URLs du Jour

2019-09-16

[Amazon Link]

  • With respect to our Amazon Product du Jour goes, Kurdistan does not appear in the latest edition of the Fraser Institute's Economic Freedom of the World. Because, technically, it's not a country. Some major points:

    • Hong Kong and Singapore, as usual, occupy the top two positions. The next highest scoring nations are New Zealand, Switzerland, United States, Ireland, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and Mauritius.
    • The rankings of some other major countries are Japan (17th), Germany (20th), Italy (46th), France (50th), Mexico (76th), India (79th), Russia (85th), China (113th), and Brazil (120th).
    • The 10 lowest-rated countries are: Iraq, Republic of Congo, Egypt, Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Algeria, Sudan, Libya, and, lastly, Venezuela.

    I can't recall which country Bernie thinks we should be more like, but it's not Hong Kong.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson writes (NRPLUS article, don't know what that means): ‘Resistance’ Politics Degrades Civic Life. Interesting question: which side really has a better "resistance" argument?

    The Democrats, after all, have shown themselves to be thoroughgoing authoritarians. Many of our progressive friends spent the Obama years lecturing us that opposition to the president and his agenda was tantamount to sedition or treason. They tell us now that failing to knuckle under to their political agenda is treason. Democratic prosecutors have been conducting investigations of companies and political activists for having the wrong opinions on global warming; Democrats in California have just declared the National Rifle Association a terrorist organization because it opposes them politically, and Democrats threaten companies doing business with the NRA with governmental retaliation; Democrats have proposed to gut the First Amendment; Democrats propose to put people in prison for showing films with political content without government permission; Democrats have resurrected 19th-century Know-Nothingism in their bigoted and unconstitutional campaign to keep Catholics off of federal courts; Democrats have illegally and unethically abused the powers of the IRS and other government agencies to harass and punish political rivals. It isn’t Republicans who want to censor political speech. It isn’t Republicans employing violence against college students and visitors at Mizzou or firebombing buildings at Berkeley.

    And now Robert Francis O’Rourke has finally decided to confess what everybody already knows by openly declaring his intention to seize Americans’ firearms in direct violation of the Bill of Rights — a proposal that other leading Democrats already have endorsed.

    I'm too old for "resistance", but Democrats/Leftists should keep in mind that old "sow the wind, reap the whirlwind" adage.


  • Jeff Jacoby states, correctly: The case against fracking is based on ideology, not science.

    By unleashing vast quantities of clean-burning natural gas, fracking dramatically changed the economics of electricity production. As natural gas grew more and more affordable, fewer and fewer power plants continued to burn coal. Indeed, more than half of all US coal-fired plants have closed over the past 10 years. According to the Energy Information Administration, 35 percent of America's electricity in 2018 came from natural gas; just 27 percent was from coal. No one would have thought those percentages were possible in 2000, when half of the nation's electricity was generated by coal-fired plants and less than one-sixth came from natural gas.

    Because natural gas releases only half as much carbon dioxide as coal, the sweeping shift to gas-fueled plants has led to a dramatic reduction in America's greenhouse gas emissions. So dramatic, in fact, that no other nation matches it, as President Obama observed in his 2014 State of the Union address: "Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth."

    For anyone who worries about climate change and is intent on carbon reduction, all this should be cause for rejoicing. Fracking, which has made it possible, should be extolled as a boon to environmental progress.

    The Democrat candidates are split on the issue, with Bernie, Kamala, and Elizabeth taking the anti-science viewpoint.


  • And our Google LFOD alert rang for an opinion piece in the Buffalo (NY) News, about their state's license plate kerfuffle: Cuomo, DMV need to rethink plan to replace license plates.

    The comedian George Carlin had some observations about state license plates: “The most dramatic license plate of all has to be New Hampshire’s, which says, ‘Live free or die.’ On the other end of the spectrum is Idaho’s, which says, ‘Famous potatoes.’ It would seem to me that somewhere in-between the truth lies.”

    So it is with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s plan to mandate the replacement of older license plates in New York. Critics call it an unseemly cash grab by Albany. Cuomo says it is a necessary step to keep up with technology. We suspect the truth lies in the middle.

    Well, maybe. Apparently the proposed new NY plate uses the official motto "Excelsior", which besides being something Stan Lee said all the time, allegedly is also Latin for "Ever Upward".

    Which is an odd thing to have on a car. Because they sometimes go downhill too.

Lizzie

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

One of Mrs. Salad's picks. She's from the scene of the crime itself, Fall River, Massachusetts. Although it happened well before she was born (good alibi, honey!) and in a swankier part of town than hers. The movie's R rating is due to "violence and grisly images, nudity, a scene of sexuality and some language."

In case you haven't guessed, it's a retelling of the Lizzie Borden story. Which you probably know: Lizzie's father and stepmom axed to death, Lizzie acquitted at trial, no charges brought against anyone else.

So there's room for a considerable amount of theorizing as to the culprit, motive, and methods. One hint from the cast list: starlet Kristen Stewart plays the maid, Bridget, so it's safe to assume she's a major part of the yarn. Which, in this version is pretty sordid, and not complimentary to anyone involved.

It's kind of boring at the beginning, setting up the characters and their mostly toxic interactions. Lizzie and Bridget give each other a lot of hot, lingering, open-mouthed stares. ("OK, we get it!")

The Phony Campaign

2019-09-15 Update

We start this week with Michael Ramirez' Avengers-themed toon about Bernie's proposed eugenic scheme to fight climate change.

[Sanders is ready to snap]

Yep. On to this week's standings! The Betfair bettors smiled once again on Elizabeth Warren, frowned upon Wheezy Joe, but most notably pretty much gave up on Kamala, sending her winning probability down below that of Andrew Yang.

As far as phoniness goes: although all candidates gained some hits over the week, President Bone Spurs continued to pull away from the pack.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
9/8
Phony
Results
Change
Since
9/8
Donald Trump 44.6% +0.5% 7,200,000 +4,970,000
Bernie Sanders 7.0% -0.5% 946,000 +73,000
Joe Biden 11.7% -1.1% 922,000 +479,000
Pete Buttigieg 2.2% -0.3% 882,000 +164,000
Elizabeth Warren 18.4% +1.6% 394,000 +186,000
Kamala Harris 3.3% -1.7% 133,000 +19,000
Andrew Yang 3.5% -0.5% 52,400 +16,700

"WinProb" calculation described here. Google result counts are bogus.

  • The great Andrew Stiles wrote earlier in the week on the then-upcoming debate on ABC: Democratic Debate Preview: Why Your Candidate Is The Worst (Part 1) and (Part 2). Lots of red meat there, but let's look at what Andrew has to say about… oh, Bernie Sanders:

    People who have spent their entire careers attacking rich people really don't like to be reminded of the fact that they are, in fact, rich. Michael Moore, for example. Bernie Sanders is no different. Earlier this year, the derelict senator who owns three houses and has railed against the prevalence of superfluous deodorant brands, snapped at a New York Times interviewer: "I wrote a best-selling book. If you write a best-selling book, you can be a millionaire, too."

    Perhaps in response to Elizabeth Warren's shadow candidacy, Sanders has been ramping up his efforts to stand out from the Democratic field. After previously proposing to extend voting rights to convicted felons, including Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Sanders recently endorsed population control as a means to combat climate change. He also praised China as the country that has "made more progress in addressing extreme poverty than any country in the history of civilization." Grandpa needs a nap.

    How can this guy be losing?


  • The President, of course, rails against news he doesn't like. E.g., polls, specifically one from the WaPo and ABC:

    From Vox: Trump is trying to discredit recent polls because he’s losing in nearly all of them.

    Wednesday, the president accused pollsters of conspiring with Democrats against him, discounted the polls, and argued respondents had been wrongly swayed by the press. He had particular animus for an ABC News-Washington Post poll that also drew his ire earlier in the week over its findings on the president’s approval rating, referring to it as a “phony suppression poll, meant to build up their Democrat partners.”

    Trump does have a point: polls can be wrong. But there's no reason to assume they're wrong on purpose.


  • Jamil Smith watched the debate and concluded for Rolling Stone: Joe Biden Should Drop Out. Now Jamil is firmly on the left, and his characterizations are accordingly wacky. But he reproduces the answer Biden gave to the question “What responsibility do you think that Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?”…

    Well, they have to deal with the — look, there’s institutional segregation in this country. From the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Redlining banks, making sure we are in a position where — look, you talk about education. I propose is we take the very poor schools, triple the amount of money we spend from $15 to $45 billion a year. Give every single teacher a raise to the $60,000 level.

    Number two, make sure that we bring in to help the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home, we have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. It’s crazy. The teachers are — I’m married to a teacher, my deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them. Make sure that every single child does, in fact, have 3, 4 and 5-year-olds go to school. Not day care, school.

    Social workers help parents deal with how to raise their children. It’s not that they don’t want to help, they don’t know what to play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the — make sure that kids hear words, a kid coming from a very poor school — a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time we get there.

    MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.

    Biden: No, I’m going to go like the rest of them do, twice over. Because here’s the deal. The deal is that we’ve got this a little backwards. By the way, in Venezuela, we should be allowing people to come here from Venezuela. I know Maduro. I’ve confronted Maduro. You talk about the need to do something in Latin America. I’m the guy that came up with $740 million, to see to it those three countries, in fact, changed their system to people don’t have to chance to leave. You’re acting like we just discovered this yesterday. Thank you very much.

    Yes. Make sure you have the record player on at night.

    Part of me hopes for a Trump/Biden debate where they compete on who can give the less coherent answers.

    Another part of me dreads that, for the good of the country.


  • But there's good news from Christian Schneider at the Bulwark: The Democrats are Blackmailing Themselves. That's about the ecology of "opposition research" firms who sell their dug-up dirt on Candidate X… to Candidate X himself!

    But these days, such firms are on the wane, thanks to candidates who are self-incriminating via Google. Example:

    The race’s denouement took place last Thursday morning, when South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg suggested that people who drink from straws or eat hamburgers are “part of the problem” in America, comparing the climate change crisis to World War II and the Great Depression. (Naturally, it took Twitter users a nanosecond to exhume photos of Buttigieg drinking from straws and flipping a full grill of meat, presumably leaving a trail of eco-death in his wake.)

    For comparison, the number of Americans who like cheeseburgers currently stands at 86 percent, slightly higher than the 4 percent of Democrats who prefer Pete Buttigieg.

    As we've seen, Bernie's come out against motherhood. Julian Castro (as well as former candidate Kirsten Gillebrand) came out against the flag, at least the Betsy Ross version. Next week in the crosshairs: apple pie whose inventor will be shown to have once read Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird.


  • Ann Althouse notes another bit of debate dreadfulness, this time with Joe on the right side: "Let's be constitutional! We've got a Constitution!" — said Joe Biden, responding to Kamala Harris, who said....

    "Well, I mean, I would just say, hey, Joe, instead of saying, no, we can't, let's say yes, we can."

    I.e.: "Yes we can subvert the Constitution! The one I took an oath to 'support and defend'. Never mind that!"

    Ann adds that "transcript cannot convey the feeling and expression" in Kamala's response. It was "awful", "lightweight", and "dismissive of constitutional law."

    And at Reason, Jacob Sullum noticed the same: Kamala Harris Does Not Understand Why the Constitution Should Get in the Way of Her Gun Control Agenda.

    Instead of explaining the legal basis for the "executive action" she has in mind, Harris made a weak joke: "Hey, Joe, instead of saying, 'No, we can't,' let's say, 'Yes, we can.'" Then she launched into a description of the casualties from mass shootings, adding, "The idea that we would wait for this Congress, which has just done nothing, to act, is just—it is overlooking the fact that every day in America, our babies are going to school to have drills, elementary, middle and high school students, where they are learning about how they have to hide in a closet or crouch in a corner if there is a mass shooter roaming the hallways of their school."

    That is not an argument in favor of any particular gun control policy, let alone an argument for the president's authority to impose it unilaterally. "Let's be constitutional," Biden said. "We've got a Constitution." To which Harris replied, in effect, "Constitution, schmonstitution. Why should that get in the way of my agenda?" Even voters who tend to agree with Harris about gun control should be troubled by her blithe dismissal of the legal limits on the powers she would exercise as president.

    Well, the voters seem to be turning against her. Unfortunately, I suspect, not for the right reasons.


  • But let us turn our phony attention to the (gulp!) Democrat front-runner. Peter Suderman, bless him, is being paid by Reason to keep track of her phoniness. For example: Elizabeth Warren Issues Misleading Claim That Three Industries Are Responsible for 70 Percent of Carbon Pollution.

    Take, for example, her claim at last week's CNN town hall on climate change that 70 percent of airborne carbon pollution comes from three industries. Warren made this argument in response to a question about whether the government should tell people which lightbulbs they have to use. 

    "This is exactly what the fossil fuel industry hopes we're all talking about," she said. "They want to be able to stir up a lot of controversy around your lightbulbs, straws, and cheeseburgers when 70% of the pollution of the carbon that we're throwing into the air comes from three industries." Because this is 2019, Warren also posted the claim on Instagram. 

    Via Politifact, the "three industries" are…

    • Transportation. (Which, Peter notes, is more of an "activity" than an "industry".)
    • Electricity production. (Ditto.) And…
    • Industry. Yes, one of the three industries that account for 70% of carbon is "industry."

    Politifact rated Warren's claim "half true". Showing, pretty much that they are totally in the bag for her.


  • But that's not all! At the (probably paywalled) WSJ, Phil Gramm and Mike Solon described Warren’s Assault on Retiree Wealth.

    As a retiree myself, I pricked up my ears at that.

    Her “Accountable Capitalism Act” would wipe out the single greatest legal protection retirees currently enjoy—the requirement that corporate executives and fund managers act as fiduciaries on investors’ behalf. To prevent union bosses, money managers or politicians from raiding pension funds, the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act requires that a fiduciary shall manage a plan “solely in the interest of the participants and beneficiaries . . . for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to participants and their beneficiaries.” The Securities and Exchange Commission imposes similar requirements on investment advisers, and state laws impose fiduciary responsibility on state-chartered corporations.

    Sen. Warren would blow up these fiduciary-duty protections by rewriting the charter for every corporation with gross receipts of more than $1 billion. Every corporation, proprietorship, partnership and limited-liability company of that size would be forced to enroll as a federal corporation under a new set of rules. Under this new Warren charter, companies currently dedicated to their shareholders’ interest would be reordered to serve the interests of numerous new “stakeholders,” including “the workforce,” “the community,” “customers,” “the local and global environment” and “community and societal factors.”

