Thursday, August 31, 2017

"Tax Reform" is a giant loser for Trump and the GOP

Trump is talking tax reform.  Good news for Democrats, at long last.   Tax reform is a giant loser for the GOP.

The 1% are the ones that would benefit.   Democrats will point that out.

There is one bright spot for Trump in "tax reform."  Republicans and Democrats alike agree that it would be great if corporations like Apple and Pfizer repatriated the money they are holding offshore, paid some taxes on it, and had it to reinvest or distribute here.  A revenue boost, money brought home.

Trump will call it a huge victory, free money, terrific.   He will take credit, he will say it was bi-partisan because in fact Democrats will approve of it.  Democrats can plan now to attempt a counter-narrative but it will be a difficult sales job for them.  Plan on this being Trump-the-Winner-Dealmaker.  It will strengthen his brand.  But after that it will be a disaster for him.

There will be no tax reform tax cuts.   It will fail because it would be massively unpopular.  
PA:  99% make less than $360,000

MI:  99% make less than $306,000
My long career as a financial advisor put me in touch with a number of prosperous business and professional people--folks who earned between $500,000 and a $1,000,000 a year, sometimes more.  These are professional people with lucrative, busy medical, dental, legal practices, or successful businesses. They are in the top 1% of income-earners, but they mostly do not consider themselves "rich" in part because they are working hard to earn the money and they are far from rich in leisure.  The top one percent of taxpayers start at incomes of under $400,000 in the swing states that put Trump over the top.

When state taxes are added, they are in the 50% tax bracket.

These are prominent people in every state and congressional district.  They talk to their Congressmen and Senators.  They consider themselves overtaxed.  Republican officeholders agree.  They also want to cut the tax rates on the "job creators" who make more than a $1,000,000 a year.  They say that tax is unfair per se, plus it stifles growth.

My own field data on this is spotty and anecdotal but my observation is that people making less than $100,000 or $150,000 a year--the vast majority of people in communities like southern Oregon--have little sympathy for those much richer taxpayers.  They consider them fortunate, not beleaguered.  

And 99% is a pretty good political base from which to argue.

It is a miserable political situation for Republican lawmakers hoping to do tax reform.  People like the general idea of "tax cuts", but the primary tax savings will be for people making vastly more money than nearly all the voters.  

Moreover, Congressional Republicans have a record.  The vast majority of them spoke harshly about Democratic deficits.  They voted against infrastructure improvements under Obama because of budget concerns.  A great many Republicans genuinely care about deficits, and, worse, they tied their hands with rules regarding debt ceilings and budget busting.  Plus there is videotape.  They sold the idea that deficits are bad.

They have no choice but to spend.  They need to funnel some $100 billion dollars to Texas, they want to increase the size of the navy, they want more military spending generally, there is Afghanistan and North Korea, they have an opioid crisis in their districts, they have veterans and police to support, they have constituents who get Medicaid and like having health care.  Yet they are clearly on record hating budget deficits.  
CNBC Report: 3/4 of benefit to top 1%

The only route that is politically acceptable to GOP constituencies is political magic and slight of hand. Cut taxes on everyone emphasizing the cuts on the middle class to distract voters from the fact that most of the tax cuts are going to the people who actually pay the taxes, the wealthy, and simultaneously dramatically raise the deficit, while selling the idea that the deficit really isn't a deficit because there will be economic growth meaning that less revenue is actually more revenue.  Don't watch the magician.

In an ideal political world, the magician's distractions would work: tax cuts for those professionals would be accepted as "middle class tax cuts" and deficits would be ignored, but the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and Democrats will confound the magician by pointing to the slight of hand.  It cannot really be hidden.  Republicans will be adding to the deficit to give the top 1% tax cuts.  It is what must happen if tax reform happens, because it is the wealthiest Americans who pay the taxes.  

At long last, Democrats will have a single popular story to tell that unifies their party.  Democrats will call tax reform a betrayal of the middle class.  Trump and Republicans are vulnerable to the suggestion that they are really working to serve the rich, not the poor, and this will feed and document that story.  This is a good issue for Democrats.  It is factually true and the message rings true if they sell it.

