Category Archives: Government and Politics

20th Century History on Health Care and Insurance

A historian’s take on health care and insurance in the US:

Key points:

Health care in the US is primarily driven by an “insurance company model”.’
There actually was a “medical marketplace” in early 20th century.
One of the best in that marketplace was a “prepaid physician group” with profit sharing for docs.
Truman proposed universal health care.
A.M.A. fought government intervention.
A.M.A. decided that the best way to keep the government out of their industry was to design a private sector model: the insurance company model.
In the insurance company model, insurance companies would pay physicians using fee-for-service compensation.
Thus, physicians became allied with insurance companies – both striving to keep government out of health care. Fee for service was their chosen model.
The model worked to expand coverage: from 25% of the population in 1945 to about 80 percent in 1965.
Elderly did not get covered as well. Congress stepped in with Medicare in 1965.
Because of rising prices, insurers gradually took over. “To constrain rising prices, insurers gradually introduced cost containment procedures and incrementally claimed supervisory authority over doctors. Soon they were reviewing their medical work, standardizing treatment blueprints tied to reimbursements and shaping the practice of medicine.”
Innovation in lacking. Concierge medicine experiments show some promise, like Atlas is Wichita.

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JCR comments:
It’s always easier looking backward. If only 25% of the population have health insurance, it seems eminently sensible that driving that number up to, say, 80% would be a high priority goal.

That’s what America did: it adopted a high priority goal to increase health insurance coverage from 25% to 80%. It’s chosen method was a fee-for-service reimbursement model – the “insurance model”. We put insurance companies in the driver’s seat, and we encouraged them to work with employers and physicians groups.

They were the middle man:

Insurers made sure that their employer clients had the benefits they needed to attract employees, at a cost that was practical.
Insurers also made sure that their physician partners supplied the services that they needed, at prices that were practical.

So, with the insurer-as-middle-man-model, we achieved our goal of enrolling 80%, up from 25%. 80% of the American population had health insurance in 1965.

So – what’s wrong with that?

It’s mostly very good. But…

Looking backward, it is obvious now that what is wrong: it is the remaining 20%. These are the unemployed – or the seniors – or the ones who have such ugly health attributes that their health costs are truly exorbitant.

While America was getting the 80% “squared away”, the 20% were left to fend for themselves. They overran emergency rooms; they took beds in charity hospitals; they died.

In 1965, we adopted Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare addressed the 20% who were seniors.
Medicaid addressed the 20% who were poor, such as:

Low-income families
Pregnant women
People of all ages with disabilities
People who need long-term care

Most of this happened over time, not in 1965. State offerings vary.

In 1997, we adopted CHIP for children. This addressed the 20% who were kids. 11 million kids got coverage. They were from families with too much income to qualify for Medicaid.

in 2003, we adopted MMA “The Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003”. Under the MMA, private health plans were offered, approved by Medicare “Medicare Advantage Plans’. An optional prescription drug benefit was offered (“Part D”)

In 2011, the Affordable Care Act was adopted.

So, the key question for today is: why is our health care system such a mess. Read on:

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CREDIT: NYT https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/19/opinion/health-insurance-american-medical-association.html?emc=edit_th_20170619&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=44049881&_r=0

The Opinion Pages | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
How Did Health Care Get to Be Such a Mess?
By CHRISTY FORD CHAPINJUNE 19, 2017
The problem with American health care is not the care. It’s the insurance.
Both parties have stumbled to enact comprehensive health care reform because they insist on patching up a rickety, malfunctioning model. The insurance company model drives up prices and fragments care. Rather than rejecting this jerry-built structure, the Democrats’ Obamacare legislation simply added a cracked support beam or two. The Republican bill will knock those out to focus on spackling other dilapidated parts of the system.

An alternative structure can be found in the early decades of the 20th century, when the medical marketplace offered a variety of models. Unions, businesses, consumer cooperatives and ethnic and African-American mutual aid societies had diverse ways of organizing and paying for medical care.

Physicians established a particularly elegant model: the prepaid doctor group. Unlike today’s physician practices, these groups usually staffed a variety of specialists, including general practitioners, surgeons and obstetricians. Patients received integrated care in one location, with group physicians from across specialties meeting regularly to review treatment options for their chronically ill or hard-to-treat patients.

Individuals and families paid a monthly fee, not to an insurance company but directly to the physician group. This system held down costs. Physicians typically earned a base salary plus a percentage of the group’s quarterly profits, so they lacked incentive to either ration care, which would lose them paying patients, or provide unnecessary care.

This contrasts with current examples of such financing arrangements. Where physicians earn a preset salary — for example, in Kaiser Permanente plans or in the British National Health Service — patients frequently complain about rationed or delayed care. When physicians are paid on a fee-for-service basis, for every service or procedure they provide — as they are under the insurance company model — then care is oversupplied. In these systems, costs escalate quickly.

Unfortunately, the leaders of the American Medical Association saw early health care models — union welfare funds, prepaid physician groups — as a threat. A.M.A. members sat on state licensing boards, so they could revoke the licenses of physicians who joined these “alternative” plans. A.M.A. officials likewise saw to it that recalcitrant physicians had their hospital admitting privileges rescinded.

The A.M.A. was also busy working to prevent government intervention in the medical field. Persistent federal efforts to reform health care began during the 1930s. After World War II, President Harry Truman proposed a universal health care system, and archival evidence suggests that policy makers hoped to build the program around prepaid physician groups.

A.M.A. officials decided that the best way to keep the government out of their industry was to design a private sector model: the insurance company model.

In this system, insurance companies would pay physicians using fee-for-service compensation. Insurers would pay for services even though they lacked the ability to control their supply. Moreover, the A.M.A. forbade insurers from supervising physician work and from financing multispecialty practices, which they feared might develop into medical corporations.

With the insurance company model, the A.M.A. could fight off Truman’s plan for universal care and, over the next decade, oppose more moderate reforms offered during the Eisenhower years.

Through each legislative battle, physicians and their new allies, insurers, argued that federal health care funding was unnecessary because they were expanding insurance coverage. Indeed, because of the perceived threat of reform, insurers weathered rapidly rising medical costs and unfavorable financial conditions to expand coverage from about a quarter of the population in 1945 to about 80 percent in 1965.

But private interests failed to cover a sufficient number of the elderly. Consequently, Congress stepped in to create Medicare in 1965. The private health care sector had far more capacity to manage a large, complex program than did the government, so Medicare was designed around the insurance company model. Insurers, moreover, were tasked with helping administer the program, acting as intermediaries between the government and service providers.

With Medicare, the demand for health services increased and medical costs became a national crisis. To constrain rising prices, insurers gradually introduced cost containment procedures and incrementally claimed supervisory authority over doctors. Soon they were reviewing their medical work, standardizing treatment blueprints tied to reimbursements and shaping the practice of medicine.

It’s easy to see the challenge of real reform: To actually bring down costs, legislators must roll back regulations to allow market innovation outside the insurance company model.

In some places, doctors are already trying their hand at practices similar to prepaid physician groups, as in concierge medicine experiments like the Atlas MD plan, a physician cooperative in Wichita, Kan. These plans must be able to skirt state insurance regulations and other laws, such as those prohibiting physicians from owning their own diagnostic facilities.

Both Democrats and Republicans could learn from this lost history of health care innovation.

Christy Ford Chapin is an associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University and the author of “Ensuring America’s Health: The Public Creation of the Corporate Health Care System.”
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Brian Hudes Comment:

I saw this one, as well.  The author lost credibility for me.   Ironically, what the author clearly doesn’t realize is that she is making an argument for the Kaiser Permenante model.  However, she unfairly and without any data makes the following claim: 

“Where physicians earn a preset salary — for example, in Kaiser Permanente plans or in the British National Health Service — patients frequently complain about rationed or delayed care”

Here’s a more balanced and comprehensive assessment supported by third party research:

Health Care Members Speak

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Smuggling, Capitalism and the Law of Unintended Consequences

To me, this article seems to be about the border wall with Mexico, but it instead is about 1) the law of unintended consequences, and 2) the nature of capitalism.

The law of unintended consequences can never be underestimated; nor can the ability of capitalism to bring out the creativity of entrepreneurs and organizations when there is big money to be made.

A few notes:

“But rather than stopping smuggling, the barriers have just pushed it farther into the desert, deeper into the ground, into more sophisticated secret compartments in cars and into the drug cartels’ hands.”

“A majority of Americans now favor marijuana legalization, which is hitting the pockets of Mexican smugglers and will do so even more when California starts issuing licenses to sell recreational cannabis next year.”

The price of smuggling any given drug will rise proportionate to the difficulty of smuggling.

52 legal crossings
Nogales (Mexico) and Nogales (US) and the dense homes on border

Tricks:
Coyotes (small drug smugglers)
Donkeys (the people who actually carry the drugs)
“Clavos” Secret compartments whose sophistication grows
Trains (a principal means of smuggling)
“Trampolines” (gigantic catapults that hurl the drugs over any wall)
Tunnel and new technologies (216 discovered since 1990)

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CREDIT: New York Times Article: mexican-drug-smugglers-to-trump-thanks!

Mexican Drug Smugglers to Trump: Thanks!

Ioan Grillo
MAY 5, 2017

NOGALES, Mexico — Crouched in the spiky terrain near this border city, a veteran smuggler known as Flaco points to the steel border fence and describes how he has taken drugs and people into the United States for more than three decades. His smuggling techniques include everything from throwing drugs over in gigantic catapults to hiding them in the engine cars of freight trains to making side tunnels off the cross-border sewage system.

When asked whether the border wall promised by President Trump will stop smugglers, he smiles. “This is never going to stop, neither the narco trafficking nor the illegals,” he says. “There will be more tunnels. More holes. If it doesn’t go over, it will go under.”

What will change? The fees that criminal networks charge to transport people and contraband across the border. Every time the wall goes up, so do smuggling profits.

The first time Flaco took people over the line was in 1984, when he was 15; he showed them a hole torn in a wire fence on the edge of Nogales for a tip of 50 cents. Today, many migrants pay smugglers as much as $5,000 to head north without papers, trekking for days through the Sonoran Desert. Most of that money goes to drug cartels that have taken over the profitable business.

“From 50 cents to $5,000,” Flaco says. “As the prices went up, the mafia, which is the Sinaloa cartel, took over everything here, drugs and people smuggling.” Sinaloa dominates Nogales and other parts of northwest Mexico, while rivals, including the Juarez, Gulf and Zetas cartels, control other sections of the border. Flaco finished a five-year prison sentence here for drug trafficking in 2009 and has continued to smuggle since.

His comments underline a problem that has frustrated successive American governments and is likely to haunt President Trump, even if the wall becomes more than a rallying cry and he finally gets the billions of dollars needed to fund it. Strengthening defenses does not stop smuggling. It only makes it more expensive, which inadvertently gives more money to criminal networks.

The cartels have taken advantage of this to build a multibillion industry, and they protect it with brutal violence that destabilizes Mexico and forces thousands of Mexicans to head north seeking asylum.

Stretching almost 2,000 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, the border has proved treacherous to block. It traverses a sparsely populated desert, patches of soft earth that are easy to tunnel through, and the mammoth Rio Grande, which floods its banks, making fencing difficult.

And it contains 52 legal crossing points, where millions of people, cars, trucks and trains enter the United States every week.

President Trump’s idea of a wall is not new. Chunks of walls, fencing and anti-car spikes have been erected periodically, particularly in 1990 and 2006. On April 30, Congress reached a deal to fund the federal budget through September that failed to approve any money for extending the barriers as President Trump has promised. However, it did allocate several hundred million dollars for repairing existing infrastructure, and the White House has said it will use this to replace some fencing with a more solid wall.

But rather than stopping smuggling, the barriers have just pushed it: farther into the desert, deeper into the ground, into more sophisticated secret compartments in cars and into the drug cartels’ hands.
It is particularly concerning how cartels have taken over the human smuggling business. Known as coyotes, these smugglers used to work independently, or in small groups. Now they have to work for the cartel, which takes a huge cut of the profits, Flaco says. If migrants try to cross the border without paying, they risk getting beaten or murdered.

The number of people detained without papers on the southern border has dropped markedly in the first months of the Trump administration, with fewer than 17,000 apprehended in March, the lowest since 2000. But this has nothing to do with the yet-to-be-built new wall. The president’s anti-immigrant rhetoric could be a deterrent — signaling that tweets can have a bigger effect than bricks. However, this may not last, and there is no sign of drug seizures going down.

Flaco grew up in a Nogales slum called Buenos Aires, which has produced generations of smugglers. The residents refer to the people who carry over backpacks full of drugs as burros, or donkeys. “When I first heard about this, I thought they used real donkeys to carry the marijuana,” Flaco says. “Then I realized, we were the donkeys.”

He was paid $500 for his first trip as a donkey when he was in high school, encouraging him to drop out for what seemed like easy money.
The fences haven’t stopped the burros, who use either ropes or their bare hands to scale them. This was captured in extraordinary footage from a Mexican TV crew, showing smugglers climbing into California. But solid walls offer no solution, as they can also be scaled and they make it harder for border patrol agents to spot what smugglers are up to on the Mexican side.

Flaco quickly graduated to building secret compartments in cars. Called clavos, they are fixed into gas tanks, on dashboards, on roofs. The cars, known by customs agents as trap cars, then drive right through the ports of entry. In fact, while most marijuana is caught in the desert, harder drugs such as heroin are far more likely to go over the bridge.
When customs agents learned to look for the switches that opened the secret compartments, smugglers figured out how to do without them. Some new trap cars can be opened only with complex procedures, such as when the driver is in the seat, all doors are closed, the defroster is turned on and a special card is swiped.

Equally sophisticated engineering goes into the tunnels that turn the border into a block of Swiss cheese. Between 1990 and 2016, 224 tunnels were discovered, some with air vents, rails and electric lights. While the drug lord Joaquin Guzman, known as El Chapo, became infamous for using them, Flaco says they are as old as the border itself and began as natural underground rivers.

Tunnels are particularly popular in Nogales, where Mexican federal agents regularly seize houses near the border for having them. Flaco even shows me a filled-in passage that started inside a graveyard tomb. “It’s because Nogales is one of the few border towns that is urbanized right up to the line,” explains Mayor David Cuauhtémoc Galindo. “There are houses that are on both sides of the border at a very short distance,” making it easy to tunnel from one to the other.

Nogales is also connected to its neighbor across the border in Arizona, also called Nogales, by a common drainage system. It cannot be blocked, because the ground slopes downward from Mexico to the United States. Police officers took me into the drainage system and showed me several smuggling tunnels that had been burrowed off it. They had been filled in with concrete, but the officers warned that smugglers could be lurking around to make new ones and that I should hit the ground if we ran into any.

