20.2.17

FASCHING.



Prosit!

WHEN ELITE CONSENSUS FAILS.

If, emulating Hayek, we contemplate a Fatal Conceit, then there must be a time for morbidity and mortality to render futile what the Wise Experts aspire to do.  And when the signs of decline set in, suggests John Judis, they might manifest themselves among the people as a populist insurgency.  Thus comes his The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics.  It's a Columbia Global Report, and yet a readable, tightly argued product for Book Review No. 3.

There are many manifestations of populism, some from the left, and some from the right, but when the Political Consensus breaks down, and the usual medicine of a Realignment Election doesn't keep enough of the Consensus in place, then comes an insurgency.  But the term "populism" misleads, in that often there is a vanguard, or perhaps a Pied Piper, and in the United States, the last two Pied Pipers were named Sanders and Trump.  And Mr Judis submitted his book for publication after one Hillary Clinton had won the Democrat nomination and she looked to be a lock for the presidency.

Thus, perhaps, the current Elite Consensus is in worse shape than he would have his readers believe.  That noted, there is much in the book to reward careful study, including the observation that, no matter how outrageous some elements of populism, left or right, appear to be, those elements emerge in response to real pain inflicted on real people by the prevailing consensus: banks bailed out, but not householders or pensioners; diversity celebrated in principle but in practice an ethnic dependent class appears; imports mean overseas cash to finance public spending.  Then comes the harder task of ameliorating the pain and replacing the failed institutions.  That's a task for another book.

Mr Judis suggests that the right populist movements are ascendant in part because leaders of those movements are more effectively pointing out the shortcomings of Political Consensus.  That's likely true.  But some upwellings from advocates of a left populism suggest that there are limits to vanguardism from the left.  Consider this assertion by philosopher Nancy Fraser, in Dissent.
Trump’s victory is not solely a revolt against global finance. What his voters rejected was not neoliberalism tout court, but progressive neoliberalism. This may sound to some like an oxymoron, but it is a real, if perverse, political alignment that holds the key to understanding the U.S. election results and perhaps some developments elsewhere too. In its U.S. form, progressive neoliberalism is an alliance of mainstream currents of new social movements (feminism, anti-racism, multiculturalism, and LGBTQ rights), on the one side, and high-end “symbolic” and service-based business sectors (Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood), on the other. In this alliance, progressive forces are effectively joined with the forces of cognitive capitalism, especially financialization. However unwittingly, the former lend their charisma to the latter. Ideals like diversity and empowerment, which could in principle serve different ends, now gloss policies that have devastated manufacturing and what were once middle-class lives.

Progressive neoliberalism developed in the United States over the last three decades and was ratified with Bill Clinton’s election in 1992. Clinton was the principal engineer and standard-bearer of the “New Democrats,” the U.S. equivalent of Tony Blair’s “New Labor.” In place of the New Deal coalition of unionized manufacturing workers, African Americans, and the urban middle classes, he forged a new alliance of entrepreneurs, suburbanites, new social movements, and youth, all proclaiming their modern, progressive bona fides by embracing diversity, multiculturalism, and women’s rights. Even as it endorsed such progressive notions, the Clinton administration courted Wall Street. Turning the economy over to Goldman Sachs, it deregulated the banking system and negotiated the free-trade agreements that accelerated deindustrialization. What fell by the wayside was the Rust Belt—once the stronghold of New Deal social democracy, and now the region that delivered the electoral college to Donald Trump. That region, along with newer industrial centers in the South, took a major hit as runaway financialization unfolded over the course of the last two decades. Continued by his successors, including Barack Obama, Clinton’s policies degraded the living conditions of all working people, but especially those employed in industrial production. In short, Clintonism bears a heavy share of responsibility for the weakening of unions, the decline of real wages, the increasing precarity of work, and the rise of the two–earner family in place of the defunct family wage.
That's what unstable governing coalitions look like.  But in a USA Today column, Glenn "Insta Pundit" Reynolds quotes Richard "Belmont Club" Fernandez, on precisely how that governing coalition revealed itself as anything but populist.  "The elites lost their mojo by becoming absurd. It happened on the road between cultural appropriation and transgender bathrooms."

I'll have to keep reminding people that you can have a family wage, or you can have female labor force participation, but you can't have both.

To Professor Fraser, however, it's not about populism at all, it's about getting the theoretics right.
Neoliberals gained power by draping their project in a new cosmopolitan ethos, centered on diversity, women’s empowerment, and LGBTQ rights. Drawing in supporters of such ideals, they forged a new hegemonic bloc, which I called progressive neoliberalism. In identifying and analyzing this bloc, I never lost sight of the power of finance capital, as Brenner claims, but offered an explanation for its political ascendance.

The lens of hegemony also sheds light on the position of social movements vis-à-vis neoliberalism. Instead of parsing out who colluded and who was coopted, I focused on the widespread shift in progressive thinking from equality to meritocracy. Saturating the airwaves in recent decades, that thinking influenced not only liberal feminists and diversity advocates who knowingly embraced its individualist ethos, but also many within social movements. Even those whom Brenner calls social-welfare feminists found something to identify with in progressive neoliberalism, and in doing so, turned a blind eye to its contradictions.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump is doubling down on the country being governed by stupid people, and the legacy press carrying water for the hegemons.  But he's saying "lying press."  That's more likely to be the "political earthquake [to overturn] neoliberalism and realign the parties" Mr Judis contemplates.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

THE CASE FOR MARKET TESTS.

The business honor society Beta Gamma Sigma recognized Northern Illinois University graduate Jeffrey Aronin with a Medallion for Entrepreneurship.

Mr Aronin's entrepreneurship included the marketing of an artificial steroid, something that Margaret "University Diaries" Soltan laid off on his business school days as learning "how to jack up the price."

The problem, dear reader, is that thanks to all the third parties involved in the researching, testing, and prescribing of medications, there is no price discovery.
Those who need costly medications can face thousands of dollars in deductible and co-insurance payments, depending on how their insurance plans cover drugs and whether they get help from patient assistance programs. Even with insurers covering most of the expenses, that coverage can come at a cost to all consumers in the form of higher premiums.

"This idea that the vast majority of people out there are just paying flat $20 copays, it's based on an old understanding of what insurance (does)," said Rena Conti, a University of Chicago associate professor of health policy who studies drug prices.
Note carefully: covering most of the expenses.  Manufacturer puts a number on an invoice, but nowhere in the writing down of that number are there any market tests by which that number bears any resemblance to the marginal cost, nor can it, as the biochemists working whether on grants, consulting contracts, or salaries, have few opportunities to shop their skills on an open market.
Aronin said the company set the list price of deflazacort, which will be sold under the brand name Emflaza, at $89,000 based on resources it invested to bring the drug to market and complete clinical studies, as well as to fund future research and ensure broad patient access through insurer reimbursement and its own assistance programs.
"Based on resources" is corporate-speak for "wild-ass guess."  "Ensure broad patient access through insurer reimbursement" is corporate-speak for "They make wild-ass guesses too."

In the absence of market-tested betterments, you get wild-ass guesses.  Maybe the cross-subsidies work out well for people of modest means.  On the other hand, in the presence of market-tested betterments, you get continuous improvement and cheaper stuff.

THE DEFLATING SPORTS BUBBLE.