Trump will learn.  Trickle down is unpopular
After the frustrations of the Hillary Clinton campaign Democrats will have the unifying policy and political narrative of opposition to trickle down. They can charge that Republicans want to feed the swamp, not drain it,  betraying the average hard working American.  

Democrats know tax reform a political loser. Republicans know it, too. That is why Republicans will struggle to pass something but will then back away from consummating the political suicide.  

Nothing much will happen on tax reform, for a very good reason.   The 1% pay the lion's share of the federal taxes, and the 99% are just fine with that.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Forest Fires. Smoke. Environmentalists, watch out.

A new frame is emerging, and it can reverse the politics of environmentalism.  

The old frame: "lighter on the land" means cleaner and better.   

The new frame: "light on the land" means unbreathable air, destroyed crops, and misery.

View from my home: buildings a mile away are invisible
In the normal course of things on environmental issues, people presume that when things are "left natural", then things are cleaner.  Creeks left "to run free" are cleaner than ones that are dammed up.

Forests left as wilderness are supposed refuges of clean air and water and wildlife,  versus the destructive effects of logging and road building.

That frame is changing.  Natural means hazardous and a danger to the "Southern Oregon Livability" story.

Currently the air in the Rogue Valley smells the way it smells when you are downwind of a campfire.  It stings your eyes.  Visibility varies depending on the moment but it fluctuates from a quarter mile to a mile.   The air reminds me of Bejing.  The air hazard number for the Rogue Valley is currently 182--unhealthy-- but yesterday Grants Pass was 285 yesterday, "very unhealthy" and almost "hazardous."  

There is a 117,000 acre fire to the west of us, the Chetco Bar Complex.  In Oregon the prevailing winds are west to east.  The air is full of smoke.
Air quality.  Currently "Unhealthy" in Medford

There is a notion getting real traction out in the world of "common sense" and "conventional wisdom" and water-cooler chit chat.    It is that the environmentalists are partly at fault and maybe mostly at fault for the fires that have made late summers unbearable in southern Oregon.   The idea getting circulated is that we are under-managing our forests.  The story is that the land management agencies have too much land in wilderness, they are letting fires burn naturally, they are leaving too many over-mature trees in the forests, they are under-managing the over-thick brush and pre-commercial (i.e. small and dense) forests.

The result is not a late summer paradise of natural beauty.  It is miserable and ugly bowl of smoke from forest fires surrounding us.

Forest fires are expensive.  It has cost taxpayers some hundred million dollars so far to try to halt fires allowed to grow big.  Forest fires are bad for agriculture.   My melons hate the smoke.  The melons stopped getting ripe in the smoke-overcast air and the leaves are dying back as if it were autumn.  It is killing my melon vines.  I am attempting to farm for profit and it ended my season way early. 

This is high season for tourism.  Shakespeare visitors come here to enjoy the natural beauty.  They cannot see it and they cannot breathe.  It is miserable outside.  This is a huge setback for the "southern Oregon livability" story.   Bad for tourism.  Bad for industrial recruitment.  Bad for recruiting those prosperous Californians who come up, decide this is a paradise, and decide to build a vineyard and winery.

People familiar with forest management issues understand that the various factors on timber harvest and land reserves are complex and contradictory.  The forest is a complicated environment, and what helps the salmon might hurt the beavers and what helps the owls hurts the loggers.  Expert foresters--and attorneys- fight over the crosscurrents of positives and negatives for every action.

But this is a democratic republic.  The prevailing assumptions and common sense view of the general public matters a lot.  This is a huge setback for environmentalists because the summer forest fire smoke inundation are new the past five years and they are startling in how miserable they are.

People are looking for explanations.  What has changed is that more land has been reserved for environmental protection versus logging.  It is the real reason?   Experts will disagree, but that is the word on the street.

Someone will be blamed for the mess.   It isn't the young men on the hotshot crews digging fire trenches.  They are the heroes.  Environmentalists are set up to be the villains to be blamed for too much unharvested wood in the forests.   It does not matter if it is factually accurate.  What matters is that someone is going to get blamed for air that hurts to breathe.

It may be too late for environmentalists to get out in front of this.  The story is out there.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Politics 101. It's the turnout, stupid.

Trump did as well as Romney.  Democrats didn't turn out.   Trump won.  Simple.