Back above ground, catapults are one of the most spectacular smuggling methods. “We call them trampolines,” Flaco says. “They have a spring that is like a tripod, and two or three people operate them.” Border patrol agents captured one that had been attached to the fence near the city of Douglas, Ariz., in February and showed photos of what looked like a medieval siege weapon.

Freight trains also cross the border, on their way from southern Mexico up to Canada. While agents inspect them, it’s impossible to search all the carriages, which are packed with cargo from cars to canned chilies. Flaco says the train workers are often paid off by the smugglers. He was once caught with a load of marijuana on a train in Arizona, but he managed to persuade police that he was a train worker and did only a month in jail.
While marijuana does less harm, the smugglers also bring heroin, crack cocaine and crystal meth to America, which kill many. Calls to wage war on drugs can be emotionally appealing. The way President Trump linked his promises of a wall to drug problems in rural America was most likely a factor in his victory.

But four decades after Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs,” despite trillions of dollars spent on agents, soldiers and barriers, drugs are still easy to buy all across America.

President Trump has taken power at a turning point in the drug policy debate. A majority of Americans now favor marijuana legalization, which is hitting the pockets of Mexican smugglers and will do so even more when California starts issuing licenses to sell recreational cannabis next year. President Trump has also called for more treatment for drug addicts. He would be wise to make that, and not the wall, a cornerstone of his drug policy.

Reducing the finances of drug cartels could reduce some of the violence, and the number of people fleeing north to escape it. But to really tackle the issue of human smuggling, the United States must provide a path to papers for the millions of undocumented workers already in the country, and then make sure businesses hire only workers with papers in the future. So long as illegal immigrants can make a living in the United States, smugglers will make a fortune leading them there.

Stopping the demand for the smugglers’ services actually hits them in their pockets. Otherwise, they will just keep getting richer as the bricks get higher.

Ioan Grillo is the author of “Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields and the New Politics of Latin America” and a contributing opinion writer.

I Thought I Understood the American Right. Trump Proved Me Wrong.

How to explain Trump? This feature-length article in today’s New York Times Magazine does a great job of pulling together, into one place, the historical strands that made Trump possible.

Including:

-The New Deal put conservatives on their “back foot”, and set the stage for an emerging liberal consensus that helps for over fifty years.
-The effort by William F. Buckley and the National Review, beginning in 1955, to make conservatism intellectually attractive – and defensible.
-New South talking points, instead of outright racism, that were more palatable, like “stable housing values” and “quality local education,”. These had enormous appeal to the white American middle class.
– Alan Brinkley arguing, when Reagan was elected, that American conservatism “had been something of an orphan in historical scholarship.”
– Reagan himself, who portrayed a certain kind of character: the kindly paterfamilias, a trustworthy and nonthreatening guardian of the white middle-class suburban enclave.
-Harvard’s Lisa McGirr writing in her 2001 book that conservative, largely suburban “highly educated and thoroughly modern group of men and women,” took on “liberal permissiveness” about matters like rising crime rates and the teaching of sex education in public schools.

Two quotes stick with me, one which summarizes:

“Future historians won’t find all that much of a foundation for Trumpism in the grim essays of William F. Buckley, the scrupulous constitutionalist principles of Barry Goldwater or the bright-eyed optimism of Ronald Reagan. They’ll need instead to study conservative history’s political surrealists and intellectual embarrassments, its con artists and tribunes of white rage. It will not be a pleasant story. But if those historians are to construct new arguments to make sense of Trump, the first step may be to risk being impolite.”

And a second quote about Goldwater:

Richard Hofstadter said, one month before the defeat of Barry Goldwater for president: “when, in all our history, has anyone with ideas so bizarre, so self-confounding, so remote from the basic American consensus, ever gone so far?”

I find that quote revealing. He called the Goldwater crushing defeat. And one would have thought that the exact same quote could apply to November 1, 2016, anticipating a crushing defeat for Donald J. Trump. And yet, he prevailed!

We owe it to ourselves to ask: Why? Here is one historian’s take:

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CREDIT: Feature Article from New York Times Magazine
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I Thought I Understood the American Right. Trump Proved Me Wrong.

A historian of conservatism looks back at how he and his peers failed to anticipate the rise of the president.

BY RICK PERLSTEIN
APRIL 11, 2017

Until Nov. 8, 2016, historians of American politics shared a rough consensus about the rise of modern American conservatism. It told a respectable tale. By the end of World War II, the story goes, conservatives had become a scattered and obscure remnant, vanquished by the New Deal and the apparent reality that, as the critic Lionel Trilling wrote in 1950, liberalism was “not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition.”

Year Zero was 1955, when William F. Buckley Jr. started National Review, the small-circulation magazine whose aim, Buckley explained, was to “articulate a position on world affairs which a conservative candidate can adhere to without fear of intellectual embarrassment or political surrealism.” Buckley excommunicated the John Birch Society, anti-Semites and supporters of the hyperindividualist Ayn Rand, and his cohort fused the diverse schools of conservative thinking — traditionalist philosophers, militant anti-Communists, libertarian economists — into a coherent ideology, one that eventually came to dominate American politics.

I was one of the historians who helped forge this narrative. My first book, “Before the Storm,” was about the rise of Senator Barry Goldwater, the uncompromising National Review favorite whose refusal to exploit the violent backlash against civil rights, and whose bracingly idealistic devotion to the Constitution as he understood it — he called for Social Security to be made “voluntary” — led to his crushing defeat in the 1964 presidential election. Goldwater’s loss, far from dooming the American right, inspired a new generation of conservative activists to redouble their efforts, paving the way for the Reagan revolution. Educated whites in the prosperous metropolises of the New South sublimated the frenetic, violent anxieties that once marked race relations in their region into more palatable policy concerns about “stable housing values” and “quality local education,” backfooting liberals and transforming conservatives into mainstream champions of a set of positions with enormous appeal to the white American middle class.

These were the factors, many historians concluded, that made America a “center right” nation. For better or for worse, politicians seeking to lead either party faced a new reality. Democrats had to honor the public’s distrust of activist government (as Bill Clinton did with his call for the “end of welfare as we know it”). Republicans, for their part, had to play the Buckley role of denouncing the political surrealism of the paranoid fringe (Mitt Romney’s furious backpedaling after joking, “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate”).

Then the nation’s pre-eminent birther ran for president. Trump’s campaign was surreal and an intellectual embarrassment, and political experts of all stripes told us he could never become president. That wasn’t how the story was supposed to end. National Review devoted an issue to writing Trump out of the conservative movement; an editor there, Jonah Goldberg, even became a leader of the “Never Trump” crusade. But Trump won — and some conservative intellectuals embraced a man who exploited the same brutish energies that Buckley had supposedly banished.

The professional guardians of America’s past, in short, had made a mistake. We advanced a narrative of the American right that was far too constricted to anticipate the rise of a man like Trump. Historians, of course, are not called upon to be seers. Our professional canons warn us against presentism — we are supposed to weigh the evidence of the past on its own terms — but at the same time, the questions we ask are conditioned by the present. That is, ultimately, what we are called upon to explain. Which poses a question: If Donald Trump is the latest chapter of conservatism’s story, might historians have been telling that story wrong?

American historians’ relationship to conservatism itself has a troubled history. Even after Ronald Reagan’s electoral-college landslide in 1980, we paid little attention to the right: The central narrative of America’s political development was still believed to be the rise of the liberal state. But as Newt Gingrich’s right-wing revolutionaries prepared to take over the House of Representatives in 1994, the scholar Alan Brinkley published an essay called “The Problem of American Conservatism” in The American Historical Review. American conservatism, Brinkley argued, “had been something of an orphan in historical scholarship,” and that was “coming to seem an ever-more-curious omission.” The article inaugurated the boom in scholarship that brought us the story, now widely accepted, of conservatism’s triumphant rise.

That story was in part a rejection of an older story. Until the 1990s, the most influential writer on the subject of the American right was Richard Hofstadter, a colleague of Trilling’s at Columbia University in the postwar years. Hofstadter was the leader of the “consensus” school of historians; the “consensus” being Americans’ supposed agreement upon moderate liberalism as the nation’s natural governing philosophy. He didn’t take the self-identified conservatives of his own time at all seriously. He called them “pseudoconservatives” and described, for instance, followers of the red-baiting Republican senator Joseph McCarthy as cranks who salved their “status anxiety” with conspiracy theories and bizarre panaceas. He named this attitude “the paranoid style in American politics” and, in an article published a month before Barry Goldwater’s presidential defeat, asked, “When, in all our history, has anyone with ideas so bizarre, so archaic, so self-confounding, so remote from the basic American consensus, ever gone so far?”

It was a strangely ahistoric question; many of Goldwater’s ideas hewed closely to a well-established American distrust of statism that goes back all the way to the nation’s founding. It betokened too a certain willful blindness toward the evidence that was already emerging of a popular backlash against liberalism. Reagan’s gubernatorial victory in California two years later, followed by his two landslide presidential wins, made a mockery of Hofstadter. Historians seeking to grasp conservatism’s newly revealed mass appeal would have to take the movement on its own terms.

That was my aim when I took up the subject in the late 1990s — and, even more explicitly, the aim of Lisa McGirr, now of Harvard University, whose 2001 book, “Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right,” became a cornerstone of the new literature. Instead of pronouncing upon conservatism from on high, as Hofstadter had, McGirr, a social historian, studied it from the ground up, attending respectfully to what activists understood themselves to be doing. What she found was “a highly educated and thoroughly modern group of men and women,” normal participants in the “bureaucratized world of post-World War II America.” They built a “vibrant and remarkable political mobilization,” she wrote, in an effort to address political concerns that would soon be resonating nationwide — for instance, their anguish at “liberal permissiveness” about matters like rising crime rates and the teaching of sex education in public schools.

But if Hofstadter was overly dismissive of how conservatives understood themselves, the new breed of historians at times proved too credulous. McGirr diligently played down the sheer bloodcurdling hysteria of conservatives during the period she was studying — for example, one California senator’s report in 1962 that he had received thousands of letters from constituents concerned about a rumor that Communist Chinese commandos were training in Mexico for an imminent invasion of San Diego. I sometimes made the same mistake. Writing about the movement that led to Goldwater’s 1964 Republican nomination, for instance, it never occurred to me to pay much attention to McCarthyism, even though McCarthy helped Goldwater win his Senate seat in 1952, and Goldwater supported McCarthy to the end. (As did William F. Buckley.) I was writing about the modern conservative movement, the one that led to Reagan, not about the brutish relics of a more gothic, ill-formed and supposedly incoherent reactionary era that preceded it.

A few historians have provocatively followed a different intellectual path, avoiding both the bloodlessness of the new social historians and the psychologizing condescension of the old Hofstadter school. Foremost among them is Leo Ribuffo, a professor at George Washington University. Ribuffo’s surname announces his identity in the Dickensian style: Irascible, brilliant and deeply learned, he is one of the profession’s great rebuffers. He made his reputation with an award-winning 1983 study, “The Old Christian Right: The Protestant Far Right From the Great Depression to the Cold War,” and hasn’t published a proper book since — just a series of coruscating essays that frequently focus on what everyone else is getting wrong. In the 1994 issue of The American Historical Review that featured Alan Brinkley’s “The Problem of American Conservatism,” Ribuffo wrote a response contesting Brinkley’s contention, now commonplace, that Trilling was right about American conservatism’s shallow roots. Ribuffo argued that America’s anti-liberal traditions were far more deeply rooted in the past, and far angrier, than most historians would acknowledge, citing a long list of examples from “regional suspicions of various metropolitan centers and the snobs who lived there” to “white racism institutionalized in slavery and segregation.”

After the election, Ribuffo told me that if he were to write a similar response today, he would call it, “Why Is There So Much Scholarship on ‘Conservatism,’ and Why Has It Left the Historical Profession So Obtuse About Trumpism?” One reason, as Ribuffo argues, is the conceptual error of identifying a discrete “modern conservative movement” in the first place. Another reason, though, is that historians of conservatism, like historians in general, tend to be liberal, and are prone to liberalism’s traditions of politesse. It’s no surprise that we are attracted to polite subjects like “colorblind conservatism” or William F. Buckley.

Our work might have been less obtuse had we shared the instincts of a New York University professor named Kim Phillips-Fein. “Historians who write about the right should find ways to do so with a sense of the dignity of their subjects,” she observed in a 2011 review, “but they should not hesitate to keep an eye out for the bizarre, the unusual, or the unsettling.”

Looking back from that perspective, we can now see a history that is indeed unsettling — but also unsettlingly familiar. Consider, for example, an essay published in 1926 by Hiram Evans, the imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, in the exceedingly mainstream North American Review. His subject was the decline of “Americanism.” Evans claimed to speak for an abused white majority, “the so-called Nordic race,” which, “with all its faults, has given the world almost the whole of modern civilization.” Evans, a former dentist, proposed that his was “a movement of plain people,” and acknowledged that this “lays us open to the charge of being hicks and ‘rubes’ and ‘drivers of secondhand Fords.’ ” But over the course of the last generation, he wrote, these good people “have found themselves increasingly uncomfortable, and finally deeply distressed,” watching a “moral breakdown” that was destroying a once-great nation. First, there was “confusion in thought and opinion, a groping and hesitancy about national affairs and private life alike, in sharp contrast to the clear, straightforward purposes of our earlier years.” Next, they found “the control of much of our industry and commerce taken over by strangers, who stacked the cards of success and prosperity against us,” and ultimately these strangers “came to dominate our government.” The only thing that would make America great again, as it were, was “a return of power into the hands of everyday, not highly cultured, not overly intellectualized, but entirely unspoiled and not de-Americanized average citizens of old stock.”

This “Second Klan” (the first was formed during Reconstruction) scrambles our pre-Trump sense of what right-wing ideology does and does not comprise. (Its doctrines, for example, included support for public education, to weaken Catholic parochial schools.) The Klan also put the predations of the international banking class at the center of its rhetoric. Its worldview resembles, in fact, the right-wing politics of contemporary Europe — a tradition, heretofore judged foreign to American politics, called “herrenvolk republicanism,” that reserved social democracy solely for the white majority. By reaching back to the reactionary traditions of the 1920s, we might better understand the alliance between the “alt-right” figures that emerged as fervent Trump supporters during last year’s election and the ascendant far-right nativist political parties in Europe.

None of this history is hidden. Indeed, in the 1990s, a rich scholarly literature emerged on the 1920s Klan and its extraordinary, and decidedly national, influence. (One hotbed of Klan activity, for example, was Anaheim, Calif. McGirr’s “Suburban Warriors” mentions this but doesn’t discuss it; neither did I in my own account of Orange County conservatism in “Before the Storm.” Again, it just didn’t seem relevant to the subject of the modern conservative movement.) The general belief among historians, however, was that the Klan’s national influence faded in the years after 1925, when Indiana’s grand dragon, D.C. Stephenson, who served as the de facto political boss for the entire state, was convicted of murdering a young woman.

