AL Sheriffs & DAs: No Incentive to Enforce the Law if We Can’t Keep the Funds

by Jibran Khan

In January, Republican state senators in Alabama introduced legislation to reform civil forfeiture. The bill makes the radical suggestion that property rights cannot be taken away without due process. (Under current practice, property can be seized without charge, let alone conviction, and the defendant needs to prove innocence at great cost to get it back.) It also aims to curb abuses by directing what does get seized to the state’s General Fund, rather than to the police departments themselves, thereby ending a practice that has been called ’Policing for Profit’.

The Alabama Sheriffs Association and Alabama District Attorney’s Association are not pleased. Taking to, the directors of both organizations penned an op-ed in defense of civil forfeiture. They open with blatant dishonesty, claiming that the practice only targets criminals, when in at least a quarter of Alabama forfeiture cases, charges are never filed, let alone convictions made.

The op-ed is actually refreshing in that the authors don’t hide the fact that police departments pursue civil forfeiture for personal gain. Speaking of the reformers’ plan to prevent police departments from keeping the money and assets they seize, they write:

sending the proceeds of forfeiture to the state’s General Fund would result in fewer busts of drug and stolen property rings. What incentive would local police and sheriffs have to invest manpower, resources and time in these operations if they don’t receive proceeds to cover their costs?

Isn’t it the job of law enforcement to enforce the law? Isn’t that why they are paid? Given that many violent crimes happen in the absence of property on the scene to seize, does this mean that Alabama law enforcement have no incentive to spend resources fighting them?

National Review Summer Internship

by NR Staff

National Review is accepting applications for its summer internship. The intern will work in our New York office, receive a modest stipend, participate in every part of the editorial process, and have some opportunities to write. The ideal candidate will have an excellent academic record and some experience in student or professional journalism. If you wish to apply, please send a cover letter, your résumé, and two of your best writing samples (no more, please) to editorial.applications (at)

Handmaid’s Tale-Style Repression Is Kind of Charming — So Long As It Is Practiced by a Regime Hostile to Trump

by Rich Lowry

Ben Shapiro and David French have written powerfully about the media getting duly charmed by North Korea’s charm offensive at the Olympics. This has included warm coverage of the North Korean cheerleading squad, which anyone with even a little moral imagination should realize is the product of a hideous totalitarianism. In the push-back against the chipper press notices, outlets are noting that in 2006, 21 members of the squad were reportedly sent to a prison camp for talking about what they had seen in South Korea. The North Korean cheerleading squad would only be a feel-good story if all its members managed to defect. They won’t, of course, because their families are de facto hostages to the regime.

Two Thoughts on the Wall Street Journal’s Report on DACA Recipients

by Reihan Salam

In today’s Wall Street Journal, there is a fascinating report by Alicia A. Caldwell on how DACA recipients are preparing for the possibility that their deportation relief will expire come March, thus leaving them vulnerable to removal. She delves into two individual stories in detail: that of a 30-year-old rapid-response nurse at Stanford Medical Center who settled in the U.S. at the age of eleven, when his parents decided to overstay their tourist visa, and a 24-year-old Teach for America volunteer, who moved to the U.S. at age eight. Both young men are highly sympathetic and highly educated. In considering his options, the first of the two young men profiled, Eli Oh, a native of South Korea, weighs the pros and cons of moving to Canada or Australia, where he’d have to seek recertification, or South Korea, where he’d be subject to compulsory military service. The second, Eric Kwak, a recent Berkeley graduate and also a native of South Korea, contemplates moving back to Los Angeles to further his studies.

One hesitates to comment on individual circumstances. I’m sure that there’s a lot to the lives of both Oh and Kwak that wasn’t captured in Caldwell’s piece. But two things did occur to me.

The first is that it’s not clear to me that Oh and Kwak are representative of the wider DACA population. South Korea is one of the world’s richest countries, and its GDP per capita (PPP) has grown considerably since both Oh and Kwak moved to the U.S. The latest data from the World Bank pegs South Korea’s 2016 GDP per capita at $35,750, or 29th in the world. Over the next few years, South Korea is expected to overtake France by this metric. Indeed, South Korea is now so wealthy that it is currently in the midst of a fraught conversation regarding how much it should relax its own migration restrictions, which are extremely stringent, to address anxieties about its aging population, which is expected to start shrinking in the 2020s. It’s not clear to me that South Korea needs to increase inward migration, but I’ll leave that aside for now. What stands out is that South Korea long ago passed the income thresholds at which emigration levels start to decline. That’s part of why South Korean natives represent an extremely small share of the unauthorized immigrant population.

