Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Frustrating Trouble With Syrian Refugees: Tolerating Intolerance

Donald Trump's resilience in some ways is a direct reflection of his hard-line anti-immigrant stance, which of course has many members of Team Blue waving the flags of tolerance and welcome for Syrian refugees from that country's civil war, one the United States has foolishly subsidized. The libertarian-leaning Cato Institute recently published a fine essay in defense of the pro-immigration side:
Of the 859,629 refugees admitted from 2001 onwards, only three have been convicted of planning terrorist attacks on targets outside of the United States, and none was successfully carried out.  That is one terrorism-planning conviction for every 286,543 refugees that have been admitted.  To put that in perspective, about 1 in every 22,541 Americans committed murder in 2014.  The terrorist threat from Syrian refugees in the United States is hyperbolically over-exaggerated and we have very little to fear from them because the refugee vetting system is so thorough.
In addition, it actually takes longer to get in the United States as a refugee because "the vetting can take about three years because of the heightened concerns over security", though this comes in an environment in which the FBI claims they may not be able to do much actual screening. Likewise, distance also plays a role: "[r]efugees are processed from a great distance away". The real threat of terrorist activities is in fact quite low.

But it seems to me that the great cultural issues of admitting large numbers of Muslims to western countries are much less certain. The example I keep returning to is a poll earlier this year indicating 11% of UK Muslims thought the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in France were justified. That is to say, there is a wide streak of intolerance there, and what the supposedly tolerant west is being asked to do, is to tolerate that intolerance, even if it is in a minority. That is still a very sizable minority, which gets us to our latest news from Germany's Der Spiegel: we have a story indicating Germany's Central Council of Jews has gotten behind efforts to dramatically curtail the number of Syrian refugees that country will accept. The Google Translate version is here:

"Sooner or later we will not be able to avoid ceilings", the Central Council President Josef Schuster told the newspaper "Die Welt". He pleaded for controlled entrances to the Federal Republic, referring to the big challenges of integration. "Many of the refugees are fleeing the terror of the 'Islamic State' and want to live in peace and freedom, but at the same time they come cultures where the hatred of Jews, and intolerance is an integral part," said Schuster. "Think not only of the Jews, think of the equality between men and women or dealing with homosexuals."
My perpetual problem with all such talk falls largely into two categories: first, the usual issues of label-based argumentation,  but second and more importantly, a towering lack of polling data to find out what said refugees' actual opinions really are. That said, the little we have seen from other Muslims in the west is disquieting, at least.

Update: David Harsanyi has a good essay at The Federalist on this subject:
But, as Bill Maher recently said on “Real Time“: “This idea that all religions share the same values is bullshit and we need to call it bullshit. If you are in this religion, you probably do have values that are at odds [with American ones]. This is what liberals don’t want to recognize.” We see this in Pew poll of the Islamic world, which shows vast numbers of Muslims philosophically opposed some our basic liberal notions, but also in polls closer to home. Bringing up 1095 or stringing together random, unconnected incidents perpetrated by some nuts doesn’t change these numbers.
 Enormous numbers of Muslims support the installation of sharia (Islamic law) in many places, especially the Middle East and North Africa (74%). What that might mean as a practical matter is obviously murky. "[I]n South Asia and the Middle East and North Africa," the Pew report states,"medians of more than half back both severe criminal punishments and the death penalty for Muslims who renounce their faith." One of the interesting side effects of this is that support for religious legal systems appears to directly correspond to where one resides. In Turkey, for instance, only a small (12%) minority approves of sharia as official law.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Obamacare Smoke Signals From UnitedHealth

The great thing about yesterday's announcement by UnitedHealth that it might just close shop on Obamacare in 2017 is exactly how it brilliantly sends multiple messages to multiple audiences.
The biggest U.S. health insurer said it has suffered major losses on policies sold on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges and will consider withdrawing from them, adding to worries about the future of the marketplaces at the heart of the Obama administration’s signature health law.

The disclosure by UnitedHealth Group Inc., which had just last month sounded optimistic notes about the segment’s prospects, is the latest sign that many insurers are finding the new business unprofitable, despite an influx of customers that has helped swell revenues.
UnitedHealth Group Chief Executive Stephen J. Hemsley said the company isn’t willing to continue its losses into 2017. UnitedHealth has already locked in its exchange offerings for 2016, but it is pulling back on marketing them during the current open-enrollment period to limit membership, which it said last month totaled around 550,000.

