URLs du Jour

2020-01-17

  • Peter Suderman writes at Reason that it's pretty simple: By Withholding Funds to Ukraine, Trump Broke the Law.

    One argument that President Donald Trump's supporters have employed in the impeachment debate is that it was merely a "policy dispute." Yes, Trump held up aid to Ukraine last summer, this line goes, but he did so in pursuit of his agenda in the region. 

    There are several problems with this argument. One is that it has become increasingly clear that the president was pursuing a personal political agenda through his personal lawyer, not a national agenda through the formal diplomatic process. Another problem, arguably more serious, is that even if Trump was pursuing some less blatantly corrupt goal, what he did was still illegal. 

    That is the conclusion reached by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a sharply worded letter released this morning. The letter raises serious questions about whether the Trump administration violated the constitutional separation of powers. 

    That's a point. For a counterpoint…


  • … check out the WSJ's James Freeman, who is dismissive: Trump Receives Another Postcard from the Swamp.

    Traditionally GAO does its best to serve its congressional bosses. This is not a swipe at these particular swamp dwellers. Yes, the current head of GAO was nominated by President Barack Obama after a congressional commission presented a list of candidates. But the Supreme Court has explicitly found that GAO is subservient to the legislative branch. The 1986 decision is called Bowsher v. Synar. GAO staff try their best to satisfy requests from legislators.

    At the urging of Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D., Maryland), GAO now says that Trump administration delays in sending aid to Ukraine were illegal. For people who aren’t students of the Washington bureaucracy, it should be noted that few people consider GAO the authoritative word on legal issues. The Justice Department and ultimately of course the federal courts make the big calls.

    James goes on to note a number of times GAO found the Obama Administration running afoul of the law. (And this doesn't even count Biden's threat to withhold aid to Ukraine aid until a prosecutor was fired.)

    At Instapundit, David Bernstein notes, with respect to one of those GAO findings: "If you can find me a Democratic House member or Senator who denounced Obama for that move, I’ll concede that he is sincerely interested in presidential lawfulness and the separation of powers."

    Let's grant that there's a surfeit of hypocrisy here.


  • One additional source of irritation is spotlighted by Kevin D. Williamson at National Review (an NRPLUS article, and I don't know what that means). Supreme Court’s ‘Endangered' Reputation: Democrat Warnings Entirely Political.

    The Democrats are great defenders of American institutions — provided those institutions serve their interests. In October 2016, the po-faced defenders of all that is good and precious were wearing themselves out demanding that Donald Trump and his supporters make a pledge to “accept the results” of the presidential election, a demand that was predicated on the assumption that Trump was going to lose. After making those demands, the Democrats have spent every single day refusing to accept the results of the 2016 election. They don’t give a fig about the credibility of our electoral processes — they care about winning. The Electoral College, the Senate, the Bill of Rights — when the Constitution itself gets in the way, they are ready and eager to gut it.

    Yesterday, Democrats were willing to slander a Supreme Court nominee, and then to continue slandering him as a justice; today, they are very, very concerned about the delicate reputation of the Supreme Court. Yesterday, Democrats were working to advance a court-packing scheme that would seal and certify the politicization of the Court; today, the Court is so sacrosanct that we must move heaven and earth to fortify its perceived legitimacy. It is difficult to take seriously the notion that they are moved by tender concern for the reputation of an institution that they insist is staffed by political hacks and rapists.

    Did I already mention hypocrisy? Oh, right, I did.


  • In unimpeachable news, Cato's James Knupp and Christopher A. Preble have a suggestion: When Debating Base Closure, Look at the Data. And there's a local connection.

    Despite years of calls from the Pentagon for a new round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), Congress has refused to authorize one since 2005. With the Department of Defense running at 22 percent excess capacity and constant calls for more money for operations and modernization, Congress should allow the Pentagon to reallocate funds away from unnecessary bases into more urgent projects. But fears of communities losing their bases and watching their local economies suffer as a result has kept talk of a new BRAC off the table.

    BRAC opponents should take a look at some of the data measuring the economic health of post-BRAC communities. Research shows that while there may be some short-term pain, in the long run most communities rebound -- and oftentimes end up in a much stronger position before. A presentation last year at the Association of Defense Communities’ Base Redevelopment Forum looked at three very different cases: Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (1988); Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, Texas (1991); and the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard (1991). With both large and small communities represented, the evidence reveals BRAC’s actual effects.

    Our local legislators from both parties are hyper-vigilant against any waste-cutting move that might possibly endanger Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Back in 2017, I looked at PNSY through Bastiat's eyeglasses, and I think it holds up pretty well.


  • The WaPo has a fun interactive article: Which of these 2020 Democrats agrees with you most? You provide your stance on twenty policy issues, and the Post tallies up which candidates took an identical stance.

    You might, correctly, suspect that zero candidates agreed with me on more than a few questions.

    Question 17 got my goat a bit:

    The government should make four years of college ________________ for all families, including the wealthy.

    And your (only) choices were: "free", "debt-free", and "affordable". If you favor government letting colleges and students come to their own mutually-agreeable terms without meddling, you are a non-person on this issue.


  • New Hampshire magazine editor Rick Broussard triggered our LFOD news alert with: Our Declarations of “Zen-dependence”. It's a musing on our state's motto:

    Typically, when people want to define the uniqueness of our state, they go to the most public evidence of it, the one that appears on our license plates and on the signs that greet all visitors: our state motto, “Live Free or Die.”

    Of course, not everyone “gets” Gen. John Stark’s pithy bumper sticker’s worth of wisdom and not everyone appreciates the sentiment. For those still scratching their heads whenever they read it, here’s my take. The message is not that life would not be worth living without freedom. It’s just that there are worse things than being dead. This in turn suggests that there is more to our lives than just living; that we are larger beings than is suggested by our contentious featherless-biped existence on this rough mortal coil. In other words, Gen. Stark’s philosophy goes a bit deeper, perhaps, than some people think. That’s probably why it is still repeated 200 years after the event at which it was originally read as a toast to fellow veterans of the Battle of Bennington, Stark’s last hurrah.

    I'm pretty sure Rick's take is mistaken, sorry. It's not deep, it's simple: your freedom is something worth risking, and even losing, your life.

    He also seems to think LFOD was original with General Stark. I think it's generally (heh) accepted that he cribbed it from French Revolutionaries' Vivre Libre ou Mourir.

    Still, Rick's take is worth reading, if only for the idea that LFOD have a backup slogan: "Be Here Now". Can you imagine the thoughts of an incoming tourist seeing that on a "Welcome to New Hampshire" sign?

    "Be here now? Well, of course I am. Where else could I be?"

URLs du Jour

2020-01-16

  • At National Review, David Harsanyi notes a specific example of a more general problem: Democrats’ Economic Doomsaying Doesn’t Match Reality.

    In the last debate, Tom Steyer claimed that “90 percent of Americans have not had a raise for 40 years.” Politicians have been peddling the “wage stagnation” myth for a decade now. The notion that Americans make no more than their grandparents conveniently ignores a big expansion of employee-based benefits, increased efficiency, and technological advances that have, by any genuine real-world measure, vastly improved the economic life of the average American.

