It’s the Bureaucracy, Genius: How Bureaucracy Has Lowered Productivity and Income

It’s the Bureaucracy, Genius: How Bureaucracy Has Lowered Productivity and Income

The supposed brightest minds, educated in the supposed best universities, can’t figure out why American productivity has languished in this era of technological innovation, resulting in income growth being lower than it would otherwise be.

Well, my mediocre mind came up with the reason 29 years ago and wrote about it in my book and in scores of subsequent journal and newspaper articles.  This was certainly not a great intellectual feat, because the root problem was, and continues to be, obvious to anyone who is not isolated in an ivory tower, as the problem pervades corporations, nonprofits, universities, school districts, cities, states, and the federal government. 

The problem is bureaucracy.

At the federal level, this destroyer of productivity and wealth can be seen in the 40,000 pages of the tax code, the thousands of pages of new federal rules every year in the Federal Register, and the proliferation of jobs in the private and public sectors to decipher the rules, comply with the rules, consult on the rules, and lobby on the rules.  Holders of these jobs then become a constituency that will fight to protect their jobs, including those on the right who rail against big government.

Then there are the jobs that propagate because the natural course of bureaucracy is to beget more bureaucracy.

Two recent letters to the editor of the Wall Street Journal gave examples of this.  One letter said that “the size of the [White House’s] National Security Council staff went from a few dozen under Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski to nearly 600 under President Obama.”

Do you feel more secure?

The other letter said that since the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was established in 1961, it has ballooned to 17,000 employees.  The agency was established because the Army, Navy and Air Force had been issuing conflicting military assessments instead of working as a team in developing a joint assessment.

Is it any wonder that the top-heavy military became mired in Afghanistan and made the strategic blunder of the Iraq War?

The DIA is a textbook example of one of the major causes of bureaucracy:  A new bureaucracy is put over existing bureaucracies because the silos of the existing bureaucracies are lousy at communicating, cooperating and coordinating with each other. 

The proper fix would be to kick the executives at the top of the silos in the ass, demand that they and their respective organizations work as a team, incentivize them to do so, and fire them if they don’t change their ways.  The proper fix is not to bury the underlying problem under another layer of management. 

The Department of Homeland Security is another example of burying the underlying problem under another layer of management.  The department was established after 9/11 because different federal agencies had missed the terrorist threat, because they hadn’t shared critical information.  Was anyone fired over this?

Unnecessary jobs have also propagated in universities, where the number of administrators has doubled over the last 25 years, surpassing the growth in faculty and increasing the cost of a college degree—which in turn has increased tuition debt, which in turn has led to presidential candidates on the left calling for the erasing of the debt and making college free.  Tellingly, they don’t call for a reduction in administrative jobs, because many of the jobs exist to deal with regulations that they have sired.   

Bureaucracy is not just a problem with universities and governments; it also pervades the private sector.  Sears is in its death throes today because it built the Sears Tower in the 1970s to house its burgeoning corporate staff and their fiefdoms and miles of red tape.   At the same time, Sam Walton was expanding his business in Rogers, Arkansas, where he was close to the customer.

Is it a coincidence or a case of cause and effect that Boeing’s disaster of the 737 MAX happened after it had relocated its headquarters to Chicago, far away from where its planes are designed and assembled in Seattle? 

Is it a coincidence or a case of cause and effect that the Democrat and Republican parties became out of touch with Middle America, due to spending too much time in the wealthy imperial city of Washington, DC?

What does it portend for Google and Apple that they have built Versailles-like headquarters in locales that rival the Imperial City in being removed culturally and economically from mainstream America?  And what does it portend for the tech industry in general that its workforce is congregated in hip urban centers, where everyone has similar values, politics, interests, and glaring blind-spots about their imagined social awareness and moral superiority?

These questions raise the question of where a corporate headquarters should be located:  near where the main work of the business gets done, or near customers, or near suppliers, or near a talent pool, or what?  Actually, the location is less important than what the company does to ensure that the top of the organization doesn’t become out of touch with the employees on the firing line who make products or deal directly with customers; and, similarly, that dysfunctional behavior at the top—backstabbing, Machiavellian maneuvering, and poor coordination and communications—aren’t amplified throughout the lower levels of the organization.

To make matters worse, companies have bought organizational snake oil from tech companies and consultants, in the form of communications systems and message boards that supposedly connect all levels and departments, making it easier for employees to be in the know, to coordinate their work, and to give feedback to management.  But these systems can’t overcome dysfunctional politics, distrust, conflicting priorities, and lousy leadership.  Believing that they do is akin to believing that serious marital problems can be solved by spouses texting each other more.

Judging by the ever-increasing number of highly-paid and powerful staffers at corporate headquarters whose jobs and careers are dependent on pleasing the Leviathan in Washington, companies should move their headquarters to the Imperial City, as Amazon did with its second headquarters.  That way, the scores of tax attorneys, SEC lawyers, accountants, OSHA specialists, human resources managers, benefits managers, government affairs executives and others who specialize in brain-deadening government regulations—and who are often hardcore conservatives who rail against big government—could be close to the regulatory rice bowl that is the source of their income, influence and prestige.

In a 1995 commentary in the Wall Street Journal, I detailed the phony professionalization of the human resources function and its growth in power and pay, a growth that was in lockstep with the growth of workplace regulations, the increasingly counterproductive machinations of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, and the burgeoning rules governing 401(k) plans and employer-provided health insurance.  Naturally, the president of the Society of Human Resources Management took umbrage to what I wrote. 

There is no room in today’s HR department for people who are grounded in human behavior, organizational dynamics, motivational theory, teambuilding, job design, productivity, and effective management practices.  It’s more important to study regulations than to study the work of pioneers in the study of management and organizations, such as Henry L. Gantt, Max Weber, G. Elton Mayo, Mary Parker Follett, Kurt Lewin, F. J. Roethlisberger, Peter Drucker, Herbert A. Simon, Abraham Maslow, W. Edwards Deming, and others.  

Advertisements and commercials by firms selling HR software make it appear that the software will improve the workplace, when in actuality the software facilitates regulatory recordkeeping and further entrenches the HR bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy also pervades small businesses.  A noticeable example is the useless HIPAA privacy form that you sign in your doctor’s office, where a clerk is paid to give you the form, check if you signed and dated it, and then file it.   But what you don’t see are the high-priced consultants and software vendors behind the scenes who have become indispensable to physicians in complying with a plethora of regulations and reporting requirements, most of which has nothing to do with your health but can ensnare the physician in legal difficulties if not followed to the letter of the law.

A consequence has been that physicians are foregoing private practice to join large hospital groups, which have the economies of scale and staffing to handle the regulatory workload.   This means that the most personal of business relationships—your one-on-one relationship with a doctor—is being replaced by a relationship with a faceless corporation.

The private sector tends to be the realm of Republican bureaucrats who feed off the regulatory state, while the huge social-welfare and education complex tends to be the realm of Democrats, whose livelihoods depend on providing social services, housing, medical care, financial aid, and schooling to the underprivileged, at a cost of trillions of dollars over the decades.  Neither side has an interest in making themselves unnecessary or shrinking their rice bowls.

Imagine, for example, how much smaller the social-welfare complex would be if root socioeconomic problems had been addressed decades ago—or more specifically, if Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s warning had been heeded 55 years ago about the welfare state making black men unnecessary and thus destroying two-parent black families, which in turn has led to an increase in crime, in learning and behavioral problems in school, and in a political clamor for social justice without an understanding of how social justice was thwarted by the very same progressives now clamoring for social justice. 

Not learning from what the welfare state has inflicted on blacks, the same institutional injustices have been inflicted on poor whites, with similar results:  broken marriages, one-parent families, drug abuse, obesity, low test scores, and dependency on welfare and disability payments.

As I calculated years ago, over 60% of voters live in a household where at least one member either works for the government or in a job dependent on the regulatory state, or receives welfare, an entitlement, or disability payments.  And in many locales in the country, the biggest employers are the defense industry or the medical industry, which is dependent on Medicare and Medicaid for half of its revenue.

In conclusion, you might want to know what needs to be done about bureaucracy.  Well, nothing needs to be done, because the problem is self-correcting.  Companies eventually collapse from the deadweight and are replaced by more nimble and efficient competitors.  The same with nations, but it just takes a lot longer.

The Reductio ad Absurdum of Diversity

The Reductio ad Absurdum of Diversity

Pasted several paragraphs below is a letter to the Wall Street Journal from the chancellor of the University of California at Davis and the vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion.

The letter reveals what they believe is the mission of a university and what their real agenda is regarding diversity.  No doubt, such thinking is shared throughout the California system and across academia.

The letter was in response to a previous commentary in the Journal by the chair of the university’s math department, who took exception to the university requiring new faculty members to sign an oath of loyalty to diversity and inclusion.

The letter to the editor is a sickening display of the mindless parroting of clichés, banalities and platitudes about diversity and inclusion that pervade not only academia but also media and industry.

This corruption of diversity is particularly disgusting to me, because I had been at the leading edges of the equal opportunity and affirmative action movements long before Harvard Assistant Professor R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., began the diversity movement in 1990 with his landmark article in the Harvard Business Review.  Since then, I have watched his basically good idea degenerate into ignorance, group think, phoniness, litmus tests, and racial divisiveness and discrimination—all administered by highly paid apparatchiks and their cadres, who, like all bureaucrats everywhere, have to keep inventing problems instead of solving problems, in order to grow their power and pay.

My thoughts continue after the letter.

UC Davis Defends Its ‘Diversity Statements’

The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 26, 2019 3:33 pm ET

Prof. Abigail Thompson, chair of the mathematics department at the University of California, Davis, compares the use of diversity statements in faculty hiring to political tests, noting that “mandatory diversity statements can too easily become a test of political ideology and conformity” (“The University’s New Loyalty Oath,” op-ed, Dec. 20). We disagree strongly with this premise. It is inaccurate, at once illogical and rhetorically inflammatory, and reminiscent of historical attempts to blunt substantive actions aimed at desegregation and broadening participation.

The tripartite mission of the University of California is research, teaching and public service. Given the totality of our mission, serving our student body is a top priority, and contributions to diversity are as important to that end as research and teaching. Indeed, not asking questions about a candidate’s readiness to serve the diverse population of students in California, the most diverse state in the nation, would be negligent.

Respecting and understanding students and colleagues from all backgrounds may come naturally to many. But engaging colleagues and having the ability to recognize and correct inequities is a skill. Actively using inclusionary practices to engage students from different backgrounds is part of the skill set we expect from faculty.

University of California policy states that diversity is “integral to the University’s achievement of excellence,” and enhances “the ability of the University to accomplish its academic mission.” True commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is active, not passive.

Renetta Garrison Tull and Gary S. May

Davis, Calif.

Ms. Tull is vice chancellor for diversity, equity & inclusion and Mr. May is chancellor of the University of California-Davis

The letter reveals the priorities of not only UC-Davis but also most universities.  The writers believe that “contributions to diversity” (whatever that means) are just as important as research and teaching.  In other words, ideology is just as important as the traditional missions of universities.

Thank goodness that farmers are not required to pursue nebulous social goals in addition to farming.  When Stalin demanded ideological purity of kulak farmers and imposed social goals on them, mass starvation was the result.

The letter writers think that prospective faculty should have the ability to “recognize and correct inequities.”  Translation:  They should recognize and correct societal unfairness and injustice.  Who knew that college professors have the miraculous ability to heal the sick, help the poor, and turn water into wine?

UC-Davis has a strange notion of correcting inequities.  A state school supported by state taxes, including taxes paid by poor families with no family members in college, it accepts 60% of foreign students who apply at the school but only 36% of California residents who apply to the school.  Money explains most of this disparity.  Foreign students are charged higher tuition than in-state residents At last count, 2,000 of the foreign students are from communist China.  No doubt, many of them can afford the high costs at UC-Davis, because they are the offspring of Chinese mercantilists who are loyal party members and benefit from rigged state enterprises.   One wonders if UC-Davis professors are expected to recognize and correct the inequities of communism, or if they are even allowed to mention the horrors of Maoism in front of these high-paying students.

At the same time, under the guise of fairness and social justice, there is a growing movement across academia to increase the college enrollment of people deemed disadvantaged by race, by doing away with SAT scores in college admissions, doing away with math tests and even grades in college courses, and pressuring faculty to give a pass to students who are unprepared for college.  Is this what is meant by recognizing and correcting inequities?

