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Government

25
Oct

Trump, Trade & Immigration

immigrants-on-dockThroughout the summer and fall, I’ve been trying to address the serious economic issues underlying the anxiety and anger dominating this year’s presidential campaign. I’ve gotten through some of these intended essays – you can read them in prior posts like The Future of Work and The Great Realignment. And I have a few more to share with you this week. But I keep getting interrupted by the campaign itself.

I know, we all say we don’t want to see anything more about this campaign – but we say that about all those car wrecks, too, don’t we? As I emailed my editors at US News & World Report last week when Donald Trump amped up his claims that the election was rigged: “I wish this guy would stop saying insane things so I could go back to writing about other subjects.”

trump_keeps_saying_stupid_stuff

In any event, I was impelled to dash off another fairly personal piece, revisiting my earlier days in government and law, fighting real election rigging. My conclusion:

[T]here’s always the threat of election cheating. But in our system (unlike, say, Russia’s), it’s thankfully rare. It’s not voters doing it. It’s not hordes of minorities voting illegally but, most often, large numbers of minorities being denied their right to vote legally. And to affect the presidential election outcome would require either a conspiracy larger than the entire U.S. Army, or a discreet, targeted area and a much closer vote count in a pivotal state than we are likely to see in Pennsylvania or any other state this year.

You can read the full argument in The Sorest Loser.   But fortunately, before that, I was asked by the Aspen Institute to address the real costs and benefits of two of this year’s hot-button issues: trade and immigration. In the shorter, online piece, US economic dilemmas: immigration, inequality, trade and the budget, I argued that “The nationalism, nativism and xenophobia given voice by Donald Trump are understandable reactions to the global changes that are harming many working-class Americans. They are not, however, intelligent responses to them. That’s because they miss the real problems driving employment and wage declines for (essentially) non-college-educated, white males outside the country’s thriving coastal economies.”

[T]he real challenge from global trade comes not so much from the existence of cheaper labor abroad as from US companies moving jobs there to take advantage of it. Both nominees this year offer unsatisfying solutions to this problem. Trump has claimed, to great fanfare, that he will simply prohibit firms from doing so. How? By fiat? By turning the US into a business gulag from which companies are prohibited to escape? Not happening. Clinton starts down the more promising path of tax reform to change incentives and “claw back” some of the advantages in abandoning American workers – but her “exit tax” is unwieldy, limited, and unlikely to help. Instead, there is an older and simpler approach: taxing all revenue earned from Americans and crediting companies for all investments – plant and equipment or wages and benefits – made in Americans.

Read the full piece for the policy details. Meanwhile, the longer piece I wrote for the print journal Aspenia expands on this discussion and also addresses the related subject of immigration. You can read the full piece, Facts and Myths on Immigration, below. But here’s the “money quote,” combining several points I’ve been making the last few months:

[T]he real problem confronting the disenchanted voters flocking to Trump’s anti-immigration banner is not immigration…. These angry voters … are not “conservative” and they’re not anti-government, and that’s why traditional Republican leaders have lost them to Trump (who advocates an activist government that protects entitlements – not, unlike, say, Juan Peron). They want government – just for themselves.

But then how does America pay for these expensive programs as the retired population grows? Well, unlike virtually any other country, we can – and will – grow our workforce, increase the number of young workers supporting each retiree, provide more low-cost caregivers for the aging population, increase the level of economic activity through innovation, and generate higher tax revenues to pay for it. What’s the secret weapon?

Immigrants.

As always, I would love to know your thoughts. Feel free to leave your comments below.


aspeniaFacts and Myths on Immigration 

by Eric B. Schnurer

(From print journal Aspenia)

Colorado – besides being home to the Aspen Institute, Aspenia’s parent organization – is a beautiful state spread across the high plains that ramp slowly up to mile-high Denver, its capital and largest city, and then into the majestic Rocky Mountains heaving upward and hurtling downward again for hundreds of miles westward. There’s a saying in Colorado politics: A developer is someone who wants to build his mountain cabin this year; an environmentalist is someone who built his mountain cabin last year.