    Yet, in last night’s debate, Biden again asserted, to applause, that the middle class was “being clobbered” and “killed.” (The middle class is actually quite alive. It isn’t losing ground to poverty. It has been losing ground to the upper-middle class for 40 years, however.)

    RTWT, but I'll just point out that Steyer is peddling a statistical fallacy, treating a dynamic population as static.

    To use a less-charged example: if you track the average height of trees in a forest over 40 years, it might not change significantly. But then would you conclude that no tree had grown in that forest for 40 years?

    Duh.

    Of course, we'd prefer that average wages grow over time. But it's a mistake to say that people don't get raises. They do.


  • Trump promised to drain the swamp. But he's missed a particularly foul, mosquito-infested corner, according to Veronique de Rugy: Social Engineering Run Amok in the Department of Labor. Looking at the department's $400 million vendetta against Oracle:

    To prove its discrimination claim, [ Labor's "Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs" (OFCCP)] relies entirely on a statistical analysis that fails to reflect the labor market's great complexity. For instance, the government uses crude controls for employee education and experience, both of which have a large impact on compensation. For education, OFCCP considers only an employee's degree level but not whether the degree is actually relevant to the job performed. As for experience, it considers only the employee's age and time at Oracle, omitting both length at the current position — which is where the most useful experience is gained — and the relevance of prior work. OFCCP, in other words, thinks that any employees of the same age and with the same tenure with their current employer possess the same experience.

    OFCCP's analysis also treats employees with the same job title as similarly situated, creating more grounds for discrimination claims. However, a software engineer working on databases does very different work than one who develops artificial intelligence. Yet if the worker in the higher-demand field, who can therefore demand higher pay, happens to be Caucasian or male, while the other is female or a minority, then the government concludes the pay disparity is due to discrimination by Oracle.

    I guess the Department of Labor figures that if they can't sue somebody for big bucks, people might conclude that they're not earning their keep.


  • Karen Townsend at Hot Air notes the latest outrage: Space Force Bible critics condemn "unadulterated Christian privilege".

    A religious freedom group is condemning the blessing of a King James Bible last Sunday in a ceremony at the Washington National Cathedral. The Bible was used to swear in the commanders of the Space Force. Some are criticizing the ceremony as a violation of the separation of church and state.

    Further key detail: "The Bible will be taken into space."

    Ah, but the "religious freedom group" was turning over rhetorical tables in the temple:

    The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) condemns, in as full-throated a manner as is humanly possible, the shocking and repulsive display of only the most vile, exclusivist, fundamentalist Christian supremacy, dominance, triumphalism and exceptionalism which occurred at yesterday’s ‘blessing’, at the Washington National Cathedral, of a sectarian Christian bible which will apparently ‘be used to swear in all commanders of America’s newest military branch (ie. The United States Space Force).” MRFF noted with additional disgust and disdain the willing and all-too visible participation of a senior USAF officer, in formal uniform, during the travesty of this sectarian ceremony which tragically validates the villainy of unadulterated Christian privilege at DoD and its subordinate military branches. For the record, military commanders are NOT ever “sworn in” to their positions let alone with the usage of a Christian bible or other book of faith. And especially not in 2020!!

    Two exclamation points, baby. They're really irked about this.

    Although I think the real source of their worries is that Bibles in space might be used to impose Christianity on heathen Klingons and Romulans.


  • A Wired article brings (probably unintentional) amusement: Chris Evans Goes to Washington. Yes, that's Captain America.

    Chris Evans, back home after a grueling production schedule, relaxes into his couch, feet propped up on the coffee table. Over the past year and a half, the actor has tried on one identity after another: the shaggy-haired Israeli spy, the clean-shaven playboy, and, in his Broadway debut, the Manhattan beat cop with a Burt Reynolds ’stache. Now, though, he just looks like Chris Evans—trim beard, monster biceps, angelic complexion. So it’s a surprise when he brings up the nightmares. “I sleep, like, an hour a night,” he says. “I’m in a panic.”

    The panic began, as panics so often do these days, in Washington, DC. Early last February, Evans visited the capital to pitch lawmakers on a new civic engagement project. He arrived just hours before Donald Trump would deliver his second State of the Union address, in which he called on Congress to “bridge old divisions” and “reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution.” (Earlier, at a private luncheon, Trump referred to Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, as a “nasty son of a bitch.”) Evans is no fan of the president, whom he has publicly called a “moron,” a “dunce,” and a “meatball.” But bridging divisions? Putting an end to the American body politic’s clammy night sweats? These were goals he could get behind.

    Yes, when you're looking to "bridge old divisions", someone who's called Trump a “moron,” a “dunce,” and a “meatball” is just the guy to tell you how to do it.


  • And the Google LFOD alert rang for a Concord Monitor article: Vape shop owners oppose New Hampshire flavor ban proposal. But before we get to the motto invocation…

    The Trump administration announced this month that it will prohibit fruit, candy, mint and dessert flavors from small, cartridge-based e-cigarettes favored by high school and middle school students. But menthol and tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes will be allowed to remain on the market, and the targeted flavor ban entirely exempts large, tank-based vaping devices, which are primarily sold in vape shops that cater to adult smokers.

    Rep. Jerry Knirk, D-Freedom, wants New Hampshire to go further and ban the sale of all flavored vaping products, except tobacco flavors. A former surgeon, he cast the bill as a move to stem a public health crisis, and said the benefits of preventing teens from vaping outweighs the benefit to adults who use the products for smoking cessation.

    Yes, you read that correctly: the representative from Freedom wants to ban stuff. But LFOD comes in later…

    Steve Kaltsis pulled out two bottles and showed them to lawmakers, including one liquid flavored like a sweet breakfast cereal.

    “I’m 34 years old. Cap’n Crunchberries and pineapple grapefruit, these two things are keeping me off cigarettes,” said Kaltsis, who said he smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 10 years before taking up vaping five years ago. He opened a vape shop in Pelham in November after sales dropped from $1,800 to $150 per day at his store in Dracut, Mass., where the governor announced a four-month moratorium on the sale of vaping products in September.

    “Anything that is opposing adults getting their hands on these flavors that help them quit would be a tragedy for the state of New Hampshire,” he said. “Just look what it did to Massachusetts. Look what it did to me.”

    “ ‘Live Free or Die,’ ” Kaltsis continued, invoking New Hampshire’s state motto. “I was kinda hoping I could stick with that.”

    A number of us were kinda hoping we could stick with that, Steve.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-15

  • I kvetch about Wired's tired, tedious politcs a lot, but occasionally they get things right, as in this article from Brian Barrett. The 'Jeopardy!: Greatest of All Time' Tournament Is a Singular Event. (Written before last night's finale.)