The city of Chicago, having received the fewest votes, did not host the 2016 Summer Olympics.  Rio de Janeiro got the honor, and the World Cup, and the financial hangover.
Around two years ago, the state government started delaying civil servants’ salaries and pension checks. Right now public employees, such as professors from the State University of Rio de Janeiro, are still receiving part of their wages for December, with no expectations for a year-end bonus. There are many reports of state employees who don’t have enough money to pay rent or buy food. For a while now, state hospitals have been unable to afford equipment, supplies and salaries. The education budget has also been slashed. Even police officers and firefighters have threatened to strike over late paychecks.
The State of Illinois has been stiffing vendors for years, but so far the first responders are getting paid. And that's without the extra burdens of building Olympic facilities for short-term use.
The budget disaster in Rio could be attributed to many factors, such as the fall in the oil prices, the expansion of the government payroll and the general recession. But there’s no doubt that reckless spending on the World Cup and the Olympics played a role. The city of Rio will be paying off the debts it amassed for years, while it also now has to maintain the arenas it built.
For all of Chicago's troubles, at least the three Stanley Cup celebrations and one World Series celebration since 2009 have made use of existing infrastructure, although the rent-seeking in Wrigleyville is getting out of hand.  Plus an America's Cup qualifying race on better water.  But perhaps, Clout City and the Combine notwithstanding, Brazilians still do corruption better.
As a result of all this, Rio’s governor is trying to pass more than 20 austerity measures. He seems to have decided that the population had effectively joined the party and now wants to split the cost of the beer. The measures include salary reductions and higher social security payments for civil servants, tax hikes, an increase in public transportation fees and the end of many social programs such as rental subsidies for the homeless. The state has also signaled it will sell off the public water supply and sanitation department to private investors.

Meanwhile, it keeps granting significant tax exemptions to telephone companies and other businesses. According to a report from the Agência Pública, a Brazilian investigative journalism agency, just 50 companies received $8 billion of tax exemptions between 2007 and 2010. They include luxury jewelry brands, beauty salons and massage parlors. Others are online retailers that barely generate jobs. The suspicion is that these companies have given big donations to political campaigns.
The New York Times assures us that Carnival will go on as scheduled, anyway.

ROLL BACK THE IMPERIAL CULT.

National Review's Kevin Williamson wants to abolish Presidents Day.  Worst.  Holiday.  Ever.

I suspect he'd be in an even less cheerful mood if he is, as I currently am, listening to Hardball with Tingles and the usual crop of Smug Establishmentarians giving the usual suspects a tongue bath.  (Although Tingles expresses some surprise that Dwight Eisenhower becomes No. 5 in the latest poll of historians, behind Lincoln, Washington, and the Roosevelts, Franklin first.  Perhaps historians are finally figuring out that it was during the Eisenhower era that America was Great?  John Kennedy is still ahead of Reagan and Lyndon Johnson, but there used to be sentiment that Lyndon Johnson belonged in the top five ...)

Mr Williamson is not so impressed.
The presidency today is a grotesquerie. It is a temporary kingship without the benefit of blood or honor or antiquity, which is to say a combination of the worst aspects of monarchy with the worst aspects of democracy, a kind of inverted Norway. (King Olav V, the “folkekonge,” was famous for using public transit.) It is steeped in imperial ceremony, from the risible and unworthy monkey show that is the State of the Union address to the motorcades and Air Force One to the elevation of the first lady (or, increasingly, “First Lady”) to the position of royal consort; our chief magistracy gives the impression of being about five minutes away from purple robes, if not togas. (There is in Philadelphia a wonderful statue of Ben Franklin in a toga, which one can sort of imagine so long as one also imagines him chugging beer with the wild boys in Tau Delta Chi.) And what kind of god-emperor does not have a national day set aside for worshiping him and his kind?

This is nuts.
If the Trump presidency is the vehicle by which people question the Cult of the Presidency and the expectation of Bright Shiny Things, bring it!

While we're at it, perhaps we can be more precise about the roles of the president.  Head of State for ceremonial occasions, sure.  But head of government?  Not really.  The distinction works better for parliamentary monarchies, for instance Queen Elizabeth is Head of State for the United Kingdom, and the Prime Minister is Head of Government, by virtue of being Majority Leader.  That's not how the Federal Constitution works.
The president of the United States is the chief officer of the federal bureaucracy, the head of one branch of a government that has three co-equal branches. Strictly speaking, it is not given to him even to make law, but only to see to the enforcement of the laws passed by Congress (and maybe to veto one here and there) and to appoint appropriate people, like the former CEO of Carl’s Jr., to high federal offices. In the legislative branch, the House of Representatives is the accelerator and the Senate is the brake; the Supreme Court, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are pretty much all brake; the presidency is a kind of hybrid, sometimes pressing for needful reform and action, sometimes standing in Congress’s way when it is rash or overly ambitious. The architecture of our constitutional order is a complicated and delicate balance.
Now is the time for the fanatical Turf Trump Out types to figure this out. The irony ... calling for authoritarian methods to head off what those types see as an authoritarian presidency??  A military coup?  Seriously?  Some kind of procedural action by the Washington bureaucracy (the permanent government or the deep state if you will)?  Once you embark on that course ...

That's what gridlock is for.  Embrace it.
But the president is not the tribune of the plebs. He is not a sacred person or the holder of a sacred office. He is neither pontifex nor imperator. He is not the spiritual distillation of the republic or the personification of our national ideals and values. (Thank God Almighty.) He is not even primus inter pares like the chief justice of the Supreme Court [c.q.] or the Patriarch of Constantinople. He is the commander in chief in time of war (which, since we have abandoned the advice of Washington and Eisenhower, is all of the time, now) and the chief administrator of the federal bureaucracy. That is it.

But men demand to be ruled, and they will find themselves a king even when there is none. (Consider all of the hilarious and self-abasing celebration of Donald Trump as an “alpha male” among his admirers, an exercise in chimpanzee sociology if ever there were one.) But they must convince themselves that they are being ruled by a special sort of man; in ancient times, that was the function of the hereditary character of monarchies. In our times, it is reinforced through civic religion, including the dopey annual exercise that is Presidents’ Day.

Abolish it. Mondays are for working.
A number of local schools take Presidents Day off, rather than Lincoln's Birthday, which used to be a secular holy day here in the Land of Lincoln, but at Northern Illinois University, it has always been a busier working day, with high schoolers coming in to check out the place.

THE CASE FOR MAINTENANCE.

The Oroville Dam, where construction crews are toiling to prevent a failure of Johnstown proportions, is a visible symptom of a greater rot.  "The points of failure in Oroville's infrastructure were identified many years ago, and the cost of making the needed repairs was quite small -- around $6 million. But for short-sighted reasons, the repairs were not funded; and now the bill to fix the resultant damage will likely be on the order of magnitude of over $200 million."  That's assuming the current patching succeeds and no further evacuations, particularly in extremis, occur.  And Oroville is one of the better dam sites??  "Oroville is one of the best-managed and maintained dams in the country. If it still suffered from too much deferred maintenance, imagine how vulnerable the country's thousands and thousands of smaller dams are. Trillions of dollars are needed to bring our national dams up to satisfactory status. How much else is needed for the country's roads, rail systems, waterworks, power grids, etc?"

Meanwhile, it's still a closely-run thing at Oroville, according to dam contractor Scott Cahill.  "Well, when they allowed just a bit of water to run over the emergency spillway they soon found with the velocities of only a portion of the water that could be moving over that emergency spillway. They had such severe scour that they anticipated a failure of the structural elements within 45 minutes."

Nobody is saying Johnstown, but should the spillway scour back to the dam, that sounds like a failure of Johnstown proportions.  Plus a lesson, if people will mind it.  "The question being, can we trust our government to disseminate information to us in our best interest?"

WINTER IS MODEL RAILROAD SEASON.