The allure of the American Dream and the desire to close the door behind oneself once attaining it are two sides of the same coin. Americans have long prided themselves on being a country of immigrants – and have for just as long feared immigration and attempted to shut it off for those coming next. Most Americans today would find it surprising to hear that there once was tremendous opposition to, and prejudice against, such newly-arriving supposed-undesirables as (more or less in order) Germans, Irish, Italians, other Southern Europeans, and Slavs. On the West Coast, in particular, an influx of Chinese immigrants to work the railroads and goldmines of California fanned anti-Chinese hostility. Jews, of course, were objects of fear and enmity throughout the great immigrant waves after the 1848 European revolutions and the years leading up to the Russian revolution. In World War II, Japanese-American citizens were herded into concentration camps over misplaced fears about their loyalty.

All prior waves of immigration, which made the US what it is today, were met by strident political reactions. In the 1850s, an expressly anti-immigrant party was formed, calling itself the American Party, but it is better known to history as “the Know Nothings”: Party members were instructed to say they “know nothing” about the secretive group when asked – leaving a legacy of “Know-Nothingism” that serves as a recurrent and apt epithet in the US to this day for those with similar views. It has been reflected throughout the nation’s history in immigration restrictions aimed at arrivals of particular ethnicities and nationalities, based on assertions that their religious and cultural differences made them a threat to the nation’s values and precluded assimilation, or that they were taking jobs from “real Americans.”

Obviously, such attitudes continue today. A poll just before the Republican convention this past summer found that most white Americans were skeptical of immigration – as were Hispanic Americans, the longer they had been in the US: the same urge to close the open door behind oneself.

Nevertheless, the US today is the greatest nation of immigrants in the world, with 47 million – roughly 20 percent of the world’s immigrant population. (The US immigrant population roughly doubles if you include birthright citizens – immigrants’ children, lawful or not, born on US soil – a status that the US and Canada, alone in the developed world, recognize.) Similarly-large, continental nations like India (2.3 percent), Brazil (0.8) and China (0.4) lag far behind – as do such countries in the news for their relative immigrant-friendliness as Germany (#2 in the world at 4.9 percent) and Canada (3.1). Most Americans learn as children the lines from the poem, The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus – “Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” – inscribed on the base of the Statute of Liberty in 1903, at the height of the country’s greatest immigration wave: It is a national point of pride.

And yet the argument persists in every generation: Are immigrants destroying America?

Like all ideological arguments, each side believes the statistics support the position they already hold. The data are fairly clear-cut, however, if a bit more nuanced than the usual black-and-white debate allows. Virtually all studies show that immigration boosts the economy, at least in the aggregate; in fact, the Congressional Budget Office found that the failed attempt at immigration reform a decade ago would have increased Gross Domestic Product by 1 percent per year and created an additional 3 million jobs by now.

But that’s in the aggregate. The argument about whether immigration undercuts wages for “real Americans” turns out to be more complicated: A Federal Reserve Bank economist found a slight increase in wages for professionals – but a slight decline (less than 1 percent) for manual workers. Another economist similarly found a decrease in wages among low-skilled workers – an effect that was stronger in cities where there were more immigrants and amongst workers with lower skills – but increased wages for high-skilled workers. Yet another study concluded that immigration raised wages of native-born Americans but reduced those of existing immigrants, because these new immigrants take the places of their predecessors.

In sum, immigration is a major driver of the US economy overall, and particularly in the vital technology start-up field: Immigrants found start-ups in America at a higher rate than the native born – although the percentage of Silicon Valley start-ups due to immigrants has declined markedly from a majority (52%) in the decade through 2005, to “only” 44% since then due to immigration restrictions. But the benefits – as with everything – are not uniform: The top of the pyramid benefits greatly; low-skilled workers – including other immigrants – suffer, however.

As for the largely non-economic arguments against immigration, though, there is scant evidence to support them. Do immigrants cause crime? The answer is a resounding “no,” at least as to violent crime; there is some evidence that immigration can be associated with a small amount of property crime – largely related to poverty – but its costs, at less than $1 billion annually, are dwarfed by the economic benefits. How about the specter of Islamic terrorism and the imposition of sharia law that haunts so many on the right? Muslims appear, in fact, to be more assimilation-oriented than most – with 70 percent becoming US citizens, compared with only 50 percent of other immigrants. A 2011 study by the Pew Foundation found Muslims to be “highly assimilated into American society,” with 80 percent expressing satisfaction with their adoptive country. The FBI says that it gets most of its tips about radical Muslims from … other Muslims.