    Not to get sentimental, but that future will be markedly different in more ways than just strategy. Alex Trebek has hosted the show since 1984. He’s now 79, fighting stage 4 pancreatic cancer since early 2019. He says he has no immediate plans to step down, but it’s uncertain whether he’ll have an opportunity to take the podium in such grand fashion—primetime, to an audience of millions, guiding contestants that by now “feel like family”—before he settles into a well-deserved retirement.

    It’s not just Trebek, though. Harry Friedman has produced both Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune for a quarter of a century. He’ll leave both shows when his contract runs out in March. Trebek has been the face and heart of Jeopardy!, but Friedman has spent the last 25 years as the connective tissue, making critical changes—lifting the five-game cap, increasing clue values—while keeping the show true to its original vision. Friedman is producing the GOAT tournament, and came up with its format. You’ll never see him onscreen, but you’re watching a legend go out on top.

    I was impressed at how easily James, Ken, and Brad got along, dropping small gags into the proceedings, while obviously playing to win. I was worried whether I could take a straight hour of Jeopardy! but it was easy.


  • Declan Garvey writes at the Dispatch: Justin Amash Has a Decision to Make. Specifically, whether to run for President as an independent. Or maybe as a capital-L Libertarian.

    Three weeks from the first votes of the 2020 election, the presidential race seems—finally—to be taking shape. Republicans, having blocked any serious attempts at a primary challenge, will field a candidate who brings passionate support from the hard-core GOP base, grudging acceptance from other Republicans, and intense opposition from everyone else. Democrats will likely field either a flawed candidate from the center—more accurately, the center-left—or an avowed leftist, maybe even an avowed socialist. 

    There are millions of moments, and billions of decisions, that will ultimately determine the next president and the next four years of the American experiment. But few will be as consequential as the decision now looming before a reserved, quirky, classical liberal from south central Michigan. 

    It would be nice to have someone to vote for in November.


  • Mark J. Perry of AEI calls it his Chart of the day… or century?.

    [Price Changes]

    It should go without saying which components Your Federal Government has been most insistent on making "affordable" for that time period.


  • At Reason, Nick Gillespie invites you to Gaze Upon the Worst Anti-Vaping Poster Ever and Despair. And via the magic of Twitter embedding…

    This is not simply wrong, it's unbelievably wrong, for all sorts of obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. For starters, the death rate of jumping out of airplanes without parachutes is 100 percent (the odd Vesna Vulović story notwithstanding). For vaping, not so much. In fact, even New Jersey's official site for anti-vaping propaganda admits that there is only a single confirmed case of a Garden State vaper—out of what must be hundreds of thousands if not millions of users—dying from illness related to electronic cigarettes. The site also links approvingly to an article from last October that notes there are at least two "vaping epidemics" at play. The first, writes Cristine Delnevo of Rutgers, "is the outbreak of more than 1,000 vaping-associated lung injuries nationwide, which appears linked to vaping THC, marijuana's psychoactive ingredient, and has caused more than 25 deaths, includng one in New Jersey. Separately, there is the skyrocketing rate of nicotine vaping among youth, with its risk of long-term addiction." For what it's worth, neither of the vaping devices pictured above are the sort that use the black-market THC cartridges that have been most plausibly linked to most serious illnesses, let alone deaths.

    But when you're dealing with propaganda, it's best not to get too lost in the weeds (perhaps especially when the propaganda is somehow related to weed). When targets of such communications realize they're being lied to, they tend to tune out all the information from official sources because they know it's not really unbiased, scientific, or seeking the truth.

    For seemingly the millionth time: I don't vape, and I don't advocate that people take it up. But I can't help but feel disgusted and angry about the media and politicians flat lying about the issue.


  • And one for you coders of a certain age out there, a Medium essay from Sedat Kapanoglu, Ex-Engineer at Microsoft Windows Core OS Division: How is computer programming different today than 20 years ago?. Short answer: very. But here are a few of his bullet points I really liked:

    • Since we have much faster CPUs now, numerical calculations are done in Python which is much slower than Fortran. So numerical calculations basically take the same amount of time as they did 20 years ago.

    • Unit testing has emerged as a hype and like every useful thing, its benefits were overestimated and it has inevitably turned into a religion.

    • You are not officially considered a programmer anymore until you attend a $2K conference and share a selfie from there.

    I attended a lunch with my old team yesterday, and one of the new faces said he'd been working with my code. He didn't kill me, so I'm happy.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-14

  • Daniel J. Mitchell says: Some Folks on the Left Are Honest…but Very Wrong.

    As part of my collection of honest leftists, I have a bunch of columns highlighting how some advocates of big government (including, to their credit, Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang) don’t hide from reality.

    I’m unalterably opposed to their policies, but at least they openly admit that huge tax increases on ordinary people are needed in order to finance a European-style welfare state.

    Daniel adds the authors of this WaPo column to the august list.

    They enthusiastically endorse the model seen in other countries (stop me if you've heard this):

    1. The government takes a lot more of your money.
    2. They give some of it back to you in "free" stuff.
    3. They make you believe they've done you a favor.


  • At a site named Credit Takeoff, Mike Pearson has a cool visualization of 30 Years Of America's Wealthiest People. Let's see if I can't embed it:

    Keep an eye out for Jeff Bezos.


  • The lost verse of John Lennon's "Imagine", as writen by libertarian Max Gulker: What If There Was No Legal Smoking Age?. Sample:

    Just like any age, 21 is arbitrary. At some point, without an all-out war on tobacco, we must allow people to make potentially life-threatening choices. And that’s where Smith’s framework most importantly informs this debate. Individuals and their friends and families, older siblings and mentors all have just a little bit of knowledge about what makes sense for any given person. 

    The process of discovering each individual’s best balance between instant gratification and health risks down the road is messy. [Adam] Smith’s critics, as they do in his economics treatise, falsely assume he ascribes super human rationality to his subjects. That only came later when future generations tried to fully mathematize the work of the classical economists.

    There is no magic bullet. Whether government-mandated or left in the hands of individuals, tobacco use will lead some to tragic consequences. Kids will get cigarettes either way, and adults will try and fail to stop. In this scenario of no good choices, the course that encourages responsibility and humanity seems like something we might want to try.

    The result of treating adults as irresponsible children… is a country where adults act like irresponsible children.


  • And in other sad news, the Daily Wire reports: Sir Patrick Stewart Says New 'Star Trek' Series Will Take On Trump, Brexit.

    The new “Star Trek” series starring Sir Patrick Stewart isn’t being explicitly billed as “woke,” but it seems the series’ star, who will reprise his role as the legendary Enterprise captain, Jean-Luc Picard, believes “Star Trek: Picard” will have a message for anti-immigrant leaders and global isolationists.

    I guess this is good news: no temptation whatsoever to watch this tedious exercise.


  • And the Supreme Court passed up a chance … Female nipples a no-show in Live Free or Die New Hampshire.

    The Supreme Court said Monday that it will not take up a challenge to a New Hampshire city ordinance banning women from appearing topless in public.

    So much for the New Hampshire "Live Free or Die" battle cry. Lawmakers want female breasts kept tied up, locked away and covered up.

