It Wasn't Even a Slippery Slope

Sounds as if Iowahawk has seen In the Line of Fire. (Great movie.)

I haven't seen Kim Cheatle's sloped-roof excuse clarified or corrected anywhere.

For additional amusement, the Secret Service came up in Lester Holt's interview with President Biden. From NBC's transcript:

LESTER HOLT: Do you have — are you — are you — you have confidence in the Secret Service? Do you feel safe?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I feel safe with the Secret Service. But look, you saw the — what we did see was the Secret Service who responded risked their lives responding. They were ready to give their lives for the president. The question is should they have anticipated what happened. Should they have done what they needed to do to prevent this from happening? That’s the question that’s — that’s an open question.

LESTER HOLT: Is it acceptable that you have still not heard, at least publicly, from the Secret Service director?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Oh, I’ve heard from him. I — I’ve —

LESTER HOLT: But have you heard from her publicly?

This is the difference between me and Lester Holt. That last question from me would have been something like

PUN SALAD: Him? You do realize that Kim Cheatle is a woman, right?

That said, it seems the best thing we can say about Secret Service protective service is: you're probably safer with it than without. A pretty low bar.

For folks who want to wallow in Secret Service incompetence, though: Power Line is a pretty good mudhole. I'll just say that Kim Cheatle is no Sam Campagna . And, fortunately, Thomas Crooks was no Mitch Leary. This time.

Also of note:

  • I'm open to that characterization. Jeff Maurer feels that J.D. Vance Might Be a Straight-Up Policy Moron.

    When I worked in a congressional office, we would get faxes (yes, faxes — I am 97 years old). It turns out that there are self-styled geniuses across the country who will fax in “solutions” to intractable problems; we’d get detailed plans for balancing the budget, restructuring health care, or achieving Middle East peace. Most of these plans were — to be polite — nonsensical garbage from self-important loons. I suspect that many of these people had seen the movie Dave, in which a small-town accountant balances the budget with some common sense and a TI-81 graphing calculator, and thought: “That’s probably how stuff really works.”

    I was thinking about those faxes when reading about J.D. Vance’s economic vision. Vance — whose background is in law, not economics — thinks that he sees something in economic policy that all the ivory tower eggheads have missed. He told Ross Douthat:

    “…I think the economics profession is fundamentally wrong about both immigration and about tariffs. Yes, tariffs can apply upward pricing pressure on various things — though I think it’s massively overstated — but when you are forced to do more with your domestic labor force, you have all of these positive dynamic effects.”

    This is just part of an economic vision Vance spells out in that article and several others. It’s a vision that people are giving credence, probably because Vance seems like a smart guy. And I agree that Vance does seem smart — he’s articulate and wrote a book that he tricked a bunch of big-city liberals into buying, which is something that I hope to do someday. Of course, being smart is not the same as knowing what the fuck you’re talking about. And from where I’m sitting, Vance’s economic vision is small-minded gibberish that I’d expect to find in an all-caps fax titled “A COMMON-SENSE PLAN TO QUADRUPLE GDP AND END UNEMPLOYMENT!!!”

    I, for one, can't wait to be ruled by a set of people with different crackpot ideas than the ones we're getting now.

  • In "these people's" defense, sometimes it's "Racism", "Misogyny", "Flat-Eartherism", … But Rich Lowry has the right question otherwise: Why Is It Always ‘Fascism’ and ‘Theocracy’ with These People? Sampling:

    The debate about the extent to which the Heritage Foundation–crafted agenda speaks for Donald Trump aside, the attacks on it are hilariously irrational and unhinged.

    California representative Jared Huffman, creator of the Stop Project 2025 Task Force, calls the agenda “a dystopian plot” and “an unprecedented embrace of extremism, fascism, and religious nationalism.”

    According to the New Republic, Project 2025 sets out a “Christian nationalist vision of the United States,” and, if implemented, centers of government power “would all be marshaled to ensure our acquiescence in this dictatorial male supremacist society.”

    Rachel Laser, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has fulfilled her professional obligation to warn that, via Project 2025, “Christian Nationalists will trample the wall of church-state separation and upend our democracy.”

    No less an authority than Seth Meyers warned, “Donald Trump and his allies have a deeply deranged plan for a far-right authoritarian government that will jail opponents, wage a full-scale war on reproductive rights, and dismantle American democracy.”

    I've been jousting a bit with a Facebook friend who keeps posting wild charges about what P2025 says. Just responses containing the relevant paragraphs from the actual P2025 playbook.

  • A voice of sanity, that will be ignored. And it belongs to Veronique de Rugy, who has some ideas on How to Pay for Trump's Tax Cuts.

    Considering that there seems to be general bipartisan agreement on keeping a majority of the tax cuts and maintaining growth, let's focus on the deficit question. I firmly believe that any new costs or extensions of current policies must be paid for. We simply cannot afford to keep adding to our debt without considering the long-term consequences.

    A sensible place to start is by examining the myriad tax expenditures that have turned our tax code into Swiss cheese. According to the Treasury Department, there are 165 tax expenditures (think revenue losses due to tax carveouts), which is up from 53 in 1970.

    We should start by eliminating the ones that distort economic decision-making. The goal is a neutral tax system that doesn't favor certain activities or industries over others. That's one reason tax expenditures aimed at social engineering should be on the chopping block. Tax expenditures that add complexity to the tax code should be prime candidates for elimination too. Simpler tax systems reduce compliance costs and are more transparent.

    Click through for the deets. Summary: dump the mortgage interest deduction, state and local tax deduction, tax-free municipal bonds, tax exemptions for non-wage employee compensation, many business subsidies.

    (Disclaimer: I've got a chunk of my investment portfolio in tax-free bonds, so … I'd be willing to sacrifice if we got the other stuff too.)

