URLs du Jour

2019-11-20

[Amazon Link]

  • We open with another quote from Deirdre McCloskey's new book, provided by Alberto Mingardi at the Library of Economics and Liberty: Deirdre's Test.

    To test your belief that the government is your own (good) will generalized, and to test in particular your disbelief in the centrality of coercion in government, I suggest an experiment on April 15 of not paying your US income taxes – perhaps giving voluntarily a few contributions in strict proportion to the share of the government’s budget you judge to be effective and ethical. Whether you tend toward left or right on the conventional spectrum, you will have plenty of corrupting items in mind NOT to give to. The new fighter jet that doesn’t work. The corporate subsidy that does.

    Then try resisting arrest. Then try escaping from prison. Then tr[y] resisting re-arrest. After release, if ever, you will note the contrast with the non-policy, non-police arenas of commerce or persuasion. Try buying an iPhone rather than a Samsung. Nothing happens. Try not agreeing with McCloskey. Ditto. You will observe a sharp difference from your experience with the entity possessing the monopoly of coercion, even in Goetborg or St. Paul.

    We mulled on Senator Liz's coining of "traffic violence" as a concept. What needs to be explored, mulled over, instead: actual government violence. But it won't be; it's considered business as usual, the nature of the beast.

    Anyway, the quote is from Deirdre's new book, our Amazon Product du Jour, and I wonder if I'll need to read it if I keep posting excerpts from it.


  • We also have a pretty good quote from a pretty good article by Kevin D. Williamson at National Review: Marco Rubio & Elizabeth Warren Are Wrong: Capitalism Is Not a Rival to the Common Good.

    This is a time of great forgetting, and one of the things that has been forgotten is why we have a federal government and what it is there to do.

    From Senator Marco Rubio and his “common-good capitalism” to Senator Elizabeth Warren and her “accountable capitalism,” politicians right and left who want politicians to have more power over private economic decisions assume a dilemma in which something called “capitalism” must be balanced against or made subordinate to something called the “common good.” This is the great forgetful stupidity of our time.

    Capitalism is not a rival to the common good. Capitalism, meaning security in one’s own property and in the right to work and to trade, is the common good that governments exist to secure.

    Geez, I could just keep going, copy-n-pasting paragraph after paragraph. But I shouldn't; instead I will explicitly encourage you to do that which is usually implicit: Read The Whole Thing.


  • At Reason, Peter Suderman whistles the ball dead after a desperate fourth-down play: Elizabeth Warren Gives Up on Medicare for All.

    Technically she still supports a single-payer system that would outlaw most private health insurance and charge the federal government with financing virtually all of the nation's health care. But less than a month after releasing a half-baked plan to finance single-payer, the Massachusetts Democrat released yet another plan—an implementation timeline that calls for passing full-fledged Medicare for All in year three of her presidency. 

    That is not a plan to pass Medicare for All; it is an acknowledgment that it will never happen.

    Her real, primary, sole goal is to get elected, full stop. No matter what previously-held principles or positions she thinks need to be altered, jettisoned, or reversed to accomplish that feat.


  • … but for an alternative take from a "respectable" analyst, Bloomberg columnist Max Nisen: Elizabeth Warren Has a Smart Hedge on Medicare for All. How smart is it?

    Warren doesn’t give a price for the interim option but expects that it would cost less than the $20.5 trillion in new federal spending she projects Medicare for All will require over 10 years. The plan’s cost, structure, and comparative moderation should make it easier to pass via the reconciliation process and with even a slim Democratic majority in the Senate. Passing it still won’t be easy, but it’s a more realistic and quicker option than needing to end the filibuster or immediately shift to a single-payer plan.

    Warren will still have to go and defend her approach to both Medicare for All absolutists and more moderate rivals. But she has better answers for both now and offers an appealing third path; more realistic than Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s, more ambitious than Biden’s or Buttigieg’s.

    "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." But, as I'm sure Senator Liz is thinking: … but I only need to fool enough people for as long as it takes to get elected.


  • This is turning into an all-Warren day. Jeff Jacoby notes: Elizabeth Warren plays the "sexism" card. Wheezy Joe and Mayor Pete criticized her for her dogmatic and antagonistic rhetoric, and oh my stars:

    "It's the same old ugly caricatures of women," liberal strategist (and Warren donor) Rebecca Katz, told the Washington Post. In The Atlantic, Megan Garber tied the charge that Warren is too angry to "the dark and ugly history in which the anger displayed by a woman is assumed to compromise her [and] render her unattractive." The headline in The American Prospect bristled with outrage: "Biden's and Buttigieg's Sexist Attacks."

    Warren's media claque routinely plays the sexism card. Pundits who wonder about Warren's likeability, they say, are being sexist. So is anyone who presses Warren to explain the details on her Medicare-for-All plan. So is anyone who likens Warren to Hillary Clinton.

    True enough that the "same old ugly caricatures" are objectionable. Because they're boring. Couldn't we have some new ugly caricatures for a change?

Both Flesh and Not

[Amazon Link]

A posthumous book of essays and articles issued by the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust.

This is a good book on which to invoke my standard disclaimer: these blog entries for the books I've read are not "book reviews". They're more like "book reports". I.e., I report my reaction to the book, and your mileage may definitely vary.

There are a couple of long (nay, seemingly interminable) essays of literary criticism. It's DFW, so I assume they are not insufferable pretentious crap. It's just that I was unable to distinguish them from insufferable pretentious crap. My bad. I only claim: I looked at every page.

But those two clunkers aside, this is a poignant reminder of the voice that was self-stilled back in 2008. Funny, smart, deeply insightful. (Yes, and also a victim of Bush Derangement Syndrome, as a couple of screedy passages reveal.)

A mark of a fine writer: DFW can get me hooked on writing about a subject I don't care one whit about, like professional tennis. Don't miss the footnotes, where he, for example, muses on Jimmy "Connors's compulsive on-court touching and adjustment of his testes within his jock, as if he needed to know just where they were at all times."

And he also managed to explicate (in "The Nature of the Fun") my own blogging attitude: you can be writing for your own enjoyment, and that's fun; but when you start to get noticed, that fun can transform itself into wanting to be liked. Being liked, well, that's fun too. But it's a different kind of fun, and it can turn you into a different kind of writer.

Damn, I miss him.

URLs du Jour

2019-11-19

  • Cafe Hayek brings us the Quotation of the Day from Deirdre McCloskey's new book, Why Liberalism Works.

    The more complex and specialized and spontaneously bettering an economy is, the less it can be planned, the less a central planner however wise and good can know about the trillions of preferences and plans for consumption and production and betterment. A household or your personal life might possibly be plannable, though anyone who believes it with much confidence has not lived very long. But a big, modern economy has vastly too much going on to plan.

    A good thing to keep in mind when Elizabeth Warren says she's "got a plan for that." Because…


  • Kyle Smith looks at 'em: Elizabeth Warren's Plans: Misconceived, Impractical, or Downright Bonkers.

    Time for another episode of Strange Thoughts with Elizabeth Warren. “Traffic violence kills thousands and injures even more Americans every year,” Senator Warren said on Twitter. “On World Day of Remembrance for Traffic Crash Victims, I’m sending my love to the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones. It’s time to #EndTrafficViolence.

    “Traffic violence” is quite a phrase. In the end, it may be all that anyone remembers of Warren’s decreasingly persuasive but increasingly eccentric campaign. In this bold new framing, cars are not the principal way Americans get around, with fatalities being an unfortunate but blessedly rare occurrence (one per 100,000,000 vehicle miles traveled, a rate that is down more than 80 percent in my lifetime). No, to Warren, cars are instruments of violence like, I don’t know, nunchucks or fuel-injected guillotines, and so she issues her clarion tweet to #EndTrafficViolence. So, right now, November 18, 2019, “it’s time” for us to zero out deaths from cars? How? On what planet?

    Say one thing about "traffic violence": as a concept, it makes about as much sense as "gun violence". And I suspect Senator Liz is living in a reality-resistant bubble where her inner Progressive logic is pushing her to ever more ridiculous positions and schemes.


  • At Reason, Robby Soave reports the latest on right-wing infighting: Young America’s Foundation Excommunicates Michelle Malkin for Defending Nick Fuentes.

    Young America's Foundation (YAF) has removed Michelle Malkin, a right-wing writer and pundit, from its roster of featured speakers. Malkin, the author of a number of books—including, most recently, Open Borders Inc: Who's Funding America's Destruction?—has toured campuses as part of YAF's speakers bureau for 17 years.

    The firing comes as a result of Malkin's vocal support for 22-year-old far-right provocateur Nick Fuentes and his allies, the groypers (yes, that's what they call themselves).

    "YAF gives a platform to a broad range of speakers with a range of views within the mainstream of conservative thought," wrote YAF. "Immigration is a vital issue that deserves robust debate. But there is no room in mainstream conservatism or at YAF for holocaust deniers, white nationalists, street brawlers, or racists."

    Looking back at Pun Salad archives: I used to link to ma belle Michelle Malkin a lot. A year-by-year count:

    12 2005
    14 2006
    15 2007
    21 2008
    8 2009
    5 2010
    1 2011
    3 2012
    2 2013
    1 2014
    2 2017
    2 2018

    I. e., a huge dropoff starting in 2009, nothing at all in 2015 or 2016, and nothing so far in 2019. And here it is in mid-November.

    So maybe she's changed, or I have.

    I'd like to give her the benefit of doubt: it's silly to call this woman of Philippine descent a "white nationalist", and if she's a Holocaust denier, or even an anti-Semite, I'd think the evidence for that would be … well, more evident.

    And it could be that "vocal support" for objectionable people is more like Michelle refusing to get on the treadmill of condemnation at the never-ending demands of SPLC types.

    Or it could be that she's really gone off the deep end. I dunno.


  • Issues & Insights reports & reminds: FedEx Paid No 2018 Federal Corporate Taxes — A Reminder That The Tax Rate Should Be Zero. It's a good reminder of why a certain breed of politicians love taxes on corporations: it allows them to obscure some simple truths:

    Before anyone gets too worked up about low and zero corporate rates, don’t forget who really pays the taxes: consumers through higher prices, business owners (which makes the corporate tax a tax on capital), shareholders (including retirees who live on their 401Ks and mutual funds) through reduced profits, and workers themselves, who apparently pay the largest share.

    The greediest people on Earth are not those who earn wages, salaries, and profits and wish to keep what they made — it’s the lawmakers who want to forcibly take what belongs to others and use it for their own purposes. Even a criminal sometimes sleeps, said C.S. Lewis, and “his cupidity may at some point be satiated.” But the politicians’ lust for other people’s money never rests.

    "Indeed."


  • And I've been working through Season Two of "Jack Ryan" on Amazon Prime. But James Lileks in today's Bleat notes why he (and I) have to wince a lot along the way:

    If this was a review it might note the stupidest line uttered on any streaming media platform in late 2019: Jack Ryan, learning that the Right-wing nationalist government of . . . VENEZUELA, okay, I’m trying to get that potato down my windpipe, well, Jack learns the assassination of a US Senator is being blamed on a group fighting the gobermen, as they say “government” down there. The group is hard left-wing, because of course that’s the sitch down in Venezuela now, and he says:

    “The FLA is a small hard-left splinter group. Anti-Americanism isn’t in their DNA.”

    Uh -

    It might be entirely plausible to have a guerrilla group fighting Chavism because it was insufficiently murderous, and did not empty out the cities to put the soft-handed spectacle-wearing intellectual glasses in agricultural camps where they worked until they died, and it is possible this group would be so focused on removing the insufficiently collective government of Maduro, and was so localized in their concerns that they gave little thought to the United States, and it is possible that such a group might have an animus towards the US when they stopped for a smoke and tossed around fundamental ideas, but -

    The idea that a CIA analysts would say “Anti-Americanism is in the DNA of the hard left guerrilla movements” suggests:

    The writers are idiots

    The writers are willfully obscuring a truth

    Note: this is not an either-or choice.

    Yes. I'd bet on "both", too.

URLs du Jour

2019-11-18

We open with Michael P. Ramirez's cartoon comment on the passing scene…

[Impeachment]

Yup. And now on with our clown show:

  • [Amazon Link]

    We'll steal Mark J. Perry's Quotation of the day on ‘social justice’…...

    The commitment to “social justice” has, in fact, become the chief outlet for moral emotion, the distinguishing attribute of the good man, and the recognized sign of the possession of a moral conscience….. But the near-universal acceptance of a belief does not prove that it is valid or even meaningful any more than the general belief in witches or ghosts proved the validity of those concepts. What we have to deal with in the case of “social justice” is simply a quasi-religious superstition of the kind which we should respectfully leave in peace so long as it merely makes those happy who hold it, but which we must fight when it becomes the pretext of coercing other men. And the prevailing belief in “social justice” is at its present probably the gravest threat to most other values of a free civilization.

    That's from Hayek's The Mirage of Social Justice, Amazon link at your right.


  • Kevin D. Williamson has some thoughts at National Review on Marco Rubio’s Half-Baked Political Philosophy.

    I am a great believer in Senator Marco Rubio, in his excellent intentions, and in the undoubtable ability of Senator Marco Rubio and his excellent intentions together to screw up anything they touch.

    Senator Rubio, writing in National Review, joins the ranks of those who propose to reinvent capitalism — “common-good capitalism,” he calls it. Senator Elizabeth Warren also proposes to reinvent capitalism and calls her version “accountable capitalism.” Dear old Bernie Sanders still proposes to overthrow capitalism and be done with it, bless his heart.

    Senator Rubio, working from remarks originally delivered in a speech at Catholic University, references a series of popes — Leo XIII, mostly, but also Benedict and Francis — to describe (whether the senator understands this or not) the familiar moral basis of fascist economic thinking, beginning from the premise that “workers and businesses are not competitors for their share of limited resources, but partners in an effort that strengthens the entire nation.” Under the careful tutelage of the state, of course. I write this as a fellow Catholic: God defend us from these backward, primitive-minded Catholic social reformers. Pope Francis would do mortal harm to the poor of this world if he had any real political power; blessedly, Providence has relieved him and us of that burden.

    Yes, he said "fascist".

    I just read an impressive article by Stephanie Slade on papal attitudes toward capitalism in the current (December 2019) issue of Reason; I will point it out when it becomes freely available on the web.


  • Thanksgiving is coming! Or are we coming to Thanksgiving? Everything's relative, I suppose.

    But I couldn't wait to let P. J. O'Rourke explain to us: Why I’m Thankful for Bad Politics. We'll skip right to the second thing for which he's thankful:

    A second thing to be thankful for is that bad politics are a healthy reminder that politics are bad. Actually, being a “good” politician specifically requires committing every single one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

    Pride is foremost, of course. What kind of too-big-for-your-britches swell-head grandstander has the sheer damn conceit to flash the brass and come right out and claim that he or she ought to be president of the United States? It’s a nearly impossible job, and anyone who doesn’t admit that is unqualified for the position. The only kind of people we should want to be president are the kind of people we’d have to drag, kicking and cursing, into the Oval Office. (Anybody know where Clint Eastwood hangs out?)

    Read on for Envy, Wrath, Greed, Gluttony, Lust, and Sloth.