The company will make market-by-market determinations in the first half of next year about whether it will continue selling products on the exchanges.

“We can’t sustain these losses,” he said. “We can’t subsidize a market that doesn’t appear at this point to be sustaining itself.”
 What's useful to know here is the significance of 2017, the first year of a new presidency. While it pretty much amounts to putting words into Mr. Helmsley's mouth, it doesn't seem too difficult to read this as
  1. If a Republican wins in 2016, we're cutting these losses, with the help of changes to law (or discretionary executive enforcement).
  2. If Hillary (don't kid yourself, Bernie fans) wins in 2016, we're pursuing permanent and higher "risk corridor" payments.
The first will be politically hazardous for Republicans, as a large fraction of the electorate is still sold on Obamacare's perceived merits. The second has lower political costs for Democrats, for whom corrupt "public-private partnerships" of this type generally go unexamined and cost little politically when they inevitably go sour — but are unlikely to materialize in a majority Republican Congress. For insurers, Plan Hillary amounts to a step closer to the worst hazard of Obamacare: increased and permanent subsidies equal a much bigger say in how those companies are operated. (It's already being floated in bureaucratic circles [PDF].) That is, it is a prelude to a quasi-takeover by the federal government.

Unsurprisingly, Jonathan "Frankenstein" Gruber still thinks his undead mess will work out in the end (and works fine now), where National Review Online sees (reasonably) the UnitedHealth announcement as a sign that the death spiral has begun. Older, sicker, and poorer people signed up for the program — and these are not "customers" UH wants. The libertarian-leaning Mercatus Center has more details (emboldening mine):
Low enrollment figures have been driven, in large part, by the exchange plans’ failure to attract middle-class uninsured people. Most recently, CBO projected 3 million unsubsidized enrollees in 2015, when in fact there were only 1.6 million. In early 2015, the Urban Institute estimated that 25 percent of enrollees in 2016 would be earning more than 400 percent of the federal poverty line; at the end of the 2015 open enrollment period, only 2 percent of enrollees fell into that income class. Most strikingly, only 2 percent of eligible individuals earning more than 400 percent of the federal poverty line chose to purchase exchange plans.
Which gets back to something I've said all along about Obamacare: if your plan requires the cooperation and purchasing power of a group both notoriously poor or un-/underemployed, your plan will fail. While it seems likely Obamacare will continue to limp along in some capacity, the ones with the most skin in the game, the insurers, seem rather dour on their role in it.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Ambitious Man

Mencken, in his model constitution for the commonwealth of Maryland, made a provision forbidding state's attorneys from running for any elective office for some period after they vacated that current seat. This is so for the obvious reason that many such use it as a jumping off point for higher office, with concomitant contempt for justice. With this in mind, Slashdot today brings us what would otherwise be an unremarkable example of this kind of hucksterism, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. raving against zero-knowledge encryption. This has been going on for some time now, but mainly from the FBI. Normally the career arc of such charlatans would run through Albany, but it appears he wishes his next post to have an address at Fort Meade.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Utopian Itch

Jonathan Chait thinks political correctness is a problem for the left, and I agree. He's also right that this isn't merely the ravings of a bunch of incoherent sophomores (emboldening mine):
The upsurge of political correctness is not just greasy-kid stuff, and it’s not just a bunch of weird, unfortunate events that somehow keep happening over and over. It’s the expression of a political culture with consistent norms, and philosophical premises that happen to be incompatible with liberalism. The reason every Marxist government in the history of the world turned massively repressive is not because they all had the misfortune of being hijacked by murderous thugs. It’s that the ideology itself prioritizes class justice over individual rights and makes no allowance for legitimate disagreement. (For those inclined to defend p.c. on the grounds that racism and sexism are important, bear in mind that the forms of repression Marxist government set out to eradicate were hardly imaginary.)
What passes for liberalism today differs from Marxist governments only in degree, not direction. Caveats about label-based argumentation duly noted, at the heart of modern liberalism lies an unshakable belief in the value of government to create utopias — i.e. the value of force.  Whether it is absurd soda bans, eliminating the demands for due process in rape trials, or murderously high sin taxes, the left has a never-ending list of laws that need enforcing. Correspondingly, tolerance for dissent is remarkably limited, and narrows over time, as shown by calls to prosecute climate skeptics as racketeers, or famously, its loathing for Citizens United. The protests at the University of Missouri started over a real problem, but they rapidly spiraled into something altogether different, and largely out of liberal concerns and attitudes. It was no anomaly, but more of an inevitability.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Road To Magazine Hell Is Paved With Clickbait

