30.5.17

THE CRAFT OF COLD SPRING SHOPS.

Highlights from a recent visit to Illinois Railway Museum.

Two Milwaukee Electric composite interurban cars, rebuilt at Cold Spring Shops from deck-roofed cars that looked like big streetcars into cars that looked more like mid-1920s interurbans, remain in preservation.  (There is at least one more car body, being used as a vacation house in Grand Bend, Ontario, but it's in rough shape.)

Coach 1129 (the 1111 designation is a museum member's idea of a sight gag) looks good externally, here under roof but poking into the sunlight, the way they used to do at the Public Service Building.


Parlor Car Menominee 1135, which for years was with 1129, has been moved elsewhere on the museum grounds (to get some stabilization work done?)

The Electroliner rebuilding project continues, here work motor D-13 couples to a tavern-lounge section to move it to Cold Spring Shops for work.


Exaggerating, only slightly.  The work motor often occupies the same storage track as the 'Liner, and 'Liner cars are being moved, one by one, to the electric car shop.

26.5.17

IN PLACE OF HERO PROJECTS, INCREMENTAL IMPROVEMENTS.

Reason's Steven Greenhut, in common with most of Reason's transportation writers, is no fan of high speed trains, especially California's project, which, like the old Chicago - New York Electric Air Line, is starting out with some expensive construction between Nowhere and Vacant Fields.


Chicago-New York Electric Air Line

At the conclusion of his article, however, is a sensible suggestion. "If state officials weren't spending so much money on these wasteful rail-related transit projects, they'd have extra money to fix roads, bridges and freeways—and to provide realistic transit projects rather than overbuilt boondoggles designed with a future fantasy train in mind."

Yes, additional frequencies on the existing regional routes (Amtrak and the city-specific commuter services), making better connections between the Los Angeles and San Diego regional trains, and filling in some of the gaps in the rail network (connect Bakersfield to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo) are likely to be more productive at less cost than a San Francisco to Los Angeles Neubaustrecke that, like its German and Japanese counterparts, will have to be tunnelled through difficult terrain.

The roads?  Perhaps it's in the public interest to let some of them crumble.

SKIRMISHES IN THE COLD CIVIL WAR.

It's heating up.  Anarchists and Patriot Bikers slug it out in Berkeley.  A Middlebury faculty member goes to hospital because students object to her interviewing Charles Murray.  Now a Montana Congressional candidate may have boosted his turnout by roughing up a Guardian reporter.
It’s one thing for idiot college kids to be violent. But a middle-aged Congressional candidate?

It is disgusting to me that some conservatives are defending this thuggery, saying that the reporter had it coming.
Yes, conserving bourgeois norms ought to be the prime directive for people calling themselves conservatives.  And yet this Kulturkampf may not be resolved short of normals marching into the common room at Yale or the producers' desks at NBC and dictating the terms of surrender.

REFEREEING IS A CRAPSHOOT.

Retraction Watch notes that Cogent Social Sciences have withdrawn a paper submitted as a way of exposing the rot in gender studies. Publisher blames bad choice of reviewer for publication of hoax paper on penis as “social construct.” The retraction doesn't restore much confidence in the enterprise.
The article was received by a Senior Editor and sent out for peer review as is standard. Two reviewers agreed to review the paper and it was accepted with no changes by one reviewer, and with minor amends by the other. On investigation, although the two reviewers had relevant research interests, their expertise did not fully align with this subject matter and we do not believe that they were the right choice to review this paper.
And yet the editor relied on the algorithm that picked the reviewers, or something, rather than doing a proper vetting. One reason I let my academic electronic mail go away was to shut down the spammy referee requests from the new journals I never heard of. (If an editor really wants my advice on a paper dealing with, for instance, heavy industry, and he's resourceful enough to find me, perhaps I'll have a look.)

And retractions of papers submitted to expose weaknesses in peer review are not as rare as you might think, dear reader.

MISCHARACTERIZING CROWN POINT.

I confess to enjoying NBC's Chicago series of assorted public servants dealing with a community that sometimes go bad, whilst somehow managing to hop into bed with colleagues, or break off the affair, and their on the job performance doesn't suffer, and Human Resources don't get involved.  (Yes, anything can happen in a cartoon.)

Sometimes, though, the inattention to detail, which includes the dispatcher rolling trucks to a corner nothing like the real corner, or the mispronunciations of streets and place names, is jarring.  (Yes, even if NBC can arrange cameo appearances of the Stanley Cup or starters for the Cubs.)

But when the producers attempted to characterize Crown Point, Indiana, as a sundown town the mayor found that a gaffe too far.
Chicago police are investigating the murder of a black male in Chicago who was burned to death by someone who accused him of being a pedophile.

The victim had recently been released from jail for statutory rape. Police find out the victim and his girlfriend he was accused of committing the crime against, who is white, lived in Crown Point.

When they visit the aunt of the victim she tells police her nephew was in jail not because his girlfriend was underage, but because she was white.

"And that don't fly in Crown Point, Indiana," she said.

In a later scene two female Chicago police detectives visit a sheriff's department in Crown Point and talk to the arresting officer, who comes off as a sexist buffoon.
They also spoke with some persons of interest in a seedy bar near a railroad junction, more opportunities to show off bad-ass women.

But the railroad junction looked like one in Griffith.  Crown Point used to be on the Chicago - Indianapolis - Columbus - Pittsburgh Panhandle Line of The Pennsylvania Railroad, but that's long gone.

The old courthouse in Crown Point has been repurposed as a series of shops offering artisanal stuff.


There's also a John Dillinger museum on the ground floor, as it was from the Crown Point lockup that Public Enemy No. 1's confederates busted him out, leading the G-Men on a merry chase that included shootouts in Wisconsin and at a Chicago theater, where the chase ended.

Perhaps that history motivated the script writers to set the investigation in Crown Point.  The mayor and the local convention and visitors' bureau would like NBC to apologize.

INVESTING INTO TWO BUBBLES?

Recently retired Nevada and previously Wisconsin and Northern Illinois basketball coach Jane Albright wants to help set up a new academic program.
Albright, who coached Wichita State between Wisconsin and Nevada, said Nevada is now her home. She plans to become a professor at Nevada, with the help of former NIU and Nevada athletic director Cary Groth.

“I am going into educational leadership,” Albright said. “We’re going to try to start a sports management degree here. Cary Groth is leading that.”
There's excess capacity in higher education these days, and putting money into sports doesn't look like a wise investment, whether it's professional teams holding up communities for new arenas, or higher education continually restructuring the conference.

On the other hand, between scholarship athletes on prominent teams behaving badly, and difficult people serving as coaches, they'll not lack for case studies.

25.5.17

RIDING JOHN BEGGS'S HORSESHOE CURVE.

I wish I could have claimed to have invented the bike trail on abandoned interurban railroad grades, but they simply offered relatively level places to ride long distances, and until the cuts were filled in, sometimes featured opportunities to duck under busy streets.

Now the Waukesha to Oconomowoc section of Milwaukee Electric, which last saw trains in 1941, is the Lake County Trail, and if we get anything resembling late spring or summer riding conditions, it mostly offers those relatively level places.  "The Lake Country Trail follows an old railroad line for most of its route, and because of that is relatively flat, save for a section in the middle where the rolling Kettle Moraine challenged my weak winter legs and lungs."  The rolling Kettle Moraine also challenged the builders of the interurban line.  The Milwaukee Road already occupied the low ground north of Pewaukee Lake and onwards toward Oconomowoc.  Delafield, to the south of the lakes, offered a passenger population without rail service.  Thus the interurban followed the south shore of Pewaukee Lake, providing service to Waukesha Beach, an amusement park, then tackled the moraine on a twisty grade, and returned to lake level between the two Nemahbin Lakes.  "I huffed and puffed my way up a beast of a hill by Naga-Waukee Golf Course and cruised down the other side toward Highway 83, where big-box stores and fast-food places dominated the landscape and broke the back-in-time spell."  That infill development followed Interstate 94, not the interurban.

