Monday, August 31, 2015

No Award: The Hugo Awards and the Nihilism of the Cultural Left

By Robert Tracinski
Friday, August 28, 2015

A few months ago, I wrote about a notable victory in the culture wars: a group of science fiction writers had pushed back against the politicization of the Hugo awards, the most prominent literary awards in the sci-fi genre. The “Sad Puppies” campaign and its more radical offshoot, the “Rabid Puppies,” promoted their own slates of candidates for this year’s award nominations and achieved a spectacular success. So it was assumed that, having swept the nominations, the Sad Puppies would stack up a large number of wins in the voting for the final awards.

The response from the cultural left, such as Marxist Philip Sandifer, was to propose a slate of negation: to vote en bloc for the “no award” option rather than let any of the Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies nominees win. This has been called the “Puppy Kickers” campaign. And it succeeded. In the final awards ceremony held on Saturday, there were five categories in which the final result was “no award.” For context, there have been a total of five “no award” results in the entire 60-year history of the awards.

In other words, the left would rather have no awards than let them go to the wrong people. This approach has been summed up as “Burn the Hugo to Save It.”

Yet there is something appropriate, almost poetic, in this result. It represents the modus operandi and end goal of the cultural left. Their “counterculture” is not about creating a new culture. It’s about destroying the culture of their opponents.

Take, for example, the decision to remove Alexander Hamilton from the ten dollar bill. He is not being kicked off because we have found someone who is clearly more worthy. He was kicked off in favor a woman to be named later—which, when you think of it, is kind of condescending, as if nobody could actually think of a woman who had actually accomplished anything. But the negative form of the decision is typical of the cultural left. The dictate came down is that it is necessary to put a woman on a piece of paper money, but it doesn’t seem to matter who the man is that they take off—or who the woman is who goes on. It’s about smashing the patriarchy, and who cares what takes its place.

Or consider the Democratic Party’s purge of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson from their annual fundraising dinners (and from the party’s history). It’s not that they have better options to put in their place; I’ve already run down all the problematic possibilities.

And that’s the dead end of the cultural left. Everything is “problematic,” even the cultural left’s own creations. Drag queens are banned from gay pride parades for being insensitive to the “transgendered.” A movie about the gay rights movement is attacked for failing to give enough credit to “people of color, hustlers, lesbians, drag queens, and transgender people.”

This is what happens when art serves a political master, particularly such a fickle master.

I recently argued that if we’re going to have a “culture war,” it should be more of a culture competition: you put out your best, most appealing visions of your ideal, we’ll put out ours, and we’ll see who wins more converts. That, in essence, is the challenge the Sad Puppies posed to the cultural left, and now we see how they responded. The only way they can win a cultural competition is by suppressing the alternatives.

Or to be more accurate, the only way they can win is to make everyone else lose. It’s the culture of “no award.”

Beyond Burgers: The NLRB’s Decision Is Comprehensively Awful

By James Sherk
Saturday, August 29, 2015

The National Labor Relations Board recently decided that businesses that “indirectly” control employees’ working conditions also legally employ them. Most media coverage has focused on how this decision affects franchises, but the ruling goes far beyond them. If it stands, it will make contracting and subcontracting almost impossible.

The case before the NLRB dealt with a recycling plant, Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI). Browning-Ferris paid another company, Leadpoint, to sort recycling materials. Leadpoint employees separated paper, plastic, glass, etc., on conveyor belts. These conveyor belts fed into recycling equipment, which BFI employees ran.

Leadpoint’s staff decided whom they would hire and fire, what the employees would earn, and what shifts they would work. They chose whom to promote and whom to discipline. BFI, in turn, decided what hours their plant ran, which lines would run each day, and how fast the conveyor belts moved. BFI also monitored Leadpoint’s quality and performance. BFI once caught a Leadpoint employee drinking a pint of whiskey on the job and asked for his termination.

The NLRB decided that this constituted enough “indirect” control to make BFI a co-employer of Leadpoint’s workers. If they unionize, the union will bargain jointly with both companies.

This ruling applies to far more than franchisors. BFI had a standard business-services contract. It focused on its specialty — recycling materials — and hired another company to sort those materials. Many businesses contract with other companies to clean their buildings, provide security, or perform other tasks. They set basic criteria like hours of operation and quality standards. The contractors hire and manage the employees who do the work.