Kurt Vonnegut was prophetic in 1961, when he wrote “Harrison Bergeron,” the fictional story about constitutional amendments being passed to outlaw Americans from being above average and to establish an office of handicapper general to enforce the law.

In a similar vein, quantifiable measures of academic preparedness and performance are seen as unfair and unjust by today’s handicapper generals, for two reasons:

First, as the thinking goes, quantifiable standards unfairly punish students who grew up in broken families, lived in poor communities, attended inferior public schools, and are of a race that has suffered since the birth of the nation at the hands of privileged whites.

Whether or not this thinking has merit, it’s of course rather late to wait for college to correct such disadvantages.  After all, public K-12 schools and scores of state and federal agencies supposedly exist for the purpose of helping the disadvantaged overcome their disadvantages.  If these institutions, along with families and local communities, have failed children for the first 17 years of their life, it is wishful thinking to believe that a vice chancellor of diversity, equity and inclusion can succeed where they have failed.

Second, math is seen as a white male system, or construct, designed to maintain white male privilege.

Left unanswered is what should replace math as the language of engineering, physics, and other disciplines.  Also left unanswered is why certain Asian ethnic groups excel in math.

I have written thoughtful commentaries—or what I’ve maybe deluded myself into thinking are thoughtful—on other corruptions of the diversity and social justice movements.  The most recent was “Nightmares about Social Justice Phonies,” which has been re-published by others and is available upon request.

My focus in the rest of this commentary will be narrower.  It will be on the meaning of the word “diversity,” not the dictionary definition but the meaning of the word as used by the diversity industry.

As used by the industry, “diversity” means the opposite of diversity.  It means reducing the thousands of unique ethnicities into several racial categories established by the government a half-century ago, such as white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific-Islander and Native American.

These categories were established in spite of a lack of agreement on what constitutes a race, other than skin color and a few other physical characteristics; but even then, the distinctions are not clear-cut, as many people in a given official government category are multiracial and don’t have similar physical characteristics, especially in the Hispanic category.

Of course, there are not inherent, or genetic, differences in intelligence, drive, determination, or morals between the races, although some racists of all races think otherwise.  But there are marked differences in values, beliefs, customs and social norms between ethnic groups, nationalities and economic classes—cultural differences that transcend race.

It’s also true that some cultural norms are counterproductive and responsible for subpar economic and educational outcomes.  Accordingly, the first step in changing the outcomes for the better is to acknowledge the norms.

Acknowledgement of counterproductive cultural norms is dangerous, however, because of the diversity movement’s obsession with race and the forced-fitting of thousands of different ethnicities into the handful of racial categories.  When the world’s diversity is reduced to several racial categories, and when society is seen through these racial lenses, a suggestion that a social problem might have cultural roots becomes proof of racism, because many people have been led to believe that culture and race are synonymous.

It is seen as racist in some quarters, for example, to hypothesize that a cultural norm of fatherless families among certain groups is a principal cause of poverty, crime and school dropouts, even if the hypothesis goes on to explain that the cultural norm is the result of socioeconomic factors and misguided welfare programs, not the result of a genetic predisposition for promiscuity.  And if the hypothesis is made by a middle-class white person, the charge of racism comes with an accusation that the person is blinded by bourgeois values.

Due to this obsession with race, diversity has become an exercise in reductio ad absurdum.

The reduction is not only absurd but also insensitive and insulting.

For example, it is insensitive and insulting to tell Koreans that they are the same race as Japanese—that there is no difference between their respective histories, ancestries, customs, values, and beliefs, because they are classified as Asians.  It is equally insensitive and insulting to tell Chinese, Malaysians, Vietnamese, Laotians, East Indians, Filipinos and other unique peoples from Asia and the sub-continent that they are nothing more than a non-descript, homogenous clump of Asians, because the arrogant U.S. government has deemed it so, and because insensitive deans of diversity and inclusion have perpetuated the insulting absurdity.

The reductio ad absurdum leads to other absurdities, including one endorsed by the U.S. Supreme Court—namely, the notion that learning is enhanced in college if there are students from the official government categories in the classroom.  Correction:  if there are non-white students in the classroom.

The underlying premise is that someone from a category can speak for everyone else in the category.  Someone in the Asian category, for example, can speak for all of the other peoples in the Asian category, because all Asians are the same.  Accordingly, a Chinese student can speak for the feelings and experiences of Indonesians, and vice versa.

Likewise, a blue-blooded Bostonian like Elizabeth Warren can speak for the feelings and experiences of this olive-skinned grandson of poor Italian immigrants who settled in the Midwest.  After all, the government and diversity deans have deemed that everyone in the white category is the same, although, in fact, there are over 100 different ethnicities in the category, as well as all social classes, all education levels, all income levels, and all ideologies.

There is less variation, or diversity, among the population of China.  That’s because the ethnic Han make up 90% of the Chinese population and thus have all of the political power, privileges and group-think that accrue to such a large majority.   This percentage no doubt holds for the Chinese nationals at USC-Davis.  If true, that leaves the Han majority to speak in college classrooms for the ethnic minorities in China, including the Achang, Bai, Bonan, Bouyei, Blang, Dai, Daur, Deang, Dong, Dongxiang, Dulong, Ewenki, Gaoshan, Gelao, Hani, Hezhe, Hui, Jing, Jingpo, Jinuo, Kazak, Kirgiz, Korean, Lahu, Li, Lisu, Luoba, Manchu, Maonan, Menba, Miao, Mongolian, Mulao, Naxi, Nu, Oroqen, Ozbek, Pumi, Qiang, Russian, Salar, She, Shui, Tajik, Tatar, Tibetan, Tu, Tujia, Uigur, Wa, Xibe, Yao, Yi, Yugur, and Zhuang.

Or maybe the vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion makes sure that each of these ethnic minorities is represented in the student body of UC-Davis, so that students can learn about China without relying on the perspective of the Han majority.  And maybe she does the same for the thousands of other ethnic groups across the globe, making sure that each one is represented in the student body; or alternatively, that at least each one’s unique history, culture and viewpoints are covered in the classroom, including in math class.

On the other hand, it’s probably impractical for even a high-paid diversity official and her staff to cover all groups equally.  As such, it’s highly probable that the vice chancellor picks and chooses which ethnicities to admit to the university and to cover in classes.  If so, what are her criteria for including some and excluding others?  Does her political ideology come into play, does she have a hidden agenda, and who provides oversight to make sure that she isn’t biased?

Admittedly, I did learn something about race and ethnicity when I lived in the barrio and attended a university with a large percentage of Latinos, primarily Mexican Americans and Mexican nationals, many of whom were close friends and fellow ROTC cadets—highly gung-ho ones at that.  We spent most of our time talking about women, sports, cars, the draft, where we could buy beer, and what Army branch we hoped to get into after graduation to fulfill our active duty obligation.

We didn’t have highbrow conversations about our respective Gringo and Latino views of race, poverty, social justice, the Alamo, Sam Houston, the War with Mexico, or the Gadsden Treaty.  Maybe such highbrow discussions take place in the Ivy League, where all of the Supreme Court justices went to college, but they didn’t take place in my alma mater.  My understanding of those topics came after college, from years of reading history, including, most recently, “El Norte,” the scholarly book on the history of Hispanics in the Americas, going back to the Spanish Empire, which brought slaves to America decades before the British Empire did.

So what did I learn in college from my Hispanic classmates?  I learned that Hispanics come in different shades, come from different social classes, are predominately Catholic, and are family oriented—just like Italians.

One friend who took me to visit his family in Monterrey, Mexico, had skin whiter than mine, an aristocratic Spanish father who was a wealthy industrialist, and a boyhood home that was way beyond the reach of my working-class parents.  Another friend had brown skin, was the grandson of immigrants, had a boyhood home in the barrio of Laredo, Texas, and drove a souped-up 1956 Chevy, which he and I drove 900 miles to visit my family in St. Louis, where, given his working-class roots, he fit in nicely.  Other Latino friends and classmates were at both ends of this spectrum or somewhere in between.  Not one of them was representative of all Hispanics.

It was a similar learning when I worked as a teenager as the only white on an otherwise all-black janitorial, maintenance and kitchen crew at an exclusive country club in St. Louis.   Not one of my black coworkers was representative of all blacks.

On my first day on the job, my boss Jewell told me to clean the employee restroom in the basement, a restroom that hadn’t been cleaned in years.  Understanding even at my young age what this was really about, I cheerfully set out to make the place gleaming.  As I was finishing the job, the dishwasher, who was a former prize fighter with a long scar on his face and a nervous twitch, came into the restroom drunk, proceeded to pee on the floor, and said, “Clean this up, whitey.”  Another coworker, a lean but muscular twenty-something black, walked by at that moment, and quick as a cheetah, sprang on the dishwasher, shoved him against the wall, and said, ‘You clean it, you black motherf****r.”  Not wanting to make an enemy out of a punch-drunk dishwasher, I thanked the younger guy and said I’d clean it.

Near the top of the staff hierarchy were the dining room waiters, all of whom were former waiters on Pullman dining cars.  Their dress, grooming and manners were impeccable.

At the top of the hierarchy was clubhouse manager Bill Williams, the classiest, best-dressed, most well-spoken man I’d ever met.  He even wore French cuffs and cufflinks.  I would wash and wax his big blue Pontiac Bonneville for extra money.

The foregoing experiences taught me a lesson that has been reinforced throughout my life:  that all races and ethnicities have good people and bad people, open-minded people and close-minded people, and racist people and non-racist people.  They also have both victims and victimizers in their ranks and in their history.  And they have both productive and unproductive cultural mores.

That’s why I believe that it’s an intellectual fraud to reduce the great diversity of the nation and world to several racial categories and then to treat each category as homogenous.

That’s not a profound observation, but it’s apparently over the heads of the chancellor and vice chancellor of UC-Davis.

Plutocrats Laughing at the Plebes

Plutocrats Laughing at the Plebes

What do bigshot bankers at Goldman Sachs have in common with such celebrities as Leonardo DiCaprio, Paris Hilton, Jamie Foxx, Swiss Beatz, Busta Rhymes, Kate Upton, and Kanye West?

They’re among America’s rich and famous, an elite group noted for hypocrisy, for contributing to the moral decay of American society, for causing the socialist backlash of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and for resembling the proverbial fish that rots at the head, or more accurately, that rots on the West Coast and East Coast.

The bankers and the celebrities also have Jho Low in common.

Who’s that?

Low is the Malaysian flimflam artist who, in cahoots with the crooked prime minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, pillaged and plundered billions from the Malaysia sovereign fund, 1MDB.

Actually, the loot was taken from the people of Malaysia, where the national income per person is only $10,000.

The book, “Billion Dollar Whale,” gives the sordid details of the theft and reveals the disgusting lifestyles of the bankers and celebrities and their close association with low-life Low.

Goldman Sachs is facing a $2 billion fine by the Justice Department for its role in the theft, and Low is a fugitive from justice.  A couple of second-tier Goldman bankers have been indicted, with one pleading guilty and the other pleading not guilty.

The CEO of Goldman at the time of the theft, Lloyd Blankfein, didn’t get what he would have deserved if we were living in a just society.  He’d be in prison cleaning latrines with a toothbrush.  And he’d be joined in latrine duty by all the other banking heads at the other banks in the USA, Switzerland and London that did business with Low, knowing there was something fishy about the guy but not conducting due diligence about where the strange, young, roly-poly Malaysian got his money.

Blankfein had 600 million reasons to not look too deeply.  You see, the bank made $600 million over twelve months in floating three bond issues for 1MDB, with Low as the middle-man.  That was 200 times Goldman’s typical fee and should have been not only a red flag that something was amiss but also a warning flare and an emergency claxon.  After all, in finance circles, only an idiot or a crook would spend 200 times more than necessary.  With a degree from the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, Low wasn’t an idiot.

Low spent huge amounts of the loot on making a name for himself so he could join the high society of Wall Street and Hollywood, which, measured by ethics, is actually low society.  Low hosted parties that cost tens of millions for his friends in low society.  The aforementioned celebrities were often the draw and were often paid hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece to attend.  Beautiful models, including Playboy models, also were paid to attend while wearing scanty outfits.

Attendees wondered how an unknown and weird guy like Low had suddenly appeared in their social circle and how he got his riches.  But with a wildly spinning moral compass, they associated with him anyway.