  • At Reason, Matt Welch bemoans one of Beto's last rhetorical gambits before he gave up his presidential quest: Democrats Are Conjuring Up New ‘Rights’.

    "Living close to work shouldn't be a luxury for the rich," Democratic presidential candidate and former congressman Beto O'Rourke tweeted in September. "It's a right for everyone."

    In a video of a campaign stop embedded in the tweet, the perpetually earnest Texan elaborated on this new right.

    "Here's a tough thing to talk about, though we must," O'Rourke said. "Rich people are going to have to allow, or be forced to allow, lower-income people to live near them….We force lower-income, working Americans to drive one, two, three hours in either direction to get to their jobs, very often minimum wage jobs."

    There are a half-dozen fuzzy-to-erroneous ideas baked into that language—"we" don't "force" just about anyone to drive two-plus hours a day to and from work, for starters. But the underlying principle is worth pondering, particularly since you see it all over the left side of the political spectrum these days. O'Rourke is urgently demanding a federal role in life choices that are shaped by policies at the state and local level.

    Only a half-dozen? Well, maybe.

    Matt sketches the history of rights-invention. It's ironic (isn't it?) that while Democrats are coming up with ever more new "rights", they also continue advocating limits on actual rights of religion, speech, weaponry, property,…


  • And the Google LFOD News Alert rang (indirectly) for this HKMarch tweet.

    As the French Wikipedia entry for "Vivre libre ou mourir" explains:

    C'est également la devise officielle de l'état américain du New Hampshire ("Live Free or Die"), adoptée par l'état en 1945.

    And it seems some Frenchies still know the words.

The Phony Campaign

2019-11-17 Update

Wow, how about that impeachment stuff, huh? Yeah, me neither.

A new phony leader has emerged in our standings: Mayor Pete had a nearly-eightfold increase in phony hits over the past week, while President Bone Spurs' dropped by nearly 75%. It's a funny world, and will probably change again next week; Google hits are not only bogus, they're volatile.

Slightly more tethered to reality—at least, "reality" as judged by people betting their own money on the election outcome—are the probability changes. Mayor Pete wins here too, with a decent upward bump of 2.6 percentage points.

And the big loser again this week: Senator Liz, down to a mere 13% chance of taking the oath on January 20, 2021. She still leads the Democrats, but… only a few weeks ago she was at 27.6%.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
11/10
Phony
Results
Change
Since
11/10
Pete Buttigieg 9.5% +2.6% 7,240,000 +6,252,000
Donald Trump 40.5% -0.3% 1,990,000 -5,740,000
Hillary Clinton 3.0% +0.9% 949,000 -5,000
Bernie Sanders 7.0% +0.9% 538,000 +36,000
Joe Biden 10.4% -0.8% 440,000 -25,000
Elizabeth Warren 13.0% -4.1% 220,000 -42,000
Michael Bloomberg 2.1% -2.1% 80,800 +29,000
Andrew Yang 2.1% +0.1% 40,100 -2,500

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • A CNN opinionator, Frida Ghitis, detects heroism opposed to major inauthenticity: Real hero takes down phony corruption fighter.

    If we could remove partisan blinders, all Americans would see former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch as the national hero she is. Her testimony before the House committee investigating President Donald Trump showed a public servant who has devoted her life, at great personal risk, to bolstering the nation that gave refuge to her parents after they fled the Nazis and the Bolsheviks.

    She radiated the same dedication to freedom that seeps into the DNA of those who have fled oppression or seen it up close.

    That's why her story was not just inspiring but also dispiriting. An American hero, attacked by an American president -- removed from her post not because she failed to do her job but because she was doing it too well. As a result of Trump's actions, US policy went from supporting anti-corruption efforts to combating them. And for whose benefit?

    Trump, right?

    I'm not sure about the "national hero" and "great personal risk" stuff though.


  • Marc A. Thiessen puts his finger on a possible out for Trump: Incompetence is not an impeachable offense.

    The problem with most conspiracy theories is that they presume too much competence on the part of the conspirators. The same may be true when it comes to President Trump’s alleged quid pro quo with Ukraine. As Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) put it, “What I can tell you about the Trump policy towards the Ukraine is that it was incoherent. . . . They seem to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo.”

    Graham may be right. Wednesday’s impeachment hearing certainly provided no new evidence that Trump had a coherent strategy to use U.S. security assistance, and the prospect of a presidential meeting, to get Ukraine to investigate his political rivals.

    It may not be the best campaign ad, though.


  • E. J. Dionne really, really, wants Trump gone, and he's bereft that Democrats have put their differences above beating Trump.

    Somewhere on the seventh tee, the phony populist Trump is laughing. One side of the Democratic Party is denouncing its foes as class enemies and apologists of the rich. The other argues that champions of the left will destroy the American economy. Is this how Democrats want to spend the next few months?

    Yeah, E. J., they probably do. Or, more accurately, each Democrat will spend his or her time doing whatever they think is necessary to win the nomination. I wouldn't have thought I needed to spell that out.


  • E. J. is kind of irked about Bloomberg getting into the race. But at National Review, Kevin D. Williamson sees Upsides for Left & Right in Bloomie's campaign.

    The troubles with Michael Bloomberg, from the conservative point of view, are obvious enough: He has a terrible record on abortion and on Second Amendment rights. He is a climate-change crusader and is unlikely to install great heaping pallets of Federalist Society–approved judges in the U.S. courts. He is a nanny and a scold whose conception of the proper sphere of government action is broad enough to encompass salt-shakers and soda cups. But while Nurse Bloomberg may be Barry Goldwater in comparison to the silly Sandinista sad-sack who succeeded him, he is not running against Bill de Blasio or Warren Wilhelm Jr. or whatever it is the mayor of New York City is calling himself these days.

    The Democrats’ objections to him are partly demographic — he is an old, white, male billionaire in a party that increasingly is openly hostile to each of those categories independently and slavers with rage when they are combined — and partly political: In rhetoric and in office, Bloomberg has shown himself to be a bipartisan moderate who if not quite free of ideology at least has the good sense to try to subordinate ideological passions (his and others’) to the pursuit of administrative competence.

    Whatever Mike's multiple and egregious faults, KDW notes, he was an effective mayor of NYC. Democrats "could do worse". And "Unfortunately for them, they almost certainly will, too."


  • Ann Althouse notes the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea is kind of iffy on Wheezy Joe: "[Biden] bereft of elementary appearance as a human being, much less a politician, again reeled off a string of rubbish against the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK.". And moreover:

    "A crow is never whiter for often washing. Baiden [sic], still going reckless, not coming to his senses though he was censured and rejected by all people, must be a rabid dog only keen on getting at others' throats. Such rabid dogs are second to none in their craftiness in seeking their own interests... Such a profiteer who ran for the two failed presidential elections has now gone zealous in another presidential election campaign, wandering about like a starving field dog."

    A message from North Korea. It seems funny at first, but if you keep reading, it's a death threat: "It seems time has come for him to depart his life.... Anyone who dare slanders the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK, can never spare the DPRK's merciless punishment whoever and wherever. And he will be made to see even in a grave what horrible consequences will be brought about by his thoughtless utterances. Rabid dogs like Baiden can hurt lots of people if they are allowed to run about. They must be beaten to death with a stick, before it is too late."

    Well, that seems intemperate.


  • Well, let's look at Mayor Pete with Scott Shackford at Reason: Pete Buttigieg Has a $1 Trillion Plan to Drive Up Housing, College, and Labor Costs.

    On Friday, Buttigieg revealed "An Economic Agenda for American Families: Empowering Working and Middle Class Americans to Thrive," his expensive proposal to push for even greater amounts of federal spending and regulation in housing, child care, college, and the workplace.

    This is hardly a surprise from a Democratic candidate, even a self-styled moderate like Buttigieg. He says in the proposal's introduction that he "doesn't mean government taking over the economy." But he nevertheless argues that government is supposed to have a "vigorous presence" in our economy to make sure it "actually works for all."

    As Scott notes, this is "a fantasy wish list with no relationship to reality."


  • But Senator Liz is still plumping for her phony plans. Which is too much for even the WaPo fact checker, Glenn Kessler: Warren’s misleading pitch for her tax on billionaires.

    “All we are saying is, when you make it big, pitch in two cents so everyone else gets a chance to make it,” Warren says before [her new TV] ad lists programs that the candidate says would be funded through a wealth tax, such as universal child care ($700 billion over 10 years), universal free college and student debt forgiveness ($1.25 trillion), “and more.”

    Only problem: Liz has already tripled her wealth tax proposal for "billionaires" to 6%. Kessler awards her Three Pinocchios.


  • Senator Amy is long-gone from our standings, down with the other dead-but-don't-go-away candidates. But Klobuchar recently komplained about the "relative success of Pete Buttigieg" — a mere mayor! — causing fellow Minnesotan Scott Johnson at Power Line to invite us to Meet Amy Whinehouse.

    In Minnesota politics Klobuchar has led a charmed life, but so have a few other DFL politicians who lacked the advantage of a widely known name. Her popularity among Minnesota voters is not a credit to us. From my perspective, the most notable fact about Senator Klobuchar is what a phony she is.

    She is not nice. She is not funny. She is not a moderate. She is not an accomplished legislator. She is an incredibly boring speaker.

    EBO currently has her probability at 1.1%. Same as Tulsi, but better than Kamala (0.7%), Cory (0.4%), or Julian (0.1%).


Last Modified 2019-11-17 11:06 AM EST

I. T.

[2.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A Mrs. Salad pick. I think because she secretly loooves Pierce Brosnan.

Mr. B. plays Mike Regan, an entrepreneur with a burning idea: Uber for executive jets! So he's about to launch an IPO for his company implementing this idea, geared up for a stunning presentation when… oops, a computer glitch freezes everything up. But an intrepid intern, Patrick, gets on a terminal, defrosts everything with a few clicks and keystrokes, saving the day!

Mike is grateful. And ignores my shouted advice: "Patrick's a psycho, the only reason he was able to fix things so easily is because he planted the bug in the first place." Patrick is invited into Mike's home, which has a dismaying number of Internet-of-Things devices. Patrick gets the hots for Mike's cute teenage daughter.

Eventually Mike realizes what a dreadful person Patrick is. But Patrick already has his bots and viruses in place, and proceeds to make Mike's life a computerized hell. So a half-cyberspace, half-meatspace war ensues.

IT ex-professional opinion: Patrick's nefarious activities are farfetched, but not that farfetched. Definitely more sophisticated than your average Twitter-fouling bot army, or a Democrat-deceiving phishing attack, though.

Executive summary: watchable, but kind of a waste of time. Unless you have a burning need to hear an erstwhile James Bond drop numerous f-bombs. Then you should grab it immediately.

URLs du Jour

2019-11-16

  • An amusing column from David Harsanyi on Paul Krugman: Always Wrong, Never in Doubt.

    One of the nation’s leading doomsayers has been the New York Times’ perpetually mistaken Paul Krugman, who warned shortly after the 2016 election that Trump’s victory would trigger a global recession “with no end in sight.” We could file that under “post-election hysteria,” but as late as April of this year he was still telling crowds that the bond-market signals predicted “a pretty good chance of a recession sometime in the next year or so.” And he has kept this going all year:

    February 11: Paul Krugman expects a global recession this year, warns “we don’t have an effective response.”

    August 1: “Why Was Trumponomics a Flop?”

    August 15: “From Trump Boom to Trump Gloom”

    September 5: “Trumpism Is Bad for Business”

    October 3: “Here Comes the Trump Slump”

    October 24: “The Day the Trump Boom Died”

    A couple of weeks after the Trump Boom expired, CNBC reported that “October job creation comes in at 128,000, easily topping estimates even with GM auto strike.” This cycle has been going on for three years.

    (My favorite Trump-era Krugmanism, though, is when the esteemed economist explains away his bad predictions by claiming that the economy’s successes are really just driven by instances of his own political preferences playing out — “Impeaching Trump Is Good for the Economy,” “The Economics of Donald J. Keynes,” and so on.)

    Eventually, we will have a recession. And Paul Krugman will claim to have predicted it.

    As I've said before: I would dearly love to see the current and past investment portfolios of doomsayers like Krugman, and see their performance over the recent past. If they believe their own predictions, their returns have got to be pretty lousy.


  • James W. Benefiel of Dunedin, Florida read a recent WSJ story about Apple kicking in $2.5 billion to help California with the “availability and affordability" of housing in the state. He makes a cogent point in an LTE: iPad Pseudo-Tax Money Is Ingenious Progressive Coup.

    Your editorial “Affordable Rents at the iPad” (Nov. 6) describes the billions of dollars Apple and other big California tech giants are contributing to increase availability of “affordable housing” in the Silicon Valley area. So now I need to consider when I shell out $900 for my next iPhone that I will be paying a tax to subsidize the amelioration of convoluted reasoning in California that creates most of its problems. That system has invented a new concept: a free-market tax-collection mechanism for a muddled progressive state that manages to dredge in revenues from around the country and world.

    [Amazon Link]
    Bears repeating: buying Apple products helps bail out California from its dysfunctional housing policies. Facebook and Google are also culprits.

    Gee, if only someone would write a book about the craven co-dependence of statists and crony capitalists…


  • And our Google LFOD alert rang for a recent article in The Conversation by Julia Gaffield (Associate Professor of History, Georgia State University): Haiti protests summon spirit of the Haitian Revolution to condemn a president tainted by scandal.

    A radical, unlikely figure has emerged as the icon of Haiti’s months-long protests against President Jovenel Moïse, who stands accused of embezzling millions in public funds.

    That figure is Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the black Haitian revolutionary who defeated the French to free Haiti from colonial rule in 1804. By summoning Dessalines, Haitian protesters implicitly contrast the achievements of that revolution – freedom, universal citizenship and racial equality – with the disappointments of the Moïse government.

    Dessalines wrote a radical constitution that eliminated racial hierarchy, established equality before the law and instituted freedom of religion in Haiti.

    One of Haiti’s opposition political parties is called “Pitit Dessalines” – Children of Dessalines.

    When demonstrations began last year, simple stenciled images of Dessalines wearing a military hat and holding a protest sign appeared on walls across the capital. This year, at several marches, men in revolutionary-era garb have ridden the streets of Port-au-Prince on horseback. They were waving Dessalines’ red-and-black version of the Haitian flag inscribed with the words “Viv Lib ou Mouri” – “Live Free or Die.”

    Professor Gaffield eventually gets around to mentioning a small fact that the Wikipedia entry for Dessalines puts right up front: he ordered the 1804 Haiti massacre of the remaining white population of native French people.

    I'll say what Gaffield won't: replacing crooks with murderers isn't gonna go well.

URLs du Jour

2019-11-15

[Amazon Link]

  • Our Amazon Product du Jour is a book originally written in 1954 (and I originally read it not too long after). But, as Phillip W. Magness notes at AIER, it's a topic of continuing relevance: The [New York] Times’s Editorial Page Lies with Statistics.

    As the debate over wealth taxation rages on, journalists have assumed a central role in the dissemination of empirical claims about the distribution and historical trajectory of U.S. tax policy. Unfortunately several leading media outlets have approached this task by engaging in political advocacy on behalf of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders’ tax plans, sacrificing factual accuracy in the process.