    The refusal to hear the case left in place a 2019 ruling by New Hampshire's top court which supported convictions levied on Heidi Lilley, Kia Sinclair and Ginger Pierro for violation of nudity laws after all three women bared their breasts four years ago.

    We will just have to be satisfied with taping over the state motto on our license plates, as long as we meet the state's dress code while doing so.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-13

  • Cafe Hayek's Quotation of the Day... is from the late James Buchanan:

    Both our fiscal and our monetary structures are currently in disarray. And, as members of the body politic, we are behaving irresponsibly in our unwillingness to look at, analyze, and ultimately to support structural reforms that offer the only prospects for permanent improvement. We have allowed a quasi-independent monetary authority to accidentally attain a monopoly over fiat money issue without effective political control…. Alongside this random-walk monetary authority, we have a fiscal structure from which almost all pretense of balancing off the costs of taxes against the benefits of spending have been removed. The problem is not, however, with irresponsible political leaders, in either the executive or legislative branch of government. The problem is that the rules of the game are such as to make fiscal responsibility and fiscal prudence beyond the limits of the politically feasible. Constituents enjoy the benefits of public spending; they do not enjoy paying taxes. The politics of the [government budget] deficit is a simple as that.

    That's from 2000. If anything, the situation has gotten worse since then. Click through for the proprietor's comments.


  • Cato has issued its latest Human Freedom Index.

    Good news for Americans: we are freer than about 147 countries.

    Bad news for Americans: we're only #15, meaning 14 countries are freer than we.

    Our biggest shortcoming is on "Rule of Law" issues, notably criminal justice.


  • And then there are scofflaws. Specifically, as Michael Huemer notes, Outlaw Universities.

    Probably everyone in the academy knows that affirmative action is widely practiced: racial minorities (except Asians) and women are commonly given preference in hiring and admission decisions at American universities. I would guess, however, that some academics — and many more non-academics — are unaware that typical university hiring practices are blatantly illegal. So I’m going to talk about that for a while, in case you find that interesting.

    Job advertisements commonly say things like that the university rejects discrimination, supports equal employment opportunity, and considers all applicants “without regard to” race, sex, religion, etc. What they actually mean by this is that they only discriminate in certain specific ways. E.g., they don’t discriminate against blacks or Hispanics, but only against whites and Asians. They don’t discriminate against women, only against men. And so on. (This sounds to me like a rather Orwellian use of “equal opportunity”. But what do I know? I’m just some crazy libertarian philosopher.)

    If you click through, you'll find a particularly damning table from UC Berkeley's own website, showing how the winnowing process for faculty positions clearly, disproportionately, knocks out Whites, Asians, and males.

    If someone set up an institution of higher education that was honestly color-blind and sex-blind, they'd have a pretty good candidate pool to pick from. But I wonder if they'd get accreditation.


  • Hey, kids, what time is it? Well, according to James Pethokoukis at AEI, it's Time to reset the Doomsday Clock of ‘late capitalism’. Much like the famous "Doomsday Clock", capitalism's time is always about to run out:

    It’s always quite late, apparently. The sun is always setting. German economist Werner Sombart coined the phrase in the early 20th century, and European socialists popularized it during the Great Depression when it probably seemed about 30 seconds to midnight for capitalism. But things were darkest before the dawn. Capitalism survived, flourished, and spread across the globe. And even small doses generated near wondrous improvement.

    Yet we remain stuck and suffering in late capitalism, according to progressives and socialists. And unlike with the Doomsday Clock, the end only approaches, never recedes. Here’s a handy definition from Annie Lowrey in The Atlantic: “‘Late capitalism,’ in its current usage, is a catchall phrase for the indignities and absurdities of our contemporary economy, with its yawning inequality and super-powered corporations and shrinking middle class.” So Jeff Bezos and that $375 “eco-friendly” silver straw from Tiffany’s, basically.

    Well, maybe this time they'll be right. I know which way I'm betting, though. With my own money.


  • From the current print Reason, Jacob Sullum describes How Truth Became a Casualty of the War on Smoking, a review of two books on the history of the anti-smoking movement.

    That trend [of hyping anti-smoking "findings"] also disturbs Boston University public health professor Michael Siegel, a longtime anti-smoking activist and former [Stanton Glantz, a co-founder of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights] protégé who nowadays regularly criticizes the alarmist claims and ad hominem reasoning of his erstwhile allies. Siegel is especially dismayed by the anti-smoking movement's irrational resistance to e-cigarettes as a harm-reducing alternative to conventional, combustible cigarettes.

    "Driven by an almost puritanical inability to accept the fact that a person could obtain pleasure from nicotine without it killing them," Siegel says in a blog post that [one of the reviewed authors] quotes, "we have made the demonization of vaping the solitary goal of the movement, at the direct expense of what I always believed was our primary goal: to make smoking history." For dissidents like Siegel, it's clear that vaping—which is indisputably far less dangerous than smoking—should be embraced as a public health boon by people who say they want to reduce the death and disease caused by cigarettes.

    There's zero scientific reason to impose the same public restrictions on vaping as on tobacco products. Yet, when the moral panic level is set to 11…

The Phony Campaign

2020-01-12 Update

[Amazon Link]

Amazon is your go-to store for t-shirts featuring presidential candidates on unicorns. The Product du Jour features Senator Liz so seated, and such is the nature of politics these days that I can't tell whether it's offered by a fervent Warren fan or a bitter opponent.

Improving their win-probabilities over the week: Bernie, President Bone Spurs, and Mayor Mike. Losers: Wheezy Joe, Liz, and Mayor Pete. Bernie has leapfrogged over Biden as the most likely Democrat to win.

Still nowhere on the betting-odds radar: Tom Steyer, despite non-stop TV ads. It's almost as if people are watching the ads and thinking: "No. Uh uh. No way."

Or maybe I'm projecting.

Anyway, our phony table shows DJT with a firm grasp on the phony title, widening his lead on Mayor Pete:

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
1/5
Phony
Results
Change
Since
1/5
Donald Trump 52.0% +1.2% 1,610,000 +160,000
Pete Buttigieg 2.6% -1.2% 855,000 -137,000
Bernie Sanders 14.2% +2.9% 494,000 -15,000
Joe Biden 13.3% -3.7% 453,000 +26,000
Elizabeth Warren 4.2% -0.4% 244,000 -35,000
Michael Bloomberg 6.1% +2.2% 83,000 +2,800

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

On the diversity scale, our likely candidates are 100% persons of pallor; 5/6 male; 5/6 heterosexual; 5/6 septuagenarian; 100% thinking of different ways to push you around.

  • Michael P. Ramirez comments on presidential style:

    [Impulsive, Me?]

    This week's crazy idea: Trump is actually a believer in the Many-Worlds version of quantum mechanics, so he uses the Universe Splitter app to make decisions. Guaranteeing that there will be at least one universe where he made the right call.


  • At Inside Sources, Michael Graham wonders What Happened to Liz Warren?. The answer is unsurprising:

    […] every day the evidence builds that the Liz Warren campaign’s biggest problem, is Liz Warren.