  • Why are we in this mess? A perennial question. Jacob Sullum provided a large piece of the answer in the current print Reason: Congress 'Can Regulate Virtually Anything' by Abusing the Commerce Clause. Part of the judicial history:

    In 1941, an Ohio farmer named Roscoe Filburn violated federal law by growing too much wheat. Specifically, Filburn sowed 23 acres of winter wheat, a dozen more acres than he had been allotted under the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938. The penalty was 49 cents for each of 239 unauthorized bushels, totaling $117.11 (about $2,500 in current dollars).

    Filburn refused to pay. The recalcitrant farmer argued that Congress had exceeded its constitutional authority by telling him how much wheat he could grow, especially for his own use on his own property. Since he used the extra wheat to feed his family and his livestock, he said, it never left his farm and therefore was never part of interstate commerce.

    According to the Supreme Court, that didn't matter. Five years before, the justices had narrowly upheld the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, ruling that the Commerce Clause reached economic activities, such as hiring and firing practices, that were "intrastate in character when separately considered" if they had "such a close and substantial relation to interstate commerce that their control is essential or appropriate to protect that commerce from burdens and obstructions." The Court extended that logic in the wheat case, Wickard v. Filburn.

    And since then… In these reality-challenged times, it is (apparently) enough for legislation to claim that it's related somehow to interstate/foreign commerce in order to get a green light from the judicial branch.

Recently on the book blog:

America's Revolutionary Mind

A Moral History of the American Revolution and the Declaration That Defined It

(paid link)

I got into reading (in cheapskate non-subscriber mode) C. Bradley Thompson's substack, The Redneck Intellectual a few months ago. That, and his articles I've noticed at other sites, encouraged me to grab this book via the Interlibrary Loan service of the University Near Here. It is a detailed analysis of the first part of the Declaration of Independence, discussing the origins of its political and moral assertions.

It's a scholarly work (Professor Thompson may be a redneck, but he's also a professor at Clemson), but also a straightforward piece of advocacy for the "self-evident" truths claimed in the DoI.

Chapters examine, in minute detail, each revolutionary claim: the source of our rights in our human nature; what it means for a truth to be "self-evident"; what it meant for men to be "created equal", and how that could be reconciled with slaveholding (spoiler: poorly); what's meant by the triad of natural rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"; why governments exist; what "consent of the governed" means.

And, of course, why it's a people's right and duty to "throw off" a government that runs roughshod over those principles.

Thompson set me straight on one issue: for years, I thought claiming that a truth was "self-evident" meant that trying to argue against such a proposition unavoidably led to self-contradiction. There's no support for that bright idea in this book.

The book is long, and dense. Along the way, I got the impression of repetitiousness: didn't he already say this a few times before? Well, yes: I think I was kind of missing the point. The DoI was not simply a dashed-off Jeffersonian diatribe; Thompson's main effort is to show that its underlying philosophy was ubiquitous throughout the American colonies in the 1760s and 1770s. This involves going through a lot of essays and pamphlets of the era. And, yup, the DoI sentiments, were indeed widely promulgated and advocated by a wide range of American thought leaders. And, bless them, that involved saying a lot of things over and over again.

A final section deals with the post-Revolution challenges to the DoI's philosophy of individualism, liberty, equality, limited government, etc. The first coming from apologists for slavery; Thompson deftly details their Hegel-inspired arguments, drawing fair comparison with developing arguments made for socialism and Marxism around the same time.

Hegel?! Who knew?

After the pro-slavery argument was defeated via violence, the next challenge (still being promulgated today) was that of progressivism, the denial of the DoI's timeless and universal truths. Advocates included William James, John Dewey, Herbert Croly, Carl Becker, and (boooo) Woodrow Wilson.

Keep Scrolling

Our Eye Candy du Jour is the graphic that was one part of the spectacular fold-out cover in the current Reason:

(Full size, it's 871x2560 pixels, so please feel free to embiggen, and get even more depressed.)

The associated article is by Brian Riedl, who poses the musical question: Why Did Americans Stop Caring About the National Debt?.

When President Joe Biden delivered his 2023 State of the Union address, Washington was drowning in a sea of red ink. The annual budget deficit was in the process of doubling from $1 trillion to $2 trillion in a single year due to some student-debt cancellation shenanigans. That year's budget deficit would become the largest share of gross domestic product (GDP) in American history outside of wars and recessions. Economists at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and across the political spectrum warned that continuing to ignore the escalating Social Security and Medicare shortfalls while also opposing new broad-based taxes was unsustainable and could bring a painful debt crisis.

How did the nation's highest elected officials respond to this economic challenge? Biden promised that "if anyone tries to cut Social Security [or] Medicare, I'll stop them. I'll veto it." He also accused congressional Republicans of plotting to reform these programs—prompting outraged shouts from Republicans who resented the accusation of caring about the looming insolvency of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. When the president triumphantly taunted that such boos reveal a new bipartisan consensus to do nothing about Social Security and Medicare shortfalls, both Republicans and Democrats leaped to their feet with thunderous cheers. For good measure, both parties endorsed Biden's prohibition on any new taxes for 95 percent of families. Washington's dangerous borrowing spree would continue with enthusiastic bipartisan support.

Riedl says the only solution is one everybody will hate: spending restraint and tax increases. And that probably won't happen until after a painful fiscal crisis leaves us with no choice.

Sorry to darken your day.

Also of note:

  • Ignorance of economics is no excuse.

    Election-season "do something" cards played by demagogues.

  • But, hey, what about that J.D. Vance? Kyle Smith sums it up in a short tweet:

    If you'd prefer a slightly longer-winded analysis, let's hand the mic to Kevin D. Williamson: The Infinitely Plastic J.D. Vance.