    Phillip's issue is with a recent NYT editorial that asserted:

    In 1961, Americans with the highest incomes paid an average of 51.5 percent of that income in federal, state and local taxes. In 2011, Americans with the highest incomes paid just 33.2 percent of their income in taxes, according to a study by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman published last year.

    As Phillip notes, there are numerous well-documented problems with the Piketty/Saez/Zucman [PSZ] study. But the NYT manages to muck this up even further by cherry-picking its time period.

    The IRS didn't publish detailed statistics on taxpayer income until tax year 1962. But in that year, the top-0.1% tax rate according to PSZ was 43.6%.

    So PSZ claim that the rate dropped nearly 8 percentage points between 1961 and 1962 even without changes in the main tax rates. Miraculous!

    There are also problems with the other end of the NYT's timeframe, 2011. It was (it turns out) during a relative lull in tax receipts, mainly caused by capital losses realized post-recession. Things have rebounded since, but you will not learn that from the NYT.

    Phillip's conclusion:

    In short, the Times appears to have selected 1961 and 2011 to create the illusion of an 18 percentage point decline in the average overall tax rate paid by the wealthiest earners. The actual decline, measured from the earliest microdata year 1962 to the most recent available year in 2014 shows a top average tax rate change from 43.6% to 39.8% – or only 3.8 percentage points in 50 years.

    My non-economist conclusion: don't trust the New York Times.


  • I was favorably disposed to Marco Rubio until his disastrous pre-primary debate performance up here in New Hampshire in 2016. OK, he's young, he could bounce back in 2024, right?

    Well, not if David Harsanyi has anything to say about it: Marco Rubio & Capitalism -- Republican's Bizarre Turn against Capitalism.

    Not even socialist Bernie Sanders could have unfurled a more exhaustive vilification of the market economy than Marco Rubio did in his recent Catholic University speech defending “common-good capitalism.”

    If you think I’m exaggerating, note that the former Tea Partier now blames capitalism for stifling innovation, undermining religious institutions, stripping workers of their dignity, corroding good will among men, and driving childlessness, hopelessness, and suicides.

    Rubio's proposed "solutions" are ludicrous (expand the federal per-child tax credit, paid parental leave) and cronyistic ("reform" the Small Business Administration, "invest" in rare-earth mineral mining). Or, as David puts it, punishing "big corporations" for not making the business decisions Mario thinks they should.

    Because Mario's a lot smarter than those CEOs, y'know.


  • A sober look from AEI's James Pethokoukis on The Warren wealth tax, innovation, and consumer surplus. It's another example of what's "seen and unseen" in the economy.

    Elizabeth Warren’s new campaign ad returns fire on American billionaires who’ve criticized her wealth tax idea. Her counter attack: “All we’re saying is when you make it big, pitch in two cents so everybody else gets a chance to make it.” 

    Let’s put aside the reality of the eye-roll-inducing bit about the “two cents.” What Warren is suggesting is that building a business mostly helps the builder. Everyone else, maybe not so much. That sort of thinking always reminds me of the great paper from Nobel laureate economist William Nordhaus, “Schumpeterian Profits in the American Economy: Theory and Measurement.” In it, Nordhaus takes a stab at determining who really gains from the value generated by innovation, the producer of the innovation or the consumer of the innovation. 

    His findings: “We conclude that only a minuscule fraction of the social returns from technological advances over the 1948-2001 period was captured by producers, indicating that most of the benefits of technological change are passed on to consumers rather than captured by producers” And by “most,” he means almost all of the benefit with innovators “able to capture about 2.2 percent of the total social surplus from innovation.” Makes a rough sort of sense when you think about it. Consider what Jeff Bezos is worth — a lot — versus the value generated by his nearly trillion-dollar company — a whole lot more.

    This isn't difficult for even non-economists to understand. But when you're a power-hungry politician whose route to higher office depends on demagoguing the issue and demonizing the rich, it pays to ignore it.


  • And Jeff Jacoby looks at The counterproductive cruelties of occupational licensing.

    COSMETOLOGISTS AND emergency medical technicians don't have much in common.

    Cosmetologists treat skin, style hair, and paint nails. EMTs respond to 911 calls, administer urgent medical care, and rush patients by ambulance to hospitals.

    Cosmetologists are beauty-industry professionals who help people feel good about their appearance. EMTs are first responders who help people survive violent traumas and heart attacks.

    Cosmetologists rarely face a life-threatening crisis on the job. EMTs make life-or-death decisions every day.

    But there is one thing cosmetologists and EMTs do have in common: Both must be licensed by the state. The amount of training and experience needed to obtain those licenses, however, could hardly be more different. An applicant for a Massachusetts EMT license has to complete just 150 hours of education in order to qualify. But anyone seeking a cosmetology license faces a far higher hurdle: An applicant must log 1,000 hours of education, plus two full years of hands-on experience, before the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will allow them to go into the beauty business.

    MA leaves some licensing decisions to municipalities. My favorite example is Salem's regulation of "fortunetellers, psychics, and other similar businesses".

    Because you can't have fake psychics making money off customers! That would be wrong!

URLs du Jour

2019-11-14

[Amazon Link]

  • Kevin Butterhof writes at Aero on Why We Should Reject Diversity and Equity As Values. His opening sentence will come as no surprise to anyone who has (say) visited the website of the University Near Here over the past decade or so.

    The concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion have gained in popularity in recent years among the political left, including university administrations and corporate HR departments. To those who believe no individual is intrinsically more valuable than any other, this trend is troubling. While inclusion is a good thing, valuing diversity and equity with regard to immutable characteristics is unethical. Naturally occurring diversity and equity are indications—though not proof—of a tolerant and inclusive society. A lack of diversity and equity may indicate bias. However, active pursuit of these ideals requires disregarding the basic, universalist ethics that civil rights leaders fought and died to achieve for everyone.

    From the UNH page linked above:

    We are committed to supporting and sustaining an educational community that is inclusive, diverse and equitable. The values of diversity, inclusion and equity are inextricably linked to our mission of teaching and research excellence, and we embrace these values as being critical to development, learning, and success. We expect nothing less than an accessible, multicultural community in which civility and respect are fostered, and discrimination and harassment are not tolerated.

    This is the Nicene Creed of modern American universities, and it's antithetical to actual tolerance.


  • Veronique de Rugy has a sharp eye for bad news. While everyone's distracted by the impeachment circus Congress Readies Another Round of Crony Handouts.

    Here we go again. We're approaching another deadline to pass a government spending bill or risk a government shutdown. Legislators routinely manufacture this sort of "crisis" to ram through provisions that wouldn't survive scrutiny standing on their own. Congress is reportedly likely to push the budget deadline into December, but whenever the next full funding bill is finally taken up, there will inevitably be an effort to load it up with crony handouts.

    At the top of the wish list will be "tax extenders." These are tax provisions that generally bestow benefits on particular business interests, but they expire every year or so. They must be renewed regularly if the benefits are to continue.

    Not all tax extenders are corporate favoritism. Some alleviate economic distortions in the tax code. But most of those provisions were either mooted by the 2017 tax reform or have already been made permanent. What is left, by and large, is cronyism, especially for various forms of renewable energy.

    Particularly egregious: the tax credit for electric vehicles, mainly benefiting the already well-off. (When was the last time you saw a poor person in a Nissan Leaf?)


  • James Pethokoukis writes at AEI on The ‘billionaire effect’ that wealth worriers never mention.

    The “billionaire effect” isn’t how the mere existence of the super-rich seems to cause great alarm in some people. Well, it isn’t just that, obviously. [Swiss financial services firm] UBS defines the “billionaire effect” as how entrepreneur-led businesses “have tended to outperform others financially” due to “long-term vision, smart risk taking, business focus, and determination.”

    UBS analysis of more than 2,000 global billionaires finds that over the past 15 years, billionaire-controlled companies returned almost twice the annualized average performance of the market and generated a 50 percent higher return on equity. Moreover, while the billionaire effect is seen globally, the effect was strongest in the United States.

    Reached for comment, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren sang in two-part harmony: "We don't care, we hate 'em anyway."


  • At Cato, Randal O'Toole asks the musical question: Is Amtrak Guilty of Securities Fraud? [Spoiler: no, but only because it's not a publicly-traded company.]

    A press release issued by Amtrak last week would, if it were published by publicly traded firm, be a violation of securities laws and regulations. The press release claimed that Amtrak's FY 2019 annual financial report, which has yet to be published, would show that passenger revenues covered 99 percent of operating costs. Amtrak officials further projected that the company would show a profit for the first time in its history in 2020.

    Neither of these claims are true because they grossly misrepresent what the annual report will say in two ways. Most important, the annual report will identify depreciation as one of Amtrak's biggest costs, amounting to nearly 20 percent of its budget. Depreciation was $807 million in Amtrak's 2018 annual report, and is projected to be around $50 million more in 2019.

    "We're profitable, if you ignore the things that would make us non-profitable."


  • John O. McGinnis writes, more in sorrow than in anger, at Law & Liberty on The Ongoing Decline of The New York Times.

    I have been reading the New York Times for over five decades. By the time I was ten, I came home from school to immerse myself in its pages, enthralled as the outside world enveloped me each evening at my parents’ kitchen table. I even played the game Stratego on the porch of our country home against an older boy who would become its publisher.

    It is thus painful for me to watch the fall of a once-worthy institution. At one time, it had some claim to be the United States’ paper of record because of its objective reporting and the absence of a persistent agenda in determining what news was fit to print. A sensible center-left perspective generally drove its editorials. These were not my views then or now, but the paper offered a useful challenge to my enduringly classical liberal perspective.

    As far as today's "paper of record" goes, John puts in a plug for my paper of choice, the Wall Street Journal.

    The NYT may have a marginally better crossword puzzle, but the WSJ's is pretty good. And Foster's has the NYT Sunday puzzle anyway, a week late.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Hey, I laughed. I'm not proud of it, but…

This is a parody of the usual musician-movie. Conner (Andy Samberg) is the lead rapper of a wildly successful boy band, the Style Boyz. And, as these folks tend to do, he breaks up the band for a solo career. Which fails spectacularly and hilariously as the pretensions and egotism of music world denizens are ruthlessly mocked.

There are a lot of cameos by Andy Samberg's Saturday Night Live colleagues. Also a lot of cameos from actual musicians; I assume I would have recognized them if I were 40 years younger. (I did recognize Justin Timberlake, though, and he's very funny with a small part here.)

It's R-rated for "some graphic nudity, language throughout, sexual content and drug use". The graphic nudity involves, um, male genitalia. As part of a joke.

Wikipedia says it was a box-office bomb: "grossed $9 million, failing to meet its budget of $20 million, despite positive reviews from critics." Ah, well. Andy probably overestimated the appeal of graphic male nudity.

Faithful Place

[Amazon Link]

Number three in Tana French's series of crime novels set in Dublin with police protagonists. The narrator in this one, Frank Mackey, was a supporting character in the previous book, a higher-up in the Dublin Police undercover unit. He was presented as a master manipulator, kind of a jerk. But in this book, he comes out as flawed but sympathetic.

Why? Well, back when he was a teen, he came from an extremely dysfunctional family, living in a borderline slum. He developed a plan with girlfriend Rosie to ditch their respective families, hop the ferry to England, and make their way out from under the repressiveness of kin and society.

But bad news: on the night of the big escape, Rosie doesn't show up for the planned rendezvous, and instead Frank finds what looks to be a kiss-off letter. Bereft, he takes off, estranging his family. But not to England. Instead he gets on the path to becoming an Irish cop. And…

In the present day, a couple decades later, Frank's a divorcee with a wonderful cute daughter. And (as the previous book described) he's a professional success. But he gets a call from his sister with unexpected news: Rosie's suitcase has been found, stuffed into a chimney in an abandoned apartment. This means… oh, oh… Rosie never left Dublin either. What happened instead?

Well, it's pretty sordid. And Frank gets put through a lot of new familial anguish.

And, oh yeah, everyone smokes way too much.

URLs du Jour

2019-11-13

[Amazon Link]

  • Our Amazon Product du Jour is the recent book Die Behind the Wheel: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of Steely Dan, a collection of short stories brought to my attention via Instapundit.

    I like Steely Dan, and I like crime fiction, so it's a real possibility. Even though I have never heard of any of the authors involved.

    But what I found from perusing the table of contents at Amazon out was disturbing. One of the story titles is a line from the song Sign In Stranger:

    Do you have a dark spot on your past?

    And I realized I'd been mishearing this for appoximately 43 years. I thought it was

    Do you have a dark spot on your pants?

    Well, that's embarrassing. The actual lyric makes more sense. To the extent that Steely Dan lyrics make sense at all.


  • The war on Christmas continues with an abject surrender down the road in Durham, NH, as reported by Foster's Daily Democrat: Durham ends tree lighting, downplays Santa.

    Though the town’s holiday celebration is weeks away, Durham is already getting criticism about modifications to the event designed to remove religious overtones that non-Christians or non-religious residents could find offensive.

    Town Administrator Todd Selig said the newly named Frost Fest, scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 7 from 6 to 8 p.m., includes significant changes to the traditional holiday tree lighting at Memorial Park, including the absence of a formal tree lighting ceremony. Memorial Park, a small, town-owned traffic island on Main Street at the Mill Road intersection, where the tree that is lighted for the holidays is rooted in the ground, has traditionally been the gathering spot for the event, which headlines the holiday season.

    Yes, "significant changes to the traditional holiday tree lighting" would be not to light the tree. At least not in a "formal" way. Whatever that means. Nobody wearing a tux?

    Ah, but it turns out there will be lights on the tree, but…

    Organized by the Durham Parks & Recreation Department, it is described as the “annual welcome to winter celebration” with “cold hands, warm hearts.” The modified event will not include the traditional countdown and tree lighting, though the tree will have lights, Selig said, and Santa Claus, though he will have some presence in the celebration, will not arrive by town fire truck as he has in the past.

    Yes, there will be lights but no lighting. I guess the lights will be turned on surreptitiously, somehow. That won't offend the previously-offended.

    The reworked event is part of an effort to make Durham’s celebration more secular and inclusive, Selig said, so all residents from a variety of backgrounds and religions could feel comfortable participating.

    “Santa will be present, but not presented,” said Kitty Marple, who chairs the Winter Celebration Working Group and the Town Council.

    Present, but not presented. I love that smug Orwellian wordplay, don't you?

    “I understand why some people will be angry about the changes,” Marple said, but noted most of the activities will be the same as they’ve always been. A bonfire, s’mores, music, cookie decorating, ice sculpting demonstrations and crafts are planned.

    So note: the aim is to make more people "feel comfortable". But Kitty says she knows "some people will be angry".

    Wouldn't it have been refreshingly honest if she had added "… but we don't care about them"? Have a s'more and shut up.

    Though Marple said she personally felt neutral about Durham’s tree lighting tradition, others felt unwelcome. The small changes suggested by the working committee were designed to make the event “more ecumenical,” Marple said.

