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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Definers

At The Wall Street Journal, Patrick O'Connor reports that business is turning to oppo.
In a sign of how that shift has created new opportunities for political professionals, America Rising, the unofficial research arm of the Republican Party, has launched a for-profit venture aimed at helping companies, trade associations and wealthy individuals push back against detractors and navigate sensitive shareholder or public-policy fights.
As political trends seep further into the broader economy, the new company, Definers, is arming clients with the arsenal available to the most well-funded political candidates, including dossiers on their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, tracking tools to monitor what people are saying in traditional and social media, and a rapid-response operation to shape public fights.
The company’s founders are barred from discussing specific clients, but the firm is performing much of the same type of work that its political affiliate, America Rising, does for GOP candidates. This behind-the-scenes work is often aimed at driving media coverage of an individual, issue or entity.
In one instance, the Definers team exposed a potential conflict for Connecticut’s insurance commissioner, whose approval is required to seal the merger between insurance giants Anthem Inc. and Cigna Corp., according to its marketing materials. In another, the research firm point out insurers’ larger-than-expected premium increases under the Affordable Care Act.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Coming Apart: Home Values

Ted Mellnik, Darla Cameron, Denise Lu, Emily Badger and Kat Downs report at The Washington Post:
The Post analysis, based on data from Black Knight Financial Services spanning 2004 through 2015, shows how the nation’s housing recovery has exacerbated inequality, leaving behind many Americans of moderate means. It also helps explain why the economic recovery feels incomplete, especially in neighborhoods where the value of housing — often the biggest family asset — has recovered little, if at all.
While a typical single-family home has gained less than 14 percent in value since 2004, homes in the most expensive neighborhoods have gained 21 percent. Regional factors such as the Western energy boom explain some differences, but in many cities the housing market’s arc has deepened disparities between the rich and everyone else, such as in Boston, where gentrifying urban neighborhoods have thrived and far-flung suburbs have fallen behind.

Also striking is how minority neighborhoods lag in the recovery. Zip codes where blacks are the largest population group are more than twice as likely as white Zip codes to have homes now worth less than in 2004.
Badger reports on California, comparing San Francisco and Stockton:
The low ridgeline is a physical barrier between unequal fortunes, between record housing riches in the Bay Area and an epidemic of lost wealth in the Central Valley. Home values have doubled in some San Francisco and Silicon Valley Zip codes in little more than a decade. But in the hardest-hit Stockton Zip codes, homes over this same time have lost 20 percent of their value.
...
But when the bubble burst — and it burst in the Bay Area, too — places such as San Francisco and Palo Alto were much better prepared to weather the downturn. Stockton was left with bad mortgages, few high-skilled jobs and public debt that would eventually push the city into bankruptcy.
The Bay Area still had Apple and Intel and Stanford and tourists and those spectacular views of the ocean. Those communities hadn’t overbuilt because they hadn’t actually built much new housing in decades; instead, they had let places like Stockton absorb the demand.
Stockton has become a long-distrance bedroom community, with consequences for its social capital:
“At some point, Stockton stopped growing in its own right and became part of something else,” says Hannah Harrison, a schoolteacher and Stockton native who moved back here after college at Berkeley when she and her husband realized that their careers would never allow them to afford the Bay Area. Now she and her husband worry about what it means for a city to become a bedroom community to someplace else very far away, to have so many children whose parents return home late every night, so many community members whose lives are fundamentally oriented elsewhere.

Veterans in Office

Jennifer G. Hickey reports at Fox News: (h/t: CB)
The 2012 election marked the first time in 80 years that neither major party presidential nominee had served in the military. Two years later, the 114th Congress was sworn in with the smallest proportion of veterans on record.
According to an October 2015 Congressional Research Service report, the high point was reached in the 92nd Congress (1971-72) when 73 percent of Congress had served in the military. Today, veterans make up 20 percent of the Senate and just 18 percent of the House of Representatives.