    Whatever one makes of Vance as a potential future president, he is nonpareil as a candidate for the vice presidency. He has no legislative record to speak of, and—if we can set aside the fact that he once very publicly held the view that Donald Trump is an amoral lunatic utterly unfit for office—his rhetorical record isn’t much trouble, either. Not that he hasn’t said a lot of outrageous and stupid things. Vance is a Putinist social-media troll who described entitlement reform as a plot to “throw our grandparents into poverty … so that one of Zelensky’s ministers can buy a bigger yacht.” But nobody takes anything he says seriously—he is so transparently a man who will say whatever his betters require him to say to get what he wants from them. Telling people with money and power what they want to hear is the only consistent throughline in his career, from Hillbilly Elegy to the present day. Once an appendage of Peter Thiel’s, now he is an appendage of Donald Trump’s after a long and bitter apprenticeship of sycophancy.

    As another warning signal, Elizabeth Nolan Brown notes that J.D. Vance Thinks Lina Khan Is Doing a Great Job.

    Under President Joe Biden, the FTC—headed by Lina Khan—has aggressively pursued an anti-innovation, anti-tech, anti-big business, and anti-consumer agenda. Khan and her allies in the Biden administration think the consumer welfare standard that has guided antitrust law for decades needs to go. Rather than focus on whether a company's actions or a particular merger will raise prices for consumers, they think antitrust regulators should be concerned with some amorphous concept of "competition," with making sure businesses don't get bigger, and with helping competitors to big businesses (especially big tech companies) get a leg up.

    Khan's is a profoundly anti-free markets agenda, punctuated by attempts to bypass Congress and the legislative process and simply set policies administratively. Her vision seems to be of an all-powerful FTC able to target business practices and private companies based on partisan political goals, instead of the neutral arbiter of business that it is supposed to be.

    J.D. Vance loves it.

    "I guess I look at Lina Khan as one of the few people in the Biden administration that I think is doing a pretty good job," Vance said in February.

    In the likely event you've not been paying attention to what I've posted about Lina over the past few years, see here, here, here, here, here, here, here,… Oh, heck, that's a lot, and I only grepped pre-2023. I am not a Khan fan.

    But speaking of non-fans Donald Boudreaux has his collection of Vance barbs from George Will, Stephanie Slade, the WSJ editorialists, and Phil Magness. (The latter seems unavailable, unfortunately.)

  • Feelgood LFOD du Jour. Boston.com reports some impressive local news: A N.H. motorcyclist was clocked at 158 mph, with a passenger on the back, police say.

    A 21-year-old Farmington, New Hampshire, man is facing a slew of charges after allegedly driving his motorcycle in the Live Free or Die state at speeds up to 158 mph Sunday, and fleeing from police in the process.

    Zachary Dionne was eventually arrested after stopping at a gas station off Portsmouth’s Exit 3 on Interstate 95. He was charged with felony reckless conduct — deadly weapon, reckless driving, making an unsafe lane change, disobeying an officer, resisting arrest, failing to display plates, and having an unregistered vehicle, State Police said.

    To quote Mr. David Barry: soon we will have no constitutional rights left.

Recently on the book blog:

Tunnel in the Sky

(paid link)

Consumer note: Holy cow, I do not recommend that you pay (as I type) $39.99 at Amazon for the mass market paperback in "Used: Acceptable" condition. (Original price $2.95) It's a good book, but…

My edition is an Ace 95¢ paperback, purchased … long ago, I guess. I'm pretty sure I read a school library version back sometime in the 1960s, and not since. I remembered some, not a lot.

It is one of Heinlein's later juveniles, originally published in 1955. The protagonist is Rob Walker, who is looking to take his "Advanced Survival" class final. Which involves being transported via a titular "tunnel" to an uninhabited planet with only whatever supplies he can carry. But the test only lasts a few days, so fatalities are rare.

But not this time. An exploding nova screws up the interstellar pathway; Rod and his classmates are stranded with no indication whether they might be rescued anytime, or at all. Not all the local fauna is friendly, but much of the real danger is (dun dun DUN) some of Rod's fellow students.

So there's a lot of Heinlein tropes here: not one, but two, wisdom-dispensing mentors. A lot of Heinlein dialog. A lot of implicit commentary on political authority and stable community building. It's like a fictional version of John Locke's Second Treatise of Civil Government! But there are also overtones of Lord of the Files, albeit with older kids.

And it really shows Heinlein's struggle with 1950s "juvenile" straightjacket. There's a surprising amount of adult behavior going on. (Hey, where do you think those babies are coming from.) And Rod is far from perfect: he's occasionally hot-headed, petulant, and careless.

Overall, I'd rank it just below the top tier of Heinlein's juvies. (But much of that is due to personal taste, not cosmic critical faculties.)

Zut Alors!

Our Eye Candy du Jour is provided by those Reason cutups with the latest episode of Great Moments in Unintended Consequences.

In a departure from the usual: no US-based politicians are lampooned. I await episode 17.

Also of note:

  • Still got a bee in my bonnet about "student loan forgiveness". Fresh off yesterday's fisking of a semi-literate reality-challenged advocacy, we have Peter Jacobsen's analysis of the latest orchestral manoeuvres in the dark: Student Loan Payment Freeze, Debt Forgiveness Becoming Permanent. He's been following the labyrinthine schemes to shift debt from the debtors to oblivious taxpayers, and has the latest:

    […] we’re seeing another sign of the permanent shift caused by the pandemic payment freeze. Just this month, Biden’s Department of Education froze loan payments for millions of borrowers while the department continues to recalculate their payments to be only 5 percent of their income. This is down from 10 percent.

    That’s right, the generous SAVE plan just got even more generous, which means that the future taxpayer will be responsible for picking up the slack of higher tax payments when interest income falls.

    Why do the payments need to be frozen while the recalculation is processed? Why not have all borrowers make their payments up until the new payment amounts are calculated? Because temporary Covid policies instituted during the Trump administration have become the permanent norm for the Department of Education.

    And note that all this jiggery-pokery was originally invoked as an emergency temporary measure to deal with hardships caused by the pandemic. Which Biden has proclaimed that he saved us all from. As Jacobsen notes, it's an instance of Milton Friedman's general rule: “Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.”