The Migration Policy Institute, a think tank that is generally supportive of high immigration levels and regularizing long-settled unauthorized immigrants, estimates that as of 2010-14 there were 198,000 unauthorized Korean immigrants out of a total unauthorized immigrant population of 11 million, or 2 percent of the total. MPI also estimates that 52,000 unauthorized immigrants from Korea were eligible for DACA, and that by the end of September 2016, 7,693 had applied for it and 7,069 petitions were approved. If we go with 690,000 as the number of DACA recipients to date, i.e., those who’ve applied for and received protection, people of South Korean origin represent about 1 percent of the of DACA recipients. MPI has also issued a detailed profile of the DACA-eligible population — which is distinct, to be clear, from the population that has actually applied for and received DACA protection. MPI estimates that approximately 32 percent of the DACA-eligible between 15 and 32 had at least some college experience (5 percent had completed a degree) as compared to 54 percent of the total U.S. population in the same age range (18 percent of whom had completed a degree).

We should be cautious about these numbers, as the DACA-eligible population between 15 and 32 might be substantially younger than the total U.S. population in that age range (e.g., the U.S. might have more 31-year-olds in that range while the DACA-eligible might have more 16-year-olds), but given the obstacles to educational attainment for unauthorized youth and the low household incomes of unauthorized-immigrant households, it’s reasonable to say that the DACA population is somewhat less educated than the total U.S. population. Oh, with a postgraduate degree, and Kwak, who might be headed for one, stand out in their level of educational attainment. But the Journal doesn’t really give us a sense of this — the article cites a study from the Center for American Progress, which finds that 45 percent of DACA recipients were enrolled in high school, college, or graduate school, but that still doesn’t give us much context.

Which leads me to my second observation, which is that while there’s been a lot of discussion of the fallout of DACA expiration for DACA recipients and for the U.S., there’s been less discussion of the potential impact on countries of origin. Roughly 548,000 DACA recipients are from Mexico. One suspects that while 7,000 DACA returnees wouldn’t make much of a difference for South Korea, over half a million DACA returnees would have an enormous impact on Mexico. Needless to say, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which this entire population uproots itself. But we have seen a small influx of Mexican returnees, and it’s interesting to contemplate what might happen if it were to grow considerably. In March 2017, Sam Quinones wrote a provocative essay for Foreign Policy that touched on this question. I was particularly struck by the following passage:

Instead of ruing the Trump administration’s ongoing deportation of more Mexicans, the country ought to start the hard work now of reincorporating them into the country. Many will come with new skills learned on the job in the United States. They will have seen new ways of doing things, global citizens now and no longer the teenage campesinos (peasant farmers) they were when they left. Regardless of how much money they sent home, the loss of these dynamic and hard-working people to the United States was far more damaging to Mexico than the loss of territory in the mid-1800s, though it is the latter lesson that is taught in Mexican schools.

At the moment, this is almost a taboo sentiment, as it posits that a large-scale return migration would be something other than a disaster for the world. And it’s easy to see why. Though I support more stringent immigration enforcement, I’m sympathetic to the idea of an amnesty, provided it is accompanied by reforms designed to make our immigration system more selective and skills-based. But Quinones’s provocation merits serious consideration: Despite its many advantages, growth in Mexico has been unimpressive when compared to other middle-income countries, in part due to a relative dearth of managerial and entrepreneurial talent. One wonders if an infusion of young bilingual adults could, as Quinones suggests, help break Mexico out of its rut, and help create a more balanced North America.

Or, alternatively, perhaps DACA returnees will be more akin to the U.S.-born individuals who emigrated to Canada to avoid serving in the Vietnam War, many of whom have since become mainstays of the Canadian Left. History works in funny ways.

Another Encouraging Poll

by Rich Lowry

It’s only February, but it’s better than the alternative:

Fully 39 percent of registered voters say they would support the GOP candidate for Congress in their district, while 38 percent would back the Democratic candidate. Nearly a quarter of voters, 23 percent, are undecided.

