The Phony Campaign

2019-03-10 Update

[Amazon Link]

Our Amazon Product du Jour is a phony security sign you can buy to deter stupid home invaders. Consider it an analogy to every candidate promising that they'll keep you safe against foreigners, medical bills, fake news, and/or Amazon/Facebook/Google/Twitter/AOL.

Big shakeup in our phony lineup this week!

  • Sherrod Brown decided he'd rather be Senatorialing than Presidentializing.

  • And Michael Bloomberg decided to avoid what he called the "crowded field" of, y'know, actual Democrats. (Possible translation: "There's no way I could pass the 2020 version of the Democrat Purity Test.")

  • Also gone: Nikki Haley, who dipped below our 2% probability inclusion threshold. I don't think she's expressed any interest whatsoever in running.

  • That made room for Andrew Yang, whose main claim to fame is his advocacy of a Universal Basic Income which he calls, channelling George Orwell, the "Freedom Dividend". ("It's not freedom for the people you're taking the money from, Andrew.")

    I.e., an expansion of the Green New Deal promise of economic security for those unwilling to work. Given the state of debate on the D side, I'm pretty sure a lot of candidates will simply say: "Yeah, that's a good idea. I'm for that too." Removing Andrew's single talking point.

    Be that as it may, Andrew's chances of winning the Presidency are judged by the Betfair bettors as roughly the same as those of Liz, Amy, and Spartacus.

  • And also reappearing (after a week's absence) is Mike Pence, with a surprisingly high probability of 7.4%. Maybe there are rumors about Trump getting impeached/convicted, or just deciding he's bored and tossing the Oval Office keys to the Veep? Or the way I calculate the probability from Betfair odds may be screwed up.

That said: Trump returns to his rightful position atop the phony standings this week, trouncing Kamala by over a two-to-one margin. Sanity has returned to the phony universe. Liz also made strong gains:

Candidate WinProb Change
Donald Trump 32.5% +0.5% 14,300,000 +11,420,000
Kamala Harris 12.5% -0.3% 6,720,000 -560,000
Elizabeth Warren 2.5% -0.1% 4,760,000 +4,555,000
Beto O'Rourke 7.4% -2.1% 958,000 +4,000
Bernie Sanders 12.8% +2.6% 473,000 +53,000
Amy Klobuchar 2.3% -0.1% 377,000 -21,000
Joe Biden 11.2% +2.1% 219,000 -21,000
Mike Pence 7.4% --- 191,000 ---
Cory Booker 2.5% +0.1% 74,500 -10,400
Andrew Yang 2.5% --- 21,000 ---

Standard disclaimer: Google result counts are bogus.

  • The young-adult website Vox brings us Sherrod Brown’s message for 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

    (I am officially amused by the subhed on the article: "The senator from Ohio won’t run for president in 2020. But his economic platform is still inspiring Democrats." Holy cow, what shameless flackery. Anyway…)

    “I will keep calling out Donald Trump and his phony populism. I will keep fighting for all workers across the country. And I will do everything I can to elect a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate in 2020,” Brown said in a statement. “The best place for me to make that fight is in the United States Senate.”

    Some pols recycle the same tired phrases every time they get in front of a microphone or camera. So it is with Sherrod Brown and "phony populism".

    Also note two occurrences of the "Progressive F-Bomb": fight. They really do love their violent rhetoric.

  • Vanity Fair pays writer Bess Levin to pen articles like this: White House: Jobs Numbers That Make Us Look Bad Are Fake News.

    I sympathise. It's hard to come up with thoughtful insights, when your audience seems perfectly happy with cheap snarkiness.

    When Donald Trump was running for president, he regularly accused the government of putting out “phony” economic data, declaring that the jobs numbers were nowhere near as good as the Bureau of Labor Statistics claimed, and that the “true” unemployment rate was probably more like 42 percent. (Yes, he literally attempted to suggest that nearly half the country was looking for work.) Naturally, once he became president, that tune about the government faking official data changed faster than you can say “DADDY, GIVE ME MY TOP SECURITY CLEARANCE!”, and he was more than happy to believe, brag about, and take credit for the numbers the Labor Department reported, including the ones that came out when he had barely been on the job for a month. (An actual quote: “[The numbers] may have been phony in the past, but [they are] very real now.”) But it seems Friday brought about a return to form, with the president’s administration arbitrarily deciding that the news that a mere 20,000 jobs were created in February cannot be trusted…

    News flash: Trump makes unsupportable claims about economic statistics.

    I suggest this (possibly paywalled) WSJ report which has numerous graphs putting the jobs report in context. The report wasn't that good, but neither was it that bad. Is it the harbinger of bad news to come? Maybe, maybe not.

    Yeah, it's more or less the administration's job to spin it positively. And the job of a partisan flack at Vanity Fair to throw as much mud at Trump and his minions as possible.

    As I type, a mere 603 days before Election Day 2020… Safe bet: more of the same until then, and probably after too.

  • I would not have pegged George F. Will as the kind of guy that watches this sort of TV. But here goes anyway: Democratic Candidates Channel Late-Night Infomercials.

