URLs du Jour

2020-02-29

  • Jonah Goldberg's title screams "longest article ever": What Bernie Sanders Gets Wrong About Authoritarianism. But it's surprisingly short. (You can get the gist of things from the subtitle: "Well, almost everything.")

    Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president, is praised by his admirers for being consistent. He’s been saying the same things for 40 years, they explain—as if this is an obvious compliment. I think that’s kind of weird. 

    But I also like it because it gives me an excuse to make points I’ve been making for 20 years. Specifically: that authoritarianism doesn’t make people rich. 

    Sanders refuses to apologize for his praise for some of the great accomplishments of authoritarian regimes, such as Fidel Castro’s Cuba. At a recent CNN town hall, he volunteered that there are things about China he likes, too. 

    “China is another example, all right?” Sanders said. “China is an authoritarian country, becoming more and more authoritarian. But can anyone deny—I mean, the facts are clear—that they have taken more people out of extreme poverty than any country in history? Do I get criticized because I say that? That’s the truth. So that is the fact. End of discussion.”

    Well, no. And by the way, saying “end of discussion” is kind of an authoritarian way to debate.

    It's at the Dispatch which has started to paywall some of its articles. I haven't bitten the bullet on that yet, but I'm leaving my options open.


  • Mythbusting from Eric Boehm at Reason: No, Trump Didn’t Cut the CDC’s Coronavirus Budget. No, People Aren’t Blaming Corona Beer for the Disease.

    During Tuesday's Democratic primary debate, several candidates—including former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.)—accused the Trump administration of cutting key funding from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that impaired America's readiness for a pandemic.

    There is plenty to critique about the way the Trump administration has handled the outbreak so far (Mike Pence as virus czar? Really?), but this attack is inaccurate. Trump has proposed budget cuts for the CDC in each of his budgets since taking office, but Congress never approved those proposals. Trump's most recent budget plan calls for a 16 percent cut to the CDC, but that budget has yet to be approved by Congress. It's fair to say Trump has tried to defund the CDC, but it's inaccurate to say that he has succeeded—or that those fictitious cuts have affected the agency's ability to respond to COVID-19.

    While we're at it, Trump didn't call Coronavirus a hoax either. (Although it doesn't help when Trump calls any criticism of his administration a "hoax". Not everything you don't like is a "hoax", Donald.)


  • At National Review, Steve Hanke unveils the newest iteration of his Hanke Misery Index: World's Happiest Counties.

    The human condition lies on a vast spectrum between “miserable” and “happy.” In the economic sphere, misery tends to flow from high inflation, steep borrowing costs, and unemployment. The most surefire way to mitigate that misery is through economic growth. All else being equal, happiness tends to blossom when growth is strong, inflation and interest rates are low, and jobs are plentiful.

    Many countries measure and report these economic metrics regularly. Comparing them, nation by nation, can tell us a lot about where in the world people are sad or happy.

    Steve only looks at the relevant economic numbers, which is fine. No spoilers, but I was somewhat surprised at the five "happiest" countries, and the US position on the list.


  • And, from AEI's Mark J. Perry, a cool Animated chart of the day: Recorded music sales by format share from 1973 to 2019.

    Bottom line: I have a bunch of media that's gonna wind up in a landfill somewhere, someday.

URLs du Jour

2020-02-28

  • "Never let a crisis go to waste," someone said once. So it's Reason's Eric Boehm's job to write an utterly predictable, but still necessary point: Political Opportunists Are Using Coronavirus Fears To Push Whatever Policies They Already Wanted.

    If the NIH and the CDC aren't adequately prepared to handle a disease outbreak, it's probably their own fault. There is always going to be a finite amount of money for any government agency to use, so it's best not to waste your shares. Yet the CDC spent $15 billion during the Obama administration to nudge Americans towards healthier eating habits, and millions more on the creation of a "Hollywood liaison office" with funds that were supposed to be used to counter the threat of bioterrorism. Sure, it's possible that more funding would result in greater preparedness to face new and deadly diseases. So would making better choices about the money you already have.

    But that's not going to stop Democrats from using the coronavirus outbreak to argue for spending more money that we don't have—and heaven forbid we actually pay for emergency coronavirus funding with budget cuts elsewhere. Just like it won't stop Republicans from using the disease to push their anti-trade agenda. No matter how bad the outbreak might turn out to be, you can bet that politicians will find a way to make it worse.

    Everybody is using this to score political points. Including me, I guess: expecting that Mommy Government would have kept us safe if only we had given her more money is childish.


  • Here's Michael Auslin, writing at National Review on that whole "sick man of Asia" thing: China’s Thin Skin Bruised Yet Again. Once upon a time…

    And yet, history aside, I felt the phrase was somehow connected with something I had written long ago. Sure enough, Google instantly picked out an essay I wrote in 2009 for Foreign Policy, entitled “The Sick Man of Asia.” I was over a decade ahead of the times. I racked my brains, trying to remember the names of the American journalists who had been expelled due to my callousness, of how many times I had been denied a visa, and of the diplomatic strategy the U.S. government adopted in response to the crisis I had caused.

    Oh, wait, silly me. My “The Sick Man of Asia” article wasn’t about China at all. It was about Japan. Subtitled “We’ll Miss Japan When It’s Gone,” the piece lamented Tokyo’s then-paralyzed political system and fading regional role (much of which has been turned around by current prime minister Shinzo Abe, by the way).

    <sarcasm>And yet Japan mysteriously failed to expel any journalists in response to Auslin's despicable slur.</sarcasm>


  • Hey, kids, what time is it not? Nikki Haley has the answer at the WSJ: This Is No Time to Go Wobbly on Capitalism. Good all the way through, sample:

    Socialism represents the greatest threat to American values, but another movement is also cause for alarm. Advocates of so-called stakeholder capitalism—a philosophy that retains the word “capitalism” but abandons its meaning—include the Business Roundtable. Last year, the chief executives of America’s largest companies changed their definition of business. They said companies should focus on customers, workers and communities instead of being the best business possible. This has a nice sound to it but makes no sense. In reality, a company that cheats its customers, mistreats its workers and abuses its community won’t be around long.

    The Business Roundtable knows better, but corporate America is buckling under the pressure of political correctness. This is an unhealthy development that will make business the servant of politics. Few things are more dangerous than big government in cahoots with big business.

    I think Nikki's going to run for President in 2024. Probably Rand Paul too. That would be a tough choice for me. But a much better choice than I'm likely to see this year.


  • At the Bulwark, Robert Tracinski asks Have You Accepted the Free Market as Your Personal Savior?

    Hello, friend. I’m knocking on your door today to ask whether you have accepted the free market as your personal savior. If you haven’t, I’m here to share the good news.

    I am, obviously, riffing on the latest talking point from the nationalist conservatives, who have formed a new think tank based on the complaint that American politics is dominated by “free-market fundamentalism.” Please try not to laugh.

    It’s not just that this is a ridiculous straw man—advocates of the free market have spent our entire lives being ignored by politicians. It’s the fact that this is a sneering way of implying that confidence in markets is a form of dangerous dogmatism. It is an attempt to portray free-market economics as some kind of fanatical leap of faith, rather than a body of knowledge grounded in observation of the remarkable achievements of capitalism over the centuries—not to mention the failure of every other system.

    It’s an attempt to accuse somebody else of dogmatism, while they are the ones closing their minds to the evidence.

    I'm pretty sure I watched Thomas Sowell on TV decades back when an interviewer challenged his "faith in free markets". He fired back, "I don't have faith in free markets. I have facts about free markets."


  • And the Google LFOD News Alert rang for an announcement "Squatter's Opera", happening down in NYC on March 8. They have a Facebook page about it!

    Join us for the first ever public film showing of the current rendition of Michael Shenker's Squatter's Opera. Followed by question & answer session with cast and crew. Then, there's more... See, hear, and maybe even participate in, a live performance of more music from the Squatter's Opera repertoire.

    Description: In 2019 a group of about 25 Lower East Side veteran squatters, artists, musicians and activists came together to resurrect the song "Live Free Or Die" from the late Michael Shenker's collection of songs that came to be known as The Squatter's Opera. It was performed at Theater For The New City (see website theaterforthenewcity.net for more amazing live performances) on May 26th 2019, and Simeon Rose created this "short" film of the event.. This piece explains the how's and why's of Squatting via an informative introduction by graphic artist Seth Tobocman, then shows the musical characterization of scenes from real life Squatting. We aim to show why people chose to squat city owned buildings, the self reliance, skill share and community we developed, and how we became homesteaders then finally legal residents despite Big Developers who wanted tax breaks to turn empty buildings into overpriced Luxury apartments.

    Suggested Donation $5.00 - $20.00. All proceeds go directly towards the production. Payable at the door.

    Categories: Film - Live Theater - Protest Theater - Resistance Theater

    An interesting application of LFOD: living for "free" by occupying some else's property.

    It's nice that there's no formal admission fee, just a "suggested donation". I'm not going to attend, but if I did, I'd be sorely tempted to stiff them on that suggestion, with a polite "LFOD".


Last Modified 2020-02-28 9:25 AM EDT

Flirting

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

This 1991 Australian movie, Flirting, is a sequel to a 1987 Australian movie The Year My Voice Broke, which is unavailable at Netflix and Amazon Prime. A US-playable DVD of that previous movie will set you back a cool $119.99 at Amazon.

Wow! Why the availability difference? Easy explanation for that: Flirting has Nicole Kidman (albeit in a supporting role) and The Year My Voice Broke does not. (This was, IMDB says, Nicole's last Australian feature before she hit it big internationally.)

Anyway: it's the story of Danny (Noah Taylor) and Thandiwe (Thandie Newton), at their respective adjacent boys-only and girls-only schools in early-1960s Australia. Both are unusual, Danny being a nerdy intellectual fond of Sartre and Marx, Thandiwe being from Africa.

(By the way, anyone familiar with Thandie Newton's later films will find her 16-year-old self hard to recognize here.)

Both must put up with the respective prejudices of their loutish classmates. But they eventually acquire friends too, and also eventually find each other. Romance blooms. And complications ensue.

So it's kind of a sweet coming-of-age movie. Unfortunately, Thandie Newton apparently got abused by the writer/director, John Duigan. Kind of a down-under Harvey Weinstein She took 20 years to reveal this, but judging by his IMDB page, he's not done a lot movie-wise since that revelation.

URLs du Jour

2020-02-27

  • At the (probably paywalled) WSJ, Phil Gramm and John F. Early say what apparently needs to be said: Wealthy Americans Already Pay Their Share.

    Even amid a freewheeling presidential primary, Democrats are of one mind when it comes to taxation: Rich Americans are not paying their fair share. Congressional Democrats have joined the debate, proposing a 10% surcharge on incomes above $2 million. Once imposed, the Democratic tax wish list could quickly grow into a massive drain on American families—much as the income tax grew in its first 50 years. What began in 1913 as a mere 7% levy on earnings above $500,000 (almost $13 million in 2019 dollars) rose by 1963 to a 72% tax on incomes above $44,000.

    The claim that rich Americans pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than any other households is verifiably false. The nearby graph shows that taxes actually paid, as a percentage of income earned and received in transfer payments, rise steadily from 5.1% in the bottom quintile of households to 39.6% in the top 1%. While it’s too small to show on the graph, the top 0.1% of earners, which included 127,586 households in 2017, had an average gross income of $2,892,434 and paid $1,304,769, or 45.1%, in federal, state and local taxes.

    And here's the graph they cite:

    [Fair Share]

    There's nothing that sets my teeth on edge more than Democrats demanding "the rich pay their fair share". And they've been playing that tired tune for decades without ever specifying what that "fair share" is. My guess is it always means "more than now".


  • At City Journal, Guy Sorman looks at The Time-Warp Socialist. You'll never guess who he means!

    Just kidding. You know who he means.

    Socialism these days is like the Hydra of lore: for every head chopped off, the monster regrows two. One cannot escape this metaphor when watching Bernie Sanders’s seemingly irresistible progress toward the Democratic presidential nomination. He defines himself as a socialist and clearly meets the criterion, starting with the historical models that he cites. The European social-democratic template of the 1960s, as achieved in the Scandinavian countries (the so-called Swedish model) and in France and Germany, is Sanders’s blueprint for the United States. Nostalgia likely inspires Sanders, at least to some degree—social democracy was at its peak when he was young.

    The same nostalgia, mixed with a significant dose of ignorance, may explain his positive comments about Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba. He could not bring himself to condemn totally a government that had launched literacy programs. This is the classic posture of the “useful idiot,” Lenin’s term for intellectual admirers of Communist regimes. Sanders shows no sympathy for Communism’s victims and voices no qualms about Castro’s violence. And he gets the facts wrong: Cuba’s people were educated before Castro seized power, and they had the most reliable health-care system in Latin America. Sanders’s admiration for Castro and other dictators in the region—he often mentions Nicaragua—reveals an attraction for the aesthetics of violence, widely shared among leftists. In Marxist parlance: one can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. Sanders, perhaps, would not mind breaking some eggs to achieve his goals.

    Unfortunately, a lot of Americans remain beguiled by promises of a benevolent state providing security, safety, equality, etc., overruling bourgeois notions of liberty and personal responsibility.


  • And methinks Kevin D. Williamson (in an "NR PLUS" article, unfortunately for cheapskates) has the accurate take: Bernie Sanders Hates America. It's masterful, and I hope you can read the whole thing, but here's the bottom line:

    Does Senator Sanders bear in his heart some secret love for Fidel Castro or the Bolsheviks? Possibly. But that is not the relevant question. Senator Sanders has come to this point not because of what he loves but because of what he hates. He is naturally sympathetic to the Soviets and the chavistas and the Castros because they hate what he hates: American power, American prosperity, the American way of life. Common causes are made by a common enemy.

    In this case, us.

    Indeed.


  • But there are more nuts-and-bolts problems with Bernieism. For example (as Peter Suderman details at Reason) Bernie Sanders’ New Favorite Medicare for All Study Has Major Problems.

    No primary candidate is more closely associated with Medicare for All than the current front-runner and likely nominee Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.). At last night's debate, Sanders was once again asked how he would pay for the plan. He responded by citing a study "that just came out of Yale University, published in Lancet magazine, one of the prestigious medical journals in the world." The study, co-written by a former unpaid Sanders adviser, purports to show that Sanders' Medicare for All plan would save $450 billion a year, and 68,000 lives. 

    A detailed article produced by Kaiser Health News and Politifact, however, rates Sanders' claim "mostly false." The true part is that such a study exists. The false rating comes from the story's conclusion that the Lancet study's major findings are wildly disingenuous because they ignore or discount much of the evidence about what effects such a program would have on the health care system.

    A good link to use to rebut anyone who took that Lancet article seriously. Suggested wording: "Even that notoriously left-leaning Politifact found…"


  • And a debunking of a different demand from the intrepid Veronique de Rugy: Paid Leave and the Composition of Compensation.

    Here's why: Because paid leave is costly, when firms provide this benefit, they change the composition of their employees' total compensation by reducing the value of workers' take-home pay to offset the cost of providing paid leave. While some workers prefer this mix in their pay packages, others don't. In particular, mandated leave would be a hard trade-off for many lower-paid women who would prefer as much of their income as possible in the form of take-home pay.

    In fact, polls show that when women learn of the trade-offs inherent in any government-mandated paid-leave policy, their support for such a policy collapses.

    Don't be gulled by people who tell you it's "free".


  • And finally… xkcd: Truck Proximity:

    [Truck Proximity]

    Mouseover: "See also: Farm animals and dinosaurs. I am so confident that there exists children's media that involves dinosaurs driving trucks on a farm that I'm writing this without even Googling to check."

    Pun Salad Fact Check: as far as I can remember from 30 or so years back, so very true.


Last Modified 2020-02-27 10:21 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-02-26

I didn't mean to watch the debate, but it was on when the movie we watched last night was over, so I caught Joe Biden yelling about something. Trump being a Russkie, I think. Couldn't switch over to a TiVo'd Futurama episode fast enough.

If I wanted to watch an old man rant incoherently, I'd take my laptop into the bathroom and read my Facebook feed in front of the mirror.

  • And I rarely tweet, but let me share a retweet with you:

    Depending on how the week goes, I may need to revise that.


  • The Bulwark's Benjamin Parker asks What Would a Sanders Presidency Mean for the Rule of Law?

    For disaffected Republicans, the choice is less strategic. For those who object to President Trump’s protectionism, redistribution programs, political and economic disruptiveness, and obsequiousness to dictators, voting for Sanders hardly alleviates their concerns. Sanders’s saving grace may be that he lacks the incumbent’s personal indecency and mafioso instincts.

    But just because Sanders wouldn’t mimic Trump’s assaults on the rule of law doesn’t mean he wouldn’t start his own. Voters from any party who think of their ballot as an attempt to restore the constitutional order shouldn’t be under the illusion that a Sanders White House will herald a return to normalcy.

    Benjamin details how Bernie has voiced his support for authoritarian leaders, as long as they're fellow lefties.


  • David Harsany goes into more detail on that at National Review: Bernie Sanders Praise of Fidel Castro: Why It Matters.

    Did you know that infamous Nazi Hermann Göring was a great lover of animals, a protector of birds, and head of the forestry service in Germany? Unless you’re a history buff, probably not. After all, almost no one feels the need to preface their comments about the Third Reich with “Sure, the authoritarianism was pretty bad, but, boy, that Göring was one hell of an environmentalist!”

    Western elites, however, like to use this kind of absurd criterion whenever they talk about socialism, ignoring its vast failures and praising its piddling and alleged successes — you know, “Denmark,” but not Algeria, Albania, Angola, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burma, Cambodia, China, Congo, East Germany, Ethiopia, Hungary, Latvia, Mongolia, Romania, Somalia, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen, Yugoslavia, and so on and on.

    And unlike many modern progressives, Bernie Sanders is old-school, still in the habit of praising old comrades. “When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing?” Bernie told 60 Minutes this past weekend, reacting to criticism of his near-complete praise of the dictator back in the 1980s.

    Extra observation: "When Castro triumphantly entered Havana in 1958, he didn’t bring truckloads of books; he ordered thousands of arrests and summary executions."


  • Reason's Eric Boehm observes pungently that Mayor Mike is no prize either: Bloomberg and Bernie Fight Over Which Communist Dictatorship Is the Least Evil.

    Democratic presidential hopefuls Mike Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders clashed Tuesday night over which authoritarian communist regimes are worth praising. Both fumbled what should have been straight-forward responses.

    Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, was asked about his past praise of Chinese President Xi Jinping. In a 2019 interview, Bloomberg said, "Xi Jinping is not a dictator; he has to satisfy his constituents or he's not going to survive." Given a second chance, Bloomberg did find the courage to criticize China's lack of press freedoms and what he called an "abominable" record on human rights—but then he pivoted, weirdly, to argue that Xi is not a dictator because he "serves at the behest of the Politburo" of the Communist Party of China, the 25-member political committee that runs the country.