Local political consultant Cathy Shaw has had success helping elect candidates and pass bond and tax levy issues.  Her premise is that relatively few people change their minds about political matters. Democrats support Democrats, Republicans support Republicans.  People who want government services such as libraries and schools and transit systems like them and vote yes, and people who want lower taxes vote no.

There is no changing minds.  But there is motivating people actually to vote.   Shaw has an understanding of politics that the votes that are up for grabs are the votes of people who might or might not bother voting at all, or who might vote for president and senator and then look at the bottom half of a ballot, where the city and county races are, and conclude they don't know and don't care who is running and leave it blank.

It is all about turnout.

Candidates and political observers want to focus on the wrong thing, the minds that got changed, the Democrat who voted for Reagan then voted for Trump.  Candidates like to think they sometimes win over voters of the other party.  They mistake politeness for agreement.  Observers like me look at votes changed, not votes uncast, and that is a mistake we make because we are interested in issues and the swing voters in elections are people who are not all that interested, which is the very point.

Click Here for the article
Today a fascinating article is bouncing around among political observers, resurrected from its first publication shortly after the election.  It is occasioned by Trump's unintuitive behavior as president.  He isn't trying to unify the country.  He is not trying to "widen the base."  If anything, he is narrowing the base and enthusing it.   He is focusing on his base and really getting them excited:  Pardon "patriot Joe Arpaio", insult McCain and McConnell, call the non-Fox news "fake", defend statues of Confederate heroes, etc. 

Maybe Trump is doing it exactly right.   He isn't changing minds.  He is changing motivations.   That November, 2016 article begins:  

"An astonishing spectacle of the election aftermath is the false account of why Trump won.  The accepted wisdom is that Trump succeeded in awakening a popular movement of anger and frustration among white, blue-collar, less educated, mostly male, voters, particularly in non-urban areas.  Trump promised them jobs, safe borders, and dignity, and they responded by turning out in masses at his pre-election rallies and eventually at the ballots, carrying him to victory.    

The story is mostly wrong."

The article by Ben-Shahar says the real story is that Hillary was less attractive to the traditional Democratic base and a significant number of them did not bother to vote.  The problem was turnout, he reports.   Greater Detroit gave 595,000 votes to Obama but only 518,000 for Hillary.   It wasn't that they voted for Trump.  Trump got only 10,000 more votes than Romney.  They didn't bother voting and that county was more than enough to explain the Michigan margin. 

In Wisconsin she received 230,000 fewer votes than Obama did in 2012.  Trump got the same number of votes as Romney.  She lost the state by 30,000 votes.   Again, the margin was the turnout.

Tim Kaine
There are implications for Democrats going forward.  It does not necessarily mean that Democrats should become Republican-lite, nor that they should become nationalist or populist or anti-immigrant.  The actual policies for the Democrat are still up for discussion, although a Democrat who fails to address the concerns of white Americans who feel anxious about social changes will, I think, have failed to do one of the great civic duties of a president, which is to attempt to unite the country.

The Democratic candidate cannot be a bore.  Tim Kaine (need I remind readers, the Democratic candidate for Vice President) was boring.  He generates no sparkle, no passion.  (Would readers have known had I put here a photograph of some other white male in a suit and tie and labeled it "Kaine"?)

My very first post on candidates, the first post after a brief introduction, written in August 2015, was a review of a high-dollar donor event by Hillary Clinton in Portland, Oregon.    My report at that time foreshadowed the campaign.   Click Here. I saw it coming, but didn't know what I was seeing.

She was competent, I said.  Workmanlike.    I said she offered herself as an "experienced competent warrior in a world of ugly endless political trench warfare."

I wrote:

"But it was prose, not poetry.  There was a template of good things, but it wasn't set to music.  It pleased my good mature judgement.  But I want my heart to beat fast with real excitement.  I wanted some vision of some sort of better improved world.  I wanted something uplifting to be said, but it wasn't, at least not yet.  Maybe someone can write her a speech, something at soars about the possibilities of some better world, not just another decade of the current grind."

The turnout die was being cast back in the very beginning, August of 2015.  Hillary did not have whatever sparkle it is that makes a person on TV interesting, whatever star quality that makes a person want to tune in and believe her.   She might well be a superb appellate attorney writing complicated legal briefs, but she is not the person to put in front of a jury.  She is no showman.  