    News flash: Ms Marple doesn't know what "ecumenical" means. It would have been more accurate to say: entirely shorn of anything that even hints at a religious connection.

    Oh yeah: no wreaths on the lampposts either. Well, enough local garbage, we move on to…


  • Former restaurant CEO Andy Puzder has a go at Senator Liz in the WSJ: Warren’s ‘2 Cents’ Come at Your Expense. Much we've discussed previously, here's another example of the dishonesty involved:

    What about Ms. Warren’s catchphrase that the tax is “just 2 cents”? The line has worked as political marketing, but it’s either dishonest or mathematically illiterate. On Sunday, Ms. Warren retweeted a statement that misrepresented her wealth tax as an income tax, saying it would apply to people who earn $50 million a year. It actually applies to a much larger group—those whose net worth exceeds $50 million. The tax would be assessed against those assets every year, even if the taxpayer loses money.

    This effect is cumulative. Suppose a 40-year-old entrepreneur has a net worth of $525 million, the midpoint of Ms. Warren’s 2% wealth-tax bracket. If his net worth otherwise didn’t change, an annual wealth tax of “just” 2% would confiscate an amount equal to more than 50% of this value over the rest of a normal lifespan. After death, he would also pay a 40% tax on whatever remained above an $11 million exemption. Ms. Warren’s “just 2 cents” combined with the death tax would add up to about 70% of the value of those assets.

    Senator Liz likes to understate the losers under her plan. We should also not neglect the winners who would get their fingers on the moola confiscated from the losers.


  • There's not a better writer around than Kevin D. Williamson when he is pissed off at some pontificating statist. Today's victim is Michael Tomasky who wrote at the NYT: Bill Gates, I Implore You to Connect Some Dots. KDW rebuts at National Review: Connecting Some Dots on Taxes.

    Tomasky writes: “Multibillion-dollar fortunes are often called excessive and decadent. But here’s something they’re rarely called but ought to be: anti-democratic. These fortunes will destroy our democracy. . . . Any democracy needs a robust and thriving middle class, and we have spent the last 30 or so years transferring trillions of dollars from the middle class to the people at the very top. Just one set of numbers, from the University of California, Berkeley, economist Gabriel Zucman: The 400 richest Americans — the top .00025 percent of the population — now own more of the country’s riches than the 150 million adults in the bottom 60 percent of wealth distribution. The 400’s share has tripled since the 1980s.”

    Question: Can Tomasky or anybody else describe the actual mode of “transfer” at work here? In what sense has money been transferred from the middle class to billionaires such as Bill Gates? And who did the transferring?

    KDW's article is long and worth the read.

    I'd also add that the middle class is shrinking because they're getting richer.


  • We recently celebrated the anniversary of the Berlin Wall's demise. Yay! But Jeff Jacoby points out an Inconvenient Truth about its birth: America stood down as the Berlin Wall went up.

    Yet the heartbreaking truth, which I haven't seen mentioned in the 30th anniversary coverage, is that those long years of separation had been wholly unnecessary. If only the United States had acted at the outset to stop the wall, the wall would have been stopped. When the East German police first began putting up barbed wire to close the crossings between the Eastern (Soviet) and Western sectors of the city, US tanks could have easily and bloodlessly knocked them down. What's more, they had every legal right to do so — the Allies' post-World War II agreements covering the administration of Berlin had stipulated that there was to be free movement within the city. But President Kennedy, notwithstanding the swagger of his Inaugural Address — "we shall pay any price, bear any burden" — was afraid of provoking a military confrontation. The orders came down from the top: Do nothing.

    The bitter irony is that the orders coming down from the top on the other side were to back down if the Americans made a show of force.

    For what should be the millionth time: we and the world were damned lucky to have President Reagan.

URLs du Jour

2019-11-12

[Amazon Link]

  • Cafe Hayek provides the Quotation of the Day from Deirdre Nansen McCloskey's new book. (Amazon link at right.)

    Non-economists think that economics is about “keeping the money circulating.” And so they are impressed by the claim by the owner of the local sports franchise that devoting tax dollars to a new stadium will “generate” local sales and “create” new jobs. To a non-economist the vocabulary of generating and creating jobs out of unthrifty behavior sounds tough and prudential and quantitative. It’s not. It’s stupid. No economist of sense would use such locutions. Indeed, you can pretty much depend on it that an alleged economist on TV is a phony if she talks of “generating” or “creating” jobs.

    Which brings us naturally to…


  • Deirdre's recent article at Quillette: Reflections on My Decision to Change Gender.

    It’s been a long time now since, at age 53, I became a woman. Actually, I’m an old woman more than twenty years on, who walks sometimes with a nice fold-up cane, and has had two hip-joint replacements, and lives in a loft in downtown Chicago with 8,000 books, delighting in her dogs, her birth family, her friends scattered from Chile to China, her Episcopal church across the street, her eating club near the Art Institute, and above all her teaching and writing as a professor. Or, as the Italians so charmingly say, as una professoressa. Oh, that –essa. She retired from teaching, though not from scribbling, at age 73, twenty years after transitioning, “emerita.” Not, you see, “emeritus.”

    But of course one can’t “really” change gender, can one? The “really” comes up when an angry conservative man or an angry essentialist feminist writes in a blog or an editorial or a comment page. The angry folk are correct, biologically speaking. That’s why their anger sounds to them like common sense. Every cell in my body shouts XY, XY, XY! I do wish they would shut up. Wretched little chromosomes. In some magical future I suppose we’ll be able to change XYs into XXs. But not now.

    I was never "angry", but I have to admit that Deirdre has changed my thinking about people who are (way) out of the ordinary in their gender self-perception. I used to think such people were nuts, full stop. Nowadays, I'm a lot less eager to approach the issue that way.


  • And kinda related to that original quote is this AIER article from Jeffrey A. Tucker: Economics Is the Great Reality Check.

    There is a sense these days, whether in politics or academia, that people should shape their own realities and each result is as valid or real as any other. Your truth. My truth. Speaking as a fill-in-the-blank, my view is this and you can tell my theory by the way I just phrased that: identity is truth and there is no other. Let’s all just make things up, dream our dreams and then impose them by force of intimidation or of law.

    If nothing else, let’s fight.

    Which is precisely why economics is so lovely by comparison. Yes, economists disagree on things. But for the most part, economic science strives to understand universal forces at work, things that unite us and the human experience through time and space regardless of our wishes and dreams. More importantly, regardless of what economists themselves think, economics is an amazing and welcome constraint on flights of intellectual and political fancy. 

    Last week, for example, Elizabeth Warren’s campaign…

    Well, if you've been paying attention, you'll know exactly where Tucker is headed there.


  • Speaking of a presidential candidate in dire need of a reality check, Emily Yoffe writes at Reason: Joe Biden’s Record on Campus Due Process Has Been Abysmal. Is It a Preview of His Presidency?.

    The rationale for the 2020 candidacy of former Vice President Joe Biden, a man who will be 78 years old on Inauguration Day, is that he is the great moderate hope. He is the man who will save the Democrats from their ever-leftward impulses by attracting the centrist voters who remain the majority of the electorate. But the key domestic initiative of his vice presidency was not middle-of-the-road at all. It was a declaration that the federal government must engage in a far-reaching, top-down intervention in the sexual interactions between young adults, setting new rules aimed at how students must behave and establishing harsh punishments for those who deviate.

    Though his reputation rests on his moderation, Biden's approach to campus sexual assault is part of a pattern: He identifies an actual problem, engages in inflammatory—and sometimes false—rhetoric about it, then fashions a harsh, overreaching response that sweeps up the harmless and even the innocent. He has been called to task on the consequences of this approach to the federal wars on drugs and crime. (As a senator, he was a key figure in overseeing comprehensive drug and crime legislation.) Over the years, and especially since announcing his presidential run, he has repudiated some of the policies he previously promoted.

    Longtime readers may recall that I was Present at Biden's announcement of the Obama Administration's new campus sex policies in an event at the University Near Here. Looking back at what I wrote at the time, I was pretty easy on him. In my (slight) defense, nobody knew the details of the infamous "Dear Colleague" Title IX letter at the time, and he was content just to impress us all with his earnestness, if not his connection to reality.


  • At National Review, David Harsanyi writes on President Trump & Vladimir Putin -- Manchurian Candidate Conspiracy Theory Will Never Die.

    One of the most durable conspiracy theories of our times finds Vladimir Putin recruiting a billionaire media personality named Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency. In some iterations of the tale, Trump is willingly serving his Kremlin comrades; in others, he is merely the victim of kompromat. In every version he is an asset.

    The basic account holds that Putin, who is apparently blessed with seer-like abilities, knew in the late 1970s that Trump, whose political positions would wildly fluctuate over 40 years, was presidential material, and that now, after decades of patiently waiting, the duo’s nefarious plan to cut taxes and place originalists onto the federal bench has finally come to fruition.

    In a sprawling July 2018 New York piece headlined, “Will Trump Be Meeting with His Counterpart — Or His Handler? A plausible theory of mind-boggling collusion,” Jonathan Chait offered a fully realized rendering of Trump’s potential sedition. Cobbling together every interaction the real-estate developer ever had with Russians — helpfully laid out in a handy Pepe Silvia–like flow chart — Chait posits that Trump might have become a Kremlin asset in 1987 when visited Moscow.

    We'll briefly note that it's far more "respectable" for the Blue Team to make fun of silly right-wing conspiracy theories. They're far less likely to call out their own.


  • And the Google LFOD News Alert rang for a Vice article: 'Mango Is Not a Crime': Trump-Supporting Vapers Stormed D.C..

    On Saturday, Donald Trump took off on Marine One and flew over a crowd of vapers who promptly began shouting at the helicopter. The president was on his way to the University of Alabama football game, where he was likely seeking spectators who wouldn't boo him. But what many of those gathered below sought was simple: They were vapers, and they needed Trump to notice them.

    They might have appreciated it if some aide leaned over to the president and explained that smoking combustible cigarettes was the number one cause of preventable death in the world, and that they believed vaping to be a safer alternative. They wanted him to know that they did not condone teen use, and that they disdained embattled vape giant JUUL Labs for its marketing. Most importantly, they wanted him to reconsider a federal ban of e-liquid flavors, one he had called for weeks ago and just days earlier suggested was imminent. They wanted him to let them vape cake. And cinnamon roll, and bubble gum, and custard.

    And LFOD? Ah, here 'tis:

    But there's another problem. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced that it had discovered a "very strong culprit"—a suspect that has been floated in the past—for the vaping-linked illnesses: vitamin E acetate, a thickening agent that has been found in black-market THC cartridges. So although many vapers skew libertarian and insist the government should largely stay out of their lives—there were several "live free or die" tattoos in the crowd—the lung injuries and fatalities might well have been prevented or at least curtailed had the feds placed stricter regulations on cannabis.

    Or—here's a crazy thought—if the pot-vapers had an ounce of common sense in the first place they wouldn't be using black market THC cartridges.


Last Modified 2019-11-12 11:50 AM EST

The Phony Campaign

2019-11-10 Update

[Amazon Link]

We welcome Michael Bloomberg to the list, popping into the oddsmaker table this morning with a 4.2% chance of being Your Next President. His net worth ($53 billion USD) makes Tom Steyer ($1.6 billion USD) look like a shiftless bum on the street corner. Back in 2013, Reason put him at number one on its 45 Enemies of Freedom list. (Elizabeth Warren barely made the list, at number 45, but that was six years ago. I bet she'd do better, by which I mean worse, now.)

So Nanny-statist Mayor Mike is our big probability-gainer this week. Everyone else's odds decreased or remained static, but Senator Liz was the Big Loser for the second week in a row, as more people weighed in on her "plans" to suck vast sums of cash out of private hands and spend it on things she thinks are more worthwhile.

And as far as phony results go, President Bone Spurs is running away with the competition.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
11/3
Phony
Results
Change
Since
11/3
Donald Trump 40.8% -0.2% 7,730,000 +5,950,000
Pete Buttigieg 6.9% -0.5% 988,000 -112,000
Hillary Clinton 2.1% -0.8% 954,000 -24,000
Bernie Sanders 6.1% -0.5% 502,000 -38,000
Joe Biden 11.2% unch 465,000 +20,000
Elizabeth Warren 17.1% -1.1% 262,000 +4,000
Michael Bloomberg 4.2% --- 51,800 ---
Andrew Yang 2.0% unch 42,600 +1,800

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • So let's let Jacob Sullum welcome Mayor Mike to the campaign trail: Michael Bloomberg’s Centrism Combines the Worst Instincts of the Right and Left.

    Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is reportedly entering the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, presenting himself as a moderate alternative who can beat Donald Trump. That mantle had been claimed by Joe Biden, but Bloomberg, who previously said he was staying out of the race, apparently has been disappointed by the former vice president's performance so far.

    It's highly doubtful that Democratic primary voters will find Bloomberg, who until recently was a Republican, more appealing than Biden. But in the unlikely event that Bloomberg wins the nomination, the presidential nomination will pit a billionaire busybody again a billionaire bully, a match-up that might be entertaining but will not offer an obvious alternative for voters who favor limited government.

    Well, other than the Dave Barry write-in alternative.


  • Trump's musings on the Constitution's "phony emoluments clause" continue to ring the Google bell, but this Newsweek story is pretty eyebrow-raising: Trump Campaign's Meal Contests Are 'Out-and-out Fraud' if Nobody Wins, Says Ex-White House Lawyer.

    If the Trump 2020 campaign is holding phony contests to raise money by offering a prize of meeting President Donald Trump that is not honored then it is "out-and-out fraud," a former White House lawyer said, and could lead to prosecutions.

    The Popular Information newsletter reported that the Trump campaign has held 15 contests since 2018 offering the prize, which includes a meal, travel and hotel expenses, and a photo with Trump for the winning donor.

    Other campaigns have used the same cash-raising tactic, including those of Jeb Bush, Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg. These contests are typically followed up with an announcement of a winner and images from the meal.

    But there appears to be little, if any, public evidence of any winners to date of the Trump campaign's contests, raising questions about who has won the prizes.

    Hm. Alexa, what's that old cliché? "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." Still…

    Confession: I'm a sucker for these "contests". So far this cycle, I've entered Mayor Pete's and Senator Liz's. (You don't need to donate money to enter.) I have this fantasy of asking some magical question that the candidate will run off the rails answering, dooming their campaign.

    That hasn't happened, unfortunately. The main effect is that I get lots and lots of subsequent campaign spam in my Inbox. (Six messages from Mayor Pete and his minions yesterday alone!)

    I'd enter Trump's contest, but they want your e-mail and your cell phone number. Yeah, I do not want Trump calling my cell phone.


  • Of course, Tom Steyer's not a shiftless bum on the street corner as I implied above. Steve MacDonald at Granite Grok reports Billionaire Hedge Fund Manager Tom Steyer's Campaign Trying to Buy Endorsements. Quoting an AP story:

    A top aide to Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer in Iowa privately offered campaign contributions to local politicians in exchange for endorsing his White House bid, according to multiple people with direct knowledge of the conversations.