    I think the word "kowtow" will work its way further into the vocabulary as the campaign goes on.


  • At Power Line, Scott Johnson quotes liberally from a WSJ column from Walter Russell Mead on China's response to the coronavirus, "China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia." Which resulted in outrage from the dictators, and the expulsion from China of three WSJ journalists.

    It's all detailed in Help! Apologize to our jailers in the Chinese bakery. But there's something disquieting about this bit:

    Journal reporters are on board with the demand for an apology to the Chinese regime. Marc Tracy covers that angle for the New York Times in “Inside The Wall Street Journal, Tensions Rise Over ‘Sick Man’ China Headline.” Subhead: “After China announced the expulsion of three of the paper’s journalists, 53 reporters and editors at The Journal asked top executives to consider changing the headline and apologizing.”

    The phrase "Sick man of Asia" has a history that rubs people the wrong way even today.

    But hurt feelings are no excuse for kowtowing to tyrants.


  • I remember driving in Boston for the first time in 1973. Kind of a traumatic experience. Apparently, it's still bad. In Boston magazine Lisa Weidenfeld wonders Can We Ever Really Fix Bad Driving in Boston? There's an LFOD invocation:

    Before you start feeling too hopeless, though, it’s worth noting that Massachusetts has the lowest automobile fatality rate in the country. And Larason, who’s something of an expert, says “I think Boston drivers have become better and politer than they have been historically.” And though we may enjoy screaming at our fellow drivers from time to time, living in a heavily urbanized state means that chances are pretty good that you’re not driving anywhere fast, making it a bit harder to get in a nasty crash.

    It’s possible that despite our much vaunted reputation as rotten drivers, we’re just full of hot air. In fact, the area that Larason suggests he’d really like to see some improvement in isn’t our tendency to flip each other off over minor transgressions. It’s that we’re 45th in the nation in seatbelt use, meaning, he says, that “one in four of us does not wear a seatbelt.” New Hampshire, which does not require seat belts (live free or die, baby!), is 50th. The point: We’re not even that much better than New Hampshire.

    It's true, according to the latest data, MA has a fatality rate of 0.54 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, less than any other state. (NH is pretty bad on that score: 1.07 deaths per 100 Million annual VMT.)

    Apparently the real problem with Boston drivers is that they hurt each others' feelings instead of killing each other. Not a bad tradeoff.


Last Modified 2020-02-27 6:36 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-02-25

  • At NR, Jim Geraghty looks at 2020 & Bernie Sanders’s Long Career. And debunks the notion that Bernie was just a kid when he had all those daffy ideas:

    Bernie Sanders was born three months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

    This means Sanders was 28 years old when he wrote: “The manner in which you bring up your daughter with regard to sexual attitudes may very well determine whether or not she will develop breast cancer.

    Sanders was 30 years old when he wrote his infamous op-ed about women’s rape fantasies.

    He was 31 years old when he decided that George McGovern was too centrist for him.

    He was 32 years old when he discussed eating placentas with a new mother on a Vermont commune. “How long after the birth were you eating the afterbirth? Don’t all mammals eat the afterbirth?”

    … and more. Trump vs. Sanders is going to be a tough choice for a lot of people who think they've got to go either R or D.


  • Even the reliably anti-Trump Bulwark is showing signs of cracking up when they look at the Bernie future. For example, Walter Olson contemplates Bernie Sanders and the Greatest Show Trials on Earth!

    Which, I have to say, would be the worst J. K. Rowling title ever. But:

    Sanders has repeatedly sounded variations on the theme: “Fossil fuel executives should be criminally prosecuted for the destruction they have knowingly caused.”

    He does not say what criminal law he thinks they have broken, despite the plain current legality under current law of operating refineries, at-pump gas sales and so forth. But note that Sanders’ language is not forward-looking—it’s retrospective. He’s not just talking about passing some new law and then arresting executives who proceed to violate it. He is talking about prosecuting past lawful behavior.

    It’s a reminder that for all his talk of Denmark-this and Sweden-that, Bernie Sanders has never cut his ties to a branch of the socialist tradition in which the conviction gets settled first and the law is discovered afterward.

    Someone should ask Bernie how many of his political rivals he's thinking about putting in jail. Do they have "Lock! Him! Up!" chants at his rallies?

    [Walter also goes into the show-trial positions of the other candidates. Not great, but Bernie's clearly an outlier.]


  • James Pethokoukis has an observation and a question at Bernienomics is built on two big gambles. Should we take it seriously?

    If elected America’s 46th president, Sanders would gamble that the exploding debt and deficits caused by his spending plans wouldn’t hurt the economy. For the moment, let’s take him both seriously and literally. In an interview broadcast on 60 Minutes last night, Sanders was reticent to dig into the numbers. “I can’t rattle off to you every nickel and every dime,” Sanders said when pressed by Anderson Cooper on how much his plans would cost. “But we have accounted for — you — you talked about Medicare for All. We have options out there that will pay for it.”

    The other gamble:

    Another Sanders gamble is that all his tax hikes and private-sector intervention wouldn’t further slow economic growth further from its already historically low level. He wants to raise as much in taxes from the rich, Wall Street, and corporations as is already raised from the entire personal income tax. All that without conceding any significant burden or disincentive to work, save, or invest. If Sanders is wrong, then the idea that we can simply outgrow rising debt in a low-interest rate environment looks less likely. It also means a less prosperous future with less opportunity and technological progress.

    People seemed to blame yesterday's stock plummet in the DJIA to Coronavirus. I wonder if that's the whole story, given Bernie's Saturday win in the Nevada caucus? Isn't that a bigger threat to the value of peoples' investments?


  • Speaking of that, Chris Edwards op-eds at the Hill on something it seems all the Democrats like: The capital gains tax threat.

    The splashy tax idea coming out of the Democratic nomination race has been an annual wealth tax. That far-left idea would be so unworkable and damaging that it would never pass Congress. That is the good news.

    The bad news is that Democrats are pushing many other tax hikes that are more viable. One terrible idea supported by all the top vote-getters in Iowa and New Hampshire—Sanders, Warren, Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar—is to hike the top capital gains tax rate from 24 to 40 percent. Capital gains taxes may seem obscure but limiting them is crucial to U.S. economic growth.

    Chris goes into detail on why that's a poor idea. You're, at least partially, taxing "gains" due to inflation. And you're taxing corporate profits that have already been taxed once. At least in theory.

    Disclaimer As a retired person who's living in part off realized capital gains, I have a vested interest. Also as someone who doesn't want to see the economy go into a deep ditch.


  • Well, that's enough Bernie-bashing for today. It's not like Our Current President isn't doing stupid stuff. From Reason's March issue comes Eric Boehm: Trump’s War on Whisky Is a Dram Shame.

    While the Trump administration's tariffs on steel, aluminum, and Chinese-made goods have earned most of the headlines, another more obscure set of Trump-backed import duties are hitting Americans squarely in the booze.

    Since October, the U.S. has charged a new 25 percent tariff on single malt Scotch whisky, part of a broader set of levies targeting hundreds of European cultural items, including Italian pasta, German ham, and English wool. The 25 percent tariff is expected to cause scotch exports to the United States to drop by 20 percent over a year, according to the Scotch Whisky Association. "Consumer choice will diminish and Scotch whisky companies will start to lose market share," says Karen Betts, the trade group's executive director.

    I'm not a whisky fan myself, but I extend my sympathies to those who are.

Justice League

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

I was a little surprised I liked this movie as much as I did. It's a solid three stars: I was entertained for a couple hours, didn't fall asleep much, and don't think I would have regretted not seeing it.

Let me tell you, though: Gal Gadot probably added a star all by herself.

So at the end of the last movie, Superman was "dead". And the world is menaced, as worlds are, by Steppenwolf, who's looking to put together three powerful cubes of alien technology, and employs a lot of nasty flying monkeys to assist.

Batman is the first to notice the problem, realizes he doesn't have much of a chance to thwart this scheme on his own. So he recruits all the other superpeople he knows about: Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash, and a new guy "Cyborg", of whom I was previously unaware.

Still not good enough. But if you think Superman is going to stay dead, … well, of course not. We all know better.

URLs du Jour

2020-02-24

[Amazon Link]

Make sure you read the fine print on our Amazon Product du Jour. Wouldn't want anyone to get the wrong idea here.

  • Methinks the headline on Jeffrey A. Tucker's article at the American Institute for Economic Research would have worked better with a prepended "Dude", so I'm putting it in: "Dude, Are We Seriously Debating Capitalism vs. Socialism Again?"

    The answer is yes, we are seriously debating capitalism vs. socialism again. As it should be. And herein lies the silver lining in one of the most alarming trends in public life: a self-described socialist is leading in the polls to win the Democratic nomination.

    For nearly 100 years, public figures in America have dabbled in socialist ideology, learned from it, practiced it on a limited scale, imposed policies rooted in its logic, and been inspired by its conflict ethos that imagines markets to be inherently exploitative, unfair, and unjust. It makes some kind of weird sense that finally at the highest (?) levels of American public life, they would just finally come out and say it: we are all kind of socialist now.

    To contradict that claim requires that you see the problem with socialism, and to see that problem leads one to think through the logic of markets and economics, which in turn leads one to see the virtues of commercial freedom. But doing that, taking those hard steps to understand scarcity, creativity, prices, and exchange threatens to undermine the ideological infrastructure of the Democratic Party itself. What has emerged instead is a “no enemies to the left” ethos that allows the extremists to control the messaging.

    Obviously a fruitful discussion topic in the coming months.


  • The WSJ, probably paywalled, briefly notes The Lorax on the Appalachian Trail.

    To environmentalists, this must look like the perfect legal loophole. Congress gave federal agencies the power to authorize pipelines under the lands they control. But that law excludes “lands in the National Park System.” Who administers the Appalachian Trail? Bingo: the National Park Service.

    Ergo, the greens assert, no agency may permit a pipeline to cross the trail, which runs 2,200 miles from Maine to Georgia. That would turn the footpath into a wall to development, since most of the route runs on federal property. A federal appeals court accepted this theory two years ago. On Monday the Supreme Court will hear the arguments to overturn it, in a pair of cases consolidated under U.S. Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association.

    In 2014 Atlantic Coast Pipeline proposed a natural-gas pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina. The plan is to pass under the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest, by drilling 700 feet beneath all those hikers in biodegradable shoes. After three years the U.S. Forest Service signed off. Green groups reacted per their nature: Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and the Sierra Club gotta sue.

    In 2018 that approval was voided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Here’s how its ruling wrapped up: “We trust the United States Forest Service to ‘speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.’ Dr. Seuss, The Lorax (1971).” In the absence of mustachioed orange cartoon characters, a panel of three life-tenured federal judges would do.

    That's gonna be an interesting case to watch.


  • [Amazon Link]
    At Reason, Stephen Davies bids Good Riddance to the Roman Empire. (A review of a new book Escape from Rome, Amazon link at right.)

    Walter Scheidel makes a dramatic claim in Escape From Rome: The collapse of the Roman Empire made the modern world possible. The release from imperial governance, he argues, had an outcome in Europe that was not replicated elsewhere. That in turn explains why Europe became the birthplace of modernity.

    Hey, maybe! Anyway, placed on the to-read list.


  • But we're not done talking about Rome, because at American Greatness, Roger Kimball dissects Mike Bloomberg, American Julianus.

    I see that Mike Bloomberg is angling to become the Didius Julianus of our day. Historians refer to 193 A.D. as the “Year of the Five Emperors.” Julianus became the second contestant in that sweepstakes after the Praetorian Guard murdered the emperor Pertinax, who had been stingy about distributing the pelf they had come to expect. By this time, the Praetorian Guard was a law unto itself, much as the administrative state is today.

    Pertinax only survived for about three months as emperor. Cutting to the mercenary chase, the Guard then announced they were auctioning off the office of emperor to the highest bidder. The main contenders were Claudius Sulpicianus, prefect of Rome, and Julianus, a rich politician and former consul under Commodus. Each made multiple offers until Sulpicianus reached the astounding sum of 20,000 sesterces per soldier in the Guard, several times their annual salary. Julianus saw and raised that bid, offering 25,000 sesterces per head.

    Julianus lasted 66 days as Emperor, leaving as so many of them did: getting stabbed by a soldier. Here's hoping for a happier ending for Mayor Mike.


  • Tom Nichols writes at USA Today, letting us know that: Bernie Sanders saw the Soviet Union through the eyes of a dreamy fool.

    Sen. Bernie Sanders and I don’t have a lot in common. We both lived in Vermont, where I was one of his constituents, but I never voted for him because I thought then, as I do now, that he’s a fundamentally unserious person whose far-left politics are ridiculous.

    But it turns out we’ve both been to the Soviet Union. In fact, as a scholar of Soviet and Russian affairs, I visited the USSR and later the new Russia several times. (I even speak Russian, although I’m a bit rusty.) Now I find that I face the unwelcome possibility that for the first time I might have to vote for Sanders — for president, no less.

    As a Soviet expert and a politically homeless Never Trump voter, I am certain of three things when it comes to Bernie and the Soviets. First, his comments about the USSR show that his judgment is terrible. Second, he will be unable to wave away his comments merely by appending “democratic” to his preferred version of Soviet ideology.

    And third, the Republicans will weaponize his remarks, and this will likely cost him the election. Indeed, it would be professional malpractice if Trump’s campaign people passed up this chance. Were I still a Republican and hoping for a GOP win, I could write those ads myself.

    But I would be remiss if I didn't tell you the bottom line:

    If the Democrats force me into this corner, I will cast my vote for Sanders, because I will take a fool and his dreamy notions about the Soviet Union over Donald Trump and the mafia state he and people like Attorney General William Barr are busy creating in America. If by some miracle Sanders wins, he will be an ineffective and embarrassing president, but if that’s what it takes to rid us of the caudillo in the White House, so be it.

    I think Tom and I have different views on the purpose of voting, but I admit I am probably the unusual one there.

The Phony Campaign

2020-02-23 Update

[Amazon Link]

Well, that went well. The Nevada Democratic caucus, that is. At least procedurally.

Glass-half-full optimists can take heart from the fact that about two-thirds of Nevada Dems voted for someone not named Bernie.

Pessimists will note: they voted for people only slightly worse.

The Betfair punters deemed Mayor Mike the week's big loser, probably due to his lousy debate performance. Bernie's odds improved dramatically. And so did Trump's, less dramatically.

In the phony standings, Trump maintains his commanding lead over all Democrat contenders. But Bernie has slipped into second place ahead of Wheezy Joe:

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
2/16
Phony
Results
Change
Since
2/16
Donald Trump 58.5% +0.9% 1,930,000 +280,000
Bernie Sanders 23.7% +7.5% 501,000 +74,000
Joe Biden 3.0% -1.1% 475,000 +26,000
Pete Buttigieg 2.0% -0.4% 174,000 -56,000
Michael Bloomberg 8.6% -5.2% 118,000 +34,800

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • The Free Beacon's Andrew Stiles tries to talk some sense into Democratic voters about what they deserve: Democrats Deserve a Younger, Healthier Frontrunner in 2020.

    The Democratic primary has rapidly devolved into a bitter squabble between 78-year-old socialist Bernie Sanders and 78-year-old billionaire Michael Bloomberg. Former vice president and 77-year-old train enthusiast Joe Biden is also technically running. The self-described "party of the future" appears to be doing everything in its power to ensure a second term for President Donald J. Trump.

    The most youthful Democrat with a realistic shot at the nomination is Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of Indiana's fourth-largest city who won't shut up about the time he studied abroad in Afghanistan. He's riding high after strong finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire but is in for a rude awakening once the voting starts in states that aren't dominated by his core demographic of wealthy whites with graduate degrees and West Wing fetishes.

    Andrew's solution to the dilemma may shock and/or amuse you.


  • At the (possibly paywalled) WSJ, James Freeman looks at How Bloomberg and Sanders Made Their Fortunes.

    Michael Bloomberg is a lot wealthier than Bernie Sanders. But there’s a case to be made that Mr. Sanders has been more creative in developing his business model. Who would have guessed that being a full-time socialist in the United States could result in a net worth more than 25 times that of the median American household?

    [Amazon Link]

    Factoid about Bernie's fortune: "Mr. Sanders’ Senate and presidential campaign organizations have spent a total of more than $500,000 buying copies of his books." The campaigns then give the books "free" to contributors.

    That's a pretty good scam, and probably legal. Freeman credits a new book by Peter Schweizer, Amazon link at right.


  • Megan McArdle warns us at the Washington Post: Bernie Sanders is not just a garden-variety social democrat.

    The world of comic books, in which characters are constantly dying and being revived or reinvented for a new legion of fans, eventually had to invent a concept known as the “retcon” — short for “retroactive continuity.”

    You’ll have noticed the phenomenon in film and television even if you never knew its name: “retconning” means altering an already-established past story line, to cover up growing plot holes or simply to free an author to craft a more enjoyable narrative in the present, one unhindered by the back catalogue.

    The term has obvious applications to modern politics. As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) looks increasingly likely to win the Democratic nomination, left-of-center people are anxious to downgrade Sanders’s self-described socialism into something more politically palatable — like Great Society liberalism, or perhaps, at maximum, a Nordic-style welfare state.

    One problem among many, as Megan notes: many of the Nordic countries that Bernie cites have already tried and given up on the policies Bernie's actually proposing.


  • You may have seen this already, but just in case, don't miss Sean Davis's essay at the Federalist: So God Made A Bloomberg.

    And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, “I need a tiny, soulless technocrat to tell everyone else how to live their lives.” So God made a Bloomberg.

    God said, “I need a know-it-all Wall Street banker who made more money by getting fired than most men will make their entire lives working an honest job.” So God made a Bloomberg.

    “I need somebody with hands strong enough to carry a stool and a booster seat wherever he goes, but gentle enough to sign the voter registration papers as a Democrat, and then a Republican, and then an independent, and then a Democrat again.

    … and there's more. In case you don't get the inspiration, check out the late Paul Harvey's "So God Made a Farmer".


  • At Reason, Scott Shackford notes the ease with which well-meaning social media rules against deception can become weaponized tools of censorship: Twitter’s New ‘Deceptive Video’ Labeling Plan Immediately Abused To Attack a Silly Joke Ad from Bloomberg. While it's still outside the memory hole:

    In the video, Mike Bloomberg asks if it's "fair" for him to point out that he's the only person in the debate who has started a business, followed by 20 seconds of quick cuts back and forth between the other candidates saying nothing. This is obviously not what actually happened, and the fact that they've edited in crickets chirping is a pretty big tell. But then, the idea that there would be 20 seconds of silence about anything in one of these debates is an absurd, over-the-top concept.

    So the ad is clearly a joke, on that's in the spirit of a lot of political advertisements. You'd have to be a pretty credulous rube to think it's real. But some very loud people seem to think you're a rube—or think pretending you're a rube will help them take advantage of some new rules Twitter is implementing in March. And by take advantage of some new rules, I mean chill political speech.

