Later On

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Archive for August 7th, 2018

The radical sheriff giving offenders a chance

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Jamiles Lartey reports in the Guardian:

Growing up as black boys in rural Gadsden county, Morris Young and Jaron McNealy would have had the same instinct in their youth when they saw the police: run.

“I saw them as a foe. They’d only come by to arrest,” said Young, whose younger self would be surprised to discover he is now a veteran sheriff of the same northern Florida county where he was born and raised.

McNealy, 28, took a different path in his teens, getting involved with gangs and a string of arrests and jail time eventually landed him in state prison for four years.

But on a recent stormy Florida Saturday, the two sit in McNealy’s mother’s house across from one another on opposing couches with no tension and no drama.

The sheriff and his deputy have come by to say hello to McNealy and his three sons, aged 10, eight and seven, as part of Young’s commitment to a new program to prevent children from following their parents into the criminal justice system. The scheme links children with professional counselors and life coaches.

“We’ve seen a trend where the children start coming up through this same cycle as those incarcerated parents,” Young said. “We wanted to sort of wrap our hands around them and put them on the right track.”

The scheme is just part of Young’s community policing approach which includes decarceration and prisoner “re-entry” to lawful society to try to tackle recidivism. “I believe in giving folks two, three, four and five chances to get it right,” he said.

Since his first election in 2004, Young has pushed prosecutors to get low-level offenders out of long jail stays, and has encouraged deputies to use arrest power with discretion. “If we pick up a young man with a piece of crack cocaine in his pocket, instead of making an arrest, put it on the ground and just mush it up. Tell him: ‘OK. The next time.’”

And while it’s difficult to attribute cause and effect when it comes to social issues like crime, over Young’s tenure crime in Gadsden has roughly halved and juvenile arrests are down by more than 75%. The county is also sending 65% fewer inmates to state prison than it was eight years ago.

Young has survived as the longest-serving black sheriff in Florida state history despite his philosophy facing significant challenge. Prosecutors attempted to run Young out of office in 2014 for his liberal use of furloughs, which allow inmates out of custody for short predetermined stints of time, usually a few days.

Young believes resistance to his approach comes down to the financial incentives that incarceration creates. As Major Shawn Wood, Young’s loquacious right-hand man, puts it: “No one in this country should even make one penny off people being locked up in chains.”

But don’t misunderstand the two, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows either. “We’ve got a reputation for catching our man,” Young said. “Commit a serious crime and you’re going to go in and you’re going to do time.”

But all that is qualified by a few progressive mantras that undergird daily decisions at the Gadsden sheriff’s office: arrests don’t necessarily resolve crime, and when arrests must be made, that’s the exact moment where re-entry ought to begin.

Errick Feaster always loved cars and got pretty good at fixing them with his dad as a kid growing up in Gadsden. Yet having failed to ever get his license, Feaster wound up in jail for 11 months last year for driving without one. It wasn’t the first time. Feaster, 44, had been in and out on drug and other minor charges for much of his adult life.

But within a few days of getting to jail some inmates suggested Feaster go speak with Ed Dixon, head of the “crossing over” re-entry program in the jail. The program places inmates at job sites outside the jail during the work day with businesses who train them. No guards. No bars. Rather than sitting in a cell, Feaster was working fixing cars.

“It gave me some time away from that building I was in,” said Feaster.

And after he got out, with recommendations from the program, Feaster found work easily. “I went on interviews and for the first time in my life all of them called me back,” said Feaster, who is now working as a foreman at a tire shop in Valdosta, Georgia.

“Throughout my whole adult life, this is the best I’ve been. I am not struggling like I was before.”

Dixon, a former county commissioner, was recruited by Sheriff Young to head up re-entry because of his deep ties to the community. “Every inmate we surveyed said: ‘Hey, they’ve got great programs in jail and prison, but as soon as I get out, all that support is gone.’ So we said: ‘How can we make it last?’” Dixon said.

Dixon’s philosophy is based on an obvious, but often overlooked fact of local incarceration. “They’re going back into Gadsden county and they just went from being inmate Johnson to Mr Johnson.”

When they do so without support, recidivism is common.