But the Klan remained relevant far beyond the South. In 1936 a group called the Black Legion, active in the industrial Midwest, burst into public consciousness after members assassinated a Works Progress Administration official in Detroit. The group, which considered itself a Klan enforcement arm, dominated the news that year. The F.B.I. estimated its membership at 135,000, including a large number of public officials, possibly including Detroit’s police chief. The Associated Press reported in 1936 that the group was suspected of assassinating as many as 50 people. In 1937, Humphrey Bogart starred in a film about it. In an informal survey, however, I found that many leading historians of the right — including one who wrote an important book covering the 1930s — hadn’t heard of the Black Legion.

Stephen H. Norwood, one of the few historians who did study the Black Legion, also mined another rich seam of neglected history in which far-right vigilantism and outright fascism routinely infiltrated the mainstream of American life. The story begins with Father Charles Coughlin, the Detroit-based “radio priest” who at his peak reached as many as 30 million weekly listeners. In 1938, Coughlin’s magazine, Social Justice, began reprinting “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” a forged tract about a global Jewish conspiracy first popularized in the United States by Henry Ford. After presenting this fictitious threat, Coughlin’s paper called for action, in the form of a “crusade against the anti-Christian forces of the red revolution” — a call that was answered, in New York and Boston, by a new organization, the Christian Front. Its members were among the most enthusiastic participants in a 1939 pro-Hitler rally that packed Madison Square Garden, where the leader of the German-American Bund spoke in front of an enormous portrait of George Washington flanked by swastikas.

The Bund took a mortal hit that same year — its leader was caught embezzling — but the Christian Front soldiered on. In 1940, a New York chapter was raided by the F.B.I. for plotting to overthrow the government. The organization survived, and throughout World War II carried out what the New York Yiddish paper The Day called “small pogroms” in Boston and New York that left Jews in “mortal fear” of “almost daily” beatings. Victims who complained to authorities, according to news reports, were “insulted and beaten again.” Young Irish-Catholic men inspired by the Christian Front desecrated nearly every synagogue in Washington Heights. The New York Catholic hierarchy, the mayor of Boston and the governor of Massachusetts largely looked the other way.

Why hasn’t the presence of organized mobs with backing in powerful places disturbed historians’ conclusion that the American right was dormant during this period? In fact, the “far right” was never that far from the American mainstream. The historian Richard Steigmann-Gall, writing in the journal Social History, points out that “scholars of American history are by and large in agreement that, in spite of a welter of fringe radical groups on the right in the United States between the wars, fascism never ‘took’ here.” And, unlike in Europe, fascists did not achieve governmental power. Nevertheless, Steigmann-Gall continues, “fascism had a very real presence in the U.S.A., comparable to that on continental Europe.” He cites no less mainstream an organization than the American Legion, whose “National Commander” Alvin Owsley proclaimed in 1922, “the Fascisti are to Italy what the American Legion is to the United States.” A decade later, Chicago named a thoroughfare after the Fascist military leader Italo Balbo. In 2011, Italian-American groups in Chicago protested a movement to rename it.

Anti-Semitism in America declined after World War II. But as Leo Ribuffo points out, the underlying narrative — of a diabolical transnational cabal of aliens plotting to undermine the very foundations of Christian civilization — survived in the anti-Communist diatribes of Joseph McCarthy. The alien narrative continues today in the work of National Review writers like Andrew McCarthy (“How Obama Embraces Islam’s Sharia Agenda”) and Lisa Schiffren (who argued that Obama’s parents could be secret Communists because “for a white woman to marry a black man in 1958, or ’60, there was almost inevitably a connection to explicit Communist politics”). And it found its most potent expression in Donald Trump’s stubborn insistence that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

Trump’s connection to this alternate right-wing genealogy is not just rhetorical. In 1927, 1,000 hooded Klansmen fought police in Queens in what The Times reported as a “free for all.” One of those arrested at the scene was the president’s father, Fred Trump. (Trump’s role in the melee is unclear; the charge — “refusing to disperse” — was later dropped.) In the 1950s, Woody Guthrie, at the time a resident of the Beach Haven housing complex the elder Trump built near Coney Island, wrote a song about “Old Man Trump” and the “Racial hate/He stirred up/In the bloodpot of human hearts/When he drawed/That color line” in one of his housing developments. In 1973, when Donald Trump was working at Fred’s side, both father and son were named in a federal housing-discrimination suit. The family settled with the Justice Department in the face of evidence that black applicants were told units were not available even as whites were welcomed with open arms.

The 1960s and ’70s New York in which Donald Trump came of age, as much as Klan-ridden Indiana in the 1920s or Barry Goldwater’s Arizona in the 1950s, was at conservatism’s cutting edge, setting the emotional tone for a politics of rage. In 1966, when Trump was 20, Mayor John Lindsay placed civilians on a board to more effectively monitor police abuse. The president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association — responding, “I am sick and tired of giving in to minority groups and their gripes and their shouting” — led a referendum effort to dissolve the board that won 63 percent of the vote. Two years later, fights between supporters and protesters of George Wallace at a Madison Square Garden rally grew so violent that, The New Republic observed, “never again will you read about Berlin in the ’30s without remembering this wild confrontation here of two irrational forces.”

The rest of the country followed New York’s lead. In 1970, after the shooting deaths of four students during antiwar protests at Kent State University in Ohio, a Gallup poll found that 58 percent of Americans blamed the students for their own deaths. (“If they didn’t do what the Guards told them, they should have been mowed down,” one parent of Kent State students told an interviewer.) Days later, hundreds of construction workers from the World Trade Center site beat antiwar protesters at City Hall with their hard hats. (“It was just like Iwo Jima,” an impressed witness remarked.) That year, reports the historian Katherine Scott, 76 percent of Americans “said they did not support the First Amendment right to assemble and dissent from government policies.”

In 1973, the reporter Gail Sheehy joined a group of blue-collar workers watching the Watergate hearings in a bar in Astoria, Queens. “If I was Nixon,” one of them said, “I’d shoot every one of them.” (Who “they” were went unspecified.) This was around the time when New Yorkers were leaping to their feet and cheering during screenings of “Death Wish,” a hit movie about a liberal architect, played by Charles Bronson, who shoots muggers at point-blank range. At an October 2015 rally near Nashville, Donald Trump told his supporters: “I have a license to carry in New York, can you believe that? Nobody knows that. Somebody attacks me, oh, they’re gonna be shocked.” He imitated a cowboy-style quick draw, and an appreciative crowd shouted out the name of Bronson’s then-41-year-old film: “ ‘Death Wish’!”

In 1989, a young white woman was raped in Central Park. Five teenagers, four black and one Latino, confessed to participating in the crime. At the height of the controversy, Donald Trump took out full-page ads in all the major New York daily papers calling for the return of the death penalty. It was later proved the police had essentially tortured the five into their confessions, and they were eventually cleared by DNA evidence. Trump, however, continues to insist upon their guilt. That confidence resonates deeply with what the sociologist Lawrence Rosenthal calls New York’s “hard-hat populism” — an attitude, Rosenthal hypothesizes, that Trump learned working alongside the tradesmen in his father’s real estate empire. But the case itself also resonates deeply with narratives dating back to the first Ku Klux Klan of white womanhood defiled by dark savages. Trump’s public call for the supposed perpetrators’ hides, no matter the proof of guilt or innocence, mimics the rituals of Southern lynchings.

When Trump vowed on the campaign trail to Make America Great Again, he was generally unclear about when exactly it stopped being great. The Vanderbilt University historian Jefferson Cowie tells a story that points to a possible answer. In his book “The Great Exception,” he suggests that what historians considered the main event in 20th century American political development — the rise and consolidation of the “New Deal order” — was in fact an anomaly, made politically possible by a convergence of political factors. One of those was immigration. At the beginning of the 20th century, millions of impoverished immigrants, mostly Catholic and Jewish, entered an overwhelmingly Protestant country. It was only when that demographic transformation was suspended by the 1924 Immigration Act that majorities of Americans proved willing to vote for many liberal policies. In 1965, Congress once more allowed large-scale immigration to the United States — and it is no accident that this date coincides with the increasing conservative backlash against liberalism itself, now that its spoils would be more widely distributed among nonwhites.

The liberalization of immigration law is an obsession of the alt-right. Trump has echoed their rage. “We’ve admitted 59 million immigrants to the United States between 1965 and 2015,” he noted last summer, with rare specificity. “ ‘Come on in, anybody. Just come on in.’ Not anymore.” This was a stark contrast to Reagan, who venerated immigrants, proudly signing a 1986 bill, sponsored by the conservative Republican senator Alan Simpson, that granted many undocumented immigrants citizenship. Shortly before announcing his 1980 presidential run, Reagan even boasted of his wish “to create, literally, a common market situation here in the Americas with an open border between ourselves and Mexico.” But on immigration, at least, it is Trump, not Reagan, who is the apotheosis of the brand of conservatism that now prevails.

A puzzle remains. If Donald Trump was elected as a Marine Le Pen-style — or Hiram Evans-style — herrenvolk republican, what are we to make of the fact that he placed so many bankers and billionaires in his cabinet, and has relentlessly pursued so many 1-percent-friendly policies? More to the point, what are we to the make of the fact that his supporters don’t seem to mind?

Here, however, Trump is far from unique. The history of bait-and-switch between conservative electioneering and conservative governance is another rich seam that calls out for fresh scholarly excavation: not of how conservative voters see their leaders, but of the neglected history of how conservative leaders see their voters.

In their 1987 book, “Right Turn,” the political scientists Joel Rogers and Thomas Ferguson presented public-opinion data demonstrating that Reagan’s crusade against activist government, which was widely understood to be the source of his popularity, was not, in fact, particularly popular. For example, when Reagan was re-elected in 1984, only 35 percent of voters favored significant cuts in social programs to reduce the deficit. Much excellent scholarship, well worth revisiting in the age of Trump, suggests an explanation for Reagan’s subsequent success at cutting back social programs in the face of hostile public opinion: It was business leaders, not the general public, who moved to the right, and they became increasingly aggressive and skilled in manipulating the political process behind the scenes.
But another answer hides in plain sight. The often-cynical negotiation between populist electioneering and plutocratic governance on the right has long been not so much a matter of policy as it has been a matter of show business. The media scholar Tim Raphael, in his 2009 book, “The President Electric: Ronald Reagan and the Politics of Performance,” calls the three-minute commercials that interrupted episodes of The General Electric Theater — starring Reagan and his family in their state-of-the-art Pacific Palisades home, outfitted for them by G.E. — television’s first “reality show.” For the California voters who soon made him governor, the ads created a sense of Reagan as a certain kind of character: the kindly paterfamilias, a trustworthy and nonthreatening guardian of the white middle-class suburban enclave. Years later, the producers of “The Apprentice” carefully crafted a Trump character who was the quintessence of steely resolve and all-knowing mastery. American voters noticed. Linda Lucchese, a Trump convention delegate from Illinois who had never previously been involved in politics, told me that she watched “The Apprentice” and decided that Trump would make a perfect president. “All those celebrities,” she told me: “They showed him respect.”

It is a short leap from advertising and reality TV to darker forms of manipulation. Consider the parallels since the 1970s between conservative activism and the traditional techniques of con men. Direct-mail pioneers like Richard Viguerie created hair-on-fire campaign-fund-raising letters about civilization on the verge of collapse. One 1979 pitch warned that “federal and state legislatures are literally flooded with proposed laws that are aimed at total confiscation of firearms from law-abiding citizens.” Another, from the 1990s, warned that “babies are being harvested and sold on the black market by Planned Parenthood clinics.” Recipients of these alarming missives sent checks to battle phony crises, and what they got in return was very real tax cuts for the rich. Note also the more recent connection between Republican politics and “multilevel marketing” operations like Amway (Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is the wife of Amway’s former president and the daughter-in-law of its co-founder); and how easily some of these marketing schemes shade into the promotion of dubious miracle cures (Ben Carson, secretary of housing and urban development, with “glyconutrients”; Mike Huckabee shilling for a “solution kit” to “reverse” diabetes; Trump himself taking on a short-lived nutritional-supplements multilevel marketing scheme in 2009). The dubious grifting of Donald Trump, in short, is a part of the structure of conservative history.

Future historians won’t find all that much of a foundation for Trumpism in the grim essays of William F. Buckley, the scrupulous constitutionalist principles of Barry Goldwater or the bright-eyed optimism of Ronald Reagan. They’ll need instead to study conservative history’s political surrealists and intellectual embarrassments, its con artists and tribunes of white rage. It will not be a pleasant story. But if those historians are to construct new arguments to make sense of Trump, the first step may be to risk being impolite.

Editors’ Note: April 16, 2017
An essay on Page 36 this weekend by a historian about how conservatism has changed over the years cites Jonah Goldberg of the National Review as an example of a conservative intellectual who embraced Donald J. Trump following the presidential election. That is a mischaracterization of the views of Mr. Goldberg, who has continued to be critical of Mr. Trump.

Rick Perlstein is the author, most recently, of “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.”

Media Eco-Systems

CREDIT: ARTICLE FROM COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW

CJR has done a fine piece of work here! They studied 1.25 million stories, published by 25,000 sources, between 4/15 and 11/16.

A few of the most choice insights:

“What we find in our data is a network of mutually-reinforcing hyper-partisan sites that revive what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics,” combining decontextualized truths, repeated falsehoods, and leaps of logic to create a fundamentally misleading view of the world.”

“Take a look at Ending the Fed, which, according to Buzzfeed’s examination of fake news in November 2016, accounted for five of the top 10 of the top fake stories in the election. In our data, Ending the Fed is indeed prominent by Facebook measures, but not by Twitter shares. In the month before the election, for example, it was one of the three most-shared right-wing sites on Facebook, alongside Breitbart and Truthfeed.”

JCR note: take a look at www.endingthefed.com. I wasn’t even aware of it. Total scum reporting. If this website is even half as powerful as CJR says, we are in a world of hurt. For more on this, see Buzzfeed Commentary on End the Fed

“Use of disinformation by partisan media sources is neither new nor limited to the right wing, but the insulation of the partisan right-wing media from traditional journalistic media sources, and the vehemence of its attacks on journalism in common cause with a similarly outspoken president, is new and distinctive.”

“It is a mistake to dismiss these stories as “fake news”; their power stems from a potent mix of verifiable facts (the leaked Podesta emails), familiar repeated falsehoods, paranoid logic, and consistent political orientation within a mutually-reinforcing network of like-minded sites.”