The article offers recollections of adolescence in the Lake District and suggestions for places to make a journey break to go with the railroad lore.

STILL SEEKING THOSE MISSING MARKETS.

Ronald W. Dworkin, M.D. prays there will be no more shenanigans in crafting a federal health insurance bill.  It's a long article that will reward careful study (and your own introspection.)  The author gets off to a good start.
When it comes to working with one person or a system composed of people, whether it is a small system like the doctor-patient relationship or a large system like health care, a doctor knows that theories must give way to practicalities, an acceptance of imperfections and impurities, and the natural give-and-take between people. Today, serious health care reform demands this sensible outlook as much as the doctor-patient relationship does. It demands skepticism, not ideology.
Perhaps the place to introduce skepticism is with the continued focus on insurance and liability and containing costs.
So much time and energy spent on new theories of health care delivery, so many papers published on the vital role of quality indicators and preventive medicine, so many conferences held on accountable care organizations, the Cleveland Clinic model, health savings accounts, and other delivery methods, and yet the [shares of health care expenditures among payment sources] have barely moved! Both progressive and conservative theories designed to revolutionize health care have proved ineffectual. All that has happened over the past four decades is that [total spending] has steadily grown bigger, in part from population growth, but also from the introduction of more services, drugs, and technologies, and the increase in prices—the same old story.

The most relevant change introduced by the ACA, at least for the average person, lies below the level of ideology: The ACA simply shifted the financial burden of health care from one group of working people to another. People who suffered in the past—for example, those with incomes just above the old Medicaid eligibility level—can now go on Medicaid. Some people working in small businesses are now eligible for government subsidies. Yet other working people have actually been hurt by the ACA. Young low-income families who in the past refused health insurance must now buy it, even though it comes with a $6,000 deductible, making it useless for most such people. But it’s either that or pay a fine.
It's either take out a second mortgage on the house to buy that premium, and still face the deductible, or take the tax penalty, which is smaller.  But nobody wants to face the messy reality that public provision of medical services in the absence of price discovery is going to involve tapping into a lot of tax money.  But the grand fiction goes on and on and on.
Moreover, people with slightly above-average incomes in the individual insurance market must now pay more to subsidize the more favorable position of those just below them. Many working people saw their hours cut, or their labor outsourced to contractors, so that employers would not have to pay for their health care. Some low-income working families became eligible for enormous subsidies on the ACA exchanges while similarly positioned families working in a different environment (for example, in fast food restaurants) were eligible for much smaller subsidies that were manifestly insufficient to cover their insurance costs. So it’s no wonder that people in this category positively hate the ACA.

Curiously (or not), the people who did well under the ACA are the people who always do well. These include the rich, because the rich can take any hit. The one hit the rich took, a new tax on dividends, hardly elicited a yawn from them. People working full-time for large businesses also continue to do well. Their Cadillac plans remain tax-deductible, with the implementation of a tax on part of their premiums continually postponed. In addition, large businesses retain their advantage in pooling risk. And the very poor continue to do well—they have Medicaid. The overall state of affairs today is thus not appreciably different from the 1980s or 1990s.
The overall state of affairs today is experienced rent-seekers continue to extract rents. Doesn't matter whether it's health insurance or weapons that the generals don't want, but defense plant workers and owners do.

But with the government already involved heavily in medical insurance, why not just invoke the Conrail Option and be done with it?
Since government today is already responsible for more than half the health care spending in the United States, and private health insurance only one-third, even economic conservatives must now ask themselves: Why fuss over that last third? Why not simply inject government into it and be done? Is it because private health insurance is a symbol of free-market capitalism? Why fuss over a symbol? Besides, for many low- and middle-income people, it’s a very expensive symbol.

The sheer existence of the private health insurance market allows for the practice known as “cost-shifting,” whereby people with private insurance pay more for their services to compensate for the low rate of reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid. This hurts low- and middle-income people during their working years. Even more irksome, the co-existence of public and private insurance lets policymakers play games with low- and middle-income workers, with scattershot tax credits and subsidies hurting some workers to benefit others, depending on where they work and what businesses they work for, while the very rich and the very poor stand happily on the sidelines. Although the ACA exemplifies this, Congressman Paul Ryan’s recent plan did some of the same. Middle-income workers would have suffered less financial pain than they do now under the ACA, but the plan’s refundable tax credits would have been insufficient to cover the insurance costs of low-income workers earning too much to qualify for Medicaid. Either way, some working people always end up being sacrificed for the benefit of others. Such games have gone on now for almost four decades.

We should insist on no more games. A main benefit of a national health insurance system is that it would rely on direct progressive taxation for funding. A person making $30,000 a year pays less toward his or her health insurance than a person making $50,000 a year, independent of where he or she works, how many hours he or she works, or how generous his or her employer is. Such a system is easy to understand, transparent, and fair. The United States needs to move away from its current work-based insurance premium system, with its Byzantine maze of credits and subsidies (whether ACA subsidies or free-market-oriented “premium support”), and simply tax people’s incomes or investment streams directly to pay for their insurance, with the rich paying more than the poor.
"Some working people always end up being sacrificed for the benefit of others."  Yes.  The state is always and everywhere that grand fiction by which everyone attempts to live at the expense of everyone else.  Perhaps the way forward is to get the public funds, and the tax code, less involved, not more.  Back in October, I didn't yet know who got to manage Washington's policy failure.  Perhaps the best thing for the government to do is to go away.  Does Dr Dworkin really expect universal Medicare to lead to something other than the "low rate of reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid?"  The sarlacc will continue to slowly digest you.

Don't say I didn't warn you.   "Adverse selection and information asymmetries are undoubtedly present in markets for medical care, and yet the insurers and advisory boards strike me as imperfect, and possibly worse, replacements for price discovery." Don't say I didn't see this coming.  "Does anybody seriously expect that Wal-Mart-like methods to bend down the cost curves are going to work any better because it's Washington optimizing against the marginal factor cost schedule?"  Not then.  Not now.  "Medicare and Medicaid have attempted to restrict provider payments while expanding their enrollments, and as a result providers have greatly reduced their access to new patients from both systems. The Veterans Administration has wait times for its clinics that stretch out so long as to have resulted in patient deaths, along with rampant corruption to hide failures and protect the bureaucrats at the expense of the patients."

I concur with Dr Dworkin in part, and dissent in part, with what follows.
If conservatives have won any argument over the past century it is that the private sector is usually more efficient and consumer-friendly than government is. I believe the private health insurance system should remain for these reasons. Instead of receiving their monies from a mixture of employers, employees, individuals, non-profits, and indirect government subsidies, private insurance companies can get them directly from the government, through taxes.

Precedent exists for this. The full-time Federal workforce hasn’t actually increased all that much over the past two decades. What has increased is the enormous number of subcontractors who perform government tasks. Private health insurance companies will simply become one more (albeit giant) contractor for the Federal government.