  • When you believe the rabble can be easily swayed by seductive verbiage. Paul D. Miller describes The Problem With Blaming Words for Political Violence.

    Blaming words for the violence that follows sets a bad precedent. This would become an all-encompassing tool of censorship. If any criticism is the moral equivalent of incitement, we have no free speech. We’re obligated to self-censor; we sacrifice speech to eliminate even the smallest possibility that violence might follow from the extremists and the unstable among us.

    Of course, criticism is allowed, and the assassination attempt on Trump does not inoculate him against criticism any more than the pipe bombs inoculated Obama. Trump is a threat to democracy and we shouldn’t stop ourselves from saying so. We shouldn’t let the threat of terrorist violence have a heckler’s veto over our speech. Trump’s brush with an assassin’s bullet does not turn him into a saint or a hero.

    Disclaimer: unlike Miller, I don't think Trump is much of a threat to democracy. But (warning: possible gun imagery ahead) he's on target when he points out that we shouldn't refrain from criticism because it might set off some lunatic. Like that mythical Brazilian butterfly causing a Texas tornado.

  • A useful explanation. Kat Rosenfield has a credible one: How Culture Got Stupid. A key point blames:

    The tenets of the new cultural criticism were as follows:

    • All art was political, and always had been;

    • Art with the wrong politics caused harm, especially to women and people of color;

    • And all art must be analyzed through the lens of power, privilege, and progressive pieties.

    The whole thing had a frantically performative vibe that bordered on the evangelical—with journalists in the role of the youth pastor palpably desperate to keep you going to church. “It’s fun to think about this stuff,” pleaded one representative essay at the viral trend site Uproxx, begging readers to devote themselves to woke critique with the same enthusiasm with which they once debated the bloodlines of the Targaryen dynasty. “Are you telling me that it’s cool to argue for hours about who Azor Ahai is, but a ten-minute discussion of race, gender, and shifting sensibilities before rewatching an ’80s classic is somehow wasted time? Get out of here.”

    Ms. Rosenfield's essay is wide-ranging and insight-filled. Also, she has recommendations for us media-consumers. (I really have to watch Ricky Stanicky, I guess.)

To Scale

Confession: I love The Big Bang Theory and thanks to TiVo, I'm working on watching all 279 episodes, in order.

But in just about every episode, there's this stuff that makes my physics major brain hurt a bit:

Reader, as Wolfgang Pauli allegedly said: "That is not only not right; it is not even wrong." Electrons are not shiny balls; they do not orbit atomic nuclei on shiny rails. (They don't make whooshing sounds, either, but that's even more of a quibble.)

Now: at a certain level, attempting to visualize what atoms "really look like" is futile. It's just math down there, solutions to the Schrödinger equation, or some other formulation.

But they could at least try to get the scale right.

Or, more accurately, once you try to get the scale right, you can see why they didn't.

Let's imagine—because we're not going to actually do it—building a scale model of a good old water molecule, H2O: an oxygen atom, with two hydrogen atoms hanging off to one side.

A hydrogen atom nucleus, a single proton, has a radius "root mean square charge radius") 8.4e-16 meters.

Let's say our scale model uses a ping-pong ball to represent a proton. A ping-pong ball's radius is 20 millimeters, or 2.0e-2 meters. (Fascinating fun fact from the link: "the size increased from 38mm to 40mm after the 2000 Olympic Games." I did not know that!)

So for our scale model, we have to multiply atomic/molecular distances by a scale factor of (2.0e-2/8.4e-16) = 2.38e13 (I.e., just under 24 trillion.)

The radius of an oxygen atom's nucleus is generally reported to be 2.8e-15 meters. Multiplying this by our scale factor, gives 2.8e-15 * 2.38e13 = 6.7e-2 meters, or 67 millimeters, about the size of a medium grapefruit.

So: to start building our scale model, gather together a grapefruit and two ping-pong balls. Where do we put them?

This page reports the distance between the oxygen nucleus and the hydrogen nuclei is 0.943 angstroms, or 9.43e-11 meters.

This scales up to 9.43e-11 * 2.38e13 = 2244 meters. Or about 1.4 miles. So:

  1. Put your grapefruit down;
  2. Walk 1.4 miles in a straight line;
  3. Drop one ping-pong ball;
  4. Return to the grapefruit;
  5. Turn approximately 106° from your original direction;
  6. march another 1.4 miles, and drop your other ping-pong ball.

That completes placement of the nuclei. Now we have to consider the electrons (ten of them) that swarm around the nuclei. Where do they go, and how do we represent them?

Reader, the best thing I can think up, visualization-wise, is a fuzzy cloud. That Schrödinger equation thing I referred to above would (if we solved it) give us a probability of finding an electron within a certain hunk of space. That probability is relatively high close to the nuclei, and gets much smaller as you get further away. And, as an added complication, the electrons have a higher probability to flock around the oxygen nucleus than the hydrogen nuclei. Visualize that however you'd like. The page referenced above does it with color.

The page referenced above talks about the "Van der Waals" diameter of the water molecule, which is as good a size estimate as we are likely to get; that's about 2.75e-10 meters. Scaling that distance up gives 2.8e-10 * 2.38e13 = 6664 meters, or about 4.14 miles.

So, to summarize: our scale model water molecule is a fuzzy cloud over 4 miles in diameter, in which is hiding a grapefruit and two ping-pong balls. And I admit, this would be difficult to picture on the TV screen in a way that might appeal to viewers. Still, it would be better than what they did.

Another fun fact: the electrons make up only 0.03% of the mass of the water molecule. For your typical Poland Spring 500 milliliter (16.9 oz) water bottle, that means most of the volume is those fuzzy electrons. Their total mass, however, is a mere 150 milligrams or so; the remaining 499.85 grams resides in those tiny nuclei.