No doubt, some of the celebrities and bankers who mingled with models at Low’s parties have since made public pronouncements about their support of the #MeToo movement and against the objectifying of women.

For sure, DiCaprio has made public pronouncements about his concern over global warming, coming across as sincere, due to his acting skills.

This would be the same hypocrite who joined 40 other guests on a Boeing 747-400 chartered by Low to fly to Australia for a few days for a New Year’s celebration.  The plane was an opulent VIP version of the 747 that normally carries 600 passengers.  Imagine the size of DiCaprio’s carbon footprint for just that one trip.

DiCaprio left a lot of carbon footprints around the world, including when he and other celebrities flew to the French Riviera for parties held by Low on one of the most expensive yachts in the world, leased by Low for 3.5 million euros a week, paid, of course, with stolen money.

And in one of the biggest ironies of the decade, Low used more stolen money to form a movie production company so that he could finance the movie, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” starring DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese.  The movie is about a Wall Street con artist.

In advance of a wrap party for the movie, Low sent a bottle of Cristal Rose champagne costing $2,245 to Scorsese and his wife at their Upper East Side townhouse.

In another irony, DiCaprio starred in the movie, “Catch Me if You Can,” playing the real-life con artist Frank Abagnale, Jr.

You’d think that DiCaprio would’ve recognized that Low was a con artist.  Or maybe he did and thought of him as a kindred soul.

It is not known whether actor Robert De Niro’s brother saw that Low was a con artist.  A realtor specializing in luxury properties, the brother had brokered the sale of a $40 million Manhattan apartment to Low.  Buying real estate is a way that crooks launder money, because the real estate industry is exempt from banking laws that require the tracking of money.  That’s why dirty plutocrats and autocrats from around the world buy New York properties.

In still another irony, Robert De Niro played Bernie Madoff in “The Wizard of Lies,” the excellent movie about Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

Low also bought a mansion in Los Angeles without anyone looking into the source of his money.

California and New York seem to be magnets for scoundrels—and for hypocrites.

Elon Musk is an example of the latter.   To his credit, the entrepreneur is very wealthy from his big ideas and risk-taking, especially his founding of Tesla Motors, which leverages customers’ concerns about global warming and their belief that electric cars will cut carbon output significantly.  To his discredit, he owns six or seven homes in metro Los Angeles, with an estimated 80,000 square feet in total, all of which has to be cooled, heated, and lighted, along with the grounds being irrigated and the pools and water features using precious water.

Musk joins scores of wealthy business people, celebrities, bankers, and politicians, each of whom has a lifestyle with a carbon footprint that is equal to the footprints of a hundred middle-class plebes in the country; but whose politics of global warming and other issues stick it to the plebes.

Maybe the plebes will revolt someday—or at least stop admiring such two-faced celebrities as Leonardo DiCaprio.

Yes, I’m delusional.

Nightmares About Social Justice Phonies

Nightmares About Social Justice Phonies

A recent nightmare is still vivid in my mind:  I dreamt that I had just begun a new job as a public relations executive for a big corporation and had gotten a note from the CEO that he wanted me to work with local government and nonprofit organizations to address the local homeless problem.

Knowing that the company and the other entities really didn’t want to do what was necessary to solve the problem and were just going through feel-good motions, I wanted to get out of the assignment but faced a dilemma.

On the one hand, I knew that the quickest way out of the assignment was to go public with an honest assessment of the root causes of homelessness, thus causing a public uproar and demands for my removal.  On the other, such an easy escape from the assignment would be career-ending, because the CEO would conclude that I was too politically naïve to be an executive with the company.

I woke up in a cold sweat.

There was nothing Freudian about the nightmare.  It simply reflected the memories of my years as a corporate executive and then as a community activist—years of having to choose between politics and principles.

The nightmare was probably triggered by today’s rampant phoniness, and, specifically, by the widespread and incessant playacting, virtue-signaling, propagandizing, and feel-good advertising by America’s major institutions, including industry, media, academia, and even charities, especially on such hot-button issues of poverty, income inequality, race, gender, and climate change.

Of course, advertising in particular is a make-believe land, a land where everyone is hip, cool, sensitive, accomplished and openminded; where all races and genders are equally represented in all professions; and where there is no racial strife, no bloodshed between Crips and Bloods, no teenagers shooting each other over being disrespected, no violence in prisons between the races, and no religious sect that has a medieval view of women and gays.

In this utopia, bearded handsome men have feminine traits, and beautiful slim women have masculine traits.  Other than looks, men and women are completely interchangeable, because, as the conventional dogma goes, gender differences are a social construct, and a white patriarchal one at that.

The utopia is also where all sexual preferences, sexual orientations, and living arrangements are equally natural and good, except, strangely, polygamy, although polygamy has existed in many cultures for all of human history—and although there is de facto polygamy in poor neighborhoods (and some rich ones), where men often have children with multiple women.  But it would be an egregious faux pas to mention this in sophisticated, enlightened circles.

Woe to the company that doesn’t have the right mix of races and genders in a TV commercial or the correct social or lifestyle message, preferably a message with saccharine background music and a vocalist with twangy vocal cords singing out of key, making it seem that dealing with the XYZ company is akin to dealing with Mother Teresa.  The features and benefits of the product or service take a backseat to the social or lifestyle message.

Take Subaru commercials.  The commercials say nothing about the price, reliability, horsepower, or gas mileage of Subaru cars.  Instead, the commercials send the message that Subaru owners are kind, caring and lovers of the outdoors.  This from a Japanese company that made fighter planes in World War II, including planes flown by kamikaze pilots who dove into American warships to die for the emperor.

Such advertising caters to the naivete, idealism, utopianism, and astonishing ignorance of the millennial generation and the post-millennial generation, members of which want to buy products from, and work for, companies that portray themselves as hip, “woke,” socially-responsible, diverse, and inclusive.  The advertising reinforces the notion that symbolism and sensitivity alone will solve serious socioeconomic problems.  All you need to do to is to socialize or work with different races of your same social class, people with the same education and interests as you, to show how much you care about social justice for the underclass, whom you never encounter.

This type of sophomoric thinking was inculcated in college, where a liberal education (in the classical sense) has given way to illiberal ideological indoctrination and political agendas.  These are the same institutions of higher learning where faculty and administrators preach egalitarianism, inclusivity and social justice while engaging in pettiness, backstabbing, and cutthroat competition for tenure and for private and public research dollars and consulting gigs.

The same unprincipled and greedy staffers let universities become bloated, bureaucratic and hidebound; then, to cover the skyrocketing costs, they joined the government in the college loan scam, which hurt poor minorities the most, because a disproportionate number of them dropped out without a degree but with considerable indebtedness.

More difficult to quantify is the harm caused by college graduates who believe that they are educated—that taking a few courses on a subject has made them an expert in the subject.  They certainly don’t act with the humility and wisdom of knowing how little they know and how much there is to learn, which is the mark of the truly educated.

This is especially true with social justice warriors, or fanatics, as seen in their hatred of America and capitalism, their illiberal affection for socialism and central control, their fetish for perfect fairness and equal outcomes, their desire to do away with SAT scores and other quantifiable criteria in college admissions, their campus safe zones and kangaroo courts, their ugly stereotypes of white people, their glorious stereotypes of non-whites, their religious fervor about diversity and inclusion, their willingness to subvert free speech in the interest of political correctness, and their glee in destroying those who dare to disagree with them.

They are not only sophomoric and mean-spirited but also supercilious.  Wanting to remake the world in their image, using government force if necessary, they look down on those who prefer pluralism and a diversity of viewpoints, calling them racist, sexist, homophobic, privileged, closeminded, Republican, conservative, religious, born-again, nationalistic, or some other voguish pejorative.  They’re like an old-fashioned talking doll, which, when a cord is pulled, repeats prerecorded words at random.

The fanatics are particularly dogmatic and sophomoric about race.

They see themselves as profound, but it is not profound to realize that African Americans got a raw deal before and after the nation’s founding and are still suffering from the aftereffects of slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, and other travesties, including such aftereffects as poverty, bad K-12 schools, crime-ridden neighborhoods, high incarceration rates, and below-average test scores.  Nor is it profound to realize that as a result, blacks might see the world differently than a Brahmin whose family goes back to the Mayflower.

Likewise, it is not profound to state that some people have more than one disadvantage to overcome, whether race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, looks, or whatever makes one a minority in a given time and place.  Using the fancy word “intersectionality” does not turn a banality into a profundity.

It is apparent from their canards, sophistries, clichés and platitudes about race that many social justice fanatics have studied only the first three chapters of the first volume of a twelve-volume set on the racial history of America and the world.  Even at my advanced age, even with a lifetime of study, and even with having been at the leading edge of the equal opportunity and diversity movements, I’ve only made it through volume six.  That makes me either half-learned or half-ignorant, but I’m too biased about myself to be objective about that.

By Volume Six, one is struck by the universality of human good and evil across all races and ethnic groups.  Virtually all of today’s victim groups were, at another place and time in history, a group of victimizers.  For example, of the Native-American tribes that had suffered brutalities and even genocide at the hands of the white man, many had inflicted unspeakable atrocities and butchery on their tribal enemies long before the white man arrived on the continent.  If the Comanche had been the first to build sailing ships, to invent cannons and muskets, to form standing armies, and to establish a strong central government with coinage and an administrative state, does any sane person really believe that the tables wouldn’t have been turned?

This doesn’t justify what was done to Native Americans by the white man or downplay the horrible living conditions today on many Indian reservations; nor is it an excuse for not doing something to rectify the situation.  But it does suggest that evil is universal and not just a white trait.

That is not a profound observation and shouldn’t be controversial, but try saying it on a college campus or Google’s campus.   You’ll be called to the office of the director of diversity and inclusion, who, to justify her $250,000 salary for the next 20 years until retirement, has to keep uncovering the slightest deviations from Newspeak.

It is okay, however, to praise the 1619 project on campus.  The project has the simplistic premise that when slaves were brought North America that year (after being captured and sold by Africans), everything that followed, including the founding of the United States, gave an unfair advantage and inherited privilege to white people, including whites who were indentured servants, poor whites who immigrated to the United State 275 years later to die in coal mines and factories, and working-class whites of today, who are mired in poverty, addicted to drugs, and dying prematurely from a decline in life expectancy.

Curiously, the project is silent about the fact that the Spanish Empire, a k a Hispanics, had introduced slavery to the so-called New World the century before.  Using the logic of the project, then, descendants of those Hispanics have an unfair advantage and inherited privilege.  But that can’t be, because Hispanics are considered a disadvantaged minority group, and much of Central and South America is impoverished.

Therein lies an opportunity for millennials and post-millennials to be profound and learned instead of sophomoric.   They could study why some cultures, forms of government and economic systems are better at reducing poverty and rectifying past injustices than others, while recognizing that there is no perfect government or system, because humans aren’t perfect.

And while they’re at it, they could study the progress that African Americans had made in the first half of the twentieth century and why the progress stalled later in the century.  They could determine if Daniel Patrick Moynihan was prescient in his warning that the welfare state would fracture black families and lead to social pathologies.  They could test my hypothesis that much of what passes for racism today is actually prejudicial feelings about the lower social classes of all races—driven by an uncomfortableness with the self-defeating behaviors, values, mores, and dress of the underclass.  And they could stop playacting about social justice and actually work at improving the lives of the lower classes, by first acknowledging such root problems as fatherless families.

If they did the foregoing, my nightmares might stop.

 

Fake Ads, Fake TV, Fake News

Fake Ads, Fake TV, Fake News

Vance Packard published his Hidden Persuaders in 1957.  I read the book a couple of decades later and now like to think—or lie to myself—that, as a result, I became less susceptible to advertising, especially to so-called lifestyle advertising or status-symbol advertising.

This type of advertising attempts to convey that a featured product can make someone attractive, sexy, cool, hip, sophisticated, smart, or the envy of others, all of which would be an impossible feat in my case.

The Marlboro cowboy is a textbook example.  The message to smokers is that if they smoke Marlboros, they are as rugged and virile as the Marlboro Man, even if they look like me.

Packard’s book described the subliminal methods employed by advertisers to get consumers to buy their products.  The methods were based on the latest sociological and psychological research of the day, much of which had been conducted by the military.  Imagine that:  The advertising industry used brainwashing techniques developed by the government.