Nor does government’s role as check-cutter for the insurance companies necessarily risk inefficiency. Again, a century’s worth of experience has shown that government programs involving nothing more than cutting checks to stable populations (for example, Social Security sending money to seniors) work reasonably well. It is when government involves itself in the delivery of services, or in social engineering, that trouble arises. The insurance companies represent a kind of stable population.
I agree that breaking the employment-health insurance bundle is a good thing, particularly after we've seen the so-called Affordable Care Act give employers incentives to break the bundle with part-time jobs.  But to turn insurance companies into subcontractors?  Think about one more (albeit giant) nest of rent-seekers.  And cutting checks?  Yes, The "Social" "Security" administrators are good at cutting checks.  Their Congressional paymasters are not so good at keeping the program funded.  And sure, the Medicare bureaucracy appears to make do with fewer administrators than the private insurance sector, but by Dr Dworkin's own admission, the private insurance sector have to justify the cost-shifting that keeps all the practitioners from telling Medicare and Medicaid to stuff it.  Think about your own experience with health practitioners in the States.  Provide your insurance information, then see the doctor.  Some time later, a statement arrives from the insurer.  Top line: what clinic billed insurer.

Next line: Discount the insurer negotiated with the clinic.  There may be a formula for this, although the formula might be based on the past month's Medicare and Medicaid traffic, walk-in traffic from uninsured people, and the earned run average of the Cub pitching staff.  Nobody knows what the list price is, anyway.

Below that:  how much of it the insurer paid.  Again, there may be a formula for this, but there might be some legerdemain at work, and you need a degree in forensic accounting to work through the various line items to sort out what entries go in deductible and what entries involve out-of-network.  Railroad car-hire rules are the epitome of clarity compared to all this.

That gets to what you owe.  And nowhere in any of this have you been given the opportunity to comparison-shop in the first place.

Until there are more trade-tested betterments, there will be shenanigans.
Health care is accessed via insurance, which is all about money. The problem with this approach shows up when policymakers must decide which economic issue to tackle first: the insurance problem or the health care cost problem? The choice on both sides of the political spectrum has typically been to solve the insurance problem first (meaning, decrease the number of uninsured) and then to control costs afterward. This is not surprising, since expanding insurance makes voters happy, while controlling costs through restrictions makes voters unhappy. We saw this during the 1990s, when managed care brought down the rate of increase in health care costs, but only temporarily, as patients (meaning voters) started to complain.

It is easy to understand politically why the Obama Administration approached the problem this way. But it is still the wrong approach. Health care costs should be brought under control first, or at least simultaneously, making the method by which we insure people—national health insurance versus private insurance—less important, since without cost control rationing is inevitable either way. And while controlling costs has an obvious economic component, it also has an equally important non-economic component. A serious personnel problem exists in medicine, begging for resolution. Once resolved, the potential cost savings are enormous. Then again, it must be resolved correctly, because otherwise patient lives will be endangered.
Sorry, controlling costs by fiat is not the same thing as controlling costs through trade-tested betterments.  I'm going to take two sentences out of a long and confusing passage from Dr Dworkin's essay, and propose a different direction.  "Disarray always arises when a system loses its core. No one knows who is in control, and so different people move in to take it."  But nobody knows how to make a pencil, or supply Paris with food, and yet I am able to keep pencils in the house by picking up pencils others have left on the floor, and Paris is known for its restaurants.  Perhaps the error is in hoping for Someone In Authority to manage the system.
Where would you be, inhabitants of Paris, if some cabinet minister decided to substitute for that power contrivances of his own invention, however superior we might suppose them to be; if he proposed to subject this prodigious mechanism to his supreme direction, to take control of all of it into his own hands, to determine by whom, where, how, and under what conditions everything should be produced, transported, exchanged, and consumed? Although there may be much suffering within your walls, although misery, despair, and perhaps starvation, cause more tears to flow than your warm-hearted charity can wipe away, it is probable, I dare say it is certain, that the arbitrary intervention of the government would infinitely multiply this suffering and spread among all of you the ills that now affect only a small number of your fellow-citizens.
And there, Dr Dworkin, is where you find yourself, where there has been plenty of arbitrary intervention by the government in the delivery of health care.  Is it that crazy to suggest that the Authority Figures back off and let emergence find a way?

EVERYBODY LOSES.

An annoying Guardian reporter barges in on a private conversation between a Montana candidate for elective office and other reporters and the candidate, Republican Greg Gianforte, reacts badly.

Charlie "Never Trump" Sykes uses the opportunity to comment on the coarsening of the culture more generally.
Without prejudging this case, there is no question that Donald Trump is the role-model-in-chief. And clearly you have a lot of people who have been modeling their behavior on Donald Trump who has declared the media to be the enemy of the people. I think this is going to be fascinating to see how this plays out,. Will the conservative media decide that, oh, beating up on a liberal reporter is somehow is not that big a deal? Will it divide along those lines? I can't say what was going on inside this guy's head.

But there's no question about it. You can't not notice the coarsening of the culture and of the political dialogue. I'm in Wisconsin. You know one of our big rising stars is Sheriff David Clarke who has become kind of a superstar in right wing circles for threatening to put people on the ground. He's actually facing lawsuits now for actually threatening to beat up somebody who talked to him on an airplane. And this is kind of this macho, testosterone, fired-up style that has become popular.
There's enough of this no-platforming, or using of muscle, going around in politics that the predictable tu quoque exchanges are burning up the web.  I'll confess that a Guardian reporter complaining, "You body-slammed me and broke my glasses," provokes thoughts about annoying sanctimonious dweebs getting what they deserve, which may or may not help Mr Gianforte as voters go to the polls.

But Mr Gianforte is Right Wisconsin's Winner of the Day for today, and not for body-slamming sanctimonious dweebs.  "Republican Greg Gianforte has to be thankful for early voting."  The Law of Unintended Consequences bites Democrats again. "Democrats are very protective of early voting. We wonder how they feel about early voting today, at least in Montana."  But if Mr Gianforte wins today, we'll see if the House seats him.

Shall we be grateful there haven't been fistfights or canings in the Capitol itself?

THE ONLY RESORT REMAINING IS A TRULY STUPID AND FUTILE GESTURE.

If you're a member of a fraternity, you're likely dealing with the higher education establishment's scorn.  Or perhaps their contempt: you're deplorable, or irredeemable.  Here's Professor Althouse, about to engage the legalities.  "Examples of anti-male talk that the shapers of campus speech should address: 'toxic masculinity,' 'testosterone poisoning,' 'frat boy,' 'bro.'"  If they're going to treat you with contempt, perhaps laughter, as the Fijis at Galesburg's Knox College engage in, is the only possible response.
Several Knox College fraternity brothers have reportedly been punished after they loudly played the song “Proud To Be An American” as student activists marched against sexual assault.

Earlier this month, Knox College’s Students Against a Sexist Society organized a Take Back the Night march, part of a national campaign that raises awareness about rape.
Fiji's leadership have already begun their constructive self-criticism.
In a statement released to the Knox Student, the fraternity said that “brothers involved partook in a minor act of ignorance towards marchers walking and yelling directly at our house.”

The statement also mentioned that these members “had been subject to disciplinary action,” the Knox Student said, but it’s unclear what that punishment entailed.
Never mind that hard-three hedgehogs social justice warriors apparently have carte blanche to walk past fraternity houses and yell at the residents therein.  The fraternity members have not been sufficiently indoctrinated.
Knox College’s Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, commonly known as “FIJI,” has been actively involved sexual-assault prevention, the Knox Student noted. Working with the Title IX office and the director of Multicultural Student Advisement, it has held several events about rape, consent, and sexual violence. All members have also completed training about sexual assault.
Perhaps the diversity hustlers are incompetent, and they're rendering ineffective training. Turf them out.