Democrats won elections against a tide of opposition when they had candidates who had sparkle:  JFK had it.  Bill Clinton had it.  Barrack Obama had it.   Star quality.

They lost when they sold competence and experience: Humphrey, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Hillary.

Democrats need someone who will unite and excite.

Monday, August 28, 2017

"Fair" College Admissions

Getting hired:  "It isn't what you know, it's who you know."   "Good luck is better than brains."

I remember my father telling me both of those comments above.    "You never can tell when there is an opportunity," he said, so "always be good and working hard.  Someone might notice."

Some were in.  Some were out.
The great searing experience of my father's life was not World War Two, in which he served in the Battle of the Bulge.   It was the depression.   He was born in 1919.  His teen years were spent on a farm that struggled. There was work needing to be done neighboring farms and orchards but little money to pay people.  He watched grown men unable to find work.  That was the great fear: being unable to find work.

Jobs that paid money were a big deal.  You got the job because you knew somebody who "got you on."  Then you worked really, really hard to keep that job.

I just finished my 50th High School class reunion activities.  I asked people about their careers.  One person who bounced around after high school and college said that his big break came because he sang in a choir.  An soprano in the choir's husband worked in HR at a federal agency.   That got him an interview.

I visited with several people who brought their spouses to the reunion.   I asked how they met.   "We were both in English class junior year and we sat next to each other.";  "I played football with her brother."  Happy circumstance.

In my own case, having returned to southern Oregon from Boston without a job or any particular prospects, I was the beneficiary of an unsolicited letter sent to Congressman Jim Weaver from the mother of a girl I dated a few times in high school and college.  The mother wrote that a bright young man had come to town and might be of use to him.  His office called me, we met, I was hired to help his campaign.  Good things led from there.

I learned from earliest childhood, and confirmed from observation throughout my life: there is a lot of luck, serendipity, being in the right place at the right time, in the course of all the important things in life, ones friends, spouse, career.   Everyone has a web of contacts and life experiences and abilities.  It helps to have parents with connections with rich friends with jobs and opportunities.  The people you know can open doors.  Some doors are better than others.

Donald Trump has spoken to that anxiety and found a villain and then a solution.  The problem is foreigners, both abroad and immigrants, who are taking those jobs, plus the unfair advantages given through affirmative action efforts.  He said the premise that white people have a tailwind of advantage is factually untrue and is unfair.   Struggling whites without a college degree certainly do not feel privileged.  Middle class whites who are attempting to give an edge to their children feel that they earned that right.  Why else have some money and influence if you cannot give your children an edge?

We live in a political and cultural environment in which some institutions serve as gatekeepers and filters into worldly success.  Highly selective colleges are among them.  This exists within a culture that praises equality of opportunity--except that everyone wants an edge for their own kids and people like their kids.  The current economy has created winners and losers and entry into the middle class has been squeezed for non-college people.  There is a great deal of anxiety and frustration generally.   There is particular anxiety about who gets into college, and which college.  Some colleges create a better tailwind of network.

Donald Trump raised the issue of college admissions.  Are white men being discriminated against?  The issue is a winner for Trump since it nurtures that feeling of white resentment over being picked on by politically correct nags in the coastal elites.   It is divisive and it works politically for him.  Democrats rise to the bait.    A key value for Democrats is fairness and equality, but in a complex world of who-you-know the solutions to equalizing opportunity inevitably involve an implicit accusation that the entire lifestyle of people who "have it made" is illegitimate.   There is an implicit accusation of racism and bias and privilege.  People resent being accused of being privileged.   It is a huge loser issue for Democrats.

A careful blog reader, Herbert Rothschild of Talent, Oregon gives an interesting point of information about the problem of gatekeeping and privilege, with a close look at the Louisiana Statue University School of Law.   Their workaround created imperfect results, but the results were supposedly objective because they were numerical.  They numbers didn't look at who you knew.