Here's one thing that does not scale well. How fast do water molecules typically move? Much faster than the "atoms" you see on The Big Bang Theory. Googling will tell you that they exhibit a range of speeds (a Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution, approximately) and for water molecules at (roughly) room temperature, the average speed works out to 590 meters/sec (≈1300 mph).

So be glad that the water molecules in that Poland Spring bottle don't suddenly ("at random") decide to start moving in the same direction.

Yeah, that's impossible. Conservation of momentum saves us there.

But scaling that to our model, we get 1.4e16 meters/sec.

Which is (um) 47 million times the speed of light.

Very difficult to visualize!


Last Modified 2024-07-15 5:20 PM EDT

Dumbest Thing Seen on Facebook Yesterday

It was this, posted in all serious earnestness:

I was sorely tempted to snark at this on FB. Unfortunately, it was posted by a wonderful lady I went to high school with, and had a major (unrequited) crush on back then, over a half-century ago.

In fact, I still kind of have a crush on her. I don't want to hurt her feelings.

So I'll retreat to snarking here. I'm pretty sure she doesn't read Pun Salad. I'll use my Fisking template: The dumbness is reproduced in its entirety on the left with a lovely #EEFFFF background color; my remarks are on the right.

There's not actually money being spent to wipe away student loans.

True, in a sense. That money was "spent" when it went into the coffers of higher education institutions.

Now, the only question is: who's gonna pay it back?

A student has $20,000 college debt and has paid $250/ month for 10 years. They have paid $30,000, but still have an outstanding balance of $15,000 on the school loans, due to the way the loans are written.

Um, yes. That's the way loans work.

But the numbers caused me to seek out this loan calculator. If you are paying $250/month on an initial balance of $20K, and only manage to work your balance down to $15K after 10 years, that seems to imply an interest rate of 13.83% or so.

That's, um, reality-challenged. Actual student loan interest rates (current and historical) aren't, and never have been, that high. (Data here.)

The loan relief is saying - you've paid $10,000 more than your loan value, so we're discharging that remaining balance.

That may be what they're saying—I have no idea. But what they are doing (or attempting to do) is a transfer of loan debt from the borrower to US taxpayers, present and future. This shouldn't be hard to understand.

The loaner of the $ already received their loan amount, plus interest.

The "loaner" is the buyer of US government debt: t-bonds, t-notes, and t-bills. They would not (and should not be expected to) get less than the promised return on their investment. They expect to be paid back in full, in real money.

In fact, if the government did try to stiff its creditors, that would be a default. There would be headlines. And the whole government financial scheme would teeter. And…

Well, it wouldn't be pretty.

And 18 yr old old bowerers are ill prepared to understand the long term ranifications of these high interest loans.

Gee, I always kind of suspected it was a mistake to let these kids vote. If "bowerers" can't understand "ranifications" of their freely-chosen financial obligations, what are the chances they'll make wise choices in the voting booth? Worse than a coin-flip, I'd bet.

Better to forgive the remaining balance to allow their spending to help the economy.

… which ignores the money taxpayers will be shelling out to cover the "discharged" debts of student borrowers. That's money those taxpayers will not be "spending to help the economy."

Recommended reading: That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen, by Frédéric Bastiat.

Like we did with banks.

Yeah, that was a bad idea too. But at least (at the time) people were making the argument that it was necessary to prevent the US financial system from collapsing. That is not the case with student loan bailouts. It's just naked vote-buying, and nobody's bothering to pretend differently.

And at least the bank bailout was (more or less) OKd by Congress. That's not the case with student loan bailouts either. The shift (both proposed and enacted) of debt burden from borrowers to taxpayers is carried out via executive decree.

I'm currently reading C. Bradley Thompson's America's Revolutionary Mind, an examination of the political theory behind the Declaration of Independence. The Americans of that time would not have hesitated to call this "taxation without representation". And an instance of tyranny.

Sadly, we live in more docile times.

Who's More Dangerous, Who's More Endangered?

Disclaimer: Lacking a reliable crystal ball, I don't know the answer to either question posed in today's headline. Sounds as if Trump had a pretty good claim to "more endangered" yesterday, though. I'll get to that, but first, via Ann Althouse, Maureen Dowd took to her NYT perch to urge President Dotard to hang it up:

At a moment when Joe Biden should be getting hosannas for his good work and becoming the party paterfamilias, his team is sniping at Democratic luminaries like Barack Obama and George Clooney.

The Biden crew is hectoring journalists to leave the president alone and explain how awful Donald Trump is. I have used every damning word in the thesaurus, thrice, about Trump. And I’ll invent some new ones if I have to. (Suggestions welcome.) But it is not my fault if 2016 Hillary Clinton and 2024 Biden are unable to prosecute the case against a candidate with as many psychoses and felonies as Trump. It’s theirs.

Ms. Dowd had experience dealing with her aging mother, movingly told.

Our weekly look at the betting odds, and calling them "volatile" is an understatement:

Candidate EBO Win
Probability
Change
Since
7/7
Donald Trump 65.7% +7.2%
Joe Biden 16.4% +1.5%
Kamala Harris 9.2% -5.4%
Gavin Newsom 2.8% -0.7%
Michelle Obama 2.6% -2.1%
Other 3.3% -0.5%

Deskchair analysis: Biden's intransigence about staying in the race caused him to improve his odds vis-à-vis the other Democrats. Getting shot (or at least getting shot at) was a big boost for Trump.

So what about that shooting. Well, the WaPo had a "Republicans Pounce" article about it pretty quick: Trump allies immediately blame Biden, Democrats for their rhetoric.

Top allies of Donald Trump quickly accused President Biden and his supporters of using rhetoric that led to a shooting and potential assassination attempt Saturday at a Trump campaign rally in Butler, Pa., even as Biden condemned the attack and called on the nation to unite against political violence.

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), a potential Trump running mate, said in a statement on social media that the shooting was “not just some isolated incident.”