Unsurprisingly, the book was panned in some quarters, and Packard was accused of being anti-capitalist.

That’s a strange accusation, given that capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production.  Capitalism is not the private ownership of the means of brainwashing.  It was the brainwashing that bothered Packard, not the means of production.

Libertarians who subscribe to caveat emptor say that those who go into hock to buy stuff that they neither need nor can afford have only themselves to blame for falling for misleading advertising.  Other free-marketers say that advertising is a form of free speech that serves the beneficial purpose of making consumers aware of good products and good companies.  Valid points.

The counterargument is that mass consumerism and indebtedness spurred by advertising have a downside for those who don’t engage in either.  The downside is that people who end up in financial trouble in a democracy will use the political system to shift their financial problems to society at large, and especially, to the frugal.  This was the case with the last housing crash and is the case today with student debt.

This is not to advocate that the government somehow regulate advertising, but it is to suggest that if the government were to live within its means and were to stop bailing out people and socializing the cost of their mistakes, then maybe consumers would be less influenced by advertising to buy stuff they can’t afford.

Whatever one’s philosophy on the matter, the fact is that the hidden persuaders that Packard warned about have become even more persuasive and pervasive.  At the same time, coincidence or not, personal and national debt have skyrocketed.

Take TV.  In 1957, there were maybe eight commercials per hour.  Today, there are over 40, including the advertising that scrolls across the bottom of the screen during a show.

Then there is the barrage of targeted advertising from the advertising juggernauts of Google and Facebook, as well as the targeted advertising from Amazon and other retailers after a customer buys a product from them.  BAM! BAM! BAM!  The advertising is incessant.  It’s like naval guns softening a beachhead, but with heads being softened instead of enemy installations.

It’s not just the quantity of ads that is so startling; it’s also the content of the ads.  Much of the content is stupid, silly, and simpleminded.

The same with TV shows and news.

What’s surprising about this is that the percent of Americans with a college degree has quadrupled since 1957.  Yet discernment, judgment and taste have gone in the opposite direction.

Particularly obnoxious are the commercials that engage in brainwashing based on brainwashing.  It is brainwashing to the second power.  Knowing that the millennial generation has been brainwashed in K-12 schools and colleges about the environment, diversity, social justice, egalitarianism, and communitarianism, astute advertisers have geared their own brainwashing, er, advertising, to these themes.

A case in point is a commercial for a Subaru Forester (or is it for a Subaru Outback?).  It shows several twenty-somethings dressed in what looks like L.L. Bean or REI gear who stop in their Subaru to ask an elderly man sitting on a porch for directions to some natural attraction.  He stands up, grabs a white cane, and says “I’ll take you there.”  The commercial ends with all of them standing on a precipice enjoying the scenery, including the blind man.  The unsubtle message is that Subaru drivers are not only outdoorsy types but are sensitive, kind and openminded.

There is nothing in the ad about horsepower, suspension, acceleration, stopping distance, clearance, or safety features.  Quantifiable comparisons are irrelevant in lifestyle ads.

Despite the hip and woodsy advertising image, Subarus are not produced from fairy dust on the top of El Capitan in Yosemite.

The reality is that the Forester is manufactured in Japan, where, during the Second World War, Subaru was known as the Nakajima Aircraft Company, a maker of airplanes for the Imperial army.  Like all cars, it is made from steel, aluminum, plastic, rubber, and rare-earth materials, many of which are mined, refined and produced in environmentally-sensitive parts of the world.  Then the finished cars are shipped to the USA on cargo ships that are powered by fossil fuels, not by sails and wind power.

Starbucks has something in common with Subaru.  It also panders to the gullibility of the brainwashed generations.  Case in point:  It recently announced that it was no longer going to carry plastic straws, because they are harmful to the environment.  The company proudly distributed a press release with a photo of a new lid for its cups that no longer had a hole for a straw.  It failed to mention that the lid is made of plastic and no doubt contains a lot more plastic than a straw.

Some Starbucks stores have a queue of ten or more drivers waiting at the drive-up window in the morning with engines running to get a beverage with a plastic lid.  Think of how much better it would be for the environment if everyone made coffee at home and drank it out of a washable cup.  Is it too big of a sacrifice to give up a coffee-flavored milkshake in order to save the environment?  Yes, it is.  You see, as advertisers and PR agencies know, symbolic green gestures increase sales while real sacrifices decrease sales.

Even more ridiculous are the so-called reality shows on TV, especially the ones on HGTV, and especially the show, “Flip or Flop.”

The show is about a couple that buys dilapidated homes in southern California, remodels them, and resells them.  The female half of the couple, Christina, is a bleached blond with pancake makeup and false eyelashes that are longer than a camel’s eyelashes.  She speaks like a stereotypical Valley girl.

The flippers have a learning disability, as they keep making the same mistakes.  They buy homes without a thorough pre-inspection of the roof, plumbing, electrical and HVAC, only to later find out that these items need to be replaced.  Of course, it’s all fake.  The surprise discoveries are staged and done for dramatic effect.

But that’s not the worst of it.  The worst of it are scenes of Christina pretending to paint or lay tile.  Dressed like she’s going to a night club, and wearing multiple blingy bracelets on her wrists, she uses a three-inch trim roller without an extension pole to supposedly paint a large expanse of wall, somehow without getting one drop of paint on herself.  Similarly, she’s shown laying tile in a bathroom shower, without getting a speck of grout on her long fake fingernails. Even if I hadn’t been a union painter in my youth, and even if my dad hadn’t been a tile setter, I would still find such scenes to be completely ludicrous, as they are so counter to the real world of real work.

The “Property Brothers” is equally ludicrous, but at least the two starring brothers have magnetic personalities and seem intelligent.  One brother is a realtor, and the other, a remodeler.  The remodeler wears clean “skinny” jeans and a clean fitted shirt with no stains, as well as a tool belt that looks like it was just bought at Home Depot.  He couldn’t look less like a working stiff in the construction trades.  It’s obvious that both of them just make cameo appearances on the show, as there is no way that they could handle so many jobs in a season or have contractor and realtor licenses in so many states.

HGTV is known to have a social agenda, which includes having gay and multiracial spouses on its shows in numbers that are way of proportion to the actual percentages of such couples in the population at large.  But its social agenda apparently doesn’t include showing the truth about home remodeling.  With questionable ethics, it misleads viewers into believing that if they remodel their homes and then sell them, they will recoup more than 100% of the cost of the remodeling.   The fact is, only 50-75% of the cost is typically recouped.

Unreal reality shows also abound on other networks.  For example, the Discovery network has “Alaska, the Last Frontier.” It’s about a likable Alaskan family that supposedly has to hunt and grow enough food and cut enough firewood in the warm months to survive the long winter.  It has scenes of family members taking a seaplane or power boat hundreds of miles to bag a deer.  That would be one hell of an expensive deer.

Actually, the family isn’t struggling to get by.  It owns scores of ATVs, snow machines, and heavy equipment, including a bulldozer, a backhoe, and a large tugboat.  Moreover, the family homestead is close to a highway and civilization, which are kept out of camera view.  Civilization is close enough that the family patriarch used to own a machine shop in town.  They could drive to the Safeway in town for vittles, but there would be no drama in that.

A true-to-life reality series about Alaska would show that the state ranks near the top nationally in welfare dependency, crime, and drug abuse.  But why deal with reality on reality TV?

In fairness, “The First 48” on A&E does deal with reality.  It shows the reality of the kind of people and races that commit most of the homicides in America.  The series doesn’t sanitize anything as it follows homicide detectives as they try to solve murders.  The only propaganda is when detectives lament the long hours they work and how they are awakened in the middle of the night to go to a murder scene.  Left unmentioned is that there is a provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act that mandates overtime pay for police, even if they are in management positions.  As with firefighters and other police, detectives get overtime pay and can retire at a young age with rich pension and benefits.  As such, most of them love to work extra hours. Municipalities are going bankrupt as a result.  How about a reality show about that?

Then there is sports coverage on TV, which is 90% talk, gossip, analysis, hype, commercials, and soap opera for men; and only 10% of which is actual playing time, and much of that occurs in taxpayer-financed stadiums.  It’s more exciting to watch Christina lay tile than to watch commentators drone on about everything but the game.

Let’s now turn to news.  Let’s turn it off.

Long before Donald Trump became a household name, I remember sitting at airport gates with CNN blaring on overhead TVs.  While other travelers were seemingly transfixed by the news, I was sighing, fidgeting, and mumbling about the baloney emanating from the TVs.  If I were traveling with my saintly spouse, she would tell me to shut up or she would turn me into a eunuch.  After five minutes of enduring the baloney, I’d have to get up and try to find a spot in the terminal that CNN didn’t penetrate and my manhood would be safe from my wife.

It’s not just CNN, unfortunately.  All news networks are shallow, supercilious, stilted, specious, and silly in their coverage.  They’re even worse when they cover race, politics and economics.  They can’t even be trusted to cover the weather accurately, as evidenced by their coverage of storms, where the hyperventilating of reporters on the scene about catastrophic conditions doesn’t match the benign images on the screen.

What accounts for the preponderance of fake ads, fake TV, and fake news?  Maybe high schools and colleges are not teaching students to think independently; or maybe there isn’t much time anymore for people to concentrate and reflect, due to being plugged in constantly to smartphones and other electronic media; or maybe, as some neuroscientists claim, the parts of the brain that enable concentration and cognition are shrinking because of dependency on gadgetry.

Anyway, in closing, I hope that you liked this commentary.  If not, you have only yourself to blame, for I warned you at the start that I’m not attractive, sexy, cool, hip, sophisticated, smart, or the envy of others.

Caveat emptor. 

Is Trump Normal or Abnormal?

Is Trump Normal or Abnormal?