In fact, it’s the exception that proves the rule: One community – a neighborhood in Minneapolis, Minnesota, known as “Little Mogadishu” – has produced one-quarter of all American recruits to ISIS; it is noteworthy for its poverty. On the whole, however, the Muslim community in America is quite comfortable: The Center for Immigration Studies – a non-partisan think tank whose board includes leading conservatives – reports that “Muslim immigrants of recent years boast exceptionally high levels of education” and that “Muslim Americans proudly say that theirs is ‘the richest Muslim society on Earth,’ and they are right; more than that, it may be the most accomplished.” In short, in the US Muslims are far more assimilated than in Europe – and have produced far fewer terror attacks and markedly fewer ISIS recruits, as a result. America’s assimilationist ideology in fact helps it.

So are Donald Trump’s angry supporters wrong to be angry? No – but their anger against immigrants is misplaced. Trump’s vote is heavily concentrated amongst older white men, particularly those with lower educational levels. This demographic feels itself under assault: Whites no longer dominate the country (although, in reality, they remain a majority and, even after slipping below majority status in another decade or so, will still make up by far the largest racial group in the country). Christians feel persecuted (although 83% of Americans self-identify as Christians and Americans are well-known as the most church-going population in the developed world). Men are losing out in the workplace (even though the top positions at the largest corporations are still overwhelmingly held by men).

Meanwhile, however, the economic position of these voters has stagnated and declined – and most rapidly in the last eight years since the advent of the Great Recession. So it is easy to see how the correlation of this decline with larger demographic and cultural changes – most obviously of all, the first black president, potentially to be succeeded by the first woman, book-ending the Supreme Court decision last year declaring gay marriage a constitutional right – provides an easy leap to causation. The fear these cultural changes are engendering are hardly unfathomable – or new: In his speech at the 1968 Republican Convention nominating Richard Nixon – upon whose campaign Trump is explicitly modeling his own – Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, declared, “We are a nation in crisis. Right now change rules America. It’s time for America to rule change.” But all these changes are themselves part of a larger tectonic global shift, of which non-Caucasians, immigrants, foreigners and even liberals are not the cause.

The angry working class is right to be angry about jobs and wages: Their jobs have been – and continue to be – threatened. But it’s not because a bunch of immigrants have come over here and taken those high-paying manufacturing jobs. It’s because those jobs, to the extent they still exist, have been shipped overseas. Yes, US jobs are threatened by lower-paid foreigners – but those abroad, not in the US. Trump even hinted at this in his apocalyptic acceptance speech at the Republican convention in July, when he declared that he not only would restrict immigration and renegotiate trade deals, but also would stop US companies from moving their operations abroad. Of course, it’s not entirely clear how he could do that – or what major corporate leaders, most of them Republicans, would say about such a thing.

American workers deserve a platform that combats their real problems. But the real problem confronting the disenchanted voters flocking to Trump’s anti-immigration banner is not immigration – after all, while relatively downscale, these are not the workers at the bottom whom the studies find losing out to low-paid immigrants – or even trade. It is the hemorrhaging of the former manufacturing jobs that paid relatively low-skilled and lightly-educated workers relatively well. Yes, renewed trade restrictions would drive back up some of the wages in these areas, at least in the short term – but they would hurt long-term demand for their products by reducing US access to foreign markets, and would increase the cost-of-living for Americans across the board. Again, trade benefits America in the aggregate; it nonetheless hurts many individual Americans. These workers would – and increasingly will – be coming out on the short end of the economic stick anyway, however, as the value of manufacturing jobs decays relative to other fields requiring newer skills and higher levels of education, and as businesses find themselves more able to substitute capital (in the form of technology and robotics), more cheaply, for workers.