    Hm. My guess, which you should ignore: coming spike in gold prices.


  • And we've been pretty easy on Andrew Yang; Google (meaninglessly) considers him the least-phony credible candidate. But he comes in for a slap from Mark Krikorian at National Review: Do the 2020 Democratic Candidates Know Anything About Immigration Policy?.

    Yang was the most likeable of the bunch on stage last night but, like so many people, he thinks that because his dad came from the old country, he knows all he needs to know about immigration. Following Elizabeth Warren’s call to “expand legal immigration” (without offering any numbers, of course), Yang said, “I would return the level of legal immigration to the point it was under the Obama-Biden administration.”

    Unfortunately for Yang’s narrative, legal immigration is at the level it was under the Obama-Biden administration. The number of people granted lawful permanent residence (green cards), which is what we mean by “legal immigration,” averaged 1.06 million from Fiscal Year 2009 to 2016. The total for FY 2017 was 1.13 million, for 2018 was 1.1 million, and annualizing from the first quarter of FY 2019 yields a projected total of 1.03 million. Fluctuation within 100,000 is common (in 2013, the total was only 990,000), so the level is essentially unchanged. It could be that the green-card total will decline next year, because of the smaller number of refugees converting to green cards and, possibly, the new public charge rule leading to a reduction in the number of parents of adult U.S. citizens, but neither of these things has happened yet.

    I'm wishy-washy on immigration, mainly because (1) I'm generally in favor but (2) also favor enforcing the laws, even stupid ones.


Last Modified 2019-09-15 11:36 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2019-09-14

[Amazon Link]

  • Peter Suderman is devoting much of his Reason time to noticing a certain candidate's prevarications and outright lies. And this is no exception: Elizabeth Warren Doesn’t Want to Say How She’d Pay for Her Health Care Plan. She doesn't have a plan of her own, opting to support Bernie's "Medicare For All" instead. But:

    But despite endorsing Sanders' plan, Warren has repeatedly declined to say that middle-class taxes would have to go up. She dodged the question in earlier debates this year. And at the debate last night, she once again all but refused to answer the question directly.

    Instead, she offered a vague promise that "middle-class families are going to pay less" while insisting that "those at the very top—the richest individuals and the biggest corporations—are going to pay more."

    When a debate moderator pressed her specifically on the question of taxes, she still declined to offer a direct response. Families have to deal with "total cost," she said, reiterating her support for Medicare for All. "Costs are going to go up for wealthier individuals, and costs are going to go up for giant corporations. But for hard-working families across this country, costs are going to go down, and that's how it should work under Medicare for All in our health care system." The specific question—Would taxes rise for middle-class families?—remained unanswered. 

    When politicians start talking about "total cost", you know they're playing a shell game: of course your taxes will go up, and you'll get something, maybe, in exchange. Whether you consider that a good deal or not? That's irrelevant. You won't have a choice in the matter.


  • I bet you've been wondering whether more aid to education will make it more affordable. Maybe you're hoping that more aid to education will make it more affordable. Well, sorry. Veronique de Rugy and Jack Salmon, writing at the American Institute for Economic Research, have some bad (but not unexpected) news: More Aid to Education Will Not Make It More Affordable.

    In a recent study published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, we reviewed the existing literature, as well as publicly available data, to determine whether more federal aid is the correct treatment for the problem of rising tuition prices. The evidence broadly suggests that colleges respond to increased federal funding by reducing institutional aid, so that for each dollar of additional federal aid students receive, they lose between 60 cents and 83 cents of institutional aid, depending on the type of aid and institution.

    Further, by subsidizing tuition through federal student aid, the government creates artificially high demand for college degrees, driving tuition prices higher and increasing overall costs for students and taxpayers. Policymakers’ solution to the issue of increasing costs has traditionally been to increase federal funding, which results in college getting ever more expensive over time. 

    You'd think that Democrats wouldn't bother with promises about spending vastly more money on education, since the teacher unions and the higher ed establishment are already in their pocket. Are they worried these constituencies won't stay bought?


  • In the Pun Salad "Billion? Oh, good, I thought you said 'million'" Department, this report from AP: Study finds the universe might be 2 billion years younger.

    The universe is looking younger every day, it seems.

    New calculations suggest the universe could be a couple billion years younger than scientists now estimate, and even younger than suggested by two other calculations published this year that trimmed hundreds of millions of years from the age of the cosmos.

    "Why you don't look a day over 10 billion!"


  • Speaking of old things, people of a Certain Age might be interested in How Eric Clapton Created the Classic Song "Layla".

    The story of Eric Clapton and “Layla” has always bothered me because to understand it is to understand how fallible and crazed any of us can be when it comes to love. We understand that our rock gods are human, but there’s something about Clapton falling in love with the wife (Pattie Boyd) of one of his best mates (George Harrison, a freakin’ Beatle, man!) and then writing a whole album about it, that is just unsettling. Is this something tawdry writ epic? Or is this something epic that has the wafting aroma of tawdriness?

    Polyphonic takes on the behind the scenes story of this rock masterpiece and rewinds several centuries to the source of Layla’s name: “Layla and Majnun,” a romantic poem from 12th century Persian poet Niẓāmi Ganjavi based on an actual woman from the 6th Century who drove her poet paramour mad. Lord Byron called the tragic poem “The Romeo and Juliet of the East,” as unrequited love leaves both Majnun and Layla dead after the latter’s father forbids her to be with the poet.

    Originally imagined as a ballad, but then … Duane Allman happened. Also Jim Gordon.


  • And the Google LFOD alert rang for some big shoe news: Concepts x Timberland LFOD 6” Boot Drop.

    Concepts and Timberland have reunited for a new 6” Boot collaboration, this time focusing on an all-weather style that will last through the winter months. The Concepts x Timberland 6” “LFOD” boot is specifically built to withstand urban terrain and is well-prepared for inclement weather in rougher seasons.

    Featuring a textured GORE-TEX®️ black-suede upper, the boots also pay tribute to New England, the original home of both brands. The boots are decorated with bold white embroidery that reads “LIBERUM VIVERE AUT MORI” across a black corduroy collar in all caps, which loosely translates to New Hampshire’s state motto, “Live Free or Die” (LFOD). As a cherry on top of its New England inspiration, the boot also features tartan sock liners. Finally, a soft seafoam green leather patch with a purple Concepts logo completes the shoe.

    A pair will set you back $240. Tempting, but…

    Bright idea: the state should offer Latin-version plates for a modest extra fee, with "Liberum Vivere aut Mori" replacing "Live Free or Die". For people who want to add a certain highbrow seasoning to their in-your-face revolutionary attitudes.


Last Modified 2019-09-15 5:01 AM EDT

It Chapter Two

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot that Pun Son and I trundled down to Newington to check this out. We'd seen the previous one back in 2017, also at Newington. This one is also, eh, OK.

The loser kids from the previous movie are back in flashbacks, but mostly this is about their 27-year-older selves. One has grown to be Jessica Chastain, another to be James McAvoy, still another to be Bill Hader. Who I miss on Saturday Night Live, but that's not too relevant here.

It turns out the evil clown Pennywise did not get seriously killed in the previous flick. (Is that a spoiler?) So the gang gathers together one more time… except for this one guy who commits suicide rather than go through that again. (Is that a spoiler?)

Anyway, we're in for more gore, more special effects, more running, more fighting with inner demons, more f-bombs.

So I'm thinking the title is pretty unoriginal. It Chapter Two? How about It Again? It's Back? Or, most honestly, It's Time To Give Steven King More Of Your Money?

You want a somewhat more negative review, John Podhoretz is your guy. He points out that the ending is pretty stupid, and he has a point.

URLs du Jour

2019-09-13

[Amazon Link]

  • Bryan Caplan notes that for gaining and maintaining political power, truth is overrated. Instead: Monopolize the Pretty Lies.

    Why do dictators deny people the right to speak freely? The obvious response is, “The truth hurts.” Dictators are bad, so if people can freely speak the truth, they will say bad things about the dictator. This simultaneously wounds dictators’ pride and threatens their power, so dictators declare war on the truth.

    But is this story right? Consider: If you want to bring an incumbent dictator down, do you really want to be hamstrung by the truth? It’s far easier – and more crowd-pleasing – to respond to a pack of official lies with your own pack of lies. When the dictator claims, “I’ve made this the greatest country on earth,” you could modestly respond, “Face facts: we’re only 87th.” Yet if it’s power you seek, you might as well lie back, “The dictator has destroyed our country – but this will be the greatest country on earth if we gain power.” Even more obviously, if the current dictator claims the sanction of God, the opposition doesn’t want to shrug, “Highly improbable. How do you even know God exists?” Instead, the opposition wants to roar, “No, God is on our side. Our side!”

    Freedom of speech is immensely valuable, but it's easy to attribute powers to it that it doesn't have. Politicians of all stripes know that lies and half-truths are more effective than honesty.

    Speaking of monopoly, our Amazon Product du Jour is very hard to get, with an absurdly high price to match. But you might want to click over to Amazon anyway, because the some of the questions and their answers are hilarious. ("Is the board waterproof so Progressive tears won’t ruin it?" "Its coated with VEGAN oil and comes with a brush made from the armpit hair of 200+lb female anqueefa loser.")

    (OK, I googled it: "anqueefa" is a very offensive misspelling of "Antifa". I don't recommend googling it.)


  • Richard A. Epstein writes in the latest issue of Reason on The Progressive Feeding Frenzy. After rattling off the new government spending "Progressives" demand:

    How then are these gargantuan expenditures to be funded? The first problem is that the private sector will be so debilitated that government revenues will fall even if tax rates are kept at their current rate. But taxes won't stay at their current rate, because the progressive mindset ignores incentives and treats all wealth transfers as zero-sum. They assume that no amount of taking will ever lead to less earning and that the top 1 percent of Americans, who earn about 20 percent of total income, comprise a deep well.

    But that well has already been tapped; today these same rich people also pay 40 percent of federal and state taxes. Some of that money generates return benefits in the form of government goods and services. But today, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and lesser entitlement programs consume an ever-larger fraction of public wealth. We are on the wrong side of the Laffer curve, where higher taxes will generate even smaller revenues. Foreign investors will stay away or pull up stakes and move elsewhere. Many older professionals will choose to retire rather than take a cut in after-tax income. Meanwhile, everyone else will lobby to get on the government gravy train.

    [I've said this before but:] there is not a dollar in private hands that statists don't imagine they could spend more wisely and humanely.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson looks at The Lawfare Campaign against Gunmakers.

    It is remarkable how little our elite law-enforcement agencies and prosecutors are willing to do when it comes to policing the criminal use of firearms. The U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, whose office has responsibility for Chicago, has for years maintained a policy of refusing to prosecute most straw-buyer cases unless they are part of a larger organized-crime investigation, partly because those cases are a lot of work and partly because they tend to net a lot of sympathetic defendants, the girlfriends and grandmothers and nephews with clean records who buy firearms illegally for convicted felons. Local officials in Chicago and Illinois practically never pursue gun-trafficking cases: As ProPublica reports, between 2014 and 2017 Cook County authorities charged only twelve gunrunning cases and zero gun-trafficking cases. Chicago police made only 142 arrests for illegal gun sales over the course of a decade — and no arrests at all for gun trafficking. Of the many arrests for illegal possession of firearms, few led to prosecutions and fewer still to convictions. Similar stories play out less dramatically in jurisdictions around the country and in the federal system: Thousands of gun purchases are wrongly approved in federal background checks every year, but the ATF makes no effort at all to recover those guns.

    There are reasons for that. The people who are driving Chicago’s sustained murder problem are young and mobile. Chasing them is hard work, catching them is harder still, and convicting them brings very little in the way of headlines or glory.

    It's no surprise that law-abiding companies that make and sell guns are "a much easier target". So the hell with the rule of law.


  • Matt Weidinger of AEI brings out some Highlights of the new 2018 Census Bureau poverty data. Most notably:

    1.      Poverty fell again. The official poverty rate (now 11.8 percent) and the number of people in poverty (38.1 million) both fell again in 2018. The poverty rate is now the lowest it has been since 2001 (when it was 11.7 percent). Since peaking at 46.7 million in 2014, the number of people in poverty has fallen by over 8 million. This continued decline in poverty is what you would expect at this point in the economic cycle, given strong job growth and very low unemployment rates – recently at levels seen only at the end of the 1990s expansion, and before that, not since the late 1960s.

    I'm as unfond of clichés and adages as the next person. But "a rising tide lifts all boats".

    Also: What leftists endlessly deride as "trickle down economics" works.

    Granite Staters will immediately want to thumb through the report to see how we're doing. That's actually easier to find at the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) report. By the "official" poverty measure, NH averaged a 6.4% poverty rate between 2016-2018; that's by far the lowest rate in the country.

    The SPM takes transfer payments and the local cost of living into account; things aren't quite as rosy in our case. The 2016-2018 average SPM poverty rate in NH was 8.2%. A bunch of states, mostly in the midwest (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Wisconsin) clock in slightly lower than that.

URLs du Jour

2019-09-12

[Amazon Link]

  • Veronique de Rugy returns to an evergreen theme: Trump's Tariff and Trade Aches and Pains.

    On the campaign trail, candidate Donald Trump said that, if elected, "We're going to win so much. You're going to get tired of winning. You're going to say, 'Please Mr. President, I have a headache. Please, don't win so much.'" Unfortunately, Trump's definition of winning seems to mean flexing his presidential muscles, beating his chest and changing his mind without hesitation — all with an utter disregard for the actual impact of his policies on the economy and American workers.

    The president's profound misunderstanding of what victory looks like is particularly visible in his multifront attack on trade and globalization. All in the name of putting America first, he withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, treated our trade partners like enemies, forced a renegotiation of NAFTA with no clear idea of whether the new deal (the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement) could ever be ratified, implemented tariffs to fight imaginary national security menaces and started a trade war with China without any clearer strategy than his willingness to jack up tariffs at all costs.

    Yes, our Amazon Product du Jour is a rerun. But it's a good rerun. From the product description:

    Get this before the tariffs hit the shirt companies, because prices rise and you'll end up paying more for this exact shirt. If you don't think Donald Trump would do such a move, think again! This is the classiest tariff shirt around, believe me.

    If you believe in supporting vendors who market their wares with a sense of humor, go for it.


  • As Philip K. Dick taught us, androids dream of electric sheep. And as Kevin D. Williamson teaches us: Democrats Dream Of Nation Without Republicans.

    Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times has a dream, a dream in which about half of the American people are deprived of an effective means of political representation, a dream of one-party government in which the Democrats are the only game in town — “Dare We Dream of the End of the GOP?” her column is headlined — which also is a dream of visiting vengeance upon those who dared to vote for their own interests as they understood them and thereby schemed “to stop the New America from governing.”

    That quotation is from a new book by Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg bearing the title R.I.P. G.O.P. Greenberg himself has a new column in the Times on the same theme. “The 2020 election will be transformative like few in our history,” he writes. “It will end with the death of the Republican Party as we know it . . . [and] liberate the Democratic Party from the country’s suffocating polarization and allow it to use government to address the vast array of problems facing the nation.”

    Well, that's a darn shame. Too bad the GOP hasn't done much since 2016 to deserve our support or trust.


  • Up in the Great White North, Maclean's looks at funny old America's politics, specifically: Don’t count out Andrew Yang, the populist technocrat who wants to be president. And looks at his visit to New Hampshire, specifically Laconia and Belknap County:

    [Belknap County is] also fertile ground for Yang’s radical proposals. When he first rolled into New Hampshire in January, he preached the Freedom Dividend as a panacea. But [chair of the Laconia Democrats Carlos] Cardona convinced him to ease up on that, to pivot instead to local issues of addiction and unemployment. Belknap County suffers the second-highest rate of overdose deaths in New Hampshire, which itself is the fourth most lethal state for opioid deaths. Yang took his advice, and Cardona has watched the candidate’s crowd sizes grow with every subsequent visit. He now draws a through line from financial insecurity to anxiety, depression and addiction. Audience members nod along. They get it. Fifty of them signed up to receive Yang Gang emails after he left the stage. “Live Free or Die,” their state motto goes. To win the nomination, Yang needs voters to agree this is not rhetorical: freedom means a monthly dividend. The alternative, quite literally, is death.

    Or the "Freedom Dividend" could be used to buy more heroin. That's the way I'd bet.


  • Andrew Yang's campaign motto is "MATH". Which, allegedly, stands for "Make America Think Harder."

    I suppose that's better than "PB4WEGO".

    Elizabeth Warren. on the other hand, might go with: "But America Doesn't Merit A Trustworthy Head" → BADMATH.

    Because, as Peter Suderman points out at Reason: Elizabeth Warren’s Plans Don’t Add Up. (Also in the October print issue.)

    The Warren worldview is thus both bloodless and moralizing. It is also dangerous, combining self-righteous certainty about the perils of the economy with dubious data and an instinct for bureaucratic paternalism. Warren wants the federal government to be the American economy's hall monitor, telling individuals and companies what they can and can't sell or buy and making some of the nation's most successful businesses answer to her demands.

    It seems to be working. During the first six months of 2019, this strategy vaulted Warren into the top tier of Democratic primary contenders, helping her raise more than $19 million during the year's second quarter and placing her among the top three or four candidates in the party's crowded field. Focus groups and political reporting have consistently found that Democratic voters are warming not only to the substance of Warren's ideas but to the very fact that she has them.

    Yet Warren's wonkery and her populist fury are both based on myths and misdirection, often perpetuated by Warren herself. Although she styles herself as a data-driven champion of the little guy, she has run a campaign based on a dismal representation of the U.S. economy that fails to account for factors that complicate her story. And although she has received kudos for the volume and specificity of her plans, Warren has a history of pushing misleading research and cherry-picked data designed to support politicized conclusions.

    Peter's article is a long, interesting, scary picture of Liz's rise to political power, supported by shoddy scholarship along the way.

  • Jeff Jacoby bids an unfond farewell to a recently departed leader: To Hell with Robert Mugabe. And reveals a certain willful blindness of American higher ed:

    Determined to suppress all political opposition, Mugabe ordered the fearsome Fifth Brigade — a North Korea-trained military unit — to move against the Ndebele minority in the country's southern province of Matabeleland. The Ndebele, who constituted about one-fourth of Zimbabwe's population, were supporters of Joshua Nkomo, a national hero and the leader of a key opposition party. Mugabe, a member of the country's Shona majority, unleashed what he called a gukurahundi — a "wiping away" — against the Ndebele in Matabeleland. Beginning in February 1983, thousands of victims were being massacred. Many were shot dead in public executions after being forced to dig their own graves. The atrocities committed by Mugabe's forces were reported on at the time by human rights organizations and international media. By 1987, the death toll carried out in Matabeleland had reached 25,000.

    That didn't keep the University of Massachusetts from awarding Mugabe an honorary degree. In October 1986, Zimbabwe's increasingly ruthless ruler was extolled in a special convocation on the Amherst campus as a champion of human rights. The UMass chancellor, Joseph Duffy, hosted Mugabe at a dinner in his home, where he praised his leadership and economic reforms and expressed the hope that Mugabe's record in Zimbabwe was a preview of what a post-apartheid South Africa would look like.

    According to Jeff, the slow-motion UMass revoked Mugabe's degree 22 years later, in 2008.

URLs du Jour

2019-09-11

[Amazon Link]

  • No jokes or snarkiness up front today. Our Amazon Product du Jour is the new book from Garrett M. Graff. He has an article about the book at the Atlantic: On September 11, Blind Luck Decided Who Lived or Died. Which starts:

    Joseph Lott, a sales representative for Compaq computers, survived one of the deadliest days in modern American history because he had a penchant for “art ties,” neckties featuring famous masterpieces. “It began many years earlier, in the ’90s,” he said in an oral history with StoryCorps. “I love Impressionist paintings, and I use them as a way to make points with my kids. I’d put on an art tie, and then I would ask my kids—I have three daughters—I would say, ‘Artist identification?’ And they would have to tell me whether it was a van Gogh or a Monet, and we would have a little conversation about the artist.”

    On the morning of September 11, 2001, he had put on a green shirt before meeting colleagues at the Marriott hotel sandwiched between the Twin Towers, in advance of speaking at a conference that day at the restaurant Windows on the World. Over breakfast, his co-worker Elaine Greenberg, who had been on vacation the week before in Massachusetts, presented him with a tie she’d spotted on her trip that featured a Monet.

    “It was red and blue, primarily. I was very touched that she had done this,” Lott explained. “I said, ‘This is such a nice gesture. I think I am going to put this on and wear it as I speak.’ She said, ‘Well, not with that shirt. You’re not going to put on a red-and-blue tie with a green shirt.’” So when breakfast was done, his colleagues headed up to Windows on the World, located on the 104th floor of the North Tower, and Lott went back to his hotel room to change shirts. He ironed a white one, put it on, and then headed back down toward the hotel lobby. “As I was waiting to go from the seventh floor back down to the lobby and over to the bank of elevators that would take me to the top, I felt a sudden movement in the building,” he recalled.

    Graff notes the role of random chance and seemed-inconsequential-at-the-time decisions that can knock one's life in a new and unalterable direction. Or end it.

    Something to think about when you're having trouble sleeping. It won't help you sleep.

    A quote I saw years ago from an old Roman playwright, Plautus, has stuck with me ever since:

    The gods play games with men as balls.

    He said it in Latin, of course. I have no idea what sort of games the ancient Romans played with balls. But here's what I imagine: you, a happy little ball, just sitting in the grass, living your bally life.

    Unfortunately, the gods are playing some sort of polo. And you hear distant hoofbeats, growing louder, deafening… And suddenly, whack, the mallet finds you, you're speeding off in some unknown direction, perhaps to oblivion.

    Well, that's life.


  • In other news, Mark J. Perry has updated his classic graphic, based on the latest report on incomes and poverty from the Census Bureau.

    Will trends continue? If my math is right, a straight-line extrapolation says the middle-income segment will disappear in… about 176 years.

    The Low-income group? Even quicker: they're gone in about 153 years.

    Everybody will be high-income then. But Bernie Sanders will still find something to gripe about.


  • At Reason, Jacob Sullum extracts a probably-unintended lesson: Congressional Report on ‘Deaths of Despair’ Highlights the Hazards of Drug Prohibition. Bottom line:

    The upward trend in opioid-related deaths not only continued but accelerated after the government succeeded in reducing opioid prescriptions, pushing nonmedical users toward black-market substitutes. It's not hard to see why: Legally produced opioids come in uniform, predictable doses, while illegal opioids vary widely in potency, making fatal mistakes more likely. The emergence of fentanyl and its analogs as heroin boosters and replacements has only magnified that hazard. Based on mortality data published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, combined with drug use estimates from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and the RAND Corporation, heroin is roughly eight times as deadly as prescription opioids.

    Just as prohibition made drinking more dangerous, it has made drug use more dangerous, both by favoring more-potent products and by creating a black market where consumers do not know what they are buying. After considering the broader puzzle posed by "deaths of despair," the report concludes that "we clearly remain in the grip of a national opioid crisis that requires the attention of policymakers." But depending on the form that attention takes, it can easily make matters worse rather than better.

    The government: killing people in the name of "compassion".


  • David French, at National Review notes something that shouldn't surprise us: Elizabeth Warren’s Plans Consistently Unconstitutional. The latest example (well, the latest as of September 6):

    Yep, she’s going to ban fracking. When I read the tweet, I flashed back in my mind to Ronald Reagan’s famous retort to Jimmy Carter in a 1980 presidential debate — “There you go again.” Here the “again” isn’t just proposing a bad plan (it would have extraordinary negative effects on domestic energy production and would likely increase dependence on more “dirty” fuels to generate power), it’s proposing an illegal policy. She simply can’t ban fracking on her own.

    In fact, the executive branch’s authority over fracking is rather profoundly limited by statute. Beginning in 2012, the Obama attempted to introduce “additional regulatory effort and oversight” of fracking by introducing new regulations through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In 2015, the states of Wyoming and Colorado filed petitions for judicial review of the Obama regulations, and on June 21, 2016, federal district court judge Scott Skavdahl (an Obama appointee) held that the fracking rule was “unlawful.”

    She doesn't want to be President. She wants to be Queen. The old-style kind, that could issue unquestionable decrees and behead people.


  • At the Technology Liberation Front, Adam Thierer asks: should we Socialize Journalism in Order to Save It?. Adam looks at Bernie Sanders' proposals and also one from a group at the University of Chicago.

    “The Sanders scheme would add layers of regulatory supervision to the news business,” notes media critic Jack Shafer. Sanders promises to prevent or rollback media mergers, increase regulations on who can own what kinds of platforms, flex antitrust muscles against online distributors, and extend privileges to those employed by media outlets. The academics who penned the University of Chicago report recommend public funding for journalism, regulations that “ensure necessary transparency regarding information flows and algorithms,” and rolling back liability protections for platforms afforded through Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

    Both plans feature government subsidies, too. Sen. Sanders proposes “taxing targeted ads and using the revenue to fund nonprofit civic-minded media” as part of a broader effort “to substantially increase funding for programs that support public media’s news-gathering operations at the local level.” The Chicago plan proposed a taxpayer-funded $50 media voucher that each citizen will then be able to spend on an eligible media operation of their choice. Such ideas have been floated before and the problems are still numerous. Apparently, “saving journalism” requires that media be placed on the public dole and become a ward of the state. Socializing media in order to save it seems like a bad plan in a country that cherishes the First Amendment.

    Suggested Bernie slogan: "Awful ideas on innumerable levels."

Jim Baer Sees Mediocre People!

[Amazon Link]

Jim Baer writes occasionally in the Concord Monitor; I admit that over the 14+ years of this blog (and, for that matter, the 68+ years of my life) I've managed to pay him no attention whatsoever. Other than the Monitor having an obnoxious paywall, I have no excuse, and I accept full responsibility.

But his recent op-ed column, "Look around, and you’ll see mediocrity everywhere", triggered my Google News Alert for "Live Free or Die". And I found it difficult to pick out a short excerpt of the column to respond to, my usual M.O..

So I'll break out the old fisking template. I am reproducing Jim's entire op-ed here, on the (appropriate) left, with a lovely #EEFFFF background color; my comments are on the right.

Mediocrity is an equal opportunity human condition. It can be found in most fields of human endeavor. It appears to be growing worse.

Mediocrity is described as “the state of being average in quality and originality.”

It is a pungent word. It can be used to describe incompetence, crudeness, lack of talent, hypocrisy and disappointment.

We should be happy that Jim is able to look up the definition of a word.

But a warning sign: Jim goes on to ignore that definition in the very next paragraph. If you think (e.g.) that "mediocrity" and "incompetence" are synonymous, you're simply wrong.

So look back at that first paragraph. Of course mediocrity is commonplace. In fact, Merriam-Webster lists "common" and "ordinary" as synonyms for "mediocre".

But is mediocrity "growing worse"? That would involve a general decline of the average. I'm open to that. And one of the bits of evidence in favor: an actual newspaper editor let Jim's sloppy language appear on the website.

For extra irony points: browsing Jim's byline page at the Monitor, I note that a January column was titled Words do matter, regardless of what Trump says on Twitter. If words matter so much, Jim, why are you using "mediocrity" as if it meant, roughly, "bad things"?

Sigh. Well, let's move on…

I reference it when discussing politics, education and government.

Empires have been built to celebrate its virtues. They come, they go.

The former Soviet Union and client states were testimonials to collective mediocrity.

Hm. Not sure what damage Jim's badmouthing the USSR will do to the Monitor's reputation as "Pravda on the Merrimack". But seriously…

Once you abuse a word into near-meaningless fuzzy vagueness, it can be used to apply to anything and explain nearly everything. I find myself imagining a high school student's essay for world history: "The main cause of the collapse of the Soviet bloc was too much mediocrity."

Given the state of public education, I suppose this could fly with some teachers.

But I note that the New York Times claims that not everything was mediocre: the sex was great. Or so they say.

This is why Jim writes for the Monitor and not the NYT, I guess.

New Hampshire folk are not immune to it. Thankfully, we experience less of it here than in the rest of the nation. Less does not mean none. I think Jim means that New Hampshire "folk" are Above Average compared to … those "folk" in other states, I guess? But still there are average people here. We are not to be confused with Lake Wobegon.
Morals and ethics, in government, public education and the political arena, are on a long list of candidates susceptible to being described as mediocre. I strongly suspect this paragraph was clumsily inserted to get the column up to some predetermined word count. As previously established, Jim can describe just about anything as mediocre. It's a general-purpose slur.

And I thought we were talking about New Hampshire? Well, after that brief digression into nebulosity, we're back to it…

Our New Hampshire General Court has a long history of dealing with mediocrity. With 400 House members and 24 senators, a calendar of 1,000 bills per session and in a state with a population of only 1.3 million citizens, it is amazing that our Legislature functions at all.