    Unsurprising: The party that pretty much unanimously despises Citizens United is the party looking to shut down political speech.


  • So one last bit of New Hampshire Primary fallout, as reported by Michael Graham at Inside Sources. Pro-Warren Progressive Group: NH Dems Made 'Terrible Mistake' Backing Klobuchar.

    “So…the voters of New Hampshire just made a terrible mistake.”

    That’s the first line of a press release from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) on Monday attacking Granite State voters for boosting the candidacy of Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

    “Exit polls show that Amy Klobuchar picked over 10 points in the final couple days before the New Hampshire primary because of…a couple good zingers in the last debate,” the PCCC said. “Klobuchar has faced no scrutiny this year. New Hampshire voters didn’t know that Klobuchar voted to confirm two-thirds of Trump judges to lifetime appointments -— and has one of the most conservative records of any Democrat.”

    The press release also included a tweet from “a progressive voice:”

    “Time for Tina Fey to polish off that Sarah Palin impression and tweak it for Amy. #NotPresidential.”

    Amy beat Liz badly in NH (19.8% vs 9.2%). But thanks to the "Progressive Change Campaign Committee" telling us that NH Democrats are easily swayed by "good zingers". That explains a lot.

    So the remedy is obviously to beg Tina Fey to come up with… good anti-Amy zingers on SNL. That's an interesting strategy.


  • But speaking of Amy, she had a "gaffe" by forgetting the name of the Presidente de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos. And she forgot it on Telemundo. Doh!

    Speaking of zingers, she was zinged by the recent debate moderator and also Mayor Pete. (Pete and Amy apparently despise each other.)

    But she has an excuse, as reported by the Daily Wire: I Was Too Tired, ‘This Is Not A Game Of Jeopardy’.

    “You were asked to give the name of the president of Mexico, you couldn’t at the time, mayor Buttigieg did know the name, and he says it helps his argument that Washington experience is not necessary to be president. Does it?” CNN host Anderson Cooper asked Klobuchar.

    Klobuchar, appearing flummoxed, stuttered for a moment as she attempted to explain herself. Most impressively, she even managed to lay some of her gaffe’s blame at the feet of President Trump, because she was apparently too tired after being in the “Senate all day” voting on a resolution to rein in his power.

    “Well, first of all I would like to give my greetings to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the president of Mexico,” Klobuchar began. “When that happened, for what it’s worth, I had been in the Senate all day, we had six votes, including a resolution to be a check on the president so that he does not go to war with Iran. I got on a plane and got there, I think, at midnight my time, and had a fast interview, and then did two forums after that, ending at about two or three in the morning.”

    In response to Mayor Buttigieg’s dig, Klobuchar suggested he stop acting like the election is a “game of ‘Jeopardy.'”

    I'm not a fan of gotcha questions. (Ever since Gary Johnson spaced on Aleppo back in 2016.) But I'd actually watch a Jeopardy!-style competition between the candidates.

    I believe it would strengthen democracy.

URLs du Jour

2020-02-22

[Amazon Link]

  • As predictably as the sun rising in the east, special interests will demand increased state regulation to hamper their competitors. At Reason, Elizabeth Nolan Brown notes the latest instance: Newspaper Lobbyists and Encryption Foes Join the Chorus Against Section 230.

    The Department of Justice has joined the campaign against Section 230, the federal law that enables the internet as we know it. Its effort is probably part of Washington's ongoing battle against encrypted communications. And legacy news media companies are apparently all to happy to help them in this fight.

    On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice held a "public workshop" on Section 230. Predictably, it wound being up a greatest hits of the half-truths and paranoid bellyaching commonly employed against this important law.

    Barr's jihad against strong encryption doesn't quite fit in the regulate-my-competitors model, but of course the government uses strong encryption itself. At least I hope it does. So, yeah, the point is to deny us the tools the government uses itself.


  • At Inside Sources, Michael Graham apparently has the goods on my current CongressCritter, Chris Pappas: Pappas Spends Tens of Thousands of Tax Dollars on Facebook Ads, Repeatedly Violated FB Guidelines.

    New Hampshire Congressman Chris Pappas has worked hard to maintain a low profile since winning his First Congressional District seat, a district Donald Trump carried in 2016. However, he hasn’t been shy about communicating with his constituents the old-fashioned way: Spending tax money on political messages.

    For decades, Congress has dealt with recurring scandals involving “franking privileges” — taxpayer-funded mailings to voters back home. However, in recent years, more members have moved to social media and Facebook to spread the news of their accomplishments. Buying ads promoting their official Facebook (FB) pages is one way to get the word out to future voters — and on the voters’ dime.

    No idea of what Facebook rule Pappas ran afoul, but I'm afraid this scandal won't stink badly enough to send him back to peddling dangerous chicken tenders in Manchester.


  • More rebuttal to the "American Compass" project, this time from Alberto Mingardi at the Library of Economics and Liberty: Oren Cass as a gift to Bernie Sanders.

    Were I Bernie Sanders, I would continuously quote Oren Cass and his ambition of giving the United States an industrial policy.

    Though he is more nuanced and moderate than most advocates of an “entrepreneurial state”, Cass interprets industrial policy as being oriented towards supporting manufacturing and “vital sectors that might otherwise suffer from underinvestment”. That definition, as always with industrial policy, is loose enough to be applicable to pretty much everything. What is a vital sector? How do you assess under-investment?

    Industrial policy is meant to be discretionary, because it aims to correct alleged errors on the part of investors and consumers in the market economy insofar as the allocation of resources is concerned. It is “picking winners”, and picking winner needs a picker.

    Click through for more, including links to criticism that you might not have seen here.


  • Have you been wondering whether Mike Bloomberg's technocratic arrogance is at odds with America's founders? Well, Rich Lowry has an answer for that: Mike Bloomberg’s technocratic arrogance is at odds with America’s founders. Especially amusing is the compare-and-contrast with our current Prez:

    If November were to come down to a Trump-Bloomberg race — despite the former New York City mayor’s woeful debating skills — Americans would get the choice of swapping one president with an aconstitutional view of the office for another.

    The two New York City billionaires are studies in contrast, except no one would think to feature either one of them in an episode of “Schoolhouse Rock.”

    Trump views the presidency through the prism of what’s most gratifying to him, especially his insatiable need for attention; Bloomberg would view it through the prism of what’s good for you, as filtered through his supreme confidence that, he, and only he, truly knows what that is.

    Trump’s ego feeds off constant praise and airtime; Bloomberg’s feeds off his belief that he’s the smartest guy in the room, in fact, in any room, and that you’d inevitably agree with him if only you were as intelligent, rational and public-spirited as he is.

    Devastating, and, to my mind, on-target.

URLs du Jour

2020-02-21

If you need a compass…

[Amazon Link]

  • At National Review, Oren Cass lays out the rationale for his new project, American Compass: Economics with People Included.

    Today we are announcing the formation of American Compass, an organization dedicated to helping American conservatism recover from its chronic case of market fundamentalism. In preparation, we have been perusing the mission statements of many of our nation’s think tanks. Nearly every group has one. Oddly, the right-of-center’s preeminent public-policy institutions all have the same one: to advance the principles of “limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty” or “free markets and limited, effective government” or “free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom” or “individual liberty, limited government, free markets” or “economic choice and individual responsibility” or “individual, economic, and political freedom; private enterprise; and representative government.”

    Without question, those principles are vital. But an emphasis so monotonal is neither supportive of effective deliberation nor genuinely conservative. “Why don’t we look at a policy and just ask, does it expand economic freedom?” suggests Heritage Foundation vice president Jack Spencer. Because there is more to life than economic freedom. Also, there is more to economic freedom than economic freedom. A society that attempts to maximize everyone’s freedom at every moment will fail miserably in preserving individual liberty and limiting government over time.

    Well, pardon me if I'm not all that worried about the creeping menace of "market fundamentalism", Oren. But let's look at some other reactions.


  • Jonah Goldberg asks, rhetorically: Does Anyone Really Believe Free Market Fundamentalists Are ‘Running the Show’?

    I keep hearing people say or imply that libertarians and free market “fundamentalists” have been running the show in Washington. I honestly have no idea what they’re talking about—and neither do any libertarians I know. In fairness to Cass, he doesn’t make the barmy claim that Washington has been run by libertarians, just the slightly less barmy claim that Republican party has been. I still have no idea what he’s talking about—and, again, neither do any libertarians I know. 

    (As an aside, whenever I hear arguments that Group X is running everything, I know I’m dealing with an argument that is spiced with some dosage of conspiratorialism and exaggeration. Here’s a newsflash: No one is running everything—not the Deep State, not the Jews, not the Frankfurt School Marxists, the globalists, the donor class, or the lizard people. One of the great things about advanced democracies is that every faction is competing for power and influence and none of them ever fully succeeds. Even when one faction dominates the conversation or policymaking, it isn’t long before they overstep, atrophy, or lose their mojo because even limited success tends to dissolve the reasons for certain coalitions to come together in the first place. It’s a bit analogous to Joseph Schumpeter’s argument for why monopolies cannot long endure so long as they are not protected by the state. Monopolies create the circumstances for their own demise as more nimble entrepreneurs innovate them into obsolescence.)

    Looking at the latest trillion-dollar deficit, I'm not getting the feeling that anyone with a shred of fiscal sanity is in charge, let alone the market fundamentalists.


  • And Don Boudreaux weighs in at the PIttsburgh Tribune-Review with a truism: Conservatives can be just as mistaken as ‘progressives’. After debunking some stats Oren Cass uses to demonstrate economic travail:

    Cass errs also in failing to understand the incompatibility with liberty and prosperity of schemes designed to protect community and industry.

    Joseph Schumpeter, Julian Simon and Deirdre McCloskey are only three of the economists who’ve demonstrated that high and rising prosperity for ordinary people is the result of innovation that destroys old patterns of production and replaces these with new and better ones. Such “creative destruction” is inescapable for those who wish to be members of a society that grows and prospers economically.

    Yet Cass and other proponents of “national conservativism” are uncomfortable with creative destruction. Obsessing over the destruction, they’re blind to the creativity.

    It’s true that patterns of production, work, and community life are changed by competition and the innovation that it inspires. It has been so for the past two centuries. But it’s untrue that the replacement of older forms of community engagement with new forms necessarily means less, or less-satisfying, personal engagement with others.

    Still, Oren could have a point about decay of old institutions, deaths of despair, etc. But kicking capitalism in the nards isn't likely to bring back the good old days.


  • Harvard econ prof Greg Mankiw has A Question for Bernie. And I'm just gonna include the Whole Thing:

    "Senator Sanders. You regularly say that you want the U.S. healthcare system to be more like those in Europe, with their less expensive, more inclusive, government-run systems. Well, in Europe, physicians are paid less than half what physicians are paid in the United States. (See below.) Is a massive cut in physician salaries a part of your vision for the future of the U.S. healthcare system under a Sanders administration? If so, don't you think you should warn the roughly one million U.S. physicians of that fact now? If not, is it realistic to expect the cost savings that you are promising?"

    And the accompanying graphic from (I assume reliable) Medscape:

    [International Physician Earnings]

    I've wondered about this for a while, good on Prof Mankiw for digging it out.

    I'd add that (almost certainly) this effect isn't restricted to doctors, but all workers in that sector. Not that I begrudge them, they are (mostly) honest people responding to incentives. But "we" are wildly overpaying for the care we receive.


  • And James Pethokoukis continues his debunking of progressive memes about the economy. This time, he asks How many Americans live in poverty? In response to the claim that “140 million Americans are either poor or low-income.”:

    This number comes from an Institute for Policy Studies report. And it’s kind of weird. It starts off by noting that “the number of Americans in poverty has increased by 60 percent to 40.6 million” since 1968. But the US population has grown by even more, 64 percent. That’s why the official poverty rate has declined to 11.8 percent from 12.8 percent.

    Of course, that’s not much of a decline, just a percentage point in a half century. That has led some to claim that LBJ’s War on Poverty has been lost, as the official poverty rate remains near 1960s levels despite massive spending on anti-poverty programs. But that number ignores lots of anti-poverty benefits from government: food stamps, housing assistance, and Medicaid, and the value of both the Earned Income Tax Credit and the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit. 

    I'd make the related point that the "War on Poverty" did a self-evidently lousy job of lifting people out of poverty. It just made poverty more tolerable. That's not nothing, but it's not what was promised.

URLs du Jour

2020-02-20

  • Michael Ramirez is based at the Las Vegas Review-Journal so his take on the upcoming Nevada caucus is reality-based:

    [Vegas, Baby]

    Goodness, that's a beautiful cartoon.


  • For a text-based analysis of the same subject, look no further than the intrepid Veronique de Rugy at Reason, on Bernie Sanders’ Troubling Agenda.

    In a recent piece in CapX, the Cato Institute's Ryan Bourne makes an excellent case that while many European governments have implemented one or more of Sanders' dream policies, his vision for America still "goes far beyond any modern social democracy in terms of government size and scope." Consider the most recent example of two left-wing European politicians' plan to grow the U.K.'s government: Labour's Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. As hard as they've tried, what they've dreamt up still isn't as big of an expansion of government control over our wallets and lives as Sanders proposes.

    Bourne notes that Sanders would like to grow spending all the way to 70 percent of GDP. In comparison, Labour's 44 percent of GDP figure is small. While Sanders' policies include pretty much everything that Corbyn had planned, the U.S. presidential aspirant adds a few other cherries on top, like forgiving all student debt, banning private health insurance, and massively increasing spending on infrastructure and climate change.

    The referenced Ryan Bourne article here.


  • Sanders is awful, the other Democrats are not significantly better. But, as Michael Tanner points out at National Review, Debt and Deficits Will Have Huge Impact on Our Future.

    As fiscally irresponsible as the Democrats are, though, anyone concerned about the growing tide of red ink should not look to the Trump administration for a better way forward. Faced with news of trillion-dollar deficits, President Trump’s response at a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser was a dismissive, “Who the hell cares about the budget? We’re going to have a country.” And a quick glance at his record confirms that that’s not just more of his trademark bluster: He has signed $4.7 trillion of new debt into law over his first three years in office. If he wins reelection and continues at that pace, by the end of his second term, Trump will end up having added more to the national debt than President Obama. And he will have done it amid relative prosperity, rather than the recession Obama had to navigate.

    People wanting to vote for fiscal sanity in November will have to hold their noses and vote Libertarian. Or write-in.


  • And nobody paid me to watch last night, so I didn't, but the Washington Free Beacon has mushed together The Most Savage Moments of the Democratic Debate.

    I don't think it's very woke to associate Senator Warren with savagery, even given her proud Native American heritage.


  • John Tierney has been calling bullshit on performative environmentalism for a long time, and continued that proud tradition in the WSJ yesterday: Plastic Bags Help the Environment.

    […] single-use plastic bags aren’t the worst environmental choice at the supermarket—they’re the best. High-density polyethylene bags are a marvel of economic, engineering and environmental efficiency. They’re cheap, convenient, waterproof, strong enough to hold groceries but thin and light enough to make and transport using scant energy, water or other resources. Though they’re called single-use, most people reuse them, typically as trash-can liners. When governments ban them, consumers buy thicker substitutes with a bigger carbon footprint.

    Once discarded, they take up little room in landfills. That they aren’t biodegradable is a plus, because they don’t release greenhouse gases like decomposing paper and cotton bags. The plastic bags’ tiny quantity of carbon, extracted from natural gas, goes back underground, where it can be safely sequestered from the atmosphere and ocean in a modern landfill with a sturdy lining.


  • By now this should be expected, but here's the latest revolution of the euphemism treadmill, as revealed by City Journal: Progressive Elected Officials Abuse Language In An Attempt To Change How We Think.

    A new law in California bans the use, in official documents, of the term “at risk” to describe youth identified by social workers, teachers, or the courts as likely to drop out of school, join a gang, or go to jail. Los Angeles assemblyman Reginald B. Jones-Sawyer, who sponsored the legislation, explained that “words matter.” By designating children as “at risk,” he says, “we automatically put them in the school-to-prison pipeline. Many of them, when labeled that, are not able to exceed above that.”

    "At-risk" will be memory-holed, and replaced with (I am not making this up) "at-promise". The claim is that this will remove the "stigma" currently associated with "at-risk".

    Just how many milliseconds will it take sentient human beings to recognize that this is a linguistic shell game that doesn't alter reality one bit? Whatever "stigma" there is will simply move over to the new terminology.

    And then Reginald B. Jones-Sawyer will have to come up with a new term, and the cycle will repeat. That's why it's called a treadmill.


  • And the Google LFOD News Alert rang unexpectedly for Vishal Gullapalli's review, at a site with the excellent name Adventures in Poor Taste. He reviews a comic book Undiscovered Country #4. With this image (click for original):

    [Undiscovered Country]

    That's Destiny Man, who is allegedly the bad guy in this series. But I'm in concert with Vishal: he seems like a pretty decent sort here. That… whatever it is coming out of his rear is a tad disturbing, though.

URLs du Jour

2020-02-19

[Amazon Link]
Cute Amazon Product du Jour. But I have a quibble. Complaining on the Internet at least has a non-zero chance of persuading readers. (I'm assuming that "complaining" also covers … whatever it is I'm doing here. Complaining Plus™, maybe.)

But my voting, on the other hand, persuades zero people, and has a negligible chance of affecting the electoral outcome.

So I'm pretty sure the cute t-shirt is wrong. But it leads into our first item…

  • The good folks at Issues & Insights ask: Does Expressive Voting Trump The Rest?

    Say there was a (wildly optimistic) one-in-a-million chance that your vote would swing an electoral outcome to a result benefitting you by $10,000. Viewed instrumentally — solely as a means to an improved end — the expected value of that vote is one cent ($10,000 divided by 1 million). Such a small payoff cannot explain choosing to vote, much less adamant support for a particular candidate.

    However, people often also care about the expressive value of voting — what a vote says about the voter. Perhaps best expressed by Geoffrey Brennan and Loren Lomasky’s classic “Democracy & Decision,” it reflects the fact that, beyond voters’ instrumental incentives, they might also want to vote for something because it makes them feel better by, say, embellishing a noble self-characterization. For instance, a vote could validate one’s sense of self-worth by illustrating that “I care,” “I am patriotic,” “I am not a racist,” etc.

    It turns out that I'm pretty much an "expressive" voter. But it's not (honest) all about "burnishing my halo". I'm simply going for the candidate who, however imperfectly, aligns with my political values.

    For the life of me, I can't imagine why people do anything else.

    Which (once again) reminds me of a quote from an old movie, Catch-22:

    Dobbs: Look Yossarian, suppose, I mean just suppose everyone thought the same way you do.

    Yossarian: Then I'd be a damn fool to think any different.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson says we got trouble. Trouble in the Workers’ Paradise. That starts with T, and that rhymes with AOC, and that stands for …

    Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is precisely the sort of campaign surrogate you want, especially if you are Bernie Sanders: She is young, energetic, charismatic, popular (with the people she needs to be popular with, anyway), and, happily, currently ineligible to run for the presidency herself.

    Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is precisely the sort of campaign surrogate you don’t want, especially if you are Bernie Sanders: She is callow, flippant, vain, shallow, and prone to making policy pronouncements that are even battier than your own, and she forgets to mention you at all in the course of making appearances that are in theory on your behalf.

    Senator Sanders is, in his bizarre way, the conservative in the Democratic presidential primary: Republicans are accused of “wanting to turn the clock back” to the 1950s, but Sanders, the confessing socialist, wants to turn the clock back to the 1930s. (The senator himself is culturally a product of the 1970s, which is what his weird little rape-fantasy literary œuvre is all about.) In the New York Times, former economist Paul Krugman poo-poos the idea that Senator Sanders means that he is a socialist when he says he is a socialist, but Sanders’s prescriptions do have a certain dustily familiar aspect to them: Health care? Nationalize it by making Medicare an effective public monopoly. Banking? Nationalize it by having the government operate its own banks, i.e. by having the state literally own the means of production.

    Which reminds me of another quote, this one from the Notebooks of Lazarus Long, by Robert A. Heinlein:

    If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for … but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong.

    If this is too blind for your taste, consult some well-meaning fool (there is always one around) and ask his advice. Then vote the other way. This enables you to be a good citizen (if such is your wish) without spending the enormous amount of time on it that truly intelligent exercise of franchise requires.

    It looks as if when November rolls around, I'll be voting against … a lot of people.


  • At American Greatness, Stephen Milloy is unimpressed with The GOP’s Carbon Capture Dodge.

    House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is releasing a climate bill this week. The purpose is “to put the GOP on the map on climate” in response to polls reporting that enough young voters have finally succumbed to a lifetime of being propagandized on climate.

    No sane Republican politician would saddle our economy with pointlessly expensive—the only kind that there are—climate regulations. But there are many who would gladly try to appease climate alarmists by throwing around limited amounts of taxpayer dollars on various boondoggles to make it look like they take the matter seriously. One of these boondoggles is carbon capture and sequestration (CCS)—which is the focus of McCarthy’s bill.

    Milloy goes into detail on the various boondoggles, one that (kind of obviously) increases atmospheric carbon.

    Fun note: Milloy blogs at junkscience.com where he's not shy of quoting all the people who tar and feather him as a "denier".


  • And, back to our almost-theme of voting, CNET looks at the latest technology: Microsoft ElectionGuard ("This could be Microsoft's most important product in 2020. If it works.")

    Key caveat there: "If it works."

    ElectionGuard is open-source voting-machine software that Microsoft announced in May 2019. In Microsoft's demo, voters make their choices by touchscreen before printing out two copies. A voter is supposed to double-check one copy before placing it into a ballot box to be counted by election workers. The other is a backup record with a QR code the voter can use to check that the vote was counted after polls close. 

    Open source is good for this kind of thing, of course.


  • And Sky News previews the American "Medicare for All" future with the latest from Old Blighty: NHS staff can refuse to treat racist or sexist patients under new rules.

    Sexist and racist patients could be barred from non-emergency care at NHS trusts, under new rules to be enforced from April.

    Currently, staff can refuse to treat non-critical patients who are verbally aggressive or physically violent towards them.

    But these protections will extend to any harassment, bullying or discrimination, including homophobic, sexist or racist remarks.

    No slippery slope there.

URLs du Jour

2020-02-18

Bizarre pic today, right? I can't figure out what's going on here. "Mr. Giant, I'll give you this big dollar sign for that even bigger mask!" "OK, little running man, it's a deal!"

  • At National Review, David Harsanyi is upset with The Roger Stone Double Standard.

    Whether Roger Stone, the loopy, self-aggrandizing political operative, deserves nine years in Supermax for obstructing an investigation into Russia–Donald Trump “collusion” is debatable. Whether the powerful men who helped create the investigation that ensnared Stone have been allowed to lie with impunity is not. They have.

    Only a few days after prosecutors melodramatically left the DOJ after Trump tweeted a defense of Stone and the DOJ subsequently revised its sentencing recommendation to be more lenient, former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe was informed that he wouldn’t face charges. McCabe faced an inquiry into whether he broke the law when he denied to investigators that he had leaked information concerning a Clinton Foundation probe to the press.

    I've seen good arguments both ways on Mr. Stone. (Kevin D. Williamson is a lock-him-up guy, for example.)


  • At Spectator USA, Will Lloyd derives some loopy fun from the antics of one of the clowns in the car: Joe Biden should do town halls forever.

    While a successful politician in many ways, Joe Biden’s attempts to become president are marked by quite a severe flaw — he cannot enter a town hall without saying something stupid. What would American democracy be without Joe Biden garlanding astonished voters with insults and imprecations of every kind? God bless that man. Biden has been making a fool of himself at these events for so long now that I’m fairly sure Alexis de Tocqueville observed this phenomenon in a celebrated passage from his Democracy in America (1835):

    ‘I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers — and it was not there…in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there…in her rich mines and her vast world commerce — and it was not there…in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution — and it was not there.’

    Indeed, it was not until I went into the town halls of America and heard Joe Biden, aflame with righteousness, describe a young woman as a ‘lying, dog-faced pony soldier’ did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she allows crazy old men to talk nonsense without interruption, and if America ever ceases to allow this deluded old mariner to run for president, she will cease to be great.

    Since I have a vested interest in staying amused, I hope Joe doesn't drop out soon.


  • Deirdre McCloskey writes at Reason: Steal This Intellectual Property.

    In 1971 the yippie radical Abbie Hoffman wrote a book advocating resistance to government, capitalism, and the "Pig Nation." Steal This Book advocated shoplifting, squatting, and other methods of living off other people for free. The title and the contents made the manuscript hard to peddle. But when it finally got a publisher it sold well in bookstores, which was good for Hoffman financially. It turns out that most people want to live off other people not by stealing but by paying a fair price earned by their own labors. Hoffman remarked, "It's embarrassing when you try to overthrow the government"—and capitalism—"and you wind up on the Best Seller's List."

    I want you to steal what the lawyers self-interestedly call "intellectual property": Hoffman's book or my books or E=mc2 or the Alzheimer's drug that the Food and Drug Administration is "testing" in its usual bogus and unethical fashion. I want the Chinese to steal "our" intellectual property, so that consumers worldwide get stuff cheaply. I want everybody to steal every idea, book, chemical formula, Stephen Foster lyric—all of it. Steal, steal, steal. You have my official economic permission.

    I'm glad Deirdre's OK with it, but I bet if I walked out of Barnes&Noble with her latest book under my arm, the gendarmes would be called. So that wouldn't be prudent. I'll be content with quoting her "liberally" here at Pun Salad. (Heh.)

    She was on C-SPAN2 last night. Mrs. Salad commented on Deidre's voice. I had to explain.


  • Mickey Kaus is Chastising Amy. Klobuchar, that is.

    In her triumphant speech after a strong third place finish in New Hampshire, new MSM darling Amy Klobuchar said this:

    America deserves a president who's gonna take on the challenges of our time: Climate change and affordable education and college, immigration reform, justice and democracy and, yes, bringing down the cost of health care

    Hmm. The rap on Klobuchar is she's smart and capable but "small bore," gubernatorial, focused on meaningful but wildly incremental victories like getting an extra day in the hospital for women after they’ve given birth (something she boasts about in her stump speech).

    Here she's hanging a lantern on her problem, and [she's right] to do so — presidents are supposed to take on “the challenges of our time."

    But look at her list:. Those are the big challenges?

    Mickey lists some other challenges he'd like to see addressed: Alienation; Meritocratic inequality; Mass migration; China; Robots.

    What about the robots, Amy?! Is Andrew Yang the only person worried about the robots?


  • At AEI, James Pethokoukis asks the question Are most Americans really living paycheck to paycheck? All the Democrats seem to think that's happening, but…

    Anyway, a more rigorous way to get at this issue of financial vulnerability is the Federal Reserve’s annual report on household well–being. The most recent one found that 39 percent of respondents said they wouldn’t be able to scrape together the cash to meet a $400 emergency expense, while 61 percent said they would cover it with cash, savings, or a credit card paid off at the next statement. 

    Now here’s what’s weird and why you need to be careful with surveys: A footnote in the survey highlights 2016 research that found 76 percent of households had at least $400 in liquid assets, far higher than even the 60 percent with cash or its equivalent. 

    See, there’s a thing called the “credit card debt puzzle,” where some people choose to hold both high–interest credit card debt and cash that could be used to pay down that debt. And the survey itself poses the question: “Although so many incurring additional costs for a modest expense is disconcerting, it is possible that some would choose to borrow even if they had $400 available, preserving their cash as a buffer for other expenses.”

    This is the second Democrat meme-debunker from James, and I look forward to more.

Angel Eyes

[Amazon Link]

The latest Spenser novel by Ace Atkins, continuing the Robert B. Parker series. Mr. Atkins has really hit his stride, turning out content that's very comparable to the original.

Yeah, I know: this whole thing is pretty ghoulish. I'm not sure how I'd react to (say) someone resurrecting the Kinsey Millhone series that Sue Grafton didn't get around to finishing. (Z is for Zero, then looping back around with A is for Avarice, B is for Buy This Book, C is for Cupidity, …).

Anyway, this is set in Los Angeles, where wannabe Hollywood starlet Gabby Leggett has dropped out of sight. Gabby's Boston-based mom hires Spenser to find out what happened to her.

And immediately I have quibbles: What, not local boy Elvis Cole? At least Mom would have saved some travel, lodging, and dining expenses. (Spenser grows fond of eating at Gjusta in Venice, and seems fond of the $17 huevos rancheros with $7 almond butter toast on the side.)

Spenser has help from series supporting characters: Zebulon Sixkill, a comrade Spenser met in the final Parker-written novel, now an LA private eye. And also Chollo, a marginal thug. And eventually (small spoiler) Susan Silverman shows up to help out. (Let me utter a minor heresy: Mr. Atkins manages to make Susan more tolerable than Parker did.)

No Hawk this time around.

Anyway, Spenser engages his usual detecting methods: asking around, making a pest of himself, until thugs show up to shoot him, women try to seduce him, moguls try to bribe him, cops threaten to arrest him… you, know, the usual stuff. There is the usual amount of sharply-observed scenery and characters, replete with wisecracks and testosterone.

And (speaking of Elvis Cole) there's a skim-and-you'll-miss-it Joe Pike cameo. I may have missed others.

URLs du Jour

2020-02-17

[Amazon Link]

  • UColorado philosophy prof Michael Huemer has the good news for people worrying about Trump getting re-elected: We Are Doomed. Make that "Doomed, Anyway".

    Obviously, humanity will at some future time be extinct. That goes without saying. That’s almost a metaphysical truth; nothing (of the relevant kinds) lasts forever.

    There is a fascinating Wikipedia article about the far future, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_far_future, which includes (among other things) many events that could extinguish life on Earth. The Sun will leave the main sequence (running out of hydrogen) within about 5 billion years. It will probably engulf the Earth within 8 billion years. Long before that, though, multiple other disastrous things are expected to happen. One item says that within only 600 million years, all plants that use C3 photosynthesis (99% of all plant species) will die. Another item says that the rest of the plants will probably die within 800 million years.

    I don’t think any people are going to live to see any of that happen, though. I think we’ll die of stupidity long before that. (Life will probably still continue without us, though. E.g., the bacteria will have hundreds of millions of years to flourish without us.)

    To adapt an old joke: "Oh, wait, did you say 5 billion years? Thank goodness I thought you said 5 million!"

    I hadn't heard that about C3 photosynthesis before. Sobering!


  • Mr. Kevin D. Williamson notes our changing times at National Review: Socialism Once Again the Left's Rallying Cry. And he makes an interesting point at the end:

    “All voting is a sort of gaming,” Henry David Thoreau wrote, “like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.” If we are to have something more than mere majoritarianism — if there is to be a truth superseding that “power of the majority” — then we are going to need those ideas that our populists and nationalists and self-declared pragmatists hold in contempt along with the kinds of minds that can produce them.

    “Oh, be practical!” you say? Survey the scene in 2020 and tell me with a straight face that it represents the flowering of some practical good. As the philosopher might have asked, “If the pragmatism you followed brought you to this, of what use was the pragmatism?”

    That's a … deep thought. Unfortunately, if you're not an NRPLUS person, it's probably paywalled.


  • At Reason, Ronald Bailey asks: What Happens to the U.S. Population If Immigration Rises Substantially or Halts Entirely? And the Census Bureau gives us its best guess.

    U.S. population could increase from 323 million in 2016 to as high as 447 million by 2060—or fall as low as 320 million. It depends on how many immigrants are admitted over the next four decades, according to new report from the Census Bureau.

    The report sketches out four scenarios for 2060. If current levels of immigration are maintained, the U.S. population will grow to 404 million by 2060. If immigration is cut in half, the population will rise to 376 million. If immigration increases by 50 percent, the population expands to 447 million. And if all immigration were to be halted now, the U.S. population would peak at around 332 million in 2035 and drop to 320 million in 2060.

    I will be 109 in 2060, so I'll be interested in that number.


  • The Google LFOD News alert rang for (of all things) the Bangor [Maine] Daily News, which puts on its nanny hat: Cleaning off your car isn’t the law, but it’s the right thing to do.

    It shouldn’t take a law for driver’s [sic] in Maine to respect the safety of others, and take those few extra minutes to clean their car off — even the sometimes hard to reach roof. And we understand that adding such a law could feel like a move toward a nanny state.

    Looking at our New Hampshire neighbors, however, we have to wonder: if the “Live Free or Die” state is willing and able to make this a requirement in the name of public safety, why shouldn’t Maine do the same?

    This is one of the rare cases where the Maine nanny-statists have failed to keep up with New Hampshire's. Shame!


  • And my district's current Executive Councilor, Andru Volinsky, is running for Governor, which means that people are scrambling to take his current position. For example, one Jay Surdukowski, who writes in the Concord Monitor about "Listening first". Among his points:

    Defending women’s health care: The council should not play politics with women’s health care. Having advised Planned Parenthood’s political arm for five years when they first set up their local PAC, I am steeped in knowledge of their work and one of the highlights of the 2012 election was welcoming then-Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards to my home to engage young people in the fight for reproductive health. I’m also proud to be publicly supported by three founders of New Hampshire’s first abortion clinic, which opened in 1974 – what is now the Equality Health Center.

    The council should not "play politics" with baby-killing. Just stand back and pay for it, I guess.

The Bomb

Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War

[Amazon Link]

Fred Kaplan gives the history up-to-now of America's policy toward the use of nuclear weapons.

Governments have always been pretty good at killing people; some, like the bad old USSR, Nazi Germany, and Red China, have been exceptionally good at murdering their own people.

But for the past 75 years or so, thanks to E = mc2, our governments have had the technology to "improve" their death-dealing technologies by (probably) a couple orders of magnitude. And while dealing death to civilian populations was once seen to be an off-limit atrocity even in wartime, it became an accepted (albeit controversial) tool by both sides in WW2. And since then it has become a given fact of life.

But wait, it gets better. By which I mean worse: the whole shebang can be set off by one person. And maybe by accident.

So it's an interesting, but also a scary and possibly depressing topic. This book discusses the history of how nuclear weapons policy has developed over the years: targeting strategies, escalation and de-escalation scenarios, arms control efforts, proliferation, risk mitigation, and so on.

As it turns out, our atomic war-fighting "strategy" for a number of years was pretty much "fire everything you've got at the bad guys as quickly as possible." With the near certainty that the bad guys were going to do the same.

The book is marred somewhat by the author's obvious partisanship. Pretty much all the Republicans are dimwitted, oblivious, or probably dangerous madmen. Democrats are on the side of the angels, but even when they're in power their peacekeeping efforts are continually getting thwarted by the Dr. Strangeloves and Jack D. Rippers who have a real yen for nuking the Commies until they glow.

And of course, Donald J. Trump, with his combination of willful ignorance, stupidity, and impulsive lunacy is probably gonna get us all killed. Or at the very least, a whole bunch of Koreans.

That's a slight exaggeration of the author's caricatures, but only slight.

Kaplan has done an impressive amount of historical research, digging into the declassified archives of the 1950s and 1960s. Unfortunately, but somewhat understandably, nearly all his digging is into the American side of things; there's very little insight into what the Russians are doing concurrently. I suspect there has to be some reason why we made the decisions the way we did, but Kaplan's weak on that score.

It's a brand new book that I picked up at the library on impulse, I'll be interested to read some critical reviews.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

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

This makes four out of last year's ten Oscar Best Picture nominees I've seen so far. Not too shabby. It didn't win Best Picture (booo!) but Brad Pitt got one for Best Supporting Actor, and it also got one for Production Design (which even I noticed was amazing). And it was nominated for seven more.

Just a quibble, though: Brad Pitt nominated for supporting actor? Come on. I think he had more screen time than Leonardo DiCaprio.

As an extra bonus, the New Yorker film critic calls this movie "obscenely regressive". No wonder I liked it so much.

Anyway: it follows buddies Rick Dalton (Leo) and Cliff Booth (Brad) in 1969 Hollywood. Rick is a fading action star: think Steve McQueen, if his career had fizzled after Wanted Dead or Alive. Cliff is his longtime stunt double, and personal chauffeur/gofer.

And Rick just happens to live next door to Roman Polanski's place in the Hollywood hills. Bouncy, bubbly, pregnant Sharon Tate is living there. And there are these filthy hippies hanging around, associated with (hey, that's Dewey Crowe) an aspiring musician named "Charlie". Oh oh.

It's a Quentin Tarantino flick, so there's a lot of swearing, smoking, and… surprisingly, not as much cynicism and violence as I would have expected. (Okay, there's a lot, but … just not as much as I would have expected.) QT clearly has a lot of affection for the time and place. And I had a lot of fun watching.

More from Less

The Surprising Story of How We Learned to Prosper Using Fewer Resources―and What Happens Next

[Amazon Link]

I was inspired to get this book from the author's appearance on Russ Roberts' EconTalk podcast last year. The good folks at the Interlibrary Loan desk at the University Near Here wangled a copy from Rivier U, just down the road in Nashua. (Which seems to do a better job obtaining books than UNH, just sayin'.)

Andrew McAfee, the author, is from MIT's Sloan School of Management, so he's no dummy, and his book is decent. His primary thesis is that for (roughly) the past half century, there's been an interesting economic trend toward "dematerialization": see the title, we're literally doing more with less. The large scale argument is that our prosperity is evolving away from moving huge amounts of heavy atoms (e.g., steel, concrete, hydrocarbons) around. Instead, we're doing "more" with electrons (very low mass) and photons (zero mass). Including the electrons moving around inside our heads (aka "human capital").

Cool! And very convincing, and optimistic.