So the world’s direction – as Trump portrays it – is indeed grim for these voters. But there’s one further challenge that the economically-threatened Americans drawn to Trump’s rhetoric face; fortunately, it’s one that America is uniquely positioned to overcome: As in all developed countries, the US faces a burgeoning fiscal problem over the next three decades as the older generation – the core of the Trump vote – enters its final, and extremely expensive, years. Conservatives generally call for meeting this challenge by cutting their expensive “entitlement” programs – mainly Social Security and Medicare. Good luck with that: It’s their own constituency now that depends on these programs – hence the Tea Party’s simultaneous demands for the federal government both to repeal Obamacare (which expanded health benefits to the poor and young) and to “keep its hands off” their Medicare: These angry voters – both in the US and in Europe – are not “conservative” and they’re not anti-government, and that’s why traditional Republican leaders have lost them to Trump (who advocates an activist government that protects entitlements – not, unlike, say, Juan Peron). They want government – just for themselves.

But then how does America pay for these expensive programs as the retired population grows? Well, unlike virtually any other country, we can – and will – grow our workforce, increase the number of young workers supporting each retiree, provide more low-cost caregivers for the aging population, increase the level of economic activity through innovation, and generate higher tax revenues to pay for it. What’s the secret weapon?

Immigrants.

 

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17
Oct

Up Close and Personal

Trump_Clinton_2016_ElectionsIn the last three weeks, I’ve grown increasingly saddened about the state of American politics and have begun writing increasingly personal articles about it. These aren’t about policy issues – they’re about deeper concerns over the direction we’re headed.

In my last update, “My Old School“, I mentioned a piece I wrote about a recent visit to my old high school. This brought back memories of various student government battles from decades ago – the productive results of which were still visible decades later. As I wrote in that piece,

Back then, we talked across belief structures about real-world results – and, as a result, improved conditions for most of us…. In almost all cases, compromises were achieved based on practical realities, not dug-in positions, on even the most controversial issues. Adults and adolescents, jocks and nerds, overachievers and slackers – they all understood one basic fact: Like it or not, we were all there together.

The next week, in “A ‘Genius’ like Trump,” I addressed the New York Times story on Trump’s $917 million tax deduction. In my view, most commentators focused on the wrong aspects of this story. Sure, it’s rather shocking that anyone could run up a nearly $1 billion loss – in the casino industry! – and then claim that his business chops are his main qualification to be president. But there’s nothing wrong, let alone illegal, with writing off that loss on your taxes – or carrying it forward for as many years as necessary to balance off profitable years. It’s a valid part of our tax code – particularly for the help it provides start-ups, the major creators of jobs in our economy. Rather, what really – and personally – offended me about Trump’s operations was how he restructured after he made such bad decisions that they cost him $1 billion:

When the recession hit several years ago, I faced an unpleasant choice: Suffer a loss on the year equal to about three years of profits, or lay off most of my employees. For better or worse, I believe that the way to make a business work is to stand behind your employees when times are bad. I took the loss…. The business recovered, enough that I was eventually able to sell it – and I preserved the jobs of all my employees and contractors as a condition of the sale.

According to the Times story, in contrast, Trump’s genius involved stiffing his creditors, laying off more workers than other Atlantic City casinos, shorting his contractors, driving the equity of investors down to about 0.5 percent of what it had been and then restructuring his operations so that, when all around him lay in ruins, Trump was able to pay himself $45 million a year for continuing to preside over this disaster and then shelter that income from taxes, perhaps completely. The billion-dollar pain cost others around him – his lenders, investors, vendors and employees – most of their incomes from the same venture. But not him. And that’s the kind of genius most of us will never be.

Last week, of course, brought the continuing revelations about Donald Trump’s treatment of women, and the execrable second debate. As I wrote on Friday in US News, in A Morality Test for Leaders, what’s wrong extends far beyond Trump’s misogyny – bad as it is – to encompass something I hinted at in the two prior columns: our entire abdication, as a society, of true concern for morality, in large part, I argued, because we’ve allowed “the hijacking of ‘morality’ in recent years to concern nothing but sexuality.” I asked, “What’s the real disgust at” Trump’s or Bill Clinton’s behavior?

For most, I’d assert it’s not a Puritan revulsion to sex: It’s the extent to which these purported leaders care about themselves more than others. Authorities from Hillel to Jesus to Kant point to this (Golden Rule, anyone?) – not sexual discretion – as the central issue of morality….