The institution is too large. Because of advancing age, some members are ill equipped to address complex issues. The salary is too little to attract younger talent. Together, they are a witch’s brew of mediocrity.

The House has been muddling along with 400 members since 1942, and the state has somehow survived. And at first glance, it would seem that having more members allows the workload to be spread out more thinly, thereby allowing "complex issues" to be studied to greater depth.

Jim does have a point about age. NH legislators average older (average age: 66) than those in other states. Too old to "address complex issues"? Any actual evidence of that?

And I thought we were talking about mediocrity? Trust me, you can be mediocre at any age.

And we know about the low pay.

But the proper question here is "compared to what?" There are 49 other state legislatures with which we can compare results. Are there any out there that are (by some objective measure) delivering superior results due to (some combination of) smaller size, higher pay, and younger age?

I doubt that case could be made. Jim doesn't try to make one.

I have sat in the gallery when the House is in session and witnessed members nodding off. Sometimes, it appears to be an adult day care center. Some members look forward to two important parts of the day: lunch and adjournment. I think we can agree that we'd prefer our legislators to be attentive and interested. On the other hand, I've been in meetings like that myself, in a warm room, with the speaker droning on endlessly….

Oops! Sorry, nodded off there.

One of the greatest tragedies in the long history of our Legislature was the closing of the New Hampshire Highway Hotel and bar in 1988, to make way for the extension of Interstate 93 North. Many members wept. I think this is a sly way of indicating that the members liked to get drunk there. Could one of you diligent Googlers dig up a study comparing the per-member alcohol consumption of the 50 state legislatures?

But then we're back to ages, wages, and sleepiness:

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, the average age of a New Hampshire legislator is 66 years old. Members born between 1928 and 1964 make up 92% of the membership. A person’s age, young or old, is no guarantee of their effectiveness as a legislator, good or bad. The least we should expect from members of the Legislature is to stay awake during deliberations.

To compound matters, members receive the penurious salary of $100 per year, plus mileage, established in 1889. California legislature members receive $110,459 per year.

A salary of $100 per year and the perk of driving through a toll booth free of charge is not enough of an incentive to attract younger, able and more vibrant citizens to consider legislative membership. It is a great loss of talent.

"Vibrant". Sheesh.

It's an element of faith that higher salaries produce higher quality employees. Sometimes that's true. But is it true in this case?

Here's a bit of data:

One of the primary tasks of a state legislature is to align revenue and expenditures to put finances on an even keel, making hard decisions as necessary. How do New Hampshire's poorly-paid, elderly, drunk, napping legislators do at that job? According to this 2018 study from the Mercatus Center, not too bad: we are ranked #12 ("above average"). For the record, the other Northeast states are in much worse shape: Maine #34; Vermont #39; Rhode Island #40; New York #41; Massachusetts #47; and (gulp!) Connecticut #49.

But those well-paid "vibrant" California legislators must be in the top 10, right?

No, sorry. Mercatus ranks California #42 in fiscal health ("Below Average").

But I bet they stayed awake while mismanaging the state finances.

Defenders of the large size of our Legislature claim that size matters. I agree. They argue that it supports institutional memory and promotes the intimate connection that members have with their electorate, particularly in remote constituencies. That may have been valid in our 19th century agrarian economy but it holds little water in today’s New Hampshire. You can check out (as of 2010) the population represented by state legislators at Ballotpedia. For "lower house" representatives California and New Hampshire are at the extremes: a California representative "represents" 465,674 citizens; a New Hampshire rep a mere 3,291.

California's also on top in their Senate: 931,349 citizens per senator. New Hampshire scores 54,853 citizens/senator. (Fourteen states score lower than NH on this measure.)

But how can decreasing the size of the legislature not make the representatives less connected to the electorate? You'd expect a better argument than "holds little water".

For the sake of discussion, I suggest that members of the Legislature be paid $10,000 plus mileage per year and all of the usual perks. The average salary for a state representative across America is $50,531.

A bolder idea would be to increase the salary to $20,000 per year and reduce the number of House members to 200.

I believe we would see a remarkable number of younger and enthusiastic new faces in our Legislature if we instituted both suggestions. New faces and new ideas.

A smaller Legislature and increased compensation for members will have the added benefits of better accountability, increase the possibilities for membership advancement to leadership positions, and savings in office, clerical, parking and other operating expenses.

I don't find this argument by assertion that interesting, let alone convincing. But if you'd like to see an actual discussion of the pros and cons, the National Conference of State Legislatures has a discussion here.
The “Live Free or Die” crowd have managed to do their best to poison the well for any chances of meaningful reform or improvements in how the institution works. They are so wedded to all of the “firsts” in the Legislature’s history that any constitutional changes will be considered heresy. Welcome to 1889! Ah, there it is. This is why Google alerted me to Jim's op-ed.

There are all sorts of ways to invoke LFOD. Jim chooses "scornfully".

You can’t argue with the old New Hampshire saying, “You get what you pay for.” It should be the motto over the front door of our state Legislature offices. Probably roughly true in market transactions. But when dealing with the government, it's more accurate to say:

  • You pay what government tells you to.
  • You get what government feels like giving you.
Mediocrity has not been kind to public education. To amplify how insidious mediocrity has become, standards that once honored individuals for talent, merit and scholarship are now being abandoned. They are replaced with policies that promote mediocrity.

Educators, fearful of offending or stigmatizing a group or individuals, regardless of their abilities or proficiencies, promote policies that consider every student to be a winner.

That is not a practical, fair or equitable solution to a quality education. It dilutes laudatory and exemplary achievement by elevating mediocrity to standards it does not deserve.

Mediocrity is like a jealous lover: It suffers fools. It is the handmaiden to dictators, politicians, bullies and theologians. It is notable for a lack of self-examination and a stubbornness to always be right, on any subject.

Well, I said I would reproduce Jim's entire op-ed. But now he's ranting on a totally new topic.

Not that he doesn't have a point. Taking things from the other side, see the Test-Optional Admissions Policy at the University Near Here. Which is desperate for warm, tuition-paying, student bodies. That doesn't bode well for academic quality.

The American Academy of Mediocrity is accepting new applicants for membership. There are no admission fees or entrance exams. Lack of interest in education or knowledge is not an impediment. Bigotry, boorishness and extreme partisanship are character traits to be applauded. The apostasy of critical thinking is common among members. A predilection for the Second Amendment of our Constitution, to the exclusion of the other 26 amendments, is obligatory. “Might is right” is their clarion call and a slavish devotion to nationalist political nonsense is a hallmark of membership. Well, this is just dumb. Jim, op-ed writing and alcohol do not mix.
One of the functions of the academy is to present its annual “Most Mediocre Person of the Year” award. Past recipients have all been United States senators. Moscow Mitch may continue that tradition. Great job, Mitch. Keep up the good work. I'm becoming increasingly convinced of that "padding for word count" explanation. Again, Jim has kind of lost track of what "mediocre" means.

And we are about to lose coherence altogether…

A note of caution: Mediocrity is contagious. There is no vaccine available to prevent it. If infected, symptoms may include the following: an aversion to all “intellectuals”; an impulse to always vote a straight-party ticket, even if it is a vote against your own self-interest; a need to repress any attempt at social justice on the ill advice that doing so will ensure that you will not be heading down the slippery path toward socialism.

Drink lots of fluids and call your doctor if things do not improve.

If you become depressed because of the current state of national politics, try consulting this book dedicated to mediocrity: Mein Kampf. It will illustrate how a bright and well-educated people succumbed to the charm of a man who championed the merits of mediocrity, cloaked in the disguise of honor, duty and country.

If you have any questions concerning mediocrity, contact the home office at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20500 or phone (202) 456-1111. Tell them I sent you.

Bottom line: Jim thinks people who disagree with him are Nazis. Or Commies. Or Republicans. Or perhaps professional educators. They're all part of the mediocrity conspiracy, I tells ya!

Raylan

[Amazon Link]

This 2011 novel was Elmore Leonard's last; he passed away in 2013 at the age of 87. He wrote it just as the TV series featuring US Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens, Justified was in its early years.

It's set in a slightly different universe than the TV show. It's also set in a slightly different universe than Leonard's previous Givens-featuring novella Fire in the Hole; at the end of that one, Boyd Crowder has been shot deader than dead. But in Raylan, (surprise!) he's back, healthier than ever.

The novel interweaves three plot threads: (1) a transplant nurse masterminds a gang who steals victims' kidneys; (2) a ruthless coal company exec comes to town to try to negotiate the sale of a mountain; (3) Raylan is asked to track down a fugitive college-aged poker player, but gets caught up with a sleazy pimp who is branching out into bank robbery, with the help of his stable.

People who are familiar with the TV show will recognize plot elements and characters mutated semi-recognizably from the book. (For example, the book has Dickie and Coover as members of the Crowe family, under the thumb of their daddy. On TV, they were Bennets, and it was their mom, the unforgettable Mags Bennett, who was running their criminal show.

And the wonderful, precocious, Loretta McCready has a cameo.

All in all, a fun read. This ends my Elmore Leonard reading project, at least for now. It's been fun.

URLs du Jour

2019-09-09

[Amazon Link]

  • Seen on a Power Line "Loose Ends" post, attributed to Geoff Whisler:

    How ’bout a demonstration of government regulation working? You guys successfully ban telemarketers and then we’ll talk.

    A related question: Who is this guy named "Scam Likely" and why does he keep calling me from so many different numbers?

    Until the happy day when the FCC figures out how to deal with this (can you imagine how well they would have handled Net Neutrality?) you might want to check out our Amazon Product du Jour.


  • A wistful query from Adam Mill at the Federalist: What If Americans Wanted Freedom As Much As Hong Kongers Do?.

    As I watch the fearless Hong Kong protesters risk life and limb, standing up to the Chinese juggernaut to protect freedom, I can’t help but wistfully wish we’re witnessing the beginning of a spreading popular movement. In my heart of hearts, it’s my fondest hope that these courageous, freedom-loving protesters succeed and that their message of hope catches fire in other countries in desperate need of the Hong Kong formula.

    I’m not referring to a spread into mainland China, which would also be wonderful. No, here I’m hoping their thirst for freedom also spreads to the United States.

    I’m not saying the United States isn’t free. But it’s a whole lot less free than the special experiment of Hong Kong. For one thing, the Heritage Foundation rates Hong Kong’s as the freest economy in the world, and the United States as the world’s 12th-freest. That’s embarrassing.

    Worse than embarrassing. Sad. Outrageous.


  • Michael Huemer is a professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado (which, not that it matters, eked out a win against my beloved Cornhuskers on Saturday). He's in a good position to opine honestly on the World’s Longest Running Scam: The Academy. Longish, but well worth it.

    Sometimes, I feel as though my profession is a giant scam. I don’t mean that we’re not doing anything of value. I mean that what people think we’re doing, which explains why they pay us so much, is not what we’re actually doing. And when I reflect on that, sometimes, I wonder how long it will take for the world to catch on, and then stop giving us tons of money, at which point most of us will have to find real jobs. That might be good for society, but I hope it doesn’t happen before I’ve retired.

    Well, I made it out. So did Mrs. Salad. I'd wish good luck to Michael, but (honestly) I hope this "catching on" thing happens sooner rather than later.


  • At the Washington Free Beacon, Andrew Stiles asks the musical question: What Is The Point of CNN?.

    And, spoiler, sorry, the subheadline gives the answer away: "Nothing".

    CNN is a mid-tier cable news network that provides non-stop breaking news to bored airport travelers and internet journalists. The network has breathlessly covered President Donald Trump's every fart and utterance since 2015 and has contributed to the "national dialogue" through countless interviews with serious public intellectuals. Michael Avenatti, for example.

    One of CNN's most recent hires, former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, was found to have lied to federal investigators under oath prior to his firing in March 2018. In addition to his role as CNN contributor, McCabe has a new side hustle: Keynote speaker at Democratic Party fundraisers.

    And speaking of the network's keen eye for talent, CNN invited celebrity white nationalist Richard Spencer on in June to discuss Donald Trump's "racist tweets." Brian Stelter, who hosts a show called Reliable Sources, recently nodded along as his guest, former Duke University chair of psychiatry Allen Francis, argued that Trump "may be responsible for many more million deaths" than genocidal dictators Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong.

    It's not so much that CNN (etc.) are blatant Democratic Party cheerleaders, it's that they're so inept at it.


  • [Amazon Link]
    Sean Carroll, probably the best the world has to offer in the realm of "actual scientist willing to explain things clearly to the masses", writing in the New York Times: Even Physicists Don’t Understand Quantum Mechanics.

    “I think I can safely say that nobody really understands quantum mechanics,” observed the physicist and Nobel laureate Richard Feynman. That’s not surprising, as far as it goes. Science makes progress by confronting our lack of understanding, and quantum mechanics has a reputation for being especially mysterious.

    What’s surprising is that physicists seem to be O.K. with not understanding the most important theory they have.

    Sean (I call him Sean) has a new book (out tomorrow, Amazon link at right) that advocates the “many-worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics. Which I've resisted buying into so far, but I'll check it out when the book becomes available at the library.


  • New material from Dave Barry at the Miami Herald on Grandparents Day: Grandfather Dave Barry on lessons learned. Now, I'm not a grandparent (as far as I know), you might not be either, but I can assure you that even if you're not, Dave's worth reading:

    You may not be aware of this, but today [actually, as I type, yesterday, sorry], September 8, is Grandparents Day. It’s also — really — Literacy Day, Star Trek Day and Iguana Awareness Day.

    I don’t know why we need a special day to be aware of iguanas. It’s definitely unnecessary in South Florida, which is IguanaPalooza. Spend an hour walking around my neighborhood and there’s a good chance you’ll encounter a green lizard the size of a small dog, glaring at you with a look that says: “If I were larger, I would swallow you in one gulp, like the Tyrannosaurus Rex that ate the lawyer in ‘Jurassic Park.’ ”

    That’s the iguana community’s favorite movie. It’s showing 24/7 down at the LizardPlex.

    So we South Floridians don’t need Iguana Awareness Day. What we need is Stop Sign Awareness Day, or Your Car Has Turn Signals For A Reason Awareness Day, or It’s Not A Great Idea To Celebrate Festive Occasions By Shooting Your Gun Into The Air You Moron Awareness Day.

    But getting back to Grandparents Day…

    I'm a few years behind Dave, agewise, so I consider him like an early warning system of what's coming up.

The Phony Campaign

2019-09-08 Update

[Amazon Link]

Another week with no additions or deletions to our phony candidate lineup. And no huge movements in the betting odds at Betfair to talk about, either.