24.5.17

THE POTENTIAL IS STILL ON THE RAILS.

In The American Interest, Christopher Miller has reservations about China's program of public roads, including assistance to the highway departments of neighboring countries.
China itself will discover that lending money to its more poorly governed neighbors is not always a profitable business. And foreign policy analysts who see the Belt and Road as a Chinese-style Marshall Plan will be disappointed as the bubble of sky-high expectations pops. For the United States, there is little to fear in the Belt and Road. Asia may get some useful new roads, but the region will also see the limits of Chinese power projection, even in a sphere such as infrastructure where China has a comparative advantage.

The headline numbers associated with the Belt and Road are impressive, and purposefully so. Asia needs lots of infrastructure and an economic vision. China has an impressive track record building highways and high-speed trains across its own vast territory. With Washington distracted by domestic politics, Beijing rightly sees a chance to set the agenda in Asia. Hence the initiative, which was first launched in 2015, has been repeatedly expanded. Last weekend’s summit in Beijing demonstrated China’s ability to convene heads of state—at least when it is promising them vast sums of money.
The article focusses on the ways in which such assistance, particularly in the form of loans, might go wrong, and the ways in which more consumer buying power in China might foster exports from the neighboring countries to China.

Nowhere, though, does the article mention the Chinese intermodal trains now roving as far as England.  Nothing quite like a productive Neglected Actor.

LIVE LONGER, PAY LESS.

An obscure radio talker called Pat LaMarche thinks that ought to be the tag line for universal Medicare.  Her reasoning:  California's proposed statewide single payer bill costs out as less than her estimate of the current cost to Californians under the muddle that existed long before the misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act compounded the muddle.  Perhaps, although perhaps the Californian legislators, with the lessons of Colorado's Amendment 69 in mind, are concealing what the bill is really likely to cost Californians in taxes.  (The estimates of businesses and residents leaving California, or Colorado, don't figure in my story today, as those knock-on effects, while likely to be present, aren't what interest me.)

But if you want to live longer and pay less, mightn't the proper policy response be to bring in more trade-tested betterments?  Start, as Edward "Captain Ed" Morrissey suggests, by recognizing that "commodification" is not a nasty word, it's simply reality.
Health care consists of goods and services produced and delivered by highly specialized providers in exchange for monetary compensation. Overall, it’s a commodity, for which the terms “right” and “privilege” are largely meaningless. In an economic sense, health care is no different than markets for other commodities, such as food, vehicles, fuel, and so on. The ability to purchase goods and services depends on the resources one has for compensation for their delivery in most cases.

Progressives insist that health care is so critical to existence that it must be considered a right, and that government has to guarantee access to it regardless of the ability to pay for it. That, however, doesn’t make it a right, nor is health care the only commodity for which that argument applies. For instance, water is even more critical to existence than health care, but even while most water systems are run by the government, people who don’t pay their bills will get it turned off. Grocery stores are not required to distribute food without proper compensation, and those who take without paying get prosecuted for theft.
Yes, and "guaranteed access" becomes a license to rent-seek and avoid price discovery until the government runs out of other people's money.  Puerto Rico is Greece is Venezuela is Zimbabwe.  Those public water authorities?  How in the name of Donald Trump did they let the bottled water people poach their business, even with street-corner bubblers and chilled water fountains in public buildings?

Never mind that the Jacobin folks want to double down on becoming Venezuela.
The particularly bizarre thing about many of these attacks on single payer from prominent liberals and Democrats is that they’re fundamentally conservative arguments: single payer is too radical and far-reaching a change; it’s too expensive; it’ll mean raising taxes; it’ll involve giving the federal government too much power.

Do Democrats and liberals really want to be making these arguments? After all, they can be (and have been) used against virtually any policy favored by progressives and the Left more broadly, which typically do cost a lot of money, necessitate extra taxes to pay for them, require a great deal of government involvement to successfully implement, and tend to temporarily disrupt people’s lives as new rules, regulations, and systems are put in place. Go ahead and look up conservatives’ attacks on Obamacare as it was cobbled together — virtually every liberal complaint now made about single payer was launched by the Right against Obamacare.
Yes, and how correct were those complaints with respect to the two-lies-for-the-price-of-one Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act?

Perhaps the best thing for the government to do is to back off.  Consider this recent American Interest column.
Whether insurance is bought by private individuals or paid for by the government, healthcare simply costs too much. In the short run, we can argue about exactly how much insurance should be subsidized; in the long-run, the only way out of this trap is to find sustainable ways to bring down the price of delivery, whether through expanded federally-funded research initiatives, regulatory changes, targeted immigration policies, or tort reform.
We'll know improvements are on the way when the conversation turns away from the current focus on insurance and liability, and begins to treat the practitioners and the producers of medicines and medical tools as entrepreneurs and innovators rather than as cost curves to be bent down or as devices to be taxed.

We'll know improvements are on the way when the conversation goes beyond argumentum ad misericordiam.  "You May Like Obamacare, But Don’t Forget About The People It Has Hurt," and the stories of people who benefit from their subsidized insurance, don't get to the main challenge, which is ... expanding the set of important operations people can perform without having to think about them.

A Heat Street essay that might take some stick for appearing to minimize the importance of insurance coverage in fact gets at the heart of the matter.
Health insurance just isn’t a top priority for healthy individuals and families.

Democrats can argue the point day after day that it should be, but this isn’t a priority that is aligned with many day to day voters. What people care about is not having the $700 to fix their car or house, or take a vacation or improve the quality of day to day life for their family, that they are simply pissing away to an Obamacare fine or for a premium or deductible they can’t afford.
Civilization advances by increasing the set of important operations and all that ...  Moreover, when we contemplate trade-tested betterments, the benefit to consumers is part of the testing of the betterments.  Compelling healthy people to buy a crappy insurance policy looks too much like adding complexity for little good at the margin.

Thus, as Reason's Peter Suderman puts it, "[I]mproved affordability and accessibility is an outcome, not a system." Consider consumer electronics, or motor vehicles, or, for that matter, designer bottled water at north of two bucks a bottle.  Start, perhaps, with this Market Ticker manifesto.  It's long.  Score it yourself, dear reader, but consider the logic of the proposal.
This bill will make customer choice not just a function of price but also of outcomes. Today there is no accurate way for a person seeking a procedure to compare the success rate between various providers of a given procedure. This must be fixed immediately if we are to have true competition as some doctors are outstanding, some are excellent, many are average and some are poor. There is literally no way for a customer today to know, other than by anecdote, which category a physician falls into.

The bill will also destroy PBMs and the outrageous extraction of funds they commit by forcing price transparency and decoupling price from "insurance." You will be able to call or go online to look up drug prices from any pharmacy and they will in turn have to honor the same price for all retail buyers. Competition will return at the retail level and the practice of "gagging" pharmacists, which is arguably illegal as it is done for anti-competitive purposes, will end immediately.
There's still the challenge of inferring the ability of the practitioner from the fee, as there's a lot of asymmetric information in medicine, on both sides of the transaction.  And yet, the current hodge-podge of insurance networks and recognized providers and the rest provides patients with precious little in the way either of price discovery or of assessing outcomes.

THE OUTLINES OF THE FOURTH TURNING.

Salena Zito travels to Lake Geneva for a conversation with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
Ryan believes the country may be in the middle of a 100-year correction against 20th century progressivism, which could transfer power from a one-size-fits-all federal government back to individual people in states and localities.