“We’ve had people call us and say, ‘Look I don’t want to go back to jail, but I need you to help me find a job because if I don’t get one, I’m going to go back to what I know,’” said Maj Wood. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2018 at 4:40 pm

Women Die More from Heart Attacks Than Men—Unless the ER Doc Is Female

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Angus Chen writes in Scientific American:

Women make up a mere quarter of emergency doctors in the U.S., according to data from the American Medical Association. This statistic does not signal well to gender equality in medicine or young women considering the specialty—and it may have even darker implications for patients. A new study suggests female heart attack patients may be at a higher risk of mortality in the emergency room if they see a male physician rather than a female one, giving greater urgency to diversity initiatives in medicine.

Heart disease is the number-one killer of both men and women, but the latter are significantly less likely to survive heart attacks. According to 2016 American Heart Association statement, 26 percent of women will die within a year of a heart attack compared with just 19 percent of men. The gap widens with time: By five years after a heart attack almost half of women die, compared with 36 percent of men.

The reason has eluded researchers for years, but the authors of the new study point to the disparity in male and female representation in emergency doctors as a potential source of answers. The researchers analyzed a Florida Agency for Health Care Administration database containing every heart attack case from every ER in the state (excluding Veterans Affairs hospitals) between 1991 and 2010.

The researchers divided 500,000-plus cases into four categories: male doctors treating men; male doctors treating women; female doctors treating men; and female doctors treating women. “All of those are statistically indistinguishable except for male doctor–female patient,” says Brad Greenwood, an author on the study and a data scientist at the University of Minnesota. If a heart attack patient is a woman and her emergency physician is a man, he says, her risk of death suddenly rises by about 12 percent.

Put another way, a heart attack patient dies in the ER about 11.9 percent of the time overall—but the research team found women with heart attacks will die about 12.4 percent of the time if their cases are handled by male doctors. This means approximately one out of every 66 women with heart attacks dies in the emergency room if she sees a male doctor rather than a female one. “Even though lives should be equally saved, we are seeing this pervasive difference,” says study co-author Laura Huang, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. “Something about the female experience when she’s being treated by a male doctor” is linked to these deaths, she says.

Emergency doctors and cardiologists, however, are wary of jumping to conclusions just yet. It is a little early to say male physicians have trouble treating female heart attack patients based on these data alone, says Michelle O’Donoghue, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School who did not work on the new study. “Spurious signals sometimes come up [in research], so this should be replicated,” she says. Still, she adds, the study raises many troubling questions about the treatment of women in the ER, “like the concern there’s a systematic bias where male physicians are not listening to female patients’ complaints as readily as [those of] a man.” Or there could be a bias that favors men in the medical literature (in which heart attacks are better understood when they happen in men), leading to misdiagnoses in women. “There have definitely been several studies that have shown that women are slower to be diagnosed, and that might be explained by the fact that women are more likely to have ‘atypical’ symptoms,” O’Donoghue notes.

Female doctors may also simply be performing at least some parts of the job better than their male counterparts do. In the new study everyone was more likely to survive if they saw a female physician, and a studypublished last year in JAMA Internal Medicine indicated all patients of female physicians had lower mortality and hospital readmission rates. “It seems that the female doctors practice in a better way or outperform male doctors,” says the JAMA study’s first author, Yusuke Tsugawa, an assistant professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles. Female doctors are more likely to speak with their patients longer and provide more evidence-based care than their male colleagues, Tsugawa says. This could help them to pick up on heart attacks, even if women have more atypical symptoms.

Such a scenario might also explain another of Greenwood’s findings: The more female colleagues a male emergency physician had, the more likely his female patients were to survive as well. “It could be you have  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2018 at 1:04 pm

Posted in Healthcare, Medical, Science

New Details About Wilbur Ross’ Business Point To Pattern Of Grifting

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Dan Alexander reports for Forbes:

A multimillion-dollar lawsuit has been quietly making its way through the New York State court system over the last three years, pitting a private equity manager named David Storper against his former boss: Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. The pair worked side by side for more than a decade, eventually at the firm, WL Ross & Co.—where, Storper later alleged, Ross stole his interests in a private equity fund, transferred them to himself, then tried to cover it up with bogus paperwork. Two weeks ago, just before the start of a trial with $4 million on the line, Ross and Storper agreed to a confidential settlement, whose existence has never been reported and whose terms remain secret.