    The overtures from Pat Murphy, a former state House speaker who is serving as a top adviser on Steyer’s Iowa campaign, aren’t illegal — though payments for endorsements would violate campaign finance laws if not disclosed. There’s no evidence that any Iowans accepted the offer or received contributions from Steyer’s campaign as compensation for their backing.

    As I left as a comment on GG: If you see me endorse Steyer, you'll know what happened. I won't have gone cheap, though. I'd need something in the high two figures.

    Pay attention, candidates: Pun Salad can be bought. Think: Amazon gift cards. Lavish meals. Funny t-shirts. Be creative.


  • David Harsanyi notes Pete Buttigieg's Bogus Religious Tolerance.

    Not long ago, Saint Peter Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., the media’s go-to expert on all matters of faith, was asked about Beto O’Rourke’s contention that churches that refuse to embrace progressive spiritual rites should be stripped of their tax-exempt status.

    “I’m not sure he understood the implications of what he was saying,” Mayor Pete responded. “I mean, that means going to war not only with churches, but I would think with mosques and a lot of organizations that may not have the same view of various religious principles that I do, but also, because of the separation of church and state, are acknowledged as nonprofits in this country.“

    Buttigieg’s implication was that while O’Rourke’s “war” against Christians might be justified, there’s also a chance that those efforts might ensnare a favored progressive group. This isn’t a defense of religious tolerance as much as a warning  — a good one — that any state empowered to target problematic Catholics or Evangelicals could one day come after Unitarians or Reform Jews, as well.

    Mayor Pete (correctly) notes that the First Amendment protects unpopular opinions against government persecution. He seems more than a tad wistful that such protection extends to opinions he doesn't like.


  • At Reason, Peter Suderman continues to weigh in on Elizabeth Warren’s Fake Plan To Pay for Medicare for All . Click over for the nerdy details, but here's the take-home:

    For Warren, however, realism is clearly not the point. She released the plan after months of pressure to explain precisely how she would finance the tens of trillions in new government spending that even the cheapest, most efficient version of a full-fledged single-payer system would require. Like a general insisting on the size of his army by lining up row after row of mannequins and scarecrows, Warren has enlisted a legion of implausible savings mechanisms and unworkable tax hikes in hopes of cobbling together something that looks convincing from afar.

    Her goal was not to figure out how to pay for single-payer, or outline the political challenges and economic tradeoffs that it might entail, but to produce a document sufficiently festooned with technocratic jargon and data points drawn from savings projections that did not pan out all so that she could say she had a plan to finance the program, dismiss her critics, and then change the subject.

    Warren has not come up with a plan to pay for Medicare for All. Instead, she has concocted a $52 trillion package of fanciful assumptions, unworkable reforms, and psuedo-wonky gobbledygook, and figured out how to pay for that.

    Other words appearing in Peter's article: "balderdash", "mythical", "fake".

    Have I mentioned one more invaluable boon provided by the web? Thesauri are free and online!


  • Andrew Yang reliably holds down the lowest position on the phony poll, and Wired's Nicholas Thompson points to a possible reason for that: Andrew Yang Is Not Full of Shit. It's long and well-reported.

    He has run his campaign in the most modern of digital ways too. The guy is dynamite on Reddit, and he spends time answering questions on Quora. And that is part of why he’s going to win, he hollers from the stage. He can beat Trump on his own terrain—“I’m better at the internet than he is!”

    But the tech-friendly trappings mask a thorough critique of technology itself. His whole message is premised on the dangers of automation taking away jobs and the risks of artificial intelligence. He lambastes today's technology firms for not compensating us for our data. If there’s a villain in his stump speech, it’s not Trump—it’s Amazon. (“We have to be pretty fucking stupid to let a trillion-dollar tech company pay nothing in taxes, am I right, Los Angeles?”)

    Hey, Andrew, we try to keep things PG-13, or at least TV-MA around here. Could you hold off on the f-bombs?

    Thompson links to a Forbes article that estimates Andy's net worth at … $1 million USD.

    That's one-twelfth of Senator Liz's net worth. And 0.002% of Mayor Mike's net worth.

    Even Bernie is worth $2.5 million.

    Andy bills himself as a "tech entrepreneur". He sold his test-prep company to Kaplan "low tens of millions". So shouldn't that job description be "money-losing tech entrepreneur"?


  • And finally, NH Labor News ("Where Labor and Progressive Politics Intersect") reports: Tulsi Gabbard Files Nomination Papers for New Hampshire Primary. And she said:

    New Hampshire has always played a unique and historic role in selecting presidents, and voters here take that responsibility seriously. I love and appreciate the independent spirit and values represented across the ‘Live Free or Die’ state that are firmly rooted in the bedrock of our Constitution and Bill of Rights — the freedoms and liberties that so many of our nation’s sons and daughters throughout history have fought and sacrificed to protect — sacrifices I do not take lightly. I made a promise to support and defend our Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic when I enlisted as a soldier in the Army National Guard almost seventeen years ago. I took that same oath when I was sworn in as a member of the United States Congress nearly seven years ago. These freedoms, that I and so many others who serve our nation are willing to sacrifice our lives to defend, are what make our country great.

    Tulsi has recently introduced legislation to reinstate the "Fairness Doctrine" imposition on TV and radio broadcasters. She's suing Google on the novel theory that it "infringed on her free speech rights." And (of course) she's a fan of degrading the First Amendment in the guise of "campaign finance reform".

    Tulsi, please let me know when you're an actual fan of LFOD.

URLs du Jour

2019-11-09

[Amazon Link]

  • At AEI, James Pethokoukis writes on The strange irony of hating elites — and then giving elites power to pick winners and losers in the American economy. Well, actually, he lets Virginia Postrel do the heavy lifting (from a 2017 interview):

    There are inherent contradictions. So let’s take Donald Trump. Donald Trump loves the auto industry. He wants lots of auto jobs in the US Michigan is a big part of his base. He really cares about the auto industry. But he also likes the steel industry. He wants steel to be expensive and made in the U.S. Well, wait a minute. Who buys steel? Automobile companies buy steel. What happens if the price of steel goes up? Oh, it becomes harder to make it in the automobile industry.

    When we talk about picking winners, that’s what we’re talking about. If you don’t let the marketplace, the decentralized deciders, set prices, if you’re going to have Donald Trump deciding who the winner is, he’s going to have to decide even between the automobile industry and the steel industry, never mind any newfangled things like Google or Amazon. So there’s that issue.

    And then, of course, as much as he wants to do everything himself, ultimately you’re going to have some 35-year-old lawyer in the anti-trust division or the commerce department or somebody who went to some Ivy League school who’s going to be deciding these things actually. So the whole populist, anti-elitist thing goes away because inherently you end up with technocrats running things. You get France in the best case scenario.

    Hear that? France in the best case. Eesh.


  • Ann Althouse asks the big question: "How much does anyone—on either side of this yawning national divide—care about the evidence if they know in advance how they plan to interpret it?".

    Well, actually, that's not Ann. That's Susan B. Glasser writing in the New Yorker about impeachment. But Ann gives her reply:

    I'm not following this because I believe the people who are shaping it and presenting and hyperventilating about it decided in advance the interpretation they wanted to manipulate people into having. I'm not going to sit around getting spoon fed this stuff on a daily basis, week after week.

    That's a good strategy. Neither am I about to join up with either side's cheerleading section.


  • P. J. O'Rourke writes at American Consequences: Everyone Loses in the Zero-Sum Game Called Politics.

    Right now, we have a gigantic political tumor. And I’m not optimistic about the biopsy.

    The growth of politics is the opposite of the growth of liberty. The growth of politics kills the growth of liberty.

    When liberty grows, we get the expansion of free enterprise and free markets. We create more goods, services, and benefits to society. The pie gets bigger.

    But politics is not about creating more goods, services, and benefits to society. Politics is about dividing them up.

    When liberty grows, the pie gets bigger. When politics grows, the slices get smaller.

    Politics is all about promising things to people. “The auction of goods about to be stolen,” as H.L. Mencken famously put it.

    Well, you get the point. Peej is a little too optimistic about this being a zero-sum game, I think. Almost certainly, and especially with campaign promises, it's negative-sum. (Although the propagandists for statism do a pretty good job of trying to convince you otherwise.)


  • At NR, Veronique de Rugy detects a seriousness deficit at the highest levels. Specifically: President Trump Isn't Serious about Ex-Im Being a Tool to Fight China.

    These days, the trick to get whatever expansion of government one wants is to assert that more government intervention is necessary to help fight China. Yet even people who find sense and merit in this goal must concede that, in most cases, the policies are so poorly designed that they will do no such thing. The end result is that if adopted, these policies will grow the U.S. government but have no impact on China.

    Case in point: President Trump’s recent support for a clean, ten-year reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank without insisting on fundamental reforms at the agency.

    As we have heard in the last two years, the president’s change of mind about the ExIm Bank (he wanted to get rid of it before) has to do with his belief, and those around him, that the Bank can be a tool to fight China’ expansionist aspirations. Fighting China is also the main reason invoked by many on the Hill for having switched from opposing the Bank to now supporting it. This goal is somewhat different from the one pursued through the trade war.

    To adapt a well-known adage: if the Export-Import Bank is an answer, it must have been a really stupid question.


  • And the American Council on Science and Health reports on the latest: Calorie Counts on Menus Have Virtually No Impact On What We Eat.

    The setting for the study, published in the British Medical Journal was a large franchise of a national fast-food company with three different restaurant chains located in Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi (you can do the sleuthing and come up with some theories as to who this might be, but the franchisees who handed over data didn’t get active permission from head office to name the restaurant, so the authors couldn’t divulge).

    104 outlets were involved in the analysis, all of which added calorie information to their in-store and drive-thru menus in April 2017. Weekly aggregated sales data was made available to the researchers from the pre-labeling (April 2015 to April 2017) period to up until April 2018 – a year after labeling implementation. That’s a whole lot of data – around 50 million transactions – and a far longer follow-up than most previous evaluations of food labeling interventions.

     Virtually no impact…

    This regulation would have been a good candidate for the "suicide clause" I've occasionally proposed: new regulations (or legislations) must include one or more objective benefits that must be met within a specified time period. And if those benefits are not met, the regulations (or legislations) immediately go out of effect.

URLs du Jour

2019-11-08

[Amazon Link]

  • At AEI, Mark J. Perry provides Quotation of the day on the great non sequitur of our time….

    In politics, the great non sequitur of our time is that: 1) things are not right and that 2) the government should make them right. Where right all too often means cosmic justice, trying to set things right means writing a blank check for never-ending expansion of government power. That in turn means the quiet and piecemeal repeal of the American Revolution and the freedom that it signified as an ideal for everyone. It means muffling the shot heard round the world and bringing back the old idea that some are booted and spurred to ride others. That they are riding with a heady sense of moral mission and personal gratification makes them more dangerous.

    That's from Thomas Sowell's The Quest for Cosmic Justice, our Amazon Product du Jour.


  • So with both major parties aiming at nominating presidential candidates with deal-breaking baggage, that means the Big-L Libertarian Party might be an option for me (again). So I paid attention to the current crop of candidates. Matt Welch of Reason reports from a recent state convention: Candidates Vie to Represent the Libertarian Wing of the Libertarian Party.

    But news there was this past weekend at the South Carolina Libertarian Party state convention. Author and longtime libertarian hand Jacob Hornberger, the 69-year-old founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation, formally announced his candidacy for president, immediately becoming one of the most well-known of the dozen or so names working actively to take the baton from two-time nominee Gary Johnson.

    Hornberger, the third-place finisher in the 2000 Libertarian presidential race, portrays his candidacy as a way for the party to return to principle, an implicit critique of nominating former Republican elected officials in the past three cycles. In this, the friend-of-Ron-Paul shares a commonality with the other source of Libertarian weekend news from South Carolina, which was a debate I moderated between six of Hornberger's competitors.

    Across multiple questions, including an open-ended query about lessons learned from Johnson's record-shattering 2016 campaign, the sextet of Adam Kokesh, Kim Ruff, Jo Jorgensen, Ken Armstrong, Dan "Taxation is Theft" Behrman, and Vermin Supreme made it clear that candidates are competing to represent the Libertarian wing of the Libertarian Party.

    Matt's article is link-rich, allowing you to do your own research if you'd like. For me, it's looking like writing in Dave Barry remains the most likely strategy.


  • At NR, Daniel Tenreiro joins the long line of sensible people slagging Jack Dorsey: Twitter’s New Restrictions on Political Advertising Make No Sense.

    While roundly praised by the tech commentariat, Dorsey’s decision is based on flawed premises and will further debase online political discourse. Though courts define “electioneering communication” as messaging that explicitly supports a candidate for public office within 30 days of an election, Twitter’s definition is more expansive, applying to ads for candidates at any time in an election cycle, as well as to ads that promote a political issue.

    Some causes, such as voter-registration drives, will be exempt. Will the policy apply to Black Lives Matter or Greenpeace advertisements? A Planned Parenthood campaign that promotes abortion services takes an explicitly pro-choice position, but the organization has an institutional imperative to expand its customer base. If Twitter chooses to ban such ads, many of those now celebrating its decision as a victory for truth may reconsider. If, as I suspect, Twitter does not choose to ban advertising from an organization such as Planned Parenthood, the Twitter brain trust will put itself in the position of deciding what constitutes political discourse. Given social media’s centrality in American politics (roughly two-thirds of Americans get news on social media), Twitter-approved policies would be artificially bolstered at the expense of free and open debate. Twitter would then become exactly what it ostensibly fears: a large corporation exercising outsize influence on politics.

    Whereever Twitter's policy winds up, it's safe to say that it will not satisfy anyone except Jack.

    But, to be fair, he's the only person that it has to satisfy.


  • And there's good news for my fair state, as reported by the Josiah Bartlett Center: N.H. ranks first in USA in economic freedom, Fraser Institute study finds.

    New Hampshire scored a 7.93 out of 10 in this year’s report, well above its New England neighbors and far above lowest-ranked New York (4.49), which placed last for the fifth year in a row.

    No other New England state made the top ten. Connecticut ranked 13th, Massachusetts 17th, Maine 36th, Rhode Island 38th, and Vermont 47th.

    “New Hampshire’s low-tax, limited-government political culture continues to make the Granite State the envy of both New England and the nation,” said Andrew Cline, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, which partnered with the Fraser Institute in releasing the study. “New York and Vermont, on the other hand, continue to show us that economic freedom retreats when under attack from high taxes and heavy regulations.”

    Yay! You can read the details here!


  • And George F. Will speculates on what Bernie and Liz know about their startling ideas. Specifically: Warren and Sanders know their startling ideas won’t get done.

    The torrent of astonishing talk from Democratic presidential aspirants has included two especially startling ideas. One is that we are going to die — the climate change crisis is “existential” — unless America does a slew of things that the aspirants know are not going to be done. And the leading progressive aspirant has endorsed an idea that would confirm hostile caricatures of progressives if any caricaturist could have imagined the idea before Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) voiced it.