Ms. magazine, in what I can only assume is either a pathetic attempt to garner controversy and clicks or earnest belief in easily refuted nonsense, has seriously equated organized ISIS rape and the modern American college campus.
While ISIS endorses sexual assault, American college administrations similarly facilitate and perpetuate the rape of women on campuses. Sexual violence becomes institutionalized through complicity. Recently published survey results show that as many as one in four women experience sexual assault on U.S. college campuses. The American Association of Universities surveyed 150,000 students at 27 colleges and universities in the spring of 2015. More than 27 percent of female college seniors reported that, since entering college, they had experienced some kind of unwanted sexual contact. Nearly half of those, 13.5 percent, had experienced penetration, attempted penetration or unwanted oral sex. A significant percentage of students say they did not report because they were “…embarrassed, ashamed or that it would be too emotionally difficult” or “…did not think anything would be done about it.”
As ever, Coyote Blog's rejoinder to this idiocy is entirely sound:
 Imagine that there is a country with a one in 20 chance of an American woman visiting getting raped.  How many parents would yank their daughters from any school trip headed for that country -- a lot of them, I would imagine.  If there were a one in five chance?  No one would allow their little girls to go.  I promise.   I am a dad, I know.
No, they wouldn't. As for Ms., my general inclination is that they have the same background problems all print publications do, i.e. real distribution costs, falling revenues in the face of essentially infinite competition for ad space, and declining readership, in addition to the specific problem of an apparently declining population who self-identify as feminists.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Tinder Is A Symptom

The Washington Post today has a terrific article on how Tinder is a consequence of an enormous and largely underreported gender imbalance in college-educated young people. I knew it was big, but these numbers go way beyond anything I had imagined (emboldening is all mine):
As I argue in “DATE-ONOMICS: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game,” the college and post-college hookup culture is a byproduct, not of Tinder or Facebook (another target of modern scolds), but of shifting demographics among the college-educated. Much as the death toll of WWI caused a shortage of marriageable men in the 1920s, today’s widening gender gap in college enrollment has created unequal numbers in the post-college dating pool.

In 2012, 34 percent more women than men graduated from American colleges, and the U.S. Department of Education expects this gap to reach 47 percent by 2023. The imbalance has spilled over into the post-college dating scene. According to data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, there are now 5.5 million college-educated women in the United States between the ages of 22 and 29 vs. 4.1 million such men. In other words, the dating pool for straight, millennial, college graduates has four women for every three men. No wonder some men are in no rush to settle down and more women are giving up on what used to be called “playing hard to get.”
Wow. Jon Birger's piece comes in response to a Vanity Fair essay, "Tinder And The Dawn Of The Dating Apocalypse", which posits that the Internet itself is to blame for this state of affairs. But Birger's got it right: men wouldn't be in this position if there weren't a "surplus" of women. And I use those scare quotes for a reason, because men in their twenties are, as ever, in a slight surplus as of the last census (about 51% of that age group, PDF). For all the talk of equality, women still gravitate toward men making more money than themselves, and of higher social status. Marrying down is just not something one does.

In that light, there is another dating crisis, but one that doesn't get nearly as much attention: that of the displaced males without college educations (and consequently, with little hope of earning a decent living) who have silently been erased from this picture. Young women still value male financial contributions above any other single criterion in a potential mate. If young women have it hard in the dating game, at least they can pay for cat food. Meanwhile, a generation of young men lies ignored.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Amoral Landscape Of Star Wars

Collin Garbarino nails it: everybody lies in Star Wars, or at least, all the major Jedi do: Obi-Wan lies to Luke about his parentage, his father's actual occupation, and more. Yoda lies about Luke's readiness as a Jedi, or at least is badly confused (and possibly tired). Vader, unlike every other Jedi we encounter (save possibly Luke), actually tells the truth, but is a sociopath. It's an analysis that fits nicely with my view that the Jedi are in fact corrupt as hell, but because the story is told from their perspective, they get to be the good guys. A good short read.