Voters are split almost evenly along party lines. Democratic voters break for their party, 85 percent to 5 percent, while Republicans similarly favor the GOP, 84 percent to 8 percent. Among independent voters, 26 percent would vote for the Democrat, 25 percent for the Republican and nearly half, 49 percent, are undecided.

The GOP’s 1-point advantage comes after three months of tracking in which Democrats maintained a lead ranging between 2 and 10 points on the generic ballot. That has been generally smaller than the party’s lead in other public surveys: The most recent RealClearPolitics average shows Democrats ahead by 7 points on the generic ballot, though that’s down from a high of 13 points late last year.

The new year has also produced a Trump polling bump. In the new poll, 47 percent of voters approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while the same percentage disapprove.

Michael Cohen’s Pockets

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Response To...

Michael Cohen: World’s Best ...

It is being widely reported that Michael Cohen says that he paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 out of his own pocket. Orin Kerr looks carefully at Cohen’s statement, though, and notices that he doesn’t actually say that. He says he used his “own personal funds to facilitate” the payment, and specifies two organizations that did not reimburse him. If Cohen wanted to craft a lawyerly statement that left the impression that he had paid $130,000 to Daniels out of his own pocket and been reimbursed by nobody, but wanted to avoid actually saying that because it isn’t true, he would have crafted a statement like the one he provided.

Worth Reading

All the President’s Staffing Problems

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Why does the administration have so much trouble getting and keeping talented officials? My new Bloomberg View column looks at some recent stories that help to answer the question–and suggest that the problem is going to get worse. 

Warning: A Brand New NR Is Imminent

by Charles C. W. Cooke

Consider yourselves warned: The new is almost, almost here. Yes, yes, we know: Our job is to “stand athwart” and yell “Stop.” But, as Ecclesiastes reminds us, there’s eventually a time for pretty much everything, and so, at some point in the next few days, we’ll make a notable exception and scream “Go!” instead. When we do, the website you are now reading will disappear as if in a pantomime puff of smoke, and be replaced upon the instant with a shiny new one. The website is dead. Long live the website. There by the grace of Tim Berners-Lee go we.

This has been a while coming. I took over as editor of NRO in 2016, and, not long after that, we made the decision to nuke the current site and rebuild it from the ground up. That process is nearly at an end. We hope you’ll like the results.

A Cure for Trump-Skepticism

by Conrad Black

From my most recent NRO article, about recent comments by George W. Bush and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the need for Trump: “The incumbent is not without his limitations, but a few words from George W. and Justice Ginsburg remind us that the thought of almost any combination of current Bushes, Clintons, and Obamas having another crack at it is both nightmarish and sobering.”

Whether you agree or disagree, your comments are, as always, most welcome.

Michael Cohen: World’s Best Lawyer

by Jonah Goldberg

The New York Times reports that Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, told the FEC that he paid the hush money to Stormy Daniels out of his own pocket, without the knowledge of the campaign or his client. As he told the Times yesterday:

Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly. . . . The payment to Ms. Clifford [a.k.a. Stormy Daniels] was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.

If this is true, Cohen is the best lawyer ever. Lots of lawyers tell their clients, “It’s not about the money” as they rack up thousands of billable hours. But Michael Cohen puts his money where his mouth is (or in this case, where his client’s mouth was).

I liked legal-beagle Popehat’s response on Twitter:

One has to wonder how any lawyer could stay in business operating this way.

“Michael! We’re losing money on every client!” his business manager laments.

“It’s okay, we’ll make it up in volume!”

The Predictable Disasters That Unfold from the White House’s Hiring Decisions

by Jim Geraghty

The midweek edition of the Morning Jolt features some surprisingly good poll numbers for President Trump and the Republicans; Democrats recoiling from the thought of using a familiar figure as a surrogate on the campaign trail in 2018; an unusual collection of guests at a 2013 dinner party that deserves more scrutiny, and some tough questions about one of the president’s worst hires:

The Predictable Disasters That Unfold from the White House’s Hiring Decisions

Last night, Piers Morgan appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News and the pair lamented how awful Omarosa Manigault Newman was, and how terrible it was that she’s reinvented herself as an outraged former Trump staffer, revealing her disputes and disappointments behind the scenes at the White House.

“I don’t know why Donald Trump would ever let her in [the White House],” Morgan lamented. “She’s a reality television star whose only reason d’etre is to be a poisonous little viper spreading gossip and innuendo and terrorizing everyone in her way.”