    About Democrats’ plans for nullifying the “existential” crisis: America is really not going to achieve Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) “complete decarbonization” by 2050. America will not eliminate net greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050, as Joe Biden promises. Fossil fuels accounted for 81.8 percent of energy consumption in 2018, and the Energy Information Administration projects that, in 2050, the figure will be 78.9 percent. Perhaps higher, if Democrats succeed in abolishing carbon-free nuclear power, which in 2018 was 8.4 percent of energy consumption. The Democrats’ threat to nuclear power’s existence tells you how seriously they take their own rhetoric about the “existential” climate threat. As does their vague, tepid and perfunctory endorsement of the most efficient way to reduce carbon — a carbon tax, which might pose an existential threat to their aspirations.

    As KDW said the other day: their campaign slogan should really be "Give me the power now — we’ll work out the details later."

URLs du Jour

2019-11-07

[Amazon Link]

  • Ryan Bourne, at Cato, is asking the important questions. Well, one important question: Do Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders Really Care About Wealth Inequality?.

    My answer would be: only insofar as they can demagogue the issue to gain political power. But Ryan has a less cynical observation.

    Every year, Credit Suisse calculates a wealth “Gini coefficient” for major countries, indicating their level of wealth inequality in a single number from 0 to 100. Higher numbers indicate higher inequality. In 2018, the U.S. really did have a comparatively high figure at 85, as Warren and Sanders lament. But how this number compares to other countries is instructive.

    Many poorer economies, such as Ethiopia (61), Myanmar (58), and Pakistan (65), have lower wealth inequality than America. Meanwhile, a diverse range of countries have similarly high wealth inequality, including Russia (88) and Kazakhstan (95), through to Sweden (87) and Denmark (84). Unsurprisingly, neither Warren nor Sanders argue for the U.S. to adopt Ethiopia or Pakistan’s economic model in pursuit of more equality. But Bernie Sanders has said in the past that Denmark and Sweden are exemplars par excellence of his vision of “democratic socialism,” seemingly not caring that their wealth distributions are “outrageous,” “grotesque,” or “immoral,” according to his own self-defined standards.

    Ryan co-authored the Cato study on wealth inequality we blogged about yesterday.


  • It's apparently Democrat-slagging Day here at Pun Salad. Here's another look at Senators Bernie and Liz by Veronique de Rugy at Reason: Plans by Warren and Sanders Neglect Logic, Math, and Honesty.

    To be fair, Warren and Sanders aren't the first candidates to make promises they can't deliver. Nor are they unique in campaigning on platforms that would be disastrous for our economy. Most politicians behave this way. In fact, both parties are to blame for implementing bad policies that failed to deliver advertised benefits while adding significant sums to the national debt (think the Affordable Care Act and Medicare Part D, for example). And of course, the lack of fiscal responsibility by the current president is evidenced by the speed at which the budget deficit is rising.

    But what is unique about Warren and Sanders is the scale of their schemes to grow the size of government in America without any consideration for fiscal sanity.

    What truly puzzles me is that while the math doesn't add up at all—and the worlds they want to produce won't see the light of day without serious pain for most Americans—they have hundreds of thousands of people cheering them along the way. This is crazy. Let's be honest, the plans by Warren and Sanders almost sound like a 4-year-old's wish list to improve the country (e.g., more candy, more unicorns, more desserts, cartoons throughout the day, all of which is to be paid for by the Wicked Witch of the West and Captain Hook).

    Veronique references a Daily Beast column by Brian Riedl, headlined "The Magical Thinking Behind Warren’s Medicare for All Plan". His bottom line:

    If Warren is elected president, this plan will face neutral third-party scores likely to show a financing shortfall far into the trillions of dollars. When that happens, advocates will have no alternative than to add significant middle-class taxes, as well as family co-payments or premiums. From there, the plan will face questions as to whether the economy can handle the largest tax increase in American history–as well as whether health care costs can be contained with reforms that both increase the demand for health care services and squeeze the supply of health providers through aggressive payment rate reductions. Medicare-For-All faces a long and difficult path to enactment.

    Brian is diplomatic and restrained, although I'm reading "batshit crazy" between every line.


  • Kevin D. Williamson at National Review gets a little closer to the truth, I think: Elizabeth Warren Thinks Voters Are Stupid.

    Sub-headline: "There isn't any obvious reason to doubt that she's right." Kevin isn't running for office, so he can afford to be honest.

    The bad news is, Elizabeth Warren has some barmy ideas about raising your taxes. The good news is, she’s a proven coward. She says she likes to “nerd out” on the policy details. Okay, let’s do that.

    Warren estimates that her health-care scheme would cost about $2 trillion — every year, forever. As often is the case when we are talking about the federal budget, the numbers sound incomprehensible to many people: millions, billions, trillions, squidillions, whatever. To put that $2 trillion a year into perspective, a comparison: That is more money than the federal government collects annually in all of the personal and corporate income taxes combined. Put another way, even if the federal government were able to successfully double the revenue it gets from personal and corporate income taxes, the additional revenue would not pay for Warren’s health-care plan.

    KDW suggests a new campaign slogan for Liz:

    Give me the power now — we’ll work out the details later.

    Ghastly, probably honest.


  • Writing at the Federalist, Nathanael Blake has an interesting take: How Libertarianism Makes People Susceptible To Huge Government. As someone who's somewhere around 70/30 libertarian/conservative, my ears prick up…

    David Marcus, The Federalist’s New York correspondent, recently tweeted that he can’t make up his mind about whether he fears “the socialists or the libertarians more.” Robert Tracinski, an author and the editor of The Tracinski Letter, responded, “LOL. God forbid we should…leave you alone.” This was a good Twitter burn, but I suspect that for many people, that is precisely what they fear about libertarianism: that they will be left alone.

    They have a point, insofar as libertarianism has become less about a commitment to limited government and more a philosophy of autonomous individualism. The latter is an ideology that undermines the possibility of the former, in large part because it really does leave people alone. Cordially leaving the two gentlemen to settle their dispute, I will attempt to elucidate this point.

    … and he does. I think Nathanael unfortunately strawmans libertarians when he implies that they ignore the necessity of strong cultural underpinnings for a free society. But some libertarians sometimes sound as if they've forgotten that, so maybe take Nathanael's article as a friendly reminder.

Case Histories

[Amazon Link]

I heard good things about Kate Atkinson, so I thought I would give her a try. This book is her first in the "Jackson Brodie" series. Jackson is an ex-cop private eye. But this book doesn't follow normal PI-genre conventions. For one thing, Jackson doesn't even show up until page 69, after three separate crimes have been committed: a missing toddler; a young woman murdered by a crazed knife-wielder; a young wife and mother giving her husband ax-whacks. Worse, the crimes are old: 1970, 1994, 1979.

But eventually Jackson gets entangled with all of them: two of the toddler's sisters make a shocking discovery that casts a new light on the disappearance, asking Jackson to check it out. The guilt-burdened father of one of the murder victims seeks Jackson's services. And (eventually) the sister of the ax-whacker in the third case asks Jackson to track down the murderer's daughter, entrusted to her parents, now missing.

And, oh yeah, someone's apparently trying to kill Jackson. Related to one of these cases, or not?

Ms. Atkinson keeps things tricky by jumping around in time, using multiple points-of-view (sometimes describing the same incident later from a different POV). And the book describes some pretty sordid, twisted, and generally abhorrent behavior. A back-cover blurb describes this as a "tragi-comedy for our times", but I'd go with 95% tragi.

URLs du Jour

2019-11-06

[Amazon Link]

  • At the Federalist, Michele Blood writes on the I'm-not-a-hater-like-you Wars: In Your Town, Does 'Love Live Here' Or 'Hate Have No Home Here'?.

    A yard sign in New Jersey business owner Holly Smith’s yard reads, “Love lives here: love of God, family, friends, country, community, & the U.S. Constitution.” Last month a neighbor, referring to the sign, called Smith and her 15-year-old daughter Megan “hateful.”

    I'd comment on the psychology involved here, but I'm sure you know about it as well as I.

    The link goes to a purchasing site (lawn signs, baseball caps, t-shirts, window displays, …), should you be so motivated.


  • A very long but worthwhile study from Cato's Chris Edwards and Ryan Bourne: Exploring Wealth Inequality. Convenient bullet points:

    • Wealth Inequality Has Increased Modestly
    • Poverty Matters, Not Inequality
    • Most Top Wealth Is Self-Made
    • Cronyism Increases Wealth Inequality
    • Government Undermines Wealth-Building
      • Displacement of Personal Savings
      • Asset Tests
      • Government-Created Costs
    • Inequality Does Not Erode Democracy
      • The Preferences of the Wealthy
      • Do the Rich Have Disproportionate Political Power?
      • Does Rising Wealth Inequality Undermine Democracy?

    Their bottom line:

    In sum, wealth inequality has increased modestly but mainly because of general economic growth and entrepreneurs creating innovations that are broadly beneficial. Nonetheless, policymakers should aim to reduce inequality by ending cronyist programs and reducing barriers to wealth-building by moderate-income households.

    A useful study to bookmark, rebutting and refuting a lot of nonsense deployed to further statism and authoritarianim.


  • And the Google LFOD Alert rang for a Hot Air article from Jazz Shaw: New Hampshire red flag bill moving forward.

    The Live Free or Die state looks to be leaning a bit further away from the “live free” part this year. Last week, New Hampshire wound up moving their own version of a red flag gun confiscation law forward, though only barely. In a closely split vote, House Bill 687 was moved out of committee and sent for a full floor vote early next year. Opponents of the bill showed up for the vote holding signs comparing the Democrats to Nazis, while supporters struggled to maintain the bare minimum number of votes required to keep the measure moving forward. (Concord Monitor)

    The good folks at Gun Owners of America are concerned, worried that Governor Sununu might go wobbly.


  • Greg Weiner at Law & Liberty is aghast at Twitter’s Patronizing Populism. Making a point that we've made ourselves, albeit less eloquently:

    Yet Dorsey’s reason for pulling political ads is that the same everyday people whose voices deserve projection are so easily duped by readily disprovable claims that they must be protected from seeing them in the first place. A people that cannot exercise sufficient discernment to separate propaganda from information has no business governing itself. Why a people Dorsey so characterizes is qualified to participate in his call for “more forward-looking political ad regulation,” which he acknowledges is “very difficult” but which is actually very unconstitutional, is unclear.

    There is no question that platforms like Twitter can be used to inflame and mislead. So can newspapers, books, and television. Dorsey’s argument is online exceptionalism: “Internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse: machine learning-based optimization of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes. All at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale.”

    That's just a taste, but Weiner's so good he made me think, "Gee, I wish Jack Dorsey would read this."


  • And this article, roughly on the same topic, made me wonder if Wired is coming out of its years-long statist funk: Paid Political Ads Are Not the Problem. Our Perceptions Are. A reality-based argument:

    Political ad bans appeal in part because they’re so simple and (apparently) straightforward, and in part because they flatter our democratic self-conception as wise and informed citizens. If we’ve been consuming and sharing misinformation, we like to think that it’s because some outside force has foisted those messages on us. It’s harsher to consider the alternative explanation: that we’re simply more attuned to use information that confirms our preexisting beliefs than information that corrects them—in other words, that we’re simply not adept at discerning truth.

    Addressing the real problem will be far more difficult. In short, we’d have to figure out how to combat the organic sharing of misinformation by ordinary users without turning platforms into invasive arbiters of speech. To dodge that hard task by touting a superficially neutral ad ban should be seen for what it is: a cop-out.

    The author turned out to be Cato guy, Julian Sanchez. But props to Wired for including his thoughts.


Last Modified 2019-11-07 3:20 AM EST

The Magnificent Seven

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

So I'm a big Denzel Washington fan. And (of course) a fan of the original Yul Brynner/Steve McQueen translation of Seven Samurai.

And so I thought this would be great. And, meh, it wasn't that great. It was OK.

In comparison with the old version: it's in America, where nice white townspeople are being terrorized, not by an evil Mexican bandit, but by an evil Anglo capitalist. For reasons I missed, he just wants the townspeople to leave. Something to do with mining? Maybe.

Anyway, the townspeople make a fuss. The capitalist decides to make an example of one of the fussmakers, shooting him in cold blood, leaving him dead in the street.

[Leaving his grieving widow. And, reader, if you've seen more than a dozen or so movies, can you work out the most predictable scenario for this movie's climax? I could. And I was right.]

And then his henchmen slaughter a half-dozen or so others. Just because.

So the grieving widow sets out to hire some mercenaries to wage war against the capitalist. And gets Denzel, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, and … three other miscellaneous guys of appropriate cultural diversity. And … I may have dozed off a few minutes here and there, but eventually everything culminates in a very long battle scene.

Made me want to re-watch the old one.

Consumer Reports Goes Full Orwell

[CR Goes Full Orwell]

… and you should never go full Orwell.

I've scanned, snipped, and provided an item from page 7 of the December 2019 issue of Consumer Reports, over there on your left. What's bugging me? The headline, "Pushing for EV Choices". Which is a lie.

CR has long been a fan of heavy government regulation of … well, just about everything. The whole point of which is to deny certain choices to consumers. You are assumed to be too ill-informed, or stupid, or short-sighted, or … well, you get the idea. You're not making the choices that CR prefers, anyway. For whatever reason, CR can reliably be found advocating strenuously for putting government bureaucrats betwixt willing buyers and willing sellers, and saying: "no, you can't do that."

I'm willing to grant that under certain limited circumstances, such regulation might be a good idea. But never, to my knowledge, has CR ever looked at a regulatory issue and said: "You know what? There's no compelling reason for the state to be involved here, so we're going to oppose additional regulations in this case."

After years of being a loyal subscriber, I'm mildly irritated by this, but I've factored it in.

So I couldn't help but be amused/bothered at this item's headline. CR is suddenly a fan of choice! How did that happen?

But, of course, they're not.

As revealed in the item's body, the item is about a new requirement imposed on automakers: they have to sell an increasing fraction of electric vehicles (5% by 2023, 6% by 2025). Buyers aren't required to buy them, though. At least not yet.

This requirement was imposed by the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (CAQCC, I assume pronounced "quack"). This commission is unelected, appointed by the Colorado governor. But apparently has been "delegated" the power to mandate manufacturers' product mixes without theoretically-accountable legislators needing to be involved.

It should be completely obvious that if Colorado consumers were demanding an increasing number of electric vehicles, dealers and manufacturers would be falling all over themselves to meet that demand. So it's safe to assume that such demand doesn't exist—if it did, there would be no need for the decree.

So It's difficult to work out what will happen at dealerships if the public isn't as interested in EVs as the CAQCC thinks they should be. Ever-increasing acreage of dealer lots devoted to EVs that people don't want?

This article at the Federalist discusses Colorado's "Green Little Deal" (GLD), of which the EV mandate is just a part. They speculate on the likely outcome:

The Colorado Automobile Dealers Association argues [the mandate] would damage dealers, who already lose an average $570 per new car sold. Consumers would have fewer conventional choices available as more ZEVs just sit on lots. Not enough data is available yet to show just how badly these parts of Colorado’s GLD will squeeze the economy, but basic economics tells us that the state’s economy will take a beating. GLD advocates essentially admit it.

See that, Consumer Reports? Fewer choices.