The NLRB now says these firms jointly employ their contractors’ workers. If this ruling stands, it will turn contracting into a nearly unworkable morass.

Consider a company that cleans buildings for several clients:

• If one union organized them client by client, they would negotiate separate a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) for each client. Employees doing identical work would get paid differently, depending on where they got assigned that week.

• If one union organized the cleaning company at every site simultaneously, the company and all its clients would collectively negotiate a CBA. This would mean a joint bargaining session between multiple client/employers with differing priorities — potentially including competitors that want to disadvantage each other. The cleaning company would have to share its rate for each client, usually confidential information, with all its clients.

• After reaching such a CBA, clients would have difficulty changing their cleaning contract. They would have to not only negotiate with the cleaning firm, but also bargain with the union and the other employers.

• If different unions organized the cleaner at different clients, it would have problems moving employees between job sites. The unions would not want employees temporarily working (and paying union dues) for another company and under another union.

• Terminating or rebidding contracts would also become very difficult. The clients would usually have to bargain over the decision to do so. In many cases, NLRB precedent would require new contractors to hire the same workers and use the same collective bargaining agreement as the old contractor.

These regulations could backfire on unions. For now, companies don’t care if their contractors are unionized, so long as they charge competitive rates. But they’ll care a lot if they become co-employers. Many companies would simply refuse to hire unionized contractors rather than deal with this.

Service contracting helps the economy run more efficiently. It allows companies to focus on their core specialties and delegate tangential services to others. This NLRB ruling would prohibit firms from doing so. If it stands, they will instantly become co-employers of their contractors’ workers. The focus on franchises has obscured the fact that this ruling may do far more extensive damage to the economy.

The Real Threat to Conservatism Isn’t Trump

By Mark Krikorian
Monday, August 31, 2015

Conservative luminaries have been warning that Donald Trump poses a threat to the Republican party and to the political future of conservativism. Charles Krauthammer has called him “political poison.” Fred Barnes says Trump has “made the GOP’s future dicey.” George Will thunders characteristically that “every sulfurous belch from the molten interior of the volcanic Trump phenomenon injures the chances of a Republican presidency.”

All this may be true. Trump is indeed a braggart who goes out of his way to antagonize people — not a winning approach in electoral politics. And he’s shown little real commitment to conservative principles — or principles of any other kind, for that matter.

But Trump is not the long-term problem faced by the Right. Ramesh Ponnuru’s assurance regarding Trump that “this too shall pass” may be underestimating Trump’s staying power, but at some point he will pass.

But if mass legal immigration is permitted to continue, the Right is finished regardless of what Trump does or says.

If the federal immigration program continues to operate at its current pace — about 1 million green cards issued per year — it will create nearly 15 million potential new voters over the next two decades, disproportionately liberal, as I will explain below. If Senator Rubio and the rest of the Republican establishment had gotten its way and the House had passed Chuck Schumer’s bill, the number of these potential new voters minted by mass immigration by 2036 would have been more than double that, over 32 million.

What are the likely political leanings of these millions of voters imported by Congress and the president? Conservative immigration romantics imagine them to be natural Republicans, having a right-winger inside just waiting to burst out, if only they’re welcomed with open arms.

Unfortunately, a mountain of survey research gives us no reason to believe that to be the case. Put simply, immigrants and their adult children are disproportionately big-government liberals who vote heavily Democrat because that party’s policies accord with their own views and interests.

This conclusion isn’t based on tendentious survey questions or a one-off poll that doesn’t reflect true views. Rather, survey after survey after survey after survey hammers the point home: Immigration increases the electoral power of the Left.

Let’s look at just a sprinkling of the findings (examine them in more detail in a comprehensive review of immigrant policy preferences published by Eagle Forum). The 2008 National Annenberg Election Survey found that 62 percent of immigrants supported government health insurance, as opposed to 45 percent of the native-born. The 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Study found 58 percent of immigrants supported affirmative action, versus 35 percent of natives.

The Pew Research Center found in 2011 that Hispanics (mainly immigrants or the children of immigrants) had the most negative view of capitalism of any group polled — more negative even than self-identified supporters of Occupy Wall Street.