It is difficult to imagine the possibility that a man like Ross, who Forbes estimates is worth some $700 million, might steal a few million from one of his business partners. Unless you have heard enough stories about Ross. Two former WL Ross colleagues remember the commerce secretary taking handfuls of Sweet’N Low packets from a nearby restaurant, so he didn’t have to go out and buy some for himself. One says workers at his house in the Hamptons used to call the office, claiming Ross had not paid them for their work. Another two people said Ross once pledged $1 million to a charity, then never paid. A commerce official called the tales “petty nonsense,” and added that Ross does not put sweetener in his coffee.

There are bigger allegations. Over several months, in speaking with 21 people who know Ross, Forbes uncovered a pattern: Many of those who worked directly with him claim that Ross wrongly siphoned or outright stole a few million here and a few million there, huge amounts for most but not necessarily for the commerce secretary. At least if you consider them individually. But all told, these allegations—which sparked lawsuits, reimbursements and an SEC fine—come to more than $120 million. If even half of the accusations are legitimate, the current United States secretary of commerce could rank among the biggest grifters in American history.

Not that he sees himself that way. “The SEC has never initiated any enforcement action against me,” Ross said in a statement, failing to mention the $2.3 million fine it levied against his firm in 2016. The commerce secretary also noted that one lawsuit against him got dismissed, without saying it is currently going through the appeals process. Ross confirmed settling two other cases, including the recent one against Storper, but declined to offer additional details.

Those who’ve done business with Ross generally tell a consistent story, of a man obsessed with money and untethered to facts. “He’ll push the edge of truthfulness and use whatever power he has to grab assets,” says New York financier Asher Edelman. One of Ross’ former colleagues is more direct: “He’s a pathological liar.”

Wilbur Ross figured out at some point that money, or the aura of it, translates into power. Forbes has previously documented how Ross seemingly lied to us, over many years, launching himself onto, and then higher on, our billionaire rankings, at one point even lying about an apparent multibillion-dollar transfer to family members to explain why his financial disclosure report showed fewer assets than he claimed. “What I don’t want,” Ross said, “is for people to suddenly think that I’ve lost a lot of money when it’s not true.”

Such machinations now seem pathetic. But his billionaire status was not lost on another person obsessed with his net worth. Donald Trump termed Ross a “legendary Wall Street genius” and named him to his cabinet. “In these particular positions,” Trump explained to a crowd of supporters, “I just don’t want a poor person.”

From Ross’ vantage point, Trump offered the perfect exit. The future cabinet secretary’s private equity funds were underperforming—one on track to lose 26% of its initial value and another two dribbling out mediocre returns—and the accusations were starting to pile up. Roughly two months before the 2016 presidential election, the SEC announced WL Ross was paying a fine and refunding $11.9 million it allegedly skimmed from its investors, including interest. The scheme was complex. Like other private equity firms—including several that coughed up money to the SEC around the same time—WL Ross derived much of its revenue from management fees charged to its investors. With funds as large as $4.1 billion, management fees of 1.5% could alone bring in more than $60 million a year for Ross’ firm—serious money.

But WL Ross promised that it would give its investors something like a rebate. For example, when Ross and his colleagues got certain fees for working on deals, they were supposed to give at least 50% of that money back to investors. But, according to SEC investigators, the firm gave back less than it suggested it would and pocketed the difference, leading the feds to conclude Ross’ firm broke laws that prohibit defrauding and misleading clients. WL Ross paid the big settlement but never admitted guilt.

According to the feds, WL Ross charged some of those inappropriate fees in the years before the commerce secretary sold his firm to Invesco for $100 million up front and the possibility of another $275 million down the road. That meant that when Ross cashed out, he presumably did so at bigger valuation than he deserved. In a statement, Ross suggested that Invesco never clawed any of that money back. “The terms of the sale of my business in 2006 remain unchanged,” he said. Invesco declined to comment.

There is more to the story. According to five former WL Ross employees and investors,  . . .

Continue reading.

I don’t think that Trump did any swamp-draining at all by taking Wilbur Ross into the Cabinet.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2018 at 12:34 pm

How 2,000-year-old roads predict modern-day prosperity

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The Younger Daughter teaches Latin and Greek, and I think she in particular will find this of interest. Christopher Ingraham reports in the Washington Post:

Prosperity begets prosperity: On a global level, economists and historians have shown that places that prospered 100, 500, even 1,000 years ago tend to be more economically developed today.