“The central premise of the Biden campaign is that President Donald Trump is an authoritarian fascist who must be stopped at all costs,” Vance wrote. “That rhetoric led directly to President Trump’s attempted assassination.”

Yeah, maybe, J.D. You have to go down a few paragraphs to find some perhaps-inciting rhetoric straight from the horse's … um, mouth:

[Trump advisor Chris] LaCivita’s [now-deleted social media] message pointed to words Biden had used earlier in the week when he told a group of donors about shifting his campaign to attack Trump’s policy record, including his record on abortion and Project 2025, a policy document drafted by some former Trump advisers. “So, we’re done talking about the debate, it’s time to put Trump in a bull’s eye,” Biden had told donors in the private call, which was reported publicly.

Which brought to mind the famed effort by the NYT editors to blame Sarah Palin for the 2011 shooting of Gabby Giffords. A 2017 look back from the WaPo Fact Checker: The bogus claim that a map of crosshairs by Sarah Palin’s PAC incited Rep. Gabby Giffords’s shooting.

“Was this attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably. In 2011, Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl. At the time, we and others were sharply critical of the heated political rhetoric on the right. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs. But in that case no connection to the shooting was ever established.”
New York Times editorial board, June 14

This quote is from a corrected version of a New York Times editorial that had falsely claimed that the gunman in the 2011 Giffords shooting was politically incited by Palin’s political action committee. Many readers asked about the uncorrected version, which initially claimed “the link to political incitement was clear” between the gunman’s actions and the map portraying crosshairs, including one over Giffords’s congressional district in Southern Arizona.

On Jan. 11, 2011 — three days after the shooting — The Fact Checker called this charge “bogus.” Alas, this debunked talking point still exists.

Note: that was from 2017, in response to the softball-field shooting of GOP Congressman Scalise. The NYT editorial led to a defamation lawsuit from Palin against the NYT which is apparently still ongoing, despite Palin's loss in U.S. District Court in 2022.

I suppose "Flight 93" storm-the-cockpit rhetoric will continue to come at us from all sides. I'm dubious that it causes dangerous wackos to grab guns, but maybe.

Also of note:

  • A pretty good title for a bad science fiction novel. Martin Gurri reflects on Joe Biden and a Tear in the Fabric of Things.

    Joe Biden entered the Senate in 1973, at the tender age of 30. He looked like a president, he felt like a president and he fully expected to rise to the top. His formula for success was that of every ambitious politician deprived by nature of directing principles or opinions: Find the meandering mainstream of his party’s establishment, where the big fish swim, then wade in and drift. Biden was in turn strongly against and stridently for abortion, a righteous Vietnam dove and then a stern Iraq hawk, a friend of racist Democratic senators before becoming a promoter of compensatory quotas for racial minorities.

    Virtually every time a vacancy arose, Biden, by his own admission, considered running for the presidency. In 1988, at the age of 46, he actually did so—and failed. Biden may look and feel like a president, but he has never sounded like one. Long before old age turned him into a bleary-eyed mutterer, he tended to get lost in his own verbiage. He told fantastic stories about his personal life that could be easily disproven. He plagiarized bits from Bobby Kennedy and an entire speech by British Labour leader Neil Kinnock. Biden, it seems, was as needy as he was ambitious. His campaign resembled a prolonged pratfall. He dropped out before the first primary.

    Gurri's take on history and current events (pre-assassination attempt, at least) is well worth a read.

  • A very bad title for a bad political novel. Kerry Jackson, writing at the Pacific Research Institute says that one of the guys in the betting table has, perhaps, overestimated odds: President Newsom, For The Power And The Glory

    Biden’s troubling performance in the June 27 CNN debate fueled the ongoing discussions of who could and should replace him as the Democratic candidate. Of course every list included Newsom, who was a Biden surrogate at the debate and obviously has his eye on the White House even as he pretends to avert his gaze every time he’s asked about it.

    The numbers, however, indicate that he’d be a poor choice. A CNN poll taken three days after the debate showed Trump by five points over Newsom. A Data for Progress poll taken the day after had Trump up by three.

    Multiple polls have Trump also beating Vice President Kamala Harris, though the gaps are closer and in some cases within the margin of error. Interestingly, the gamblers like Harris, who is extraordinarily unpopular, over Newsom. The RealClearPolitics betting odds average shows Trump at 56 percent, Harris at 15.7 percent, Biden at 12.2 and Newsom at 4.7.

    The explanation is pretty simple:

    It was under Newsom and no other governor that California lost population. The same goes for the loss of a congressional seat. That happened on his watch. It’s no mere coincidence that the human flight from the state corresponded with some of the most harsh, pointless, counterproductive and we’re-just-guessing pandemic lockdown policies in the country.

    … and more.

  • Maybe the assassination attempt will change him, but… as of a few days ago, Jonah Goldberg was on target (or is that too assassin-encouraging now?): Trump Is Loyal Only to His Own Ambition.

    Trump has always wanted the party to be his pool of Narcissus, reflecting his personal glory and dominance. That’s why he supported candidates who hewed to his lie that the 2020 election was stolen, preferring that the party lose with loyalists than win with truth-tellers. That’s why he no longer cares about the Federalist Society, which produced judges who rejected his false election claims. Oh, and last month, the guy who infamously called for a ban on Muslim immigration said he wants to give every foreign-born graduate of a U.S. college a green card.

    The problem with the search for an intellectually serious Trumpism is that Trump has no use for ideas except as expedients of his ambition. The instrumentalism that paved the way for Trump sought to make him the right’s tool. Instead, it made a lot of right-wingers look like tools.

    Sorry, Donald. But I earnestly hope you get better soon. In all senses of that term.

Please Don't Call This Trickle-Down

Stolen from Josiah Bartlett:

Man, this really makes me wish I got up to speed on one of those AI image generators. It illustrates Mitchell Scacchi's article chronicling the latest bit of pork arriving in our state: Feds devote another $19 million to save declining Manchester bus service.