    “She got [sic] an authenticity problem,” one DC political operative told NHJournal. “It’s the one thing about her that’s real.”

    The authenticity issue appeared again this week when Warren amended her views on the U.S. military strike that killed Iranian Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani, after blowback from progressives. Her first reaction was to declare Soleimani a “murderer responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans.”

    Within 24 hours she was calling him a “senior government official,” who had been “assassinated,” and she repeatedly refused to concede that Soleimani is a terrorist. (He was declared the leader of a terrorist organization by both the Bush and Obama administrations.) Rather than celebrating his demise, Warren was suggesting that Soleimani only died because Trump is facing impeachment.

    “Wow. We went from ‘murderer’ to ‘wag the dog’ in the space of a few days,” quipped CNN’s liberal commentator Chris Cillizza.

    Not only phony, but gratingly so.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson points out something that is probably, unfortunately, not contributing to Liz's popularity decline: Elizabeth Warren Bankruptcy Policy Relies on Moralistic Fairytales. (An "NRPLUS" article, don't know what that means for visibility.)

    Senator Elizabeth Warren, foundering in the Democratic primary, is returning to the theme that made her famous: her moralizing account of personal bankruptcy.

    As an academic, Warren did research on personal bankruptcy in the United States. “Our research ended up showing that most of these families weren’t reckless or irresponsible,” she writes, “they were just getting squeezed by an economy that forced them to take on more debt and more risk to cling to their place in America’s middle class.” That is a peculiar claim. Borrowing money that you cannot repay in order to finance personal consumption that you cannot afford is precisely the sort of thing one might wish to indicate with the words “reckless and irresponsible.” To claim that this is the result of “getting squeezed by the economy” is a way of giving your morality play a villain without making any specific person feel bad.

    Nothing wrong with that (as KDW goes on to point out); various versions of such tales of victimization are quite populist-popular, and a goodly fraction of voters love 'em.


  • Vermont Republican (yes, there's still one) James Barnett explicitly compares and contrasts: Why Trump should fear Sanders much more than Warren in 2020.

    [In the 2012 election] Warren rode the coattails of President Obama to the Senate. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and party standard bearer, lost Boston proper without cracking 20 percent. Warren won big there as well but trailed the showing of Obama by five points.

    Why? Because in places like gritty South Boston, many working class voters rejected her. Like in Essex County in Vermont, these are Trump voters and could also be Sanders voters. But they are not buying what Warren is selling. As Warren marched in the South Boston Saint Patrick Day parade thar year, one man on the curb mimicked her often repeated refrain about the “hammered” state of the middle class with a disdainful twist as only a Bostonian could and said, “Hey Warren, this is the middle class getting hammered,” as he downed the final swig of his Bud Light.

    So these street smart voters can sense a phony when they see one, and Warren is a fraud of the first order. Whether it is the uproar over her wine cave hypocrisy, her false claim of being Native American to gain a leg up in her teaching career, or her faux outrage at big corporations she used to collect huge paychecks from, she will say or do anything to get ahead.

    Like him or not, Sanders is anything but fake. He has been singing off the same song sheet for a half century. You will not find any big corporations on his resume. His disdain for millionaires and billionaires is as fervent as ever, even as he has become one. He does not shrink from his ideas out of political expediency. He believes what he says, as wild as it may sound.

    Well, that's a dilemma. Vote for an unrepentant bullshitter, or an authentic loon?

    Friends, our choice is clear.


  • Of course, Joe Biden still has a shot. And he's taken a page from the presidential songbook: when asked an inconvenient question about your past positions, dodge incoherently.

    During a question and answer session, a young man asked Biden about his support for Obamacare:

    I just need this question. So we’re going to take a trip back 2008 real quick. During the run-up to the passage of Obamacare, President Obama promised my father that if he likes his plan, he can keep his plan, and that his insurance will be cheaper. After passage, his plan was no longer allowed and his insurance costs doubled. Since you supported the plan, were you lying to my dad? Or did you not understand the bill you supported?

    Biden began his answer with a what appears to have been a joke, the offered an incoherent ramble:

    No, look, the fact is that what I’m talking about now is that when – because I get asked the question – since, what I do is I’d add a public option to the existence of Obamacare, meaning that a Medicare-like option is available if in fact you – but there’s 160 million people out there who’ve negotiated a health care plan with their employer that they like and they don’t want to have to give up like Medicare for All requires. It says you have to give it up. You cannot have any private insurance.

    … and then he started lying.


  • The WaPo notes that Joe claims expertise on foreign policy: Biden touts foreign policy credentials but faces questions.

    He has told audiences that Barack Obama chose him to be his vice president for his foreign policy expertise. “Joe will handle that,” Biden quoted Obama as telling other officials in his administration. “He knows more about it than anybody. Work with Joe.”

    Well, that explains a lot about 2009-2016. In more recent news, Joe displayed his current grasp of foreign affairs: Confused Joe Biden claims there's a border between Venezuela and Bolivia, which are 700 miles apart.

    In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Joe Biden lamented the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. The 77 year-old former vice president described President Donald Trump's foreign policy toward the region as "irresponsible" to the newspaper's editorial board.

    "Look what's going on in Venezuela right now...millions of people are crossing the border destabilizing Bolivia," he said.

    Yeah, not that close. Instead of debates, could we get the candidates to have a Jeopardy!-style contest? I'd like to see how far some of these guys could go in the hole. ("I'm sorry, Joe won't be around for Final Jeopardy, since he's at a negative $110,300.")


  • A website calling itself "Marijuana Moment" found hilarity on the campaign trail: Mayor Pete Declines To Hit Imaginary Marijuana Joint. And here 'tis:

    No, man, I'm already there.


  • And in our final bit of phony news this week, ABC reports the unsurprising news that journalists are gullible: A parody account dupes journalists into spreading viral 'campaign moment' on Twitter.

    In the wee hours of Friday morning, comedian Nick Cirarelli changed his Twitter profile photo, posing as a political campaign staffer for presidential candidate and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg.

    Oh, fine. Here it is:


Last Modified 2020-01-13 7:26 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2020-01-11

  • Drew Cline at Josiah Bartlett asks: 2020? No, it's 2019, suckers.

    The Legislature opened its session on Wednesday by taking up bills that remain from the previous year, as is its custom. Even with hundreds of leftover bills awaiting disposal, a majority party can set the agenda and tone for a new year on the first days of a session.

    The message coming from Concord this week was crystal clear: 2020 is going to be 2019 all over again.

    The last legislative session was defined by its clashes between the governor and the Democratic majority in the Legislature over the imposition of new costs on employers and consumers, from business tax increases to energy price hikes to costly employer regulations such as mandatory paid leave and large minimum wage increases.

    The House this week signaled that Democrats intend to make the 2020 elections about all of these same issues. They are determined to impose through the legislative process new financial burdens on employers and consumers.

    Click through for the details: mandatory paid family leave; mandatory charges for single-use plastic bags; and a mandatory minimum wage. (Last year's failed bill mandated $12/hr. Apparently deciding that wouldn't destroy enough jobs, Democrats are upping that to $15/hr this year.)