What exactly was Omarosa doing in the White House during Trump’s first year? And… why was there no one around Trump to say, “hiring Omarosa to work in the White House is a terrible idea that will only lead to more problems down the road?” Or if someone did say that to Trump, why didn’t the president-elect listen?

Her title was “assistant to the president and director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison.” Most of her relevant public experience was on Trump’s reality shows. There’s always been ample evidence that her… understanding of the actual presidency was limited, declaring in  September 2016: ”Every critic, every detractor will have to bow down to President Trump. It’s everyone who’s ever doubted Donald, who ever disagreed, who ever challenged him. It is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe.” Yeah, that’s not really one of the enumerated powers of the presidency in the Constitution, ma’am.

Having jumped from a White House gig to… another reality show, she’s now appearing on camera and lamenting of Vice President Mike Pence, “I’m Christian, I love Jesus, but he thinks Jesus tells him to say things. I’m like, ‘Jesus didn’t say that.’ “

That’s the sort of quote that goes in a future Republican presidential primary ad… for Pence. Your faith mileage may vary, but Pence’s belief that Jesus guides him towards the right decisions and words is not exactly wild or outlandish in Christian circles. Surely she’s seen the bumper stickers “God is my co-pilot” and “My other boss is a Jewish carpenter.”

Politico offered new details about the murky circumstances surrounding her dismissal.

And in December, [White House Chief of Staff John Kelly] dismissed the former director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison, Omarosa Manigault Newman, who had been using the White House car service — known as “CARPET” — as an office pickup and drop-off service, something strictly forbidden by the federal government, according to three administration officials.

After Kelly dismissed her, Manigault Newman tried to storm the White House residence to appeal to Trump, according to one of the officials, accidentally tripping an electronic Secret Service wire that monitors entry and egress from the residence.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment about Manigault Newman’s departure.

Some might argue that when you elect a reality show host as president, you’re going to get some reality show contestants working in the White House as part of the deal. But if you do that, you get a reality show dynamic: drama and backstabbing and infighting and clashing egos. And maybe you get great ratings. But you don’t do what a White House is supposed to do. White House jobs are not meant to be a stepping-stone on the road to fame. White House staffers are to be rarely seen or heard, beyond the communications staff and highest-level positions. The point is not to generate drama, but to minimize drama. A president wants the White House to be a well-oiled machine, foreseeing problems before they manifest, adeptly addressing them, staying on message, and enacting the president’s vision for governing. Does anyone feel like this has occurred much since January 20, 2017?

You can blame the staff and argue Trump is being poorly served, but in the end… he hired these people, or signed off on hiring them.

Happy Valentine’s Day links

by debbywitt

A dose of cynicism for Valentine’s Day.

Anti-Valentine’s Day cards from a bygone era, plus vintage Valentines from 100 years ago and a collection of vintage meat and weapons-related cards.

The history of those chalky little pastel hearts with sayings on them

Video: The Science of Chocolate (aka the real meaning of Valentine’s Day).

Aphrodisiac Cocktails to Put You in the Mood.

An animated history of Valentine’s Day, plus how the heart came to be associated with love.

Horror movie-themed Valentine’s Day cards and Klingon cards.

ICYMI, Monday’s links are here, and include how wild animals self-medicate, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, advice from 1612 on preventing drunkenness, and the story behind Burt Reynolds’ nude centerfold.

College Football Ratings and Attendance Declined; NBA Ratings Are Up — Does Politics Matter?

by David French

The relationship between sports ratings and politics is perhaps more complicated — or less relevant — than we might think.

For the last two seasons, political eyes have been fixed mainly on the NFL, and the conventional wisdom (at least on the Right) has been clear. Politicize the sport, and lower your ratings. And there’s been some data to support the notion that anthem protests turned off viewers, but how important — really — are the protests compared to other factors?

The question gets more interesting in light of reports today that college football reported its largest attendance drop in 34 years. Every Power Five conference except the Big 10 lost fans in the stands. Multiple major universities are downsizing stadiums.

This news comes on the heels of significant college football ratings declines on multiple networks. The College Football Playoff did well, but regular-season college games on ABC (down 18 percent), CBS (down 10 percent), NBC (down 3 percent), and ESPN (down 6 percent) drew significantly fewer viewers.