"I think it is really important to get local civil society and local communities with the power to innovate problem-solving," he says.

In the late 20th century, says Ryan, the left, the progressive movement, thought big government was beautiful government. "If you could consolidate power in Washington, it is more efficient," he said of left-wing thinking, "If you could send decisions to a centralized authority, we could be more efficient and more effective."

Yet this wound up stunting innovation, he says. "It dumbed-down communities. It treated everybody the same. We went to a low common denominator, and we disrupted the ability for innovation to take place."

So, to him, progressive consolidation of power dismembered civil society, local control and innovation.

"I think what we are seeing is a returning trend to reinvigorating that," he says, calling it a healthy change.
One-size-fits-all might have dumbed everything down, or it might have entangled all the creativity in process-worship and the kind of straining at gnats that anyone who has ever sat through a faculty senate meeting will appreciate.  (The language at the faculty senate tends to use bigger words and smaller gnats than the kind of nit-picking of your Sunday public affairs show, and fewer "at the end of the day" filler, but the end lack of results is the same.)

The full article is worth your attention, considering a number of ways in which Governance by Wise Experts fails to live up to the promises.

RED ON RED FRATRICIDE.

Gender is a social construct, but reconstructive surgery is problematic.  Or something.
[Wisconsin Capitol protestor Thistle] Pettersen is now engaged in a radical leftist civil war. Pettersen is attempting to sue The Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice for defamation. A Go Fund Me site started to help Pettersen fund the suit says a February statement from the WNPJ “resulted in hundreds of comments and private messages aimed at harming Pettersen’s reputation and sense of well-being as a community member, as well as denouncing her participation at an environmentalist event that she was a key organizer for.”
What did the snowflake do to provoke a meltdown from the Perpetually Aggrieved?  "She identifies herself as a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF) and promotes these views publicly."  That puts her (she doesn't go as xe, xys?) as (gasp!) agreeing with cultural conservatives, if only for reasons that are subtle.

It's not about toying with ideas.  It's about wanting to be able to work the subversives over in Lefortovo.  Losers.

23.5.17

BUILD IT BY INCREMENTS.

Cold Spring Shops friendly connection David Levinson contemplates Australia's envy of the fast trains of Germany or China.
The most recent proposals of CLARA [a private initiative to develop railroads and land] use a form of land value capture to help fund the system, by developing stations along the route, and developing suburbs/towns/cities around those intermediate stations.  I love new planned communities, and this is an exciting idea. I also love value capture. So this is a promising endeavour. But land development on greenfields often takes longer than anticipated, and thus may take a long time to justify the investment, and thus leave investors hanging if projections are not realised, or like so many infrastructure projects before, result in a government bailout. Nevertheless, if the tracks are on the ground, and the first (or second) round of investors are wiped out, the people of Australia will have gotten capital investment in infrastructure at a huge discount, though still be on the hook for operations and maintenance.
That's a throwback to the railway mania, or perhaps to the dot.com mania earlier in the century.  But playing SimTrump doesn't always work out well, on a computer simulation, or for railroad promoters, such as the interurbans of the early twentieth century.

In Australia, though, the venture capital might come from the government.
Peter Thornton has a fact-filled slide deck: Let’s get real about high speed rail in Australia, which comes down against building a full system at first, instead recommends the government, not a private entity, assume the risk and reward and improve shorter distance routes (namely Newcastle to Sydney), and expanding the system over time, rather than conceiving it as one giant project. The government could then sell the operating business and use the revenue to fund the next big thing.
The Australians are already operating a variant of Britain's 125 mph diesel trains. Maybe, as the slideshow illustrates (oh, and check out the antipodean high speed train engaging in street running while you're there) it's not worth spending tens of millions of dollars to shave a few minutes off the running time.

I suppose we could convert the "Free Rein to 110" campaign to "Free Rein to 190" for Australia's metric speed limits.  But getting to 200 or to 240 is feasible with existing diesel trains.

THE IDIOCY OF CULTURAL STUDIES.

Little Free Libraries are oppressive, because rich people are more likely to read, or something.
Little Free Libraries predominantly appear in medium- to high-income neighborhoods in Toronto (an effect that is less pronounced in Calgary, a wealthier city). For both cities, Little Free Libraries are distributed almost exclusively in neighborhoods where 25 percent or more residents have university degrees. In Toronto, Little Free Libraries sprout where public library branches are plentiful and where neighborhoods are white.
That's based on an article in something called the Journal of Radical Librarianship.  "Little Free Libraries®: Interrogating the impact of the branded book exchange."  Again with the "interrogating," as if these people are indulging in fantasies of working enemies of the people over in Lefortovo rather than signalling their prejudices.  "We are not trying to empirically demonstrate that LFL® has caused damage to traditional public libraries, rather we seek to provide an alternative and critical point of view as a departure from the LFL® narrative that has taken hold in the mainstream media."  Whatever.

Translating from the academic-speak:  We don't have any evidence, but we want to demonstrate our Politically Correct bona fides and fatten our tenure dossiers.

SEE YOU DOWN THE ROAD.

The BBC documents the final shows of Ringling Barnum.

LIVING AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHERS.

Right Wisconsin's George Mitchell isn't into toll roads.
It will be tempting to assume that tolling might “solve” Wisconsin’s transportation finance problem and render unnecessary any need to raise the gas tax. That expectation will need to be tested against the reality of multi-billion freeway reconstruction costs and the price-tag for halting the steady decline in the condition of out-state roads. Once the numbers get crunched there almost certainly will be a shortfall.
The highway commissioners can decide to write off some excess capacity now, or they can confront a more difficult triage later.
The widespread recognition among legislators that new revenue is needed explains the emergence of such ideas. The impetus for such talk is the line in the sand drawn by Governor Scott Walker when it comes to raising the gas tax. It remains to be seen whether the governor can reconcile imposition of tolling with his repeated assurances that current revenue is adequate.
Square "adequate revenue" with "crumbling infrastructure" if you can.

22.5.17

USE YOUR IMAGINATION.

Suppose the North Shore Line decided to have an Electroliner control car serviced at Cold Spring Shops.  The move would look something like this.


Illinois Railway Museum, 20 May 2017.

WE ARE ALL UNDEREMPLOYED COMPARED TO OUR GRANDPARENTS.

Yes, you can make a chicken sandwich from scratch.  The money quote.
I never even thought about where these common ingredients come from and how much work goes into it. This really just shows the complexity of our society that just to make a sandwich from scratch there’s an entire army of people specialized in producing each of these ingredients, allowing them to be readily available to us just down the street at the local grocery store, reducing the time from six months to six minutes.
Your sandwich is a privilege. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them.

REDISCOVERING VALUE CAPTURE.

Here's an old Strong Towns post that has come to Cold Spring Shops' attention.
Today we spend money on infrastructure in the hopes of creating growth. That's backwards. Infrastructure should not be a catalyst for growth but something that emerges in support of productive patterns of development. There has to be a relationship between the infrastructure built and the value created.

Let's examine the way the railroads were constructed. Nobody is arguing that there wasn't government subsidy of the railroads. There was. The land for the tracks and the towns along it were largely given to the railroad companies. Examine that investment, however. Land the government owned was given away. (I realize we can debate whether they owned it -- they didn't -- but that is another conversation.) There was no long term taxpayer commitment. There was no ongoing expense the government incurred.