There's more, though. McAfee is no Pollyanna. (It would have been a much shorter book if he had stuck to the Pollyanna stuff.) He's a big believer in Climate Change, hence he's all in on a carbon tax, cap-and-trade, basically whatever it takes. Also pollution (of all sorts), species extinction, alienation, deaths of despair, etc.

That's the bad news, but he's also willing to gore a few progressive oxen: he's all for embracing global capitalism, immunization, nuclear energy, glyphosate, and GMOs.

McAfee's style is kind of gee-whiz, USA Today-level. Although I enjoyed the book, it would also be accessible by a bright high schooler or a college kid. (Both of whom would probably benefit.)

Most interestingly, he's literally put his money where his mouth is: a series of bets at the (very cool) site longbets.org. (Example: "Over the five years leading up to 2029, the US will use less iron and steel than it did over the five years leading up to 2019, and the material will be more affordable to the world’s average person over the later period than the earlier one.") You can bet against him if you want. I wouldn't.


Last Modified 2020-02-17 1:33 PM EDT

Lady in the Lake

[Amazon Link]

This book, obtained from the Portsmouth Public Library, was on Tom Nolan's WSJ list of the Best Mystery Books of 2019. Four down, six to go. It's by veteran author Laura Lippman.

And, caveat lector, it's kind of a Chick book. It might even be a Jewish Chick book. It might even be a Feminist Jewish Chick book. I am none of those things, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit.

And, as a mystery, it's pretty unconventional. It's set mostly in mid-1960s Baltimore. The protagonist, Madeline Schwartz, is kind of unlikeable: she's self-obsessed, shallow, dishonest, and, near the book's beginning, abandons her husband and teenage son for a lifestyle more … what? Fulfilling, maybe?

Doesn't matter. She volunteers for a search party for a missing white girl, finds her corpse, corresponds with the suspected killer, wangles the response into a marginal gig with a local paper. She acquires a black cop boyfriend. And then gets involved in a second crime, the titular Lady, a black barmaid with vague ties to a local crime boss.

So the mystery bit is kind of a sideshow to Madeline's Quest for … whatever she's questing for. (A postscript lets us know how it worked out for her.)

Ms. Lippman's trick here is to break up Madeline's narrative with brief chapters narrated by (mostly) people she encounters along the way. This works very well. One of the narrators appears to be … ooh, spooky, the ghost of the murdered Lady, who very much wants Maddy to knock off her pesky investigation.

Aquaman

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

I was prepared to kind of like this movie, but… eh. I kept thinking "Underwater Thor".

Why is it that I can totally buy into Captain America or Batman, and get so blah about Aquaman?

Anyway: this movie covers Aquaman's origin story. Mom was a queen of Atlantis, Dad was a lonely lighthouse keeper. They found love when Mom, injured while escaping from her oppressive underwater society, is nursed back to health. And then Aquababy was born. But soon Atlantean thugs show up, Mom goes back to the water, Aquababy becomes Aquakid, confronts bullies at the aquarium (really, that's pretty cool), and then goes on to become the AquaDude himself.

Then the rest of the plot happens, but it's absurd and not very interesting. An extra star for the aquarium scene, though.

The Phony Campaign

2020-02-16 Update

Mr. Michael Ramirez supplies our biological update this week, a pictorial representation of Invertebrates of the world.

[Invertebrates of the world]


Pun Salad Truth-O-Meter: True.

Our post-New Hampshire Primary phony results are in, and they are spectacular:

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
2/9
Phony
Results
Change
Since
2/9
Donald Trump 57.6% -1.7% 1,650,000 +20,000
Joe Biden 4.1% +0.3% 449,000 +14,000
Bernie Sanders 16.2% +0.6% 427,000 -68,000
Pete Buttigieg 2.4% -2.4% 230,000 +30,000
Michael Bloomberg 13.8% +3.9% 83,200 +700

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

Not much movement in the phony hit counts (which, don't forget, are bogus anyway). Perhaps the most surprising result is that Mayor Pete is now circling the drain, after coming in second in both Iowa and New Hampshire; the betting market judges there's only a 2.4% probability that Mayor Pete will become President Pete.

And it appears the real fight, at least in the near term, is going to be between Mike and Bernie. So for our first item…

  • Emily Zanotti of the Daily Wire covers one side of the fight. Bernie Sanders Unloads On Mike Bloomberg: Dem Billionaire Can’t Beat Trump.

    “We will not create the energy and excitement we need to defeat Donald Trump if that candidate pursued, advocated for, and enacted racist policies like stop-and-frisk, which caused communities of color in his city to live in fear,” Sanders snapped, referring to Bloomberg.

    “We will not defeat Donald Trump with a candidate who in 2015 stated, and I quote, ‘I, for example, am not in favor, have never been in favor, of raising the minimum wage,'” Sanders continued.

    Don't worry, Bernie: Mayor Mike has since come to believe in a $15/hr minimum wage. (That is, making it illegal for anyone to work for less than that.) Also: "requiring employers to provide 12 weeks of paid family leave and seven days of paid sick leave and proposes strengthening unions by prohibiting “right to work” laws that ban requiring union membership as a condition of employment."

    That will fix those pesky low unemployment numbers.


  • Inquiring minds want to know: Who's the most dangerous Democratic candidate? P. J. O'Rourke, fortunately, has the answer. (Spoiler: it's Bernie, but the competition is tough.)

    Bernie Sanders is the, so to speak, most promising of the candidates. He’ll promise you anything. I went to a Bernie rally at Keene State University. It was the most crowded primary event I attended and very enthusiastic… especially by New Hampshire standards where, every four years, we feel like a cheap motel with a bedbug infestation of presidential hopefuls putting the bite on us.

    It was a school, so half of those “Feeling the Bern” were kids at the “easy believey” stage of gullible youth. They applauded loudest for Bernie’s promise to make school tuition free. The other half of the Bernie supporters looked like they were still on the outskirts of Max Yasgur’s farm, waiting for free admission to Woodstock.

    P. J. did better than I: I managed to see zero candidates in person this year. Far easier to stay home and watch Jeopardy!


  • The intrepid Veronique de Rugy analyzes the phoniness in the President's proposed budged for FY 2021: How To Disguise a Budget Increase as a Cut.

    […] I can promise you that this budget isn’t a document produced by an administration that “does everything [it] can to deal with the trillion dollar deficits.” With the help of Congress, Mr. Trump has become a big-spending president. Period. No if, ands, buts, or “on the other hands.”

    Let’s look for instance at the fact that during his first term spending increased by 21 percent, or $850 billion. Adjusted for inflation, that’s 17.5 percent or 4.3 percent annually. This first-term annual spending rate increased more than any other president other than Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush. Adding insult to injury, the president does not have an excuse he can spin such “the economy is in recession” or “we just got involved in a new war.”

    Those economic numbers look rosy, but how much do they depend on government spending like a drunken sailor? And how long before the bubble bursts?


  • And Elizabeth Warren has been long gone from our standings (current probability of President Warren: 0.5%, below Hillary's 1.1%). But she's desperate to come up with new come-ons, for example (Washington Examiner): Warren proposes 'Blue New Deal' to 'save our oceans'.

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren told a fired-up crowd that she "believes in science" before proposing a "tenfold" increase in science funding if she is elected president.

    The Massachusetts Democrat, who struggled in the first two primary contests of the 2020 election season, said the proposed "Green New Deal" does not go far enough to deal with climate change.

    "I'm all for a 'Green New Deal,' but it's not enough," Warren said. "We gotta have a 'Blue New Deal' to save our oceans as well."

    If I were looking for a pony among all the horseshit, I suppose it's nice that a 70-year-old lady can still maintain a childlike faith that shoving a whole bunch of taxpayer money into "science" will produce untold miracles.


  • Another also-ran (actually never-ran) weighs in. Mr. Tom Steyer Frustrated by Poll Showing High Economic Satisfaction.

    Democratic 2020 candidate Tom Steyer on Sunday accused ABC News anchor Martha Raddatz of "standing up for" President Donald Trump's "version of the economy" after she cited a poll showing high satisfaction with the economy.

    Raddatz, noting Steyer has campaigned on challenging Trump on the economy, pointed to a new Quinnipiac poll showing 70 percent of respondents felt the economy was excellent or good. That mark was only slightly lower than the 73 percent who answered that way in December, an all-time high.

    Steyer didn't actually say: "Well, who ya gonna believe me or your own eyes?" Came close, though.


  • And the New York Post reports that Mike Bloomberg's 2020 presidential campaign turns to bizarre Instagram memes.

    Michael Bloomberg is channeling some of his $61.8 billion net worth into a new campaign strategy: memes.

    The Democratic 2020 hopeful unleashed a flood of posts onto Instagram Wednesday night, partnering with some of the most-followed accounts for a series of bizarre memes.

    The posts follow a similar theme, all pretending to be depicting direct messages from Bloomberg himself to the individual accounts. Most of the posts find him taking the persona of an out-of-touch old guy, trying to reach out to a younger audience in a tongue-in-cheek fashion and go viral.

    Bloomberg did not actually say: "How Do You Do, Fellow Kids?". Came close, though.

URLs du Jour

2020-02-15

[Amazon Link]

Just a brief geek note: the wizards branched Fedora 32 from the bleeding-edge Rawhide earlier this week. I upgraded my workstation (actually a VMWare guest under a Windows 10 host), with only a few hiccups.

The F32 beta-release date is still over a month away, so not recommended for … well, anyone really. I only do it to keep my geek life interesting.

Now on to our regular programming:

  • Jonah Goldberg's G-File this week considers The Mess the Democrats Are In. He touches on a topic that (among many others) griped me about the deluge of TV ads I didn't manage to TiVo-skip:

    When I hear politicians insist they can unify the country, I hear politicians promising one constituency that they can make another constituency shut up.

    In a proper democracy, the best you can hope for is consensus—temporary and partial consensus—on a specific issue at a specific time. Unity is about force—strength in numbers—consensus is about persuasion. It comes from the Latin for “agreement” and shares meaning with “consent.” Consent can be forced, but forced consensus is not admirable or desirable in a democracy. 

    But we live in an age where the constituencies politicians care about most are those that don’t want consensus. They want to make them shut up.  

    Jonah also basks in the delicious irony of Elizabeth Warren trying to rebrand herself as a "unity candidate" when it was only a few months ago she was chiding her debate opponents for "using Republican talking points".


  • Reason's Eric Boehm notes the occupational licensors are also at work in the Old Dominion: Virginia Is About To Require a Government License for ‘Art Therapy,’ Because Glue and Scissors Are ‘Potentially’ Dangerous.

    Based on a study that cites such potential dangers as the "sharp edges" on scissors and "toxic chemicals" in glue, state lawmakers in Virginia are on their way to approving a new licensing law to cover art therapists.

    There is no word on whether kindergartners will continue to be allowed to use these tools that, in the hands of unlicensed adults, apparently constitute a risk to public safety.

    The Virginia state Senate voted unanimously this week to approve the legislation, sending the bill to the state Assembly for further consideration. The bill would create a new license for art therapists, but it is largely silent on the requirements for obtaining such a license. Instead, the legislature intends to offload those details to a newly created board—a board that will be staffed primarily by practicing art therapists.

    Because who else? The yes-there-is-such-a-thing American Art Therapy Association gives the current rundown on the states where this abomination has been imposed. I regret to say that New Hampshire has a mild variety: we recognize "art therapists for purposes of state hiring and/or title protection".

    Iowa (for example) seems to be OK with the menace of art therapists roaming the cornfields without a shred of title protection or state hiring guidelines.


  • At National Review, David Harsanyi notes the Great Bernie Adjustment among the chatterers: Media’s Bernie Sanders Makeover Begins.

    Just you watch: By the time Election Day rolls around in November, liberal columnists will be telling us that Bernie Sanders is the “real conservative” in the presidential race.

    Many among the center–left commentariat are struggling to come to terms with the likelihood that the Democratic Party will nominate an authoritarian leftist for president. A lot of this anxiety is, no doubt, driven by recent polls that find a majority of Americans are more open to voting for a non-binary Martian atheist than for a socialist.

    Others, however, have begun reinventing Sanders, who, they now contend, isn’t actually a socialist socialist, because he’ll never send you to die in an icy gulag and few of his policy ideas will ever come to fruition.

    Matt Fuller over at Huffington Post posits that moderates shouldn’t be too “scared” of a Sanders presidency “when all Republicans and most Democrats in Congress publicly oppose Medicare for All.” Really? The signature policy idea championed by a major party’s leading presidential contender is so unpopular that the majority of elected officials can’t publicly support it, and that should reassure moderates?

    “Vote Bernie: He’s got tremendously unpopular positions that will never pass!”

    In Bernie's favor is the irrefutable argument that he is not Donald Trump. But it seems even the never-Trumpers in the Lincoln Project are unpersuaded by that.


  • And the Google LFOD News Alert rang for Dr. Ileana Johnson Paugh in the Canada Free Press: Socialist Democrat Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders Marching America Over Socialist Cliff.

    Now that a naked Marxist has won the New Hampshire Democrat primary, perhaps their 1945-adopted motto should no longer be “Live Free or Die,” but “Live Marxist or Die.”

    Ouch, Ileana, that hurts.

    Fun trivia: in 2016, Bernie got 152,193 votes in the New Hampshire Primary. This year, he only managed 76,352. So at least by that standard, we're moving away from Marxism. Can we keep our motto?

    LFOD invocation rating: H for Ileana having her Heart in the right place.


  • And the Boston Herald's Grace Curley opines amusingly that Democrats have a problem: You. Specifically, if "you" don't live in California or New York.

    When all else fails, progressives turn to identity politics. Sure, New Hampshire and Iowa are home to plenty of Democrats. But that is no longer enough.

    For the political party that includes Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Rep. Ilhan Omar, the real question has become … are the New Hampshire/ Iowa Democrats progressive enough?

    After all, who knows what kind of moderate Dems are lurking around in the dreadful Granite State. While Live Free or Die Dems might like Bernie’s pro-choice stance, could they be potentially scared off by his fondness for open borders and Medicare-for-all?

    Sure, some of those Democrats voted for Hillary. But is there even a slight chance that these working folks would have the audacity to think of their 401(k)s and vote in their own financial interest? That is a risk the liberals are no longer willing to take.

    LFOD invocation rating: P for Perfunctory.

URLs du Jour

2020-02-14

[Amazon Link]

  • David R. Henderson pays tribute to Milton Friedman, An 'Elfin Libertarian' Giant at the Hoover Institution.

    In recent months, various critics of the late Milton Friedman have argued that Friedman dominated economic policy for a large part of the last half century. And yet they don’t typically mean that in a complimentary way. In an August 24 New York Times article, for example, editorial board member Binyamin Appelbaum writes that the “most important figure” in postwar economics was Milton Friedman, “an elfin libertarian who refused to take a job in Washington, but whose writings and exhortations seized the imagination of policymakers.” Tellingly, Appelbaum’s article is titled “Blame Economists for the Mess We’re In.”  I have been a fan of Friedman since, at age 17, I read a 1968 column he wrote in Newsweek. I have read much of his academic work and nearly all of his popular writing. And I certainly think Friedman was the most important and influential economist of the last half the 20th century.

    I'm about David's age, and had my come-to-Milton moment slightly earlier. (Described here if you're interested.)

    But as to the claim that Milton Friedman dragged us into some sort of free-market utopia? The only answer to that is: "I wish."

    For example…


  • … even the fact that this question (from Jeff Jacoby) can be asked in the 21st century USA would probably make Uncle Milton plotz: Should it be illegal to sit out an election?

    IN THE NAME of "strengthening our democracy," a Massachusetts legislator named Dylan Fernandes has introduced a bill to force Bay State citizens to vote in November general elections, whether they want to or not. In California, assemblyman Marc Levine goes even further: Declaring that "democracy is not a spectator sport," he has submitted legislation to strong-arm Californians into taking part in every election, including local and primary contests.

    All enlightened people know that the Republicans are eager to drag America into a fascist hellhole, but in the meantime it seems to be the Democrats who are actually the most eager to push people around.


  • Chris Edwards at Cato weighs in on Wasteful Local Infrastructure. And I just wanted to quote this bit (which Chris is in turn quoting from a TV station's news story):

    [The DC-area transit authority WMATA] has spent $3.8 million and taken five years to build two unfinished bike racks—at East Falls Church and Vienna Metro Stations.

    WMATA originally budgeted $600,000 for each rack, but the price tag has soared to $1.9 million each.

    The covered bike shelters will house 92 bikes, putting the price tag at more than $20,000 per bike. Future costs to finish the projects could raise that number even higher.

    The projects were supposed to be completed in December of 2015 but remain unfinished in 2020.

    Dear Democratic Socialists: Since I have a strong preference for survival, could y'all just hold off on "Medicare for All" until you demonstrate basic competence in (say) building bike racks?


  • It's Scientific American, so you know it's gotta be true: No One Can Explain Why Planes Stay in the Air.

    In December 2003, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first flight of the Wright brothers, the New York Times ran a story entitled “Staying Aloft; What Does Keep Them Up There?” The point of the piece was a simple question: What keeps planes in the air? To answer it, the Times turned to John D. Anderson, Jr., curator of aerodynamics at the National Air and Space Museum and author of several textbooks in the field.

    What Anderson said, however, is that there is actually no agreement on what generates the aerodynamic force known as lift. “There is no simple one-liner answer to this,” he told the Times. People give different answers to the question, some with “religious fervor.” More than 15 years after that pronouncement, there are still different accounts of what generates lift, each with its own substantial rank of zealous defenders. At this point in the history of flight, this situation is slightly puzzling. After all, the natural processes of evolution, working mindlessly, at random and without any understanding of physics, solved the mechanical problem of aerodynamic lift for soaring birds eons ago. Why should it be so hard for scientists to explain what keeps birds, and airliners, up in the air?

    But I'm sure Science is giving us nailed-down facts about climate change.


  • And the Bulwark calls a timeout on Trump-hating, and turns to Major League Baseball: The MLB Is Like a Drug Cartel Trying to Kill Its Customers.

    On Wednesday, MLB announced its latest rule change, effective this year, which mandates that every pitcher who takes the mound must either face three batters or complete a half inning. Like virtually every innovation dreamed up by the demented technocrats on Park Avenue, this is something no one asked for, no one wanted, and serves no benefit to the teams, or the players, or the fans.

    Never mind that it penalizes smaller dollar teams, or that games will be lost because of this change. Forget that it kills yet another outlet for strategy the game by hemming in the managers’ ability to square off in pitting relievers against pinch hitters in real time. Why would MLB care that it sounds the death knell for the careers of a cadre of leftie pitchers who have made careers as specialists? Or that it favors big-market teams who can afford deeper and stronger bullpens?

    And, of course, what does it matter that it carves away yet another part of the in-game tension which is the soul of what brings people to the ballpark, year after year?