Democrats, establishment Republicans, the media, and the intelligentsia think that Trump is a crude-and-rude nut-job who doesn’t have what it takes to be president or even a Chicago alderman.
Libertarians think that Trump is similar to most politicians:  egotistical, amoral, and a control freak addicted to power and adulation.  He just doesn’t mask his pathologies as experienced politicians do.
Based on hundreds of biographies of politicians and other powerful people, as well as on my own experience, libertarians are right.
I’ve had the misfortune of knowing a lot of powerful people in politics, government, business and the media.  In almost all cases, they were people whose public persona had little relationship to their true nature.
One of the few exceptions was Bill Bradley.  The former professional basketball player and Rhodes scholar somehow maintained his integrity and class as a U.S. senator from corrupt New Jersey.  I still have a yellowed Sunday front page from the state’s highest-circulation daily, The Star Ledger, showing a photo of Bradley standing with me decades ago on Capitol Hill, where he and ten other members of the New Jersey congressional delegation had testified with me before a congressional transportation committee.
I had earlier met with the chairman of the committee in his office at the House of Representative’s Rayburn building.  The congressman from Minnesota was noticeably inebriated and almost incoherent.  He oozed of not only alcohol but also of sleaze.
New Jersey’s other senator, Frank Lautenberg, didn’t reek of alcohol but did reek of the sleaze of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.  Before running for the senate, Lautenberg had been one of the Authority’s governors, a position that he had “bought” with his wealth from founding the payroll processing company, ADP.  The Port Authority was as dirty politically as its airports and mid-town bus terminal were dirty from poor maintenance.  It’s probably the same today.  After all, New York is a classy, sophisticated city of highbrow citizens who have high standards.  Ha-ha-ha!
At about the same time, I was an executive for a company on the East Coast that was owned by one of the richest men in the world.  Contrary to his glowing public image, the guy was a serial abuser of his subordinates, who in turn were quivering sycophants.  To wit:  Early on with the company, I attended a dinner with fellow executives in a private dining room of an expensive French restaurant.  After dinner, the owner walked to a lectern to make some remarks.  As soon as he began speaking, his longtime right-hand man, who was sitting next to me, curled up in a fetal position and began sucking his thumb.  Then, when the owner finished his remarks, Mr. Right-Hand removed his thumb from his mouth, sat upright, and clapped enthusiastically.  I knew then and there that I could never be a thumb-sucker, no matter how much I was paid, and would resign before it came to that.
After moving back to unsophisticated Arizona from the sophisticated East Coast, I began working on an expose of John McCain with a co-author.  This was when McCain had first considered running for the presidency.  We sent sample chapters and a book proposal to Regnery publishing in D.C., outlining how McCain’s honorable behavior as a prisoner of war was the opposite of his shady behavior in running for office and in his early years of holding office.  It was as if Jimmy Stewart in the classic movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” had turned out to be a scoundrel.
In any event, Regnery was interested enough to ask that we fly to Washington to meet with them, which we did.  After that, everything was proceeding nicely to a contract, until McCain announced he had skin cancer, which gave Regnery cold feet because it would probably mean that McCain wouldn’t pursue the presidency—which in turn would have negatively affected the salability of the book.
Biographies and history books have exponentially more examples of politicians who behaved as badly as Trump does today but kept their bad behavior hidden from the public.    Lyndon Baines Johnson immediately comes to mind.
In private, LBJ was an uncouth, foulmouthed bully.  The Kennedy administration saw him as a buffoon, just as the political establishment today sees Trump as a buffoon.  Ironically, LBJ was particularly disliked by Bobby Kennedy, who, contrary to the whitewashed image of the Kennedys, was also a foulmouthed bully.  Moreover, Bobby was his brother’s attorney general, in one of the most blatant conflict of interests in the history of the republic.  Imagine the media’s hysteria if Trump’s attorney general were a sibling.
In turn, sibling Ted Kennedy was a drunk and womanizer.  He and his fellow drinker and womanizer in the senate, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, would make a ham sandwich out of young women they picked up.  They’d be the slices of bread and a woman would be the ham in the middle, a nauseating image if there ever was one.  The monstrous legislation known as Dodd-Frank was named after Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, the Massachusetts congressman who had his own libido problems.  For example, it came out that Frank had bedded a young male page.
As shown by their elected representatives, New Englanders are just as classy and sophisticated as New Yorkers.
To his credit, the other brother, President Kennedy, understood that the Vietnamese had legitimate gripes against the West, particularly French colonialism.  To his discredit, he went against his better judgment for political reasons and sent military advisors to Vietnam, thus taking a side in what would become a full-scale civil war and setting the stage for LBJ to step into it big time, resulting in the deaths of 50,000 Americans and a fracture in American society that has never healed.  Any harm inflicted on the body politic by Trump pales in comparison.
Then there was JFK’s poorly planned and executed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.  So far, Trump’s disorganization and bravado have not resulted in anything as disastrous.  Nor have they resulted in anything comparable to the strategic disaster of George W. Bush’s Iraq war.  Yet Trump is vilified for his foreign policy.
As I type this, reporters and political commentators have descended into histrionics over Trump meeting with Putin in Helsinki and letting the Russian strongman get by with hacking the Democrat National Committee and making territorial claims in the Ukraine.   Granted, Trump’s statements at the subsequent press conference were inchoate and embarrassing.
On the other hand, has the press forgotten Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s meeting with mass murderer Stalin at Yalta in the Crimea during the waning days of the Second World War?  That would be the meeting where FDR, in failing health, gave “likeable” Uncle Joe what he wanted—namely, all of Eastern Europe, including, in an irony of ironies, Poland, which is where the great conflict started when the country was invaded by Hitler and Great Britain declared war.  Poland was saved from one brutal dictator, only to be handed over to another brutal dictator.
Of course, the media gave FDR one pass after another.  They looked the other way, for example, when FDR had an expensive train tunnel built from Grand Central Station to a New York hotel where he stayed while in the city, so he could get to the hotel in private and not be seen in his wheelchair.  No doubt, he made the trip with his private secretary, who did double-duty as his mistress.   Today’s media would have more froth on the mouth than a Starbucks customer if Trump were to have a tunnel built to Trump Tower.
Oh, and how about FDR’s hatching of harebrained economic ideas, which resulted in the government micromanaging the economy and protracting the Great Depression?  Or how about his embargo of Japan and tariffs on Japanese goods, which led to Pearl Harbor?  Trump’s foolish tariffs look benign by comparison.
Elvis Presley could’ve been singing about another politician when he sang, “You Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog.”   You got it:  that would be serial sexual assaulter Bill Clinton.  Despite attending Georgetown and Oxford, he was nothing but a hound dog.  He found a soulmate in unethical behavior with Hillary, who aided and abetted the windfall they mysteriously made in cattle futures while in Arkansas, the dirty political kickbacks from the Whitewater development, and the convenient loss of records when government investigators began snooping around, just as decades later, Hillary’s emails and server would go missing.
Dishonorable mention also goes to Nixon and his paranoia, Carter and his evangelical moral lecturing, Reagan’s preaching about family values while seemingly not valuing his own family, Truman’s “everyman” schtick that was contradicted by being in bed early in his career with the Prendergast political machine, Wilson’s prosecution of his critics for sedition, and Teddy Roosevelt’s Trump-like populism and nationalism.
Calvin Coolidge was one of the few presidents of the twentieth century whose public persona was little different from his true nature.  He lived frugally and ethically and expected the government to do the same.  As such, he is not seen as a great president by opinion makers.
Judging by their ranking of presidents, opinion makers seem to believe that the best presidents throughout history have been those who pretended to be someone they weren’t, in order to hide their character flaws, their lust for power, and their poor management skills.  In other words, they exceled at playing the political game and snookering the media and public.
Trump is a normal politician in terms of being a flawed person, a control freak, and a lousy manager.   But he’s abnormal in not having finely honed political skills.  The nation’s sophisticates could forgive him for the former if it were not for the latter.
Libertarians wish that every politician were like Trump.   That way, their thinking goes, voters would see the true character of politicians and thus be reluctant to give them much political power.
This thinking shows that libertarians have mental problems of their own.  In that regard, I’m Exhibit No. 1.

Is Trump Normal or Abnormal?

Diversity Agonies

The racial diversity movement began with R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., with his 1990 Harvard Business Review article, “From Affirmative Action to Affirming Diversity.” His thesis was that with the growth of racial minorities in the nation, it would behoove companies to have more diversity in their ranks if they wanted to understand their customers, in order to make more money.
Since then, it has become agonizing to follow the downward spiral of the movement as it has descended into ridiculous thinking and social engineering.  The diversity mantra is “inclusion,” but the reality is exclusion.
Particularly ridiculous is the popular trope that racial diversity is indispensable for a good college education, a trope that even the U.S. Supreme Court believes, or pretends to believe.  Even more ridiculous are the conventional racial categories of white, Asian, Hispanic, black, Native American, and Pacific Islander—especially the first three.
What makes me qualified to say this?  Well, I predated Roosevelt Thomas on the idea of diversity.  (Skip the next three paragraphs if you have no interest in my background.)
Paragraph One:  Years before Thomas’ article, I led corporate efforts at providing equal opportunity to minorities, especially blacks, by removing longstanding barriers to employment and advancement.  My efforts included going on a retreat with black thinkers to have no-holds-barred discussions about our respective racial perceptions and to share ideas about applying the learning to the workplace.  This was nothing like the silliness of Starbucks’ recent corporate-wide training, which was the result of the company being extorted by the grievance industry.
Paragraph Two:  Decades before that, I was an officer in the well-integrated U.S. Army.  And before that, I attended a university where about a third of the student population was comprised of Mexican Americans and Mexican nationals, several of whom were close friends, and none of whom used the label “Hispanic.” As much as I liked them, I’m at a loss to explain how their presence in the classroom helped me to learn accounting, finance, economics, and statistics.
Paragraph Three:  Prior to the foregoing, as a fifteen- and sixteen-year-old, I was the only “white” on an otherwise all-black janitorial and kitchen staff at an exclusive St. Louis country club, where Catholics, Italians and Jews were not welcome as members.  For extra money after work, I’d wash and wax the big Buicks and Pontiacs of the black waiters, who were at the top of the staff pecking order, because they interfaced directly with club members, got lucrative tips, and were considered the epitome of the profession because they used to work on cross-country passenger trains as Pullman waiters. This was before black families were dismembered by the welfare state and war on drugs, courtesy of our benevolent government, which was egged on by goo-goos on the left and law-and-order types on the right.
Anyway, let’s return to the ridiculousness of today’s diversity movement.  A good place to start is with the conventional racial categories.
It is the antithesis of diversity to lump together the hundreds of diverse races, ethnicities, nationalities, and cultures in the nation and world into just several categories.  It obscures unique differences and produces a meaningless agglomeration.
Take the “Asian” category, or clump.
First, what are the precise boundaries of Asia?  Where does Asia end and the Middle East begin?  What side of the arbitrary line does Iran fall?  Is Mongolia part of Asia or Russia?  Why is the subcontinent considered to be Asian for diversity purposes instead of having its own category?  And why isn’t Siberian Russia considered to be Asian for diversity purposes?
Maybe facial features, not geographic roots, are the primary determinants of whether someone is Asian or not for the purpose of diversity scorekeeping and admission quotas in colleges.  Maybe to be categorized as an Asian, one has to have hooded eyes, high foreheads, and straight black hair.  Well, if so, what could go wrong with classifying people by appearance?  Oh, wait, that was done by the self-described Aryans who took over Germany in 1933.
In any event, if you want to offend Koreans, tell them that they are the same as the Japanese.  Or tell Hindu East Indians that they are the same as Muslim Pakistanis.  Or tell Tibetans that they are the same as Indians or the Chinese.  Or tell Filipinos that they are the same as Malays.  And so on.
Because the racial categories can be offensive, maybe they should come with trigger warnings.
Anyway, here are some questions for the Supreme Court:  Which of the scores of unique groups under the “Asian” label should be represented on college campuses to enhance learning?  If, in the spirit of inclusion, the answer is all of them, the numbers will be quite large.  For instance, there are 55 ethnic groups alone in China.  But these constitute but a small fraction of the more than 10,000 unique ethnic groups around the world.
On a related note, should there be more Tibetans in nursing schools and fewer Filipinos?  Should there be more Muslim Pakistanis in engineering and science schools and fewer Hindu East Indians?  Should there be fewer Han Chinese in computer science and more Thais?  Who decides these matters and how do they decide while upholding the Constitution?  Moreover, what the hell does the racial composition of a class have to do with learning math, science, engineering, medicine, and other disciplines?
More importantly, when students contract with a college to fork over tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for learning a published curriculum, the college has no contractual or ethical right to subject students to a hidden racial agenda, social experiment, or ideological indoctrination.  This would be akin to Starbucks lecturing customers about racial issues when they order a five-dollar coffee.  Hmm, on second thought, millennials would like a lecture on race and social justice along with their coffee, given that they’ve been immersed in state-sanctioned indoctrination in these topics ever since kindergarten.
TRIGGER WARNING:  You might be offended by the following discussion of the “Hispanic” category.
As with the “Asian” category, markedly different races, ethnicities, nationalities and cultures are lumped together in the “Hispanic” category.  The category includes European Spaniards and Portuguese who are whiter than this Italian; Central American and South American aristocrats who descended from these Europeans and didn’t mix their genes with the local native population; Native Americans or African Americans with no European blood; and the largest group of all, those with a mixture of European blood and Native-American or African blood.
Which of the above count for diversity purposes?
Nationalities are just as varied:  Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Haitians, Mexicans, Guatemalans, Venezuelans, and so on.
And within each group, there are wide variations in lifestyle, outlook and conduct, as there is with all racial and ethnic groups.  For example, the Mexicans I went to school with were quite different from the gangbangers in the barrio where I lived.  Perhaps learning would be enhanced if student bodies were to have a certain percentage of gangbangers.  Sure, gangbangers might have trouble getting good SAT and ACT scores, but in the interest of social engineering, these quantifiable admission standards are being eliminated anyway and being replaced with such mushy criteria as extracurricular activities.  There is no reason why gang signing, drug dealing, and drive-by shooting couldn’t be counted as extracurricular activities.  It would only be fair and nonjudgmental, after all.
On a personal note, using extracurricular activities as a criterion in admissions would have penalized me when I applied for college, for my main extracurricular activity in high school was working in order to save money for college.  I didn’t have the connections, time or money for sexy internships, or study programs in Europe, or unpaid work for some nonprofit charity.
TRIGGER WARNING:  Let’s now have an offensive conversation about the “white” category, and specifically, about Italian-Americans like myself, who comprise about six percent of the U.S. population.
Not only am I in a minority group, but I’m also a libertarian, which means that I have no political power and would be shunned on today’s college campuses.
According to the sophomoric thinking of the Supreme Court and diversity scorekeepers, everyone arbitrarily assigned to the “white” category is alike.  As such, diversity isn’t advanced by having them in the classroom.  It’s only advanced by having non-whites in the classroom.
Based on this bizarre thought process, if I had attended Harvard, I would’ve been seen as identical in perspective to a blue-blooded Braham who descended from the Pilgrims.  Or if I had attended Yale, there would’ve been no difference between myself and George W. Bush.  I would’ve been just as ignorant as him of Middle East history, of the Islamic religion, and of the geopolitical realities in the region.
Granted, Bush and I have very similar backgrounds.  His dad went to Yale, headed the CIA, made a fortune in the oil business, and became president of the U.S.  My dad had a high school education, worked as a tile setter and warehouseman, and was the son of an Italian immigrant and coal miner.  Moreover, Bush no doubt paid for his college education as I did—by working for blacks as a janitor, laboring in an aluminum plant as a member of the Steelworkers union, working for a city sewer department, being a union painter, bartending in a restaurant, and being a stocker and checker in a supermarket.
See, all whites are indeed alike.
But am I really white or even Italian?
Because Italy didn’t exist as a nation state until 1861, my lineage probably goes back to a city state, not a nation.  Maybe I’m a Venetian.  That has a nice ring to it.  I’m going to start entering that on Census forms.
Like most people with roots in the Italian peninsula, chances are that I’m a mongrel, a mix of all the different races that tromped through the peninsula over the millennia, either in war, slavery, or trade.  This includes North Africans, Semites, Persians, Etruscans, Greeks, Moors, Celts, Lombards, the goddamn Vandals, and many others.
I could be wrong, but I don’t think that the Pilgrims landed in Italy, so I can’t claim to be a descendant of them and thus can’t be blamed for starting the white man’s injustices against Native Americans.  Likewise, my grandparents were peasants in Italy until the early 20th century, so they had nothing to do with slavery, with Jim Crow, or with Mussolini’s brutal experiment with colonialism in Africa.
Thank goodness the Pilgrims didn’t land in Italy.  Enough religious zealots have found their way to Italy throughout history, including Muslims who used to rule what is modern-day Sicily.  At least they were preferable as invaders to L. Ron Hubbard and his merry band of Scientologists, whose ship was not allowed to dock in an Italian port, to the credit of the Italian government.
Of course, there are scores of other unique peoples who are thrown into the blender of the “white” category, including, to name some of them, English, Turks, Chechens, Bosnians, Circassians, Hungarians, Greeks, Basques, Corsicans, Welsh, Scots, Belarusians, Georgians, Lithuanians, Russians, Sardinians, Slovaks, Ukrainians, Finns, Danes, and Croats. These range from aristocrats and plutocrats to peasants and the impoverished.
Yet in some quarters of college campuses, whites are all the same:  privileged, imperialistic, wealthy, and racist.  You betcha:  A Scots-Irish Appalachian hillbilly, whose forebears were in indentured servitude or were impoverished tenant farmers, can get into Georgetown University as easily as John Kerry did.  And a backwoodsman in Tennessee is no different from Al Gore, who lived in a swank Washington hotel as kid, attended the exclusive St. Albans prep school, and went on to Harvard.
The ignoramuses who think this way seem to believe that the way to stop racial stereotyping is to engage in racial stereotyping.  Likewise, the way to be inclusive is to be exclusive.  Amazingly, the nation’s intelligentsia and media don’t call them out on their ignorance and hypocrisy.
If any race deserves special diversity considerations, it is African Americans, due to the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, as well as other injustices.  But even they are all not the same, which is far from a profound observation.
There is a marked difference in worldview between, on one hand, a Thomas Sowell, a Shelby Steele, and a Clarence Thomas; and on the other, a Jerimiah Wright, a Malcom X, and an Al Sharpton.  If a college student were to interface with someone like the first three, the student would get a totally different impression of black thinking than a student who were to interface with someone like the other three.
Which raises a statistical question:  How many blacks should be enrolled at MIT as math majors so that other math majors of different races will interface with a large enough number of blacks to get a complete picture how all blacks think?  Perhaps the Supreme Court knows the answer.
The question gets more complicated when one considers black immigrants.  For example, the emigrant from Kenya who used to help take care of my mom had a different worldview than the six aforementioned African Americans.  I enjoyed speaking with her about her native country, as I enjoy speaking with all racial and ethnic groups about their heritage.  As a Kenyon, she was proud that a president of the United States had roots in her motherland, but other than that, she didn’t feel that she had much in common with African Americans.
As the above suggests, it’s not necessary to attend college to have exposure to diversity.  For openminded people, everyday life provides ample opportunities—opportunities that come about over a lifetime, not just over four years.  There is also the ongoing learning about other races by reading history, sociology, anthropology, and literature. For closeminded people, the racial composition of a college class won’t make any difference.
Speaking of closemindedness, is there any group that is more closeminded than college administrators and faculty, who try to mask their social engineering agenda with intellectual contortions about racial categories and diversity?