Part of the reason is simply that, in the era of the all-volunteer force, far fewer Americans are veterans than during the post-World War II period.

“There are simply fewer veterans among the general population. Today, veterans only comprise about 9 percent of the adult population and after Vietnam, fewer members of the political elite looked to military service as a career path,” said the American Enterprise Institute’s Rebecca Burgess, co-author of a report examining veterans in public office.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Coming Apart, Continued

Many posts have discussed economic inequality and the increasing social and physical separation of classes.

The accompanying chart, taken from “The Continuing Increase in Income Segregation,” a March 2016 paper by Sean F. Reardon, a professor of education at Stanford, and Kendra Bischoff, a professor of sociology at Cornell, demonstrates the accelerating geographic isolation of the well-to-do — the upper middle and upper classes (a pattern of isolation that also applies to the poor, with devastating effect).
...
Timothy Smeeding, a professor of public affairs and economics at the University of Wisconsin, has explored how the top quintile is pulling away from the rest of society. In an essay published earlier this year, “Gates, Gaps, and Intergenerational Mobility: The Importance of an Even Start,” Smeeding finds that the gap between the average income of households with children in the top quintile and households with children in the middle quintile has grown, in inflation-adjusted dollars, from $68,600 to $169,300 — that’s 147 percent.
...

In a September 2015 essay, “The Dangerous Separation of the American Upper Middle Class,” Richard Reeves, a senior fellow at Brookings, writes:
The top fifth have been prospering while the majority lags behind. But the separation is not just economic. Gaps are growing on a whole range of dimensions, including family structure, education, lifestyle, and geography. Indeed, these dimensions of advantage appear to be clustering more tightly together, each thereby amplifying the effect of the other.
 The same pattern emerges in the case of education. Reeves cites data showing that 56 percent of heads of households in the top quintile have college or advanced degrees, compared with 34 percent in the third and fourth quintiles and 17 percent in the bottom two quintiles.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Business and Social Issues

Joel Fox writes at Fox and Hounds:
Does business want to be in the middle of the political and culture wars that gain wide media attention and have passionate advocates on both sides of the issues?
The answer is generally no, although you’ll never hear that spoken by some executives who want to portray their businesses as good corporate citizens that must take a stand on moral issues.
All well and good, but as some critics point out, fairly, businesses are not always consistent on their moral stands. For example, as Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich noted when he voted no on a county resolution to boycott North Carolina over the transgender bathroom issue, “The corporations and entertainers and others are calling for the boycott of North Carolina — however, they are more than happy to entertain or conduct business in countries which support and sponsor the persecution, oppression, and violence against individuals based on gender, religion, and sexual orientation.”
Why do businesses take a split stand? Because they believe they can influence state governments but don’t feel they have the power to change attitudes of foreign governments. Businesses are also afraid of the actions foreign governments might take against them. Apple, for instance, has taken a strong position on gay rights and against discrimination, even publicly opposing California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8. Yet, the company has not taken such a public stand against China where the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission says discrimination against gays and lesbians is still written into many laws.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Trump Is Wrong. Illegal Immigration is Down

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump consistently portrays illegal immigration as a mounting crisis warranting drastic measures. 
"Just look at the record number of people right now that are pouring across the borders of this country," Trump said to reporters Tuesday night at a party celebrating his victory in five more Republican primary states.

But Trump's claims of record levels of illegal immigration don't match the facts.
Multiple studies show rates of illegal immigration are declining. And federal statisticsshow the lowest number of border apprehensions in years.
According to recent estimates by the Center for Migration Studies, the number of immigrants living in the country without authorization has fallen to the lowest level since 2003, thanks in part to a major buildup of border security started by President George W. Bush and continued by President Obama.
The decrease among Mexicans has been particularly stark, with net migration of Mexicans to the U.S. falling to lows not seen since the 1940s, according to Pew Research Center.