Also noted in the Federalist article (but not at CR): the Trump Administration has "put the kibosh" on the EV mandate in Colorado and other states. The states are suing. So who knows what will happen? I'd be OK with Colorado and the rest to act as a "laboratory of democracy" on this matter. Except the connection with "democracy" is tenuous at best when the mandate is imposed by an unelected commission.

I am unimpressed by CR's claim that their "survey" found that "most" prospective Colorado car buyers are "interested" in EVs. It's the easiest thing in the world to virtue-signal your greenness by giving a survey the answer they so clearly want to hear; once it comes time to whip out your checkbook for a new Subaru… a different set of incentives come into play.

Also of interest: as of 2017, over half of Colorado's electricity came from burning coal. Nearly a quarter came from natural gas. That could change, but those "green" EVs on I-70 were effectively 75% fossil-fuel powered. And, given the losses involved in electrical generation and transmission, probably not as efficiently as equivalent gasoline power.

In 1984 George Orwell notes the three slogans of the Party, engraved on the massive Ministry of Truth:

WAR IS PEACE

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

We can add, thanks to CR:

DICTATES ARE CHOICES

URLs du Jour

2019-11-04

[Amazon Link]

  • Scientific American — boy, I don't often link to them, let alone as a lead item — has an interesting question for those of us who like to opine in public: Are You a Moral Grandstander?.

    Do you strongly agree with the following statements?

    • When I share my moral/political beliefs, I do so to show people who disagree with me that I am better than them.
    • I share my moral/political beliefs to make people who disagree with me feel bad.
    • When I share my moral/political beliefs, I do so in the hopes that people different than me will feel ashamed of their beliefs.

    If so, then you may be a card-carrying moral grandstander. Of course it's wonderful to have a social cause that you believe in genuinely, and which you want to share with the world to make it a better place. But moral grandstanding comes from a different place.

    I'd like to think that I'm not a moral grandstander.

    I'd like to think that I'm better than that.

    But (oops) isn't that a bit of moral grandstanding right there?

    Geez, this is tricky.


  • At Skeptic, Steven Pinker explains Why We Are Not Living in a Post‑Truth Era.

    Anyone who urges universities to live up to their mission of promoting knowledge, truth, and reason is bound to be confronted with the objection that these aspirations are just so 20th century. Aren’t we living in a post-truth era? Haven’t cognitive psychologists shown that humans are fundamentally irrational? Mustn’t we acknowledge that the pursuit of disinterested reason and objective truth are Enlightenment anachronisms?

    The answer to all of these questions is “no.”

    First, we are not living in a post-truth era. Why not? Consider the statement “We are living in a post-truth era.” Is it true? If so, it cannot be true.

    Likewise, it is not the case that humans are irrational. Consider the statement, “Humans are irrational.” Is that statement rational? If it is, it cannot be true—at least, if it is uttered and understood by humans. (It would be another thing if it was an observation exchanged among an advanced race of space aliens.) If humans were truly irrational, who specified the benchmark of rationality against which humans don’t measure up? How did they conduct the comparison? Why should we believe them? Indeed, how could we understand them?

    Works for me. But I've made a similar argument about "free will". If you use the tools of reasoned argument attempting to persuade me that it doesn't exist, you are implicitly buying into the notion that I can make a reasoned choice on whether to be persuaded or not.

    Anyway, click on through for Pinker's fine article, make sure you stick around for his discussion of "fake news", and try not to be put off by the lead picture where he appears to have dyed his hair blue. I'm sure that's just a lighting effect. Hope so, anyway.


  • At NR (an NRPLUS article, don't know what that means) Kevin D. Williamson weighs in on the new hot illiberalism popping up in some dark, dank, right-wing haunts. Specifically, Kevin recently appeared … Government Should Secure Our Liberty, Not Engage in Moral Compulsion.

    […] opposite Sohrab Ahmari on a panel hosted by the William F. Buckley Program at Yale. He argued that the main duty of the state is not to protect liberty but to achieve the good, biblically defined. That’s what he said when he showed up, anyway — he was a little bit late owing to the fact that the state he would entrust to do God’s work here on Earth cannot quite manage to make the trains run on time, a fact that you might think would be of some interest to a bantamweight Mussolini.

    Mr. Ahmari, who is the op-ed editor of the New York Post (where I write about twice a month), is a Catholic convert, as am I. (I suppose I identify as “Puritan curious” these days; it must be that book on the Presidents Adams.) I have never met a Catholic convert who is not a fan of A Man for All Seasons, and Mr. Ahmari reminds me a little bit of the young idealist of whom Thomas More says: “We must just pray that when your head is finished turning, your face is to the front again.” National Review is a magazine that in its early days boasted a collection of freshly reformed Trotskyites, doctrinaire libertarians, and militant Catholic anti-liberals, but to my knowledge none of them was all three at the same time, whereas Mr. Ahmari can run through that cycle in a three-day weekend. I will be happy for him when his jackboot phase has ended, but who knows where he will land?

    Conservatism is a famous big tent; Ahmari et. al. seem to be (at best) dedicated to throwing most Americans out of it.

    I'm aware that Kevin sometimes seems that way too.


  • The Washington Post's wonderful Megan McArdle, a lonely voice of sanity and uncommon sense, makes a point about the recent Big Tech controversy: Actually, we don’t want Facebook and Twitter making too many judgment calls.

    To see how difficult this is, let’s go back to Barack Obama’s promises that “If you like your health-care plan, you can keep it.” Anyone who knew anything about the health-care system knew that this was untrue the moment Obama uttered the words — and moreover, that the president, or whoever was feeding him talking points, must have known it was untrue. There was simply no way to change the health-care system so extensively without shoving some folks off their old plans. And critics of Obamacare, including me, said as much at the time.

    During the bitter debates that followed, fact checker Politifact jumped in more than once to decide who was right, and it rated Obama’s claim “True” in one instance, “Half True” in others. Yet four years later, when Obamacare was finally implemented in 2013, that promise suddenly became Politifact’s “Lie of the Year.”

    This from a single fact-checking outlet, whose fact checkers had a comparatively easy job. They got to pick and choose which claims to investigate, leaving some aside if they didn’t have the time. They could take as long as they needed to do a thorough job. They still got it badly wrong.

    It's hard for me to resist the cheap shot… so I won't: Politifact considered Obama's lie to be "true" as long as it was politically useful to do so. After it was too late, they decided they could afford to be more reality-based.


  • And <voice imitation="professor_farnsworth">Good news, everyone!</voice> At least to those of you worried about where your ancestors came from: Origin of Modern Humans 'Traced To Botswana'.

    Scientists have pinpointed the homeland of all humans alive today to a region south of the Zambesi River. The area is now dominated by salt pans, but was once home to an enormous lake, which may have been our ancestral heartland 200,000 years ago. Our ancestors settled for 70,000 years, until the local climate changed, researchers have proposed. They began to move on as fertile green corridors opened up, paving the way for future migrations out of Africa. "It has been clear for some time that anatomically modern humans appeared in Africa roughly 200,000 years ago," said Prof Vanessa Hayes, a geneticist at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia. "What has been long debated is the exact location of this emergence and subsequent dispersal of our earliest ancestors." Prof Hayes' conclusions have drawn scepticism from other researchers in the field, however. The area in question is south of the Zambesi basin, in northern Botswana. The researchers think our ancestors settled near Africa's huge lake system, known as Lake Makgadikgadi, which is now an area of sprawling salt flats. "It's an extremely large area, it would have been very wet, it would have been very lush," said Prof Hayes. "And it would have actually provided a suitable habitat for modern humans and wildlife to have lived." After staying there for 70,000 years, people began to move on. Shifts in rainfall across the region led to three waves of migration 130,000 and 110,000 years ago, driven by corridors of green fertile land opening up.

    Others are skeptical, but I like to believe that we're all African-Americans. I plan on answering the 2020 Census that way.


  • And Marginal Revolution has the latest research: The Causal Effect of Cannabis on Cognition. Specifically, the "burning" (heh) question:

    Does smoking lots of pot make you dumb or do dumb people smoke lots of pot?

    No spoilers here, but I wasn't surprised at the answer.

The Phony Campaign

2019-11-03 Update

[phony baloney]

Readers, we are precisely 1 year away from Election Day (366 days, because 2020 is a Leap Year). And I'm sure things will only get phonier as that day approacheth. But here's the state of play as of today.

President Bone Spurs has regained his rightful place at the top of the phony standings, edging out that phony pretender, Mayor Pete.

According to the folks wagering their own money, Mayor Pete was Most Improved over the past week, his win probability gaining 2.3 percentage points.

The Big Loser: Senator Liz, who saw 3.3 percentage points shaved off her probability. This may be due to the universal derision that greeted her "plan" to pay for her M4A scheme; even reliable flack Paul Krugman punted on whether her numbers were realistic. Since "it’s very unlikely that Medicare for all will happen any time soon", who cares if her proposals assume we will quickly harness the power of dilithium crystals and unicorn farts?

And the bettors persist in finding Hillary Clinton a more likely president than allegedly-actual candidates Amy, Cory, Tulsi, Tom, Andrew, …

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
10/27
Phony
Results
Change
Since
10/27
Donald Trump 41.0% -0.2% 1,780,000 -400,000
Pete Buttigieg 7.4% +2.3% 1,100,000 -1,650,000
Hillary Clinton 2.9% +0.4% 978,000 +263,000
Bernie Sanders 6.6% +1.7% 540,000 +5,000
Joe Biden 11.2% +0.7% 445,000 +15,000
Elizabeth Warren 18.2% -3.3% 258,000 -7,000
Andrew Yang 2.0% unch 40,800 +8,000

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • President Bone Spurs improved his standings by explicitly deeming Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution to be "phony". Which drew a number of boos, for example: Republicans' fantasy Constitution: Trump and the "phony emoluments clause" from Paul Rosenberg at Salon:

    Donald Trump's recent criticism of the "phony emoluments clause," used in defense of his since-abandoned G7 scam, was striking for its bluntness. But it’s part of a long history of conservatives flagrantly ignoring the actual Constitution and substituting an imaginary version in its place. At Vox, Ian Millhiser thoroughly debunked the notion that Trump wasn’t violating the Constitution by seeking to hold a summit meeting at his own hotel, including reference to work by Georgetown’s John Mikhail, whose examination of 40 different dictionaries made mincemeat of any “public meaning” argument to try to defend Trump.

    That's 40 dictionaries, pal. Different ones, too!

    [The Reason-hosted Volokh Conspiracy has hosted a few recent articles on the Emoluments Clause. Bottom line: it may not apply to the President at all.]

    But that drive-by slam at "conservatives flagrantly ignoring the actual Constitution and substituting an imaginary version in its place"? Here's what Rosenberg considers to be an example:

    This view can be found in the so-called “constitutional sheriff’s” movement, which believes that county sheriffs get to pick and chose which laws to enforce and can keep federal law enforcement agents out of their counties. Tellingly, the word "sheriff" — like the word "God" — doesn’t even appear in the Constitution.

    This conservative/libertarian is no legal scholar, but I'm reasonably certain that a whole bunch of the current activities of Your Federal Government do not "appear in the Constitution". If Rosenberg wants to argue consistently on that basis, I will enthusiastically cheer him on.


  • A recent comment from Wheezy Joe drew tweetfire from Trump War Room.

    Hey, maybe Joe was thinking of the Treaty of Paris. That's important too!


  • At the Federalist, Christopher Jacobs explained Why Pete Buttigieg's 'Medicare For All Who Want It' Is A Sham.

    After the most recent Democratic presidential debate, when South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg criticized Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren for evasiveness on her single-payer health plan, Warren’s staff circulated a Buttigieg tweet from February 2018. The tweet indicates Buttigieg’s support for single-payer 20 months ago, which makes him a hypocrite for criticizing her now, according to the Warren camp.

    In response, Buttigieg claimed, “Only in the last few months did it become the case that [single-payer] was defined by politicians to mean ending private insurance, and I’ve never believed that that’s the right pathway.” Apparently, Buttigieg never read Sen. Bernie Sanders’ bill — which Sanders, a Vermont independent, introduced in September 2017 — Section 107(a) of which makes private insurance “unlawful.”

    Mayor Pete is simply trying to do some impossible needle-threading: (1) placate the left who consider M4A to be part of their purity test; (2) don't scare the people who are happy with their private health insurance. If his rhetoric sounds wildly phony, that's why.


  • The National Review editors look at Elizabeth Warren’s Health-Care Ruse.

    What Senator Elizabeth Warren has just unveiled is less a plan to pay for the costs of Medicare for All than a plan to hide them. A massive tax on all workers, including the middle-class ones she claims to shield from new taxes, will be disguised by the fiction that it applies only to their employers — a point her own economic advisers have in other contexts shown they grasp perfectly well. In the first hours since the plan’s release, the press has indicated it is ready to go along.

    The editors ask a good question: what, exactly, is all this supposed to accomplish?

    My theory: the M4A acolytes simply see expansion of government power (and the accompanying increase in the dependency of the individual on the state) as a good thing in itself. Details don't matter! It's a faith-based tenet that doesn't need to be analyzed or justified.


  • But M4A isn't the only lousy idea in Liz's quiver. At AIER, Max Gulker looks at Elizabeth Warren’s Anti-Consumer Plan to Break Up Big Tech. Lots of discussion of the details, but here's the bottom line:

    Senator Warren’s plan to “break up big tech” raises more questions than it answers. With the novel issues regarding markets and regulation raised by these firms, it would be difficult to expect anything else from a 1,700-word document. What seems abundantly clear, however, is that a President Warren would aggressively pursue an antitrust policy against big tech largely informed by an antiquated view of what firm size means for consumers.

    Amazon and Google are both cases where a core business (retail and search, respectively) is a core part of the value proposition of a platform which they own. Such businesses and platforms are not readily separable without compromising the value of at least one of the two.

    Even those generally favoring active antitrust enforcement must take a step back as we come to terms with a new kind of large company. Amazon and Google deliver phenomenal value to consumers because of innovation. Should Senator Warren or others choose to apply a decades-old rulebook to split up or regulate these companies, their lack of innovation risks costing consumers dearly.

    Again: the solution Liz wants is totally out-of-whack with any actual problems. The motivation is simply: expand government power. Any excuse will do.


  • Anti-Trump fanatic Jonathan V. Last of the Bulwark bemoans: This Is How Warren Loses. Specifically, she could have (and maybe still could) make the election a simple up/down referendum on Trump.

    But nooooo…

    What do you think will happen when Republicans get to frame the election as a choice between center-right/populist economics and progressive/socialist economics not because that’s the best ground for them to fight on but because it’s exactly the battle the Democrats asked for?

    “Elizabeth Warren wants to take away your health insurance.”

    “Elizabeth Warren wants to force your children into failing schools.”

    “Elizabeth Warren wants to raise your taxes for government-run health care and government-run education.”

    All that's true, of course. Also: "Elizabeth Warren wants to destroy Google, Facebook, and Amazon."

    (But, arguably, Trump would like to do that as well.)


  • And finally, Issues & Insights delivers the ultimate insult:: Elizabeth Warren’s ‘Medicare for All’ Claims Are As Credible As Her Native American Heritage.