Is Trump Normal or Abnormal?

Trump’s Supporters: Beasts of Burden

Lower-middle-income workers comprise the majority of Trump supporters.  According to a recent Cato Institute study written by John F. Early, former assistant commissioner at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those in this income group often have more than one job and work 2½ times more hours per year, on average, than so-called poor Americans.  Yet after paying taxes, they have only about the same share of spendable income as the poor.
This suggests that Trump’s supporters are beasts of burden.  They are squeezed economically by those below and by those above.  No wonder they’re so angry and want to get even with the political and media establishments, even as they are hurt by Trump’s trade policies.
Unlike studies of income inequality by the left, the Cato study counted as income such transfer payments as welfare and such tax benefits as the earned income tax credit.  The left, as well as their comrades in the media, count only earned income, thus making it seem that lower-income Americans are poorer than they really are.
It’s a positive sign that due to Trump’s election, the nation’s intelligentsia are finally taking note of the plight of the working class; but they still don’t have the complete picture.  Because most of them do not live in working-class towns and have never set foot in a factory or mine, they don’t realize that there is more to the picture than declining or stagnant wages for the working class.
The rest of the picture is what has happened to many working-class towns:  the boarded-up shops, deteriorating infrastructure, broken families, declining test scores, widespread addiction to legal and illegal drugs, homes falling into disrepair with blue tarps covering leaking roofs, and a decline in civic mindedness, community spirit, and mutual-aid organizations.
Working stiffs care about this deterioration of their hometowns as much as they care about their wages.
To make it worse, working stiffs in small towns also see up close and personal the dark side of the welfare state.  In small towns, families have known each other for generations, and different socioeconomic classes often live in close proximity to each other.   As such, it is common knowledge who is industrious and who is lazy, who is frugal and who is a spendthrift, who has a legitimate disability and who is a malingerer, and who truly needs public or private charity and who games the system.
For example, every day in my wife’s hometown in northwest Penn., residents see the guy who had the physical and financial means to maintain his house but let it deteriorate as he sat on his ass smoking and drinking on a broken-down sofa on a broken-down porch.  Somehow, he got money from the local housing authority to rehab the house instead of relying on his own sweat equity.
They see single mothers and their unruly kids who live in subsidized houses, where the ne’er-do-well fathers of the kids sometimes stay and deal drugs.  Many of the subsidized homes are newer and nicer than the homes of the working stiffs.
They see school buses pick up the kids, most of whom are overweight, to take them to summer programs at the local public school, where, no doubt, they get free meals.
They also see the elites in town:  those who work for the government and have relatively rich pay, benefits, and job security.  They’re employed by the state or county highway department, by local and state law enforcement agencies, by the local housing authority, and by other city, county and state agencies.  Other elites work in industries that are heavily dependent on government money, such as the medical industry.
The elites and those on welfare tend to be diehard Democrats, members of a political party that has forsaken working stiffs, especially white ones.
Establishment Republicans also have forsaken working stiffs.  The same with free-market intellectuals and think tanks.  They refuse to acknowledge that because the return on capital is higher over time than the return on labor, the income gap between the working-class and the upper classes also grows over time.
Yes, that has Marxian overtones.  No, I am not a Marxist, but I am stupid enough to open myself to brickbats by saying that Marx had some good points among many really bad ones.
The gap was lower during the glory years of American industry after the Second World War, when much of the industrialized world was in tatters while the USA was unscathed.  It began to widen in the early 1970s for various reasons, including globalization, immigration, and the financialization of the American economy.
General Electric is an example of financialization.  For decades, the diversified holding company transferred cash from its industrial subsidiaries to its financial subsidiary of GE Capital, which, until the banking crisis of the Great Recession, accounted for most of GE’s profits.  Although it wasn’t a bank, per se, GE Capital was saved from going under by the bank rescue program of the Federal Reserve and Treasury.
The employees of GE’s locomotive business in Erie, Penn., weren’t as fortunate.  For years they were threatened with the prospect of the business moving to Dallas, even though the Erie facility had the highest productivity.  GE decided to move most of it anyway, and just recently, has put the entire business up for sale.  Meanwhile, in a sign of the times, Walgreens has replaced GE on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  In other words, a former industrial giant has been replaced by a company that is part of the half-socialist medical-industrial complex, a complex that depends on Medicare, Medicaid, and government price-fixing.
You’ve probably heard the expression, concentrated benefits and dispersed costs.  It describes the problem in a democracy of politically-powerful interest groups being given handouts, rents, and favorable regulatory treatment at the expense of everyone else.  An example would be a company that gets a $320 million government subsidy.  Because the cost to all Americans is only one dollar apiece, it is not worth the time, expense and trouble for an individual to organize a movement to stop the subsidy.
To describe what has happened to the working class, the expression should be turned on its head, as follows:  concentrated costs and dispersed benefits.  The working class has borne the socioeconomic costs of globalism, creative destruction, and immigration, while everyone else has reaped the benefits.
Why wouldn’t working class Americans vote for Trump?

Is Trump Normal or Abnormal?

Comcast, Amazon and the East German Stasi

Somedays, I think that a Soviet-like command economy might be better than our market economy, even with the gulags, bread lines, and state media, where propaganda and ballet were the main offerings.
This thought always comes to mind when telephoning the customer service department of some big, faceless company.  If a market economy is supposed to bring us choices and drive companies with bad service out of business, then why do they all have the same lousy customer service when we call them?
The standard recorded message goes like this:

***

Thank you for calling the XYZ Company.  We know that you must have a serious problem to have phoned us, a problem that you couldn’t get resolved with our on-line customer service feature or via our automated phone feature with its 18 prompts.
It’s amazing that you even found our phone number on our website, as we try to hide it from valued customers like you.
Recognizing that you’re probably very frustrated right now, our goal is to frustrate you so much more that you turn into a raving lunatic, or an English soccer fan, which is one and the same.  If at any time you begin to feel homicidal during this call, please enter “9-1-1” or say “nine-one-one.”
To protect your security and privacy, please say or enter your Social Security number, which will immediately be harvested by a hacker in China.  Then enter your eight-digit password, followed by the maiden name of your great-grandmother and the size of the tires on your first car.
When a human finally comes on the phone in ten minutes, she will ask for this information again but won’t understand you, because she is located in a foreign country.  You could save yourself this aggravation if you hang up and go to our on-line help service at PavlovsDog@xyz.com.