    The only bit of good news is that the MLB brass plus the Red Sox brass could make the Red Sox suck so badly this year, it might bring ticket prices down to a point where I could actually go to a game without taking out a loan.

    Just kidding, of course. If I skipped a couple months of electric bills, I could totally afford a game.

To Say Nothing of the Dog

or, How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump At Last

[Amazon Link]

A pungent reminder of how deep my to-be-read stacks can get: Amazon tells me I purchased this item on June 21, 2000. Yes, nearly 20 years deep. (I kept putting other books ahead of it. Sorry, Connie.)

To Say Nothing of the Dog won the Hugo and Locus awards for Best (science fiction) novel, and was nominated for the Nebula. And this was in the pre-woke era of SF awards, so yeah, it's pretty good.

As an extra incentive, I was taken in by the dedication: which is a waving green flag that says "Read me, Paul":

To Robert A. Heinlein

Who, in Have Space Suit, Will Travel
first introduced me to Jerome K. Jerome's
Three Men in a Boat,
To Say Nothing of the Dog

And so I finally did. (And, like Connie, RAH's reference to Three Men in a Boat caused me to read that back in 2003. I was less taken with it than Connie was, but that's OK.)

Anyway: this book. In the near future, time-travel has been invented, but with a number of frustrating restrictions caused by the whimsical nature of the space-time continuum. Would-be travellers are prevented from transporting "significant" objects from the past back to their own time. And some "important" times in the past are impossible to reach. Otherwise, time travellers might assassinate Hitler, or prevent the assassinations of Lincoln or Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Nevertheless, bringing back objects that were destroyed in the past are OK. Travellers can rescue them. And the lady bankrolling the time-travel project has demanded that an artifact called the "Bishop's Bird Stump" be rescued from Coventry Cathedral in 1940; it's been missing since the Nazi air raid. (What, exactly, is a "Bishop's Bird Stump"? Well, we find out eventually. Rest assured, it's hideous.)

Disclaimer: I may not have these rules exactly right. (And there are many more, it seems.) This book is Connie's second set in this universe, and the first one might have gone into more tutorial detail.

The narrator, Ned Henry, sets about this task. In the majority of pages, his detective work sends him back to 1888 England, where he takes up with that era's delightfully complex social mores. A whole passel of characters are introduced, a bunch of complications encountered, and confusion reigns as to whether what Ned does will end up ensuring a Nazi victory in WWII, or (slightly worse) destroy the entire space-time continuum.

It's a lot of fun, albeit way long (493 pages in my paperback edition).


Last Modified 2020-02-14 6:49 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-02-13

  • Good news from Reason: People Are Less Gullible Than You Think.

    ObvPunchLine: "And if you believe that, I have a bridge I would like to sell you."

    But seriously, it's from Hugo Mercier, an actual cognitive scientist:

    Look at all the gibberish people believe. That the earth is a flat disk surrounded by a 200-foot wall of ice. That high-up Democratic operatives run a pedophile ring out of a pizza joint. That former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il could teleport and control the weather. Who could doubt that human beings are gullible, that we accept whatever we read or hear?

    Yet these beliefs are the exception rather than the rule. By and large, we don't credulously accept whatever we're told. We have evolved specialized cognitive mechanisms to deal with both the benefits and the dangers of communication. If anything, we're too hard rather than too easy to influence.

    Click through for an interesting take. As a bonus for clicking over, there's a very funny picture at the link. Reason has some clever folks working for them.


  • Speaking of gullibility, James Pethokoukis has a suggestion in that regard at AEI: Let’s not talk ourselves into being miserable as we suffer from ‘late capitalism’.

    [Amazon Link]

    No upward mobility? Around three quarters of people in their 40s today have higher (inflation–adjusted) household incomes than their parents did when their parents were of similar age. And 72 percent of men raised in the working class earn more than their dads did.

    Stagnant wages? Since summer 1990 (a peak in the business cycle), wages for the typical US worker have increased by 33 percent, after accounting for inflation.

    Stagnant incomes? The median household saw market income gains of 21 percent between 1990 and 2016. Add in taxes and transfers and it’s 44 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And the bottom 20 percent saw their post–tax–and–transfer income grow by 66 percent over these years.

    Data from a new book from Michael R. Strain, out at the end of the month, Amazon link at right.

    ObUnecessaryQuirkSharing: Whenever I type "AEI", I usually add on "OU". And have to erase it.


  • Inside Sources covers the latest effort on the occupational licensure front: For N.H. Patients and Therapists — Please Don’t Stop the Music.

    The New Hampshire Legislature is considering a law that would protect its citizens from the imminent dangers posed by (adjust your eyeglasses) music therapists. The proposed law would prohibit the practice of music therapy without a state-granted occupational license and presumably would be enforced by government officials whose license plates proclaim “Live Free or Die.”

    New Hampshire is not the only state facing such pressure. Nearly one-third of Americans require government-granted licenses to perform their jobs, according to research by our colleague, Matthew D. Mitchell. Bill 1286 would push the percentage a bit higher — unnecessarily and perhaps destructively.

    Since I just saw the movie Parasite, I know the danger of unlicensed art therapists: it always ends in tears and bloodshed!

    ObUnnecessaryDisclaimer: Just kidding: that kind of thing only happens in Korea.

    ObSecondUnnecessaryDisclaimer: Still just kidding. It's a stupid idea.


  • At National Review, John McCormack has post-primary notes: New Hampshire & Bernie Sanders -- Margin of Victory: 1 Point. The whole thing's good, but here's the sobering part:

    The final average of New Hampshire polls showed Bernie Sanders leading in New Hampshire by 7.4 points, but his margin of victory over Pete Buttigieg is 1.3 points with all but a handful of precincts left to count. Sanders’s margin over Buttigieg in the final popular vote in Iowa was almost identical: 1.4 points.

    As if you needed another reason to disbelieve polls. Either significant numbers of respondents are lying to pollsters, or polling firms have lost their ability to deliver accurate results.

    ObAddon: Or both.


  • And I already miss this guy, but I'm not sure if he realizes who he sounds like in this Buzzfeed interview: Andrew Yang On Why He Dropped Out And What's Next.

    “There’s part of me that feels disappointed, like I didn’t fulfill some people’s goals for this campaign,” Yang allowed, though he said he tries to maintain a positive outlook.

    “There’s also a competitive part of me, too — like I can’t believe I lost to these people.”

    Specifically: Andrew Yang channels Jon Lovitz playing Mike Dukakis in 1988:

    ObAdmission: Yes, I'm old, and watched that live back in 1988.

URLs du Jour

2020-02-12

  • For instant analysis of the New Hampshire Primary results, let's go first to Michael Ramirez:

    [Bye Bye to Wheezy Joe]

    Other observations:

    • The guy I voted for—a vote of which I am not particularly proud—Lying Weasel Bill Weld is managing 9% against President Trump (85%). According to the as-I-type WMUR results, anyway. "Write-Ins" are in third place.
    • On the D side, I'm pretty much a "can't they all lose?" kind of guy. So my rays of sunshine include (fourth and fifth place) Liz and Joe not managing double-digit percentages!
    • But I'm also gladdened by Tom Steyer's lousy (sixth place) showing. He easily won Pun Salad's "most annoying TV ads" award this time around. As I type, he's in a poor sixth place. My guess is that he spent more ad dollars per vote than any other "major" candidate. See below, however.
    • But I'm saddened by the poor (seventh place) showing of My Little Aloha Sweetie, Tulsi Gabbard. About a thousand votes behind Steyer! Who also had a lot of ads, a lot of signs, and wound up not impressing a lot of Democrats.
    • Also kind of sad about Andrew Yang (eighth place). Although he's currently beating "Write-Ins" by a two-to-one margin, that was not enough to stop him from withdrawing from the race.
    • Despite self-funding his campaign to the tune of $15 million, and appearing on both D and R ballots, Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente only got 10 D votes and 135 R votes. (I don't know that he spent any of that cash in New Hampshire.)

    See you in 2024, folks.

    The one remaining bit of bad news. Although the local ABC affiliated TV station is safe for now, the Massachusetts primary is still three weeks away. Which means the intelligence-insulting TV ads will keep coming on the Boston-based Fox/CBS/NBC stations we watch. Thank goodness for TiVo commercial skipping.


  • At Reason, Peter Suderman is reality-based, and declares that Trump’s Budget Plan Is an Economic Fantasy. After pointing out that (among others) Liz Warren is outright lying about the "cuts" in the Presidential budget…

    The president's annual budget proposal has about as much impact on the budget process as the lunch menu in the Rayburn House Office Building cafeteria, possibly less, given that one actually impacts the disposition of sitting members of Congress. No serious person, which admittedly excludes some presidential candidates, thinks otherwise, which is why virtually every news story about the budget has some version of a to-be-sure-this-does-not-matter caveat buried somewhere in the warnings about budget cuts and secret limited government radicalism. ("The White House budget is largely a messaging document," reports The New York Times. "The proposal is unlikely to become law," notes The Wall Street Journal. "What ultimately gets passed may show little resemblance to what the President has proposed," explains CNN.) GOP lawmakers are treating it with the sort of respect they usually reserve for protesters wearing sandwich boards: "In the end," Sen. Mike Enzi (R–Wyo.) told The Wall Street Journal, "they are just a list of suggestions." 

    In addition to the "cuts" that won't happen, the budget proposal also includes economic growth assumptions that are widely considered to be rosier than the annual parade in Pasadena.


  • [Amazon Link]
    Orson Bean died at the age of 91. You might assume natural causes, but no: he was hit by a car in LA. Young 'uns may not be familiar; here's Wikipedia if you need a refresher.

    And his bit in the movie Being John Malkovich is one of the funniest things I've seen in a major motion picture.

    Anyway, Power Line's Scott Johnson reproduces something from Mr. Bean that I hope you find worth your time: How Orson Bean found God.

    For most of my life I didn’t believe in God. Who had time? I was too busy with things of this world: getting ahead, getting laid, becoming famous. For most of my adult life I’ve been at least somewhat famous. Not so famous that I had to wear dark glasses to walk down the street, but famous enough that head waiters would give me a good table.

    I didn’t want to be famous for its own sake. I wanted to be famous so as to be happy. My earliest memory, as a little kid, was deciding to be happy. I did my childhood in Cambridge Massachusetts in a rented apartment near Harvard Square. My father was a yard cop at the University. He was also a member of Mensa. An odd combination: an intellectual yard cop. My mother was a beautiful drunk. She was Calvin Coolidge’s second cousin and spent some time in the White House when Cousin Cal was president. Her parents, staunch Vermont Republicans, were not thrilled when their daughter took up with a New Deal Democrat who barely made a living.

    And more. Orson's book, available from Amazon via link at right.


  • Our World in Data asks What are the safest sources of energy? And I hope the answer won't surprise you:

    (Their article was originally published in 2017, it's been recently updated. Show it to your local enviromentalist.)


  • And let's let David Harsanyi get in one more slam at a perennial candidate before he goes away for good: Joe Biden & Gun Rights: He Doesn't Understand Second Amendment. Not only did Joe utter gibberish about having “20, 30, 40, 50 clips in a weapon", he also said:

    This has to be the first time in history that a serious presidential contender has publicly gamed-out how a modern American military — armed with F-15s and air-to-surface missiles — would crush an imaginary citizen-led insurgency. (Sorry, Eric Swalwell — even though you once mocked Second Amendment supporters as being unable to defeat a government armed with nukes, you were never a serious presidential contender, so you don’t count.)

    For one thing, it’s a weird way to appeal to a broad swath of voters. It’s also an ignorant way to talk about millions of law-abiding and peaceful American gun owners — many of them in contested states such as Wisconsin and Michigan — who are far less inclined to violence than the average WTO protester.

    And David goes on to take poor Joe to Strawman School.

Parasite

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

John Tamny at AIER writes: “Parasite” Is a Preposterous Film Rooted in Class-Struggle Nonsense. But by the time I read that, Netflix had already sent the DVD, so what are ya gonna do?

And in the meantime, it won the Best Picture Oscar. And (as I type) it's #21 on the IMDB list of the best movies of all time. So…

To save my sanity, I try to turn off the politics-obsessed part of my brain while watching movies. (That's like 80%, right?) Only if a flick gets really, obnoxiously, in my face about its slavish progressivism do I get a peeved. Revenge of the Sith, anyone?

Anyway, a Korean movie with (of course) English subtitles. A family in dire economic straits gets a glimmer of hope when their college-age poor son wangles, somewhat fraudulently, a job as an English tutor for the teenage daughter of a wealthy family. Then, completely fraudulently, the poor daughter wangles her way in as an art-therapist for the somewhat troubled young rich son. (The source of his troubles is revealed later.)

And then, even more underhandedly, poor Dad gets a job as the family's chauffeur by instilling unwarranted suspicions against his predecessor.

And to complete the quadfecta, poor Mom slithers into the housekeeper position.

And soon thereafter, things fall completely and violently apart. Could have been an actual comedy, but noooo.

Nocturnal Animals

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

Even though Netflix told me I would find this movie mediocre at best, it came into "either move it to the top of the rental queue or delete it" territory.

And I chose… poorly. Maybe because I like Amy Adams.

Anyway: Amy plays Susan, who, as the movie opens, is running a very trendy art gallery. So trendy that it features morbidly obese, impossibly ugly naked women dancing and grimacing at the viewers. Susan is also coming to realize that her second marriage, like her artistic tastes, is falling apart.

Out of the blue a manuscript arrives from her first husband, Jake Gyllenhaal. It's a novel entitled Nocturnal Animals! The movie breaks into three tracks: present-day Susan, reading the novel, getting freaked out; the rise and fall of past-Susan's relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal; and the movie that's playing in Susan's head as she reads the manuscript, in which the main character is played by … Jake Gyllenhaal!

This sounds more clever than it actually is.

The movie-within-the-movie is more interesting than the other two threads, but not that much: fictional Jake, his wife, and young daughter are driving on a semi-deserted highway, when they manage to irk a car full of degenerates. Who proceed to force them off the road and … well, it's pretty unpleasant. Jake seeks revenge, in which he's aided by a near-vigilante lawman, played by Michael Shannon.

Everything's disturbing, nihilistic, degenerate. Not my cup of tea at all, sorry.

URLs du Jour

2020-02-11

Well, it's primary day today. As a RINO, disgusted by Trump, I'm going with Weld. I know he's a lying weasel, but…

I hope that (a) there will be better choices in 2024; (b) that I'll be around to make them.

  • The Babylon Bee had an LFOD invocation that (for some strange reason) failed to show up in my Google LFOD News Alert: Bernie Sanders Confused By New Hampshire State Motto 'Live Free Or Die' — 'Both Of Those Options Sound Horrible'.

    MANCHESTER, NH—While campaigning in New Hampshire, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was very confused when he saw the phrase “Live Free or Die” on a license plate. “What is that?” he demanded. When someone explained it was the state motto, he was even more confounded. “Both those options sound horrible!” he exclaimed.

    “Living free is exactly what billionaires want,” Sanders told a crowd at a campaign stop. “That way they can accumulate as much money as they want. Think of living free -- everyone involved in peaceful voluntary exchange without government getting in the way -- it would be chaos! That’s exactly what my socialism is here to fix.”

    Supposedly satire, but… is it, really?


  • John Podhoretz has advice for the other side, that they almost certainly will not heed: Trashing America as racist won't help Democrats beat Trump. Referring to the recent debate in Manchester:

    About an hour into the debate, they found their message: America, Bernie Sanders said, is “a racist society from top to bottom.”

    One by one, the candidates echoed the message that “systemic racism” characterizes America.

    “We can’t legislate away racism,” said Andrew Yang, because racism runs so deep in the American soul.

    Joe Biden, verbatim (poor Joe): “The fact is that we in fact there is systemic racism.”

    Elizabeth Warren even declared that “we need race-conscious laws in education, in employment, in entrepreneurship to make this country a country for everyone.”

    I found that last bit from Liz especially contemptible. Forget about all that MLK "content of our character" nonsense. Let's go with mandatory DNA testing to find out exactly to what extent our "race-concious laws" will benefit or harm you.


  • Pierre Lemieux, writing at the Library of Economics and Liberty sounds what might be a dire warning: Conservatives Make SJWs Happy. Can't have that is my initial reaction! It's about federally-funded "research" into "gun violence". And how it's presented in…

    Founded in England 197 years ago, The Lancet is a venerable medical, public-health, and social-justice-warrior journal. It just expressed its contentment in the fact that “after a hiatus of more than two decades, Congress and President Donald Trump agreed to add funding for gun violence research to the federal budget in December” (“Decisions To Be Made on US Gun Violence Research Funds,” February 8, 2020). It apparently foresees that the new research, to be commissioned by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will justify increased gun controls and challenge the right of ordinary people to own and carry guns.

    A good argument can be made that gun violence—as well as many other problems or phenomena—should be the subject of scientific studies, although the argument that they should be paid for by the taxpayer is more questionable. When commissioned by government bureaus and realized by public-health experts with no knowledge of economics (which knowledge suggests to take all individuals’ preferences into consideration), no knowledge of the economics of politics (which would incorporate the danger of Leviathan), and, philosophically, no knowledge of the classical-liberal tradition, such studies nearly always reach the conclusion they are designed to reach: selfless politicians and good government bureaucrats should limit the individual liberties of non-favored groups in society—”deplorable” gun owners in this case. This approach is consistent with what, in a previous Econlog post, I called the “simplistic model of public policy.”

    Bottom line, the gun "researchers" will get $25 million in taxpayer to pursue their prohibitionist dreams.


  • In an "NRPLUS" article, Kevin D. Williamson has some fun with the term Democratic Socialism: The Problem Is That It’s Both.

    Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and other contemporary American advocates of democratic socialism lean heavily on the democratic part, which is at least in part a matter of marketing. To take their talk of democratic principle seriously requires forgetfulness and credulousness: During the last great uprising of democratic socialism in the English-speaking world — in the United Kingdom in the 1970s, where young Iain Murray, now a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, was doing his homework by the light of coals and candles — the so-called democratic socialists embraced democracy when it suited them and anti-democratic, illiberal, and at times murderous modes of government when those suited their political agenda better, with left-wing activists such as young Jeremy Corbyn acting as tireless apologists for the Soviet Union, its purges and its gulags. In the United States, Noam Chomsky dismissed reports of Pol Pot’s genocide as right-wing propaganda; later, young Bernie Sanders and his new bride would honeymoon in the Soviet Union even as the Communist Party bosses were creating a new and more modern gestapo to put down democrats and dissidents. History counsels us to consider the first adjective in “democratic socialist” with some skepticism.

    Bernie et. al. are attempting the greatest feat of political turd-polishing in history. Hope it fails.


  • And what's more dishonest that Trump's recently-unveiled budget? According to Daniel J. Mitchell, it's The Media’s Pervasively Dishonest Coverage of Trump’s New Budget.

    Even before he was elected, I pointed out that Trump was a big-government Republican who had no intention of dealing with serious fiscal issues such as the rising burden of entitlement spending.