We've been enjoying weather conditions more like early April in the State Line, but the various model railroads in the area are having their operating sessions, filling the gap between the end of football and the beginning of March Madness.

With the State of Maine Northern still under construction (although an open day will be coming in March) some of its power is helping out on The Milwaukee Road.


The Weaver USRA Light Pacific isn't as fast as a Hiawatha steamer, and here she's pulling the Savanna to La Crescent plug that connects with the westbound Sioux at Marquette.  The mail car might be handed off to an overnight mail train at La Crescent.


The Weaver diecast 2-8-0 is returning empty meat reefers to the packing houses of western Iowa and southern Minnesota.  Once the home railroad is finished, its job will be to pick up coal from Salem Wharf destined for Boston and Maine coal docks and factories along the old Boston and Lowell and Boston Concord and Montreal lines.


I built this tank car a quarter century ago.  Start with a basket case Lionel tank casting, some Plastruct shapes, and wood for the underframe, and put the whole thing together.  There used to be some carping against the oil business, expressing the hope that Exxon could be made Humble again.  Thus the lettering on the car.  Look closely at the tracks.  In railroad yards, some of the consignments get shaken out, here limestone and iron ore.


This tank car has been visiting on the Fox Valley club for nearly twenty years.  It's a cast metal Walthers car from the bronze age of O Scale, it weighs a lot, and I bought it in rough shape at a swap meet.  Pegasus and Mobil were trademarks of the Socony Vacuum Oil Company.

The tank cars will likely be repatriated, as much of the home heating in New England is by oil, and the tank cars will be switched at dockside.

15.2.17

A FLOCK OF BLACK SWANS.

That's the story line of George Packer's The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, our Book Review No 2.  The thesis of the book advances the logic of saecular decline and fall, although that idea does not explicitly appear anywhere in its pages.
If you were born around 1960 or afterward, you have spent your adult life in the vertigo of that unwinding.  You watched structures that had been in place before your birth collapse like pillars of salt across the vast visible landscape -- the farms of the Carolina Piedmont, the factories of the Mahoning Valley, Florida subdivisions, California schools.  And other things, harder to see but no less vital in supporting the order of everyday life, changed beyond recognition -- ways and means in Washington caucus rooms, taboos on New York trading desks, manners and morals everywhere.  When the norms that made the old institutions normal began to unwind, and the leaders abandoned their posts, the Roosevelt Republic that had reigned for almost half a century came undone.  The void was filled by the default force in American life, organized money.
Unwinding follows a number of people from 1978 through to about 2012.  Some of these people are famous, some of them obscure, a number of them actually living in the Carolina Piedmont or trying to hold body and soul together in the Mahoning Valley or going from rich on paper to underwater on their mortgages in Florida, while in Silicon Valley, the new technology masters of the universe, not exactly organized money, prosper alongside expanding pockets of poverty just the other side of the expressway.  And in Washington, the expanded opportunities for women to participate in the labor force enhance the opportunities for family rent-seeking, with one half of the power couple in government service and the other half lobbying or working for the press corps or in a university.

Perhaps the strength of the work is that it simply relates the stories, and leaves the policy implications, the quest for stylized facts, the formulation of testable hypotheses to others.  Likewise, the deconstruction of The America That Worked(TM) is simply the background against which these people, for better or for worse -- and for many, it is unrelentingly worse -- make do.  The identification of causes and the identification of consequences are also left to others.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

A NEW BIG BLOW FOR WESTERN SIBERIA.

The Russian Railways are testing a new, liquefied natural gas fueled, gas turbine electric locomotive.


Sinara Group photograph retrieved from European Railway Review.

The turbine locomotive is Russia's latest attempt to move American style freight trains across greater than American style distances, starting with the Egorshino–Alapayevsk–Serov-Sortirovochny line. I doubt that there are any roads like the old Lincoln Highway across Nebraska for pacing the trains. "The locomotive has been designed to drive trains with increased weight and length. In May 2016, during a test run, the GTh1-002 drove a train weighing 9,000 tons on the 700km Surgut–Voinovka route without the need to refuel en route."

That's the same rationale that drove the Soviet railroad system to contemplate the 4-14-4, and Union Pacific to roll out a fleet of gas turbines.

But Union Pacific never put a control cab on the tender of its 8500 horsepower (later upgraded to 10,000 horsepower) turbine sets.


The turbine set, and the Centennial series diesels that replaced them, are in preservation at the Illinois Railway Museum.  These days, if you want the oomph to move a Powder River coal train, a pair of 4400 hp diesels with alternating current drive can get the job done.  They might be too big and too heavy to fit Ivan's rails.

Union Pacific did operate one double-ended turbine locomotive of 4500 hp, at the time that was the same power as a three unit set of Electro-Motive or Alco freight diesels.


The problem with any turbine locomotive is that the power plant is only efficient at full power and cruising speed.  Trains cannot be brought to cruising speed as rapidly as jet aircraft are.  We'll see how well this Russian experiment, cleaner-burning fuel or not, works out.

FINDING THOSE MISSING MARKETS.

Now that Republicans have working majorities in the House and Senate and a president who ran on the Republican ticket, they can no longer pass symbolic repeals of the two lies for the price of one Patient Protection and Affordable Care act without having something substantive to take its place.  Here, from W. R. Mead, is the challenge.
The core problem with American health care is that our delivery system is antiquated, horribly regulated, and overpopulated by vested interests who have built sweetheart deals for themselves into the structure of the system. As a result, we pay much more for health care than we should or can. The result is a system that has all kinds of urgent, fix-me-now problems: access for the poor, affordability for the middle class, quality of care, and so on. But these cannot be fixed in the short term. The party that owns the status quo owns a wretched mess that it cannot actually fix no matter what it does.

What we need is the presence of mind to prioritize the long term, unglamorous work of installing incentives and reforms that reduce costs even as we take short term palliative methods to relieve distress. Obamacare was by and large though not totally a failure in this respect; we will see if the Republicans can do better.
For "incentives and reforms that reduce costs," think market-tested betterments.

Here's one approach, from the Independent Institute.  Getting from bureaucratic muddle to market tests is not going to be easy. "[T]he market in many states is dysfunctional — in part because we have so completely suppressed and distorted normal economic incentives. That means competitive outcomes in many states can’t serve as a reliable guide to public policy decisions."  Ultimately, breaking the bundle of job and insurance coverage facilitates market-tested betterments in labor markets and insurance markets alike.  "That would leave us with a system in which employers would have complete freedom of choice between the individual and group markets and complete freedom of choice of how their employees will receive tax relief."

John "Grumpy Economist" Cochrane also has thoughts.
It’s wiser to start with a vision of the destination. In an ideal America, health insurance is individual, portable, and guaranteed renewable — it includes the right to continue coverage, with no increase in cost. It even includes the right to transfer to a comparable plan at any other insurer. Insurance companies pay each other for these transfers, and then compete for sick as well as healthy patients. The right to continue coverage is separate from the coverage itself. You can get the right to buy gold coverage with a silver plan.

Most Americans sign up as they graduate from high school, get a drivers’ license, register to vote, or start a first job. Young healthy people might choose bare-bones catastrophic coverage, but the right to step up to a more generous plan later. Nobody’s premiums subsidize others, so such insurance is cheap.


People keep their individual plans as they go to school, get and change jobs or move around.  Employers may contribute to these individual plans. If employers offer group coverage, people keep the right to individual plans later.

Health insurance then follows people from job to job, state to state, in and out of marriage, just like car, home and life insurance, and 401(k) savings.