Pew also found that 75 percent of Hispanics preferred a larger government providing more services to a small one providing fewer; the figure for the public at large was just 41 percent. It’s true that support for bigger government is lower among the adult grandchildren of Hispanic immigrants, at “only” 58 percent. But not only is even this figure disturbingly high, it’s not clear that it tells us anything about the grandchildren of today’s immigrants — their grandparents arrived at least half a century ago in a very different America.

Same with gun rights. Pew found that just 29 percent of Hispanics favor protecting gun rights over controlling guns, compared with 57 percent of non-Hispanic whites. The polling firm Latino Decisions reports that significant majorities of Hispanics support background checks for gun purchases, establishing a national database of gun owners, limiting the capacity of magazines, and a ban on semi-automatic weapons. Natural Republicans?

Environmentalism? The National Asian American Survey in 2012 found that 60 percent of people of Asian origin (overwhelmingly immigrants and their adult children) prioritize environmental protection over economic growth, versus 41 percent of the general public. A 2010 L.A. Times-USC poll found that both Hispanics and Asians are significantly more concerned about the environment than whites in California (who are themselves quite liberal on environmental issues).

What about social issues? That’s where many of the immigration romantics’ hopes lie — after all, aren’t Hispanics Catholic and more family-oriented? Unfortunately, it turns out that immigrants are not especially conservative on social issues. They’re divided on issues such as abortion, stem-cell research, and gay marriage in ways that are similar to the general public. On abortion, Hispanics are indeed somewhat more conservative than the general public, but Asians are more liberal; among the native-born in both groups (mostly children or grandchildren of immigrants), opinions move substantially to the left.

So immigrants are not especially conservative on social issues, but even the modest differences that do exist with the general public have little political salience. The Public Religion Research Institute, the National Asian American Survey, and others suggest that Hispanics and Asians are less likely to base their votes on social issues than are non-Hispanic whites. As the Eagle Forum report summarized, “Republicans’ social conservatism may not be a significant liability with Hispanic and Asian voters; but it is unlikely to win them much support either.”

Democrats understand that continuing mass immigration spells the end of small-government conservatism. Eliseo Medina, who is, along with Frances Fox Piven and others, a top functionary in the Democratic Socialists of America and a former official in the Service Employees International Union, has acknowledged that mass immigration “will solidify and expand the progressive coalition for the future.”

All this makes perfect sense. The problem is not that immigrants suffer from some kind of moral failing; plenty of native-born Americans hold these same views. Rather, they tend to come from countries where government plays a larger role than here; they tend to settle in urban areas with left-wing political cultures; and they disproportionately benefit from liberal policies such as expansive welfare and affirmative action. It’s actually surprising that there are immigrants who are not left-wing — and there are a lot, just not enough to prevent mass immigration from undermining conservatism’s prospects as a national force.

Part of the solution to this problem is found in the final item in Trump’s immigration plan: “Immigration moderation.” Downsizing the federal immigration program would give us a breather, improving the job prospects and reducing welfare dependency, not only of the native-born but also the immigrants already here. Republican efforts at recruiting in immigrant communities might have a chance of catching up to the rapid growth that will take place even without immigration.

Note that better control over illegal immigration — walls, mass deportations, whatever — isn’t going to fix this. Most immigration is legal immigration, and that’s where change is most needed.

Trump’s antics may well be a short-term problem for Republicans and conservatism. But mass immigration is a systemic threat to their viability. And if it continues, it won’t matter a whit if every Republican candidate speaks non-stop Spanish and takes his immigration-policy cues from Chuck Schumer — conservatism will be toast.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Data Destroyers

By Kevin D. Williamson
Sunday, August 30, 2015

A few weeks ago, the California education department did a peculiar thing: It scrubbed historical data about standardized-test scores from its public DataQuest website. This being a government agency, it immediately began to lie to the public about why it had done this.

California law forbids using comparisons between different tests to set policy or evaluate programs. This makes sense: If last year 40 percent of students received 85th-percentile ratings on a standardized test and then this year 70 percent of students received 85th-percentile ratings on a different standardized test, it is likely that the radical difference is in the test, not in students’ performance. The law, however, says not one word about making historical test-score data available to the public or suppressing that data.

Naturally, California then cooked up a new lie: The data hadn’t been deleted at all, the education department said, simply moved to another part of the website. That might be technically true, inasmuch as the data was no longer available on the section of the website where — get this — historical data about test scores is published; the department says it was still made available to researchers. That’s one definition of public service: making it more difficult for citizens to access information about their government, obstructing informed democracy, and being a general pain in the Trump.