    Earlier this month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren promised that she’d reveal how she’d pay the $36 trillion (and climbing) cost of Medicare for All some time “in the coming weeks.” If she claims that it can be financed entirely on the backs of corporations and the rich, she will be lying.

    That’s made clear by a report from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which is decidedly non-partisan. After studying tax data, it concluded that “Tax increases on high earners, corporations, and the financial sector by themselves could not cover much more than one-third of the cost of Medicare for All.”

    Yeah, that's why she's throwing in a hefty dose of wealth confiscation too.

URLs du Jour

2019-11-02

[Amazon Link]

  • So in a dump-your-bad-news-on-Friday move, CNBC reports: Elizabeth Warren would double billionaire wealth tax for 'Medicare for All' plan. First "key point":

    Elizabeth Warren called for a doubling of her proposed billionaire wealth tax as part of a new “Medicare for All” proposal, from 3% to 6% on wealth over 10 figures.

    Yes, Senator Liz's unconstitutional, unworkable, indecent tax that hasn't been passed… has already been doubled.

    Just wait until she reveals that the "wealth over 10 figures" includes cents.


  • But CNBC tries to avoid making the obvious point made by Peter Suderman at Reason: Elizabeth Warren Wants To Pay for Medicare for All With a $9 Trillion Tax That Will Hit the Middle Class.

    Right now, Warren's plan says, employers spend about $9 trillion a decade on health insurance coverage. Her plan aims to move the private spending onto the federal budget. Under her proposal, large employers who currently pay for health coverage would be required to pay a comparable amount (equivalent to 98 percent of what they pay now, adjusted for the number of workers they employ) in order to help finance Medicare for All.

    Warren shies away from calling this a tax, and she even claims "we don't need to raise taxes on the middle class by one penny to finance Medicare for All." Instead, she refers to it as an employer Medicare contribution, under which companies "would send payments to the federal government for Medicare."

    But there is a commonly accepted term for a plan that requires companies to send payments to the federal government in order to finance government programs. That word is tax. And that is essentially what this is—a nearly $9 trillion payroll tax (or, perhaps, a head tax with some small-business carve outs). It is thus hard to see this as anything other than a massive middle-class tax hike.

    Well, of course.

    Which brings us to another recent discussion topic, Facebook's/Zuckerman's decision to accept political ads without "fact-checking", and Twitter/Dorsey's refusal of all (paid) political ads.

    If you believe that fact-checking political ads is desirable, how would you react to a decree that Senator Liz could not advertise her M4A proposal as middle-class-tax free?

    Anyway, the progressive hounds are out after Zuck, which almost makes me feel sorry for him.


  • For example … Aaron Sorkin 's NYT Op-Ed Scolding Zuckerberg for Free Speech Stand Botches Key Details.

    “People worry, and I worry deeply, too, about an erosion of truth,” Zuckerberg told the Post at the time. “At the same time, I don’t think people want to live in a world where you can only say things that tech companies decide are 100 percent true.” Earlier this week, it was revealed that Facebook employees were protesting the policy internally. 

    “This can’t possibly be the outcome you and I want, to have crazy lies pumped into the water supply that corrupt the most important decisions we make together,” Sorkin wrote Thursday. “Lies that have a very real and incredibly dangerous effect on our elections and our lives and our children’s lives.”

    Yes. What about the children‽‽‽‽

    Unfortunately, as the article goes on to point out, Sorkin's column contained three misstatements, necessitating corrections.

    So if the NYT can't protect us (and our children) from Aaron Sorkin's lies, how can he, or we, expect Facebook to do a better job?


  • And the WSJ Notable & Quotable noticed some cognitive dissonance between (1) a different NYT columnist, Thomas Friedman, who wrote:

    Look at Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who was questioned last Wednesday at a House hearing by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A.O.C. was trying to grasp why Zuckerberg thinks it’s O.K. for politicians to run political ads that contain obvious lies. . . .

    This is all about money for Zuckerberg, but he disguises his motives in some half-baked theory about freedom of the press.

    … and (2) the NYT's own Advertising Acceptability Manual:

    We believe that the broad principles of freedom of the press confer on us an obligation to keep our advertising columns open to all points of view. Therefore, The New York Times accepts advertisements in which groups or individuals comment on public or controversial issues. We make no judgments on an advertiser’s arguments, factual assertions or conclusions. . . . We do not verify, nor do we vouch for, statements of purported fact in advocacy/opinion advertisements. We reserve the right, however, to require documentation of factual claims when it is deemed necessary. . . .

    Our stance with regard to the acceptance of political advertisements is the same as it is for the acceptance of opinion advertisements.

    Can someone ask Thomas Friedman whether the NYT's assertions are "half-baked"?


  • As another example of claptrap emanating from the "sophisticated" progressive media, we have one Fred Vogelstein, who chirps from his perch at Wired: Zuckerberg's View of Speech on Facebook Is Stuck in 2004. (I would have gone for 1791, but that's me.)

    Vogelstein takes for granted that "Russia's manipulation of News Feed" impacted the election. (Never mind that the evidence on that score is at best muddled. But what really gets my goat is the mean-girl insult drops, e.g.:

    Meanwhile, Zuckerberg is still lecturing us with the sophistication of a college student about the importance of free speech in politics.

    I'm not sure at what post-college milestone one is supposed to pick up more "sophisticated" attitudes toward free speech. Rest assured, Vogelstein has attained super-"sophisticated" enlightenment, which gives him the the ability — nay, the duty! — to lecture us all about how we need to be protected from screen pixels that might have been paid for by them Russkies.

    His bottom line:

    Zuckerberg says he gets the complexity of the decisions he and Facebook must make. “The question is, where do you draw the line” between what you keep up and what you take down? he asked in his Georgetown speech.

    The world doesn’t seem to like where Zuckerberg has drawn that line. But Zuckerberg has made it clear he isn’t going to change where he draws it. The only question now is whether someone forces that choice upon him.

    And the more interesting question: is the US a country where the First Amendment still applies?


  • Meanwhile, Bradley A. Smith has some questions for the "enlightened" Jack Dorsey: Twitter’s Banning of Political Ads Demonstrates Confusion About Free Speech..

    Dorsey’s incoherent statement of principles is nothing compared with the confusion likely when the policy is formally announced on November 15. For instance, Dorsey seeks to draw a distinction between those who have “earned” influence and those who “pay for reach.” Presumably, under Twitter’s new policy, a campaign will be able to pay a celebrity $50,000 to tweet out an endorsement or mention. However, a candidate without celebrity fans will be unable to spend $5,000 to promote a tweet. The paid ad may be truthful, while the celebrity tweet may contain what Dorsey calls “unchecked, misleading information,” but only the former will be banned. Or will Twitter disable the accounts of celebrities who accept payments for their tweets, or who relay “unchecked, misleading information?” As determined by whom?

    Dorsey says that he wants to “level the playing field.” Perhaps he, with 4.2 million followers, should shadow-ban himself. Why does being a highly visible CEO mean one has “earned” more political influence than Walmart, the AFL-CIO, or any other entity that seeks to promote its political ideas? Dorsey spent his cash to start Twitter. They want to spend theirs to advertise on Twitter. How does this new policy “level the playing field?”

    Smith notes that Dorsey can run his company as he wants. (A courtesy that Vogelstein, above, is unwilling to extend to Zuck.)

    Just as I'm free to call Dorsey a sanctimonious, incoherent, twit.


  • Just one more link on this? OK, here you go, from John Samples at Cato: Political Ads and Political Truth.

    Let’s consider a hypothetical but realistic case. Imagine the Elizabeth Warren for president campaign wants to buy an ad from Facebook that says, “Two prominent economists—Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman—have found that inequality has grown rapidly. We need a wealth tax now. Vote for Elizabeth Warren for president.” Seeing the ad, some demand it be taken down because critics of Saez-Zucman have argued that their conclusions involve manipulating data; it is, the critics say, filled with falsehoods. Other people associated with the Justin Amash for president campaign buy a Facebook ad that says, “The studies of inequality come from the Data Fudging School of Taxation Advocacy. Let’s have prosperity not a wealth tax. Vote for Justin Amash for president.” Seeing this ad, Saez-Zucman demand that it be taken down. The ad is, they say, based on lies about their research.

    What should Mark Zuckerberg do? I see three choices. He would be well within his rights to refuse to run either ad. Jack Dorsey at Twitter has decided to go down this path. Second, Zuckerberg could take sides and run the Warren ad or the ad of its critics. In short, he (or a fact-checking organization) could decide which one is true and protect Facebook’s users from the other one, the lie. Third, Zuckerberg could do what he has done: he could run both ads and leave it to those who see the ads on Facebook to decide their truth or falsity and the implications of either answer. Zuckerberg has selected the most liberal choice. He has refused to decide whether Piketty-Saez-Zucman or their critics have the best of the argument. Facebook has placed that power and responsibility to decide with its users.

    … which, in a free society, is where it should reside.

URLs du Jour

2019-11-01

It's November, but that doesn't stop me from sharing this belated Halloween-referencing cartoon from Michael Ramirez:

[Trick or Treat]

The reclining nude painting behind the bar is an additional bit of genius.

  • I continue to be bugged by Richard Stengel's WaPo op-ed backing "hate speech" censorship. Do we need one? Walter Olson, writing at Cato says: No, America Does Not "Need a Hate Speech Law".

    Honestly, could Stengel's argument be any weaker? "Even the most sophisticated Arab diplomats that I dealt with did not understand why the First Amendment allows someone to burn a Koran. ... it should not protect hateful speech that can cause violence by one group against another."

    If the prospect of violence by offended groups is what causes us to censor, we are well on the way toward closing down speech at the whim of whichever mobs, here or abroad, decide to be violent. Perhaps the position the sophisticated Arab diplomats urged on him was not the last word in sophistication. And while Stengel might be expecting that persons much like himself will be in charge of defining "hate," that is not how it always works.

    "Hate speech" will be defined as "the speech hated by people in power". That will not work well.


  • Salesforce CEO made a small splash a few weeks mack with his hubristic call for a "New Capitalism". Which looks a lot like socialism. So my ears pricked up a bit at this Slashdot story: Salesforce Transit Center: San Fransisco's $2.2 Billion Cracks.

    Built at a cost of $2.2 billion, the Salesforce Transit Center and Park formed the cornerstone of the Bay Area's ambitious regional transportation plan: a vast, clean, efficient web of trains, buses, and streetcars, running through a hub acclaimed as the Grand Central Station of the West. Naming this structure -- the embodiment of a transformative idea -- could yield marketing gold for Salesforce. It also could make [Marc Benioff, founder and co-CEO of Salesforce] a household name on the level of Bezos, Gates, or Zuckerberg. Benioff took the gamble in 2017, pledging $110 million over 25 years, with $9.1 million up front and the rest committed to supporting operations when the trains started running. For now, the train box sat vacant on the bottom level, awaiting a 1.3-mile tunnel connection. [...] As he took the stage on his birthday at the Moscone Center, Marc Benioff must have been confident his gamble on naming rights had paid off. He couldn't imagine that at that moment, less than a mile away, the ambassadors trained to welcome the public to the STC were now frantically waving commuters away. Rather than Grand Central Station or the High Line, the Salesforce Transit Center and Park suddenly resembled the Titanic.

    Earlier that day, workers installing panels in the STC's ceiling beneath the rooftop park uncovered a jagged crack in a steel beam supporting the park and bus deck. "Out of an abundance of caution," officials said, they closed the transit center, rerouting buses to a temporary terminal. Inspectors were summoned. They found a similar fracture in a second beam. Structural steel is exceptionally strong, but given certain conditions -- low temperatures, defects incurred during fabrication, heavy-load stress -- it remains vulnerable to cracking. Two types of cracks occur in steel: ductile fractures, which occur after the steel has yielded and deformed, and brittle fractures, which generally happen before the steel yields. Ductile fractures develop over time, as the steel stretches during use, explains Michael Engelhardt, Ph.D., a professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas at Austin and chair of the peer-review committee overseeing the STC's response to the cracked-beam crisis. The cracks discovered beneath the rooftop park were classic brittle fractures. The tapered 4-inch-thick steel beams -- 2.5 feet wide and 60 feet long, with a horizontal flange on the bottom -- undergirded the 5.4-acre park on the building's fourth level, and buttressed the roof of the bus deck on the second level. By themselves, the cracks formed a point of weakness with potentially hazardous consequences. But they also suggested the possibility of a larger crisis. If two brittle fractures had appeared in the building's 23,000 tons of structural steel, couldn't there be others?

    A shining symbol of the "New Capitalism" decrepitude and incompetence, brought to you by sweetheart cronyism.


  • The other big rich-guy news is Twitter's Jack Dorsey announcing the site's ban on political ads. It's predictably tendentious, aimed at one-upping Facebook/Zuck. NR's Daniel Tenreiro asks an obvious question: Pray Tell, Mr. Dorsey, What Is ‘Political’?.

    The policy will not apply to voter-registration drives. Will it apply to Black Lives Matter or Greenpeace? Will Twitter bar Planned Parenthood from advertising its abortion services? How will Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has called for social media companies to censor political ads, react to the news that the National LGBTQ Task Force can no longer sponsor outreach to at-risk transgender youth?

    It also apparently made an exception for things like this:

    But as a laissez-faire kind of guy, I believe it's Dorsey's call to make. Just wish he wasn't so self-righteous about it.


  • Nick Gillespie at Reason also has comments on Dorsey's policy: ‘We Can Fact Check Your Ass,’ but Not When It Comes to Political Ads.

    The differing approaches to the issue of paid speech provide a good opportunity to discuss not just how political communications work in a post-broadcast world but also how the internet is falling short of its promise to radically alter the way people communicate and connect. There are many reasons to criticize Twitter's decision (which, as a private platform, it has every right to make), but the ultimate reason is this: It represents a near-complete lack of faith in users to function as critical consumers of information.

    I'm dubious about the power of online advertising generally. It's more of an irritation than anything. Political ads are even more irritating.

    Dorsey's business model (however) depends on pretending advertising works great! Because that's how he makes his money.


  • Don Boudreaux has re-evaluated Marx. And the results are not pretty:

    I am now again reading many of Marx’s ‘scientific’ economics writings (in preparation for a conference that I’ll attend next week). What a crock! Marx’s ramblings are far more ridiculous and difficult to penetrate than I’d recalled.

    I’m astonished that Marx’s lumbering, thick, repetitive, and entirely inelegant prose somehow won for him any popularity beyond a tiny handful of crazed and semi-literate followers. Reading Marx is a figurative form of grinding red-hot embers into one’s eyes and trying to make sense, through the pain, of the resulting confused and distorted scene.

    Time for me to dig out a P. J. O'Rourke quote from Modern Manners [1983]:

    Another distinctive quality of manners is that they have nothing to do with what you do, only how you do it. For example, Karl Marx was always polite in the British Museum. He was courteous to the staff, never read with his hat on, and didn't make lip farts when he came across passages in Hegel with which he disagreed. Despite the fact that his political exhortations have caused the deaths of millions, he is today more revered than not. On the other hand, John W. Hinckley, Jr., was only rude once, to a retired Hollywood movie actor, and Hinckley will be in a mental institution for the rest of his life.

    [That last bit turned out to be less than prescient.]