Yet college football not only didn’t face anthem protests at the same scale as the NFL, its red-state fan base often held up the college game as a model. It was less political. The games were often more wide-open and entertaining. The fan experience in the major conference stadiums is unmatched (show me pro fans anywhere who know how to tailgate like the fans at Ole Miss.)

Moreover, countering the thesis that politicization will invariably hurt ratings, the NBA’s ratings are way up this year, and the NBA is an extraordinarily politicized league. The league itself leads boycotts, its leading coaches are more politically outspoken than any NFL coach, and many of the league’s biggest stars are quite open about their politics. Don’t forget, Trump didn’t just feud with the NFL, he tangled with the Golden State Warriors also. Yet the NBA thrives.

All of these data points raise more questions than answers. Could it be that football’s underlying issues with concussions and player safety are far more important to its popularity than we currently understand? Or is it as simple as the NBA — compared to football — is putting a historically-good product on the screen? After all, this season features a superteam (the Warriors), a number of compelling challengers, a series of crazy dramas, and likable stars who reach out relentlessly to fans on social media.

There’s also the question of geography and competence. The NBA is one of the best-run sports leagues in the world, and its blue urban fans are the fans most likely to be inspired by Steve Kerr’s or Greg Poppovich’s political rants. 

Finally, let’s not forget that the NFL’s fan base is still enormous. It still dwarfs the NBA and the college game. Given a red/blue audience so large, it needs fans from both sides to maintain its dominance. The NBA meanwhile, still has room to grow even within its blue urban enclaves. Perhaps politicization has a unique impact on the NFL (that’s one of my theories), and other leagues won’t bear the cost until their fan base reaches a critical mass. 

I still stand by the proposition that on-court or official league politicization is a shame (I don’t care what players, coaches, or the front office do on social media or on their own time), but it looks like it might not always be ratings poison.

Hypocrisy Is Better Than Its Opposite

by Dan McLaughlin

One of the themes you sometimes hear – especially from liberals – about politicians’ morally bad behavior is that the real problem is hypocrisy. Thus, we are told, what is really offensive is not politicians engaging in all sorts of sexual misconduct – much of it leaving behind a trail of misused and discarded women – but when such politicians have the temerity to preach “family values” or support laws aimed against vices, including ones they themselves may have engaged in. The charge of hypocrisy is a fair enough one, but its place near the top of our hierarchy of sins is absurdly inflated, and that inflation is not coincidentally weaponized to draw distinctions between liberal and conservative politicians caught in exactly the same misconduct.

As I’ve argued for years, what is far worse than hypocritically standing up for good in public while doing bad in private is to let your own private sins deter you from doing good in public. I would much prefer to see a wicked man be a hypocrite and vote for what is right and good, rather than choose consistency and advocate for wrongdoing. And if he finds himself without the courage to be a hypocrite when right and wrong are on the line, well, that’s exactly why private character always matters in public officials.

I thought of this yet again, in the context of President Trump, on two recent occasions. One was the stunningly candid admission to CNN by Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow that the site attacked the sexual predation allegations against Roy Moore while Marlow believed those allegations to be credible because the sexual harassment allegations against Trump compromised Breitbart’s ability to admit that Moore was unfit for public office without having to admit the same about Trump:

Until Election Day, Breitbart seemingly did everything in its power to try to discredit Moore’s accusers. Marlow said one of the factors in Breitbart’s coverage of the allegations against Moore is that, he believes, the news media was trying to use them to set a bar on sexual misconduct “that President Trump cannot match.” ”I think they want to create a standard where President Trump either from past or future accusations, will not be able to match whatever standard is now in place for who can be a United States senator,” he said. “Based off not any sort of conviction or any sort of admission of guilt, but based off of purely allegations.” ”I think that’s the playbook here,” he added. “And I think it’s part of the reason why it was so important for Breitbart to continue our coverage of the way we covered it … and for Steve in particular to hold the line the way he did for — I think part of it is because it’s not just about Judge Moore, it is not even just about establishment, anti-establishment. It’s about what’s coming next for President Trump.”

The second was a point that Rich Lowry makes in today’s column about Trump’s bizarrely defensive public posture regarding the substantially-supported domestic-violence allegations against now-deposed White House aide Rob Porter, again due to Trump’s own vulnerabilities:

The website Axios reports that Trump privately believed the allegations against Porter (which are highly credible — one ex-wife would have had to lie to the police in real time and both lie to the FBI). But Trump couldn’t bring himself to credit the accusers publicly, even though this would have served his own political interest. The firestorm over Porter quickly became a firestorm over Trump’s remarks, which represents the real threat to the president.