    So I wasn’t surprised that he capitulated to swamp-friendly budget deals in 2017, 2018, and 2019. And I’m depressingly confident that the same thing will happen this year.

    That being said, I want to comment on how the media is covering his latest budget.

    There follows a gaggle of headlines that trumpet "slashes", "massive cuts", "sweeping cuts", etc. And, ohmigod, the "safety net" is shredded!

    Even my beloved Wall Street Journal got in on the disinformational hysteria. Mitchell is disgusted, so am I.

LFODapalooza

[Amazon Link]

As I've noted every so often, I have a Google News Alert for appearances of the phrase "Live Free or Die" out there in the world. This morning, it came back with 10 of them! Most, but not all, primary-related. Let's take a look.

  • The Washington Post diligently searches for bad news in the Trump era, and finds it in Berlin, New Hampshire: Ahead of New Hampshire primary, few signs of Trump's economic boom in state's poorest city as Democratic candidates campaign. One Paul Labrecque is quoted extensively:

    For those looking to work, the jobs do exist. But few offer the pay or protection once promised by a unionized mill.

    Labrecque endured two shutdowns at the mill before he was permanently laid off from his $22-an-hour job. He had worked 41 years and 11 months — but was still too young to retire.

    After a stretch of unemployment, he found work cutting grass and tending a cemetery.

    “Things are going to get worse before they get better,” he predicted as he tucked into a well-buttered English muffin at the Eastern Depot, a diner on the edge of town where the state’s flinty motto — “Live Free or Die” — is chalked above the counter.

    No question, Berlin's in bad shape. The WaPo article is a textbook example of how to report economic decline as depressingly as possible.

    LFOD invocation rating: S for Snarky.


  • Town Hall has reporter Matt Vespa on the scene: A Trump Supporter Had to Give a Lesson in Manners After Some Liberals Yelled ‘F**k Trump’ at Him.

    Yet, as we’ve seen often in events in the Manchester-Nashua area, Trump supporters are not just sitting at home as Democrats race to the finish line in the Live Free or Die state. They’re animated—just like these Bernie folks are. For one truck driver, Chris Harding, who proudly touts that he works 14 hours a day and gets nothing for free because you have to earn it, saw the lines around the [Rochester NH] opera house and just had to come back. We actually saw him driving walking into the event. He was in a pick-up truck yelling some pro-Trump chants. He had been grocery shopping and had minimal sleep, but he just had to come out here and let the Bernie crowd know—Trump voters are ready for Election Day.

    And indeed, Harding and a friend chastise a woman driving by in her car, after she drops an f-bomb on them.

    LFOD invocation rating: L for Lazy.


  • In a separate article, Matt also covered the Trump beat in Nashua: In New Hampshire, Trump Supporters are Letting Democrats Know They’re Ready for Them.

    LFOD invocation rating: A for Matt's obvious Aversion to typing "New Hampshire" once again.


  • TV station KUSA in Denver reports Michael Bennet is still running for president so we sent Marshall Zelinger running after him.

    Bennet is from Colorado, so I guess they had an excuse to send Zelinger (and a "photojournalist") to NH. This article is probably the lowlight of today's crop, a tedious litany of their travels. Did they get their mislaid luggage?

    9:45 p.m. EST - It’s here!!! New Hampshire, Live Free or Die!

    LFOD invocation rating: B for Boring. Don't try to make your travel woes interesting by adding exclamation points, Marshall.


  • LFOD appears in an editorial from the Columbus Ohio Dispatch, amidst a collection of random reactions to news items:

    Chaos in the Iowa caucus was especially disappointing as many are hoping for someone — anyone, really — to finally emerge as a credible candidate to challenge the re-election of President Donald Trump. “Live Free or Die” might be a nice motto, but we won’t hold our breath for New Hampshire this week to deliver Democrats’ best hopes for 2020.

    Wha…? LFOD invocation rating: N for Non sequitur.


  • Macau Business found us newsworthy: New Hampshire: tiny state packs punch in US presidential race. Yes, the mysterious Orient tries to grok our fair state.

    Polls show Sanders, a leftist who handily beat Hillary Clinton here in 2016 before ultimately losing the nomination to her, likely to win New Hampshire.

    But independents are a potent political force in the state, whose motto famously is “Live Free or Die.”

    New Hampshire has more independents than registered Democrats or Republicans, and they are allowed to vote in either primary, prompting both parties to campaign hard to attract their support.

    LFOD invocation rating: T for Trivial aside.


  • Our Canadian friends at the Globe and Mail published an actually-quite-good article about our state from David Shribman, full of insights and things you might not know: Middle of nowhere, centre of everything: New Hampshire’s crucial role in U.S. politics.

    Today’s New Hampshire, however, is marked by the slowest population growth since the decade beginning in 1910 – along with low unemployment and a rapidly aging citizenry. While those 55 and over comprised one in seven workers two decades ago, today they account for more than one in four. “The limitation in the number of available workers might add roadblocks to companies’ ability to expand,” according to a recent report from the state’s Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau.

    Through all this change – more dramatic here than in any other corner of the United States except perhaps the Research Triangle of North Carolina – New Hampshire held fast to its primary and to the folklore that animates its politics to this very day, when “Live Free or Die” – an excerpt from an 1809 letter by the state’s Revolutionary War hero, John Stark – remains atop the state’s licence plate, a kind of Yankee Je me souviens.

    David, although the citizenry might be rapidly aging, it's my observation that the citizens are aging at about the same rate as everyone else in the USA: one year per year.

    We award David an LFOD invocation rating of H+ for Historically correct. The plus for connecting it to the Quebec motto.


  • The Daily Wire published the latest display of weapon ignorance from Wheezy Joe Biden: ‘Rational’ Gun ‘Policy’ Is Banning ‘50 Clips In A Weapon’; AK-47 Won’t Protect You From Government.

    Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden said on Sunday that he believes that having a “rational policy” on guns means making sure that people can’t have “50 clips in a weapon,” which is gibberish, and said that a person would need a lot more than an AK-47 to take on a tyrannical government.

    […]

    Federalist co-founder Sean Davis wrote: “Joe Biden is so dain-bramaged that he thinks ‘The government will bomb your house if you get out of line’ is an A+ argument against the 2A in the state whose motto—’Live Free or Die’—was coined by a militiaman who personally defeated the British Empire.”

    LFOD invocation rating: G for Good point there, Sean.


  • A Reuters report hosted at Yahoo! News: Pondering politics over ice fishing ahead of NH primary. Their intrepid reporter went out on the big lake [Winnipesaukee for you flatlanders] and harassed the contestants in the annual ice fishing derby:

    And while attendee Roz Jones, a resident of Massachusetts, would not be voting in the New Hampshire primary, she said she would be closely watching the results.

    "New Hampshire is 'live free or die' so I tend to think they're going to go toward a more moderate candidate," she said. "That's my gut."

    I assume that Roz means that the wacky leftists are antithetical to the motto's spirit. Hence, the LFOD invocation rating: C for Roz's Correct observation.


  • And finally, a website called "The 74 Million" has an article that only mentions the primary glancingly: Three Decades After Its First School Funding Lawsuit, New Hampshire Turns to the Public for the First Time to Find an Equitable Solution for All Students.

    It’s been more than a generation since the first of New Hampshire’s school funding lawsuits was decided, and yet the state is starting from scratch — again.

    The Commission to Study School Funding, which met for the first time in January, has a $500,000 grant from the state legislature and the mandate to find a way to provide an equitable education to all its 184,670 pre-K-12 students, whether they live in the poor, rural towns of northern New Hampshire or the bustling and property-tax-rich communities in the south.

    It is the third such state commission in 20 years, and it comes into focus just as Democratic candidates for president descend on the Granite State for the Feb. 11 primary, many with their own plans for how to finance public schools.

    But in the Live Free or Die state, officials aren’t turning to the federal government for solutions. New Hampshire has been experimenting with its own remedies since the state Supreme Court ruled in the Claremont lawsuits of the 1990s that it had to provide an adequate education for all.

    Eye roll. A half-megabuck "commission" that will not teach a single kid how to read.

    LFOD invocation rating: W for Wasting taxpayer money.


Last Modified 2020-02-11 7:21 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2020-02-09 Update

We concentrate on Mayor Mike this week, and we open with Mr. Ramirez's illustration of Warren on Bloomberg, based on an actual quote.

[Warren on Bloomberg]

Ayuh. (See, I'm getting my Cranky Yankee on, in preparation for the primary.) Everyone knows the honest way to buy votes is to promise goodies paid for with taxpayer money.

On to our numbers. The Iowa caucus, however botched, shook things up quite a bit at the prediction markets.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
2/2
Phony
Results
Change
Since
2/2
Donald Trump 59.3% +4.4% 1,630,000 -240,000
Bernie Sanders 15.6% -0.6% 495,000 -62,000
Joe Biden 3.8% -8.4% 435,000 -75,000
Pete Buttigieg 4.8% --- 200,000 ---
Michael Bloomberg 9.9% +2.5% 82,500 -17,100

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

In no particular order:

  • Mayor Pete is back in contention, baby.
  • The big gainer in win-probability over the week was (perhaps not surprisingly) Still-President Donald John Trump, what with his acquittal, good economic news, and the increasing use of the "clown car" metaphor for his opponents.
  • Joe Biden (absolutely not surprisingly) was the big loser in win-probabiliity over the week.
  • Bernie's strong Iowa showing caused the bettors to view him less favorably, given the perception that he'll (eventually) be viewed as unelectable, and voters will turn their lonely eyes to…
  • Mayor Mike! As the last man standing.

So what about Mike?

  • Rich Lowry channels his inner Liz Warren in the New York Post: Bloomberg's naked bid to buy the White House is an assault on democracy. Heh, "naked".

    It’s a free country, and Bloomberg can spend as much money as he likes on whatever suits his fancy. But Bloomberg 2020 is still an affront to small-“d” democratic sensibilities, a tribute not to his ­superior political skills or messaging compared with the other candidates, but his access to an enormous personal bank account.

    The level of his spending is truly astonishing — Croesus goes all in on Super Tuesday. He has spent more than $300 million on various forms of advertising. By the end, he is going to make the profligate self-funder Tom Steyer — who managed to pointlessly buy himself onto the Democratic debate stage — look like a spendthrift.

    Well, at least (as observed above) he's spending his own money to buy your vote, right?

    Well… as it turns out, observes the NYPost Editorial Board, he's looking to spend plenty of tax money too:

    How far left has the Democratic Party turned? Well, Mike Bloomberg aims to become the main “moderate” rival to frontrunner Bernie Sanders — yet Bloomy’s promising to raise taxes by $5 trillion over a decade.

    When we encouraged Bloomberg to join the race over a year ago, it was because he had “declared his intention to run as a moderate in an effort to pull the Democratic Party back to the center.”

    Sigh: Now he’s vowing tax hikes higher than Joe Biden’s plan for a $3.4 trillion hit.

    Sigh, indeed. There seems to be not even a decent plurality of Democrat voters who can be persuaded to vote on the "fiscal sanity" issue.


  • At National Review, Kyle Smith presents Reasons Mayor Mike Could Win the Democratic Presidential Nomination. A couple:

    One: […] the Democrats could use every trick in the book, or indeed rewrite the book, to stop Sanders. Step forward, superdelegates! Hail, change in debate rules! The downside risk of this is a replay of the 1968 Chicago convention chaos, this time in Milwaukee. But it’s not like even the Bolshiest of Bernie Bros are going to stay home on November 3 if their choice is between a capitalist Democrat and Donald Trump, and the party knows this.

    Two: Given Biden’s continual struggles and Elizabeth Warren’s rapid fade, the race could narrow to a Sanders–Bloomberg contest quickly if Buttigieg’s momentum were to stall. Some of Warren’s fans among technocrats and the highly educated will even defect to Bloomberg, on the grounds that he’s the sort of managerial-class mandarin they feel an affinity with. (Warren’s anti-capitalist rhetoric is, I think, seen as merely performative by a significant percentage of her devotees.)

    Number three is, of course, money. I encourage you to click over to read Kyle's entertaining observations on that score.


  • At Reason, Matt Welch has never been a Bloomie fan, and does not look forward to Michael Bloomberg and the Imperious Presidency. Revealing anecdote:

    In an April 2018 conversation with Christine Lagarde, then the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Bloomberg defended his fondness for taxing treats, such as sugary sodas and trans fats, that are mostly enjoyed by the non-rich.

    "Some people say, well, taxes are regressive," he said. "But in this case, yes they are! That's the good thing about them, because the problem is in people that don't have a lot of money. And so, higher taxes should have a bigger impact on their behavior and how they deal with themselves….The question is, do you want to pander to those people, or do you want to get them to live longer?"

    Rules may be important for "those people" but are much less so for the eighth-richest man on the planet. He is the leading financier of gun control advocacy in America—and one of the few people allowed to have an armed security detail in Bermuda. He has been positively Trumpian about releasing his tax returns, snapping at the mere suggestion that such political traditions should apply to him. And as recently as January 2019, even as the rest of the Democratic Party was finally evolving toward getting rid of federal prohibitions on the marijuana Bloomberg once enjoyed, the former mayor called pot legalization "perhaps the stupidest thing we've ever done."

    Not for nothing did Reason put Mike at number one on its 2013 list of 45 Enemies of Freedom.


  • Back at National Review, Kevin D. Williamson observes that Bloomberg is The Candidate Progressives & Independents Say They Want.

    Bloomberg has plans, too — but, unlike Warren, Sanders, Biden, et al., he has a pretty good record for bringing those plans to fruition. After a wildly successful career in business, he went into politics, which is what you do when your tens of billions of dollars are no longer enough to satisfy your colossal vanity. He served three terms as mayor.

    And, damn his eyes, he was pretty good at it: Murder rates went down, and high-school graduation rates went up. His government routinely ran surpluses. As Mike Pesca put it in Slate: “It’s true that Bloomberg is running differently than everyone else in the race and it’s also true that he’s not a politician in the emotive or empathetic mold of recently successful candidates. But in fact, Bloomberg does have a message that could appeal to voters, and it’s a simple one: Michael Bloomberg has a greater record of accomplishment in office than any candidate in the race.” How? Because Bloomberg is the nerd that Senator Warren pretends to be: a creature of data, measurement, and cold-eyed assessment of political, economic, and institutional realities.

    And his bottom line is too good to not quote:

    A problem-solving realist with a strong, non-hypothetical record in the real world? No, no, say Democrats, give us the rampaging socialist wackadoodle who’s never had a real job. Sure, he might show up to his inauguration wearing Lenin’s embalmed head as a codpiece, but that’ll show the plutocrats!

    That’s the 2020 Democrats: Too bananas for Marianne (no relation) Williamson. The news from Iowa is a lot like the news from the Senate: Full of evidence that Donald Trump is, if nothing else, lucky in his opponents.

    Interesting. I've been seeing a lot of Bloomberg ads, which is odd. I thought he was ignoring New Hampshire. He must think he has a decent shot here.


  • I've been saving this for almost a month, but Red State's Brad Slager thought that Mike went Off the Rails with a series of tweets during a debate from which he was excluded. Here's a colorful one:

    The other quoted tweets are bizarre, off the wall if not the rails, and you might find them amusing. And a reason to vote for him? Well, you tell me.


  • And … oh yeah … there was also the Super Bowl effect. Nick Gillespie says Mike Bloomberg Just Lost My Vote With His Super Bowl Ad. The ad was tear-jerkery about gun control. Bottom line:

    The 2020 race doesn't yet have a major-party candidate who offers a compelling, optimistic, and realistic vision of an economically vibrant and socially tolerant nation. Instead we have, on the one hand, an incumbent president who can barely go a few hours without picking fights and signing off on massive spending increases, trade barriers, and immigration restrictions. On the other hand, we have a bunch of Democrats who talk about massively expanding the size, scope, and spending of government while dreaming of new taxes and regulations on virtually every aspect of our lives.

    Mike Bloomberg might have offered an alternative to these two exhausting and generally miserable options. Instead, he is dropping millions of dollars on a high-profile commercial that will win him no new followers nor distinguish him from his rivals. Given his billions, Bloomberg can afford to follow his bliss when it comes to campaigning, but I know I'll be looking elsewhere for a candidate to support.

    Not just bad on content, bad on strategic positioning.


  • And of course, the Intercept reported Mike Bloomberg Plagiarized Campaign Literature.

    Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign plagiarized portions of its plans for maternal health, LGBTQ equality, the economy, tax policy, infrastructure, and mental health from research publications, media outlets, and a number of nonprofit, educational, and policy groups.

    The Intercept found that exact passages from at least eight Bloomberg plans or accompanying fact sheets were direct copies of material from media outlets including CNN, Time, and CBS, a research center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the American Medical Association, Everytown for Gun Safety, Building America’s Future Educational Fund, and other organizations. Bloomberg co-founded Everytown for Gun Safety, a political organization focused on gun control, and Building America’s Future Educational Fund, a nonprofit working on infrastructure investment and reform, and has chaired them in the past, and he was listed as a co-author on the educational fund’s reports. He is not clearly affiliated with the other sources.  The plagiarized sections ranged in length from entire paragraphs to individual sentences and fragments in documents that were between five and 174 pages long.

    Geez, if you're dropping untold millions on your campaign, can't you spend a few bucks on staffers who won't obviously steal words from elsewhere?

URLs du Jour

2020-02-08

  • Well, the primary is coming up in a few days and, as a registered RINO, I already have one fewer choice. The Federalist has the story: Joe Walsh Drops Out Of GOP Primary, Backs Socialism.

    Former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh ended his longshot presidential bid Friday after only receiving a mere 348 votes in the Iowa Republican caucuses Monday.

    “So you’re going to try to help elect the Democratic nominee, is that what you’re saying?” CNN’s Josh Berman asked Walsh.

    “Any Democrat,” Walsh said without hesitation. “John, Donald Trump is a dictator. He’s a king… Any Democrat would be better than Trump in the White House.”

    Give me a break, Joe. But if it makes you feel any better, I was not leaning toward voting for you anyway.

    Looking back at my overview of my seventeen possible choices, we have:

    • 1 dropout: Walsh.
    • 5 unacceptably crazy and/or "eccentric": Merrill, Boddie, Gyurko, Locke, Maxwell
    • 5 unacceptable/unserious stance on issues: Murphy, Ardini, Comley, Ely, Horn
    • 1 unacceptable unprincipled weasel: Weld
    • 1 completely unknown: Payne
    • 1 completely known: Trump

    Leaving four possibles: Matern, Kraft, De La Fuente, and the Dave Barry write-in. I actually got a mailer from Matern. Sketchy, but I'm leaning that way.