But health insurance is not a payment plan for small expenses, as home insurance does not “pay for” lightbulbs. Insurance protects your wallet against large, unexpected expenses. People pay for most regular care the same way they pay for cars, homes, and TVs — though likewise helped to do so with health savings and health credit accounts to smooth large expenses over time. Doctors don’t spend half their time filling out forms, and there are no longer two and a half claims processors for every doctor.
That is, insurance looks more like catastrophic coverage, which is what people carry on their houses and motor vehicles.  Market-tested betterments might be the way to go.
Big cost control comes from the only reliable source — rigorous supply competition. The minute someone tries to charge too much, new doctors, clinics, hospitals, and models of care spring up competing for the customer’s dollar. “Access” to health care comes like anything else, from your checkbook and intensely competitive businesses jockeying for it.

What about those who can’t afford even this much? Nobody dies in the street. There is also a robust system of government and charity care for the poor, indigent, those who have fallen between the cracks, and victims of rare expensive diseases. For most, this simply means a voucher or tax credit to buy private insurance.

But — a central principle — the government no longer massively screws up the health insurance and health care arrangements of the majority of Americans, who can afford houses, cars, and smartphones, and therefore health care, in order to help the unfortunate. We help people forthrightly, with taxes and on-budget spending.

Why do we not have this world? Because it was regulated out of existence, and now is simply illegal. 
The original sin of American health insurance is the tax deduction for employer-provided group plans — but not, to this day, for employer contributions to portable individual insurance. “Insurance” then became a payment plan, to maximize the tax deduction, and then horrendously inefficient as people were no longer spending their own money.
The best thing for the government to do might be to go away, or, as the Independent Institute post suggests, back away slowly.
Worse, nobody who hopes to get a job with benefits then buys long-term individual insurance. This provision alone pretty much created the preexisting conditions problem.

Patch, patch. To address preexisting conditions, the government mandated that insurers must sell insurance to everyone at the same price. Insurance companies will then try to avoid sick people, so coverage must be highly regulated. Healthy people won’t buy it, so it must be nearly impossible for people to just pay out of pocket. Obamacare added the individual mandate.

Cross-subsidies are a second original sin. Our government doesn’t like taxing and spending on budget where we can see it. So it forces others to pay: It forces employers to provide health insurance. It forces hospitals to provide free care. It low-balls Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.

The big problem: These patches and cross-subsidies cannot stand competition. Yet without supply competition, costs increase, the number of people needing subsidized care rises, and around we go.

The Republican plans now circulating make progress. Rep. Tom Price’s plan ties protection from preexisting conditions to continuous coverage. His and Speaker Paul Ryan’s “Better Way” plan move toward premium support for private insurance, and greater portability.

So far, though, the announced plans do not really overturn the original sins. But those plans were crafted in a different political landscape. We can now go big, and really fix the government-induced health care mess in a durable way.
We'll also know when the insurance markets are working. When we stop seeing statements from the insurer that read like a cargo manifest, and when invented discounts from invented prices go away.
I visited my dermatologist last month. I spent 20 minutes with a resident, and 5 minutes with the dermatologist. The bill was $1335. An “insurance adjustment” knocked off $779. Insurance paid $438. I paid $118. The game goes on. We start with a fake sticker price to negotiate with the uninsured and to declare uncompensated care. But you cannot just walk in and pay as you can for anything else. Even $438 includes a huge cross-subsidy.

We’ll know we’ve fixed health care when we don’t get bills like this.
Sometimes, we can walk in.  Perhaps, though, we get hit with the $1335.  Or perhaps a counselor gives us a financial proctology, and we pay $438 or $125 or whatever a computer random number generator kicks out.

Medical savings accounts, catastrophic coverage, interstate sales of insurance, portability of insurance, greater commercial freedom for purveyors of pills and procedures.  Stat!

THE POWER OF URBAN AGGLOMERATION ECONOMIES.

The 2016 presidential vote stratified in a number of ways, including a preponderance of the Democratic vote originating in counties that generated a lot of national income, or perhaps it was a preponderance of national income originating in counties that generated a lot of Democratic votes.

Apparently, despite the loss of the blue collar aristocrats and the Marshallian entrepreneurial nexus for heavy industry, Milwaukee is again generating income.  Perhaps the shift from being a net recipient of state spending to a net contributor to state revenues reflects Wisconsin fiscal policies that have changed from 2009 to the present, or perhaps there's new life in new commercial ventures.  And perhaps there are new agglomeration economies for future researchers to investigate.

THE CUPCAKES HAD TO TAKE A NAP.

Marquette University's Young Americans for Freedom invited Ben Shapiro to speak, and, mirabile dictu, he was able to speak.  "Shapiro, the editor-in-chief of DailyWire.com and the host of 'The Ben Shapiro Show,' spoke for about twenty minutes and then answered questions from a line of liberals and conservatives that stretched the length of the lecture hall."  That's not to say the no-platformers slunk away.
Chrissy Nelson, a program assistant with Marquette University’s Center for Gender and Sexualities Studies, encouraged people in a Facebook post to register for the free tickets and then not show up, a tactic meant to deny students the chance to see Shapiro speak.

During his talk, Shapiro addressed the controversy, calling Nelson “a professional useless person.”

“She said she got that suggestion from one of the directors of diversity on campus as noted before,” Shapiro said. “A little ironic that the director of diversity wants to ensure that people can’t hear diverse points of view.”

The Facebook post has since been deleted, and Angelique Harris, the director of the center where Nelson is employed, said in an interview that Nelson is being reprimanded.
Marquette have a history of suppressing intellectual inquiry.  Let us be grateful that Ms Nelson is being reprimanded, rather than facing firing, or an appearance before the Holy Inquisition.

NO MAN CAN KINDLE THE EKPYROSIS.

Apparently, Donald Trump's advisor Stephen Bannon, after dipping into The Fourth Turning, thinks he can.  Historian David Kaiser sort of shares that view, and he expounds on that in Time.
The power of Strauss and Howe’s theory of crises comes from its lack of a specific ideology. My own interpretation of it is that the death of an old political, economic and social order creates an opportunity for any determined movement or leader to put a new vision in place. To use the most striking example, both the United States and Germany were in the midst of a terrible economic and political crisis in 1933. The United States turned to Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal; Germany turned to Adolf Hitler and National Socialism.

In 2009, when Bannon and I met, I hoped that Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress would use the economic crisis of our own age to revive the values of the New Deal. Bannon obviously had other ideas about where the crisis would lead.
Yes, in The Fourth Turning, the saecular Crisis exposes enough flaws with the old values regime that a new values regime emerges.  Ekpyrosis is Greek for "now the new phoenix arises from the ashes."  But the new values regime is a response to the contradictions inherent in the old values regime, and in the Strauss and Howe approach, there is no remorseless Hegelian dialectic under which all the contradictions can be ground out for once and for all, and no Vanguard to Lead the People to The Glorious Future.  (In Strauss and Howe, that's actually desirable, as the Inexorable March of Progress inevitably sacrifices all generations before the Glorious Future becomes the Glorious Present on the Altar of Progress.  Never mind that the Romans had the saeculum but they didn't have steam locomotives or smart 'phones.)

Mr Bannon, however, gives Mr Kaiser the impression that he's going to be the spiritual guide to Mr Trump's Gray Champion.
Trump, Bannon and the rest of the Trump campaign have already managed to destroy the old political order. Trump wiped out a slate of traditional Republican candidates and has won the White House, despite losing the popular vote. Meanwhile, a ceaseless Republican political offensive at various levels of government has given Trump an entrenched majority in the House of Representatives and a small majority in the Senate. Soon the conservatives will have a majority on the Supreme Court.