The railroad then built the tracks. Did they build them and then charge a fee (the equivalent of today's gas tax) to pay for the construction? Absolutely not. That would have been far too speculative. In order to pay for the tracks they did something simple and obvious: they developed the towns along the way. The railroads owned the land, created the railroad stop, subdivided the land around it, sold it to speculators and others looking to develop and then used that money (minus some profit margin, for sure) to build the line. In other words, they used a value capture mechanism to pay for the infrastructure.

The railroads were land developers first, railroad operators second. Once the line was built and the land at the towns sold off, they were free of the need to pay off capital expenses. That meant that the fares that the railroad collected could go directly to covering operations and maintenance (and some profit, for sure). That's a viable model.

It is also a model with direct feedback. What happened when things didn't work out, when a town failed to develop properly or when the development of new towns got out ahead of the demand. If the railroads operated like today's highway departments, if the growth slowed down, we would simply build more railroads and towns. After all, the new infrastructure creates growth, right?

Of course, that is not what happened. Many railroads went out of business, and nearly all lost money, in the Long Depression of 1870, which was at least partially caused by over speculation along the railroad lines. That is what happens in a real market system when there is malinvestment and supply runs too far ahead of demand.
But trade-tested malinvestment cannot go on for as long as government-mandated malinvestment.

The history makes me optimistic about the future of Florida's Brightline train service.

HILLARY CLINTON'S FAT TAILS.

Calm down, I'm not referring to her entourage.


Rather, I'm referring to a post-mortem on the failure of the Smartest Kids in the Room to see the wave election that hit them.
The core of Clinton campaign strategy was their analytics system, developed by dozens of researchers who were led by Clinton’s director of analytics, Elan Kriegel, in close consultation with campaign manager Robby Mook. In the Washington Post, John Wagner wrote, “the algorithm was said to play a role in virtually every strategic decision Clinton aides made, including where and when to deploy the candidate and her battalion of surrogates and where to air television ads—as well as when it was safe to stay dark.” The oracle of the system was “Ada,” a big-data simulator that issued up-to-the-minute probabilities on Clinton’s chances by state and county. Throughout the general election, Ada backed her arguments for a decisive Clinton win in the Electoral College with a ton of stats. But Ada, and all her numbers, turned out to be wrong.
We're not talking about garbage in, garbage out here. Rather, we're talking about a black swan event that ought to have at least been in the analysts' minds.
Ada ran “400,000 simulations a day of what the race against Trump might look like.” This is a very “big data” sort of claim. 400,000 is rather large—no human could look through the results of that many simulations. Ada’s “intelligence” lay in how she boiled down the results of those 400,000 simulations into a campaign strategy. Each of Ada’s electoral simulations was premised on variations in turnout based around expected margins of error—for example, one simulation might posit that Hispanics would break for Clinton 2 or 3 points higher (or lower) than the data predicted. By sampling a representative subset of all possible variations—the so-called Monte Carlo method of quantitative analysis—Ada would produce a set of outcomes. After such simulations, Ada showed that Michigan and Wisconsin went for Trump only a small percentage of the time, compared to Florida and Pennsylvania, which went for Trump a larger percentage of the time.

Yet what must have seemed like a foolproof, detailed prescription for victory based on data and computation was mostly a confirmation of preexisting biases—particularly the campaign’s faith in the firewall. In another election year, those biases might have turned out to be right, and Ada would have been mistakenly vindicated. Here, though, the oracle was revealed to be little more than a parrot. Once the initial analysis showed that Clinton was favored to win in certain states, Ada helped prevent the campaign from questioning her conclusions.
That's the same error the people writing credit default swaps made. Then came one day in which a twenty-five-sigma event (under their priors) occurred, followed by another day with another twenty-five-sigma event.  Your Monte Carlo method is only as good as your priors about the variations.  Is your world Gaussian, with two-thirds of the expected events within one standard deviation of the mean?  Or might you be in messy reality, with more than two-thirds of the expected events within one standard deviation, and more than one-twentieth of the expected events beyond two standard deviations?

Dizziness due to success did in the hedgies.  Dizziness due to success did in the hillaries.

AULD LANG SYNE.

The final days of Ringling Barnum's train.
An elephant stretches its trunk through a window to soothe a sick child. A woman gives birth and three months later is back performing on the high wire. A handler of big cats weeps as the beasts lope out of the ring for the last time.
There's a lot more at the article. Read it. Savor it. A sampling:
Ringling is the last circus anywhere to travel by train, and while living on a train can be tough, the accommodations are considered a benefit that other circuses don't offer. Perks include the "Pie Car," the mile-long train's dining operation, as well as a circus nursery and school for the many children whose parents make the circus what it is.

Some observations from the home the performers leave behind, from the unit's last circus baptism, their final times goofing around on "Clown Alley," and other moments the world will never see again.
The baptism? Where else does the priest wear vestments made of repurposed elephant trappings?

Mourn.  Then find yourself an itinerant circus and go to it.

See you down the road.

TROLL LEVEL: ANONYMOUS REFEREE.

Two working academics spike the football over having seriously trolled the gender-studies enterprise.  Skeptic's Michael Shermer describes the trolling as a vital public service.
Every once in awhile it is necessary and desirable to expose extreme ideologies for what they are by carrying out their arguments and rhetoric to their logical and absurd conclusion, which is why we are proud to publish this expose of a hoaxed article published in a peer-reviewed journal today. Its ramifications are unknown but one hopes it will help rein in extremism in this and related areas.
Yes, it's easy enough to dress up a nonsense argument in pomo-babble and make it sound academic, or something, which is what the authors did.
Assuming the pen names “Jamie Lindsay” and “Peter Boyle,” and writing for the fictitious “Southeast Independent Social Research Group,” we wrote an absurd paper loosely composed in the style of post-structuralist discursive gender theory. The paper was ridiculous by intention, essentially arguing that penises shouldn’t be thought of as male genital organs but as damaging social constructions. We made no attempt to find out what “post-structuralist discursive gender theory” actually means. We assumed that if we were merely clear in our moral implications that maleness is intrinsically bad and that the penis is somehow at the root of it, we could get the paper published in a respectable journal.
Yes, the gender studies folks might have some tight, er, priors, and yet the paper winds up in a journal, but respectable?  Read on and contemplate Tom Lehrer's "Now there's a charge for what she used to give for free."
We didn’t try to make the paper coherent; instead, we stuffed it full of jargon (like “discursive” and “isomorphism”), nonsense (like arguing that hypermasculine men are both inside and outside of certain discourses at the same time), red-flag phrases (like “pre-post-patriarchal society”), lewd references to slang terms for the penis, insulting phrasing regarding men (including referring to some men who choose not to have children as being “unable to coerce a mate”), and allusions to rape (we stated that “manspreading,” a complaint levied against men for sitting with their legs spread wide, is “akin to raping the empty space around him”). After completing the paper, we read it carefully to ensure it didn’t say anything meaningful, and as neither one of us could determine what it is actually about, we deemed it a success.
Yes, "unwilling to be hen-pecked" might prevent the paper from being published, but even with the careful use of the right buzz-words, the first journal they tried wouldn't have it.
We didn’t originally go looking to hoax Cogent Social Sciences, however. Had we, this story would be only half as interesting and a tenth as apparently damning. Cogent Social Sciences was recommended to us by another journal, NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies, a Taylor and Francis journal. NORMA rejected “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” but thought it a great fit for the Cogent Series, which operates independently under the Taylor and Francis imprimatur.
It is no accident, dear reader, that Taylor and Francis figure in this story. If there's a Herfindahl index for online citations by Real Peer Review, #tandfonline would probably head the list.  I don't believe in coincidences, though, and perhaps there are working academicians, even in the fever swamps of culture studies, who are as disgusted by the proliferation of online outlets for people more interested in racking up refereed publications for their own sake, rather than, oh, taking on challenging projects and participating in an intelligent conversation.
Suspecting we may be dealing with a predatory pay-to-publish outlet, we were surprised that an otherwise apparently legitimate Taylor and Francis journal directed us to contribute to the Cogent Series. (Authors’ note: we leave it to the reader to decide whether or not NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies constitutes a legitimate journal, but to all appearances it is run by genuine academic experts in the field and is not a predatory money-mill.) The problem, then, may rest not only with pay-to-publish journals, but also with the infrastructure that supports them.