Field Report by Herb Rothschild: 

When I was on the LSU faculty, the law school had a faultless admissions policy (it may still; I've been gone since 1987). Here's how it worked: The applicant's college cumulative grade point average, with the decimal point deleted (so as to produce a three-digit whole number), was added to his/her LSAT score (a three-digit whole number). The resulting numbers were ranked from largest to smallest. Then, the number of places in the entering class was used to cut the list--above it, in; below it, out.
Everyone at the law school knew that this so-called "objective" procedure was a poor predictor of achievement in legal studies. It took no account of which college the GPA was achieved at or what courses went into the GPA. It looked at no evidence of obstacles to success that had been overcome.

The first year was used to separate the wheat from the chaff, which made for a competitive and anxiety-ridden experience for many of the students.

Why was this procedure adopted? Because so many of the elected officials in Louisiana were lawyers, and they wanted their kids to be lawyers. So they regularly tried to interfere in admissions decisions. The law school adopted the procedure to defend itself from such interference. Because of its appearance of objectivity, it was impossible for a politician to argue that the process wasn't fair.
Professional schools are more exclusively focused on sheer mental power than undergraduate institutions, which rightly consider many factors that make for a great learning experience for the class as a whole as well as serve the larger public good.

Actually, the questionable bias in the admissions policies of the Ivy schools used to be--and probably still is--a bias toward athletic excellence. Outstanding high school athletes had (have?) an arguably unjustifiable edge.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

As Seen on TV! Make America Great Again!

Donald Trump persuaded people to vote for him.

The many people appalled by Donald Trump have a hard time accepting that he actually got people to vote for him.   

That is dangerous because it causes them to resist learning the lessons that are available to them.   It couldn't be Trump, they think.  It must be something else.  They blame Hillary, Comey, the e-mails, Fox News, the Russians, identity politics, Obama's failure to sell the fact of economic recovery--all of which were, of course, factors.   What they have a hard time admitting is that Trump did something right.  

After all, they think he is a narcissistic, habitual-lying, lecherous demagogue.  How could he possibly be right about things, when he is so wrong about things?   But another way to look at the Trump electoral victory is that Trump won notwithstanding him being exposed to opponents and friends alike as a narcissistic, habitual-lying, lecherous demagogue.

How did that happen?  That is what this blog attempts to observe and understand.

Tony Farrell is one of this blog's readers.  He is a former college classmate, a graduate of the Harvard Business School, and a man with a long career as a top marketing executive.  He visited with me in Medford and standing in my melon field told me that he saw the Trump victory coming.  

He said Trump understood direct marketing and Hillary did not.   Tony should know.  He had a high powered 30 year career in retailing and direct marketing through catalogs, online, and TV infomercials.  He led marketing for the Gap, Banana Republic, Sharper Image, the Nature Company, and others.   Readers have seen his informercials and very likely bought something.  Here is a link to his Linkedin profile:      Click here

He is retired now, and has been observing Trump do exactly what he would advise and direct for any direct marketing client.  Trump is a master of the infomercial.

A campaign is a year-long infomercial.  People bought the product he sold.

Tony Farrell

Guest Post by Tony Farrell:

Understanding Trump’s appeal is best viewed through the hard-won wisdom of direct marketers. In many realms of advertising, results are pretty soft and imprecise; but not in direct marketing. Direct marketers, essentially, do not care what their target audience knows, thinks, feels or remembers; they only care about what they do—which can be many things but usually it is sales. And by measuring sales, the effectiveness of advertising can, at last, be measured with a great deal of precision. So, what has that experienced taught those marketing professionals?

The first thing—most clearly voiced by advertising legend David Ogilvy—is “to make no small promises.” Instead, promise a life-changing experience; a miraculous result. People are too busy to pay much attention to anything else you might be selling.

Second, a favorite aphorism in the TV infomercial world about prospective customers is that “They don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” That is, the first step is to convey empathy and understanding for your prospect’s plight; only later will the prospect be receptive to explanations of how you can deliver on your promise.

One renowned direct-response copywriter lays out what it takes to be an influential leader. His learnings are not cynical but simply reflective of what has worked and not worked over the decades. Think about Trump (and contrast with Hillary) as you read his priceless wisdom:

·      Whatever you’re selling, declare it to be IMPORTANT and LIFE CHANGING.

·      Influential writing is NOT about doing a better job of explaining things. It’s about SIMPLIFYING things.

·      You’re NOT going for understanding; you’re aiming for ACCEPTANCE.
·      The greatest INFLUENCE comes from CERTAINTY; from CONCRETENESS; from black-and-white positions.