Trump’s shamelessness in the face of his own past actions and words has sometimes produced positive dividends for social conservatives; for example, his Administration has taken a series of strongly pro-life positions and actions. And when he is hypocritical in those ways, I’m happy, for the same reasons liberals are happy that Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act while not-even-that-privately throwing around the n-word like he was handing out Halloween candy. But when Trump’s personal failings come with public consequences, it’s another story, and one that reminds us of the value of screening out bad characters before nominating them for high office. If he and his supporters are gunshy about denouncing wife-beaters and men who prey on 14-year-old girls because they are worried about making it easier to hang sexual harassment charges (or worse) around Trump’s neck, that’s proof positive that his personal character can’t be separated from his public duties.


Why Modern Man Chooses ‘Cheap Sex’ over Marriage

by Reihan Salam

Not ready to propose this Valentine’s Day? That might be because sex, as the sociologist Mark Regnerus writes in his new book Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy, has become too easy to procure. In turn, he argues, relationships have gotten shorter, age at first marriage has risen, and overall marriage rates have fallen.

Regnerus spends much of his book tracing the social and technological upheavals that have led to state of affairs. Effective birth control, for one, has taken the risk of unplanned pregnancies out of the equation. Meanwhile, dating apps have given privilege to physical attraction over most everything else, and widely available pornography has provided easy alternatives to costlier relationships. I should note that I’m late to Regnerus’s book. Back in November, Robert VerBruggen wrote a superb review, which carefully assesses Regnerus’s claims. More recently, Park MacDougald delved into some of the more challenging implications of the “sexual exchange model” at the heart of the book.

Here I’ll focus on a narrower aspect of Cheap Sex, which I found especially thought-provoking: Regnerus’s discussions of the drive toward individualism, and the extent to which sexual identity has become an ever greater part of our self-conceptions. “We construct comprehensive identities and communities around sexual attraction,” he writes, “in a way unfamiliar to most of the Western world.”

And with individual identity paramount, it is no wonder that sexual expression has become both compulsive (in many cases) and unmoored from any grander projects such as marriage and building a family. While this might sound like sexual liberation, the book offers a more sobering interpretation: “All we have done,” Regnerus continues, “is replaced the burden of conformity to traditions (like marriage, religious community, or ethnic heritage) with the imperative — at least as burdensome — of creating, sustaining, and expressing a ‘personal culture.’”

Indeed, we are now, as British sociologist Margaret Archer has labeled us: “Homo inconstantus,” or serially reinvented man, a species without social structure that therefore shows “exhausting concern with status.” Yet that search “is doomed to failure, since in our postmodern era one’s personal identity,” he writes quoting Archer, “‘is ultimately an ideational self-construct rather than a seat of action.’ In other words, the identities we are chattering about today tend to be more rootless and directionless than those of the past. They do not instruct us in how we ought to live.”

No wonder, then, there’s such a longing for people who can do just that, and for new orthodoxies that can give our lives shape and structure.

No Amount of Spending Can Stop the ‘Crumbling Roads and Bridges’ Rhetoric

by Jim Geraghty

Allow me to mark the White House’s “Infrastructure Week” by declaring that there is no amount of money that is enough to stop politicians from insisting the country suffers from “crumbling roads and bridges.”

Back in 2009, President Obama touted that the stimulus represented “the largest new investment in our nation’s infrastructure since Eisenhower” which amounted to $105 billion. (You may recall Obama’s sheepish admission about the slow pace of the projects, “Shovel-ready was not as… uh…  shovel-ready as we expected.”)

The federal government spent more than $150 billion per year on infrastructure for most of the Obama era:

Federal infrastructure spending has grown steadily since the 1940s. When adjusted for inflation, real federal spending on physical resources—including energy, natural resources, transportation, and community development—is nearly six times higher today than it was in 1940, and more than double what it was in 1970. Notable spikes in federal spending are apparent during the Interstate Highway Era of the late 1950s, the introduction of more comprehensive environmental and community development efforts during the 1970s, and the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. Real federal spending over this 75-year period averages around $102 billion annually.

Separately, state and local governments spend at least $250 billion on infrastructure each year. So we’ve spent close to $400 billion per year for the past eight or nine years, and the rhetoric hasn’t changed.