In fact, the only big change is the increase in phony hits for President Donald J. Trump:

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
9/1
Phony
Results
Change
Since
9/1
Donald Trump 44.1% -0.2% 2,230,000 +690,000
Bernie Sanders 7.5% -0.2% 873,000 +47,000
Pete Buttigieg 2.5% -0.1% 718,000 +10,000
Joe Biden 12.8% unch 443,000 -9,000
Elizabeth Warren 16.8% +0.4% 208,000 -8,000
Kamala Harris 5.0% +0.2% 114,000 +7,000
Andrew Yang 4.0% +0.7% 35,700 -1,000

"WinProb" calculation described here. Google result counts are bogus.

  • Trump's phony bump was spurred, no doubt, by…

    And thanks to his Sharpie alteration of an out-of-date NOAA hurricane projection map, we now have "Sharpiegate" in our political lexicon. And further note that our Amazon Product du Jour attests to the rapidity with which "book" self-publishers can leap at this sort of thing.


  • So I know Beto! is long-gone from our major-candidate list. This more complete list of election odds has him, as I type, tied with Amy Klobuchar and (hm) Michelle Obama. But he recently tried to revive things with what J.D. Tucille calls Beto’s Impossible Gun Ban Dreams.

    "The newest purity test for Democrats is whether to mandate assault weapons buybacks," The Washington Post reported recently—with "buybacks" a popular euphemism for compensated confiscation. Donkey party potentates including Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Cory Booker (N.J.) share Beto's taste for imposing a new form of prohibition.

    Maybe that's a winning formula for harvesting votes, but it's terrible as policies go, unless they really want to make the government look thoroughly impotent. Similar bans, restrictions, and confiscations have been tried before, with minimal success.

    "More than a year after New Jersey imposed the toughest assault-weapons law in the country, the law is proving difficult if not impossible to enforce," reported The New York Times in 1991. "Only four military-style weapons have been turned in to the State Police and another 14 were confiscated." Police also knew "the whereabouts of fewer than 2,000 other guns"—out of an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 privately owned weapons in the state.

    As with so many proposals, it's difficult to decide whether

    1. Candidates are unaware that gun prohibition and confiscation is unworkable, unconstitutional, and counterproductive (in which case they are stupid); or
    2. Candidates know that such proposals are unworkable, etc., nevertheless claim to favor them because they know their stupid followers will buy them.

    Which is worse?


  • James Freeman at the (perhaps paywalled) WSJ wonders: Can the Climate Cause Survive the Democratic Primaries?. He notes the disconnect between candidates who (a) tell us that fossil fuel emissions are “an existential threat”, but (b) say no to nuclear power. Especially droll is Mr. Bernard Sanders:

    We’re facing an immediate need to turn our economy upside down to avoid a planet-destroying disaster—but nuclear power is off the table because it may not represent a solution for the infinite future? Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders raised a similar objection about long-term storage. He also addressed the generation of nuclear power and said he’s concerned about the costs, which would a be a first for the man who backs a $16 trillion climate plan on top of his $33 trillion health plan.

    Bernie, do you even listen to yourself?


  • At Real Clear Politics, Ben Shapiro describes How the Quest for Power Corrupted Elizabeth Warren. Ben describes how just a few years ago, Liz was (1) against housing market regulation; (2) in favor of school choice; (3) skeptical about taxpayer-funded daycare; and…

    She ardently opposed additional taxpayer subsidization of college loans, too, or more taxpayer spending on higher education directly. Instead, she called for a tuition freeze from state schools. She recommended tax incentives for families to save rather than spend. She opposed radical solutions wholesale: "We haven't suggested a complete overhaul of the tax structure, and we haven't demanded that businesses cease and desist from ever closing another plant or firing another worker. Nor have we suggested that the United States should build a quasi-socialist safety net to rival the European model."

    So, what happened to Warren?

    Power.

    Warren probably is the smartest candidate on either side. Which is not good news, because see above: she's tailoring her advocacy of silly, destructive policies simply to cater to the D-side electorate.


  • Chrissy Clark of the Federalist watched the CNN town hall with the ten Democrats taking turns on … well, let's just say this was not the hardest column Chrissy has ever had to write: 10 Craziest Things About Dems' Economy-Wrecking Climate Extremism. Let's pick one… oh, we haven't mentioned Wheezy Joe yet, have we?

    Issac Larkin, a doctoral candidate at Northwestern University, accused Biden of going to a fundraiser with a fossil fuel executive the next day. Larkin was also introduced as a staunch Sanders supporter.

    Now, I know you signed the no fossil fuel money pledge, but I have to ask, how can we trust you to hold these corporations and executives accountable for their crimes against humanity, when we know that tomorrow you are holding a high-dollar fundraiser hosted by Andrew Goldman, a fossil fuel executive.

    “He’s not a fossil fuel executive,” Biden responded.

    Goldman is a fossil fuel executive.

    So (as usual): Biden either didn't know he was lying, or did know. Which is worse?


  • And the headline in the Daily Mail really says it all: Elizabeth Warren demands ban on bump stocks 5 months AFTER Trump outlawed them.

    Elizabeth Warren told a New Hampshire campaign crowd on Monday that the federal government should ban 'bump stocks,' a device the Trump administration outlawed in March.

    OK, I have a hard time believing that was intentional. Sometimes I overestimate Warren's intelligence, I guess.


Last Modified 2019-09-09 5:36 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2019-09-07

[Amazon Link]

  • Charles C. W. Cooke trills the truth from his NR perch: "Meghan McCain is right about AR-15 confiscation and you know it." Specifically, Ms. McCain claimed that gun confiscation would prompt "a lot of violence". This caused Beto, a would-be confiscator, to tut-tut. Comments Charlie:

    There are just two types of people engaging in this debate: People who know that Meghan McCain is correct, and people who are pretending that they do not know that Meghan McCain is correct. It doesn’t not especially matter what your politics are, or what you think of private gun ownership in the United States. It does not matter, either, whether you want Meghan McCain to be right or you want her to be wrong. If you have read any American history at all, you know that, as a matter of dull, neutral fact, McCain is correct. Americans defied and resisted the prohibition of alcohol, often violently, even after it was passed into law by a supermajority in Congress and in the states. And, eventually, they won. Americans have defied and violated the prohibition of drugs, often violently, since it began. And, slowly, but surely, they are winning. Americans already ignore most gun-control measures — even in states with significant pro-gun control majorities. Were confiscation to be tried, they would defy and resist it, often violently. And, eventually, they would win, as they did the last time around.

    I would like to think that's true. Is the Spirit of 1775 still alive enough?


  • It's been a while since we quoted any f-bombs here. But it's from Reason, Katherine Mangu-Ward quoting someone else: Don’t Just Do Something.

    "I don't know what the answer is," Kacey Musgraves shouted during her set at Lollapalooza on August 7, "but obviously something has to be fucking done." The country music star then led her fans in a chant that perfectly encapsulates the future of American politics: "Somebody fucking do something!" she screamed. "Somebody fucking do something!" the crowd screamed back.

    Musgraves was, understandably, upset about the horrific back-to-back mass murders that took place the first weekend of August in El Paso and Dayton. She did not offer a specific something to be done. This may have been an attempt to appear nonpartisan, it may have been honest uncertainty, or it may just have been a sensible intuition that the middle of a music festival was not the right place to workshop public policy.

    I would have thought that the old (over thirty years old!) BBC show "Yes, Prime Minister" would have ridiculed this sort of argument to a well-deserved death:

    There's even a Wikipedia page for the Politician's Syllogism:

    1. We must do something
    2. This is something
    3. Therefore, we must do this.

    So, Ms. Musgraves: not only are you pottymouthed, you've shown your ignorance of 1980s British comedy. Either should get you banned from the Grand Ole Opry.

    (Left a related comment at Reason.)


  • Drew Cline of the Josiah Bartlett Center, remembers the good old days of the Clamshell Alliance, and wonders how they're feeling today: 50 years after start of anti-Seabrook protests, a turn toward nuclear power.

    If San Francisco tech bro hipsters invented a carbon-free way to generate power 24/7, they would be hailed as saviors of the planet. Though they might yet come up with some use for a venti Matcha Green Tea Frappuccino, the energy technology in question predates them and even their retro clothes. In 1951 in Idaho, scientists for the first time used a nuclear reaction to generate electricity.  

    Though 59 nuclear power plants generate about 55 percent of the non-carbon-emitting power in the United States, they are still opposed by environmental activists who came of age in the 1970s.

    One of Drew's factoids: "A planned second reactor at the site was scrapped after lengthy legal battles. The additional 1,150 mw of power that would have been generated by a second reactor were instead generated by fossil-fuel-burning plants."

    Thanks a lot, Seabrook protesters!


  • You may have noticed CVS commemorating the five-year anniversary of its decision to stop selling tobacco in its stores. Unfortunately for CVS, so did Josh Bloom of the American Council on Science and Health. And he relates The Hypocrisy of CVS. Among other things he looks at the store's Homeopathic EarAche ear drops.

    For $9.99 you can buy 0.33 ounces of water with absolutely nothing useful in it. This can be ascertained simply by looking at the list of "active ingredients," assuming that you can even read it:

    [Homeopathic Ear Drops]

    Josh's translation:

    [translation]

    And it just gets better from there.


  • And finally, our Google LFOD news alert rang for an ill-tempered rant from a guy named "Monte Belmonte", apparently the wine columnist for a Massachusetts publication called the Valley Advocate. Because he was struck by the desire to write about "how the New Hampshire State Liquor Store is a crock of crap!”: New Hampshire’s tax-free liquor lie.

    The reason I was hit with this bolt of lightning idea must have been 1) I often stop at the New Hampshire State Liquor Store on the way to Southern Maine in order to stock up for the trip. 2) we were going away on tax-free weekend in Massachusetts. New Hampshire, famously, does not have a sales tax. Live free or die. And 3) I remembered having seen a Facebook post, written by one of Massachusetts’ most important movers and shakers in the world of wines and spirits, Table & Vine’s Michael Quinlan. In the post Quinlan decried the decision of our sister publication, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, to echo New Hampshire’s tax-free marketing propaganda to Massachusetts consumers.

    The promo stated "no taxation on our libations" and provided customers with a discount coupon equal to twice their state's sales tax rate. (Despite a having no sales tax, NH residents could get one for 13% off.)

    Monte's quite put out; he reads the promotion as implying that Massachusetts imposes sales tax on wine and liquor; they got rid of that (via ballot question) a few years ago. Hence the "lie" and "propaganda". But that didn't stop him from getting a couple bottles at the Hampton store off I-95.

    I'm not seeing the lie myself. It's not as if the promo says "Massachusetts charges a sales tax on liquor and wine"—that would be a lie. If I'm reading the relevant websites correctly, our other neighboring states, Maine and Vermont do, apparently, charge their sales tax rates on those items. So do Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island.

    [Update 2019-09-08: sorry, according to this page this page Rhode Island doesn't impose a sales tax on wine. They more than make up for it with a large excise tax.]

    Did Monte really expect a simple promo to go into state-by-state details?


Last Modified 2019-09-08 7:23 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2019-09-06

  • Obligatory note: Wired is probably the least politicized of the publications in the Condé Nast collection, but that's a very low bar. But they recently started putting up cartoons on their website, and I got a chuckle out of this one:

    [Cookies]

    See, it's funny because… oh, never mind.


  • A few days ago, Michael Huemer opined that Google Is Evil. Yeah, or maybe it's just very sick. Daniel Henninger wrote his WSJ (probably paywalled) column exploring The Google Syndrome.

    It may be time to take the big G out of Google. The company called Google has turned itself into a generic metaphor for our politicized times. In addition to being the name of a U.S. technology company, “google” should become a lowercase word for a psychological syndrome—such as attention-deficit disorder, paranoia or dissociative identity disorder. A person with google disorder would be diagnosed as being in the grip of an uncontrollable political mania.

    During the company’s early years, in keeping with what it called its culture of “openness” and the notion that employees should “bring their whole selves to work,” Google allowed thousands of internal message boards to proliferate. This must have seemed like a good idea at the time since Google employees are supersmart and presumably full of interesting, innovative thoughts.

    Henninger goes on to eviscerate Google's recent "Community Guidelines" memo addressed to its employees: "One of the striking things about [it] is how much of it sounds like a second-grade teacher talking to 7-year-olds."

    Being a recent University employee, I can relate.


  • Nick Gillespie at Reason relates 4 Memorable Moments From CNN’s Climate Town Hall. But before he does that:

    The Democratic contenders have laid out plans costing anywhere from about $1 trillion (Pete Buttigieg) to $16 trillion (Bernie Sanders) in direct federal spending on climate change over the next decade. About half of the candidates have endorsed the Green New Deal proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D–Mass.), which could cost as much as $90 trillion to implement. As important as any specific policy or position outlined last night were the general attitudes that were widely shared by the participants.

    A number likened fighting climate change to the effort to win World War II, a metaphor that perhaps says more about their comfort with regimenting society than the speakers intended. During World War II, all industrial production was overseen by the federal government, food and fuel were rationed, and civil liberties were sharply curtailed in the interest of defeating the Axis powers.

    And of course, about 70-85 million people perished in World War II. Modern governments are extremely good at killing people.


  • Reader, I bet you've never wondered if you can call people "terrorists" just for having different viewpoints.

    But you are not a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

    Jim Geraghty speaks truth to that particular power: You Can't Call People Terrorists Just for Having Different Viewpoints.

    We live in a time when authorities attempt to brazenly redefine the meaning of words by sheer force of will right before our eyes: “By a unanimous vote, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors have passed a resolution declaring the National Rifle Association a domestic terrorist organization and urging other cities to follow their example.” The resolution also orders city employees to “take every reasonable step to limit” business interactions with the NRA and its supporters.

    […]

    These city supervisors aren’t the FBI. They’re not the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. They’re not the National Counterterrorism Center.

    Terrorism is a crime, not merely a viewpoint. Being a member of Occupy Wall Street does not make you a terrorist. Being a member of Occupy Wall Street and planning to blow up a bridge makes you a terrorist. Being a Trump supporter doesn’t make you a terrorist. Being a Trump supporter and mailing pipe bombs to people you see as his enemies does make you a terrorist.

    Can anyone in San Francisco grasp the danger in letting politicians declare by proclamation that those who have committed no crimes but who have differing views are terrorists? Can anyone over there imagine how this mentality could turn out badly for someone they like?

    I believe the answers to Jim's questions in that last paragaph are, respectively, (1) Probably, but not enough to matter politically; and (2) No.