“A remarkable feature of the right-wing media ecosystem is how new it is. Out of all the outlets favored by Trump followers, only the New York Post existed when Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980. By the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, only the Washington Times, Rush Limbaugh, and arguably Sean Hannity had joined the fray. Alex Jones of Infowars started his first outlet on the radio in 1996. Fox News was not founded until 1996. Breitbart was founded in 2007, and most of the other major nodes in the right-wing media system were created even later.”

And my own reflection is:

I am guilty, as usual, of assuming that revolutions of one time are revolutions for all time. What I mean is … I was so, so impressed with the social media revolution that arguably swept President Obama into the White House. That campaign’s ability to pivot quickly, disseminate their points social media ways, was a thing to behold!

What I failed to realize is that the NEXT revolution was following right on its heels! And, sadly, I think the Democratic Party missed it too.

The next revolution was the right wing social media eco-system, a complex fabric of sites that reinforced each other. Rather than spouting “fake news”, as the New York Enquirer did with regularity way back when, these sites specialized in disinformation.

And they came on the scene very recently – led by Breitbart. It is stunning to me how Breitbart nudged Fox News out of the center of the media eco-system in early 2016, and then invited them back into the center, along with them, as their views increasingly aligned. This has got to be one of the greatest media coups of all time, orchestrated by Breitbart News, whose leader is now in the White House.

====================STUDY FOLLOWS==================
Study: Breitbart-led right-wing media ecosystem altered broader media agenda
By Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, Hal Roberts, and Ethan Zuckerman
MARCH 3, 2017

THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION SHOOK the foundations of American politics. Media reports immediately looked for external disruption to explain the unanticipated victory—with theories ranging from Russian hacking to “fake news.”

We have a less exotic, but perhaps more disconcerting explanation: Our own study of over 1.25 million stories published online between April 1, 2015 and Election Day shows that a right-wing media network anchored around Breitbart developed as a distinct and insulated media system, using social media as a backbone to transmit a hyper-partisan perspective to the world. This pro-Trump media sphere appears to have not only successfully set the agenda for the conservative media sphere, but also strongly influenced the broader media agenda, in particular coverage of Hillary Clinton.

While concerns about political and media polarization online are longstanding, our study suggests that polarization was asymmetric. Pro-Clinton audiences were highly attentive to traditional media outlets, which continued to be the most prominent outlets across the public sphere, alongside more left-oriented online sites. But pro-Trump audiences paid the majority of their attention to polarized outlets that have developed recently, many of them only since the 2008 election season.

Attacks on the integrity and professionalism of opposing media were also a central theme of right-wing media. Rather than “fake news” in the sense of wholly fabricated falsities, many of the most-shared stories can more accurately be understood as disinformation: the purposeful construction of true or partly true bits of information into a message that is, at its core, misleading. Over the course of the election, this turned the right-wing media system into an internally coherent, relatively insulated knowledge community, reinforcing the shared worldview of readers and shielding them from journalism that challenged it. The prevalence of such material has created an environment in which the President can tell supporters about events in Sweden that never happened, or a presidential advisor can reference a non-existent “Bowling Green massacre.”

We began to study this ecosystem by looking at the landscape of what sites people share. If a person shares a link from Breitbart, is he or she more likely also to share a link from Fox News or from The New York Times? We analyzed hyperlinking patterns, social media sharing patterns on Facebook and Twitter, and topic and language patterns in the content of the 1.25 million stories, published by 25,000 sources over the course of the election, using Media Cloud, an open-source platform for studying media ecosystems developed by Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and MIT’s Center for Civic Media.

When we map media sources this way, we see that Breitbart became the center of a distinct right-wing media ecosystem, surrounded by Fox News, the Daily Caller, the Gateway Pundit, the Washington Examiner, Infowars, Conservative Treehouse, and Truthfeed.

Fig. 1: Media sources shared on Twitter during the election (nodes sized in proportion to Twitter shares).

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Fig. 2: Media sources shared on Twitter during the election (nodes sized in proportion to Facebook shares).

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The most frequently shared media sources for Twitter users that retweeted either Trump or Clinton.

Notes: In the above clouds, the nodes are sized according to how often they were shared on Twitter (Fig. 1) or Facebook (Fig. 2). The location of nodes is determined by whether two sites were shared by the same Twitter user on the same day, representing the extent to which two sites draw similar audiences. The colors assigned to a site in the map reflect the share of that site’s stories tweeted by users who also retweeted either Clinton or Trump during the election. These colors therefore reflect the attention patterns of audiences, not analysis of content of the sites. Dark blue sites draw attention in ratios of at least 4:1 from Clinton followers; red sites 4:1 Trump followers. Green sites are retweeted more or less equally by followers of each candidate. Light-blue sites draw 3:2 Clinton followers, and pink draw 3:2 Trump followers.

Our analysis challenges a simple narrative that the internet as a technology is what fragments public discourse and polarizes opinions, by allowing us to inhabit filter bubbles or just read “the daily me.” If technology were the most important driver towards a “post-truth” world, we would expect to see symmetric patterns on the left and the right. Instead, different internal political dynamics in the right and the left led to different patterns in the reception and use of the technology by each wing. While Facebook and Twitter certainly enabled right-wing media to circumvent the gatekeeping power of traditional media, the pattern was not symmetric.

The size of the nodes marking traditional professional media like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN, surrounded by the Hill, ABC, and NBC, tell us that these media drew particularly large audiences. Their color tells us that Clinton followers attended to them more than Trump followers, and their proximity on the map to more quintessentially partisan sites—like Huffington Post, MSNBC, or the Daily Beast—suggests that attention to these more partisan outlets on the left was more tightly interwoven with attention to traditional media. The Breitbart-centered wing, by contrast, is farther from the mainstream set and lacks bridging nodes that draw attention and connect it to that mainstream.

Moreover, the fact that these asymmetric patterns of attention were similar on both Twitter and Facebook suggests that human choices and political campaigning, not one company’s algorithm, were responsible for the patterns we observe. These patterns might be the result of a coordinated campaign, but they could also be an emergent property of decentralized behavior, or some combination of both. Our data to this point cannot distinguish between these alternatives.

Another way of seeing this asymmetry is to graph how much attention is given to sites that draw attention mostly from one side of the partisan divide. There are very few center-right sites: sites that draw many Trump followers, but also a substantial number of Clinton followers. Between the moderately conservative Wall Street Journal, which draws Clinton and Trump supporters in equal shares, and the starkly partisan sites that draw Trump supporters by ratios of 4:1 or more, there are only a handful of sites. Once a threshold of partisan-only attention is reached, the number of sites in the clearly partisan right increases, and indeed exceeds the number of sites in the clearly partisan left. By contrast, starting at The Wall Street Journal and moving left, attention is spread more evenly across a range of sites whose audience reflects a gradually increasing proportion of Clinton followers as opposed to Trump followers. Unlike on the right, on the left there is no dramatic increase in either the number of sites or levels of attention they receive as we move to  more clearly partisan sites.

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Sites by partisan attention and Twitter shares.

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Sites by partisan attention and Facebook shares.
 
The primary explanation of such asymmetric polarization is more likely politics and culture than technology.

A remarkable feature of the right-wing media ecosystem is how new it is. Out of all the outlets favored by Trump followers, only the New York Post existed when Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980. By the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, only the Washington Times, Rush Limbaugh, and arguably Sean Hannity had joined the fray. Alex Jones of Infowars started his first outlet on the radio in 1996. Fox News was not founded until 1996. Breitbart was founded in 2007, and most of the other major nodes in the right-wing media system were created even later. Outside the right-wing, the map reflects a mixture of high attention to traditional journalistic outlets and dispersed attention to new, online-only, and partisan media.

The pattern of hyper-partisan attack was set during the primary campaign, targeting not only opposing candidates but also media that did not support Trump’s candidacy. In our data, looking at the most widely-shared stories during the primary season and at the monthly maps of media during those months, we see that Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Fox News were the targets of attack.

The first and seventh most highly-tweeted stories from Infowars.com, one of the 10 most influential sites in the right-wing media system.
 
The February map, for example, shows Fox News as a smaller node quite distant from the Breitbart-centered right. It reflects the fact that Fox News received less attention than it did earlier or later in the campaign, and less attention, in particular, from users who also paid attention to the core Breitbart-centered sites and whose attention would have drawn Fox closer to Breitbart. The March map is similar, and only over April and May will Fox’s overall attention and attention from Breitbart followers revive.

This sidelining of Fox News in early 2016 coincided with sustained attacks against it by Breitbart. The top-20 stories in the right-wing media ecology during January included, for example, “Trump Campaign Manager Reveals Fox News Debate Chief Has Daughter Working for Rubio.” More generally, the five most-widely shared stories in which Breitbart refers to Fox are stories aimed to delegitimize Fox as the central arbiter of conservative news, tying it to immigration, terrorism and Muslims, and corruption:
• The Anti-Trump Network: Fox News Money Flows into Open Borders Group;
• NY Times Bombshell Scoop: Fox News Colluded with Rubio to Give Amnesty to Illegal Aliens;
• Google and Fox TV Invite Anti-Trump, Hitler-Citing, Muslim Advocate to Join Next GOP TV-Debate;
• Fox, Google Pick 1994 Illegal Immigrant To Ask Question In Iowa GOP Debate;
• Fox News At Facebook Meeting Is Misdirection: Murdoch and Zuckerberg Are Deeply Connected Over Immigration.

The repeated theme of conspiracy, corruption, and media betrayal is palpable in these highly shared Breitbart headlines linking Fox News, Rubio, and illegal immigration.
 

As the primaries ended, our maps show that attention to Fox revived and was more closely integrated with Breitbart and the remainder of the right-wing media sphere. The primary target of the right-wing media then became all other traditional media. While the prominence of different media sources in the right-wing sphere vary when viewed by shares on Facebook and Twitter, the content and core structure, with Breitbart at the center, is stable across platforms. Infowars, and similarly radical sites Truthfeed and Ending the Fed, gain in prominence in the Facebook map.

(Chart not printed here)

October 2016 by Twitter shares

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October 2016 by Facebook shares

These two maps reveal the same pattern. Even in the highly-charged pre-election month, everyone outside the Breitbart-centered universe forms a tightly interconnected attention network, with major traditional mass media and professional sources at the core. The right, by contrast, forms its own insular sphere.
 
The right-wing media was also able to bring the focus on immigration, Clinton emails, and scandals more generally to the broader media environment. A sentence-level analysis of stories throughout the media environment suggests that Donald Trump’s substantive agenda—heavily focused on immigration and direct attacks on Hillary Clinton—came to dominate public discussions.

Number of sentences in mainstream media that address Trump and Clinton issues and scandals.
 
Coverage of Clinton overwhelmingly focused on emails, followed by the Clinton Foundation and Benghazi. Coverage of Trump included some scandal, but the most prevalent topic of Trump-focused stories was his main substantive agenda item—immigration—and his arguments about jobs and trade also received more attention than his scandals.

Proportion of election coverage that discusses immigration for selected media sources.
 
While mainstream media coverage was often critical, it nonetheless revolved around the agenda that the right-wing media sphere set: immigration. Right-wing media, in turn, framed immigration in terms of terror, crime, and Islam, as a review of Breitbart and other right-wing media stories about immigration most widely shared on social media exhibits.
Immigration is the key topic around which Trump and Breitbart found common cause; just as Trump made this a focal point for his campaign, Breitbart devoted disproportionate attention to the topic.
 

Top immigration related stories from right wing media shared on Twitter or Facebook.
 
What we find in our data is a network of mutually-reinforcing hyper-partisan sites that revive what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics,” combining decontextualized truths, repeated falsehoods, and leaps of logic to create a fundamentally misleading view of the world. “Fake news,” which implies made of whole cloth by politically disinterested parties out to make a buck of Facebook advertising dollars, rather than propaganda and disinformation, is not an adequate term. By repetition, variation, and circulation through many associated sites, the network of sites make their claims familiar to readers, and this fluency with the core narrative gives credence to the incredible.

Take a look at Ending the Fed, which, according to Buzzfeed’s examination of fake news in November 2016, accounted for five of the top 10 of the top fake stories in the election. In our data, Ending the Fed is indeed prominent by Facebook measures, but not by Twitter shares. In the month before the election, for example, it was one of the three most-shared right-wing sites on Facebook, alongside Breitbart and Truthfeed. While Ending the Fed clearly had great success marketing stories on Facebook, our analysis shows nothing distinctive about the site—it is simply part-and-parcel of the Breitbart-centered sphere.

And the false claims perpetuated in Ending the Fed’s most-shared posts are well established tropes in right wing media: the leaked Podesta emails, alleged Saudi funding of Clinton’s campaign, and a lack of credibility in media. The most Facebook-shared story by Ending the Fed in October was “IT’S OVER: Hillary’s ISIS Email Just Leaked & It’s Worse Than Anyone Could Have Imagined.” See also, Infowars’ “Saudi Arabia has funded 20% of Hillary’s Presidential Campaign, Saudi Crown Prince Claims,” and Breitbart’s  “Clinton Cash: Khizr Khan’s Deep Legal, Financial Connections to Saudi Arabia, Hillary’s Clinton Foundation Tie Terror, Immigration, Email Scandals Together.” This mix of claims and facts, linked through paranoid logic characterizes much of the most shared content linked to Breitbart. It is a mistake to dismiss these stories as “fake news”; their power stems from a potent mix of verifiable facts (the leaked Podesta emails), familiar repeated falsehoods, paranoid logic, and consistent political orientation within a mutually-reinforcing network of like-minded sites.

Use of disinformation by partisan media sources is neither new nor limited to the right wing, but the insulation of the partisan right-wing media from traditional journalistic media sources, and the vehemence of its attacks on journalism in common cause with a similarly outspoken president, is new and distinctive.

Rebuilding a basis on which Americans can form a shared belief about what is going on is a precondition of democracy, and the most important task confronting the press going forward. Our data strongly suggest that most Americans, including those who access news through social networks, continue to pay attention to traditional media, following professional journalistic practices, and cross-reference what they read on partisan sites with what they read on mass media sites.

To accomplish this, traditional media needs to reorient, not by developing better viral content and clickbait to compete in the social media environment, but by recognizing that it is operating in a propaganda and disinformation-rich environment. This, not Macedonian teenagers or Facebook, is the real challenge of the coming years. Rising to this challenge could usher in a new golden age for the Fourth Estate.

The election study was funded by the Open Society Foundations U.S. Program.  Media Cloud has received funding from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Open Societies Foundations.

Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, Hal Roberts, and Ethan Zuckerman are the authors. Benkler is a professor at Harvard Law School and co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard; Faris is research director at BKC; Roberts is a fellow at BKC and technical lead of Media Cloud; and Zuckerman is director of the MIT Center for Civic Media.