·      Above all, people want SIMPLE CERTAINTIES. They do NOT want complex answers to complex problems. They want SIMPLE ANSWERS to complex problems. They want answers that are VERY CERTAIN and VERY DEFINITIVE.

·      People want things to believe in. People do NOT want information. They do NOT want to be smarter. They want FAITH.

·      You do NOT influence people with information (that’s informing). You do NOT influence with education (that’s educating). People do NOT want information. Rather, they want FAITH.

·      Mount Olympus is a gated community. Any reluctance to declare yourself a god, and to constantly remind everyone of your exalted status, prohibits residence on Mount Olympus.

·      People want to be told what to do. Period.

·      Do NOT attempt to change minds, convert the ignorant, resistant, disagreeing people—that’s a fool’s errand. Say things to people that REINFORCE and VALIDATE what they already believe. Communicating to influence is about REINFORCEMENT and VALIDATION far more than it is PERSUASION.

And finally, think about Trump’s language, and contrast it to Hillary’s. Trump’s approach is in line with the advice of legendary copywriter John Caples:

Choose Simple Words!

Educated readers understand short words just as well as long words, but the masses understand short words much better. Even where it is necessary to substitute three or four short words for one long word, it is usually wise to do so.

When people are just talking, back and forth, they still use the old Anglo-Saxon almost entirely…. The reason we use short words to talk with is that they mean exactly the same thing to the talker and the hearer…. For the same reason, we use short words to think with.

So, in my own thinking about how Trump managed to beat Hillary, and looking through my direct-marketing lens, I suggest that Trump did everything exactly right and Hillary the opposite: She failed to convey empathy; she was unconvincing with her promises; she offered complex answers to complex problems; and she used language that was often difficult to understand.

This election was about winning the election; Hillary thought it was about governing.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Removing Confederate Monuments

The issue is a winner for Trump.  Being right is irrelevant.

The issue of statue removal fans the flames of white racial resentment and anxiety.  Blacks and "politically correct" whites and pushy northern hypocrites are taking something away.   It is change.  It is picking at the scabs of old wounds.  Trump wins.

As this blog wrote while I was in Vietnam, the people of Vietnam appear to have moved on.  They had a war of independence and a united Vietnam was the result.  Meanwhile, in the USA, the Civil War continues, 160 years later.   The enduring issue is race.  

For two centuries the slavery of black skinned people was justified by Southern Christians by defining blacks as a separate and inferior class of people, not persons but chattel.  The South lost the battle battle of slavery, but it won the war over race with the ascension of Andrew Johnson to succeed Lincoln and the election of Rutherford B. Hayes.  The South re-institutionalized black subservience and created an imagined ante-bellum history of gentility and tranquility, one that fought for independence and tradition, not slavery.

It was a better memory and it stuck.

In the aftermath of the Civil War and the re-instituton of Black Codes and institutionalized segregation the South put up heroic monuments to Confederate leaders.  Federal troops were gone.  It celebrated the new idea, the South fighting for tradition, honor, and the specialness of a state and region.  We lost, but we were heroic.

A factually accurate way to think of heroic monuments to Confederate politicians and generals is to consider them monuments to traitors who took up arms against our country.  They were Benedict Arnold.  They called themselves foreign enemies, not domestic ones, and America knows such people: King George of England, Adolf Hitler more recently.  There are no celebratory statues of King George,  Benedict Arnold, or Adolph Hitler in America.

Benedict Arnold's boot
There is in fact a monument to Benedict Arnold, who, before he turned traitor was a heroic soldier.  He broke a leg in battle.  The monument shows his boot, but does not mention his name.

Celebratory memorial statues are political.  A statue of Adolph Hitler or Herman Gobbles, placed in Manhattan, would not be a politically neutral act, if placed by a local majority of people eager to reaffirm that they still agreed with the Nazi policy regarding Jews, notwithstanding a war lost.  It would be a statement of defiance.  Southern Blacks--and Southern Whites--know what the celebratory statues of Jefferson Davis stand for. The lost cause.

That is why this is such a great issue for Donald Trump.   The issue makes Whites uncomfortable.   That works for Trump.