  • At Reason, Ronald Bailey reports on the latest research, which… confirms what you probably already suspected, because that's how confirmation bias works: Facts Still Matter, but They Don’t Change Many Voters’ Minds. You can click over for the details (again) but here's the bottom line:

    In 2016, journalist Salena Zito famously summed up reactions to Trump's constant stream of hyperbole and lies: "The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally." These studies seemy to bolster that idea. As the researchers write, "Trump supporters took fact-checks literally, but not seriously enough to affect how they felt toward their preferred candidate."

    This is disturbing. If politicians suffer essentially no diminution of support from being wrong and/or lying, they'll have no reason to hew to the truth. And the proliferation of lies debases public discourse and inflames partisan passions.

    My take: these studies need to make the philosophical distinction between lies and bullshit.


  • Another worthwhile response to Tyler Cowen's "state capacity libertarianism", this one from David R. Henderson at the Hoover Institution. The Meaning of Libertarianism. On one specific issue:

    Cowen writes, “Many of the failures of today’s America are failures of excess regulation, but many others are failures of state capacity.  Our governments cannot address climate change, much improve K-12 education, fix traffic congestion, or improve the quality of their discretionary spending.  Much of our physical infrastructure is stagnant or declining in quality.” Again, I’ll put climate aside temporarily. But consider K-12 education, which is close to a government monopoly. It’s a particularly insidious monopoly because the government uses tax revenues that allow it to set a price of zero, and when parents either home school or pay tuition to send their children to private schools, they get no break on taxes. That means that if a private school charges a low tuition of, say, $7,000 annually, a parent who values the education at a little more than $7,000 is unlikely to pay that tuition. For it to be worthwhile, the parent must value the education by at least $7,000 more than he or she values the government-provided education. That’s likely the main reason that most parents who could afford private schools for their kids instead send their kids to government schools.

    Government spending on K-12 schools is now at an all-time high, in 2017-18 dollars, of $12,760. Compare that to $9,073 (in 2017-18) dollars just 29 years ago. That’s a real increase of 40.6 percent. Whatever else you can say about the mediocre government schools in America, you can’t attribute the mediocrity to lack of state capacity.

    Cowen writes that “even if you favor education privatization, in the shorter run we still need to make the system better.” I’m not sure that’s true. A case could be made that it’s only when the system gets even worse that people will be more inclined to chuck the government system. But even if it is true, one thing we know is that throwing money at it—oops, I mean increasing state capacity—is not a sure-fire winner. And if you think that we need government in education at all, then I suggest that you read the works of the late education economist Edwin G. West. In his 1965 book, Education and the State, West showed that even in a society where the wealthiest people were substantially poorer than all but our poorest people are today—mid-19th century Britain—education was widespread among all income classes. What’s more, education is what economists call a normal good, a good that we buy more of as our incomes rise. With real incomes being ten to 30 times higher now than 170 years ago, we would, in a free market, buy much more of it.

    Calling US education a "system", I think, attributes to it too much intentional design.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson (an occasional critic himself) suggests How to Improve Film and TV Criticism. Springing off the all-too-common trope: "Members of oppressed class X have too little screen time (or are portrayed negatively) in movie/TV series Y."

    This is a problem with a technical solution. The film and television business are heavily unionized and regimented, and it would not be terribly difficult to give every actor working in mainstream film and television an intersectionality score (i) on, say, a 100-point scale ranging from Matt Damon to . . . whoever is the dead opposite of Matt Damon. (We could even assign negative scores to Jon Hamm and Chris Pratt.) From there, it would be relatively easy to develop an artificial-intelligence tool to scan every major piece of commercial film and television, automatically tally up how many minutes of screen time (t) each actor has, and produce a score relative to total running time (r) — something simple like (i*t) ÷ r — adding up the scores for each of the actors (perhaps normalizing for cast size) to produce a cumulative quantitative judgment on the work as a whole.

    Who needs film and television critics when AI can do the job?

    Of course, the nation’s newly unemployed film and television critics would be forced to find some new useful occupation, if you’ll forgive my begging the question.

    Forgiven.


  • And last but not least, my appreciation of actor Michael Shannon got bumped up a few notches by this Tweet.

    You may need to click around a bit to get the full story.

URLs du Jour

2020-01-10

  • Well, gosh, Robby Soave at Reason takes a swing at playing the blame game: If Iran Shot Down the Ukraine Jet, the U.S. Government Deserves a Little Blame.

    Regardless of why it may have shot down the plane, Iran is primarily responsible for the deaths of those 176 passengers. But it is not absurd to assign the U.S. some responsibility, given that Iran's combat offensive was prompted by the Trump administration's decision to kill Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike.

    If you extend a causal chain of events back far enough, branching in the right directions, you can always attach "some" responsibility to whomever you might want. At least Robby's only going back a few links.

    Note: as I type there are 461 comments on this article. I have to wonder what the guy typing comment number 461 was thinking. "Yeah, this will set everyone straight."


  • Daniel J. Mitchell looks at Tax Policy and Migratory Patterns of the Golden Geese. It's got one of those things for which I'm a sucker: state-by-state comparisons. The Tax Foundation is quoted:

    States compete with each other in a variety of ways, including attracting (and retaining) residents. Sustained periods of inbound migration lead to greater economic output and growth. Prolonged periods of net outbound migration, however, can strain state coffers… While it is difficult to measure the extent to which tax considerations factor into individuals’ moving decisions, there is no doubt that taxes are important in many individuals’ personal financial deliberations. Our State Business Tax Climate Index uses over 100 variables to evaluate states on the competitiveness of their tax rates and structures. Four of the 10 worst-performing states on this year’s Index are also among the 10 states with the most outbound migration in this year’s National Movers Study (New Jersey,  New York, Connecticut, and California).

    New Hampshire ranks #19 overall, net in-migration. Surprisingly, Vermont is #1! (But it's been lower in the past.)


  • The Google LFOD alert rang for this "Energy News" article, tsk-tsking our fair state: New Hampshire a regional outlier on climate, clean energy under Gov. Sununu. And unsubtly suggests we should bow to peer-group pressure, wondering at our Mad Max dystopian hellscape:

    New Hampshire has long prided itself on a small-government approach, as suggested by its official state motto: Live free or die. The state has no sales tax or income tax. Motorcyclists may ride helmet-free. Auto insurance is optional for drivers. And the state ranks last in the nation for its level of fiscal support for higher education.

    With strong support from conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity, as well as the state’s leading business lobby, Sununu has applied that hands-off philosophy to state energy policy throughout his three years in office. His administration’s 10-year energy strategy emphasizes cost effectiveness above all, noting that New Hampshire has some of the highest electric rates in the nation.

    My own state senator, David Watters, bemoans our (so far) refusal to go along with the "Transportation and Climate Initiative" (TCI) which would raise (for example) gas prices by (its backers estimate) 5 to 17 cents/gallon.

    If New Hampshire decides to sit [TCI] out, Watters said he fears the state will be at an economic disadvantage.