The relevant moral question is the degree to which those who seek to lead in fact care about Something Greater Than Themselves…. [T]hat’s the test of morality that we ought to demand of our leaders – and the discussion we ought to be having. We have abdicated that discussion on all sides, however, which is what I find most dispiriting about the World Wrestling Federation spectacle that our presidential election has become.

If you want to know what I think that means as to the choice we face in the voting booth next month, you’ll have to read the piece.

As always, I would love to know your thoughts. Feel free to leave your comments below.

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3
Aug

Un-Conventional Wisdom

Democratic-National Convention-2016-Eric-SchnurerIt’s been quite a two weeks. A Turkish friend started IM’ing me from Istanbul as the coup attempt against President Erdogan broke out, and our text conversation continued in “real time” throughout that dramatic night and into the next few days.

The next week, the Democratic National Convention convened here in Philadelphia and quickly consumed all my time: One US Senator decided to make my house his own B&B and then insisted I stay out until 2 a.m. listening to his favorite band – and, in return, unexpectedly gave me floor credentials.

One of the final-night speakers contacted me out of the blue and asked me to redraft her prime-time speech on a few hours’ notice. I met with three 2018 gubernatorial candidates about policy, and ran into countless old friends from all over the country – it was a great time. Then the next day, I had the opportunity to meet with journalists from Pakistan and female political leaders from Afghanistan to discuss the convention and the upcoming elections. The results of all this are below: three new articles – on the Turkish coup (sorta), the current election, and its potential aftermath.

Yesterday’s piece in US News & World Report – The Other Half of America — synthesizing where I think things stand after Donald Trump’s stunning acceptance speech describing America in apocalyptic terms, has already produced a surprising number of insult-filled emails (not like it’s that hard, but you actually have to feel strongly enough about responding to go look up my email address – it’s not in the articles). More people than usual have already re-posted or re-tweeted it. So, it seems to have hit a nerve on both sides. This is becoming increasingly true, with emotions unusually high in this election – as I note in the article, a previous piece provoked a similar Twitter exchange: “When the tweet started with the words, ‘I never heard of u b4,’ I immediately knew this was the rare reader who wasn’t a member of my immediate family and that the exchange wasn’t going to end well.”

The main message of the piece, however, which seems to have gone by both the liberals who like it and the Trump supporters who loathe it, is that while the latter’s “positions may seem counter-factual,”

that’s not how it feels. As a result, they are embracing political and legal positions they once opposed and that liberals once advocated for others. To liberals, this looks like hypocrisy and disingenuousness. But the fact that this means that liberal institutions (and liberal concern) aren’t there for them only makes their anger worse.

My convention piece for Aspenia — A Major Political Realignment Amidst the Confusion —elaborates on this theme, starting with the observation that “Donald Trump has realized Richard Nixon’s vision of making [blue collar] voters the core of the Republican Party, the culmination of a process long in the works, and the party realignment will look something like today’s polling for years to come: a more upscale Democratic Party more libertarian and less inclined to Big Government solutions than in the past, and a Republican Party more solicitous of Big Government programs to help low-to moderate-income voters than the party’s traditional ‘conservatism’ would ever countenance.”

It then urges Hillary Clinton to be like Franklin Roosevelt and “reach[] out to disaffected working Americans with an agenda that speaks to their needs.” It concludes with a warning of the US breaking apart after this election – presaging the beginning of Trump’s warnings several days later that the election will be stolen from him – asserting that, “The main questions are whether this can be headed off now by the ‘newly ascendant’ crafting an agenda for the economically dislocated, as Democrats would have in the past – and, if not, if the resolution comes peacefully or not.” (I was also quoted this week in much the same vein in Governing magazine.)

My article on the Turkish coup — A Predictable Surprise in Turkey —  is similarly somber. It begins and ends, “When the end of democracy came … everyone was surprised.” You can read into it what you want – but read it. While this all might sound rather depressing, I’ve actually been enjoying myself through it all. Hope you are, too.

As always, I welcome your comments below.