What will they do? Their rhetoric and personalities, viewed in the context of Strauss and Howe’s theory of crisis, suggest that they will not be bound by existing precedents and that they will rely on their own view of the heroes and villains of our time.

Generation Zero [a movie Mr Bannon produced -- ed.] slanted the story of the economic crisis rather cleverly. On the one hand, plenty of contributors pointed out that greed and shoddy banking practices had brought about the economic collapse, but the ultimate blame is placed on liberals, bureaucrats and established politicians. And just as Republican politicians and commentators have done for the last seven years, many of the contributors—speaking at the dawn of the Obama administration—pictured a horrible fate under Barack Obama, featuring economic catastrophe and attempts to impose socialism.

This, however, is one of the terrible things about crisis periods: many people will believe almost anything. The United States faces a terrible crisis right now even though our economy is much improved from eight years ago and we are not involved in a large war. And the Republican Party and Donald Trump are poised to take advantage of it. In my opinion, Trump, Bannon, Gingrich, Ryan and the rest will use their opportunity during the next year or two to undo as much of the Democratic legacy as they can—not only the Obama legacy, but that of FDR and LBJ as well.
Let's keep in mind that Social Security and Medicare are large unfunded liabilities, and Medicaid and the Interstate Highways and the Great Society more generally are life-expired, and Venezuela is there as a cautionary tale.

But it is beyond the powers of Mr Trump, with or without Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress, with or without a lot of bellicose guys named Stephen smacking the palace guard media around and otherwise fostering disruption, to channel an emergent phenomenon.

It's only after the ekpyrosis that the emergence of a new consensus happens.  Sorry, David Brooks.
Now and after Trump, the great project is rebinding: rebinding the social fabric, rebinding the government to its people, and most of all, rebinding the heaping piles of wreckage that Trump will leave in his wake in Washington. Somebody will have to restore the party structures, rebuild Congress, revive a demoralized Civil Service.

These tasks aren’t magic. They are for experienced professionals. The baby boomer establishment polarized politics, lost touch with the voters and paved the way for Trump. We need a new establishment, one that works again.
Yeah, I'd like to live long enough to see a new America that Works(TM).  The party structures, the governing class, all the rest?  Perhaps one of the lessons we've learned after fifty years of social change and the accretion of power by Wise Experts is that the Wise Experts don't control as much as they think they control.  It's not so much a new establishment, as a chastened and less hubristic one.

Peter Lawler comes closer to getting the social dynamics right.  "I will stop here by keeping hope alive that [Mr Trump] will find the mean between nationalism and cosmopolitanism that keeps 'Americanism' from degenerating into tribalism. And if he does not find that mean, then let us hope the country as a whole finds it for itself in time."  That's his concluding argument, read it all first.  Keep in mind that an emergent mean, reflecting the distributed strategies of multiple people, is likely to be more robust than anything pushed by a president.  That's something Mr Kaiser noted about Mr Obama.  "Presidents could not, in fact, remake American society, and that that was a good thing."  Nor can business interests, although a writer for Breitbart Unmasked hopes that under some circumstances they do take the reins.

There's a long Business Insider essay by Linette Lopez that also takes on the Bannon-manages-Fourth-Turning idea.  She deals with a number of topics.  I limit my remarks to these.
Strauss and Howe fail to recognize that difference in their description of the Fourth Turning to come. They forget that no two Turnings are alike; instead, they get trapped thinking that the last catalyst — the Great Depression, a financial crisis — was the next one as well, and Bannon does too.

This is why he believes that the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 was the catalyst of our crisis, just as the Great Depression was the catalyst in the previous saeculum.
There's something ad hoc about the identification of the onset of any saecular Crisis.  I recall some discussion boards debating whether or not the hanging chads of Florida were the catalyst.  Or the September 11 terrorist attacks.  Or the failure of the levees in New Orleans.  Or the popping of the financial bubble.  There's been a lot going wrong.  There's also a lack of anything resembling consensus as to a response, which sounds a lot like 1860.  But in the Strauss and Howe taxonomy, the secession crisis and Civil War are an anomaly.  Go figure.  In the absence of a coherent set of testable implications, perhaps Ms Lopez is correct, and the Fourth Turning has not yet arrived.  "So perhaps there is a Fourth Turning to come, but Bannon is not an architect of its initiation."

DON'T GET PUNISHED FOR BEING COOPERATIVE.

With this academic year's tenure decisions, to the extent that anybody is taking tenure decisions these days, proceeding past the college and university level and on to the trustees, there might be a few academicians getting the good news.  Inside Higher Ed's Kerry Ann Rockquemore outlines the three biggest mistakes newly tenured professors commonly make.
Mistake #1: You act as if nothing has changed when everything has changed. The primary mistake that newly tenured faculty make is that they continue working as if they are still racing against a ticking tenure clock. The fear of not winning tenure led them to work long hours and to neglect their health, relationships and leisure. And then when they win tenure, they keep working as if nothing has changed.
There's truth to that, particularly with academicians neglecting all else to pursue their research.  On the other hand, a tenure evaluation is also a way, particularly in departments with ambitions, to distinguish the careerists racking up minimally publishable units from the genuinely intellectually curious.  It's not so much that the latter are racing only the tenure clock, rather, the game is afoot, and they want to snare it.  And, dear reader, if you're only now asking the questions about work life that Ms Rockquemore suggests, perhaps you're being toasted with a poisoned chalice.  Figure out the fit with your department and your university starting from day one.
Mistake #2: You don’t know who you are or what you want. Before you earned tenure, you had to work hard to meet externally imposed expectations for your research, teaching and service. The greatest gift (and challenge) of winning tenure is that now you get to choose your posttenure pathway. What will your direction be for the next five to seven years? Do you want to be a public intellectual, a master teacher, an institutional change agent, a disciplinary superstar, an administrator or something else entirely?

Clearly, there are both differential consequences and rewards for whichever path you choose, but the key is that it’s your responsibility to identify what you want and then move in that direction. The mistake I see newly tenured people repeatedly make is that they have spent so long pleasing others that they no longer know who they are, much less what they want.
Here's where the cooperative get punished.  A department that is interested in developing its incoming faculty -- and this is true more often than not once you get away from the fifty institutions aspiring to the top ten, where failure to earn tenure is de rigueur -- is going to protect probationary faculty from most of the administrative scutwork and the fever swamps of the process worshippers.  But those committees have to be filled, and the next installation of dues-paying for the rising academic features a heavy dose of committee chores.  Choose wisely: that's one way in which a case of professor burnout can come on quickly.  In that earlier post, I urged a strategy of saying No, or Hell, no, to many of those requests.  Perhaps there's more.  The tenured faculty are stewards of their university.  Perhaps it ought be part of their calling to ask whether this committee, this initiative, that deanlet, that administrative office, is necessary.

That leads directly to the third error.
Mistake #3: Your ambivalence leaves you a player in other people’s games. When newly tenured faculty members show up in the fall with no agenda of their own, they have no filter for assessing incoming requests, and they’re left reacting to request upon request without any sense for when to say yes or no. They’re so used to pleasing others that they feel flattered to be asked to do invisible, labor-intensive and unrewarded work that doesn’t move them in any particular direction (but often advances other people’s agendas). They quickly find themselves spreading their energy in so many different directions that they end up working longer and harder than they did during their pretenure years. Then one day they wake up and several years have slipped by, and despite all of their hard work, they can’t point to any one area of notable individual accomplishment. Instead, they’ve helped a whole bunch of other people realize their goals. This is how and why many tenured professors become bitter, angry and resentful.