Our miserable 21st century

Below is dense – but worth it. It is written by a conservative, but an honest one.

It is the best documentation I have found on the thesis that I wrote about last year: that the 21st century economy is a structural mess, and the mess is a non-partisan one!

My basic contention is really simple:

9/11 diverted us from this issue, and then …
we compounded the diversion with two idiotic wars, and then …
we compounded the diversion further with an idiotic, devastating recession. and then …
we started to stabilize, which is why President Obama goes to the head of the class, and then …
we built a three ring circus, and elected a clown as the ringmaster.

While we watch this three-ring circus in Washington, no one is paying attention to this structural problem in the economy….so we are wasting time, when we should be tackling this central issue of our time. Its a really complicated one, and there are no easy answers (sorry Trump and Bernie Sanders).

PUT YOUR POLITICAL ARTILLERY DOWN AND READ ON …..

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CREDIT: https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/our-miserable-21st-century/

Our Miserable 21st Century
From work to income to health to social mobility, the year 2000 marked the beginning of what has become a distressing era for the United States
NICHOLAS N. EBERSTADT / FEB. 15, 2017

In the morning of November 9, 2016, America’s elite—its talking and deciding classes—woke up to a country they did not know. To most privileged and well-educated Americans, especially those living in its bicoastal bastions, the election of Donald Trump had been a thing almost impossible even to imagine. What sort of country would go and elect someone like Trump as president? Certainly not one they were familiar with, or understood anything about.

Whatever else it may or may not have accomplished, the 2016 election was a sort of shock therapy for Americans living within what Charles Murray famously termed “the bubble” (the protective barrier of prosperity and self-selected associations that increasingly shield our best and brightest from contact with the rest of their society). The very fact of Trump’s election served as a truth broadcast about a reality that could no longer be denied: Things out there in America are a whole lot different from what you thought.

Yes, things are very different indeed these days in the “real America” outside the bubble. In fact, things have been going badly wrong in America since the beginning of the 21st century.

It turns out that the year 2000 marks a grim historical milestone of sorts for our nation. For whatever reasons, the Great American Escalator, which had lifted successive generations of Americans to ever higher standards of living and levels of social well-being, broke down around then—and broke down very badly.

The warning lights have been flashing, and the klaxons sounding, for more than a decade and a half. But our pundits and prognosticators and professors and policymakers, ensconced as they generally are deep within the bubble, were for the most part too distant from the distress of the general population to see or hear it. (So much for the vaunted “information era” and “big-data revolution.”) Now that those signals are no longer possible to ignore, it is high time for experts and intellectuals to reacquaint themselves with the country in which they live and to begin the task of describing what has befallen the country in which we have lived since the dawn of the new century.

II
Consider the condition of the American economy. In some circles people still widely believe, as one recent New York Times business-section article cluelessly insisted before the inauguration, that “Mr. Trump will inherit an economy that is fundamentally solid.” But this is patent nonsense. By now it should be painfully obvious that the U.S. economy has been in the grip of deep dysfunction since the dawn of the new century. And in retrospect, it should also be apparent that America’s strange new economic maladies were almost perfectly designed to set the stage for a populist storm.

Ever since 2000, basic indicators have offered oddly inconsistent readings on America’s economic performance and prospects. It is curious and highly uncharacteristic to find such measures so very far out of alignment with one another. We are witnessing an ominous and growing divergence between three trends that should ordinarily move in tandem: wealth, output, and employment. Depending upon which of these three indicators you choose, America looks to be heading up, down, or more or less nowhere.
From the standpoint of wealth creation, the 21st century is off to a roaring start. By this yardstick, it looks as if Americans have never had it so good and as if the future is full of promise. Between early 2000 and late 2016, the estimated net worth of American households and nonprofit institutions more than doubled, from $44 trillion to $90 trillion. (SEE FIGURE 1.)

Although that wealth is not evenly distributed, it is still a fantastic sum of money—an average of over a million dollars for every notional family of four. This upsurge of wealth took place despite the crash of 2008—indeed, private wealth holdings are over $20 trillion higher now than they were at their pre-crash apogee. The value of American real-estate assets is near or at all-time highs, and America’s businesses appear to be thriving. Even before the “Trump rally” of late 2016 and early 2017, U.S. equities markets were hitting new highs—and since stock prices are strongly shaped by expectations of future profits, investors evidently are counting on the continuation of the current happy days for U.S. asset holders for some time to come.

A rather less cheering picture, though, emerges if we look instead at real trends for the macro-economy. Here, performance since the start of the century might charitably be described as mediocre, and prospects today are no better than guarded.

The recovery from the crash of 2008—which unleashed the worst recession since the Great Depression—has been singularly slow and weak. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), it took nearly four years for America’s gross domestic product (GDP) to re-attain its late 2007 level. As of late 2016, total value added to the U.S. economy was just 12 percent higher than in 2007. (SEE FIGURE 2.) The situation is even more sobering if we consider per capita growth. It took America six and a half years—until mid-2014—to get back to its late 2007 per capita production levels. And in late 2016, per capita output was just 4 percent higher than in late 2007—nine years earlier. By this reckoning, the American economy looks to have suffered something close to a lost decade.

But there was clearly trouble brewing in America’s macro-economy well before the 2008 crash, too. Between late 2000 and late 2007, per capita GDP growth averaged less than 1.5 percent per annum. That compares with the nation’s long-term postwar 1948–2000 per capita growth rate of almost 2.3 percent, which in turn can be compared to the “snap back” tempo of 1.1 percent per annum since per capita GDP bottomed out in 2009. Between 2000 and 2016, per capita growth in America has averaged less than 1 percent a year. To state it plainly: With postwar, pre-21st-century rates for the years 2000–2016, per capita GDP in America would be more than 20 percent higher than it is today.

The reasons for America’s newly fitful and halting macroeconomic performance are still a puzzlement to economists and a subject of considerable contention and debate.1Economists are generally in consensus, however, in one area: They have begun redefining the growth potential of the U.S. economy downwards. The U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO), for example, suggests that the “potential growth” rate for the U.S. economy at full employment of factors of production has now dropped below 1.7 percent a year, implying a sustainable long-term annual per capita economic growth rate for America today of well under 1 percent.

Then there is the employment situation. If 21st-century America’s GDP trends have been disappointing, labor-force trends have been utterly dismal. Work rates have fallen off a cliff since the year 2000 and are at their lowest levels in decades. We can see this by looking at the estimates by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for the civilian employment rate, the jobs-to-population ratio for adult civilian men and women. (SEE FIGURE 3.) Between early 2000 and late 2016, America’s overall work rate for Americans age 20 and older underwent a drastic decline. It plunged by almost 5 percentage points (from 64.6 to 59.7). Unless you are a labor economist, you may not appreciate just how severe a falloff in employment such numbers attest to. Postwar America never experienced anything comparable.

From peak to trough, the collapse in work rates for U.S. adults between 2008 and 2010 was roughly twice the amplitude of what had previously been the country’s worst postwar recession, back in the early 1980s. In that previous steep recession, it took America five years to re-attain the adult work rates recorded at the start of 1980. This time, the U.S. job market has as yet, in early 2017, scarcely begun to claw its way back up to the work rates of 2007—much less back to the work rates from early 2000.

As may be seen in Figure 3, U.S. adult work rates never recovered entirely from the recession of 2001—much less the crash of ’08. And the work rates being measured here include people who are engaged in any paid employment—any job, at any wage, for any number of hours of work at all.

On Wall Street and in some parts of Washington these days, one hears that America has gotten back to “near full employment.” For Americans outside the bubble, such talk must seem nonsensical. It is true that the oft-cited “civilian unemployment rate” looked pretty good by the end of the Obama era—in December 2016, it was down to 4.7 percent, about the same as it had been back in 1965, at a time of genuine full employment. The problem here is that the unemployment rate only tracks joblessness for those still in the labor force; it takes no account of workforce dropouts. Alas, the exodus out of the workforce has been the big labor-market story for America’s new century. (At this writing, for every unemployed American man between 25 and 55 years of age, there are another three who are neither working nor looking for work.) Thus the “unemployment rate” increasingly looks like an antique index devised for some earlier and increasingly distant war: the economic equivalent of a musket inventory or a cavalry count.

By the criterion of adult work rates, by contrast, employment conditions in America remain remarkably bleak. From late 2009 through early 2014, the country’s work rates more or less flatlined. So far as can be told, this is the only “recovery” in U.S. economic history in which that basic labor-market indicator almost completely failed to respond.

Since 2014, there has finally been a measure of improvement in the work rate—but it would be unwise to exaggerate the dimensions of that turnaround. As of late 2016, the adult work rate in America was still at its lowest level in more than 30 years. To put things another way: If our nation’s work rate today were back up to its start-of-the-century highs, well over 10 million more Americans would currently have paying jobs.

There is no way to sugarcoat these awful numbers. They are not a statistical artifact that can be explained away by population aging, or by increased educational enrollment for adult students, or by any other genuine change in contemporary American society. The plain fact is that 21st-century America has witnessed a dreadful collapse of work.
For an apples-to-apples look at America’s 21st-century jobs problem, we can focus on the 25–54 population—known to labor economists for self-evident reasons as the “prime working age” group. For this key labor-force cohort, work rates in late 2016 were down almost 4 percentage points from their year-2000 highs. That is a jobs gap approaching 5 million for this group alone.

It is not only that work rates for prime-age males have fallen since the year 2000—they have, but the collapse of work for American men is a tale that goes back at least half a century. (I wrote a short book last year about this sad saga.2) What is perhaps more startling is the unexpected and largely unnoticed fall-off in work rates for prime-age women. In the U.S. and all other Western societies, postwar labor markets underwent an epochal transformation. After World War II, work rates for prime women surged, and continued to rise—until the year 2000. Since then, they too have declined. Current work rates for prime-age women are back to where they were a generation ago, in the late 1980s. The 21st-century U.S. economy has been brutal for male and female laborers alike—and the wreckage in the labor market has been sufficiently powerful to cancel, and even reverse, one of our society’s most distinctive postwar trends: the rise of paid work for women outside the household.

In our era of no more than indifferent economic growth, 21st–century America has somehow managed to produce markedly more wealth for its wealthholders even as it provided markedly less work for its workers. And trends for paid hours of work look even worse than the work rates themselves. Between 2000 and 2015, according to the BEA, total paid hours of work in America increased by just 4 percent (as against a 35 percent increase for 1985–2000, the 15-year period immediately preceding this one). Over the 2000–2015 period, however, the adult civilian population rose by almost 18 percent—meaning that paid hours of work per adult civilian have plummeted by a shocking 12 percent thus far in our new American century.

This is the terrible contradiction of economic life in what we might call America’s Second Gilded Age (2000—). It is a paradox that may help us understand a number of overarching features of our new century. These include the consistent findings that public trust in almost all U.S. institutions has sharply declined since 2000, even as growing majorities hold that America is “heading in the wrong direction.” It provides an immediate answer to why overwhelming majorities of respondents in public-opinion surveys continue to tell pollsters, year after year, that our ever-richer America is still stuck in the middle of a recession. The mounting economic woes of the “little people” may not have been generally recognized by those inside the bubble, or even by many bubble inhabitants who claimed to be economic specialists—but they proved to be potent fuel for the populist fire that raged through American politics in 2016.

III
So general economic conditions for many ordinary Americans—not least of these, Americans who did not fit within the academy’s designated victim classes—have been rather more insecure than those within the comfort of the bubble understood. But the anxiety, dissatisfaction, anger, and despair that range within our borders today are not wholly a reaction to the way our economy is misfiring. On the nonmaterial front, it is likewise clear that many things in our society are going wrong and yet seem beyond our powers to correct.

Some of these gnawing problems are by no means new: A number of them (such as family breakdown) can be traced back at least to the 1960s, while others are arguably as old as modernity itself (anomie and isolation in big anonymous communities, secularization and the decline of faith). But a number have roared down upon us by surprise since the turn of the century—and others have redoubled with fearsome new intensity since roughly the year 2000.

American health conditions seem to have taken a seriously wrong turn in the new century. It is not just that overall health progress has been shockingly slow, despite the trillions we devote to medical services each year. (Which “Cold War babies” among us would have predicted we’d live to see the day when life expectancy in East Germany was higher than in the United States, as is the case today?)

Alas, the problem is not just slowdowns in health progress—there also appears to have been positive retrogression for broad and heretofore seemingly untroubled segments of the national population. A short but electrifying 2015 paper by Anne Case and Nobel Economics Laureate Angus Deaton talked about a mortality trend that had gone almost unnoticed until then: rising death rates for middle-aged U.S. whites. By Case and Deaton’s reckoning, death rates rose somewhat slightly over the 1999–2013 period for all non-Hispanic white men and women 45–54 years of age—but they rose sharply for those with high-school degrees or less, and for this less-educated grouping most of the rise in death rates was accounted for by suicides, chronic liver cirrhosis, and poisonings (including drug overdoses).

Though some researchers, for highly technical reasons, suggested that the mortality spike might not have been quite as sharp as Case and Deaton reckoned, there is little doubt that the spike itself has taken place. Health has been deteriorating for a significant swath of white America in our new century, thanks in large part to drug and alcohol abuse. All this sounds a little too close for comfort to the story of modern Russia, with its devastating vodka- and drug-binging health setbacks. Yes: It can happen here, and it has. Welcome to our new America.

In December 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that for the first time in decades, life expectancy at birth in the United States had dropped very slightly (to 78.8 years in 2015, from 78.9 years in 2014). Though the decline was small, it was statistically meaningful—rising death rates were characteristic of males and females alike; of blacks and whites and Latinos together. (Only black women avoided mortality increases—their death levels were stagnant.) A jump in “unintentional injuries” accounted for much of the overall uptick.
It would be unwarranted to place too much portent in a single year’s mortality changes; slight annual drops in U.S. life expectancy have occasionally been registered in the past, too, followed by continued improvements. But given other developments we are witnessing in our new America, we must wonder whether the 2015 decline in life expectancy is just a blip, or the start of a new trend. We will find out soon enough. It cannot be encouraging, though, that the Human Mortality Database, an international consortium of demographers who vet national data to improve comparability between countries, has suggested that health progress in America essentially ceased in 2012—that the U.S. gained on average only about a single day of life expectancy at birth between 2012 and 2014, before the 2015 turndown.