  • You may have been following the recent travails of Leif Olson. If not, Walter Olson will recap and summarize at Cato: Man Engages In Sarcasm On Social Media. Career Survives..

    This week, in one of the most unfair hatchet jobs I’ve seen over the years as a watcher of Washington journalism, a Bloomberg Law reporter took a heavily sarcastic Facebook post Leif Olson wrote three years ago and presented it as meant in all sincerity – complete with a partial screenshot which clipped off the comments that followed hailing the post as an elaborate exercise in sarcasm, which it obviously was.

    The original Bloomberg Law headline: "Trump Labor Aide Quits After Anti-Semitic Facebook Posts Surface" (and that's still in the URL).

    Current headline: "Trump Labor Aide Quits After Facebook Posts Surface (Corrected)".

    The article's author, Ben Penn, is whining about the understandable reaction, e.g.:

    As I type, Leif Olson has regained his post at the Labor Department.

    Also as I type, the miserable prick/repugnant child Ben Penn has apparently not been fired yet.


  • But Bloomberg isn't totally worthless. Michael R. Strain's column on the Elizabeth Warren Wealth Tax is worth reading. There are practical reasons why the tax won't collect anywhere near the amounts Warren claims. But (I think) the most important objections are at the end of Strain's column:

    The ostensible purpose of the wealth tax would be to finance the expanding entitlement state the Democrats want — the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, free college, universal child care, student debt forgiveness. According to Saez and Zucman, another aim would be to reduce the political power of the wealthiest households. They argue that the “root justification” for high tax rates “is not about collecting revenue.” Instead, “they aim at preventing an oligarchic drift that, if left unaddressed, will continue undermining the social compact and risk killing democracy.”

    I am not such a purist as to think that the only purpose of taxation should be to collect revenue — for example, I support tax credits for low-income households to encourage labor force participation and to fight poverty. But the “save democracy” approach is a bad use of the tax code.

    For one, it won’t work. You need a lot less than $50 million to be politically influential. And influence is much more diffuse than the plan’s advocates seem to think.

    Warren’s wealth tax would be an abuse of government power. It is the tax-code equivalent of looting mansions. What is wrong with the way these 75,000 families made their money? Why should we have special tax rules for a tiny fraction — 0.06% — of households?

    Paying taxes is not a punishment, and the tax code should not be used to penalize any group of citizens. Not even the very rich.

    The easiest way to destroy wealth is to make it subject to arbitrary confiscation. All those goodies suddenly seem to be worth a lot less when it becomes known that it's fair game for the legal plunderers.

Openness to Creative Destruction

Sustaining Innovative Dynamism

[Amazon Link]

This book has a clunky title. And somewhat misleading. The actual subject is in the subtitle: what the author, Arthur M. Diamond, Jr., calls "innovative dynamism" (which I'll just call "ID" from here on out.)

As Schumpeter observed, modern entrepreneurial capitalism involves both ID and "creative destruction". Can't have one without the other, as new ways of doing things leapfrog and obsolete the status quo. Diamond gives a full-throated defense of this process. Or, actually, celebration. Because, of course, we're unimaginably richer thanks to a few centuries of ID. And we should fervently hope for more in the future.

The book concentrates strictly on economic/business dynamism. (Appropriate, since Diamond is an econ prof at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.) Culture is the tail wagged by the economic dog here. I think that might be a slight problem, but it's a minor one at best. Diamond tells a rich and interesting story with lots of examples, both recent and historical. Colorful tales, for example, dying Steve Jobs demanding a more esthetically designed oxygen mask.

In my case, I didn't need a lot of persuading, but his thesis is pretty convincing: a healthy level of ID benefits society generally and nearly all individuals.

Problems: stifling regulations, onerous taxation both hold back ID. He makes a pretty good defense of patents (although he advocates reforms that would quash overly broad ones).

Although the book is published by Oxford University Press, there's nothing in here that would challenge a bright high schooler or an interested undergrad. Highly recommended.

The Rule of Nobody

Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government

[Amazon Link]

This sat in my "get at library" queue for a long time, and my newly-acquired Portsmouth Library card allowed me to get it, and so… sorry, I was kind of disappointed.

The author, Philip K. Howard, is unhappy, nay, disconsolate, with the state of American governance. In a phrase, we have become "rule happy", ever-increasing layers of detailed regulations that impede or prevent all sorts of worthy endeavors. Lots of anecdotes, like about the Bayonne Bridge road-raising project; it was delayed (but not successfully) by seemingly endless (but not actually endless) environmental review and litigation (probably frivolous).

Howard's argument is weak. He laments America's inability to "make public choices". But: one of the things he bemoans (page 41) is New Jersey's then-Governor Chris Christie's call to kill a plan to build a "much-needed train tunnel under the Hudson River".

But I wanted to protest to the author: that was a public decision made by an accountable official. In other words, the sort of thing you said you wanted to happen! And as near as I can tell, there's been no effort to revive this fantastically expensive project now that Christie's out of office.

Howard conveniently sums up his thesis in 18 "propositions", developed throughout the book. (Example, number 7: "Official authority requires an open area of choice defined by legal boundaries". Fine.)

His solution? Five (count 'em, five) constitutional amendments; he calls them collectively the "Bill of Responsibilities".

They aren't awful. There are even theoretically good ideas in there, like giving the President a line-item veto of spending items. But amendments are devilishly difficult to enact. My objection is the same as it is to a "balanced budget" amendment. If there's sufficient public agreement and sentiment for an amendment to do accomplish goal G, there's enough agreement to accomplish G legislatively. (I.e., just balance the freakin' budget, Congress; it only takes a majority vote.)

Simple Dreams

A Musical Memoir

[Amazon Link]

Linda Ronstadt's "musical memoir" is not great, but somewhat interesting to this longtime fan. She's a much better singer than she is a writer. (In fact, after reading some painful passages, I thought: "this is what a bad writer thinks a good writer writes like".)

One interesting observation is the stuff she leaves out. For example, back in the eighties, she played Sun City, in South Africa, during apartheid. For $500,000. In the face of an active boycott. And people were pissed.

There is nothing about Sun City in this book.

Also she had a relationship with George Lucas. Yes, the Star Wars guy. But… nothing about George here. (She only mentions that her great album Cry Like a Rainstorm was recorded at the Skywalker Sound studios.)

So it's incomplete. Linda just talks about what she wants to talk about. It's a real contrast to some of the other musician memoirs I've read, which get down into serial sexual infidelities, substance abuse details, scrapes with the law, etc. There's some of that here, like Linda claiming that the only time she tried cocaine and wound up having her nose cauterized. Ouch! And she got arrested once because her manager bought stolen airplane tickets for a trip to Hawaii.

So she mostly concentrates on the music. And I was impressed with her hands-on direction of her career; she could have just been a rock/pop goddess the entire time. But she followed her muse instead: Mexican music from her childhood, singing with her friends Dolly and Emmylou, American songbook classics, opera. Fine, but geez, I would have liked a few more rock/pop albums. Selfish, I know.

She's mostly complimentary to everyone. The only person she really slags is Jack Nitzsche, and only then because he was a very mean drunk. (This gets tedious after a while, say about the fiftieth time she compliments an acquaintance's amazing musicianship.)

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

[1.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I liked the first one just fine. But this one could not hold my interest.

Disclaimer: maybe the parts I dozed through were great.

But for the parts I saw: Newt Scaramander has lost most of the charming quirkiness he had in the first movie. Jacob Kowalski not as goofily clueless. Johnny Depp is "Grindelwald", and he's seemingly somnambulistic. Everything's dark. (I guess it's cheaper to do CGI in the dark.)

So, no movies 3, 4, or 5 for me, Ms. Rowling. Unless Mrs. Salad insists.

URLs du Jour

2019-09-05

  • We start today with a Tweet from Justin O'Donnell, Libertarian candidate for the New Hampshire seat in the US Senate currently occupied by Jeanne Shaheen:

    This is not an endorsement or a prediction that I'll be voting for Justin next November. But I like that meme.


  • David Harsanyi suggests Democrats use more honest language in their "gun control" proposals. To wit:

    The media should stop using absurdly lazy phrases like “mandatory gun buybacks.” Unless the politician they’re talking about is in the business of selling firearms, it’s impossible for him to “buy back” anything. No government official—not Joe Biden, not Beto O’Rourke, not any of the candidates who now support “buyback” programs—has ever sold firearms.

    What Democrats propose can be more accurately described as “the first American gun confiscation effort since Lexington and Concord,” or some variation on that theme. Although tax dollars will be meted out in an effort to incentivize volunteers, the policy is to confiscate AR-15s, the vast majority of which have been legally purchased by Americans who have undergone background checks and never used a gun for a criminal purpose.

    It's sad that this proposal polls as well as it does even with the euphemized rhetorical fog in which pollsters present it. But I guess the original Prohibition polled well at the time too, and we had to see it in practice before dumping it.


  • Jeff Jacoby suggests: We've had enough arrogant presidents. We need a humble one.

    Humility is out of fashion these days, particularly in the presidential realm. The current occupant of the White House is a pathological braggart, who boasts about everything from the size of his brain to the size of his crowds to the size of his fortune. Donald Trump claims to have "the world's greatest memory" and to "know more about ISIS than the generals." He even declares himself "much more humble" than anyone realizes.

    Trump's immodesty is plainly off the charts, but his predecessor was also possessed of a severely swollen ego.

    "I'm a better speechwriter than my speechwriters," Barack Obama told aides as a candidate for the White House. "I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I'll tell you right now that ... I'm a better political director than my political director." His accomplishments, he informed an interviewer in December 2011, superseded those of every other president, with the "possible exceptions" of Lincoln, FDR, and Lyndon Johnson.

    Politicians' personalities are probably several sigmas off the mean on any number of traits. Humility would be nice for a change, but I'm not sure non-humility is a dealbreaker.

    Probably I'm saying that because I listened to this week's Econtalk podcast between Russ Roberts and David Deppner. Among one of the least humble politicians: Winston Churchill. I can't argue that was a bad thing for Britain to have in a leader at that time.


  • Jacob Sullum writes at Reason, indicating that 1984 was probably 35 years too early: Defending ‘Reasoned Debate About Public Safety,’ San Francisco Supervisors Declare the NRA a ‘Domestic Terrorist Organization’.

    Yesterday the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously declared that the National Rifle Association is a "domestic terrorist organization," because words no longer have any meaning.

    Jacob supplies the text of the resolution so you can make your own call. Furthermore:

    The resolution does not mention any evidence that the NRA "incite[s] gun owners to acts of violence." But this quote from Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who introduced the resolution, gives you an idea of what she and her colleagues may have had in mind: "When they use phrases like, 'I'll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands' on bumper stickers, they are saying reasoned debate about public safety should be met with violence."

    That is not what they are saying. Even on a literal level, the slogan means that the person affixing it to his bumper is ready to forcibly resist any attempt to forcibly deprive him of his fundamental right to armed self-defense. More realistically, it is a hyperbolic way of saying the Second Amendment is really important to that person. It does not mean he is ready to shoot Catherine Stefani for advocating gun control. Nor should Stefani interpret the Gadsden Flag as a threat to sic rattlesnakes on her, or New Hampshire's state motto as an incitement to violent revolution.

    Hey, LFOD made it into Reason again!

    But we are long on despair today. Because you know that organization that prides itself on free and open discussion of all ideas, even ones you find hateful? Well…


  • Michael Graham of Inside Sources reveals The Anti-Biden Flier The New Hampshire ACLU Doesn't Want You To See.

    The national ACLU has some serious questions for former Vice President Joe Biden about his record on civil rights. They’ve paid for and sent out 100,000 copies of a flier pressuring him to answer those questions to Democratic-leaning households in South Carolina.

    But zero in New Hampshire.  Why?

    Here's a clue: African-American voters make up more than 60 percent of the electorate in the Democratic primary in South Carolina. And in New Hampshire the fraction is … somewhat less than that.

URLs du Jour

2019-09-04

[Amazon Link]

  • In our occasional "Because Of Course They Did" Department, Reason's Matt Welch notes that Republicans Choose Trumpism Over Property Rights and the Rule of Law.

    In more placid times, news that the president of the United States was encouraging aides to break the law by seizing swaths of private property along the southwestern border to build a wall might have caused more than a day's ripple.

    After all, legitimate controversy over the promiscuous threat of eminent domain (as well as illegitimate fears of a NAFTA Superhighway) dogged former Texas Gov. Rick Perry for a full decade, prompting him to eventually abandon his dreams of a Trans-Texas Corridor tollroad. And Perry wasn't out there dangling pardons and barking "take the land" to his staff.

    All I need? Some Republican who isn't worse.

    The Amazon Product du Jour comes up when searching for property rights. It has nothing to do with property rights, but I chuckled anyway.


  • At NR, Kevin D. Williamson muses on the Texas Shooting -- Gun-Control Proposals That Would Not Reduce Gun Crime.

    What might a serious proposal look like?

    For one thing, a serious proposal would not carry the hallmark of the unserious proposal — i.e., it would not be focused, as progressives’ proposals almost exclusively are, on creating additional restrictions for federally licensed firearms dealers and the people who do business with them, people who constitute one of the statistically least criminally inclined demographics in these United States. It is difficult to become a licensed firearms dealer, and doing business with one — which is the exercise of a constitutional right — requires a lot more scrutiny than does, say, voting: valid photo identification from a small list of approved sources, background check, copious paperwork, etc.

    The so-called assault rifles that make up a large part of the dealers’ inventories — because they are the most popular sporting firearms in the United States, owned by millions and millions of Americans — are used in crime so rarely that the FBI doesn’t even bother keeping statistics on them. Yes, they are sometimes used in the theatrical public shootings that sometimes command our national attention — which is what these acts of theater are intended to do — but those acts constitute a vanishingly small portion of violent crime in the United States. All “long guns” together — all rifles, shotguns, etc. — account for about 3 percent of murder weapons. For perspective: People who are beaten to death with the bare hands of their assailants are about double that percentage of all murder victims.

    Another key quote from the article: "There is not very much cause for panic, and there is not very much cause for a panicked crackdown on the legal sale of firearms through firearms dealers. But demagogues benefit from panic. Demagogues love nothing better than a population that is ignorant and terrified, one that needs only someone to blame."

    That's an observation that can be more widely applied outside this particular area.