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15
Jul

The Great Realignment: Brexit, Trump & The Future

Brexit-News“The real moment of success is not the moment apparent to the crowd,” said George Bernard Shaw. In fact, breakthroughs occur long before they’re perceived. In the last few weeks, Brexit has broken across the globe like a tsunami – but, of course, it is really the result of tectonic shifts in politics, economics and technology that the world has been undergoing for roughly 50 years. These events foreshadow even larger, axial shifts that we’ll recognize over the next 50 years. This is thus a moment in history worth stopping and pondering.

I’ve already sent around the post-Brexit piece I penned in the vote’s immediate aftermath – literally, the morning after. In the past week, I’ve written three more pieces, extending the argument and tying it back to what I’ve been writing over the past several years about this coming phenomenon.

In The Real Brexit Fallout, I wanted to tease out the implications of my oft-stated argument that, “Within a generation, governments will operate in a largely open marketplace for their services.” This raises various, inter-related practical and theoretical problems:

What happens to provision of public goods (things that basically have to be shared, like police protection, national defense or parks and green space)? What happens to provision of “public bads” [like government regulation]? And what happens about inequality (the reduction of which, since it generally has positive spillover effects for everyone else, is coming to be recognized as a traditional public good – paying for which many, if not most, folks want to opt out of, just like public bads)?

German Chancellor Andrea Merkel provided part of the answer in her day-after-Brexit declaration that, “Those who want free access to the European domestic market will have to accept the basic European freedoms and the other rules and duties which are linked to it.”  I think this portends the answer we’ll reach as a society as to the “free-rider” problem with public goods: “Of course, if you’re not willing to pay, maybe you shouldn’t be able to use the public roads, miracle drugs or Internet developed largely at taxpayer expense.”

In the final piece of my Brexit trilogy for US News, The Angry vs. The Ascendant, I push back on the overly-simple but now-fashionable argument that Trump and other Republicans are making, that we’re seeing a worldwide revolt against “the Elite.” (Look for a staple of next week’s GOP convention to be attacks on the Clintons, liberals, Mexicans, blacks, and even the poor as part of this oppressive “elite”….) The divide in the world today isn’t between a small elite and an oppressed 99% – it’s basically an even split between those who are part of a “connected” world and those economically left behind. The former live under a system that “isn’t really ‘social-ism,’ as that term has been used historically (although it might help explain the unusual prominence of ‘socialism’ in this year’s presidential campaign) – it’s more like social-ish.” This is rendering all other existing arrangements – including nations and governments as we know them – obsolete:

For the social-ish, borders of all sorts, not just the physical kind, are breaking down – and that’s good…. [T]he internet generation’s belief that privacy comes from ubiquitous transparency, not firewalls, probably also describes the future of physical and cybersecurity, as well, where distributed technologies are likely the future of everything.

But “those angry people outside … don’t feel the same way.” My most recent post, The Great Realignment – for Europe Insight, which asked me to write as a result of my recent speech on all this in Copenhagen – notes that these right-wing populist movements are not anti-government (which is why the conservative elite of the GOP is so alarmed by the Trump phenomenon): “Tea Partiers who rose up against Obamacare because, well, Obama, at the same time railed that the government should keep its hands off their Medicare.” The aggrieved Trump, Brexit, Le Pen and other angry white voters around the world are so angry because “they are turning to the fading nation-state system they have known, and derided, all their lives to provide newly-appreciated ‘rights’ to economic security and protection against their newly-found feelings of victimhood – and finding that, for them, these are no longer there.”

As always, I welcome your comments below.

 

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27
Jun

Brexit: The End of Democracy as We Know It

Brexit_End_of_Democracy_As_We_Know_ItThanks to American Airlines delaying my Thursday evening flight home by 6 hours, I pulled an all-nighter and was able to follow the Brexit returns and morning-after impacts from London in real-time. I immediately dashed off a piece for US News. It went live this weekend. Given the history-in-the-making nature of this vote – and its impact on all the issues on which I write and teach – I wanted to share it with you right away.

 

Below is an expurgated version for quicker reading; to read the complete version, The End of Democracy as We Know It, click here.

Many observers are interpreting Britain’s vote to leave the European Union in much the same terms as Donald Trump. “Basically, they took back their country. That’s a great thing,” Trump said. In a written statement, he went on that the British “have voted to reassert control over their own politics, borders and economy.”