The opioid epidemic of pain pills and heroin that has been ravaging and shortening lives from coast to coast is a new plague for our new century. The terrifying novelty of this particular drug epidemic, of course, is that it has gone (so to speak) “mainstream” this time, effecting breakout from disadvantaged minority communities to Main Street White America. By 2013, according to a 2015 report by the Drug Enforcement Administration, more Americans died from drug overdoses (largely but not wholly opioid abuse) than from either traffic fatalities or guns. The dimensions of the opioid epidemic in the real America are still not fully appreciated within the bubble, where drug use tends to be more carefully limited and recreational. In Dreamland, his harrowing and magisterial account of modern America’s opioid explosion, the journalist Sam Quinones notes in passing that “in one three-month period” just a few years ago, according to the Ohio Department of Health, “fully 11 percent of all Ohioans were prescribed opiates.” And of course many Americans self-medicate with licit or illicit painkillers without doctors’ orders.

In the fall of 2016, Alan Krueger, former chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, released a study that further refined the picture of the real existing opioid epidemic in America: According to his work, nearly half of all prime working-age male labor-force dropouts—an army now totaling roughly 7 million men—currently take pain medication on a daily basis.

We already knew from other sources (such as BLS “time use” surveys) that the overwhelming majority of the prime-age men in this un-working army generally don’t “do civil society” (charitable work, religious activities, volunteering), or for that matter much in the way of child care or help for others in the home either, despite the abundance of time on their hands. Their routine, instead, typically centers on watching—watching TV, DVDs, Internet, hand-held devices, etc.—and indeed watching for an average of 2,000 hours a year, as if it were a full-time job. But Krueger’s study adds a poignant and immensely sad detail to this portrait of daily life in 21st-century America: In our mind’s eye we can now picture many millions of un-working men in the prime of life, out of work and not looking for jobs, sitting in front of screens—stoned.

But how did so many millions of un-working men, whose incomes are limited, manage en masse to afford a constant supply of pain medication? Oxycontin is not cheap. As Dreamland carefully explains, one main mechanism today has been the welfare state: more specifically, Medicaid, Uncle Sam’s means-tested health-benefits program. Here is how it works (we are with Quinones in Portsmouth, Ohio):

[The Medicaid card] pays for medicine—whatever pills a doctor deems that the insured patient needs. Among those who receive Medicaid cards are people on state welfare or on a federal disability program known as SSI. . . . If you could get a prescription from a willing doctor—and Portsmouth had plenty of them—Medicaid health-insurance cards paid for that prescription every month. For a three-dollar Medicaid co-pay, therefore, addicts got pills priced at thousands of dollars, with the difference paid for by U.S. and state taxpayers. A user could turn around and sell those pills, obtained for that three-dollar co-pay, for as much as ten thousand dollars on the street.

In 21st-century America, “dependence on government” has thus come to take on an entirely new meaning.

You may now wish to ask: What share of prime-working-age men these days are enrolled in Medicaid? According to the Census Bureau’s SIPP survey (Survey of Income and Program Participation), as of 2013, over one-fifth (21 percent) of all civilian men between 25 and 55 years of age were Medicaid beneficiaries. For prime-age people not in the labor force, the share was over half (53 percent). And for un-working Anglos (non-Hispanic white men not in the labor force) of prime working age, the share enrolled in Medicaid was 48 percent.

By the way: Of the entire un-working prime-age male Anglo population in 2013, nearly three-fifths (57 percent) were reportedly collecting disability benefits from one or more government disability program in 2013. Disability checks and means-tested benefits cannot support a lavish lifestyle. But they can offer a permanent alternative to paid employment, and for growing numbers of American men, they do. The rise of these programs has coincided with the death of work for larger and larger numbers of American men not yet of retirement age. We cannot say that these programs caused the death of work for millions upon millions of younger men: What is incontrovertible, however, is that they have financed it—just as Medicaid inadvertently helped finance America’s immense and increasing appetite for opioids in our new century.

It is intriguing to note that America’s nationwide opioid epidemic has not been accompanied by a nationwide crime wave (excepting of course the apparent explosion of illicit heroin use). Just the opposite: As best can be told, national victimization rates for violent crimes and property crimes have both reportedly dropped by about two-thirds over the past two decades.3 The drop in crime over the past generation has done great things for the general quality of life in much of America. There is one complication from this drama, however, that inhabitants of the bubble may not be aware of, even though it is all too well known to a great many residents of the real America. This is the extraordinary expansion of what some have termed America’s “criminal class”—the population sentenced to prison or convicted of felony offenses—in recent decades. This trend did not begin in our century, but it has taken on breathtaking enormity since the year 2000.

Most well-informed readers know that the U.S. currently has a higher share of its populace in jail or prison than almost any other country on earth, that Barack Obama and others talk of our criminal-justice process as “mass incarceration,” and know that well over 2 million men were in prison or jail in recent years.4 But only a tiny fraction of all living Americans ever convicted of a felony is actually incarcerated at this very moment. Quite the contrary: Maybe 90 percent of all sentenced felons today are out of confinement and living more or less among us. The reason: the basic arithmetic of sentencing and incarceration in America today. Correctional release and sentenced community supervision (probation and parole) guarantee a steady annual “flow” of convicted felons back into society to augment the very considerable “stock” of felons and ex-felons already there. And this “stock” is by now truly enormous.

One forthcoming demographic study by Sarah Shannon and five other researchers estimates that the cohort of current and former felons in America very nearly reached 20 million by the year 2010. If its estimates are roughly accurate, and if America’s felon population has continued to grow at more or less the same tempo traced out for the years leading up to 2010, we would expect it to surpass 23 million persons by the end of 2016 at the latest. Very rough calculations might therefore suggest that at this writing, America’s population of non-institutionalized adults with a felony conviction somewhere in their past has almost certainly broken the 20 million mark by the end of 2016. A little more rough arithmetic suggests that about 17 million men in our general population have a felony conviction somewhere in their CV. That works out to one of every eight adult males in America today.

We have to use rough estimates here, rather than precise official numbers, because the government does not collect any data at all on the size or socioeconomic circumstances of this population of 20 million, and never has. Amazing as this may sound and scandalous though it may be, America has, at least to date, effectively banished this huge group—a group roughly twice the total size of our illegal-immigrant population and an adult population larger than that in any state but California—to a near-total and seemingly unending statistical invisibility. Our ex-cons are, so to speak, statistical outcasts who live in a darkness our polity does not care enough to illuminate—beyond the scope or interest of public policy, unless and until they next run afoul of the law.

Thus we cannot describe with any precision or certainty what has become of those who make up our “criminal class” after their (latest) sentencing or release. In the most stylized terms, however, we might guess that their odds in the real America are not all that favorable. And when we consider some of the other trends we have already mentioned—employment, health, addiction, welfare dependence—we can see the emergence of a malign new nationwide undertow, pulling downward against social mobility.
Social mobility has always been the jewel in the crown of the American mythos and ethos. The idea (not without a measure of truth to back it up) was that people in America are free to achieve according to their merit and their grit—unlike in other places, where they are trapped by barriers of class or the misfortune of misrule. Nearly two decades into our new century, there are unmistakable signs that America’s fabled social mobility is in trouble—perhaps even in serious trouble.

Consider the following facts. First, according to the Census Bureau, geographical mobility in America has been on the decline for three decades, and in 2016 the annual movement of households from one location to the next was reportedly at an all-time (postwar) low. Second, as a study by three Federal Reserve economists and a Notre Dame colleague demonstrated last year, “labor market fluidity”—the churning between jobs that among other things allows people to get ahead—has been on the decline in the American labor market for decades, with no sign as yet of a turnaround. Finally, and not least important, a December 2016 report by the “Equal Opportunity Project,” a team led by the formidable Stanford economist Raj Chetty, calculated that the odds of a 30-year-old’s earning more than his parents at the same age was now just 51 percent: down from 86 percent 40 years ago. Other researchers who have examined the same data argue that the odds may not be quite as low as the Chetty team concludes, but agree that the chances of surpassing one’s parents’ real income have been on the downswing and are probably lower now than ever before in postwar America.

Thus the bittersweet reality of life for real Americans in the early 21st century: Even though the American economy still remains the world’s unrivaled engine of wealth generation, those outside the bubble may have less of a shot at the American Dream than has been the case for decades, maybe generations—possibly even since the Great Depression.

IV
The funny thing is, people inside the bubble are forever talking about “economic inequality,” that wonderful seminar construct, and forever virtue-signaling about how personally opposed they are to it. By contrast, “economic insecurity” is akin to a phrase from an unknown language. But if we were somehow to find a “Google Translate” function for communicating from real America into the bubble, an important message might be conveyed:

The abstraction of “inequality” doesn’t matter a lot to ordinary Americans. The reality of economic insecurity does. The Great American Escalator is broken—and it badly needs to be fixed.

With the election of 2016, Americans within the bubble finally learned that the 21st century has gotten off to a very bad start in America. Welcome to the reality. We have a lot of work to do together to turn this around.

1 Some economists suggest the reason has to do with the unusual nature of the Great Recession: that downturns born of major financial crises intrinsically require longer adjustment and correction periods than the more familiar, ordinary business-cycle downturn. Others have proposed theories to explain why the U.S. economy may instead have downshifted to a more tepid tempo in the Bush-Obama era. One such theory holds that the pace of productivity is dropping because the scale of recent technological innovation is unrepeatable. There is also a “secular stagnation” hypothesis, surmising we have entered into an age of very low “natural real interest rates” consonant with significantly reduced demand for investment. What is incontestable is that the 10-year moving average for per capita economic growth is lower for America today than at any time since the Korean War—and that the slowdown in growth commenced in the decade before the 2008 crash. (It is also possible that the anemic status of the U.S. macro-economy is being exaggerated by measurement issues—productivity improvements from information technology, for example, have been oddly elusive in our officially reported national output—but few today would suggest that such concealed gains would totally transform our view of the real economy’s true performance.)
2 Nicholas Eberstadt, Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis (Templeton Press, 2016)
3 This is not to ignore the gruesome exceptions—places like Chicago and Baltimore—or to neglect the risk that crime may make a more general comeback: It is simply to acknowledge one of the bright trends for America in the new century.
4 In 2013, roughly 2.3 million men were behind bars according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

One could be forgiven for wondering what Kellyanne Conway, a close adviser to President Trump, was thinking recently when she turned the White House briefing room into the set of the Home Shopping Network. “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff!” she told Fox News viewers during an interview, referring to the clothing and accessories line of the president’s daughter. It’s not clear if her cheerleading led to any spike in sales, but it did lead to calls for an investigation into whether she violated federal ethics rules, and prompted the White House to later state that it had “counseled” Conway about her behavior.

To understand what provoked Conway’s on-air marketing campaign, look no further than the ongoing boycotts targeting all things Trump. This latest manifestation of the passion to impose financial harm to make a political point has taken things in a new and odd direction. Once, boycotts were serious things, requiring serious commitment and real sacrifice. There were boycotts by aggrieved workers, such as the United Farm Workers, against their employers; boycotts by civil-rights activists and religious groups; and boycotts of goods produced by nations like apartheid-era South Africa. Many of these efforts, sustained over years by committed cadres of activists, successfully pressured businesses and governments to change.

Since Trump’s election, the boycott has become less an expression of long-term moral and practical opposition and more an expression of the left’s collective id. As Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton told the Atlantic recently, “Increasingly, the way we express our political opinions is through buying or not buying instead of voting or not voting.” And evidently the way some people express political opinions when someone they don’t like is elected is to launch an endless stream of virtue-signaling boycotts. Democratic politicians ostentatiously boycotted Trump’s inauguration. New Balance sneaker owners vowed to boycott the company and filmed themselves torching their shoes after a company spokesman tweeted praise for Trump. Trump detractors called for a boycott of L.L. Bean after one of its board members was discovered to have (gasp!) given a personal contribution to a pro-Trump PAC.

By their nature, boycotts are a form of proxy warfare, tools wielded by consumers who want to send a message to a corporation or organization about their displeasure with specific practices.

Trump-era boycotts, however, merely seem to be a way to channel an overwhelming yet vague feeling of political frustration. Take the “Grab Your Wallet” campaign, whose mission, described in humblebragging detail on its website, is as follows: “Since its first humble incarnation as a screenshot on October 11, the #GrabYourWallet boycott list has grown as a central resource for understanding how our own consumer purchases have inadvertently supported the political rise of the Trump family.”

So this boycott isn’t against a specific business or industry; it’s a protest against one man and his children, with trickle-down effects for anyone who does business with them. Grab Your Wallet doesn’t just boycott Trump-branded hotels and golf courses; the group targets businesses such as Bed Bath & Beyond, for example, because it carries Ivanka Trump diaper bags. Even QVC and the Carnival Cruise corporation are targeted for boycott because they advertise on Celebrity Apprentice, which supposedly “further enriches Trump.”

Grab Your Wallet has received support from “notable figures” such as “Don Cheadle, Greg Louganis, Lucy Lawless, Roseanne Cash, Neko Case, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Reich, Pam Grier, and Ben Cohen (of Ben & Jerry’s),” according to the group’s website. This rogues gallery of celebrity boycotters has been joined by enthusiastic hashtag activists on Twitter who post remarks such as, “Perhaps fed govt will buy all Ivanka merch & force prisoners & detainees in coming internment camps 2 wear it” and “Forced to #DressLikeaWoman by a sexist boss? #GrabYourWallet and buy a nice FU pantsuit at Trump-free shops.” There’s even a website, dontpaytrump.com, which offers a free plug-in extension for your Web browser. It promises a “simple Trump boycott extension that makes it easy to be a conscious consumer and keep your money out of Trump’s tiny hands.”

Many of the companies targeted for boycott—Bed, Bath & Beyond, QVC, TJ Maxx, Amazon—are the kind of retailers that carry moderately priced merchandise that working- and middle-class families can afford. But the list of Grab Your Wallet–approved alternatives for shopping are places like Bergdorf’s and Barney’s. These are hardly accessible choices for the TJ Maxx customer. Indeed, there is more than a whiff of quasi-racist elitism in the self-congratulatory tweets posted by Grab Your Wallet supporters, such as this response to news that Nordstrom is no longer planning to carry Ivanka’s shoe line: “Soon we’ll see Ivanka shoes at Dollar Store, next to Jalapeno Windex and off-brand batteries.”

If Grab Your Wallet is really about “flexing of consumer power in favor of a more respectful, inclusive society,” then it has some work to do.
And then there are the conveniently malleable ethics of the anti-Trump boycott brigade. A small number of affordable retailers like Old Navy made the Grab Your Wallet cut for “approved” alternatives for shopping. But just a few years ago, a progressive website described in detail the “living hell of a Bangladeshi sweatshop” that manufactures Old Navy clothing. Evidently progressives can now sleep peacefully at night knowing large corporations like Old Navy profit from young Bangladeshis making 20 cents an hour and working 17-hour days churning out cheap cargo pants—as long as they don’t bear a Trump label.

