At 11:30 yesterday morning, when I sat down for my typical Sunday brunch at home (where else these days?), I had no idea what I’d blog about today. At 11:35, after perusing the Washington Post Outlook section, I had no fewer than three ideas, each of which focused on an article simultaneously whacko and emblematic of key Mainstream Media and broader establishment biases. Ultimately, I decided that they were all so inane and representative that a single post briefly examining each would suffice to get the message across.
First catching my eye was a proposal by Seton Hall University political scientist Sara Bjerg Moller that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) “reorienting” its focus to add countering the rise of China to its list of missions, and even designating it the top priority. One obvious retort is that the European members of this alliance binding America’s own national security to that of the continent is that during the Cold War, when they readily acknowledged the threat posed by the old Soviet Union, these European members collectively never even mustered the will to provide adequately for their own defense even when they became wealthy enough to create such militaries.
They preferred to free ride on the United States instead – which perversely enabled this behavior by sticking hundreds of thousands of its own troops – and their dependents – in harm’s way, smack in the middle of the likeliest Soviet invasion roots. The idea was that since these units couldn’t possibly match the conventional armes of their Soviets and their East European satellite states, once the shooting started, their vulnerability and indeed impending destruction would leave a U.S. President no real choice but to use nuclear weapons to save them. The odds that the conflict would escalate to the all-out nuclear exchange level that would endanger the Soviet homeland itself was suppsed to keep Moscow at bay to begin with. (And if you think this sounds exactly like the U.S. “tripwire” strategy for defending South Korea that I just wrote about here, you’re absolutely right.)
As with the Korea approach, Washington’s NATO Europe strategy needlessly exposes the continental United States to the risk of nuclear attack because wealthy allies skimp on their own defense spending, but that’s not the main problem with Moller’s article. After all, if the Europeans never mobilized enough resources to prevail over a Soviet threat located right on their doorstep – and a Russian threat that presumably still exists today, since the alliance didn’t disband once Communism fell – why would they answer a call to arms against a danger that’s half a world away from them. And even if they agreed with the United States on the imperative of containing Beijing, why wouldn’t they simply repeat their free-riding strategy, which arguably would allow them once more to reap all the benefits of America’s efforts without incurring any of the costs or risks?
But weirdest of all, the author herself admits that Europe remains far from a new anti-China European mindset. In her own words:
“Regrettably, as with Russia [today], Europe is divided over how to deal with China. Many European allies are wary of picking sides in the struggle for influence between the United States and its Asian rival. Some, like Germany, even appear outright resentful at the suggestion that they must choose. German Chancellor Angela Merkel rushed last year to conclude the E.U.-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment — even though the incoming U.S. national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, had strongly signaled that Europe should wait till Biden’s inauguration.”
Don’t get me wrong: It would be great if the Europeans were ready and willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States against China. But they’re not today, and a heavy burden of proof rests with those arguing that this common front is even remotely possible for the foreseeable future, much less that the United States should spend much time trying to create one. So I’ve got to think that this article was run simply because the relentlessly globalist and therefore alliance-fetishizing Washington Post believes that wishing for (and hyping the prospects of) something can make it so.
The second item is actually a pair of Outlook articles this morning. Their theme – and I could scarcely believe my eyes: Everyone’s overlooking all the advantages that remote learning can create! In other words, for months, national dismay has been growing that conducting classes by Zoom etc at all educational levels has been at best completely inadequate and at worst could permanently scar both the educational attainment and the psyches of the a generation of American students. As warned by none other than President Biden:
“Today, an entire generation of young people is on the brink of being set back up to a year or more in their learning. We are already seeing rising mental health concerns due in part to isolation. Educational disparities that have always existed grow wider each day that our schools remain closed and remote learning isn’t the same for every student.”
But it’s also clear that the President is loathe to antagonize politically powerful teachers’ unions, which have acted determined to keep schools closed unless a wildly ambitious – not to mention medically unnecessary – set of demands have been met. Largely as a result, all the evidence indicates that a large share of American students still aren’t back in class in person full time (although the hesitation of many parents is partly responsible, too).
It’s just as clear, though, that the Post as an institution, like the rest of the Mainstream Media, is wildly enthusiastic about Mr. Biden. So even though the editorial board has upbraided the unions for their foot-dragging, the Outlook section is run by a different staff and, call me paranoid, I can’t help but suspect that yeserday’s two pieces – by an “author and educator in Boston” and a college professor – aren’t part of an effort to pave the ground for a school re-closing if the CCP Virus shows signs of a comeback.
After all, the articles were dominated by claims to the effect that one author’s Zooming this semester is “light-years better than the last;” that his teaching is “radically improved” since then; that “if remote learning has been good for one thing, it has closed that gap between authoritative teacher and abiding student”; and presumably best of all, “I used to invest a lot of importance in arbitrary deadlines and make-or-break exams to establish high academic standards. These days, I’ve let go of many of my old notions about penalties for late or missing work.”
It would be one thing – and indeed noteworthy – if these alleged developments were broadly, or increasingly, representative of the American educational scene today. But the Outlook editors provided no such insights, and if these reported experiences have been exceptions to the rule – as the evidence overwhelmingly concludes – what else could they been trying to accomplish by airing them but soft-pedaling the harm resulting from mass remote teaching?
The third Outlook item that set me off today was an article by a Washington University (St. Louis) sociologist that included a challenge to the claim that “Manufacturing jobs are the ‘good’ jobs.” The reason? “Unlike in the past, typical pay for these workers is now below the national average” and “the rise of temporary and contract work is a factor….” Moreover, “Not all [such jobs] were offshored or automated, it turns out. Many were just reclassified — downgraded into worse jobs.”
Sure, author Jake Rosenfeld didn’t devote a lot of space to the subject. But he definitely should have devoted more, because what he omitted was critical. For example, it’s true that overall private sector average hourly wages now exceed those for manufacturing, whether you’re talking about the total workforce or just the production/non-supervisory workforce.
But the changeover is pretty recent. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for the former, it came in 2019; for the latter, in 2006. Moreover, a 2018 Economic Policy Institute study found that although manufacturing’s wage premium (its edge over the rest of the private sector) indeed eroded between the mid-1980s and 2017, the benefits premium actually increased. That’s a finding hard to square with the idea that temporary workers are increasingly dominating manufacturing payrolls.
Further, the idea that offshoring in particular has nothing to do with what growing popularity temps have had with manufacturers can’t withstand serious scrutiny. Or does Rosenfeld believe that super-low-wage pressure from countries like China is unrelated to U.S. workers’ declining bargaining power even when production and jobs aren’t actually sent overseas?
At the same time, efforts to downplay U.S. trade policy’s effects on manufacturing are incredibly convenient for a news organization that, like so many of its peers, enthusiastically backed the pre-Trump administration trade decisions that decimated U.S.-based manufacturing and its employees for decades – and still does.
Despite the expression, “Three strikes, you’re out,” I’m not going to stop reading the Post Outlook section or the rest of the paper. Both are just too influential. But no one should assume that the number of whiffs in yesterday’s paper was limited to three, or that other editions in recent years have been much better. And I do find myself wondering just how many strikes per day I’m going to give this once venerable publication.