When you have a clear posttenure pathway, you are prepared to approach these requests very differently. You create opportunities instead of reactively accepting responsibilities. You pass every request through a simple filter, asking yourself: Will this move me in the direction of my five-year goals? If yes, the answer is yes, and if not, the answer is no. And instead of relying on your pretenure mentoring networks, you actively construct a new mentoring network that will support your five-year goals and help you to develop the specific skills and experience you need to get there.
There might now be enough experienced faculty members with experience only in the downsizing, business-faddish, special education-enabling, virtue-signalling institutions of higher learning for such mentors to emerge.  Judging by the comments to the essay, though, faculty morale is pretty low, and perhaps the most effective mentoring oughta be offered to aspiring Ph.Ds before they sit the GREs.  That is, Don't sit the GRE and take a nap until the urge goes away.

13.2.17

FEASIBLY FASTER TRAINS.

Trains and Travel meditates on Chicago.
Chicago is still the heart of passenger rail in America. It’s “home port” for most of Amtrak’s long-distance trains—nine of them originate in Chicago. It would be nice if there were more, of course, but those nine trains fan out from Chicago and cover a good deal of the country. There are regional trains with Chicago as a terminus, too—trains extending into Michigan and to parts of southern Illinois. The track between Chicago and St. Louis is being upgraded and those trains will soon be running at 110 miles an hour. And trains are already running at 110 along stretches of routes linking Chicago with cities in Michigan.

High speed rail is wonderful, as anyone who has traveled by train almost everywhere else in the world will attest. But the next logical step for the Amtrak network outside of the Northeast Corridor is to increase speeds on existing short-haul routes from a maximum of 79 mph up to 110. Shorter running times always attracts more riders.
Just as Cold Spring Shops have been urging for years.  But let's aim higher.  The E units of the early Diesel Era were good for 117 mph; for nearly forty years British Rail and successors have been running their fixed-formation Inter City 125 diesel trains at 125 mph, and those trains are good for 140.  There's little reason for all the extra spending on electrification and trackage to get another 60 to 100 mph out of the trains.  At the margin, it's spending a lot of money to shave off a few seconds.

I'd add: more frequent trains, and better connectivity among the corridors at Chicago.

WHEN WILL THEY LEARN?

In St. Paul, Minnesota Nice school administrators fretted about school suspensions having a disparate impact on completion rates and imprisonments.  But easing up on troublemakers enables troublemakers.  City Journal's Katherine Kersten recently followed up on St. Paul, and her article's title, No Thug Left Behind (via Power Line) offers scant consolation.
[Former fourth grade teacher Aaron] Benner—a leader among teachers critical of the racial-equity policies—spoke forthrightly to the St. Paul school board. “I believe we are crippling our black children by not holding them to the same expectations as other students,” he told its members. St. Paul students, Benner wrote the following year, “are being used in some sort of social experiment where they are not being held accountable for their behavior.” Safety, not teaching, had become his “number one concern,” he said.
Mr Benner is an American of African extraction, for all the respect it got him from the inadequately socialized hellions of color, and from the administration.  "Benner says that district leaders pushed him out of his school and fired his aide. He now works at a private school."

Make no mistake, it is inadequate socialization, and the administrators and their Ever Concerned Facilitators on Consulting Contracts are enabling it. Here's the social science.
[St. Paul's school] discipline policies rooted in racial-equity ideology lead to disaster. This shouldn’t be surprising, considering that the ideology’s two major premises are seriously flawed. The first premise holds that disparities in school-discipline rates are a product of teachers’ racial bias; the second maintains that teachers’ unjustified and discriminatory targeting of black students gives rise to the school-to-prison pipeline.

In 2014, a groundbreaking study in the Journal of Criminal Justice by J. P. Wright and others discredited both these claims. [Likely this paper - ed.]The study utilized the largest sample of school-aged children in the nation. Unlike almost all previous studies, it controlled for individual differences in student behavior over time. Using this rigorous methodology [c.q.], the authors concluded that teacher bias plays no role in the racial-equity suspension gap, which, they determined, is “completely accounted for by a measure of the prior problem behavior of the student.” Racial differentials in suspension rates, they found, appeared to be “a function of differences in problem behaviors that emerge early in life, that remain relatively stable ove time, and that materialize in the classroom.”

Why do black and white students, as groups, behave differently at school? Black students, on average, “are less academically prepared for school entrance” and bring with them deficits in many social and emotional skills, the study found, over which their parents do not exert control. The authors point out that, while a number of earlier studies have suggested pervasive teacher bias as a factor in the racial-equity discipline gap, “some scholars and activists” show “clear motivations” to present the discipline gap as a civil rights issue, “with all the corresponding threats of litigation by the federal government.”

As for the school-to-prison pipeline, the authors appear to view the concept largely as an effort to link “racial differences in suspensions to racial discrimination.” Under these circumstances, they emphasize, “where careers are advanced, where reputations are earned, and where the ‘working ideology’ of scholars is confirmed, the usual critical and cautionary sway of scholarly investigation, critique, and insight becomes marginalized or usurped.” Schools should make efforts to correct the problem behaviors of young students, the authors say. If they fail to do so, early patterns of “disruptive and unregulated behavior” can become entrenched, and lead eventually to school failure, dropping out, and potentially to encounters with the justice system. In the St. Paul schools, however, equity ideology makes such constructive correction impossible.

The deepest source of the racial-equity discipline gap is profound differences in family structure. Young people who grow up without fathers are far more likely than their peers to engage in antisocial behavior, according to voluminous social-science research. Disordered family life often promotes the lack of impulse control and socialization that can lead to school misconduct. The City of St. Paul does not make out-of-wedlock birth data public. However, Intellectual Takeout, a Minnesota-based public-policy institution, has determined through a FOIA request to the Minnesota Department of Health that 87 percent of births to black, U.S.-born mothers in St. Paul occur out of wedlock, compared with 30 percent of white births. Tragically, the problem we confront is not so much a school-to-prison pipeline as a home-to-prison pipeline.

Who pays the greatest price for misguided racial-equity discipline policies? The many poor and minority students who show up at school ready to learn. The breakdown of order that such policies promote is destined to make these children’s already-uphill struggle for a decent education even more daunting.
What are we now, almost fifty years since the Moynihan Report, and still the folks who make public policy haven't figured out that if the village has few redeeming features, the babies being born there face a grim future?

THE WATER CANNOT OVERTOP THE LEVEE.

The troubles Californians are having with the rain-swollen Lake Oroville, held back by a monstrous earthen dam, remind me of lessons I thought hydraulic engineers had learned years ago.   You'd think a clogged spillway and water overtopping the South Fork Dam and ripping the dam apart, with great loss of life in Johnstown, would be sufficient caution for owners of contemporary water projects to maintain the proper state of good repair.

Apparently not.
More than a decade ago, federal and state officials and some of California’s largest water agencies rejected concerns that the massive earthen spillway at Oroville Dam — at risk of collapse Sunday night and prompting the evacuation of 185,000 people — could erode during heavy winter rains and cause a catastrophe.

Three environmental groups — the Friends of the River, the Sierra Club and the South Yuba Citizens League — filed a motion with the federal government on Oct. 17, 2005, as part of Oroville Dam’s relicensing process, urging federal officials to require that the dam’s emergency spillway be armored with concrete, rather than remain as an earthen hillside.

The groups filed the motion with FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They said that the dam, built and owned by the state of California, and finished in 1968, did not meet modern safety standards because in the event of extreme rain and flooding, fast-rising water would overwhelm the main concrete spillway, then flow down the emergency spillway, and that could cause heavy erosion that would create flooding for communities downstream, but also could cause a failure, known as “loss of crest control.”
There's an animated display at the Johnstown Flood Museum that demonstrates, without the loss of life, what loss of crest control looks like.