The conditions of America’s roads and bridges is actually satisfactory and improving; it’s just that politicians’ rhetoric never actually checks in with the quality.

Despite a reputation of steep decline, the number and share of bridges deemed “structurally deficient” (not unsafe, but in need of elevated maintenance) has declined by more than half over the last 25 years and now represents just 9 percent of the nation’s total.

The same goes for the nation’s major roads. A full 93 percent of the miles driven on the National Highway System is on pavement that is in fair or better condition.

No matter how much the federal government spends this year, you can count on other lawmakers and candidates insisting it’s not enough and lamenting “our crumbing roads and bridges” next year.

Why the Knives Are Out for John Kelly

by Jonah Goldberg

I think it’s pretty clear that John Kelly and Don McGahn made significant errors throughout the whole Rob Porter saga. And I agree with Rich about the renewed “brittleness” of the West Wing. It doesn’t shock me in the slightest that the press won’t let go of the story — and in part for wholly defensible reasons. Putting aside the salacious and outrageous underlying allegations, the best way to keep any story alive is to keep changing your story, which the White House has been doing at a breakneck pace.

But, as a matter of Kremlinology, I think the most interesting thing about all of this is not that there are long knives out to get Kelly, but who is wielding them. Corey Lewandowski, that renowned pillar of decency and decorum to the fairer sex, is pissing from a great height on Kelly. So is Anthony Scaramucci, another poster boy for political rectitude.

There are reports that Ivanka Trump is a leader of the Get-Kelly Brigade as well, which would suggest that Jared is in on the act too.

Again, putting aside the merits of the brief against Kelly, who does seem to have screwed up, one could see this attempted coup as the tribute vice pays to virtue. What I mean is, at least in the case of Lewandowski and Scaramucci, the fact that they want Kelly gone should be seen as testament to the fact that Kelly has been effective in bringing some discipline to the White House. He has restricted access to the president and regularized the information flow.

No doubt this vexes people who benefited from the free-for-all atmosphere of the pre-Kelly days. It might also explain Kelly’s misguided reluctance to oust Porter, since it appears he was integral to the process of managing the West Wing. Kelly may indeed need to go, but it’s hard to see how his ouster will lead to a more disciplined White House.

The Fading ‘One Hate Rule’

by Reihan Salam

For much of American history, the most salient ethnocultural boundary has been the one separating blacks and whites. Now, however, people of Mexican origin outnumber the descendants of American slaves, Hispanics writ large outnumber non-Hispanic blacks, and people of Asian origin represent a growing share of the population, and a faster-growing share of our elite strata, as defined by income, wealth, and occupational prestige.

Does it really make sense to lump all of these groups (plus indigenous peoples) together on the grounds that all minorities have been victimized by a hegemonic white majority? This notion that we should plays a central role in contemporary cultural politics. So it’s worth reflecting on where this “one hate rule” comes from.

I owe the term “one hate rule” to the intellectual historian David Hollinger, who wrote about it in a 2005 essay for Daedalus. He described the relationship between the “one hate rule” and the better-known one-drop rule, i.e., the historical practice of counting as black any individual with any black ancestry. Hollingers argues that the two concepts work together to perpetuate inequality.

One hate — the term “hate” being used in the same sense as “hate crimes” or “hate speech” — is the lumping together of all non-European minority groups into one category that is thought to experience white racism in the same way, regardless of history and present circumstances. “One hate” was already part of American political practice as early as the 1960s, when affirmative-action programs were opened to both African Americans and to other minority groups such as Asian Americans and Hispanics.

For a time, non-black minority groups resisted such groupings. But “one hate” gained traction in the 1980s, as officials and then activists “came to understand that by applying ‘the black model’ to their own group they had a better chance of getting the sympathetic attention of officials and courts” — witness the increasing use of the catch-all term “people of color.”

The problem, Hollinger contends, is that “one hate” was conceived at a time when the African-American population vastly outnumbered the populations of other non-European minority groups. But as immigrant Latin American and Asian populations boomed in the 1970s, so did the number of people who were eligible for benefits under the “one-hate” system. “The number of new immigrants between 1970 and 2000 who were eligible for at least some affirmative action benefits came to about 26 million, the same number of eligible African Americans as measured by the census of 1980.”