In truth, it matters little if Ivanka’s fashion business goes bust. It was always just a branding game anyway. The world will go on in the absence of Ivanka-named suede ankle booties. And in some sense the rash of anti-Trump boycotts is just what Trump, who frequently calls for boycotts of media outlets such as Rolling Stone and retailers like Macy’s, deserves.
But the left’s boycott braggadocio might prove short-lived. Nordstrom denied that it dropped Ivanka’s line of apparel and shoes because of pressure from the Grab Your Wallet campaign; it blamed lagging sales. And the boycotters’ tone of moral superiority—like the ridiculous posturing of the anti-Trump left’s self-flattering designation, “the resistance”—won’t endear them to the Trump voters they must convert if they hope to gain ground in the midterm elections.

As for inclusiveness, as one contributor to Psychology Today noted, the demographic breakdown of the typical boycotter, “especially consumer and ecological boycotts,” is a young, well-educated, politically left woman, undermining somewhat the idea of boycotts as a weapon of the weak and oppressed.

Self-indulgent protests and angry boycotts are no doubt cathartic for their participants (a 2016 study in the Journal of Consumer Affairs cited psychological research that found “by venting their frustrations, consumers can diminish their negative psychological states and, as a result, experience relief”). But such protests are not always ultimately catalytic. As researchers noted in a study published recently at Social Science Research Network, protesters face what they call “the activists’ dilemma,” which occurs when “tactics that raise awareness also tend to reduce popular support.” As the study found, “while extreme tactics may succeed in attracting attention, they typically reduce popular public support for the movement by eroding bystanders’ identification with the movement, ultimately deterring bystanders from supporting the cause or becoming activists themselves.”

The progressive left should be thoughtful about the reality of such protest fatigue. Writing in the Guardian, Jamie Peck recently enthused: “Of course, boycotts alone will not stop Trumpism. Effective resistance to authoritarianism requires more disruptive actions than not buying certain products . . . . But if there’s anything the past few weeks have taught us, it’s that resistance must take as many forms as possible, and it’s possible to call attention to the ravages of neoliberalism while simultaneously allying with any and all takers against the immediate dangers posed by our impetuous orange president.”

Boycotts are supposed to be about accountability. But accountability is a two-way street. The motives and tactics of the boycotters themselves are of the utmost importance. In his book about consumer boycotts, scholar Monroe Friedman advises that successful ones depend on a “rationale” that is “simple, straightforward, and appear[s] legitimate.” Whatever Trump’s flaws (and they are legion), by “going low” with scattershot boycotts, the left undermines its own legitimacy—and its claims to the moral high ground of “resistance” in the process.

========END===============

UHVDC and China

Credit: Economist Article about UHVDC and China

A greener grid
China’s embrace of a new electricity-transmission technology holds lessons for others
The case for high-voltage direct-current connectors
Jan 14th 2017

YOU cannot negotiate with nature. From the offshore wind farms of the North Sea to the solar panels glittering in the Atacama desert, renewable energy is often generated in places far from the cities and industrial centres that consume it. To boost renewables and drive down carbon-dioxide emissions, a way must be found to send energy over long distances efficiently.

The technology already exists (see article). Most electricity is transmitted today as alternating current (AC), which works well over short and medium distances. But transmission over long distances requires very high voltages, which can be tricky for AC systems. Ultra-high-voltage direct-current (UHVDC) connectors are better suited to such spans. These high-capacity links not only make the grid greener, but also make it more stable by balancing supply. The same UHVDC links that send power from distant hydroelectric plants, say, can be run in reverse when their output is not needed, pumping water back above the turbines.

Boosters of UHVDC lines envisage a supergrid capable of moving energy around the planet. That is wildly premature. But one country has grasped the potential of these high-capacity links. State Grid, China’s state-owned electricity utility, is halfway through a plan to spend $88bn on UHVDC lines between 2009 and 2020. It wants 23 lines in operation by 2030.

That China has gone furthest in this direction is no surprise. From railways to cities, China’s appetite for big infrastructure projects is legendary (see article). China’s deepest wells of renewable energy are remote—think of the sun-baked Gobi desert, the windswept plains of Xinjiang and the mountain ranges of Tibet where rivers drop precipitously. Concerns over pollution give the government an additional incentive to locate coal-fired plants away from population centres. But its embrace of the technology holds two big lessons for others. The first is a demonstration effect. China shows that UHVDC lines can be built on a massive scale. The largest, already under construction, will have the capacity to power Greater London almost three times over, and will span more than 3,000km.

The second lesson concerns the co-ordination problems that come with long-distance transmission. UHVDCs are as much about balancing interests as grids. The costs of construction are hefty. Utilities that already sell electricity at high prices are unlikely to welcome competition from suppliers of renewable energy; consumers in renewables-rich areas who buy electricity at low prices may balk at the idea of paying more because power is being exported elsewhere. Reconciling such interests is easier the fewer the utilities involved—and in China, State Grid has a monopoly.

That suggests it will be simpler for some countries than others to follow China’s lead. Developing economies that lack an established electricity infrastructure have an advantage. Solar farms on Africa’s plains and hydroplants on its powerful rivers can use UHVDC lines to get energy to growing cities. India has two lines on the drawing-board, and should have more.

Things are more complicated in the rich world. Europe’s utilities work pretty well together but a cross-border UHVDC grid will require a harmonised regulatory framework. America is the biggest anomaly. It is a continental-sized economy with the wherewithal to finance UHVDCs. It is also horribly fragmented. There are 3,000 utilities, each focused on supplying power to its own customers. Consumers a few states away are not a priority, no matter how much sense it might make to send them electricity. A scheme to connect the three regional grids in America is stuck. The only way that America will create a green national grid will be if the federal government throws its weight behind it.

Live wire
Building a UHVDC network does not solve every energy problem. Security of supply remains an issue, even within national borders: any attacker who wants to disrupt the electricity supply to China’s east coast will soon have a 3,000km-long cable to strike. Other routes to a cleaner grid are possible, such as distributed solar power and battery storage. But to bring about a zero-carbon grid, UHVDC lines will play a role. China has its foot on the gas. Others should follow.
This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “A greener grid”

Batteries Update

New York Times article on big batteriesP

Notes from the article: Susan Kennedy is the former state utility regulator knows a lot about this. She now runs and energy stored start up.

AES has the contract. This is one of three major installations in Southern California.

This one is 130 miles south east of Aliso Canyon, the site of the major gas leak in 2015.

The second is installation is in Escondido, California, 30 miles north of San Diego. It will be the largest of its kind in the world.

The third is being built by Tesla – for southern California Edison – near Chino, California.

AES has two executives that drove the project since 12 2006. Chris Shelton and John Zahurancik. Their inspiration came from a purse festers paper the predicted the future dominated by electric cars. When Park, they could be connected to the grid so that their batteries could act as storage devices to help balance electricity demand.

They are buying the batteries that they are installing from manufacturers like Samsung, LG, and Panasonic.

California Grid

Path 26

CREDIT: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Path_26
CREDIT: http://www.energy.ca.gov/maps/infrastructure/3part_southern.html
CREDIT: http://www.energy.ca.gov/maps/
CREDIT: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Path_15

In winter, the Pacific Northwest needs power for heat – and must import it from So Cal.
In summer, the Pacific Northwest has excess power – and exports it to So Cal.

“Paths” are the major transmission lines that form the “grid” – which connect geographic areas covered by utilities.

Of interest here are the “paths” that transmit power north and south in California. These path make the importing and exporting of power possible.

These paths were built in the 1970s and 1980s in order to provide California and the Southwest with excess hydropower from the Pacific Northwest without actually having to construct any new power plants.

During the cold Pacific Northwest winters, power is sent north due to heater use. This transfer reverses in the hot, dry summers, when many people in the South run air conditioners.[11] In order to do this the maximum south-to-north transmission capacity is 5,400 MW for most parts,[8] but between Los Banos substation and Gates substation, there were only two 500 kV lines.

The capacity at this electricity bottleneck was only 3,900 MW, and this was identified in the 1990s as a trouble spot, but no one acted upon it.[2] This bottleneck was one of the leading causes of the California electricity crisis in 2000-2001. To remedy this problem, WAPA along with several utilities built a third 500 kV line between these two substations to eliminate this transmission constraint and raise the maximum south-to-north transmission capacity to 5,400 MW.[2] The project was completed under budget and on time on December 21, 2004.[12] California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger attended the commissioning ceremony at California-ISO’s control center in Folsom.[12]

Path 26 is three 500 kV lines with 3,700 MW capacity North to South and 3,000 MW capacity south to north. Itl inks PG&E (north) to SCE (south).

Path 26 forms Southern California Edison’s (SCE) intertie (link) with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to the north. Since PG&E’s power grid and SCE’s grid both have interconnections to elsewhere, in the Pacific Northwest (PG&E) and the Southwestern United States (SCE), Path 26 is a southern extension of Path 15 and Path 66, and a crucial link between the two regions’ grids.[3]

The path consists of three transmission lines, Midway–Vincent No. 1, Midway–Vincent No. 2 and Midway–Whirlwind. Midway–Whirlwind was part of what was called Midway–Vincent No. 3 before Whirlwind was built, as part of the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project.

The three Path 26 500 kV lines can transmit 3,700 MW of electrical power north to south. The capacity for south to north power transmission is 3,000 MW.[3]

Path 26 – Vincent to Midway[edit]
The Path, starting from the south, starts at the large Vincent substation close to State Route 14 and Soledad Pass near Acton east of the Santa Clarita Valley. The same Vincent substation is linked to Path 46 and Path 61 via two SCE 500 kV lines that head southeast to Lugo substation. As for these SCE 500 kV wires, like Path 15 to the north, the three 500 kV wires are never built together for the entire length of the route. Straight from the substation, all three lines head north-northwest. The westernmost SCE 500 kV line splits away and runs west of the other two SCE 500 kV lines.[2]
After crossing State Route 14, two 500 kV wires built by Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADW&P) join the eastern two SCE 500 kV wires. Some point west of Palmdale, one line (SCE) continues northwest and the other three (one SCE, two LADW&P) head west. The lone SCE line continuing northwest (with 230 kV lines) runs close to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, famed for its California Poppy flowers. The one SCE line that ran west of the other two SCE lines (now separated) re-joins the single SCE 500 kV running west with the two LADW&P lines. The four 500 kV lines run together for some distance until, at some point in the mountains, the two SCE lines continue to head west and the two LADW&P lines turn southwest and head for Sylmar in the San Fernando Valley (close to the Sylmar Converter Station southern terminus of the Pacific Intertie HVDC line). The two SCE lines heading west meet up with Interstate 5 on the arid foothills of the Sierra Pelona Mountains to the east of Pyramid Lake. The lines parallel I-5 crossing Tejon Pass (running on the eastern foothills of Frazier Mountain) and run out of sight for a while as they cross the high woodlands of the northern San Emigdio Mountains at their highest point at around 5,350 ft (1,630 m).[2][5]
As for the third line, north of Lancaster and State Route 138, it runs through a remote, roadless area of the Tehachapi Mountains with two 230 kV lines. Although it runs across sparse to dense oak woodlands at around 5,300 ft (1,615 m),[5] it is not easy to spot it on Google Earth since its right of way is not as clear cut as Path 15 and Path 66 to the north. Due to this, the line is not readily seen again until it crosses State Route 184 as a PG&E power line. Somewhere to the east of State Route 184, in the mountains, the line changes from SCE towers to PG&E towers.[2][6][7] By the time the all three lines are visible to Interstate 5, they roughly parallel each other until all three lines, two SCE and one PG&E, terminate at the massive Midway substation in Buttonwillow in the San Joaquin Valley.[8] Two pairs of PG&E 500 kV lines heading north and southwest (separated), form Path 15.[2]
Connecting wires to Path 46 – Vincent to Lugo[edit]
Adjacent to the Path 26 wires, two other SCE 500 kV also begin in Vincent substation. The two 500 kV power lines head northeast from Vincent to meet up with LADW&P’s two other 500 kV wires from Rinaldi and then all four lines head east in the Antelope Valley along the northern foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Another LADW&P line from Toluca joins the four-line transmission corridor, resulting in a large path of five power lines. However, one LADW&P splits off from the other four lines and heads southeast. Soon after, the SCE lines split away from the remaining two LADW&P lines and head southeast as well. They cross the lone LADW&P line that split away and Interstate 15 as they head to the Lugo substation northeast of Cajon Pass. The lines terminate at Lugo, where one SCE Path 61 500 kV line, two SCE Path 46 500 kV lines, and three other SCE 500 kV lines end.[2][9][10]

Path 16

Path 15 is an 84-mile (135 km) portion[1] of the north-south power transmission corridor in California, U.S. It forms a part of the Pacific AC Intertie and the California-Oregon Transmission Project.

Path 15, along with the Pacific DC Intertie running far to the east, forms an important transmission interconnection with the hydroelectric plants to the north and the fossil fuel plants to the south. Most of the three AC 500 kV lines were built by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) south of Tesla substation.

Path 15 consists of three lines at 500 kV and four lines at 230 kV. The 500 kV lines connect Los Banos to Gates and Los Banos to Midway. All four 230 kV lines have Gates at one end with the other ends at Panoche, Gregg, and McCall.[2]

There are only two connecting PG&E lines north of Tracy substation that connect Path 15 to Path 66 at the Round Mountain substation. The third line between Los Banos and Gates substation, south of Tracy, is operated by the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), a division of the United States Department of Energy. This line was constructed away from the other two lines and is often out of sight. Most of the time the lines are in California’s Sierra foothills and the Central Valley, but there are some PG&E lines that come from power plants along the shores of the Pacific Ocean and cross the California Coast Ranges and connect with the intertie. The Diablo Canyon Power Plant and the Moss Landing Power Plant are two examples.[3][4]

The Vaca-Dixon substation (38°24′8.33″N 121°55′14.75″W) was the world’s largest substation at the time of its inauguration in 1922.[6]

Mr President

Credit: Washington Post Article authored by David Maraniss, author of ‘Barack Obama: The Story’

His journey to become a leader of consequence
How Barack Obama’s understanding of his place in the world, as a mixed-race American with a multicultural upbringing affected his presidency.
By David Maraniss, author of ‘Barack Obama: The Story’  

When Barack Obama worked as a community organizer amid the bleak industrial decay of Chicago’s far South Side during the 1980s, he tried to follow a mantra of that profession: Dream of the world as you wish it to be, but deal with the world as it is.

The notion of an Obama presidency was beyond imagining in the world as it was then. But, three decades later, it has happened, and a variation of that saying seems appropriate to the moment: Stop comparing Obama with the president you thought he might be, and deal with the one he has been.