The regulators said no to the upgrades.
Federal officials at the time said that the emergency spillway was designed to handle 350,000 cubic feet per second and the concerns were overblown.

“It is important to recognize that during a rare event with the emergency spillway flowing at its design capacity, spillway operations would not affect reservoir control or endanger the dam,” wrote John Onderdonk, a senior civil engineer with FERC, in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s San Francisco Office, in a July 27, 2006, memo to his managers.

“The emergency spillway meets FERC’s engineering guidelines for an emergency spillway,” he added. “The guidelines specify that during a rare flood event, it is acceptable for the emergency spillway to sustain significant damage.”
Oops.
This weekend, as Lake Oroville’s level rose to the top and water couldn’t be drained fast enough down the main concrete spillway because it had partially collapsed on Tuesday, millions of gallons of water began flowing over the dam’s emergency spillway for the first time in its 50-year history.

On Sunday, with flows of only 6,000 to 12,000 cubic feet per second — water only a foot or two deep and less than 5 percent of the rate that FERC said was safe — erosion at the emergency spillway became so severe that officials from the State Department of Water Resources ordered the evacuation of more than 185,000 people. The fear was that the erosion could undercut the 1,730-foot-long concrete lip along the top of the emergency spillway, allowing billions of gallons of water to pour down the hillside toward Oroville and other towns downstream.

Such an uncontrolled release from California’s second-largest reservoir while it was completely full could become one of the worst dam disasters in U.S. history.
Let's hope that the inevitable investigations don't take place against the backdrop of a West Coast Johnstown.
“When I think about the fact that the (auxiliary) spillway at Oroville did not even have concrete lining on it, I’m just really surprised,” said Rep. Doris Matsui, a Democrat from Sacramento. “I would think that would be the first thing you could do.”

“Some hard questions have to be answered about why this facility was apparently neglected in a way that left it vulnerable to these problems,” said Rep. Jared Huffman of San Rafael, the top Democrat on the House subcommittee with oversight over dams. “Clearly there were warning signs, there were people saying, ‘we need to fix this.’ ”
The concrete channel of the primary spillway broke account a sinkhole;  that will give geologists some research opportunities, perhaps involving the dynamics of a heavy mass of water behind the dam or seismic activity in the area.  Unlike the South Fork Dam, which was an abandoned component of Pennsylvania's Main Line of Public Works, later purchased by a club of wealthy Pittsburghers and not cared for, the Oroville Dam is a major component of California's water and hydroelectric power networks.

Neglect the maintenance of a state of good repair at your peril.

YES. NEXT QUESTION.

Right Wisconsin: Did Smug Liberals Help Win Wisconsin For Trump?  Politico sends Michael Kruse to Pepin County, where emigrants from the Cities put on airs, alienated people, and failed to make friends.
Pepin County is one of those rural areas, and the resentment isn’t just directed at the coasts. It’s local. Here, the urban elite isn’t a faceless, distant other: It’s the enclave of liberal, mostly Twin Cities newcomers who have moved here over the past few decades—not just an abstract political imposition, but an actual physical presence. It has spawned anger and bitterness, a simmering undercurrent of alienation among many people locally born and raised. It has made “Democrat” mean something it didn’t mean a generation ago. And it was made manifest on November 8.

Pepin County represents not only the most compelling reasons Trump won but also the reasons so many liberals were so surprised. If more people from more places had been talking to the people of Pepin County—and if the people of Pepin County had been talking more to one another—the notion of a Trump victory wouldn’t have seemed farfetched in the least. But my interviews, with Democrats and Republicans alike, started to feel to me like listening to disconnected halves of conversations that had never occurred. And still weren’t.

“We have found a whole community here,” said Pat Carlson, Wally Zick’s wife, “of very like-minded—it’s going to sound elite—but bookish, artsy, I’d say compassionate … organic foodies, the whole nine yards. It’s all transplants. It’s mostly liberals.” As for this election, and the locals, she continued, “I think they thought the liberal elite was looking down on them, and I guess, in some ways, we were. Because we couldn’t believe anybody would vote for Trump.”

Zick described a fault line here between the old and the new, the people who have lived in the county forever and the move-ins from over the Minnesota border, clustered primarily on the southwestern end of the county. “They don’t come here,” Zick said. “We don’t go there.”
The future of Pepin County, however, appears to be bucolic real estate for well-off seniors from the Cities. The young people are headed to the Cities, and Chicago, and where the opportunities are.
[M]any of the smartest, most enterprising youth from Pepin County—as in so many counties like it—have been leaving for college and never coming back. School enrollments are down, and districts have consolidated, leaving behind in smaller communities hurt feelings and ripped-away sources of pride. “The farm families have declined, and so have the school populations,” said [local historian Terry] Mesch, who keeps an office in the cold, old, wood-framed courthouse in Durand, the county seat. “They feel like they’re losing their identity.”
But as Durand declines, the real estate prices decline, and that brings in the fashionable elders, primarily from the Cities.
The withering of old Pepin County has coincided with the influx of the move-ins. Minneapolis and St. Paul are an hour-and-a-half drive and a world away, and the people who have come from “the Cities,” as the people here call them, are typically retirees or close to it, and often well-off enough to restore old houses or build big new ones. The economy around them, geared more toward their wallets and tastes as well as those of tourists, relies on wineries, galleries, bed and breakfasts, seasonal art festivals—and a pie shop run by the husband-and-husband team of Steve Grams and Alan Nugent.

If there is a de facto capital of Pepin County’s politically progressive newcomers, it is the village of Stockholm, winter population 66. And its social hub, just down the hill from the renovated farmhouse where Zick and Carlson live, is the Stockholm Pie & General Store, which sells artisanal cheese, craft beer and pricey slices of a double lemon pie.
But a bit of Wisconsin somewhat off the Interstates isn't likely to become a business incubator, the tensions between traditionalists and aging hippies or not.
“Where’s the richest place to live?” said Gerald Bauer, 74, born and raised on a local dairy farm, who now is the vice chairperson of the county board of supervisors. “The area around Washington, D.C.—that’s wrong.”

And here these city people have come, with their money and their politics, right to Pepin County, which now has its very own liberal left coast. “The ones that move in try to change everything,” said Gary Samuelson, 72, “and the people who’ve been here a long time don’t care too much for change.”

“They don’t share our views on anything,” Vic Komisar, 41, the president of the ATV club, said of the people from Minnesota. “They got this picture that we’re all country bumpkins, the locals are, that we’re not educated. The people who move in talk down to the natives. I don’t know how you want to word that, but that’s the persona given off.”
Yeah, I can see how these Lake Wobegon types might give an ATV rider the stink-eye.  That disdain -- it's one of the oppressions of class, but the gentry left don't worry about it much, is common all over the country.  Thus Victor Hanson, also in City Journal.
Poorer, less cosmopolitan, rural people can also experience a sense of inferiority when they venture into the city, unlike smug urbanites visiting red-state America. The rural folk expect to be seen as deplorables, irredeemables, and clingers by city folk. My countryside neighbors do not wish to hear anything about Stanford University, where I work—except if by chance I note that Stanford people tend to be condescending and pompous, confirming my neighbors’ suspicions about city dwellers. And just as the urban poor have always had their tribunes, so, too, have rural residents flocked to an Andrew Jackson or a William Jennings Bryan, politicians who enjoyed getting back at the urban classes for perceived slights. The more Trump drew the hatred of PBS, NPR, ABC, NBC, CBS, the elite press, the universities, the foundations, and Hollywood, the more he triumphed in red-state America.