Our state's junior senator claims a bit of credit for that (click through for what the other pols have to say):

But here's Scacchi's relentless refutation:

From 2013–2022, the Manchester Transit Authority (MTA) increased spending by more than a third and rapidly expanded service offerings to try to increase ridership. It was a colossal failure, as we highlighted in April. Instead of acknowledging the failure and changing course, the federal government this week announced a massive infusion of additional resources.

Washington has committed $19.9 million to build a new city transit center (after the original closed due to a shortage of riders) in an effort to reverse the government’s previous failure to induce ridership through additional spending.

New Hampshire’s congressional delegation announced Tuesday that the money would be used “for the construction of a new transit center which will replace the city’s outdated facility and enable an expansion of transit services in the region,” according to reporting from Manchester Ink Link.

The University Near Here is getting $2.7 million "to replace diesel-powered buses with compressed natural gas buses for its Wildcat Transit service." This is for a service that (at last report) had yet to recover to pre-pandemic ridership. (And last year was forced to terminate its service to neighboring Newmarket,)

Also of note:

  • Bad news for the looters. Noah Smith says There's not that much wealth in the world. It's a tutorial on wealth vs. income, and why taxing the former is such a lousy idea. He approvingly quotes:

    Freiman is correct. The wealth of America’s billionaires was estimated at around $5.2 trillion in 2023, while federal government spending was about $6.4 trillion. Confiscating every last penny from Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and all the other billionaires wouldn’t fund the U.S. government for one year. And of course you could only do it once.

    Something to remember when folks like Joe Biden (a) confuse income and wealth; and (b) demand that the rich "pay their fair share."

  • You're out of control! Greg Lukianoff and Adam Goldstein take on that awful NYT op-ed by Tim Wu: The First Amendment ISN'T out of control.

    Professor Wu's recent piece, “The First Amendment Is Out of Control,” was in this troubling tradition of free-speech catastrophizing. He opened the article by arguing that "[n]early any law that has to do with the movement of information can be attacked in the name of the First Amendment."

    Well, yeah. Fear of government power over the free flow of information was a big part of the reason why "Congress shall make no law."

    Indeed, that's also a big part of why the founders included "the press" in the First Amendment. And by “the press,” they didn't mean institutional journalism (although the First Amendment clearly protects that as well) — they meant the literal biggest information moving technology of the day: the printing press.

    When people like Wu gripe that the 1A is "out of control", read for the obvious implication: people are out of control.

  • A surprising bit of good news. I'm a non-fan of "national conservatism", so didn't have much to say about their recent convention. But Stephanie Slade was paying attention to this ray of sunshine: Vivek Ramaswamy Debuts 'National Libertarianism' at NatCon 4.

    "I think it's been decided, as obviously as it possibly can be, that America First is the future direction of the Republican Party," former presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy tells me.

    Given the close association of "America First" with tariffs, industrial policy, and calls to close the borders, even to legal immigration, this might not seem to augur promising things for libertarians. But Ramaswamy sees two distinct live possibilities for what the phrase should actually mean. "From where I sit," he says, "the most important debate for the country to have is the intra–Republican Party and even intra–America First debate between the national protectionist and national libertarian wings."

    During an evening keynote at the fourth National Conservative Conference in Washington, D.C., this week, Ramaswamy laid out these alternatives in some detail—and gently made the case that attendees of the nationalist event should rethink their indulgence in protectionism.

    And I really liked this bit:

    "I don't care to replace a left-wing nanny state with a right-wing nanny state," Ramaswamy declared at NatCon. Or as he puts it during our follow-up conversation: "I think that's a mistake the left has long made, using the administrative state as a way to coddle certain groups of Americans. And I don't think we're going to beat the left by becoming the left."

    At some point in the last year Vivek said some stuff that irked me. It's possible I may need to forgive him.


Last Modified 2024-07-14 5:14 AM EDT

She Got in Line, Frankenstein

NH Journal can barely contain its glee: Hassan Is 'Ridin' With Biden,' Says Biden 'Most Successful POTUS in my Lifetime'.

Hours before President Joe Biden’s post-NATO summit press conference Thursday night, he met with a group of Democratic U.S. senators concerned about his impact on down-ballot races if he stays at the top of the ticket. And his pitch made at least one sale: Sen. Maggie Hassan.

“I have continued to support the president. This is a really strong campaign. Here’s President Biden, one of the most successful presidents — perhaps the most successful president — in my lifetime,” Hassan told reporters after the meeting.

Maggie, that's real Manchurian Candidate stuff, there. To recycle a tweet from April:

I can't tell if the amusement contained in this New York Times headline is intentional or not: On Capitol Hill, Democrats Panic About Biden but Do Nothing.

Senator Christopher S. Murphy, an ambitious young Democrat from Connecticut, went on television on Sunday with a carefully worded warning to President Biden about the viability of his campaign.

“This week is going to be absolutely critical; I think the president needs to do more,” Mr. Murphy said, arguing that Mr. Biden needed to hold a town hall and participate in unscripted events because “the clock is ticking” for him to put to rest the doubts about his candidacy raised by a disastrous debate performance. Multiple times, Mr. Murphy emphasized his deadline, saying that he, as well as voters, must see more action “this week.”

Senator Michael Bennet, the Colorado Democrat who briefly ran for president himself, said Mr. Biden had to “reassure the American people that he can run a vigorous campaign to defeat Donald Trump.”

Senator Patty Murray of Washington, a senior member of the Democratic leadership team, put out a statement that passed for fighting words, saying that the president “must do more to demonstrate that he can campaign strong enough to beat Donald Trump.”

So far, Mr. Biden has done none of that.

Left unsaid: because he's not up to doing any of that.