The British vote indeed may be a good leading indicator of where elections are headed in the U.S. later this year and in Europe the next – but what it indicates for the longer term is probably exactly the opposite of what these commentaries, and insurgents like Trump, Marine Le Pen in France, and the Brexiteers, represent.

Britain has taken the first step in tearing apart one of the world’s major transnational organizations. It’s clear that others will soon follow and that the “Leave” vote in Britain was driven by the same anti-globalization, anti-immigration anger that has swept over not only the whole of Europe but also our own country. So, at first blush, these would appear to be – as Trump and others have heralded it – the first waves of reasserting national sovereignty and the firmness of borders (not to mention border walls).

Think again. The waves are cracking and demolishing all walls, not building them up.

The immediate effects of the Brexit vote include not only calls for further nation-state exits from the EU, but also resurgent sub-national claims to exit from their nation-states. The Scots – who voted overwhelmingly to Remain – almost tore Britain apart two years ago and are now almost certain to do so by 2018. They are not alone.

In sum, the nationalist resurgence of 2016 is not the new normal. It is but a way station on the road to the larger crack-up.

The U.S. itself is not immune. That should be the clearest lesson of the U.K. vote. That vote was very segregated: London as well as Britain’s historically more European-oriented satellite states strongly supported the “Remain” position; other parts of the country – those not enjoying the benefits of global trade, finance and elite educations – overwhelmingly wanted to leave. The different tribes of Britain – defined now more by their opportunities and, thus, their, global connectedness than by historic ethnicities – are going their separate ways.

The same is true here. This country is deeply divided into two ideologically homogenous but wholly incompatible blocs. These blocs are also almost entirely geographically independent. Given the snarling animosities of this year’s campaign, it is highly likely that talk of actual separation will rise after November. Since Obama’s election, conservative enclaves and states have increasingly raised the specter of seceding; lefties – which increasingly means the globally-connected urban, coastal elite – increasingly will be willing to let them. As borders and territory everywhere come to matter less and less to the economic and political elite, but more and more to the Left Behind, it is unlikely that the U.S. will be spared this phenomenon.

That means not just the end of nations as we know them, but also of democracy as we know it. I don’t mean that I expect totalitarianism to wipe away democracies everywhere. Instead, the choices that matter will be those between such entities, not within them. People will “vote” with their feet, their markets or their clicks. The old science of politics will be a thing of the past.

The “End of History” is so over. This is the beginning of a whole new chapter.

As always, I welcome your comments below.

 

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16
Jun

‘Political Correctness’ Isn’t the Problem

Make-America-Great-AgainThe major event of the last two weeks, of course, has been the horrific shooting in Orlando. We all are saddened by the senseless loss of life, but the incident predictably turned almost immediately into a political football over the issues of terrorism and firearms. These are important issues, of course – but a lot of the commentary around them glossed over the underlying theme of the Donald Trump/Republican reaction, and of the year’s politics more generally: that the greatest threat facing the country is “political correctness.”

Facially, the “political correctness” argument of the Right suggests that the US has grown weak both abroad and at home because of liberal-induced unwillingness to deal with – or even utter – so-called hard truths, generally critical of people of color. But, as I wrote in my new piece, ‘Political Correctness’ Isn’t the Problem, in US News & World Report yesterday, the real point such polemicists as Trump and Rush Limbaugh want to make is that the militancy of their anger is really the fault of their opponents:

The spread of intolerant liberalism, which ought to be an oxymoron, however, unfortunately gives the Right in this country – which historically embraces the suppression of speech with which it disagrees – a fig-leaf with which to dress itself up as the defenders of the First Amendment.

So, sure, “political correctness” is a problem. But it’s not what’s stoking Islamic fundamentalism.

Rather, it’s become simply an excuse. An excuse to blame one’s opponent for one’s own venality. An excuse to say even more stupid things, and to elect a fundamentally unhinged man as president, just because doing so is politically incorrect.