***

If you think the foregoing is an exaggeration, consider my recent experience with xfinity (Comcast).
I called Comcast because my monthly cable bill was inexplicably $10.14 higher than the previous bill.  This triggered a similar ordeal to the one above, but with one difference:   The automated prompt generator asked if I wanted to see my bill on my TV.  I said, “NO!”
A couple of seconds later, my wife, who was watching a critical putt at the U.S. Open golf tournament, said, “Honey, why is our xfinity bill on the TV?”  At that moment, a human customer service rep came on the phone.  After asking for my Social Security number, password, and sexual preferences, she said, “How can I help you?”
“Well,” I responded, “the first thing you can do is tell me how to get the bill off my TV screen, as the remote won’t do it.”  She answered, “You’ll have to unplug your receiver, wait a few seconds, and then plug it back in so that it reboots in a few minutes.”
Unbeknownst to her, the word “reboots” had given me an idea of how I could reuse an old pair of combat boots that I’ve been keeping since my Army days.  But fortunately for her, I was too much of a gentleman to ask her if she could bend over and touch her toes.  Besides, it wasn’t her fault that she worked for a company where the clueless executives should be the ones bending over to touch their toes so they could be booted.
Anyway, she went on to explain that the extra $14.10 was due to the expiration of a promotion that my wife and I had been given when we signed up for Comcast a year earlier.  Knowing that cable companies were losing customers because of cable cutting, I asked her to please reinstate the promotion so that we didn’t have to cancel our service.  She agreed.
Comcast blew it twice.  First, they could’ve gained a lot of goodwill by having a note in the bill that the promotion had expired but they were going to renew it so that a good customer didn’t have to pay more for cable service.  Second, instead of doing this, they made me jump through hoops, as if my time is less valuable than theirs.
The next day I had to call an investment company that is a household name.  A sizable IRA of mine has been with them for many years.  The call was necessary because a beneficiary change I wanted to make could not be done on line.  To my dismay, I found out that they had changed their security protocol for telephone calls.  They still asked for my Social Security number, “for my protection.” But now they were switching to a voice-recognition security system.  Accordingly, the customer service rep asked me to speak while feigning a Chinese accent, so the system would think it was me when Yoo Wang called to clean out the account.
The last sentence is a joke—maybe.
On a serious note, if I were to die, how would my wife get through to customer service as a beneficiary, given that she doesn’t sound like me?
At least Amazon doesn’t put customers through telephone hell.  When I had a problem that couldn’t be resolved on line, I looked for five minutes on Amazon’s website for a number to call.  I finally gave up after realizing that if they wanted calls from customers, they would have put the number front and center on their website.
Like other on-line retailers, Amazon does excel at something.  It excels at barraging customers with emails after a purchase, suggesting related products that they can buy.  Without their help, I never would’ve known that I should wear underwear with athletic shorts.
Call me old-fashioned, but I dearly miss the old days of being known by the proprietor of a neighborhood retail store.  For example, when I was a kid and my dad ran out of cigarettes, he’d send me down to the corner market to get a pack.  “My dad needs a pack of cigs,” I’d say to the proprietor.  He’d respond, “Camels, right?”  I never bought a pack for myself, because if I dared to smoke, several neighbors would’ve have seen me and called my parents before I got home.
Today, big corporations that don’t know me and don’t give a damn about me know everything about me.  It’s as if they took a page from the East German Stasi.
 

Is Trump Normal or Abnormal?

Are Libertarians Good Neighbors?

It is said that fences make good neighbors.  But do libertarians make good neighbors?
This question comes to mind because of the problem between the most libertarian member of Congress, Rand Paul, and his neighbor in Kentucky
The neighbor was recently sentenced to a month in jail for assaulting Paul and breaking his ribs as Paul was mowing his lawn.  Certainly, assaulting someone is inexcusable unless done in self-defense, no matter the provocation.
In this case, Paul had a history of piling debris on his property near his neighbor’s lot.  After the neighbor had cleaned up the debris on three separate occasions, he went off the deep end when Paul did it again.
News stories did not say if the neighbor had tried to speak with Paul about it in a nice way previously—which is what I would have done and what most people would have done.
Many libertarians are opposed to zoning laws and feel that what someone does on his own property is no one else’s business, as long as it doesn’t result in what economists call a negative externality—that is, a substantial cost to another party.  Other libertarians are anarchists who think that government is unnecessary.
Accordingly, libertarians tend to be proponents of Airbnb and other services that make it easy for homeowners to rent their homes via the Internet on a short-term basis like a hotel.  They also tend to oppose efforts by cities to control and tax this home business.
This is one of the few instances where I side with government against my fellow libertarians.
Sorry, compadres, but through the years I’ve incurred considerable costs in terms of money, time, stress, and diminished quality of life due to bad neighbors, especially renters—and especially renters who rented by the month, week or day.  They had no tie to the neighborhood, oftentimes didn’t share the neighborhood’s norms of behavior and upkeep, and, if they had come to town for a major sporting event and rented a home for a couple of evenings, would have loud, late-night parties and trash the neighborhood.
Such behavior didn’t bother me when I was younger.  For example, it was no big deal to me when I lived in the barrio and would be awakened by boom boxes playing Mexican music or by gunfire. But now I value tranquility, don’t want to live next to a hotel masquerading as a house, work hard at having good relations with neighbors, and am very careful to check local zoning ordinances, crime rates, and property conditions when choosing a neighborhood to buy a home.  Over the years, my wife and I have learned that a homeowners association is the best option for us, despite the negatives of a HOA, as the property maintenance rules are clear and uniform for all residents.   Don’t like the rules?  Then don’t move there.
Unfortunately, even living in a HOA doesn’t keep inconsiderate jerks from moving into a community.  Some immediately begin to violate the rules that they agreed to before moving in, and in the process, inflict costs on everyone else.
For example, down the street from us in one HOA, an absentee landlord rented his Scottsdale townhouse to a NBA player who played for the Phoenix Suns.  It was mystery why the 21-year-old wanted to live in a community of mostly middle-age residents instead of in a high-rise condo in the many young, hip areas of downtown Scottsdale and Phoenix.  But in any event, he promptly began turning the place into an eyesore and nuisance, which affected the salability of nearby homes that were on the market.
Among other nuisances, he bought a German shepherd puppy and kept it outside all day in the furnace heat of Arizona to bark, whimper, and poop.  Never picked up, the feces attracted flies and stunk like an Army latrine.  Then, as the puppy grew larger, the renter tore off the sliding screen door to his patio so the dog could easily get into the small yard.  He threw the mangled door into the yard, where it could be seen from a neighboring house that was for sale.
From there, the renter graduated to having loud fights with his girlfriends in the driveway.  One time, as he roared up the street in his Dodge Charger, a woman ran after him, screaming obscenities and trying to hold on to the door handle.  Another time, two cops in separate cars came to the house on a domestic violence call. One stayed back to cover the one who knocked on the door, because domestic violence calls oftentimes end in violence.
Then there was the renter who lived in the townhouse that was attached to the one that my wife and I lived in.  Two Canadians owned the house.  The renter inexplicably let the water heater in the garage leak for weeks without notifying the owners. This resulted in black mold growing on the common wall between his garage and ours.  We had to pay a water/mold remediation company to open up the wall on our side to see if mold had migrated to our side.  To make matters worse, due to having a drinking problem, the renter crashed into one of our trees one night, crashed through his garage door another night, and crashed into the gatehouse to the community on still another night, knocking concrete blocks from the wall and causing $10,000 in damage to his Escalade.
Renters caused a disproportionate share of problems in the community, but resident owners also could be bad neighbors.  One deranged homeowner lived in slum conditions, with human and dog feces scattered about his house and swamp conditions from a broken irrigation line in the backyard that attracted mosquitoes and increased the risk of neighbors contracting West Nile disease.  He would wheel his city trash container to the curb in his undershorts, to the chagrin of a couple across the street who had a toddler.  His son, an ex-con, would sometime stay with him and walk through the neighborhood high on something while talking to himself.  One day the son turned the gas on in the fireplace, hoping that his father would light one of his cigars and blow up the house.  Luckily, the father smelled the gas in time and turned it off.  Weeks later, the son was carried out of the house by cops in arm and leg restraints after he had gone berserk and was harming himself by banging his head against a wall.
At least residents of the HOA and the City of Scottsdale had recourses available to them to deal with such residents.  The HOA could fine the bad actors for violating rules, and the city could take legal action against them for violating city ordinances.  But if these recourses weren’t available, what, pray tell, would doctrinaire libertarians suggest could be done by good neighbors to deal with bad neighbors when polite requests don’t work?  Fisticuffs?  A duel in the street?  A call to the local Mafioso?
Before answering, here is a real case study in what can happen when legal recourses aren’t available.
My wife and I bought our first house in semi-rural New Jersey, in a township that didn’t enforce property maintenance ordinances.  Such ordinances didn’t seem necessary to us when we moved there, because our house was on a wooded, one-acre lot and had only two neighboring homes, one of which was a secluded rustic cabin in the middle of three wooded acres that used to be a Boy Scout camp.  A hippie-like couple from Denmark lived in the cabin and taught at the local public school.   They smoked pot, which was none of our concern; and the wife would sunbathe topless in the backyard, which was the best thing about them living next door.
One day we came home from work and found that they had parked a junker of a Volvo on our side of an outbuilding of theirs, just several feet from our property line.  The hood had been removed and put on top of the car.  They couldn’t see the car from their house or backyard, but we could see it clearly from our kitchen and sundeck.   We politely asked them if they could move it and even offered to pay for the towing.  They refused.  Since the car was an eyesore and would negatively affect the salability of our house, we spent thousands of dollars having large evergreens planted on our side of the property line as a screen, along with having a tall wooden fence installed.
So, once again, I ask my fellow libertarians what other recourse was available to us in the absence of a governing body that would intercede.  Poison the neighbors’ well?  Moon them from an upstairs window?  Tackle the husband when he was mowing his lawn?
A doctrinaire libertarian might answer that the New Jersey neighbors had a right to do whatever they wanted on their property.  As much as I like libertarians, I hope that someone who thinks this way never moves next door to us.

Is Trump Normal or Abnormal?

Are Conservatives Dumber Than Liberals?