  • At the Federalist, Willis L. Krumholz demands that The Right Needs To Adopt This Revolutionary Higher Ed Reform Plan Now. Ooh! What is it? Well, here's the first plank:

    Require every college that receives subsidized student loans to disclose the average income earned by graduates in each major, at least three years after graduating, and the percentage of graduates in that major who work in a field related to that major. The “personal responsibility” crowd says if you took out substantial student loans, its your own fault. But 18-year-olds shouldn’t be trusted with much, let alone picking a school and a major, while understanding the real cost of the loans they are taking out and their employment prospects after — when everyone is telling them to go to college.

    I'm more of a [Bryan] Caplanite than is Mr. Krumholz. There wouldn't be a need for additional regulation of higher ed if the government just minimized (or zeroed out) its role in the first place.

    Still, if you're not on board with that, Krumholz's ideas are worth a look.


  • The Bulwark can get sort of tedious with that anti-Trump shtick. But they write on other stuff too, for example Robert Tracinski with a debunking of the latest environmental hysteria of the hour, fires in the Amazon: The Problem Isn't the "Lungs of the Earth." It's the Brains of the Earth..

    A normal cycle of seasonal fires in the Amazon region touched off an international hysteria, with celebrities and politicians screaming that “the lungs of the Earth are in flames.”

    My favorite over-reaction is lefty writer Franklin Foer proposing a kind of eco-imperialism. Because Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has “presided over the incineration of the world’s storehouse of oxygen,” Foer argues that “inherited ideas about the sovereignty of states no longer hold in the face of climate change.” So we shouldn’t have invaded Iraq, but we should invade Brazil: “The destruction of the Amazon is arguably far more dangerous than the weapons of mass destruction that have triggered a robust response.”

    All that this demonstrates is the enormous contempt for science among those who loudly proclaim themselves to be on the side of science.

    They're on the side of science as long as they can use it as a tool to support increasing statism. Other than that, who cares?


  • And an evergreen topic is covered by David Harsanyi: Democrats Continue To Turn On The Constitution. Here's his column-length effort at Constitutionalism 101:

    The state isn’t here to give you everything you want—not even if what you want is extraordinarily popular with your fellow Americans.

    This is, no doubt, disorientating for voters who grew up believing they live in a “democracy.” In reality, our un-democratic constitutional bulwarks temper the vagaries of the majority. “Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates,” James Madison quipped, “every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.”

    The left will mock you for making this obvious observation. Yet many progressives don’t seem to understand the distinction between united states and a united state. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, for instance, recently took some heat from conservatives for claiming that the “weirdest thing about the electoral college is the fact that if it wasn’t specifically in the Constitution for the presidency, it would be unconstitutional.”

    Of course, there’s nothing “weird” about diffused democratic institutions. There is nothing weird about arguing for federalism. These should be the foundation for every policy debate. Every governing institution in the country, to some degree, is counter-majoritarian. Quite often, the counter-majoritarianism is the entire point. Hayes is under the impression that “one man, one vote” means every ballot needs to be plugged into a direct democracy, which is absurd.

    "Democracy" is a magic word to today's statists, but it's not in the Constitution. Neither is "equality" for that matter.


Last Modified 2019-09-04 3:35 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2019-09-03

[Amazon Link]

  • Will newsrooms be saved by Bernie Sanders' socialist nostrums? Do you remember what "nostrum" means? Find out the answer to both these burning questions at Jeff Jacoby's site: Newsrooms won't be saved by Bernie Sanders' socialist nostrums.

    WHEN YOUR only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail to be pounded. When you're Bernie Sanders and your only tool is socialism, every problem looks like a capitalist to be bashed.

    The septuagenarian senator from Vermont is an unabashed lifelong socialist, whose solutions to most problems involve more government, less freedom, and higher taxes. This week, in a 1,700-word essay published in the Columbia Journalism Review, he proposed a "plan for journalism" involving — can you guess? — more government, less freedom, and higher taxes. The capitalist-bashing begins in the second sentence: "Today's assault on journalism by Wall Street, billionaire businessmen, Silicon Valley, and Donald Trump presents a crisis — and [is] why we must take concrete action."

    Bernie's op-ed specifically singles out Gannett’s proposed merger with Gatehouse Media (which, not that it matters, owns my local newspaper, Foster's Daily Democrat). Generally, he proposes a whole bunch of government prohibitions, taxes, subsidies, regulations on the press in order to … promote a free press?

    "We had to destroy the village in order to save it." (Yes, I know that's a bogus quote.)

    But that's not all …


  • Nick Gillespie also lacks mixed feelings about Bernie's plan. Because Bernie Sanders’ Plan To Save Newspapers Is Wrong on Every Level. Sample:

    Sanders' distress over media consolidation rings hollow not simply because he merely rehashes old, played-out perennial complaints. Remember back in 2000 when the merger of AOL and Time Warner spelled the absolute doom of an independent press? Better yet, can you even remember AOL or Time magazine, once massive presences in media that are now desiccated ruins of their former selves? At a point when traditional broadcast TV and radio have never had less influence on public discourse, is the solution making sure that the "right" type and number of people—however defined—own the appropriate number of stations? Does anyone in their right mind think, as Sanders does, that a "targeted tax" on online advertising and "tech companies" will actually work to fund "independent public media" that will somehow report earnestly on the very government that ensures their existence?

    This is malarkey and it doesn't help that Sanders wraps it up in the same populist billionaire-baiting rhetoric he covers everything in, ideological maple syrup to sweeten what can only be understood as an unprecedented power grab over freedom of speech and the press.

    And that power grab?

    It's an absolute certainty that a Sanders administration would deploy that grabbed power asymmetrically against the perceived enemies of "progress" and "reform".


  • I'm noticing an upswell of "Hate Has No Home Here" yard signs. Kind of a secular version of what Jesus noticed and discussed in Matthew 6:5.

    So this article in Quillette from Geoffrey Miller is interesting: 'Virtue Signalling' May Annoy Us. But Civilization Would Be Impossible Without It. Skippng to the bottom line:

    What distinguishes good virtue signaling from bad virtue signaling isn’t just the reliability of the signal. It’s the actual real-world effects on sentient beings, societies and civilizations. When the instincts to virtue signal are combined with curiosity about science, open-mindedness about values and viewpoints, rationality about priorities and policies, and strategic savvy about ways and means, then wonderful things can happen. These more enlightened forms of virtue signaling have sparked the Protestant Reformation, American Revolution, abolitionist movement, anti-vivisection movement, women’s suffrage movement, free speech movement, and Effective Altruism movement. But when the instincts to virtue signal are not combined with curiosity, open-mindedness, rationality and strategic savvy—that’s when you get Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, Stalin’s Holodomor, Hitler’s Holocaust, Mao’s Cultural Revolution…and Twitter.

    If that intrigues you, click through for the argument leading up to it.


  • So "virtue signalling" might be OK at times. But how about that lefty bugaboo, "cultural appropriation"? At NR, Alec Dent carves out an exception: Linguistic Evolution Is Not ‘Cultural Appropriation’.

    Late last week, BuzzFeed published an article on the phrase “sksksksksk,” which was . . . about as silly as you’d imagine. The long and short of its argument? Among today’s youths, “sksksksksk” is a popular slang term that originated in the black community, and if you’re white and use it, you are “appropriating language from black communities.”

    The concept of cultural appropriation is hardly new, but the linguistic policing that serves as the basis for the BuzzFeed article takes it to a new level. Accusations of cultural appropriation are usually leveled against white people who adopt elements of another ethnicity’s culture in a way that is perceived as making light of that culture’s history and traditions. (I say “perceived” because, of course, perception does not align with reality in every case.) But sksksksksks is different. It has no rich history; it is a rather young phrase, which, the author admits at the very end of the article, started in Brazil as a variant of “kkkkkkkk,” a standard phrase Brazilians use to express laughter in text. What’s more, English, like any language, is built on adopting new words and phrases into the mainstream. And by necessity, in order to become mainstream, a word must cross racial and cultural divides.

    Comparing this article with Geoffrey Miller's, I'd suggest to Alec: there's good cultural appropriation and bad. Probably civilization would be impossible without it to some degree. Might as well take the big-tent approach to the concept, then focus in on what's really bothering you about a particular case, and whether that can be generalized without [Warning: cliché ahead] tossing the baby out with the bathwater.


  • Seems like only yesterday that two exemplars of ideologies everyone assumed to be mortal enemies managed to cooperate in kicking off one of the great horrors. Bryan Caplan looks at you, Communism and Fascism.

    In September of 1939, almost exactly 80 years ago, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union started World War II  by invading Poland.  Though Hitler double-crossed Stalin two years later, the secret provisions of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact explicitly divided Eastern Europe between them.  How was this alliance possible – and what was it all about?  False modesty aside, I think that my encyclopedia articles on Communism and Fascism are a fine place to start.

    A good thing to remember.

URLs du Jour

2019-09-02

Happy Labor Day! Or, as we know it at Pun Salad Manor: Monday, except no mail or Wall Street Journal. Capitalist swine that I am, let me share a bit of propaganda from AEI:

[Happy Capital and Labor Day]

And for our regularly-scheduled programming…

  • Daniel J. Mitchell does a fine job of accumulating links demonstrating The Recycling Folly. His bottom line?

    The bottom line is that most recycling programs impose a fiscal and personal cost on people for very meager environmental benefits.

    Indeed, the benefits are often negative once indirect costs are added to the equation.

    So why is there still support in some quarters?

    In part, it’s driven by contributions from the companies that get paid to process recycled material.

    But that’s only part of the story. Recycling is a way for some people to feel better about themselves. Sort of an internalized version of virtue-signalling.

    That’s not a bad thing. I like a society where people care about the environment and feel guilty about doing bad things, like throwing trash out car windows.

    But I’m a bit old fashioned in that I want them to feel good about doing things that actually make sense.

    Landfills are (as Mitchell notes) "cheap, safe, and plentiful". They should be encouraged. Instead, we get the Great Pacific garbage patch.


  • At the Daily Wire, Ashe Schow deflates another Cause for Alarm: MSNBC Claims National Zoo Could Lose Pandas Due To Trade War With China. There Is No Evidence To Support This..

    On Thursday, the network ran a segment claiming the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. “could lose pandas over Trump’s trade war.” The 1 minute, 40 second segment offered exactly zero evidence that this was anything other than a completely made up fear from MSNBC.

    “The president’s trade war with China could soon cost the National Zoo in D.C. its most beloved attraction,” said Ayman Mohyeldin, filling in for Katy Tur. “As tensions rise between the U.S. and China over trade, the pandas that thousands flock to see eat bamboo and tumble down their habit could be sent to China, which technically owns them. The vulnerable species is only on loan here in the U.S.”

    Sounds like another case of reporters desperately making up stories. They can't just say "sorry, no news today".

    And, after all, it's not like pandas are difficult to get…


  • Wow. Tyler Cowen interviewing Neal Stephenson. That's like a perfect storm of smartness. Sample:

    [Cowen:] If we had a Mars colony, how politically free do you think it would be? Or would it just be perpetual martial law, like living on a nuclear submarine?

    [Stephenson:] I think it would be a lot like living on a nuclear submarine. Being in space is almost like being in an intensive care unit in a hospital, in the sense that you're completely dependent on a whole bunch of machines working in order to keep you alive. A lot of what we associate with personal freedom becomes too dangerous to contemplate in that kind of environment.

    Um, good point. If I were to emphasize one point in my "Genealogy" of Morality post from a few days ago, it's that general facts about the social environment (specifically: you're on Mars, and the outside atmosphere is 6 mbar of mostly CO2) can drastically change your moral code.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson reminds us why Joe Biden is Unfit for the Presidency.

    There are two possible explanations of Joe Biden’s inability to tell the truth about things: One is that his mind is failing him, the other is that his honor is. In neither case is Biden fit to hold the office of president of the United States of America, and Democrats would discredit themselves and endanger the nation to nominate him.

    Yes, yes, go ahead — “But, Trump!” etc. — and continue when you’ve completed the ritual of equivocation, and don’t think too hard about how far and in what direction that line of moral self-justification has carried the Republican party.

    Joe Biden is a plagiarist and a liar, among other things. In the most recent example, detailed by the Washington Post, Biden made up a story in which he as vice president displayed personal courage and heroism in traveling to a dangerous war zone in order to recognize the service of an American soldier who had distinguished himself in a particularly dramatic way. It was a moving story. “This is the God’s truth,” he concluded. “My word as a Biden.”

    Upside: Trump-Biden debates might be the most surreal TV series ever.


Last Modified 2019-09-02 2:43 PM EDT

Lion

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This 2016 movie was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture. So about time I saw it, right? (Not that it matters, but I've now seen seven out of the nine nominees from that year. Only missing the winner, Moonlight, and Manchester by the Sea.)

Opening is in desperately poor India, where young Saroo and his older brother Guddu try to make things a little better for their mom and baby sister by swiping coal from passing trains, and selling it for milk. Which is fine, except one night Saroo and Guddu get separated, Saroo gets on a train looking for him, and promptly gets whisked away to far-off Calcutta.

Saroo avoids one disaster after another; Calcutta is a lousy place to be a kid on your own. But eventually, he's adopted by a saintly Australian couple.

Fast-forward a couple of decades, and Saroo is a young man with a hot girlfriend. But he's tormented with memories of his lost family, and undertakes to backtrace his journey, and find them. This causes a lot of stress. But eventually… Well, do you think this movie would have been made if Saroo failed to get back to his boyhood home?

So, not bad, but Netflix thought I would like it better.

Die A Stranger

[Amazon Link]

Continuing with my "Catch Up on Steve Hamilton" reading project. This one's from 2012. Getting there!

It's in his series of books with protagonist Alex McKnight. Ex-ballplayer, ex-cop, ex-PI, Alex just wants to live in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and quietly rent his cabins to tourists. But as usual…

It's a sad time for Alex's Native American friend Vinnie; his mother has passed away. She was a wise old bird, and Vinnie's disconsolate. And soon, very drunk. And then inexplicably goes missing, in the company of his ne'er-do-well cousin Buck.

And (oh oh) this disappearance comes at the same time as a mass murder carried out at a small remote airfield, where incoming Canadian hydroponic marijuana is traded for cash. This is no coincidence.

Alex is still a decent detective, and accompanied by Vinnie's long-lost father (who everyone assumed was still in jail), he sets off to track down his missing friend. It's a safe bet that he'll find himself in mortal danger.

Pretty good outing for Alex, I kept turning the pages. An ending I did not see coming.

Big Business

A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero

[Amazon Link]

Another likely candidate for whenever next I do a "Ten Best" list for books. Tyler Cowen attempts to earn respect for an institution that gets way too little admiration and respect in modern America. Case in point:

So Liz and her fans would be a great target audience for this. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how realistic it would be to expect that to happen.