No one likes to be reminded of past misbehaviors.  Every American carries the benefits and detriments of the past.  This includes the injustices to Native Americans and Blacks and the Chinese, but also the heroism of soldiers in World War 2, and for that matter the heroism of Union soldiers in the Civil War.  Good and bad, we carry the inheritance.  There is noway to repay the debts or recapture the losses, since both were incurred by our predecessors long dead.

The only practical solution is to look at the present and future and be better.  The battle over statues is a bit like rubbing a dog's nose in a piddle spot, to try to shame it and teach it a lesson.  Or it is like telling an overweight person he or she is too fat.  Or telling a contender for a promotion that their work isn't as good as someone else's.   It  is unwelcome.  The fact that it might be objectively correct does not make it better.  It makes it worse.  No one likes to be judged  People resent it.  It is natural to hunt for mitigations and ways to deny:

  Black slaves were actually treated pretty well, compared to the Caribbean.
  Black slavery was present in Africa anyway.
  The war was really about states rights, not slavery.
  The statues celebrate "heroism", not slavery.
  The statues celebrate "heritage", not racism.
  The statues are beautiful art, without political meaning.
  The statues are old and represent the old way of thinking, not current thinking.   We don't tear down old buildings just because they are not ADA compliant.
And then there is the underlying, bigger effect:  that this is one more example of "politically correct" people trying to tell me to feel a certain way when I don't really feel that way, and trying to make me feel guilty when I don't and should not have to.    

That is an emotion that helped carry Trump into the White House.   The statue issue might well keep him there.

Democrats need to be strategic.  Do they want to shame Whites over the past, or win the future.  

I received a very useful communication from a reader in Virginia, a transplanted Yankee from New England, who brought an outsider's perspective to the South and its monuments.

Guest Comment:   Peter Coster

I live outside Richmond, VA, the former capital of the South.  There is a street downtown called Monument Avenue.  It's a beautiful street lined with very old expensive homes, large leafy trees, and a manicured grass medium strip.  It has an Old South feel to it.  Along the street at every corner is a large monument dedicated to the heroes of the Civil War or, as they call it, the War of Yankee Aggression.  Men like Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson ride their bronze horses along the street.  The statues are huge.  The joke is that it's the largest collection of second place trophies.  The City Council is proposing to take them down, but I doubt that will happen.   On the far end of the street is a statue of Arthur Ashe, the black tennis star.  It's much smaller than the rest and it sits at the far end of the street.  As in, he knows his place.

There is also a restaurant called The Traveler's which, during the war, was the stable where Lee kept his horse.  If you close your eyes, you can still smell Silver, or whatever his name was.

When I first came down to Virginia from Massachusetts, I met a guy at a party.  He looked me in the eye and said "'I hate Yankees".  I looked him back and said "I hate Yankees, too.  I'm a Red Sox fan".   I like it when their eyes kind of glaze over.

Friday, August 25, 2017

White people are getting squeezed in college admissions

White kids are losing out.  Given that education is thought the golden pathway to great success, these numbers matter.

Highly selective schools now have fewer than 50% of the spaces for white kids.  Ambitious white parents might blame affirmative action. Donald Trump is on the case, looking at college admissions and pointing to Harvard by name.

White resentment over college admissions
The problem is that there are a lot of really talented Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, and Mixed Race kids.  They apply, too.

The whole subject may be a winner for Trump.  The more people talk about race and discrimination, the better for Trump.  He picks at scabs and keeps things bleeding. 

I am no expert on college admissions, but I am an eye-witness to a tiny slice of it.   I attended Harvard and Yale and I currently serve as one of the interviewers for local applicants to Harvard.   I get to see a bit of what kind of kid is applying to the selective schools.

The answer:  lots of really bright, able, ambitious kids who are from a variety of races and ethnicities.

Fifty years ago, when I was admitted to Harvard the college was transitioning from a place where the sons of the prosperous New England establishment sent their "well rounded" sons, into a university that intended to serve the national interest to create the next generation of leaders, based on some supposed objective measure of merit.  Sputnik going up in 1957 sent a shock wave through America's educational establishment.  The fact that we invented the atomic bomb before Germany did was understood to mean national survival.  Meanwhile, selective schools were blocking smart Jewish boys from the Bronx from being admitted to save the places for the White, Protestant well bred people who made up the generations of alumni.  The Soviet Union getting the bomb, then sending up Sputnik in 1957, meant that that window of clear American superiority in science had shut, in only eleven years, and maybe the country's select colleges were hoping to commit national suicide.   And Americans were aware that our top scientists were foreigners--Jews out of Europe.  