Seven-plus years into his White House tenure, Obama is working through the final months before his presidency slips from present to past, from daily headlines to history books. That will happen at noontime on the 20th of January next year, but the talk of his legacy began much earlier and has intensified as he rounds the final corner of his improbable political career.

Of the many ways of looking at Obama’s presidency, the first is to place it in the continuum of his life. The past is prologue for all presidents to one degree or another, even as the job tests them in ways that nothing before could. For Obama, the line connecting his life’s story with the reality of what he has been as the 44th president is consistently evident.

The first connection involves Obama’s particular form of ambition. His political design arrived relatively late. He was no grade school or high school or college leader. Unlike Bill Clinton, he did not have a mother telling everyone that her first-grader would grow up to be president. When Obama was a toddler in Honolulu, his white grandfather boasted that his grandson was a Hawaiian prince, but that was more to explain his skin color than to promote family aspirations.
But once ambition took hold of Obama, it was with an intense sense of mission, sometimes tempered by self-doubt but more often self-assured and sometimes bordering messianic. At the end of his sophomore year at Occidental College, he started to talk about wanting to change the world. At the end of his time as a community organizer in Chicago, he started to talk about how the only way to change the world was through electoral power. When he was defeated for the one and only time in his career in a race for Congress in 2000, he questioned whether he indeed had been chosen for greatness, as he had thought he was, but soon concluded that he needed another test and began preparing to run for the Senate seat from Illinois that he won in 2004.

That is the sensibility he took into the White House. It was not a careless slip when he said during the 2008 campaign that he wanted to emulate Ronald Reagan and change “the trajectory of America” in ways that recent presidents, including Clinton, had been unable to do. Obama did not just want to be president. His mission was to leave a legacy as a president of consequence, the liberal counter to Reagan. To gauge himself against the highest-ranked presidents, and to learn from their legacies, Obama held private White House sessions with an elite group of American historians.

It is now becoming increasingly possible to argue that he has neared his goal. His decisions were ineffective in stemming the human wave of disaster in Syria, and he has thus far failed to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and to make anything more than marginal changes on two domestic issues of importance to him, immigration and gun control. But from the Affordable Care Act to the legalization of same-sex marriage and the nuclear deal with Iran, from the stimulus package that started the slow recovery from the 2008 recession to the Detroit auto industry bailout, from global warming and renewable energy initiatives to the veto of the Keystone pipeline, from the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and the killing of Osama bin Laden to the opening of relations with Cuba, the liberal achievements have added up, however one judges the policies.

This was done at the same time that he faced criticism from various quarters for seeming aloof, if not arrogant, for not being more effective in his dealings with members of Congress of either party, for not being angry enough when some thought he should be, or for not being an alpha male leader.

A promise of unity
His accomplishments were bracketed by two acts of negation by opponents seeking to minimize his authority: first a vow by Republican leaders to do what it took to render him a one-term president; and then, with 11 months left in his second term, a pledge to deny him the appointment of a nominee for the crucial Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Antonin Scalia, a conservative icon. Obama’s White House years also saw an effort to delegitimize him personally by shrouding his story in fallacious myth — questioning whether he was a foreigner in our midst, secretly born in Kenya, despite records to the contrary, and insinuating that he was a closet Muslim, again defying established fact. Add to that a raucous new techno-political world of unending instant judgments and a decades-long erosion of economic stability for the working class and middle class that was making an increasingly large segment of the population, of various ideologies, feel left behind, uncertain, angry and divided, and the totality was a national condition that was anything but conducive to the promise of unity that brought Obama into the White House.

To the extent that his campaign rhetoric raised expectations that he could bridge the nation’s growing political divide, Obama owns responsibility for the way his presidency was perceived. His political rise, starting in 2004, when his keynote convention speech propelled him into the national consciousness, was based on his singular ability to tie his personal story as the son of a father from Kenya and mother from small-town Kansas to some transcendent common national purpose. Unity out of diversity, the ideal of the American mosaic that was constantly being tested, generation after generation, part reality, part myth. Even though Obama romanticized his parents’ relationship, which was brief and dysfunctional, his story of commonality was more than a campaign construct; it was deeply rooted in his sense of self.

As a young man, Obama at times felt apart from his high school and college friends of various races and perspectives as he watched them settle into defined niches in culture, outlook and occupation. He told one friend that he felt “large dollops of envy for them” but believed that because of his own life’s story, his mixed-race heritage, his experiences in multicultural Hawaii and exotic Indonesia, his childhood without “a structure or tradition to support me,” he had no choice but to seek the largest possible embrace of the world. “The only way to assuage my feelings of isolation are to absorb all the traditions [and all the] classes, make them mine, me theirs,” he wrote. He carried that notion with him through his political career in Illinois and all the way to the White House, where it was challenged in ways he had never confronted before.

With most politicians, their strengths are their weaknesses, and their weaknesses are their strengths.

With Obama, one way that was apparent was in his coolness. At various times in his presidency, there were calls from all sides for him to be hotter. He was criticized by liberals for not expressing more anger at Republicans who were stifling his agenda, or at Wall Street financiers and mortgage lenders whose wheeler-dealing helped drag the country into recession. He was criticized by conservatives for not being more vociferous in denouncing Islamic terrorists, or belligerent in standing up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

His coolness as president can best be understood by the sociological forces that shaped him before he reached the White House. There is a saying among native Hawaiians that goes: Cool head, main thing. This was the culture in which Obama reached adolescence on the island of Oahu, and before that during the four years he lived with his mother in Jakarta. Never show too much. Never rush into things. Maintain a personal reserve and live by your own sense of time. This sensibility was heightened when he developed an affection for jazz, the coolest mode of music, as part of his self-tutorial on black society that he undertook while living with white grandparents in a place where there were very few African Americans. As he entered the political world, the predominantly white society made it clear to him the dangers of coming across as an angry black man. As a community organizer, he refined the skill of leading without being overt about it, making the dispossessed citizens he was organizing feel their own sense of empowerment. As a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago, he developed an affinity for rational thought.

Differing approaches
All of this created a president who was comfortable coolly working in his own way at his own speed, waiting for events to turn his way.
Was he too cool in his dealings with other politicians? One way to consider that question is by comparing him with Clinton. Both came out of geographic isolation, Hawaii and southwest Arkansas, far from the center of power, in states that had never before offered up presidents. Both came out of troubled families defined by fatherlessness and alcoholism. Both at various times felt a sense of abandonment. Obama had the additional quandary of trying to figure out his racial identity. And the two dealt with their largely similar situations in diametrically different ways.

Rather than deal with the problems and contradictions of his life head-on, Clinton became skilled at moving around and past them. He had an insatiable need to be around people for affirmation. As a teenager, he would ask a friend to come over to the house just to watch him do a crossword puzzle. His life became all about survival and reading the room. He kept shoeboxes full of file cards of the names and phone numbers of people who might help him someday. His nature was to always move forward. He would wake up each day and forgive himself and keep going. His motto became “What’s next?” He refined these skills to become a political force of nature, a master of transactional politics. This got him to the White House, and into trouble in the White House, and out of trouble again, in acycle of loss and recovery.

Obama spent much of his young adulthood, from when he left Hawaii for the mainland and college in 1979 to the time he left Chicago for Harvard Law School nearly a decade later, trying to figure himself out, examining the racial, cultural, personal, sociological and political contradictions that life threw at him. He internalized everything, first withdrawing from the world during a period in New York City and then slowly reentering it as he was finding his identity as a community organizer in Chicago.

Rather than plow forward relentlessly, like Clinton, Obama slowed down. He woke up each day and wrote in his journal, analyzing the world and his place in it. He emerged from that process with a sense of self that helped him rise in politics all the way to the White House, then led him into difficulties in the White House, or at least criticism for the way he operated. His sensibility was that if he could resolve the contradictions of his own life, why couldn’t the rest of the country resolve the larger contradictions of American life? Why couldn’t Congress? The answer from Republicans was that his actions were different from his words, and that while he talked the language of compromise, he did not often act on it. He had built an impressive organization to get elected, but it relied more on the idea of Obama than on a long history of personal contacts. He did not have a figurative equivalent of Clinton’s shoebox full of allies, and he did not share his Democratic predecessor’s profound need to be around people. He was not as interested in the personal side of politics that was so second nature to presidents such as Clinton and Lyndon Johnson.

Politicians of both parties complained that Obama seemed distant. He was not calling them often enough. When he could be schmoozing with members of Congress, cajoling them and making them feel important, he was often back in the residence having dinner with his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters, or out golfing with the same tight group of high school chums and White House subordinates.

Here again, some history provided context. Much of Obama’s early life had been a long search for home, which he finally found with Michelle and their girls, Malia and Sasha. There were times when Obama was an Illinois state senator and living for a few months at a time in a hotel room in Springfield, when Michelle made clear her unhappiness with his political obsession, and the sense of home that he had strived so hard to find was jeopardized. Once he reached the White House, with all the demands on his time, if there was a choice, he was more inclined to be with his family than hang out with politicians. A weakness in one sense, a strength in another, enriching the image of the first-ever black first family.

A complex question
The fact that Obama was the first black president, and that his family was the first African American first family, provides him with an uncontested hold on history. Not long into his presidency, even to mention that seemed beside the point, if not tedious, but it was a prejudice-shattering event when he was elected in 2008, and its magnitude is not likely to diminish. Even as some of the political rhetoric this year longs for a past America, the odds are greater that as the century progresses, no matter what happens in the 2016 election, Obama will be seen as the pioneer who broke an archaic and distant 220-year period of white male dominance.

But what kind of black president has he been?

His life illuminates the complexity of that question. His white mother, who conscientiously taught him black history at an early age but died nearly a decade before her son reached the White House, would have been proud that he broke the racial barrier. But she also inculcated him in the humanist idea of the universality of humankind, a philosophy that her life exemplified as she married a Kenyan and later an Indonesian and worked to help empower women in many of the poorest countries in the world. Obama eventually found his own comfort as a black man with a black family, but his public persona, and his political persona, was more like his mother’s.

At various times during his career, Obama faced criticism from some African Americans that, because Obama did not grow up in a minority community and received an Ivy League education, he was not “black enough.” That argument was one of the reasons he lost that 2000 congressional race to Bobby L. Rush, a former Black Panther, but fortunes shift and attitudes along with them; there was no more poignant and revealing scene at Obama’s final State of the Union address to Congress than Rep. Rush waiting anxiously at the edge of the aisle and reaching out in the hope of recognition from the passing president.

As president, Obama rarely broke character to show what was inside. He was reluctant to bring race into the political discussion, and never publicly stated what many of his supporters believed: that some of the antagonism toward his presidency was rooted in racism. He wished to be judged by the content of his presidency rather than the color of his skin. One exception came after February 2012, when Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed in Florida by a gun-toting neighborhood zealot. In July 2013, commenting on the verdict in the case, Obama talked about the common experience of African American men being followed when shopping in a department store, or being passed up by a taxi on the street, or a car door lock clicking as they walked by — all of which he said had happened to him. He said Trayvon Martin could have been his son, and then added, “another way of saying that is: Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”

Nearly two years later, in June 2015, Obama hit what might be considered the most powerful emotional note of his presidency, a legacy moment, by finding a universal message in black spiritual expression. Time after time during his two terms, he had performed the difficult task of trying to console the country after another mass shooting, choking up with tears whenever he talked about little children being the victims, as they had been in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Now he was delivering the heart-rending message one more time, nearing the end of a eulogy in Charleston, S.C., for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of nine African Americans killed by a young white gunman during a prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. It is unlikely that any other president could have done what Barack Obama did that day, when all the separate parts of his life story came together with a national longing for reconciliation as he started to sing, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. . . .”

Hacking by Russia is a serious matter: here’s why

Pinpointing why Russia’s desperation led to their meddling in American democracy to get Trump elected – and how that is now playing itself out through the appointment of Rex Tillerson.

It is well known that Russia is in an economic funk because of super low oil prices. Russia’s national reserves have shrunk by two-thirds since the start of hostilities with Ukraine in 2014, falling from roughly $88 billion) that year to roughly $30 billion. In August, their real incomes dropped 8.3% from a year earlier.

Russian troubles are made worse by two Obama policies – which Secretary Clinton would have maintained: 

1 Sanctions on trade with Russia
2 Reduce dependence on foreign oil

As to dependence on foreign oil, the energy security policies of the Obama administration are also well known, and have achieved amazing success over the recent past. The emergence of natural gas and alternative energies have essentially freed America from being held hostage to foreign oil interests, including Russia. 

As to sanctions, two facts are not well known. First, Exxon leases a staggering 63.7 million acres of Russian land.  This is over 5 times the amount of land it leases in the US. Second, Exxon inked a “deal” with Russia – a gigantic $500 billion deal – which was blocked by sanctions in 2014. The deal was central to Russia getting out of their economic funk, and they subsequently went with a fallback plan: to sell a 19.5% stake in their state-owned oil company Rosneft for $11.3 billion to Qatar and others (announced last week). Many speculate that Trump’s election and the potential for an improved Russia investment climate made this deal possible.

Could the decision by Russia to meddle in American democracy lead to a lifting of sanctions and a thawing of Russia’s awful investment climate? In exchange, could Exxon Mobil get there $500 billion deal back on the table? 

Is it an accident that Robert Gates, for sure, was the person who advised Trump to look at Tillerson, and that Gates is on the payroll of Exxon Mobil?

Could this be the scandal of the century? You can’t make this up!

Please …. check my sources and correct the record if you can. I think I have the facts right!

CREDIT: https://thinkprogress.org/trump-putin-and-exxonmobil-team-up-to-destroy-the-planet-fb88650acfa1#.euuvdrjjq

CREDIT Russia’s $500 billion oil deal with Exxon was killed by U.S. sanctions. Wall Street Journal, 9/11/2014.

CREDIT: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-wasnt-happy-with-his-state-department-finalists-then-he-heard-a-new-name/2016/12/13/0727658e-c161-11e6-8422-eac61c0ef74d_story.html?utm_term=.4e5d59c79a9a&wpisrc=nl_az_most

CREDIT: http://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/Oil-Price-Collapse-Pushing-Russias-Economy-To-The-Edge.html

CREDIT: http://www.forbes.com/sites/timdaiss/2016/10/28/why-u-s-oil-production-trumps-any-russian-opec-deal/2/#71646c9b165d

CREDIT: http://fortune.com/2016/12/10/twenty-first-century-fox-sky-bid/

CREDIT: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-14/what-could-trip-up-tillerson-on-capitol-hill-a-viewer-s-guide

CREDIT: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-09-26/russian-economy-takes-hit-fron-putin-s-grip

CREDIT: http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2016/11/02/russias-road-to-economic-ruin/#2de337cc5a30

CREDIT: http://blogs.ft.com/beyond-brics/2016/11/24/could-trump-help-revive-russias-economy/