In my case, however, Tyler's pushing on an already-open door. But I found it still worth reading, because of his contrarian takes, useful statistics, and unexpected insights. (He's a polymath, and it shows.) He's not a Pollyanna about corporations; he points to attitudes and trends that that should change. But on the realistic whole: big business is a massive plus for the USA.

He conveniently takes up, analyzes, and (mostly) refutes common criticisms, one chapter devoted to each:

  • Are businesses more fraudulent than the rest of us? Tyler lists some biggies right up front: Volkswagen, Theranos, Wells Fargo. Bad actors, no doubt. But a good question to ask in reply is: Compared to what?

  • Are CEOs paid too much? Most of such criticism is based on envy and resentment. There's also commonly bad faith involved: the critics are simply using the argument to bolster their own goals, typically political. (Tyler doesn't make this argument much, but I will.)

    But Tyler notes that good CEOs are expensive; you can't just promote a middle-management schlub and expect him to have the necessary skill set. Supply of CEO-grade execs is limited. And the value of an excellent CEO is extreme.

  • Is work fun? This one's easy: no matter how we complain about our jobs, people without jobs are, on average, undeniably worse off. And the psychology is pretty unequivocal: a job done well, no matter how menial, is rewarding to the doer, even over and above his take-home pay.

  • How monopolistic is American big business? Outside of a few limited areas (health care, cable TV, cellular providers) there's not a lot to worry about here. Whatever the theoretical market dominance in an area might be, prices stay low, service remains fine; that's what really matters.

  • Are the big tech companies evil? They're not great, but evil is a stretch.

  • What is Wall Street good for, anyway? The preeminence of American financial service companies is too little appreciated. And it's little known (at least I didn't know it) how America is a tax and banking haven for the rest of the world.

    People demonize Wall Street largely because they don't understand finance. (I don't demonize Wall Street, even though I don't understand finance; I'm just happy with the performance of my retirement and non-retirement funds.)

  • Crony capitalism: How much does big business control the American government? This one was a little eye-opening, because crony capitalism has been a big bugaboo for me. Tyler agrees with the problem, but simply convinces me that it's not a huge problem, because the magnitude in comparison with the total economy is small.

  • If business is so good, why is it so disliked? Or: what is Elizabeth Warren's deal anyway? Tyler's answer revolves around the idea of "corporate personhood"; even the people who deny corporate personhood in one context can act as if it were a real thing in another. (Business doesn't help when it markets itself in anthropomorphic terms: "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there." "If you can't afford your medication, AstraZeneca may be able to help.)

You really need to read the book to get the full weight of Tyler's arguments, and if you're at all interested (you read down to here, anyway) I strongly recommend you check it out.

The Phony Campaign

2019-09-01 Update

[Amazon Link]

Welcome to September 2019; we have 163 days to go before the New Hampshire Primary.

No major changes in our table this week. Same lineup. Yes, Kirsten dropped out of the race, but Betfair bettors gave her effectively zero chance long ago.

Speaking of Betfair, they (again) judged the odds of President Elizabeth Warren to be slightly better this week than last. Bernie improved a bit, too. Wheezy Joe Biden was the largest probability loser. And Mayor Pete continues to hover just above our elimination threshold.

Joe also (understandably) had the biggest increase in phony hits this week; see below.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
8/25
Phony
Results
Change
Since
8/25
Donald Trump 44.3% -0.1% 1,540,000 -120,000
Bernie Sanders 7.7% +1.3% 826,000 -194,000
Pete Buttigieg 2.6% unch 708,000 -209,000
Joe Biden 12.8% -1.7% 452,000 +45,000
Elizabeth Warren 16.4% +1.7% 216,000 -12,000
Kamala Harris 4.8% -0.3% 107,000 -14,000
Andrew Yang 3.3% +0.5% 36,700 +7,400

"WinProb" calculation described here. Google result counts are bogus.

  • At the Federalist, Alex Castellanos offered The Pundit's Guide To Handicapping The Democratic Nomination. He has a lot to say about all the major candidates, and minor ones too. Here's part of his take on Kamala;

    Candidates with depth don’t attack an opponent for holding the same position they do on busing, as Harris did. Serious candidates don’t attack the same Medicare for All bill they have sponsored, although Harris did that as well. More importantly, Harris has tied herself into a knot running away from her prosecutorial record in California.

    Instead of owning it and demonstrating strength, e.g., “Darn right, I was a tough prosecutor. If you commit a crime, if you victimize the weakest among us, and especially if you target disadvantaged African-American victims, I’m going to come after you, regardless of whether you are black, white, or purple.”

    No, Harris tried to pretend she had been something she was not, while her record mysteriously disappeared from the government of California’s website. As I’ve said of Harris, when you’ve locked up more black Americans than George Wallace, it’s hard to be the greatest civil rights advocate in American history. And when you float around like a butterfly on issues and process your record through a blender, you raise doubts you can lead the nation.

    In her favor, she's the best-looking of the Democratic candidates not named Tulsi.


  • In his Morning Jolt column at National Review, Jim Geraghty takes issue with a WaPo writer who made a wildly off-target characterization of an earlier piece about President Trump. Jim clarifies, and I quote because it's a pretty good approximation to my own:

    I never liked Trump’s character or how he sees the job on the presidency — talk-radio-caller-in-chief, don’t-bother-him-with-policy-details, demagogue-when-convenient — but I like some of the policies. I like almost all of the judicial nominations. I like tax cuts. I like rolling back federal regulations. I’m glad ISIS has been beaten to a pulp, if not completely eliminated. I like Right to Try for those facing terminal illnesses. I like the majority of the criminal-justice-reform legislation, particularly the anti-recidivism programs in federal prisons. I like getting rid of the individual mandate to purchase health insurance. I like keeping foreign aid money from paying for abortions. I want a secure border and concur with the Customs and Border Patrol that additional miles of barriers, or “bollard fence,” or whatever you prefer to call it is part of the solution (but not the entire solution). I like that the United States is now the world’s largest oil producer and a net natural-gas exporter, while our carbon emissions are declining slightly. I like blowing up Syrian air bases when Assad uses chemical weapons. I like NATO allies spending more on defense.

    I also think that Trump only says variations of about six thingsI am the greatest, that good thing that happened was because of me, it’s not my fault, my critics are terrible people, here’s a version of history that I just made up in my head, and look at that woman’s appearance. He’s got no business lecturing anybody else about loyalty, and he’s easily fooled by sycophantic idiots; his attacks on critics cross the line into racism; he has indeed stoked xenophobic attitudes in this country, in part because he’s never contradicted his supporters’ belief that citizenship is conditional; he has the impulse control of a sugar-filled toddler; he constantly blames others for his own bad decisions; and he seems wildly naïve in his dealings with Kim Jong-un and certain other dictators.

    I have an often-irritating president who gives me some of what I want — or who will at least sign some of what I want into law — up against a variety of options who pledge to give me almost nothing I want, and who are promising to repeal the things I like. I don’t particularly like this status quo, but I prefer it to a Bolshevik Revolution or turning our already-too-divided society into an endless status competition of woker-than-thou.

    I could have written that. If I were a ten times better writer.


  • Nick Gillespie of Reason also has a "balanced" view of Trump. And he recently noted If You Freak Out Over This Trump Fan Video, You’re Playing Into His Hands. For the record, I did not freak out; see how you do:

    Observant Nick notes, in case you missed it, the testicular oscillations on the bull illustrating the DJIA rise. More:

    What should be shocking to people are the ways in which Trump deviates from worn-out GOP positions and embraces some Democratic policies too. He's been good on criminal-justice reform, for instance, has spoken out against military adventurism, and was better than Hillary Clinton on ending marijuana prohibition. He has been more forward on school choice than any president and he embraces paid family leave too. These are not all good things, in my view, and his negatives, especially on immigration and trade, are disturbing as hell. But especially from a libertarian perspective, he's a mixed bag, as are all presidents.

    Put slightly differently, he is mostly an abomination, but that merely makes him the most recent president, not history's greatest monster.

    Um, good point there. Things could be worse. Odds are, they will be.


  • At NR, Kat Timpf notices something you may not have: Beto O’Rourke Wants to Be an Instagram Model.

    Think about it: Beto O’Rourke has become (in)famous for insisting on posting videos of himself doing everyday things. Like getting his haircut. Or changing a tire. Or visiting the dentist. Truly, he actually seems to be clinically unable to prevent himself from doing so. In fact, even after a relaunch of his campaign on August 15 gave him the chance to set a different tone, he simply could not resist posting a video of himself struggling to make the world’s saddest cheeseburger just a matter of weeks later.

    The bad news for you, Beto, is that approximately no one wants to see a politician doing this. The good news? There is another (sort of) profession that not only accepts, but also actually requires this kind of content. Yes — I am talking about the Instagram model.

    Given that Beto! has Betfair odds way worse than Hillary Clinton's, Kat's strategy has literally no downside.


  • Still at NR, Mairead McArdle reports on the latest about Mayor Pete: Buttigieg denounces 'Hypocrisy' of Vice President, Other Christian Politicians.

    Asked by Religion News whether he would call “sinful” those Christian politicians who supported the Trump administration’s since-scrapped policy of separating families arrested after crossing the southern border illegally, Buttigieg declined to go that far.

    “I’ll be careful to use that word to kind of point out a speck in my brother’s eye,” the South Bend, Ind. mayor replied. “What I would say is that it’s clear that some naked sins are being at best condoned by people who then summon religious arguments. That rings more and more hollow.”

    “It’s not just that we might have a different interpretation of faith, it’s that these arguments no longer stack up even on their own merits, right?” the openly gay Buttigieg continued. “For example, Mike Pence’s view of Christian sexuality is obviously a little different than mine. But even with his view, it makes no sense to condone this president and his behavior. So there’s two layers to this. There’s the fact that I subscribe to a vision of faith that leads me to a certain place politically. But it’s also just seeing the hypocrisy among people who now endorse people and practices that are offensive, not only to my values, but to their own.”

    Let me just say that Buttigieg has a point there.

    But let me also say that Matthew 7:1-5, to which Buttigieg refers, is too easily interpreted as "the only sin that matters is hypocrisy". And I think Mayor Pete makes that mistake.


  • [Amazon Link]
    And (back at Reason again) J.D. Tuccille notes that Elizabeth Warren’s ‘Economic Patriotism’ Doubles Down on Bad Policy.

    Perhaps the only person who dislikes foreigners and free trade more than the economic ignoramus who occupies the White House is another economic ignoramus who wants to occupy the White House.

    "A lot of giant companies refer to themselves as 'American,'" snipes Elizabeth Warren, Democratic presidential wannabe and U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, in a recent campaign advertisement. "But face it, they have no loyalty or allegiance to America."

    I have just finished reading Tyler Cowen's new book, Big Business (currently a steal at Amazon for a mere $11.26 as I type) which makes a directly relevant point: the people who (unfairly) jeered Mitt Romney's 2016 "Corporations are people" remark… are the same people who, like Warren, talk about corporations as if they are or should be people.

    More on Tyler's book later today on the book blog. (Link available on your right.)


  • Ah, but there are weeks when this entire feature could just be about Joe 'I’m Not Going Nuts' Biden.

    Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden told supporters in New Hampshire on Friday he was "not going nuts," when he stumbled over the location of where he spoke at an event a few hours earlier.

    "We are so close, so close to being able to do some incredible things for this country. Incredible things," Biden said. "I just spoke at Dartmouth on health care at the medical school or not—I guess I wasn't actually on the campus, but the people from the medical school—I want to be clear. I'm not going nuts and I'm not sure whether it was a medical school or where the hell I spoke, but it was on the campus."

    It's understandable. Wheezy Joe is just going where people tell him, getting on and off planes, in and out of cars… Pretty soon, it becomes a blur where you only remember small soundbites to clue you on your location, like "Dartmouth" or "medical school".

    And in that atmosphere so very removed from normal life, it's easy to confuse reality with a good story. Unfortunately, reality-based reporters will listen to you and, knowing your reputation, will fact-check your ass. Also at the Free Beacon: WaPo Investigation Finds 'Almost Every Detail' of Biden War Story False.

    A Washington Post investigation found that a war story frequently told by 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on the campaign trail was false in nearly every detail.

    At a Friday New Hampshire rally, Biden told the crowd that as vice president he had once been asked to travel to the dangerous Kunar province in Afghanistan to pin the Silver Star on a war hero who had rappelled down a steep wall to retrieve the body of a fallen comrade. Biden said he ignored others who warned him not to go. "We can lose a vice president," he remembered saying. "We can't lose many more of these kids."

    In Biden's telling, as he pinned the medal to the hero's chest, the tearful Navy captain told Biden that he didn't deserve the medal because he hadn't saved his friend in time. "This is the God's truth," he told the audience. "My word as a Biden."

    Except it wasn't. "Almost every detail in the story appears to be incorrect," the Post reported Thursday. "Based on interviews with more than a dozen U.S. troops, their commanders and Biden campaign officials, it appears as though the former vice president has jumbled elements of at least three actual events into one story of bravery, compassion and regret that never happened."

    With reference to "We can lose a vice president, we can't lose many more of these kids.": Biden went to Afghanistan in 2008, before he was Veep. During (roughly) the Obama-Biden Administration, 2009-2016 there were 1729 US fatalities in Afghanistan.

    So maybe Joe should take Jonah Goldberg's advice: Biden's best bet is a front-porch campaign.

    Biden is crushing Donald Trump in the polls in no small part because he is a known quantity, having been on the public stage for decades, most notably as VP for eight years under Barack Obama. Biden’s lead in matchups between Trump and various Democratic candidates is his single greatest advantage in the Democratic primaries.

    The risk for Biden is that he’s not a good presidential campaigner, as his two prior attempts demonstrated. While he may be showing signs of age, the truth is that he’s always been prone to gaffes, malapropisms, exaggerations, and misstatements. Every time Biden opens his mouth in an unscripted situation, there’s a chance he’ll say something goofy that undercuts his elder-statesman status.

    So why play the game the way the others are playing it? In most sports, when you’re ahead by double digits, the smart (though boring) strategy is to play it safe and sit on your lead. Getting into arguments with political Lilliputians such as Senator Corey Booker and Andrew Yang elevates their profile while lowering Biden’s. And if Biden loses his cool and starts shouting, “And you can take those ducks to the bank!” or “My pants are made of iron!” the game is over.

    Downside: a heavily-scripted Biden is a much less entertaining Biden. And I can see certain upsides to a candidate periodically revealing himself as a blustering phony untethered from reality. He can always tell himself: Hey, this worked for Trump.