In sum, it’s difficult to place Cogent Social Sciences on a spectrum ranging from a rigorous academic journal in gender studies to predatory pay-to-publish money mill. First, Cogent Social Sciences operates with the legitimizing imprimatur of Taylor and Francis, with which it is clearly closely partnered. Second, it’s held out as a high-quality open-access journal by the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), which is intended to be a reliable list of such journals.
Thus, the self-confession in Skeptic.
The publish-or-perish academic environment is its own poison that needs a remedy. It gives rise to predatory profit-driven journals with few or no academic standards that take advantage of legitimate scholars pressured into publishing their work at all costs, even if it is marginal or dubious. Many of these scholars are victims both of a system that is forcing them to publish more papers and to publish them more often, to the detriment of research quality, and of the predatory journals that offer to sell them the illusion of academic prestige. Certainly, we have every reason to suspect that a majority of the other academics who have published in Cogent Social Sciences and other journals in the Cogent Series are genuine scholars who have been cheated by what may be a weak peer-review process with a highly polished edifice. Our question about the fundamental integrity of fields like gender studies seems much more pressing nonetheless.
Inside Higher Ed's Scott Jaschik picks up the story.  It is the vanity-press aspect of the hoax that interests me (as, before I quit, my electronic mail occasionally included solicitations for submissions, and in the fine print it looked like I could get stuff approved quickly, but for a small fee.)  Here's Academe's Hank Reichman, with the key point.  "The problem, however, is that the real joke was on the hoaxsters, who either failed to discern or willfully covered up the fact that the journal in question was a vanity publication with little to no credibility in academia. And the alleged “skeptics” failed even to question the legitimacy of the hoaxsters’ sweeping claims."

The discipline that got trolled? One anecdote doth not invalidate the corpus of scholarship. "So, on the basis of publishing a hoax paper in an obscure vanity journal with zero credibility in the field they wished to “expose,” the authors — and those who praise them — somehow jump to the conclusion that the entire discipline of gender studies is corrupt."  To Bleeding Heart Libertarians' James Taylor, it's a cock-up.
The first journal that Bognossian and Lindsay submitted their hoax paper to, and that rejected it, was NORMA: The International Journal for Masculinity Studies. This journal doesn’t even hit the top 115 journals in Gender Studies. So, what happened here was that they submitted a hoax paper to an unranked journal, which summarily rejected it. They then received an auto-generated response directing them to a pay-to-publish vanity journal. They submitted the paper there, and it was published. From this chain of events they conclude that the entire field of Gender Studies is “crippled academically”. This tells us very little about Gender Studies, but an awful lot about the perpetrators of this “hoax”…. and those who tout it as a take down of an entire field.
It might also tell us about the vanity press enterprise, and about the value of citation indices, impact factors, and the rest. (And 115 journals in gender studies, to keep current requires scholars in that field to pick and choose what to read.)  Thus Reason's Robby Soave.  "Hoax social science paper is more an indictment of pay-to-publish journals than anything else."  Precisely.  Orgtheory's E. P. Berman gets the summation.
If your article gets rejected from one of our regular journals, we’ll automatically forward it to one of our crappy interdisciplinary pay-to-play journals, where we’ll gladly take your (or your funder’s or institution’s) money to publish it after a cursory “peer review”. That is a new one to me.

There’s a hoax going on here all right. But I don’t think it’s gender studies that’s being fooled.
Nor, likely, are promotion boards and external reviewers. Part of being asked to serve as an external reviewer, for instance, is having enough visibility in the discipline (which one acquires, dear reader, by writing articles in journals people might skim more carefully) to understand when a portfolio has some stuff of substance in it.

THE IDEA CATCHES ON.

Trains reports on the combo-car for the 21st century.  Go here for the pictures.

18.5.17

TEN YEARS AGO.

We were running cleanup trains on the model railroad at the old house.


Yes, there's more than a little creative anachronism on display there.  The locomotives and cars have a lot more track to run on these days.

WHERE THE STREETCAR WILL BEND THE CORNER AROUND.

There are tracks going down for the first phase of Milwaukee's new streetcar, which will call at the railway station, the Public Market, and stop not far from the Grohmann Museum.  Good news for me, as a tourist, although I wonder about its utility to locals.  A subsequent extension will get to the lakefront, not far from the German Fest, er, Summerfest grounds.  But alas, no Nineteen Line to Lindwurm Park or the Bavarian Inn.

The construction of the streetcar tracks motivated another television station to air a newly-discovered movie of the final days of Milwaukee's real streetcars.  First, though, they had to find some old technology, the eight millimeter movie projector.

I can't guarantee those video links for long, go check them out now.

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

The New York Times stands up for the ancien regime.  Special prosecutors?  Impeachment? Endless scandal-mongering?  The people who voted for Mr Trump may be having none of it.  "Mr. Trump’s fans are not eager to see a return to the establishment-dominated political order he promised to demolish."  The Times, predictably, roll out longtime Trump skeptic Charlie Sykes, to well, if not gaze into the basket of deplorables, at least allude to the misinformed voters, now suffering from cognitive dissonance.
Mr. Trump has created his own political culture, and its devotees are strongly and emotionally committed to it.

“They took a huge risk, and they are deeply invested,” said Charlie Sykes, a conservative author who has been critical of Mr. Trump. And the news cycle they inhabit, he added, is only hardening their beliefs.

“These days when people say, ‘Oh, my gosh, this really looks terrible, was I possibly wrong about Trump?’ they quickly go on social media or see the shows and instantaneously find something that reinforces their opinion,” Mr. Sykes added. “And they cling to that.”
It's true that Mr Trump is doing some foolish things, and I'd not object to an intervention where his early-morning use of social media is concerned.  But there was more to his candidacy than Not Hillary. "[Trump supporters] have been struck by the discrepancies between informed opinion, as represented in the pages of the elite newspapers in the country, as well as the scholarly journals of academic societies, and their own perceptions on a wide variety of topics. Such discrepancies are not necessarily signs of unwisdom, of course; they may reflect differences in experiences and world views that lead people to base their opinions on different sets of facts or to interpret the same facts in different ways."  That's from Texas philospher Daniel Bonevac, making the case for his vote for Mr Trump.  There's a lot in the essay, and this passage, in particular, is one that perhaps I can riff on in some future post.
The Democratic Party and its allies in the media and academia have pushed a narrative for decades that portrays free enterprise as cruel, corrupt, and unfair, and government as caring, altruistic, and just. Freedom creates problems; government solves them. Sometimes, that narrative is accurate. Often, however, it is not. The gap between the narrative and reality has been growing as government grows beyond the problems it knows how to solve. And those upholding the narrative seem increasingly incapable of recognizing the divergence. They seem incapable of conceiving of a simple question: Even if there is a better solution than the equilibrium achieved by the free market—by free people freely making their own decisions—why should we have confidence that government can find it? Still less do they seem capable of answering it. I am not saying that thinkers on the left do not propose solutions—of course they do—but that they do not even try to establish the optimality of their preferred policies.
On the other hand, that's standard Failure of Wise Experts stuff. Do your own research.

