the enemy, after all. So now, two years later, their partnerhip is in tatters:

Now the two sides are on the brink of war, endangering a key bloc of Trump’s support in Midwestern swing states in 2020. At issue is a deal gone bad between Trump and North America’s Building Trades Unions over a Labor Department apprenticeship initiative, the politics of which have grown more complicated since last month’s ouster of Secretary Alexander Acosta. Leaders of the union federation worry that the final version will undermine their own job-training programs and create a supply of cheap labor for developers, undercutting high-skilled construction workers who rely on prevailing-wage jobs to make ends meet.

“It’s an existential threat to the Building Trades,” said a former administration official with knowledge of the discussions. And it has the powerful group — a union federation that represents millions of construction workers across the U.S. — seeing early signs of a member-driven revolt against Trump in 2020.

I know this analogy gets used too often, but it really is like the frog who agreed to carry a scorpion across a river. Halfway across, the scorpion stings the frog and they both drown. But why? “It’s what I do,” the scorpion explained.

Donald Trump may have the knack of talking to blue-collar workers, and I suppose union leaders need to do their best to work with whoever’s in the White House. But as Trump said to them about unions, “they cost me a lot of money.” That part was real. The little laugh that followed wasn’t. Unions cost Trump and the rest of the business class a lot of money, and they’ve spent the last 50 years on a scorched-earth campaign to destroy them. So when, one way or another, it turned out there was no Trump infrastructure bill and never would be; and Trump started whittling away at public sector union rights; and Trump repealed the “overtime” rule put in place by President Obama; and Trump’s NLRB overturned a couple of key labor rules; and Trump appointed Eugene Scalia to be the next Labor Secretary; and Trump said not a peep when Boeing workers tried to organize in South Carolina; and Trump’s trade war started hurting union jobs—well, you might wonder why. The answer is simple. He’s a Republican. It’s what he does.

Any union that supports Trump’s White House and Mitch McConnell’s Senate deserves whatever they get. Any union that backs a Trump initiative that screws other unions as long as they’re exempted should hardly be surprised when that exemption is suddenly in danger.

Organized labor is down for the count in America. The odds against their revival are slim, but they do have one last chance: organize for 2020 like never before. Make it clear that social issues don’t matter anymore and that every single union member in the country should vote against the Republican Party for every office that’s open. Do this regardless of what happens to the apprenticeship program. In turn, Democrats should unanimously agree to put labor reform front and center if they win. That’s it. It’s prick of light at the end of the tunnel for unions and a return to genuine blue-collar roots for the Democratic Party.

So far, to my surprise, none of the Democratic candidates has sold herself as the “labor president.” They mostly all support the usual stuff (card check, worker safety, etc.) but it’s been pretty low-key. Their “can you top this” approach to border security that’s swept the field is a bad idea, but a “can you top this” approach to reviving labor would be great. I mean, whose side are you on?

Categories: Politics