    A four-word phrase common on late-night television, exclaimed by announcers giddy about their offers: “Buy this kitchen knife that is so sharp it can slice and dice diamonds, and we’ll throw in a nonstick frying pan that can double as a satellite dish. BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! If you call immediately, we’ll include a homeopathic cure for sciatica.”

    Today’s Democratic presidential candidates sound like late-night infomercials: “A Green New Deal! Medicare-for-all! Reparations for some! Free college for the young! Increased Social Security for the elderly! BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! At no additional cost, you get Modern Monetary Theory.”

    Read on for more on MMT, true voodoo econ. But I (slightly) demur from Will's thesis. Any commercial enterprise that made the claims and promises equivalent to those made by our political class would be quickly busted by the FTC for consumer fraud.

  • An amusing question and answer from the Puffington Host: Who Calls Joe Biden 'Middle-Class Joe'? Joe Biden Does, That's Who.

    Joe Biden likes to say that other people call him “Middle-Class Joe,” but there is little evidence that anyone calls him that other than Joe Biden himself.

    “I know I’m called Middle-Class Joe,” Biden said at a campaign event in October. “It’s not meant to be a compliment. It means I’m not sophisticated. But I know what made this country what it is: ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”

    The former vice president and possible presidential candidate has been saying some variation of this line for years. He has probably said the phrase “Middle-Class Joe” more times than everybody else combined. It has been a standard part of many Biden speeches.

    Actually, in these parts, he's mostly called Plagiarizin' Joe.

  • The Bulwark has been kind of a mixed bag for me—how many different ways can you say Trump is icky and so are his fans—but I'll stick with it. Jonathan V. Last is pretty good, and he brings us The March Democratic Power Rankings. We might as well go with this dig at Amy Klobuchar while she's still in the field:

    It’s not the crime that kills you, it’s the coverup.

    When Klobuchar was revealed to be a Very Bad Boss, she had three options: (1) Deny; (2) Admit, apologize, and reform; or (3) Play the feminism card.

    She went with Door No. 3 and that was a mistake. You know what’s not a great idea? To insist that being a woman is just part and parcel of being a terrible human being.

    As the great Caitlin Flanagan writes, “Don’t sell cruelty and pathological behavior as a feminist victory.”

    She's toast.

    You read it here first. Unless you read the Bulwark, in which case you read it here second.

  • Liz Warren tried to breathe life into her campaign with a new proposal: hey, let's break up Amazon. And Facebook. And Google. And… well, it gets vague. Anyone who pisses off Madame Wannabe President, I guess.

    Megan McArdle rolls her eyes and explains: Why ‘break up big tech’ will work better as a Warren campaign theme than as an actual policy.

    Warren’s position is of a piece with her earlier focus on banks: Big is bad. It’s also consistent in that it’s a Washington Issue that doesn’t address any particularly pressing problem, except maybe an inchoate unhappiness with the alienating scale of the modern economy.

    As a longtime skeptic of antitrust, I note that Warren’s proposal would probably make the lives of most Americans somewhat worse. Amazon would be forced to divest both Amazon Marketplace and its Amazon Basics line of cheap utility products, meaning those USB cables wouldn’t be quite so affordable. Google would be forced to divest its advertising business, a move of little benefit to the average person. It would, however, somewhat impair the cash flows Google uses to fund a bunch of free stuff, such as Gmail and Google Maps.

    Warren argues that breaking up big tech isn’t about consumers, at least not directly. It’s about enhancing competition, giving smaller tech companies space to grow into the next Amazon or Facebook. Sure, if you’re one of a couple hundred people wandering around Silicon Valley with a business plan in your pocket, that might actually help you. Then again, it well might not.

    It would be pretty funny if she (somehow) grabbed the Democratic nomination and then all the erstwhile Democrat big tech donors looked at this and slowly shook their heads and closed their checkbooks.

  • And finally, Mr. Michael Ramirez's reaction to Hillary disavowing any interest in campaigning:

    She says she's "not running". In the back of her mind, I'm sure there's an asterisk: "… but if I could somehow be President without all that dreary campaigning…"

Death Wish

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

Last year's remake of Death Wish, with Bruce Willis playing Charles Bronson popped up as a free streamable Amazon Prime movie, so I bit. And it's OK!

You probably know the story: home of mild-mannered urban professional Paul Kersey gets targeted by home invaders while he's away. His wife is killed, daughter sent into a coma (but not raped, as in the previous version). And the guy turns into a vigilante, shooting bad guys in the street.

Well, there are some major differences. It's Chicago, not New York. Kersey is a gifted surgeon, not an architect. This turns out to be important when his profession delivers him an important clue to the identity of his family's attackers. And so it turns into more of a revenge drama than a vigilante tale. Which is fine.

The acting is pretty solid. I haven't seen a lot of Bruce Willis movies lately, but he's very believable.

Vincent D'Onofrio plays his brother. The most recent thing I've seen him in was the last season of Daredevil, where he played Kingpin. There couldn't be two more different characters, and D'Onofrio is completely buried in both roles. Amazing actor.

And Dean Norris plays the Vincent Gardenia character, a dogged cop who (finally) figures out Kersey's game, and is unsure what to do about it. I've been a fan ever since he played Hank Schrader, the flawed but eventually tragic/heroic DEA cop in Breaking Bad. He's good here too.