This is the big problem of 2016. Last week in US News, I tried to address another aspect of it – the attempt to blame all this anger on immigrants, and what can be done to counter that. In How Clinton Can Win Over Trump Voters, I drew on another meeting from my recent Scandinavian trip in which I discussed immigration policy with analysts from the Swedish Social Democrats. As I wrote there,

[T]he angry working class is right to be angry about jobs and wages: Their jobs have been – and continue to be – threatened. But it’s not because a bunch of immigrants have come over here and taken those high-paying manufacturing jobs. It’s because those jobs, to the extent they still exist, have been shipped overseas. Yes, U.S. jobs are threatened by lower-paid foreigners, but abroad, not in the U.S.

I argued that “American workers deserve a platform that combats the real problems” – and tried in the remainder of the piece to sketch one. The other day, the Aspen Institute asked me to lay out a longer and more detailed version of this argument. Look for it in September!

In between, my trip to Sweden and Estonia produced another piece that I didn’t do much to circulate because it came out right before the Orlando shootings. But in Less Government, More Socialism, I returned to several of my favorite themes on the future of government (basically, “it’s complicated”) and the deficiencies in our current political debate (it’s not complicated enough):

In short, our domestic political debate is grossly impoverished by our dichotomy between the competing utopianisms of a country without government and one dominated by it. We in fact are headed toward a world with a lot less government – and a lot more “socialism.”

And that’s the big problem of the future…. I’ll be discussing it a lot more in articles and posts to come.

As always, I welcome your comments below.

 

 

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17
Dec

A Rewarding Year for Consulting

Eric Schnurer2015 has been a good year for my consulting firm, Public Works LLC.  We’ve had 23 consultants and staff at work on over a dozen projects stretching from Alaska to Puerto Rico, and covering all the firm’s major areas of traditional strength.

As always, the bulk of our work has come in government spending and efficiency.  We were retained to help close budget gaps in two of the most high-profile fiscal challenges in the country:  Over the late spring and early summer, we worked with Puerto Rico Senate President Eduardo Bhatia to help stanch the flow of red ink in the Commonwealth’s budget.  I wrote about the Puerto Rico budget situation this past summer  and appeared on a panel to discuss possible solutions on Capitol Hill last month.

Meanwhile, we undertook similar work in late summer and early fall to address the City of Chicago’s budget gap.  Thanks to union leaders like Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez and conscientious city officials like budget director Alexandra Holt, we helped to develop a package totaling over $100 million in savings.  We rounded out the year improving the fleet efficiency of one of the largest independent public authorities in the country, and launching an efficiency review of the county government in Travis County (Austin), Texas.

The year opened with finishing development of a strategic plan for human services in Broward County (Ft. Lauderdale) Florida, and launching a review of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.  Our final report in Alaska was just released publicly last week.  Meanwhile, we’re providing the subject-matter and analytic expertise on a 5-year, federally-funded study of minority health disparities in Virginia.

We’ve also been expanding our education footprint, with a performance review of four school districts in South Carolina, and two more reviews now underway in Alaska, of both the state’s preK-12 and higher ed systems.  Meanwhile, we’ve spent the latter half of 2015 preparing the Comprehensive System Improvement Plan for Rhode Island’s workforce investment system, the subject area in which we’ve probably undertaken the most work in recent years.

We’re expecting 2016 to be even better:  Half of these contracts extend well into the New Year, totaling 70% as much work signed on already for 2016 as we had for all of 2015.  We’re therefore expecting a close-to-record year in 2016.  We’re also expecting some major announcements early in the New Year, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, all of us at Public Works wish all of you, and your families, a healthy and happy holiday season.

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15
May

A Business Model for Fighting Poverty

Barack Obama-A Business Model for Fighting PovertyHardly a day goes by without a new study, book, or presidential-candidate pronouncement on poverty and inequality – but they have long been central concerns of mine.  I studied the subject with Lester Thurow at MIT in grad school, worked with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund on anti-poverty legal strategies under the US Constitution, and have addressed poverty issues at my consulting firm, Public Works LLC, with such great public servants as Bill Richardson and Gabby Giffords.  This week, US News published the first two parts of a series I’m writing on how we can reduce poverty and inequality – not so much through public policies to remediate it, but through changing the underlying social and economic structures that perpetuate it.

Read more:

When Uncle Sam Comes Up Short

A Business Model for Fighting Poverty

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