But how? We’re less clear on the exact channels by which economic activity sustains itself over the millennia. Could dynastic wealth play a role? How about the concentration and transmission of knowledge via institutions such as schools and libraries? How does military might factor in?

Now, a team of Danish economists has put forth a forceful case for one largely overlooked driver of economic development in Europe: roadways built by the Roman empire nearly two thousand years ago. They demonstrate that the density of ancient Roman roads at a given point in Europe strongly correlates with present-day prosperity, as measured by modern-day road density, population density and even satellite imagery of nighttime lighting.

Their data shows that infrastructure investments are — if you’ll pardon an unpardonable pun — a pathway to long-term prosperity.

To arrive at this conclusion, Carl-Johan Dalgaard of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues first obtained a geographic database of the major roads of the Roman era that had been compiled by Harvard University’s Digital Atlas of Roman and Medieval Civilizations.

Roman roadways were massive infrastructure projects even by modern standards. They consisted of several base layers, including stone, gravel and sand, over which large stone slabs were laid. At the empire’s peak in 117 A.D., scholars estimate, the Romans had built more than 80,000 kilometers of roadway across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Many of them have lasted well into the present day.

Dalgaard and his colleagues took a map of the major ancient Roman roads and superimposed it over satellite imagery showing the level of nighttime illumination in 2010. Economists often use nighttime lighting as a proxy for economic activity: more lights, more development. The image below shows the resultant map. Ancient Roman roadways are in light yellow, while the boundaries of the Roman Empire as of 117 A.D. are outlined in red. The background layer shows modern nighttime illumination.

The visual relationship is particularly striking in France. There, you can clearly see the paths of ancient roadways connecting not just major modern cities, like Paris and Lyon, but also many minor ones, too. Across inland France, nearly every junction of ancient roads is marked by a splash of light in the modern era.

While just eyeballing it like this is certainly suggestive, it’s not good enough for social science research. So Dalgaard and his colleagues took it several steps further: They divided the entire ancient Roman empire into a grid of one degree latitude by one degree longitude squares and measured the density of Roman roads within each. For each square, they also measured modern-day population, the density of current roadways and economic activity as indicated by the satellite imagery.

They then ran a battery of statistical tests to determine how the presence of ancient roadways was related to the modern-day variables they measured. The answer: quite a bit. Places with more Roman roads in antiquity tended to have more roads today, as well as more people and greater levels of economic development.

Now, there’s a big question of causality looming over all this: Can we really say that ancient roads caused greater economic development down the line? Or is it more accurate to say that more prosperous areas in the ancient world simply had more of a tendency to build roads to other places as a natural result of their prosperity?

Dalgaard and his colleagues marshal convincing pieces of evidence to argue in favor of a causal link that runs from ancient roadbuilding to modern-day prosperity. For starters, Roman roads weren’t typically built with trade in mind: their primary purpose was to move troops and supplies to locations of military interest. Trade was an afterthought.

“Roman roads were often constructed in newly conquered areas without any extensive, or at least not comparable, existing network of cities and infrastructure,” Dalgaard and his colleagues write. In many instances, the roads came first. Settlements and cities came later.

Then there’s the fascinating question of what happened to Roman roads built in North Africa. At some point between 500 and 1,000 A.D., wheeled transport was essentially abandoned in the region. Goods were ferried around on the backs of camels, rather than in carts pulled by oxen. The exact reasons for this are up for debate and probably involved costs, advances in saddle technology and the increasing military and political might of groups that had traditionally relied on camels for transport, Dalgaard and his colleagues explain.

If you’re not pulling carts around, you have less of a need for paved roadways. As a result, the Roman roads in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) weren’t maintained the same way they were in Europe, where cart-based transit remained dominant. “The implication of these developments is that since ancient roads fall into disrepair in the MENA region, to a much greater extent than in Europe, one should expect to see much less persistence in infrastructure density.”

Indeed, that’s exactly what Dalgaard and his colleagues found. The correlation between ancient roadways and modern-day development so prevalent in Europe is much smaller and less significant for the Middle East and North Africa. “As ancient roads are left to decay they ultimately become a less reliable predictor of modern road location in the MENA,” they found. “Roman road density does not predict current day economic activity within the MENA region.”