    “We will not then have that money to invest in efficiencies,” he said. “Other states will have it to put into electrification, or making grants to the trucking industry to increase the efficiency of their fleets, and so on.”

    Which kind of gives the game away. When Watters says "we", he's really referring to the state government, which will have more cash to shower on "efficiencies".

    Almost needless to say: if they were true "efficiencies", they wouldn't need to be state-subsidized; people would naturally invest in such measures themselves, with their own money.

    And the arrogance just keeps on coming, with this aside about the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a similar boondoggle:

    New Hampshire’s participation in RGGI has resulted in annual proceeds ranging from $11 million to $24 million over the past few years. However, the state has not invested as heavily in energy efficiency and renewables as other states. Legislation passed in 2012 requires most of the money to be rebated back to ratepayers.

    “The rebate is throwing the money away basically,” said state Rep. John Mann, D-Alstead, who sponsored legislation last year to repeal that requirement. The bill passed, but the governor vetoed it.

    Yes, Alstead Mann thinks that rebating incoming cash to ratepayers is "throwing it away". Who knows, they might spend it differently than he would! Best just send him your entire paycheck, so he can spend it on whatever he deems wise.


  • On a related matter, I noted this article at Granite Geek: Push for carbon fee will show up at some town meetings, of all places.

    As I report in today’s Monitor (story here), Citizen’s Climate Lobby has volunteers in at least 60 towns getting signatures to put a petitioned warrant article supporting the idea of a carbon fee that would be reimbursed to households in the state. They’re emphasizing this you’ll-get-a-check aspect: “The money goes back to the people, it doesn’t go into Exxon’s profits or Saudi Arabia’ pockets.” The name of the drive makes that clear: Carbon Cash-Back Coalition.

    Putting a per-ton price on carbon emissions is generally acknowledged to be the most straightforward and one of the most effective ways to tackle climate change. Make the cost transparent and humans will respond to the incentive, or so goes the thinking.

    Uh huh. I took some time to compose a comment, which I'll copy here:

    I have to take issue with “transparent”. Such schemes are anything but. Clue number one is the “you’ll-get-a-check” marketing, appealing to the folks who are gladdened by an IRS tax refund. (They really should put “Thanks for the interest-free loan, sucker” on those checks.)

    Incentives? If everyone got back exactly what they paid in, there would be zero net incentive. And the whole endeavor would be pointless. So there will, of course, be net winners and losers, but that’s obscured by the “money going back to the people” gimmick. The who wins/loses ball will be hidden for as long as it takes to pass the legislation.

    People might notice the direct effect: higher prices for gas and oil. Less obvious will be the hidden sales tax on anything you buy that has fossil fuel energy involved somewhere in its supply chain. (To a first approximation that would be “everything”.) That “tax” won’t be broken out as an explicit number; you’ll just maybe notice the price has gone up for some reason. Again, the opposite of “transparent”.


  • And also on the LFOD alert, a Rolling Stone snippet: Matt Taibbi's 10 Laws of New Hampshire Primary Reporting. Here they are:

    1. The candidate references Tom Brady.
    2. The candidate drops the name of a local eatery (“So, I was eating the Hash Benny at the Red Arrow the other day…”).
    3. Reporters (in vain) scan the crowd for African-American faces.
    4. Reporters ask each other what “the ethanol of New Hampshire” is.
    5. The phrase “right here in New Hampshire” is in the speech.
    6. Live free or die” referenced in Q&A.
    7. Man with Sophocles beard and chamois shirt posed among the supporters behind the candidate.
    8. Photographers jostle to capture the moment when the candidate looks with dismay at the size of the selfie line.
    9. Your “tiny Dixville Notch” story is filed from the Radisson in Manchester.
    10. Before hitting “send” to your editor, you check to make sure you didn’t use the phrases “key battleground state,” “fierce independence,” or “Yankee frugality.” You probably used at least two of them.

    Amusing! Local quibble about number 9: the Radisson was renovated and converted into a Doubletree in 2018. I guess Matt was filing his story from somewhere else

URLs du Jour

2020-01-09

  • We present a point/counterpoint today, George F. Will vs. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley. First up is George: Market-skeptic Republicans like Josh Hawley have it wrong.

    The sails of Sen. Josh Hawley’s political skiff are filled with winds gusting from the right. They come from conservatives who think that an array of — perhaps most of — America’s social injuries, from addiction to loneliness — have been inflicted by America’s economy. Individualism, tendentiously defined, is the Missouri Republican’s named target. Inevitably, however, the culprit becomes capitalism, which is what individual freedom is in a market society’s spontaneous order.

    In a November speech to like-minded social conservatives of the American Principles Project, Hawley said: “We live in a troubled age.” Not pausing to identify a prior, untroubled age, he elaborated: “Across age groups and regions, across races and income, the decline in community is undeniable. But it is not accidental.” Well.

    Time was, Marxists’ characteristic rhetorical trope was “it is no accident” that this or that happened. As economic determinists, they believed that everything is explained by iron laws of economic development. They insisted that culture is downstream from economics and is decisively shaped by economic forces.

    My guess is that Hawley is positioning himself for a 2024 presidential run, showing that he is a Serious Thoughtful Guy. We'll see, maybe I'll be senile enough that year to vote for him. But…


  • Senator Josh makes his rebuttal in the pages of the Federalist and scolds: No, George Will, Individual Freedom Is Bigger Than Market Choice.

    There was a time when I read George Will religiously. My parents gave me a volume of his columns for Christmas when I was thirteen, if I remember. He was my introduction to Aristotle and Edmund Burke, to James Madison and Alexis DeTocqueville. Will was a teacher as well as a commentator in his writing, and I learned much from him. And back then, he was still a conservative.

    Times change. These days Will spends his columns sneering at Donald Trump and the rural, “non-college-educated” working class, bashing pro-worker trade policies and pro-family tax reforms. And in today’s installment, he dismisses my call to revive American community as an affront to capitalism and—wait for it—individual liberty! It must be hard being so angry all the time.

    Well, make your own call. If I were GFW, I'd probably reply, "Senator, it must be hard being so stupid all the time."

    But he won't. That's why I'm me, and GFW is GFW. And the GOP is living up to its "Stupid Party" nickname.


  • At Cato, Chris Edwards provides an entry to our "Should/Could Have Seen That Coming" file. Crescent Dunes: Another Green Flop.

    The Department of Energy called the vast and expensive solar project a “success story” and “milestone for the country’s energy future.”

    But you can’t trust what the government says. Crescent Dunes is a flop and taxpayers are set to lose $737 million on it, according to a new Bloomberg report. That is even more than the $535 million taxpayers lost on the corruption-soaked Solyndra solar project.

    With 10,000 mirrors arrayed in the Nevada desert, Crescent Dunes does look cool. But with the much lower costs of solar photovoltaic and natural gas projects, the government’s gamble on this alternative technology was folly. Politicians never apologize for their mistakes, and the main politician responsible for this one, former Senator Harry Reid, has retired and won’t face any tough questions about wasting our money.