In other words, programs meant to make up for centuries of slavery and other discrimination suddenly found themselves catering to people whose needs had little in common with the descendants of enslaved Americans. “More strikingly yet,” continues Hollinger, “many of the new immigrants and their children proved able, especially in the Asian American case, to make their way around racist barriers in education, business, and the workforce that continued to inhibit the progress of African Americans.”

This is not to suggest that Asian Americans or non-black Hispanics don’t face any discrimination, or that either group is monolithic. Non-black Hispanics are a particularly interesting case, as they’re divided between affluent and educated individuals living in integrated environments, many of whom are assimilating into “whiteness,” and working-class individuals in segregated environments, many of whom are isolated from the American mainstream. But any analogies between these experiences and the “hypodescent racialization” of African Americans will be imperfect to say the least. Thankfully, the one-hate rule seems to be fading, and not a moment too soon.

Is Higher Education Worth It?

by Jonah Goldberg

I just finished listening to a particularly excellent episode of EconTalk (my second favorite podcast). Russ Roberts had his old friend Bryan Caplan on to talk about his new book, The Case Against Education, which I’ve been dipping in and out of in my copious free time. Caplan argues that higher education is largely a huge waste of time and resources because most people retain very little of the mostly useless (in the professional sense) stuff they are taught. Roberts is deeply skeptical, arguing that just because educational benefits are hard to measure, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Caplan thinks that if you can’t make a test to measure what you’ve learned, you probably haven’t learned it:

I would say if there is no designable test that can show that people learn something, then they haven’t learned it. You might say the test is bad, in which case I would say, “Fine. Design a better test, and then show it to me.” But, if you want to say that people have been transformed but it’s a way that no one can actually show, no matter how hard they try, then I’m going to say, “No. That just sounds like wishful thinking.”

I’m closer to the Roberts camp on this point but, overall, I’m more sympathetic to Caplan’s larger argument.

Caplan asks a great question: Would you rather have a degree from Princeton or would you rather have a Princeton education without the degree? As Caplan notes, the mere fact that this is a difficult question to answer gets to the heart of the problem (or at least one of the problems) with higher education today. After all, he says, if you were going to be stranded on a desert island, you’d rather have the education from a survival-skills course than a diploma but not the education?

Caplan says that diplomas from good schools serve as a signal to employers that a graduate will be productive:

How could such a lucrative investment be wasteful? The answer is a single word I want to burn into your mind: signaling. Even if what a student learned in school is utterly useless, employers will happily pay extra if their scholastic achievement provides information about their productivity.

This signaling phenomenon misleads us about the underlying importance of the education itself. I am very sympathetic to this argument. But I think it misses an important dynamic (which Caplan may well address in the book, but I haven’t found it yet).

Education is often less a signal for productivity than a hedge against risk (as I argued here). Caplan and Roberts spend a lot of time dissecting the question of whether education makes people affluent. There’s ample reason to be skeptical about that both on the macro and micro level. (The link between “investments” in education and economic growth is widely exaggerated.) That said, I think there’s a strong case that access to the social networks elite schools provide offers a significant return on the investment. In a world where “who you know” matters so much, going to Harvard has pay-offs even if you get straight Ds.

But back to the hedge point. Think of it this way. Even very affluent parents encourage their kids to become doctors and lawyers less because they want their kids to get rich, than because they want them to have a profession that ensures that they won’t be poor. Education provides an insurance policy — something to fall back on — not a winning lottery ticket.

Similarly, while I think employers — particularly big corporate ones — surely hope education is a signal for potential productivity, they also see it as a hedge against blame. It’s similar to the widespread practice of hiring management consultants. Mid- and upper-level managers often hire consultants less to fix a problem than to have a plausible excuse to avoid blame. “Hey, we hired McKinsey. We just did what they advised. They’re the best in the business. It’s not my fault.”

Hiring Ivy League kids may not guarantee big pay-offs, but it impresses the suits and gives managers an “objective” metric that looks good.

One problem with this dynamic is that it can become self-justifying and closed off. I’ve spoken at scores of colleges, and many of the students that have impressed me the most have been at community colleges, because they’re often paying their own way and are therefore far more determined to get value out of their education. But in the market place, they are at a huge disadvantage competing with kids from elite schools. Hiring a kid from a community college involves taking a risk when you have the choice of hiring a kid from an elite university. Add in the value of social networks and the biases in favor of hiring people you know or people from your own background, and the unseen barriers to talent can become daunting.