Indeed, one irony of the 2016 election is that identity politics became a lethal boomerang for progressives. After years of seeing America reduced to a binary universe, with culpable white Christian males encircled by ascendant noble minorities, gays, feminists, and atheists—usually led by courageous white-male progressive crusaders—red-state America decided that two could play the identity-politics game. In 2016, rural folk did silently in the voting booth what urban America had done to them so publicly in countless sitcoms, movies, and political campaigns.
The tensions may be less evident in the Imperial Valley than in the Black River Valley.  But even in the Black River Valley, trade unites where politics divides.  The gentry shepherdess wants to engage in intercourse with a hay farmer she thinks voted for Mr Trump.  Why?  "It’s beautiful hay,” she said. “It’s dry, and it’s grassy, and it’s got just a little bit of clover in it. It’s beautiful, and it’s perfect."

Did you really think I was using that word to mean rolling in the hay?

OUCH.

We've long noted that Chicago State University is a dropout factory.

It's no surprise that Glenn "Insta Pundit" Reynolds suggests Chicago State "richly deserves dismantling."

But Chicago State still put basketball teams on the court, and that's the last straw for Margaret "University Diaries" Soltan.  "Almost no one attends, or graduates, from CSU. This scandalous drop-out factory continues to cost the taxpayers of Illinois serious money, most of which goes to on-campus fraudsters and off-campus lawyers."  How scandalous?  "A little corner of North Korea in America" scandalous.  Wow.

12.2.17

HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF THE YAZIDIS?

We'll return to the School of Tom Clancy for Book Review No. 1 in 2017.  This time it's Mark Greaney's True Faith and Allegiance, and it's much more compelling than Grant Blackwood's Duty and Honor, which merited a perfunctory, disappointed review toward the end of 2016.  I'm not the only Clancy enthusiast to note differences in performance among the matriculants of his school, and a number of even more unhappy readers of Duty were looking forward to True Faith.

The question I raise in the title is one that President Jack Ryan raises as part of a truly refreshing b****slap of some CNN reporter.  I hope that there are people on Team Trump studying the fictional President Ryan, both for the national security nuggets and the tools of the trade for dealing with the Democrat operatives with bylines in the Briefing Room.

The book itself?  I've been following CBS's Hunted, which does not feature the Hounds of Zaroff on Ship-Trap Island, but it has a number of comfortable people attempting to hide themselves, for four weeks, from a team of intelligence officers who have full use of open-source intelligence such as Facebook profiles, plus use of traffic cameras, plus the impossible cluelessness of many of the contestants and their friends.  You know you're playing a reality show and you'll get an hour notice to vamoose, and you don't have a rudimentary bug-out bag with you at all times?  Your friends and social media accomplices know you're playing a reality show, and when the intelligence officers come to their house and use all their interrogator tricks and they haven't been briefed to say only, ONLY "You're not real cops.  You don't have a warrant.  You don't need to know?"  (Extra points if the friend threatens to call the real cops, something a nosy neighbor might have had cause to in at least one hunt.)  Sad.  And you've never worked out enough knowledge of the back roads to find ways to get to where you want to go without passing the traffic cameras?

That's not to mention that neighbors who have not been briefed in on the game have shown a disturbing tendency to be too cooperative with these performers.  Back to the book.

Suppose you have a security clearance, and you know all the personal security techniques, But a miscreant has obtained the background check form you filled in to be vetted before you got that Delta Force or CIA posting.  How safe are you, dear reader, when that miscreant cross-references your close friends and family with their current social media activity, and you don't know that bad people with automatic weapons are hunting you?

There are a few more plot twists, plus, possibly, the introduction of additional cast members, but I've disclosed more than enough for today.  Happy reading.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

IMPROVING THE SUPER INTERURBAN.

Project managers at the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District have even bigger plans for the South Shore Line.  We update our previous report on the proposed double tracking, Gary to Michigan City, with more ambitious plans onward to South Bend.
The railroad’s operator, the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, wants to make improvements it says would shave up to an hour off the South Bend-to-Chicago trip, taking it from 2½ hours to 90 minutes.

The project, called “Double Tracking NWI,” for northwest Indiana, would include building a second parallel track for a 17-mile stretch between Michigan City and Gary, removing the tracks from streets in Michigan City and eliminating a stop there, and elevating the boarding platform in Michigan City.

With a second parallel track between Michigan City and Gary, the passenger train would no longer need to stop and wait for oncoming freight trains to pass through. Currently, opposing trains must meet at scheduled times to pass one another, and any alterations to these “meets,” whether because of mechanical problems, maintenance or other issues, affects all following trains, said John Parsons, vice president of planning and marketing for the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which owns and operates the South Shore.
It's the meets of the passenger trains that pose the greatest challenge to timekeeping, as the schedules have historically anticipated both trains reaching the siding nearly simultaneously, otherwise one train has a longer overall running time.  Here's how it works, when all is going properly.


Sheridan siding, Michigan City, Indiana, 13 August 1966.

As I noted in a prior post, "The approaching train is leaving the single track that runs through the middle of Michigan City streets. There are two levels of protection at work here, the red signal and a line in the employee timetable establishing a meet here. Recent South Shore schedules have moved many of the scheduled meets elsewhere, because of heavy passenger loadings affecting the timekeeping, particularly of rush-hour trains."  With two tracks, and direction of traffic running, a late train might delay a follower, but opposing trains proceed on the other track.  Moving the trains out of the streets of Michigan City has been a goal of the South Shore at least since the 1930s.

That 90 minute running time to South Bend also intrigues.  The best scheduled timings are currently the 1 hour 55 minute Sunrise Express, South Bend to Chicago.  The Morning Hot Shot made the same run in 1 hour 52 minutes into the 1950s, making more stops, and adding cars on the head end at Gary to offer local passengers west of Michigan City a faster one-seat ride into Chicago.  Contemporary rules governing inspection of brakes after an add or a cut rule out such schedule cleverness.

The challenge is in the raising of the money, and it appears that local officials have called in enough favors to Make The Interurban Super Again.
It’s been talked about for years but this is the first time the $290 million project seems to have potential support for federal, state and local funding sources. Gov. Eric Holcomb mentioned the project in his recent State of the State speech, and Statehouse Republicans have voiced support for including funding in this year’s biennial budget bill.

Of the $290 million, half would come from the federal government and the other half would be split evenly between the state and equal contributions by the four counties. U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, has been stockpiling the federal authorizations for the project for years, and has finally amassed enough to make state and local matches feasible.

“We’re kind of at the point where we’ve got this perfect storm,” said Mark Catanzarite, St. Joseph County Council member and a member of the 11-member NICTD board of directors since 2003. “Gov. Holcomb and the state legislature are strongly behind us on this.”

Each county would have to pay about $18.2 million for its share of the construction costs. Lake and Porter counties would draw their money from a Regional Development Authority they created 10 years ago, but which St. Joseph County opted not to join.

LaPorte County is looking to obtain its share from property taxes — Michigan City would use tax incremental financing district money, and LaPorte County is considering tapping its major bridge fund, Parsons said.
South Bend is in St. Joseph County, and some of the major improvements there include bringing the electric cars into the airport station by a more direct route. That would mean the end of the funky side-of-the-road running on the current alignment, a former South Shore spur to a gravel pit.  Such connectivity might be of interest to air travelers headed to Greater Chicago who can spend ninety minutes just getting into or out of O'Hare.  The South Bend airport is small but appears to be passenger-friendly.