In sum, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2018 at 11:41 am

How to Fight Climate Change

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Kevin Drum is spot-on in this post at Mother Jones:

David Roberts says—correctly—that the climate community has inexplicably concluded that it knows how to change the public’s mind about climate change:

So what’s the answer? Hear me out for a bit on this.

The problem itself is obvious enough: people generally don’t like to sacrifice now in order to avoid some kind of disaster later. The impulse that prompts us to eat a cookie even though it will eventually make us fat is the exact same one that prompts fossil-fuel companies to deny global warming even though it will eventually put all their refineries underwater. We call the former “hyperbolic discounting” and the latter “free market capitalism,” but it’s all the same thing.

There are other things that make it hard to fight climate change—it’s slow, it’s invisible, it’s global, it’s expensive, etc.—but it’s the bit about sacrificing for the future that’s the real killer. We humans just aren’t very good at that. So what strategy might work to get us all to give a damn?

For starters, we might try to think of examples from the past in which large societies decided to engage in communal sacrifice for long periods of time in order to avert some kind of future disaster. I’ll wait while you come up with some.

You’re having a hard time, aren’t you? A few years ago Jared Diamond wrote a whole book about societies that looked collapse straight in the face and … chose to collapse. But we’re looking for examples of success. Where do we find them? Here are a few:

  • The ozone layer. This is a stand-in for all small-scale problems successfully addressed. The reason we succeeded in fixing the hole in the ozone layer is that all it took was a global ban on CFCs, which was a pretty cheap price to pay.
  • The Cold War. Think what you will about this, but the Western world kept up a united front in the Cold War for nearly 50 years.

I’m not going to continue. I’m simply going to assert that these represent the two basic classes of successful, large-scale response to impending disaster. In the first, the cost is fairly small. In the second, an enemy is involved. Unfortunately, neither one works in our favor right now. If CO2 were rising due to a massive terraforming war being fought from afar by our neighbors on Venus, no cost would be too high for us to fight back. Likewise, if it were all China’s fault, we’d already be fighting like hellions. But it ain’t so. We’re doing this to ourselves, and I can’t think of any good way to put an enemy’s face on it.

That leaves only one solution: make it cheap to fight. If we can make the sacrifice fairly small, everything changes. But how? A ban on plastic straws, for example, is certainly a small sacrifice, but it’s performative, not real. In fact, pretty much all sacrifices on a personal level—straws, Priuses, recycling, etc.—are fine, but add up to approximately zero. As long as we’re collectively committed to extracting and burning every last hydrocarbon molecule in the earth’s crust, everything we do is just for show.

And make no mistake: we are committed to burning every last hydrocarbon molecule in the earth’s crust. Norway is a lovely, green, socially conscious, Nordic-model democracy. But they are as rapacious as Saudi Arabia in making sure to extract every bit of oil they can from the North Sea. Or how about nice, socialist Canada? Ditto, and they even demand that we build pipelines across the Midwest to transport their oil. Poor, oppressed, earth-loving Africa? Ditto again. The only places on earth that aren’t busily extracting every bit of gas, coal, and oil they can are the places that don’t haveany gas, coal, or oil.

In other words, we’re doomed—unless we can figure out a way to make fighting climate change free or cheap. That means renewable energy at scale that’s cheaper than fossil fuels. This is it. There is no other answer.

And that in turn means one thing: . ..

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2018 at 10:33 am

Trump Administration Attacking Legal Immigrants Next

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

Donald Trump’s defenders have insisted all along that when evaluating his immigration policy, we should ignore his veiled and even textbook racist appeals, and instead view it as a straightforward application of law enforcement. “Would-be lawbreakers know that we are restoring the rule of law and enforcing our immigration laws again,” boasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “At stake in this debate is not how to enforce immigration laws but whether we should do so at all,” argued conservative columnist Jonathan Tobin. It’s not about keeping America white, they say, it’s about following the rules and making people get in line.

That defense was strained to the breaking point by Trump’s child-separation policy, which frequently targeted families attempting to seek asylum through legal channels. And now the bare pretense is about to be snapped altogether.

NBC’s Julia Ainsley has obtained an internal Trump administration document laying out a plan to deny citizenship to legal immigrants. The mastermind of the new policy is Stephen Miller, a radical who has gained almost total control of the administration’s immigration agenda. Under the forthcoming plan, any legal immigrants who have ever used (or whose household contains people who have ever used) children’s health insurance (CHIP), Obamacare, supplemental nutrition assistance, or other social benefits could be denied legal status.

