Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Two Big Votes in Congress Today + The Demography of Tech Feudalism

Two big votes are scheduled in Congress today. In the Senate, repeal of Obamacare; in the House, sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea. The Senate vote is being criticized as a Star Chamber. No one knows what is being voted on other than a motion to begin debate. McConnell has to proceed under a cloak of darkness because enough senators have said that they will vote No on a motion to open debate if what is going to be proposed is repeal without a replacement.

The sanctions bill is being sold as a defense of Western democracy. According to David Sanger in "For Trump and Putin, Sanctions Are a Setback Both Sought to Avoid":
Last week at the Aspen Security Forum, four of his top intelligence and national security officials — including Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director — said they were absolutely convinced that the Russians were behind the effort to influence the election.
“There is no dissent,” Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, said on Friday at the Aspen conference. The Russians, he said, “caught us just a little bit asleep in terms of capabilities” the Kremlin could bring to bear to influence elections here, in France and Germany. The Russians’ goal was clear, he said: “They are trying to undermine Western democracy.”
The wording of the legislation agreed to by House and Senate conferees over the weekend indicates that many Republicans agree with the intelligence assessment: For the first time, it imposes penalties, though not very onerous ones, on anyone determined by the United States government to have participated in the election hacking.
But the latest from the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) argues that
Forensic studies of “Russian hacking” into Democratic National Committee computers last year reveal that on July 5, 2016, data was leaked (not hacked) by a person with physical access to DNC computers, and then doctored to incriminate Russia.
Though Sanger soft-peddles the impact of the sanctions bill, if Congress goes ahead with it, and Trump signs it, Europe is ready to retaliate. Apparently the Europeans feel that it weakens their energy sector. From Patrick Martin's "US sanctions bill against Russia set for passage with bipartisan support":
Besides opposition from the White House—largely behind closed doors—there has been public criticism by the European Union of at least one provision in the sanctions bill, which bars companies from doing deals with Russian partners where the Russian company owns more than a one-third interest in the venture. This could potentially threaten the Nord Stream II pipeline between Russia and Germany, financed by several Western companies but owned by Russia’s Gazprom.
Is Congress worse than Trump? When it comes to war and peace the answer appears to be "Yes." Outside of the U.K., I don't see much left of "Western Democracy" to undermine.

A foul opinion piece over the weekend by American Enterprise Institute president Arthur C. Brooks is a fine example of what the elite excel at -- blaming the victim. Brooks blames young people "for an increasing paranoia about taking big leaps" like starting a business or a family or moving out of town for a new job. He states the obvious, that there are economic reasons for this risk-averse behavior, but he doesn't let that stop him from lacing into youth for spinelessness:
Here’s what all this means: Our sin tends to be timidity, not rashness. On average, we say “no” too much when faced with an opportunity or dilemma.
Once you start looking for this imprudently risk-averse behavior, you see it everywhere, particularly among young people. According to data from the General Social Survey collected by NORC at the University of Chicago, people under age 30 today are almost a third less willing than under-30s in 1996 to relocate for their careers. And as the economist Tyler Cowen observes in his new book “The Complacent Class,” the fraction of people in this age group who own their own businesses has plummeted by about 65 percent since the 1980s.
Economic changes have contributed to both trends, to be sure. But there is another culprit: a diminishing frontier spirit and an increasing paranoia about taking big leaps.
Family formation, perhaps the ultimate personal leap of faith, looks to be another victim of this imprudent hesitation. Census Bureau demographers recently reported that while only a quarter of 24- to 29-year-olds were unmarried in the 1980s, almost half of that age group is unmarried today. And delaying the jump to adulthood has real social consequences. Last August, the Centers for Disease Control announced that the United States fertility rate had fallen to its lowest point since they began calculating it in 1909.
I think this is proof of the eminent rationality of young people, as well as the constricting, plutocratic spirit of our times. We are experiencing an age of tech feudalism. I fear it will only end when things fall apart. There are plenty of signs that the collapse is beginning.

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