All that was really required was an asterisk. California is changing its standardized-testing practices to bring itself into alignment with Common Core standards. The results from the new tests will not be comparable to the old ones on a point-by-point basis. What actually seems to have happened here is that the California department of education was worried that the old data and the new data would be used to make invalid comparisons. Which is to say, the people who run California’s schools have put forward the self-indicting thesis that Californians are too stupid to understand the issue.

They should know.

The belief that you rubes can’t be trusted to handle your own information, gathered by your own government, is all too common, as is the destruction of documents and data for narrow political purposes. No serious person (and from that category we must exclude David Ignatius) believes that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s e-mail scandal is the result of anything other than Herself’s willful avoidance of oversight and accountability, or that Lois Lerner’s e-mail whoopsy is anything other than a naked ploy to keep her and her colleagues out of the federal penitentiary where they belong. Even the inspectors general in the federal agencies — the in-house watchdogs who are supposed to have free access to basically everything in order to prevent financial and ethical shenanigans — are routinely stymied, a bad habit that has intensified under the Obama administration. IGs trying to determine whether the Peace Corps mishandled sexual-abuse cases and the extent to which the EPA improperly suppressed internal communications sought by investigators were blocked by the Obama administration, which has invented out of whole cloth legal justifications for doing so. We have the National Park Service, for Pete’s sake, invoking national security in refusing to cooperate with investigators.

What are they hiding?

Some states have done better. In Texas and a few other Republican-dominated states, conservative reformers have succeeded in putting the state’s checkbook online — not just some vague summary of appropriations, but the actual transactions, how much went to whom and when. And that’s a good start. But the fact is that with narrow exceptions for genuine national-security concerns, as opposed to Yogi Bear national-security concerns, and ongoing criminal investigations, all of the public’s information should be available to the public, not after an FOIA request and delays and hearings and rulings and appeals, but as a matter of course.

There are costs to openness. Radical openness will cause embarrassment and inconvenience and hard feelings. But the costs of secrecy are far higher. They are high in Sacramento, in Washington, and in Benghazi, among other places.

Some canny Republican 2016 contender really ought to consider running as the candidate of radical openness in government. With Herself and her Nixonian secret e-mail system and ever-evolving lies about the same on the other side, the contrast would be pronounced.

And it’s the right thing to do, which is always nice.

The Self-Contradictions of Gore Vidal

By Ron Capshaw
Saturday, August 29, 2015

Moments after his infamous televised dust-up with Gore Vidal during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, William F. Buckley Jr. encountered a livid Paul Newman. Newman told Buckley that his calling Vidal a “queer” on national television was the most disgraceful thing he’d ever seen. The actor’s rage was not lessened even when Buckley reminded him that Vidal had started the incident by calling him a “crypto-Nazi.”

“That was political,” Newman replied. “Yours was personal.”

In the years that followed, both Vidal and Buckley would frequently defy their political labels. Buckley, the supposed reactionary, would often display a surprising openness. He would generously state that even though he did not like Vidal, he would “never call him a bad writer.” In the 1990s, Buckley would conclude that he should have supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And in the 2000s, while neo-conservatives were beating the drums for the war in Iraq, Buckley opposed it.

Meanwhile, Vidal, the supposed progressive, would behave as a reactionary. To him, Buckley’s politics were disgusting, which made his writings disgusting too. Around the time of their televised exchange, Vidal had the epiphany that America was a “fascist security state.” He claimed that the military–industrial complex had kicked into high gear during the presidency of Harry Truman, whose Cold War containment policies he saw as part of an effort to bolster the economy by maintaining a permanent state of war.

Vidal would cling to this worldview no matter the counter-evidence. Like Oliver Stone, Vidal would argue that the very lack of proof of a military–industrial cabal was evidence enough of its existence and its control over American lives. Vidal viewed every unpredictable event through this prism. The Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan was the result of the American military–industrial complex’s goading them into this venture in order to bleed them dry and, by doing so, remove them from the running for the military–industrial-complex sweepstakes. Vidal believed that these maneuverings, not ordinary people’s desire for freedom, led to the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Jay Parini’s new biography, Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal, doesn’t shy away from reporting such open paranoia or any of the other unsavory aspects of Vidal. It is advertised as a look “behind the scenes at the man and his work in ways never possible before his death.” And the book lives up to the hype of being very different from previous biographical efforts. Fred Kaplan was so nervous about offending Vidal that one can practically feel the eggs he was tip-toeing around. There were certainly good, although not admirable, reasons for such timidity. Vidal was as lawsuit-happy as Tom Cruise; he responded to every slight and reveled in hateful feuds, the longer the better.