Since the 19th century, immigration policy has discriminated against migrants who might become a “public charge.” But Trump plans to expand the definition of the term to include basic benefits for the working class, like health insurance. Almost nobody in the United States actually pays for their own insurance in a completely self-sufficient fashion. People who get insurance through their job are benefitting from a massive, costly tax deduction for employer-sponsored insurance. Those who get it through Medicare likewise enjoy a taxpayer-financed social benefit.

Programs like Obamacare and CHIP simply extend the same regimen of subsidies and risk pooling to the low-income population that have already been granted to the middle class. To define people getting insurance this way as “public charges” does violence to the concept. But it is also perfectly in keeping with the Randian ideology that has crept into Republican thought and never left, despite Trump’s ostensible populism. Low-income workers are to be reconceptualized as the leeching 47-percenters that Mitt Romney so despised. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2018 at 10:19 am

In 2008, America Stopped Believing in the American Dream

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Frank Rich writes in New York:

If you were standing in the smoldering ashes of 9/11 trying to peer into the future, you might have been overjoyed to discover this happy snapshot of 2018: There has been no subsequent major terrorist attack on America from Al Qaeda or its heirs. American troops are not committed en masse to any ground war. American workers are enjoying a blissful 4 percent unemployment rate. The investment class and humble 401(k) holders alike are beneficiaries of a rising GDP and booming stock market that, as measured by the Dow, is up some 250 percent since its September 10, 2001, close. The most admired person in America, according to Gallup, is the nation’s first African-American president, a man no one had heard of and a phenomenon no one could have imagined at the century’s dawn. Comedy, the one art whose currency is laughter, is the culture’s greatest growth industry. What’s not to like?

Plenty, as it turns out. The mood in America is arguably as dark as it has ever been in the modern era. The birthrate is at a record low, and the suicide rate is at a 30-year high; mass shootings and opioid overdoses are ubiquitous. In the aftermath of 9/11, the initial shock and horror soon gave way to a semblance of national unity in support of a president whose electoral legitimacy had been bitterly contested only a year earlier. Today’s America is instead marked by fear and despair more akin to what followed the crash of 1929, when unprecedented millions of Americans lost their jobs and homes after the implosion of businesses ranging in scale from big banks to family farms.

It’s not hard to pinpoint the dawn of this deep gloom: It arrived in September 2008, when the collapse of Lehman Brothers kicked off the Great Recession that proved to be a more lasting existential threat to America than the terrorist attack of seven Septembers earlier. The shadow it would cast is so dark that a decade later, even our current run of ostensible prosperity and peace does not mitigate the one conviction that still unites all Americans: Everything in the country is broken. Not just Washington, which failed to prevent the financial catastrophe and has done little to protect us from the next, but also race relations, health care, education, institutional religion, law enforcement, the physical infrastructure, the news media, the bedrock virtues of civility and community. Nearly everything has turned to crap, it seems, except Peak TV (for those who can afford it).

That loose civic concept known as the American Dream — initially popularized during the Great Depression by the historian James Truslow Adams in his Epic of America — has been shattered. No longer is lip service paid to the credo, however sentimental, that a vast country, for all its racial and sectarian divides, might somewhere in its DNA have a shared core of values that could pull it out of any mess. Dead and buried as well is the companion assumption that over the long term a rising economic tide would lift all Americans in equal measure. When that tide pulled back in 2008 to reveal the ruins underneath, the country got an indelible picture of just how much inequality had been banked by the top one percent over decades, how many false promises to the other 99 percent had been broken, and how many central American institutions, whether governmental, financial, or corporate, had betrayed the trust the public had placed in them. And when we went down, we took much of the West with us. The American Kool-Aid we’d exported since the Marshall Plan, that limitless faith in progress and profits, had been exposed as a cruel illusion.

Unlike 9/11, which prompted an orgy of recriminations and investigations, the Great Recession never yielded a reckoning that might have helped restore that faith. The Wall Street bandits escaped punishment, as did most of the banking houses where they thrived. Everyone else was stuck with the bill. Millennials, crippled by debt and bereft of Horatio Alger paths out of it, mock the traditional American tenet that each generation will be better off than the one before. At the other end of the actuarial spectrum, boomers have little confidence that they can scrape together the wherewithal needed to negotiate old age. The American workers in the middle have seen their wages remain stagnant as necessities like health care become unaffordable.