Perhaps we  were educating the wrong people, they thought.  They decided to change.  I was a tiny beneficiary of that change.

Beginning in the classes accepted in the early 1960s there was a new emphasis on smarts, with acceptance of boys (Harvard was still all-male then) who tested well. There was a lot of emphasis on the SATs, as if they measured something useful.  Harvard wanted geographical diversity and economic diversity, but mostly it wanted measurable smarts.  It also wanted to address the civil rights revolution by accepting black kids, so some 8% of the class was black in my class that entered in 1967.   There were almost no Asians back then.  Harvard had a class of 1,200 boys, about 1,100 of them white, the rest black.

Harvard then was not multi-racial.  It was bi-racial.  Whites and blacks.

Looking at the student body today shows an entirely different makeup, one much closer to the makeup of the high achieving high schoolers of today.   Number one, half of them are women.  Simultaneously, just under half are white.   It means that an entering Harvard class of 1,800 students has about 900 boys, of whom 48% are white: 440 white males.

Are white kids being discriminated against?  Ambitious parents and students may feel that way but in fact the numbers work the other direction.  Very able Asian kids are the ones discriminated against, if one looks at objective standards.  White boys are a smaller percentage of the pool of able high school students than they used to be.  America is changing demographically.  There are a lot of Black and Hispanic kids here, plus a lot of people whose race is complicated (like my son, Dillon, whose mother is ethnically Chinese and I am white.)  

The reality is that those very bright, studious sons of ambitious and successful white parents, often themselves high achieving people with important jobs and enormous social status, want their sons to go to the most selective schools.  They are bound to be disappointed, what with the number of white male admits fell from 1,100 to about 440.   But America has changed.   There are more black kids, more Hispanic kids, and a great many Asian families who put enormous emphasis on education.  Black and Hispanic kids are admitted well below their absolute proportional numbers among the college age population.   Asian kids are admitted well below their merit-based numbers, as defined by standardized tests and other purported objective standards of merit.

And, of course, there is the admission of women.  Girls are Americans, too. They, too, now go to Harvard and all the other highly selective schools, and as a group they are more likely to show evidence of serious academic ability and purpose than do boys their age.  If pure, objective merit, defined by standardized tests and grades and academic ability were to be used as the only criterion, then boys receive affirmative action at the expense of girls, and Whites receive it at the expense of Asians.

The Trump administration has taken up affirmative action as a cause.  It will appeal to the Trump theme of white resentment over the supposed disadvantages endured by the hard working long suffering forgotten white American.  In fact, admission to selective colleges is done with attention to a class that represents America and the world, plus attention to the college's goal of having an orchestra, a football team, reporters for college newspaper, scholars, the children of legacy parents, and much more.  Still, the issue brings up merit, qualifications, and selections.

Every parent thinks their own kid is special.  It is natural to wonder if someone else got an unfair advantage, then to resent it.

A hard look at Harvard admissions--on the assumption that there is some absolute standard of merit--is more likely to show that white boys are the beneficiary, not the victim, of subjective factors.  Still, it may play out well as a talking point for Trump: him looking out for whites.  Trump may win simply by asking the question with a skeptical tone?  is that black or Hispanic student really, actually qualified?   He made the statement repeatedly about Obama, demanding to see his Occidental grades and questioning why he was president of the Harvard Law Review.  

There is political potential here.  The various sides will rise to the bait.  Blacks will bring up the legitimate question of past privilege and current funding of schools in their neighborhoods.  Asians can bring up the legitimate fact of their children facing soft quotas.  Whites can question whether less qualified Blacks and Hispanics got accepted in advance of them.   Racial talk helps Trump because he appeals to white racial anxiety. 

The country is changing out from under them.  As this blog wrote yesterday, it isn't a question of fair.  It is a question of who wins.   The fair share of slots at highly selective colleges is dropping for Whites, and that means a loss.   Trump wants to fight back and win.