    Some geeks were easily suckered, for example Slashdot back in 2015.


  • Like me, Ann Althouse visits Real Clear Politics now and then, and notes the prominent featuring of diverse articles by their headlines. And notes Headlines are really just a gentle invitation: What would you like to believe today?.

    [RCP Headlines]

    Click the image to enlarge and clarify. When you have clarity, and know what you want to believe, go to Real Clear Politics and click on the headline you want to be true. Do you want Trump to be a great benefactor of humankind or a bumbling fool? Do you want it all to be Obama's fault? Do you want Joe Biden to be just what we need right now or a guy who needs to wake up and get outta here? Do you want the impeachment to be a bust or do you want Democrats to have a new trial strategy? Would you like Nikki Haley to be a monster or Bill Barr to be a fabulous hero?

    Or does everything seem to be a dismal waste of time? I say view the headlines as a gentle invitation: What would you like to believe today? See the array of offers. Pick one or 2 to lift your spirits or confirm your identity, or — like party invitations — decline them all and stay home, embedded in your real life, where you have some hope of finding something genuine and worthy.

    I've kind of had the same feeling, but Ann expresses it better than I ever could.


  • Jeffrey A. Tucker at AIER takes on Tyler Cowan's "State Capacity Libertarianism", in particular Tyler's claim that current libertarianism is "hollowed out": If Libertarianism Hollowed Out, Why?.

    There is nothing hollow about the idea that people should be free, that people should expect to live good lives without having their volition and property invaded by public officials who know much less about real life than the people actually living it. It is for this reason that society should be left alone to take its own course of evolution. This is the path to peace, prosperity, and progress. This is the real libertarian position. It’s a broad conviction that has more presence in today’s world than any point in the last century. 

    Becoming a libertarian doesn’t mean leaving your humanity behind; on the contrary, it means embracing it fully and believing that the potential of a free life on earth is far from fully realized.

    I'm right now putting my fist in the air (yes, while typing) and shouting "Yeah!" Honest.


Last Modified 2020-01-10 7:25 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2020-01-08

  • In case you haven't already seen it, this Andrew Bosworth memo reproduced in the New York Times is a refreshing antidote to the misinformation being peddled about Facebook's role in the 2016 election. Bosworth was in charge of Facebook ads at that time. RTWT, but here's some bracing truth:

    So was Facebook responsible for Donald Trump getting elected? I think the answer is yes, but not for the reasons anyone thinks. He didn’t get elected because of Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica. He got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser. Period.

    To be clear, I’m no fan of Trump. I donated the max to Hillary. After his election I wrote a post about Trump supporters that I’m told caused colleagues who had supported him to feel unsafe around me (I regret that post and deleted shortly after).

    But [Trump campaign manager Brad] Parscale and Trump just did unbelievable work. They weren’t running misinformation or hoaxes. They weren’t microtargeting or saying different things to different people. They just used the tools we had to show the right creative to each person. The use of custom audiences, video, ecommerce, and fresh creative remains the high water mark of digital ad campaigns in my opinion.

    Also good debunkery about Cambridge Analytica and Russkie-linked agitators.


  • Jonah Goldberg notes: Trump almost certainly doesn't have an Iran policy.

    President Trump often talks about leaving the Middle East, getting out of “endless wars” and spending our resources here at home under a policy of “America First.”

    So it was quite a moment when, on Sunday night, he threatened to impose “very big sanctions” on Iraq if the Iraqi parliament follows through on its nonbinding resolution to oust American forces from its soil. “We will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before, ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”

    If you’re trying to follow along from home, this is a perfectly understandable moment to say, “Wait, what? Isn’t that a complete flip?”

    Well, sort of. But a "flip" implies that there was something coherent and concrete to flip from. Instead, we are (for better or worse) looking at a whim-based foreign policy.


  • Another response to Tyler's "State Capacity Libertarianism", this one from Richard M. Ebeling. Who is: Not Losing Sight of the Classical Liberal Ideal.

    [Tyler] expressed part of this argument in an earlier essay on “The Paradox of Libertarianism” before the financial crisis of 2008-2009, in which he said: “The bottom line is this: human beings have deeply rooted impulses to take newly acquired wealth and spend some of it on more government and especially on transfer payments. Let’s deal with that.” Furthermore, “The more wealth we have, the more government we can afford.” He concludes that this is a “package deal.” The more wealth a market-based economy produces, the more government people will want in terms of social welfare programs. That’s just the way it is, Professor Cowen asserts. Live with it and give up the classical liberal and libertarian idea of prosperity and a highly limited government. With prosperity will come bigger government, he asserts.

    The “inevitability” implied in this is, in fact, nothing of the sort. It could be just as reasonably argued that as the members of the society grow in wealth and improved standards of living, they will need and desire less government dependency and support. Rising standards of living enable more people to financially support themselves, as well as providing the means for those gaining in material comfort and ease to have the monetary means to demonstrate more willingness and generosity to assist some who may still be less well off than themselves through avenues of private charity and philanthropy; plus, having the greater leisure time to participate in such endeavors through the institutions of civil society

    Ebeling's essay is long and thoughtful. Again my standard comment: we wouldn't need to worry so much about what kind of libertarianism will work, when a large swath of the public is so opposed to any sort of libertarianism.


  • Katherine Timpf is a vaper. I am not. But I'm in total agreement with her article at National Review: FDA’s Vape Ban Is What Happens When People Legislate What They Don’t Understand.

    First of all, the narrative that we are in the midst of an epidemic of young kids getting addicted to vaping is patently false. Although many of them may have tried it, Julie Gunlock’s analysis of CDC data finds that only approximately 5.7 percent of teenagers — including 18- and 19-year-old adults — are actually addicted.

    Another misconception is that vaping nicotine is deadly, and perhaps even worse than smoking. This also couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, experts agree that it is, at least for adults, much safer than smoking traditional combustible cigarettes. A Public Health England study, for example, estimated that it was 95 percent safer.

    I don't recommend you get the habit. But as habits go, vaping is pretty innocuous.


  • If you're tired of the vaping panic, the good folks at Issues & Insights have a take on another panic: Climate Hysteria Is A Backdoor For Imposing Personal Interests On The Public.

    “Shout out if you want to destroy fossil fuel capitalists,” a woman described as an “environmental strategist” told the crowd gathered last week at Fire Drill Friday, a Capitol Hill climate protest held each week.

    “We will demand reparations for the harm that they caused,” she tweeted. “Together we will redistribute trillions of dollars to fund a #GreenNewDeal.”

    According to Townhall, the woman – who was given a microphone and stage clearly to stir up emotions, and has common ground with Joe “Put Fossil Fuel Executives In Jail” Biden –  also said “let me hear your vigor for ending racism while you do it” and “we need to make them pay today.” So again we find evidence that the goal isn’t to stop Earth from overheating, but to fulfill a left-wing wish list.

    The I&I editorialist recalls Eric Hoffer's quote: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” And notes we've made it to the final stage in this case.