In the Digital Century, unlike the preceding American Century, the largest corporations are not admired as sources of jobs, can-do-ism, and tangible goods that might enrich and empower all. They’re seen instead as impenetrable black boxes where our most intimate personal secrets are bought and sold to further fatten a shadowy Über-class of obscene wealth and privilege trading behind velvet ropes in elite cryptocurrencies. Though only a tiny percentage of Americans are coal miners, many more Americans feel like coal miners in terms of their beleaguered financial status and future prospects. It’s a small imaginative leap to think of yourself as a serf in a society where Facebook owns and markets your face and Alphabet does the same with your language (the alphabet, literally) while paying bogus respects to the dying right to privacy.

It would be easy to blame the national mood all on Donald J. Trump, but that would be underrating its severity and overrating Trump’s role in creating it (as opposed to exacerbating it). Trump’s genius has been to exploit and weaponize the discontent that has been brewing over decades of globalization and technological upheaval. He did so in part by discarding the bedrock axiom of post–World War II American politics that anyone running for president must sparkle with the FDR-patented, chin-jutting optimism that helped propel John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan to the White House. Trump ran instead on the idea that America was, as his lingo would have it, a shithole country in desperate need of being made great again. “Sadly, the American Dream is dead,” he declared, glowering, on that fateful day in 2015 when he came down the Trump Tower escalator to announce his candidacy. He saw a market in merchandising pessimism as patriotism and cornered it. His diagnosis that the system was “rigged” was not wrong, but his ruse of “fixing” it has been to enrich himself, his family, and his coterie of grifters with the full collaboration of his party’s cynical and avaricious Establishment.

It’s hard to recall now how upbeat the American mood had been just a decade ago. The worst financial crisis since 1929 notwithstanding, the election of Barack Obama offered genuine hope, not just the branded version on his campaign poster. He would hire smart people to dig us out of the Wall Street greed and criminality that had victimized so many Americans. (Never mind that some of those smart people on the Obama financial team had cashed in their own chips in a private back room before the casino went bust.) He vowed to downsize the two wasteful wars on which his predecessor had squandered so much blood and treasure. His personal qualities as a committed husband and father, not to mention his unlikely rise from obscurity, would make him a role model to the young. The mere fact of his election would also suggest to many, my naïve white self included, that the country might somehow at long last be capable of rising above its original sin of slavery. Timesummed up the national sentiment best in its cover story crowning him 2008 Person of the Year. Obama was “infusing our democracy with a new intensity of participation” and “showing the world and ourselves that our most cherished myth — the one about boundless opportunity — has plenty of juice left in it.” As he took office, polling found that “a strong majority of Americans believe he will accomplish most of what he aims to do.”

Boundless opportunity! A government that would accomplish its aims! What were we thinking? We all know what happened next: The opposition party, once again pandering to the racist base it has cultivated ever since Barry Goldwater ran against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, vowed to defeat the new president’s governance no matter what he did. Even so — and despite being thwarted by that partisan resistance, by the stubbornness of the downturn he had to reverse, and by his own unforced errors — Obama did succeed at leading America out of its economic crisis and largely extricating it from war. But he had to scale back his other aspirations, including immigration and financial reform. History will surely bless him for preventing a second Great Depression, among other achievements, including presiding over the most scandal-free White House in memory. But in real time, his presidency was still fairly young when some contemporaneous voters started moving on from Yes, We Can to No, We Can’t and/or No, We Won’t.

Obama didn’t cause that broken spirit any more than Trump did. It had been building all along — or can be seen to have been, depending on the lens through which you view modern American history. In the more salutary version of that story, the nation triumphed over the back-to-back cataclysms of depression and world war to flourish in a post-victory boom. In 1964, the perennial poll question measuring trust in “government in Washington to do what is right” reached a peak 76 percent. That number would decline as Americans were battered by the Vietnam quagmire, the political violence and assassinations of 1968, and Watergate. But eventually Reagan would “win” the Cold War and his salesmanship of the “shining city upon a hill” would vanquish memories of the Nixon White House’s criminality. The awesome record of LBJ’s civil-rights legislation would mask the less encouraging on-the-ground story of intractable racial conflict and second-class African-American citizenship in both the South and North.