Jeff Maurer is getting pretty frustrated: “Let Biden Prove Himself” Is a Fig Leaf for Inaction. In response to that NYT headline and article:

What a fucking body blow. What a humiliating confirmation of everyone’s worst stereotypes about liberals. We can’t stand up for ourselves, we’re feckless and disorganized — oh, and by the way, please vote for us to run the government! Every day that the Democratic caucus spends being publicly bullied by an old man is a day that more people become convinced that liberals are constitutionally incapable of dealing with the hard challenges of life. And the fact that most Democrats think Biden can’t win but are willing to stay silent rather than risk their personal reputation is a Profile In Dicklessness that I think could haunt the party for years to come.

I was thinking about making some sort of snark about Maggie and "Dicklessness", but you'll just have to imagine I did that, and it was both hilarious and tasteful.

Rich Lowry has, I think, his tongue firmly planted in his cheek: Maybe Biden Isn’t Such a Kind-Hearted, Wise Statesman after All.

Joe Biden is being transformed before our eyes, at least in how he’s portrayed in progressive circles and the media.

The empathizer-in-chief and savior of democracy has become, in a matter of about two weeks, a clueless and selfish threat to all that they hold dear.

Poor Joe Biden can be forgiven for not quite knowing what hit him. Just a couple of weekends ago, he and his family were at Camp David for a photo shoot with the famed Vogue photographer Annie Leibovitz — getting the favorable glossy coverage that a powerful Democrat expects — and now everyone has concluded he’s a dangerous jackass.

“Never underestimate the destructive power of a stubborn old narcissist with something to prove,” Mark Leibovich of the Atlantic writes of Biden’s insistence, so far, on staying in the presidential race.

… and Lowry quotes additionally from Maureen Dowd, Chuck Todd, et al.

Also of note:

  • With eyes wide shut, I think. Megan McArdle describes How the media sleepwalked into Biden’s debate disaster.

    In my 20 years of writing right-leaning columns at mainstream publications, I’ve made two arguments over and over. First, I’ve tried to convince my fellow journalists that liberal media bias is real. And second, I’ve tried to convince conservatives that, though it’s real, it’s not the conspiracy they imagine.

    This is a hard moment to make that latter point. Frankly, if we had been colluding to cover up the decline of a Democratic president, who then undid all our efforts by going on national television and breaking the story himself … well, how much different would our coverage have looked? And if he hadn’t self-immolated at the debate, wouldn’t our readers still be in the dark?

    That said, it really wasn’t a conspiracy. For one thing, mainstream outlets did report on the president’s age, even if too gently. Why were we so gentle? Well, there’s a broad journalistic norm against picking on physical characteristics (which is why even certified Donald Trump-hating columnists have made remarkably few cracks about his comb-over).

    Obviously, it was a mistake to treat age, which affects job performance, like hairstyling, which doesn’t. But that error was bipartisan — over the years, I’ve heard a lot of people talking about Trump’s senior moments without ever putting those thoughts on the page.

    She has a point, of course. But her employer, the WaPo, was (and is) relentless in its Trump-trashing. Adding in the combover critique would seem gratuitous.

    And you don't have to posit a "conspiracy"; willing participants don't need to meet in secret, they can pick up their marching orders by just subscribing to a few newspapers and watching a few news channels.

  • Like me, BART is showing its age. At some point in the early 1970s I visited San Francisco with friends, and the Bay Area Rapid Transit system was shiny, new, futuristic in fact. I remember that a train arrived at the station without me noticing, it was so quiet. It was like Disneyland's Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow for reals!

    But, fifty years on, the bloom is off the rose, and BART is a grumpy, neglected, geezer demanding its entitlements. The Antiplanner has some sad analysis: BART: Give Us More $ So We Can Do Less.

    Before the pandemic, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) earned more than 70 percent of its operating costs out of fare revenues, more than any transit agency in the nation other than CalTrain. Ironically, this also made it most vulnerable to a ridership downturn, while agencies like San Jose’s Valley Transportation Authority, which covered only 9 percent of its operating costs out of fares (the fourth worst among the nation’s transit agencies), were relatively immune. Now BART is pleading for more money so it won’t have to dramatically reduce service as it exhausts federal COVID relief funds.

    As part of that plea, BART published a report on its role in the Bay Area earlier this week. The report admits that BART’s ridership has dropped — as of May, it carried less than 45 percent as many riders as before the pandemic — due to increases in remote work. “BART ridership is closely linked to office occupancy rates,” says the report, with an accompanying graphic showing that ridership has moved in almost exact parallel to San Francisco-Berkeley-Oakland office occupancies.

    Despite the increase in remote work, the report notes, “traffic is back, but people are traveling in ways that result in uneven ridership retention.” In other words, they are no longer traveling in directions that BART can take them.

    Enshrining half-century-old patterns of commuting literally in concrete turns out to have been a bad idea.

  • Shame on SCOTUS. Since I am a troglodyte right-winger, at least 40% of the time, I thought there were a lot of good Supreme Court decisions this term. But I'm also 60% raving libertarian, so I'm in agreement with Philip Hamburger's take: Why The Court’s Murthy Ruling Is Probably The Worst Free Speech Decision In History.

    In the recent Murthy v. Missouri decision, the Supreme Court hammered home the distressing conclusion that, under the court’s doctrines, the First Amendment is, for all practical purposes, unenforceable against large-scale government censorship. The decision is a strong contender to be the worst speech decision in the court’s history.

    […]

    All along, there were some risks. As I pointed out in an article called “Courting Censorship,” Supreme Court doctrine has permitted and thereby invited the federal government to orchestrate massive censorship through social media websites. The Murthy case, unfortunately, confirms the perils of the court’s doctrines.

    Yes. So I had to find out what Nina Jankowicz thought about it. What was that group she's with again? Oh, yeah, the "American Sunlight Project". And, yes, here it is: Nina Jankowicz Statement on Murthy v. Missouri Decision.

    Yes, unsurprisingly, Nina thought the pro-censorship ruling was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!