Hillary Clinton referred to conservatives who supported Donald Trump as “deplorables.”
In referring to working-class conservatives harmed by de-industrialization, Barack Obama said: “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
And liberal academics, intelligentsia, bi-coastal elites, and employees of Facebook, Google and other tech companies think that conservatives are inferior to them in intelligence, education, hipness, and open-mindedness.  At the same time, these liberals pride themselves on being non-judgmental and valuing diversity.
As a libertarian, I don’t have a rooster in the ongoing cockfight between liberals and conservatives.  Not only do both sides seem dumb to me, but I’m dumber than all of them, as I share the pipedream of libertarians that the left and right will someday learn to restrict the use of government force to the protection of life, liberty and property.  But human nature assures that this will never happen.
A scholarly dissertation on human nature is the best-selling book, Behave:  The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, by Robert M. Sapolsky.  The book includes a section on the source of our political orientations and describes the behavioral and biological differences between conservatives and liberals.
Warning:  The book is a very difficult read, especially for a dumbbell like me.
The first half of the book resembles a medical textbook.  It delves deeply into biology, neuroscience, evolutionary science, and behavioral science.  It describes the workings of neurons, dendrites, axons, and synapses; the behavioral effects of testosterone, oxytocin, vasopressin, estrogen, progesterone, and other hormones; and the biological role of such neurotransmitters as serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, acetylcholine, glutamate, and GABA.  It details how hypothalamic and pituitary hormones regulate glucocorticoid levels; how glucocorticoid levels can in turn negatively affect cognition, impulse control and empathy; how these impairments can lead to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and anti-social behavior; and how all of this is related to childhood adversities, such as poverty, poor diet, and abusive parents.
The first half of the book also describes the functions of different parts of the brain, the detrimental effects of damage or stunted development on the different parts, how the human genome evolved, and how humans are similar to, and different from, other mammals.
The author then ties all of this together to explain the evolution of empathy, sympathy and moral reasoning, as well as the less desirable human traits of tribalism, authoritarianism, warfare, and a natural aversion in all of us to people who are different.
An aside:  As with other books of this genre, one can’t read Sapolsky’s book without wondering about free will; specifically, how genes, hormones, and brain wiring affect our behavior and choices, and how these biological factors are related to the circumstances of birth and upbringing.  As the study of these factors advances, new findings could raise more questions about the limits of free will and thus shake the foundations of religious beliefs and the criminal justice system.
Back to the book:  Beginning on page 444, Sapolsky explains the differences between liberals and conservatives and how biology affects their respective political orientations.
Up to this page, Sapolsky is evenhanded, apolitical, and nonpartisan.  Although he is an admitted liberal, he is self-deprecating in the preceding 443 pages about his own political beliefs and sees the plusses and minuses of both liberals and conservatives.  But in addressing political orientations, his objectivity seems to wane.  This is ironic, given that he devotes an entire earlier chapter to the reasons why people see the world as “us” versus “them.”  Apparently, even he can’t help seeing the world of politics in this way.
Sapolsky begins by citing studies that suggest that lower intelligence is a predictor of conservative ideology.  More specifically, he goes on to say, there is a link between lower intelligence and a subtype of conservatism known as right-wing authoritarianism, or RWA.  For people with poor abstract reasoning skills, RWA provides simple answers that they can understand.  This is why they often embrace populist policies that are harmful to them personally on matters of trade and other complex economic and social issues.
Conservatives tend to be uncomfortable with ambiguity, complexity, and situational subtleties, Sapolsky says.  For this reason, they have a need for predictability, structure and hierarchy.  This in turn makes them value loyalty, obedience, and law and order.
Conservatives also have a higher sensitivity to visceral disgust, which comes into play in evaluating social and moral issues.  If something disgusts them at a visceral level, then in their thinking it cannot be good.  For example, if the thought of men having sex with men is disgusting to them, they will tend to be against gay marriage, irrespective of religious beliefs.
Sapolsky says that in terms of biology, “Liberalism has been associated with larger amounts of gray matter in the cingulate cortex (with its involvement in empathy), whereas conservatism has been associated with an enlarged amygdala (with, of course, its starring role in threat perception).  Moreover, there’s more amygdala activation in conservatives than in liberals when viewing a disgusting image or doing a risky task.”
But other brain regions are also activated in conservatives when they look at disgusting images, including “the basal ganglia, thalamus, periaqueductal gray, (cognitive) kdlPFC, middle/superior temporal gyrus, pre-supplementary motor, fusiform, and inferior frontal gyrus.”  Sapolsky says it isn’t clear how all these fit together.  He’s right:  It’s not clear at all to this dumbbell.
Some behavioral geneticists have hypothesized that inherited genes account for approximately 50% of one’s political orientation.  But Sapolsky clarifies that most of the genetic findings “haven’t been replicated, reported effects are small, and these are published in political science journals rather than genetics journals.”
Interestingly, in spite of all the alleged flaws of conservatives, they are generally happier than liberals, according to Sapolsky.
The problem with Sapolsky’s take on the differences between conservatives and liberals is that it doesn’t align with reality, regardless of what brain scans show, regardless of hormone measurements, and regardless of laboratory experiments.
First, as history shows and as current politics demonstrates, liberals are just as enamored with authoritarianism and hierarchy as conservatives, but for different ends.  After all, they endorse big government, have flirted with socialism and communism, have replaced fathers with government in the raising of children, embrace speech codes on college campuses, are disgusted by religion and guns, generally prefer government-enforced collectivism and egalitarianism over individualism, and are not bashful about using a government gun to get their way.  No doubt, parts of their brain light up at such thoughts.
Second, liberals can be just as resistant to new ideas as conservatives when the ideas go against their orthodoxy.  For example, there is no way that they would ever consider that racial diversity may have a downside, or that women and men gravitate to certain professions due to innate differences.
Third, liberals can be just as irrational, illogical, unreasonable, and stupid as conservatives, as evidenced by leading liberal personalities in politics, media, and Hollywood.   For example, the liberals on “The View” are just as dumb as Sean Hannity, CNN is just as dumbed-down as Fox News, and Democrats in Congress are just as dumb as Republicans.
Given human evolution, it can’t be any other way.  Despite the remarkable advances in science stemming from the modicum of reason used by humans, our species is still stuck emotionally, socially, and genetically in the first 190,000 years, or first 95%, of human existence.  This was a time of hunter-gatherers who lived in small tribes, with an egalitarian sharing of resources, a social pecking order but no central government, and a wariness of other tribes.
It wasn’t until 10,000 years ago that humans began to domesticate animals, grow crops, and establish settlements.  And it wasn’t until the last 5,000 years, which comprise only 2.5% of human existence, that humans formed cities, empires, and nation states.  More relevant to today’s politics, the Enlightenment came about only 220 years ago, and the Industrial Revolution, only 180 years ago, or .11% and .9%, respectively, of human existence.
This means that our biology, genetics, brain wiring, and emotional make-up haven’t changed much from hunter-gatherer times and thus haven’t kept pace with scientific advances and the complexities of the modern world.  In that sense, all of us, whether liberal, conservative or libertarian, are dumb.
Take it from a dumbbell.

Is Trump Normal or Abnormal?

What Does Litter Say About Us?

With all the serious problems facing the nation and the world, the problem of littering seems insignificant.
But it is not.
Litter says a lot about us.  It says something about class, race, ethnicity, and even political ideology.  It speaks volumes about our sense of community, or lack thereof.  It’s also an example of the Tragedy of the Commons.
Moreover, litter is a daily reminder of the inability of government to perform the simplest of tasks.  After all, a government that cannot pick up litter, trash, and abandoned shopping carts from public spaces is probably a government that cannot manage the complexities of public education and public healthcare.
Then there is the paradox of millennials.  Steeped in communitarianism and environmentalism, they seem to be oblivious to their immediate environment.  I have yet to see a millennial pick up litter and throw it into a nearby trash can, assuming they even see it.  Mesmerized by their smartphones, they probably wouldn’t see a dead body in their path.
The only people I see picking up litter are middle-age blokes like me.  A two-mile stretch of the busy street that bisects my community is kept clean by a guy named Chuck.  I keep a different two-mile stretch clean, as well as a parking lot near my house for a popular Forest Service mountain trail that climbs from 3,000 ft. to over 6,000 ft.   Amazingly, twenty-something hikers return to their Jeeps and Outbacks after enjoying nature and proceed to throw snack bar wrappers and other debris on the lot.
Patriots are another paradox.  They leave a trail of litter wherever they have gathered to celebrate Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.  They profess to love their country and then proceed to despoil it.  This former Army artillery officer dreads the day after these holidays, for I spend much of my daily walk picking up what the patriots have left behind.  Oftentimes, in addition to fast-food debris and beer bottles and cans, what they leave behind are the foot-high American flags that are stuck in the ground around yards and common areas.  In short order, the wind blows the flags into no-man’s land, where they stay forever or until a patsy like me picks them up, which is ironic given that I’m not a flag waver.
If universities gave degrees in Litter Studies, I’d have a PhD in the subject.  I founded an influential environmental group when I lived in New Jersey, as well as starting a movement to clean up the misnamed Garden State, which is the most befouled state in the nation.  Also, I’m an avid walker who walks at least seven miles a day, or 2,555 miles a year.  I’ve walked in most major cities, most states, and many rural and wilderness areas.  The downside of walking is that disgusting flotsam and jetsam can be seen at 5 mph that cannot be seen at 30 mph or faster from the cocoon of a car.
Speaking of cars, automobiles no longer come with ashtrays.  Whether the government outlawed them or car companies did away with them on their own, it was a shortsighted decision.  Now smokers throw cigarette butts out the window, which is a very serious matter in my home state of Arizona, especially in the dry season that runs until the summer monsoons begin in mid-July.  Hundreds of thousands of acres of pine forests and desert scrublands burn each year.  In fact, as I type this, a man-caused fire is raging in the gorgeous Sycamore Creek wilderness area near Sedona.
And speaking of smokers, the most common litter found on roadsides is cigarette butts.  The next most common is empty cigarette packs.  Fast-food debris is a close third, with Taco Bell being the most popular brand with litterers.  This suggests that working-class whites are the culprits, a stereotype that is borne out by the amount of litter that can be seen where they gather.  Check out a Walmart parking lot sometime.  You’ll see trash strewn about just feet away from trash cans.  Particularly offensive are those who buy a case of beer to put in an ice chest in the back of their pickup truck and then throw the packaging on the ground.
It’s just as bad if not worse in Mexican barrios, but at least Mexican immigrants have the excuse that they don’t know better, given the widespread poverty, corruption and trash in their mother country.  Also, whatever one’s feelings about illegal immigration, the ugly fact is that illegals leave a trail of trash behind on public lands and private ranches as they walk from the border.
Wealthy Americans have no excuse for being pigs.  Take Bedminster, New Jersey, the location of one of Donald Trump’s mansions.  Having once lived nearby, I used to take long walks and jogs through leafy Bedminster and the neighboring wealthy towns of Bernardsville, Far Hills, and Basking Ridge.  I used to joke that instead of leaving dead bodies in the trunks of cars parked at Newark Airport or in the swamps of the Meadowlands, the Mafia should put them in a trash bag and discard the bag alongside a New Jersey road.  The bag and its contents would remain untouched for decades.
Case in point:  On one of my long walks in Bedminster, I saw three large black trash bags full of trash and garbage in the weeds along the shoulder of country road.  I moved the bags to the shoulder of the road, thinking that the county road department or the homeowner across the street would see them and discard them.  On my return in the opposite direction, I saw that someone had thrown the bags back into the weeds.  My educated guess was that the culprit was the homeowner across the street, who lived in a multimillion-dollar house on three acres.
It was an educated guess because I had observed for years the piggish behavior of sophisticates who commuted to prestigious jobs in Manhattan from their leafy enclaves in the Garden State.  The New Jersey Transit train station near my house was a pigsty.  Even worse was the gravel lot where commuters in Armani suits would wait for a coach bus to pick them up for the trip to Manhattan.  An ugly rusty trash barrel at the lot went unused.  The commuters threw their Styrofoam or paper coffee cups and wrappings from their bagels and croissants on the ground, where the wind would blow the discards around the neighborhood.
One time, I was behind an expensive Mercedes at a traffic light in upscale Short Hills, NJ.  The middle-aged female driver lowered the window, stuck out a bejeweled arm, and proceeded to throw a bag of fast-food remnants on the street.  I did what any chivalrous gentleman would do:  I blared the horn and gave a finger sign. No doubt, she didn’t have a clue as to the reason for my pique.
An aside:  Most of those who throw bags of fast-food debris on the street don’t even have the sense to first close the top of the bag.  Instead, they leave the bag open so that the stuff inside comes out of the bag when it hits the pavement and is spread by passing cars and the wind.  Curiously, ants won’t touch the food remnants.
One more NJ anecdote:  As part of my masochistic campaign to clean up the Garden State, I wrote a long op-ed for the Star Ledger, which was the state’s largest daily.  I asked why Shop-Rite, the large New Jersey-based supermarket chain, had stores with disgusting parking lots, which were filled with piles of trash and even abandoned tires, including in some of the richest suburbs in America.  The owner of the chain wrote a rebuttal.  Since he couldn’t deny that the stores were disgusting compared to supermarkets in other regions of the country, he used the excuse that there was nothing he could do because the stores were owned by franchisees.
The Tragedy of the Commons says that people care less about public property than private property.  Shop-Rite showed that this isn’t always the case.  I’ll leave it to libertarians to gouge each other’s eyes out on the question of whether the government should intercede when owners of private property don’t maintain their property and thus create eyesores that decrease the quality of life and property values of neighbors.  If this has ever happened to you, as it has happened to me, you might be tempted to gouge out the eyes of libertarian purists who say that what people do on their own property is no one else’s business.
This brings us to the question of whether individualism explains the propensity of Americans of all stripes to litter, while the opposite is the case with more communitarian cultures, such as Japan and Sweden, where the group and society are more important than the individual.  A case can be made either way because there are so many outliers around the world that don’t fit any mold.  Parts of Berlin, for example, are covered in graffiti and strewn with trash.  The same with Paris and London.  At the same time, Switzerland sparkles.
Then there is the country of my forebears, Italy, where the southern half of the boot is dirty while the northern half is relatively clean.  This cultural artifact was carried to the United States by Italian immigrants.  For example, in my boyhood home of St. Louis, the Italian section was as spotless as Switzerland, due to being settled primarily by northern Italians.  By contrast, sections of New Jersey settled by emigrants from Sicily and Naples were . . . well, they were typical New Jersey.
Having recently moved to Tucson from Scottsdale, Arizona, I frequently walk on the bike/walk path that encircles the city for over 100 miles and runs for much of the way along the Rillito River, which is dry most of the year.  The other day I spoke with middle-age volunteers who were picking up litter along the path, complimenting them on their good job and asking how I could join their group.  I also asked why the path was clean but the dry river bottom was not.  They explained that the county discourages people from cleaning the river bottom, because there are homeless encampments hidden in the brush, where the homeless can be quite aggressive.
The homeless can also be pigs.  They not only leave piles of trash at their encampments but also burn trash and toilet paper in the public restrooms along the way to stay warm in the winter.  There is no telling how many of them have tuberculosis, hepatitis and other diseases.  One day I saw a homeless guy eating something out of a five-gallon paint bucket, which was covered in blood.
What kind of society lets this happen?  What kind of warped do-gooder thinking is behind it?  Letting the homeless live this way is not good for the homeless or for the general public.  Pretending that it’s an important civil liberty issue makes a mockery of true civil liberties.
What does this say about us?  It says the same thing that littering says about us.  And what it says isn’t good.

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