But it’s an alternative narrative of this history — the less splashy and more insidious economic narrative of widening inequality, rather than the epic headline events of a History Channel documentary — that may have mattered most in landing us where we are now. As the historian Elaine Tyler May, a scholar of postwar America, has written, the Cold War boom solidified and projected to the world a “vision of middle-class affluence” that testified to “the benefits of the American capitalist system” over the Soviet alternative. Central to that vision was “the belief that free-market capitalism would benefit everyone” and that its fruits would be distributed equitably, “providing the good life to an ever-expanding middle class.” Even at this boom’s height, this egalitarianism was a myth as far as black Americans were concerned, but the white majority bought it: This bedrock belief in economic fairness “motivated white working-class and middle-class Americans to play by the rules.” The assumption was that the ownership class would play by them too.

In truth, that assumption had been an open question from the moment massive American fortunes started being built in the late-19th century’s Gilded Age. In Behold, America, a fascinating new look at “the entangled history” of “America First” and “the American Dream,” out this fall, Sarah Churchwell unearths a 1900 editorial in the New York Post fretting about how multimillionaires “are very rarely, if ever, content with a position of equality.” The paper hypothesized that “the American dream,” a term not yet in common parlance, could be ended by their greed. A similar 1908 editorial in the Leavenworth, Kansas, Times, again invoking “American dreams,” championed “the equitable distribution of wealth” while making pointed note of the vast discrepancy between the pay of an insurance-company executive and a headmaster: “Why do we accord highest place to money mongers and lowest place to teachers of ideals?”

Populist movements would ask similar questions through each American cycle of boom-and-bust, but to no lasting avail. While the Gilded Age tycoon J. P. Morgan posited that the ratio between a boss’s income and that of workers should be 20-1, today that ratio often exceeds 150-1. Yet, as May points out, in the postwar era, it was not until the free fall of 2008 that a wide public fully focused on the gap between the top one percent and everyone else. “Unlike the 9/11 attacks,” she writes, the catastrophic crash “was homegrown and had been brewing for many years.” But it took the Great Recession’s destruction “of what had been the markers of citizenship for more than half a century” — a secure job and home ownership — to make unmistakable to all “the end of the era of widespread prosperity that had characterized the United States in the early years of the Cold War.”

It was during the Great Recession that it also became clear how oblivious — or complicit — both major parties’ Establishments were when it came to heists by those at the top. To take just one example of this culture at work: In 2011, . . .

Continue reading.

There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2018 at 10:15 am

G.B. Kent BK4 and Edwin Jagger, with Chatillon Lux Champs de Lavande

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I figure the G.B. Kent BK brushes (the BK4 is shown in the photo above; the one on the cover of the Guide is the BK8 which ultimately seemed too large for my taste) are the inspiration for the Wet Shaving Products Monarch brushes, and the handle of the Maggard Razors 22mm synthetic is the same shape. It’s a very comfortable shape, and I imagine it has a name.

The lather from this now-vintage soap that closely resembles Truefitt & Hill’s old shaving soap (pre-outsourcing and pre-reformulation) was very nice indeed, and the Edwin Jagger razor did its usual excellent job. A good splash of the Chatillon Lux Champs de Lavande finished the job.

My morning routine is to take my walk between shave and shave post, which is why walk comments get included from time to time. Dr. Kenneth Cooper in his 1968 book Aerobics observed that regular cardio exercise leads to the formation of new capillaries and a denser capillary network to support active muscles better. He had a name for it that escapes me now—”vascular surge” or some such—but when the new capillaries finally open for business (which requires maintaining cardio exercise daily over a period of time), there’s a sudden improvement in performance.

In the book, he describes putting a pulley at the edge of his desk with a weight hanging down so that he could lift the weight using one finger. He found that he could do no more than 6 lifts (heavy weight) for some weeks, then suddenly he could do 12 or 20: the vascular surge.

I’ve now hit my daily step goal (5500 steps) for 29 days, and over the past 9 days I’ve done more than 8000 steps per day (two days above 10,000 steps and two days just over 9000 steps). And on my regular route my times for the last three days: 63 minutes, 60 minutes, 59 minutes. I noticed that my strides were more vigorous and that I was not getting so tired.

Interesting to see the body respond to a continued demand for better circulation to active muscles.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2018 at 9:18 am

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