It's the Empire Striking Back stuff that interests me today.  Start with Reason's Nick Gillespie. All This Impeachment Talk Is Pure Trump Derangement Syndrome.
The best thing you can say about [fired FBI director James] Comey is that he's no Louis Freeh or J. Edgar Hoover, which is the textbook case of damning with faint approbation.

Needless to say, none of this absolves Donald Trump of any wrongdoing. But impeachment talk this soon and this thick is coming not from a place of seriousness but pure partisanship and ideology masquerading as disinterested belief in the public good. When the Republicans moved to impeach Bill Clinton back in the 1990s, it was the same thing and it didn't exactly work out that well for many of the main conspirators, or for the country at large. Among other things, the impeachment push indirectly led to the ouster of Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House, which eventuated in an actual child molester being way high up in the presidential line of succession.

The impeachment of Bill Clinton was one of the major mileposts in the long, ongoing shift of America from a high-trust to a low-trust country, one in which faith, trust, and confidence in most of our major public, private, and civic institutions have taken a massive beating for decades now. Maybe it was the Warren Commission Report that got the ball rolling, or Lyndon Johnson's infamous "credibility gap." All the secret wars in Cambodia and Watergate sure didn't help and the mind-boggling revelations of the Church Commission might have the final nail in the coffin of trust. The Pinto disaster sure didn't help, nor did other revelations of private-sector fakery. You throw in freakazoid oddness such as the People's Temple, United Way scandals, and rampant Catholic Church buggery, and, well, what do you expect? Across the board, fewer and fewer of us trust the government, the media, labor, corporations, etc. to do the right thing given the option of doing the wrong thing.

And get this: However unpopular Donald Trump is, Congress is even less trustworthy. Libertarians especially ignore this slide in trust and the rush to partisan-driven calls to undermine elected officials absent actual evidence at our peril. Low-trust countries don't actually shrink the size, scope, and spending of government.
That child molester? My Congressman, who wrote a lot of earmarks for Northern Illinois University into the 2005 porkulus transportation bill, a manifestation of overweening government that might have inspired the Tea Party.

(You know where I stand, dear reader, on the consequences of treating "wrong" as a construction.)

The Trump base, though?  Screwed over by the establishments of both major parties.
The Republican Party and conservative movement had created a hierarchy that mirror-imaged its liberal antithesis, and suggested to middle class voters between the coasts that the commonalities in income, professional trajectories, and cultural values of elites trumped their own political differences. How a billionaire real estate developer appeared, saw that paradox, and became more empathetic to the plight of middle-class Americans than the array of Republican political pundits is one of the most alarming stories of our age.

Trump was not so much a reflection of red-state Americans’ political ignorance, as their weariness with those of both parties who ridicule, ignore, or patronize them—and now seek to overturn the verdict of the election.
And make no mistake, Mr Trump's base sees the Washington process as an effort to overturn the election.  Scott "Dilbert" Adams refers to the drama of special investigators and the rest as a "slow motion assassination."
I also think we are seeing with the recent leaks the first phase of Mutually Assured Destruction of our government. The leaks will destroy Trump if they continue. But if that happens, no Democrat and no anti-Trump Republican will ever be able to govern in the future. Payback is guaranteed. The next President to sit in the White House will be leaked to the point of ineffectiveness. And that’s how the Republic dies.

That isn’t necessarily bad news. The Republic form of government doesn’t make sense in the modern world anyway. We already evolved into a form of direct democracy via social media and polling. Our politicians can’t risk going against a big majority – even for noble reasons – because social media will organize to drive that person out of office over the issue. In effect, we are already a direct democracy. The Republic is already history, except in a technical sense.

If you can sit passively while watching the Opposition Media turn “hope” into “asked Comey to end the investigation,” you are part of the slow assassination of President Trump. And you are also part of the slow assassination of the next president, and the next. If Trump goes down from leaks, Mutually Assured Destruction kicks in automatically.
That might be excessive, or perhaps direct response by informed (or motivated) voters on social media might induce Washington types to be, oh, less intrusive and more receptive to local responses to local issues.  But the assassination, or perhaps "coup" imagery does not go away.
Normal people just shake their heads and wonder why Washington is so consumed with political nonsense instead of solving problems. But then, Washington does not produce solutions. It produces only political nonsense.

This is a concentrated, coordinated effort by elite insiders to take down not this president – Trump’s not the point here – but to take down us, the normal American they seek to rule. Someone came to Washington who wasn’t part of the club, and that’s intolerable. So they are desperate to expel him, and by extension, us.
That's Kurt Schlichter, and pitchforks, torches, and baiting moonbats are part of his makeup.  But he's not the angriest insurrectionist on Town Hall this day.  That's Laura Hollis.
Progressives have been playing a reckless and dangerous game, undermining the very traditions and institutions they depend upon for their freedom. Few are asking, "What happens if our political opponents decide to behave as we do?"

They'd better. Their coordinated campaign to destroy Donald Trump may be successful -- and Trump may be handing them much of their ammunition. But it's clear that America's cultural and societal underpinnings can only be undermined so long by the elite before the hoi polloi will decide that they, too, have more to gain and nothing to lose by abandoning them.

When that happens, God help us.
The militias await.

But the self-styled progressives don't have anything new to tempt the voters they failed to inspire, in the presidential election or away from the ghettoes of the coastal states.
Some of the leftward march seems to be motivated by the sense that Hillary Clinton’s tepid center-leftism was a dud and the conviction that Bernie Sanders or someone like him might have had a better shot against Trump.  This analysis may or may not be correct, but it is too one-dimensional. In fact, Bernie Sanders was to Clinton’s right on many cultural issues, including gun control, feminism, immigration, and identity politics.  If you want to drive a Berniebro crazy, you could even argue that Sanders is the reason Clinton lost—that she couldn’t compete with his left-wing economic populism, so she moved even deeper into boutique academic/PC liberal territory to compensate, and that this was ultimately what did her in. And yet, the new generation of Democrats seems to be retreating to hard-line liberal positions in all areas, economic and social alike.

If Trump’s approval rating remains stuck in the low 40s—and especially if it ticks downward even further, as seems increasingly plausible—the Democrats are well-positioned for a major comeback in Congress and the statehouses in 2020. But they could easily blow this opportunity, just as they blew the last one, by learning the wrong lessons from the Age of Trump. Of course, the real loser here is not one party or the other, but the country at large, which seems to be locked into a self-reinforcing cycle of minority-party radicalization under presidents of both parties that is annihilating the vital center.
That's The American Interest's Jason Willick. Perhaps he's accurate, or perhaps there no longer is a vital center. Or, perhaps, to repeat, it is time for Washington types to give up on attempting to do too much.

Heck, Common Dreams regular Robert Borosage is discouraged.  "Bold, new ideas were scarce, but there was a vigorous competition on who had the best Trump putdown." Even the peroration, from New Jersey senator Corey Booker, didn't inspire.
Booker closed the conference with a passionate address, invoking the progressive movements that have transformed America, concluding that Democrats can’t merely be the “party of resistance,” but must “reaffirm” America’s “impossible dream.” Fittingly, it was a speech brutal on Trump, replete with good values, sound goals and uplifting oratory, and utterly devoid of ideas.
We've seen through tax and tax, spend and spend, pander and pander, and Team Left can't count on elect and elect any more.  Neither can they get on the other side of the cold civil war right now.