Unlike the one with Buckley, these feuds did not always have a basis in political antagonism. And the bi-partisan nature of them reveals just how ego-driven and petty Vidal could be. He responded to fellow leftist Norman Mailer’s assertion that he was intellectually dishonest by reminding readers that Mailer had once stabbed his wife. But in the light of his own comments about women, Vidal was a hypocrite. When asked about the attacks on director Roman Polanski for raping an under-age girl in the 1970s, Vidal asked, “Am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s been taken advantage of?”

With Vidal safely buried, Parini pulls no punches. For a figure who always proclaimed he didn’t care what people thought of him, Vidal spent considerable time and energy constructing a “Rosebud”-like explanation for his sexual coldness (he had a penchant for anonymous sex to the point that he didn’t want to know his partner’s name or history). Parini is part of a growing consensus that disputes Vidal’s stories to the effect that this was traceable to the death of his only love, Jimmie Trimble, during the Pacific campaign in World War II. (Parini even disputes that Vidal had a homosexual relationship with Trimble.) But these tales do double duty in accounting for Vidal’s dislike of Asians (with the Soviet Union near to imploding in 1986, Vidal urged that the Soviets and the U.S. link up to fight the Japanese empire) and his belief that FDR maneuvered the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor in order to let him take the U.S. into World War II. Like Christopher Isherwood, Vidal believed that the war was not worth the life of a true love.

Nor does Parini accept Vidal’s oft-repeated assertion that he was bisexual. For Parini, Vidal was strictly homosexual and displayed a detectable self-loathing about this.

Parini still regards Vidal, in spite of his flaws, as one of the best essayists of the 20th century. He had a lively wit and could combine personal anecdote — it seems as if Vidal knew everybody worth knowing, from Amelia Earhart to Orson Welles — with literary and historical themes. This was especially remarkable given that Vidal did not go the Ivy League route to becoming a writer: Once upon a time he was so patriotic that he enlisted in the army rather than attend Harvard or Yale. However, by reading to his grandfather, a U.S. senator who had gone blind, Vidal had got a kind of education that was too rare even then. And his connections — his father was the director of the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Air Commerce under FDR — assured that he would not have to pay his dues as a writer.

In later years, Vidal was the epitome of the limousine liberal. He lamented the plight of the poor while enjoying all the creature comforts an Italian villa could provide, and he lived up to his belief that one should never pass up the opportunity to “have sex or appear on television.” He thundered on Larry King’s show that the U.S. was a fascist security state, but he remained unmolested by the all-powerful U.S. “gestapo,” all the while being feted by its media “mouthpiece.”

There is a moment in a documentary on him that shows just how unashamed he was of being a parlor — actually villa — radical. He sits at an impressive dinner table, waited on by his servants, in the company of Hollywood liberals Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon. The actors have the good sense to look embarrassed in such opulent surroundings. Vidal, however, expresses nothing of the sort.

And any praise he received as a writer he regarded as deserved. Conservatives, whom he loathed almost as much as he did conventional liberals, often bypassed his Bizarro World politics and were able, unlike himself, to appreciate talent. Thomas Mallon published in National Review a paean to Vidal’s writing — another example of Bill Buckley’s generosity. Despite Vidal’s hoping after Buckley’s death that his deceased antagonist would “burn in hell,” Buckley’s son still praised Vidal’s talent as an essayist. Newt Gingrich, the kind of inside-the-Beltway politician Vidal saw as rotting the country, would not allow any criticism in his presence of the author of Lincoln; when this was reported to Vidal by Christopher Hitchens (who would jettison his early admiration of him because of his opposition to the War on Terror), Vidal responded, “That is how it should be.”

Like Hemingway, Vidal was a great writer in spite of being a bastard. Parini shows him warts and all. Empire of Self is an excellent biography.