  • The perhaps-paywalled WSJ asks Barton Swaim to describe The Bernie Sanders Experience. He came up to Milford to check it out:

    When you ask Mr. Sanders’s supporters what it is about him they find attractive, you often get something about authenticity. “I don’t know if I’d say ‘authentic’ or ‘honest,’ ” [a guy reading the book Why Buddhism is True] told me, “but it’s something like that.” “With some of them,” one woman said, speaking of the other Democratic candidates, “you’re just not sure what they really believe. With Bernie, you know.” The social-justice campaigner Shaun King, who spoke before Mr. Sanders at the Milford rally, put this question to the crowd: “Who’s more authentic, more real than Bernie Sanders?” Somebody behind me muttered, “Nobody, man.”

    When you have Shaun King vouching for your authenticity, not much more needs be said.


  • Just because you're a fancy-pants New Yorker writer, it doesn't mean you can't trot out a hoary LFOD cliché. Rob Fischer dares to try: In New Hampshire, Pete Buttigieg Makes the Case for Moderation. Not once, but twice. But in his defense, the second time he's quoting Mayor Pete:

    In the course of five campaign stops on Tuesday, Buttigieg went on to make broad appeals to the possibility of national consensus. “God does not belong to a political party in the United States of America,” he said, but, in a state with the motto “Live Free or Die,” everyone should support “insuring that the government stays out of the business of dictating to women what their reproductive health-care choices ought to be.” When it comes to gun violence, he said, “there is a powerful American majority that spreads across both parties insisting that we no longer allow the Second Amendment to be transformed into an excuse to do nothing at all.” Perhaps his most charming line, which comes at the close of his stump speech, is also willfully cloying. “This is no time to walk away,” he said, suddenly serious. “This is no time to let the cynics win by stepping away from the process.” But, while Sanders promises a political revolution, Buttigieg assured his audience that he is running for President “as an expression of hope.” In fact, it’s perhaps not an accident, he said, that the word “hopeful” has become a synonym for “candidate.” He flashes a star-pupil grin, grabs his lapel, and bounces on his heels as he said, “I’m a 2020 hopeful.”

    So Pete invoked LFOD to say the government shouldn't get involved in "reproductive health-care choices", but (as we know) he's also in favor of forcing taxpayers to pay for those "choices".

    And then later that same paragraph he forgets all that silly LFOD stuff while arguing that the government should totally get into the business of dictating what sort of people get guns of whatever type.


  • Harvard econ prof Greg Mankiw is no Trump fan, but he has a Note to Dems: The Economy is Doing Great.

    As the Democratic candidates get ready for tonight's debate, let me offer some advice: They should refrain from their tendency to disparage the current state of the economy. As the graphs below show, the employment-population ratio for prime-age workers is at its highest level in about 20 years. Real wages for production and nonsupervisory workers (that is, excluding the more highly paid bosses) are at an all-time high. There are plenty of good reasons to remove Donald Trump from office, but a poor economy is not one of them.

    I'll do the same graphs here, first the Employment-Population Ratio:

    [Employment-Population Ratio]

    And real wages:

    [Real Wages]

    Again, I'm not a Trump fan but I'm in agreement with Mankiw on the facts.


  • Mark Hemingway writes at Real Clear Politics about a little Iowa-related sideshow that illuminates how tricky this whole "disinformation" thing can be: WashPost Tries to Stop Fake News, Becomes Part of the Problem.

    On Monday evening, just as the Iowa caucuses were heating up, the Washington Post published a story with this unambiguous headline: “Conservatives spread false claims on Twitter about electoral fraud as Iowans prepare to caucus.” The story was damning in tone and unequivocal in its assertions. “The claims of electoral fraud were false, proved untrue by public data and the state’s top election official,” it began. “That didn’t stop them from going viral, as right-wing activists took to Twitter over the weekend to spread specious allegations of malfeasance on the eve of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.”

    While concern about “fake news” influencing elections is a legitimate concern, in its rush to debunk a false claim going viral, the Post itself may be spreading fake news. Even more worrisome, the Post’s bad reporting was used to scrub information from social media.

    Click through for the details, but it's pretty clear that the ostensibly non-partisan jihad against disinformation has been, is, and will be used as a weapon against conservatives.


  • And finally, Jonah Goldberg sounds a recurring theme: Our Political Parties Are In Decline, and That's a Problem.

    One of my favorite running jokes on the internet is, “You had one job.” It’s a staple of Twitter and YouTube, with images of signs reading, “Turn Left” with an arrow pointing right, or supermarket shelves demarcating where you can buy “Poop Tarts.”

    Well, the Iowa Democratic Party rolled out a new line of Poop Tarts this week.

    The Iowa Democratic Party may have other responsibilities in non-presidential election years, but it’s only important function every four years is to run the Iowa caucuses. It’s the only time the eyes of the nation are on it, and the eyes of the nation this week saw a screwup of biblical proportions. It was like watching a team put screen doors on a submarine and confidently take it out to sea, even though they’d been warned from the beginning that screen doors are a bad idea.

    The parties could be useful as institutions working to calm mob passions, instead they are committing suicide,

Shocking News: Democrats Cherry-Pick Stats to Make Trump Look Bad

CNN and FiveThirtyEight Assist

Not that it matters, but while perusing an article from the Intercept demonstrating Mike Bloomberg's plagiarized campaign literature, I came across:

In the four years prior to the passage of the GOP tax law, the economy added an average of 213,000 jobs each month, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the nearly two years since the law passed, average job creation has actually declined by an average of 11,000 per month.

In case you're wondering, that's a quote from both Bloomberg and this December 2019 article at CNN from one Michael Linden. Verbatim.

Boy, doesn't it sound like they're claiming that jobs have actually been destroyed at a rate of 11,000 per month? For the past couple years? That would be big news, and it's shocking that it hasn't been trumpeted far and wide…

Well, wait a minute.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides its data ("CES0000000001, All employees, thousands, total nonfarm, seasonally adjusted") here. Their graph:

[Jobs]

As long as that line is going up, jobs are being "created". And you'll note a rather steady increase since (roughly) January 2010.

What Linden/Bloomberg are trying to say is that the upward slope of job creation is decreasing. For you calculus fans, the first derivative. Fortunately, BLS provides that data too so we don't have to calculate it ourselves. Here's the graph of that data over the same time period:

[Job creation rate]

That's some noisy data. If you look at the actual numbers:

  • From December 2017 (when the Trump tax cut was signed) to December 2019 (the last data point BLS reports), jobs went from 147.596 million to 152.383 million, an increase of 4.787 million. The smallest monthly change over that period was 56,000 in February 2019; the largest was 330,000 in February 2018. The average job creation rate was about 198K/month.

  • Bloomberg/Linden want us to compare "four years prior" to the passage of the tax law. Fine. Minimum 13K, maximum 339K, average 210K.

So Linden/Bloomberg are actually talking about the difference between 210K jobs created per month versus 198K jobs created per month.

But is that difference in averages "significant"? That's a pretty standard statistical test…

Geez, I haven't done this in a long time.

Fortunately, I don't have to do it myself. There's a nice little online calculator right here. And it says, no, the differences between the two averages is probably not significant, given the natural noisiness of the data. Linden/Bloomberg shouldn't hype it. (Linden might not know better, but Bloomberg should.)

Another site I ran across discussing the jobs data was FiveThirtyEight, offering A Better Way To Think About This Month’s Jobs Numbers. I think this article is updated automatically when the BLS outputs a new report, and it's very nicely done.

But should you get all misty-eyed about the BLS's announced "unemployment rate":

The BLS has a broader measure of unemployment — the U-6 — which includes people counted in the official jobless rate, those who've tried to find a job in the past year but haven't looked in the past four weeks, and part-time workers who want a full-time job. December’s unadjusted U-6 was 6.7 percent. That’s 3.3 percentage points higher than the unadjusted unemployment rate.

Gasp! That darn Trumpified BLS, not telling us the truth about unemployment!

FiveThirtyEight ain't lying, exactly, but they're not providing anything that would just possibly make Trump look good. BLS has been providing U-6 since 1994, apparently. Here's a graph of the "official" unemployment rate (aka U-3, blue line) and U-6 (red line) over that period (via FRED, U-3, U-6).

[Unemployment 3 and 6]

So, yeah: U-6 > U-3. By definition. But what they're not telling us: BLS is also reporting U-6 at a record low.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not a Trump fan. I think his record on deficit spending is awful, his trade wars are stupid. But disbelieve Democrats by default when they try to tell you the economy sucks. It doesn't.

Unlocked

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

A DVD that Netflix sent me, skipping over a number of items higher in my queue (e.g., Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Joker, The Farewell, Judy,…). Well, OK.

Noomi Rapace plays Alice, a CIA agent relegated to a trivial desk job due to (allegedly) failing to prevent a terrorist incident in Paris that killed a lot of innocents. She retains her interrogation skills, though, and the intelligence agency finds that she's needed to discover the communication channels used to set up a possible imminent bioterror attack somewhere in London.

Needless to say, things go wrong, with a considerable amount of gunplay. In addition to Noomi, there's John Malkovich as the (somewhat goofy) head of the CIA, Michael Douglas as Alice's one-time superior, Orlando Bloom as (perhaps) a British ex-Marine now burglarizing apartments, and Toni Colette as an MI-5 higher up.

I liked it a lot better than Atomic Blonde, probably because its provenance does not include comic books. And everything about Noomi Rapace screams "intelligence" while Charlize Theron screams "bimbo".

A lot of action and betrayal. One flaw: you know one of these stars is going to be Revealed as the prime Bad Guy, and it gets pretty obvious who it is. ("I don't think they'd hire that person to play this role, unless…")

And of course, a bunch of shady Arabs that could be terrorists. Not in modern-day cinema, friend.

The Disaster Artist

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

The great TV drought continues. This is a perfectly decent little movie, watched via Amazon Prime streaming. Oscar-nominated for its adapted screenplay. But a best-actor Golden Globe win for James Franco; he was snubbed for the Oscar. Outrageous!

Franco plays the real-life Tommy Wiseau, who actually wrote, directed, and starred in a dreadful movie called The Room back in 2003. As this movie opens, he befriends Greg, a fellow talent-free actor bumming around San Francisco. They decide to pursue their Hollywood dreams… er, in Hollywood. Where else you gonna do it?

It helps that Tommy has access to loads of cash. (Unexplained.) He finds plenty of people willing to work, only occasionally bemoaning the incoherent plot, the brutal working conditions on which Tommy insists, and Tommy's bizarre accent. (Also unexplained, except Tommy claiming it's from New Orleans.)

Will the movie actually happen? Sure. Will it be remembered? Only as an example of how weird things can get in Hollywood. The Room is #62 on IMDB's bottom-rated movies of all time, which is sort of an achievement.

URLs du Jour

2020-02-06

  • We begin with point/counterpoint on the only senator to buck the party line in the impeachment vote. First, Jay Nordlinger on Mitt Romney.

    I believe that Romney is one of the most capable and admirable men ever to run for president. I have said this many times. I believe that the voters’ rejection of him in 2012 was tragic. But I’m glad that Utahns saw fit to send him to the Senate. He is a credit to America.

    Romney is voting to convict, on one count. Honestly, I’m not sure what I would do: I could argue either way. My colleagues have argued on either side of the question. But I do know that Romney has brass ones. He is willing to stand apart, and to stand alone, at least in his party.

    “Mitt Romney. Not one of us.” That was an ad that Obama-Biden ran against Romney in 2012. I’ve come to believe that the ad is true. Romney is not like us — not like most of us, at least.

    Jay's a fan, in other words. But…


  • … for counterpoint, let's go to… well, there's a veritable plethora to choose from, but here's Erielle Davidson at the Federalist, pointing out that Romney's Career Has Been Punishing Republicans For Voting For Him.

    Romney’s decision was terrifically predictable, and given his vote did not swing the results in either direction, the gravitas that he already assigned to his decision — in the form of two interview “exclusives” — seems a bit theatrical and self-indulgent. There’s an unshakeable self-satisfaction that Romney exudes when he goes on heavy-headed tours, demarcating to the adoring left how he is decidedly different from all the other GOP members.

    Yes, he’s different from many others within the GOP in the sense that he has no firm principles upon which to base his political decisions besides self-interest and self-importance. He is vaguely in favor of free markets insofar as he appreciates a pro-business environment, having been a businessman once. But that seems to be the extent of his political personality.

    I get that too. Not for the first time (and probably not the last), I'll invoke Jonah Goldberg's impression when he hits the mute button on a Romney speech: he seems to be saying: What do I have to do to put you in this BMW today?


  • Veronique de Rugy points out that while our pols perform for the cameras Uncle Sam Doubles Down on His Spending Addiction.

    My fellow taxpayers, this is your quarterly warning that Uncle Sam is not a good steward of your money. The Congressional Budget Office just released its most recent 10-year projections for federal spending and revenues. The picture is not pretty.

    A quick overview: This fiscal year, 2020, the federal government will collect $3.6 trillion in tax revenues. But due to its spending addiction, the government will expend $4.6 trillion. This means that the government will have to borrow $1 trillion this year alone, in order to cover a deficit of 4.6% of GDP. This is the first trillion-dollar deficit not due to a global recession.

    The money to fund the deficit comes from individual and institutional investors, both domestic and foreign. And for all the anti-China rhetoric out there, it's worth remembering that China is the second largest foreign investor in our federal debt, right behind Japan. I guess that's one Chinese import the Trump administration doesn't seem to mind.

    According to the CBO, this enormous overspending will continue and expand over the next decade, from 21% of GDP to 23.4%. Revenue as a share of GDP is projected to grow from its current 16.4% level to 18% in 2030, or $5.75 trillion. But that's not enough to cover the $7.5 trillion the federal government will spend then, hence a projected budget deficit of $1.74 trillion.

    A decent press corps would ask this of every presidential candidate: In the most recent fiscal year, 2019, the federal government spent $4.45 trillion, 21% of GDP. It took in $3.46 trillion, 16.3% of GDP. Leaving a deficit of $984 billion, or 4.6% of GDP. What should those numbers be instead, and how would you get there from where we are?

    We do not have a decent press corps. Nor do we have a large fraction of voters demanding a decent press corps.


  • Debbie Hayton writes (I think) bravely and honestly at Quillette: I May Have Gender Dysphoria. But I Still Prefer to Base My Life on Biology, Not Fantasy.

    Feelings and opinions have displaced facts and evidence in many areas of the liberal arts. This is nothing new. A more recent phenomenon, however, is the extension of this trend into the realm of biology, which has fallen victim to the idea that men can become women—and vice versa—merely by reciting a statement of belief. It is an insidious movement that combines the postmodern contempt for objective truth with pre-modern religious superstitions regarding the nature of the human soul.

    The subordination of science to myth was exemplified in the recent British case of Maya Forstater, who’d lost her job after pointing out the plain truth that transgender people like me cannot change our biological sex by proclamation. “I conclude from…the totality of the evidence, that [Forstater] is absolutist in her view of sex and it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate,” concluded Judge James Tayler at her employment tribunal. “The approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.”

    I’m not sure where that leaves me, a British transgender person who agrees with Forstater. As I know better than most, sex is immutable. I may have transitioned socially, medically and surgically, but I am as male now as I was the day I was born (and the days I fathered each of my three children). As a scientist, I know this to be a fact. It’s Judge Tayler who’s the absolutist here: Under the guise of tolerance, he’s put the force of law behind a cultish movement that treats biological reality in much the same way that the Catholic Church once treated Galileo and his heliocentric ideas. Just like its medieval forbears, this neo-religious crusade demands that adherents chant an absurdist liturgy—in this case, “Transwomen are women. Transmen are men.”

    A sensible take. One she's being pilloried for, naturally.


  • Wired descends ever further into the Orwellian, with an article from one Josh Wilbury: America Needs a Ministry of (Actual) Truth. Of course, it wouldn't be a bad Ministry of Truth! Oh, no:

    Federal oversight wouldn’t need to mean Orwell’s ministry. Our hypothetical entity could function more like connective tissue than menacing monolith, putting private companies, governmental departments, non-profit organizations, and university researchers into close and regular contact. At a time when the Administration often behaves like a dystopian MoT, it would be important to “watch the watchmen” and create safeguards against political bias or factionalism. Authority would need to be distributed among relevant parties, lest any one group gain a monopoly on truth.

    Here's a radical idea: assume people are able to make up their own minds instead of being treated like gullible children? As much as possible, let the responsibility to sort truth from fiction be borne by individuals instead of the all-wise state.


  • And the Google LFOD news alert rang for Sabrina Giacomini's article at RideApart.com, a site for motorcycle enthusiasts, by motorcycle enthusiasts. She was quite taken aback by the activism exhibited at the New Hampshrire Statehouse the other day: Why People Rallying Against Helmet Law In NH Is A Problem. She begins with a dimwitted argument:

    On February 4, 2020, over 300 people showed up at the Representatives Hall in Concord, New Hampshire, to speak up against proposed House Bill 1621-FN. That bill would make motorcycle helmets mandatory. The main argument? “Freedom” and “choice” according to the InDepthNH journalist that reported on the story. I have a question for you: should a toddler be allowed to roam free on a busy boulevard for the sake of freedom?

    Um, Sabrina? You might not want to base your argument on the assumption that adult motorcyclists are equivalent to toddlers. Just a tip.

    What follows is impressionistic mushiness, not that different from what you've read before. Here's the LFOD invocation:

    Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian and helmets are mandatory across the country and it just makes sense to me but I just can’t wrap my head around this concept of “Live free or die[…]. I have to wear a helmet and I feel quite free and content. I also feel safe and I am actively reducing the risks of becoming a social burden if I get into a crash. It’s ok if you don’t agree and you choose to be angry with me. I’ll go have my feelings checked in the hospital for free. 

    Here's a comment I left at the site: Statistics are unambiguous: "Per vehicle miles traveled in 2017, motorcyclist fatalities occurred nearly 27 times more frequently than passenger car occupant fatalities in traffic crashes."

    Why doesn't every single argument you make above for mandatory helmet use apply equally well to getting motorcycles off the road completely?


  • The Hill reports, among other things on an LFOD gaffe by Mayor Pete.

    Via CNN's DJ Judd, during a campaign stop in New Hampshire yesterday after traveling overnight from Iowa, former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) tried to recite New Hampshire's "Live Free or Die" state motto, but slipped up and instead said, "Live or Fry." 

    When he realized the slip: "I'm still thinking of the pizza place we just left. We didn't get a lot of sleep last night."

    I suppose. Or was it a Freudian slip? Exercise for the reader.

URLs du Jour

2020-02-05

Once again, nobody offered to pay me to watch the State of the Union speech. Instead, I watched The Disaster Artist on Amazon Prime. (I'll blog it on the movie page later.)

No, the movie was not about the software developer behind the Iowa caucus app.

  • It's easy to laugh at Iowa, but at National Review Kevin D. Williamson kicks the tires on The Democrats’ Clown Car. And doesn't find that much to laugh at. How, he asks, is such a clusterfark possible?

    Because the intellectual titans who insist that they can (if only we give them sufficiently uncontested powers of official coercion) impose expert rational “scientific” management on everything from health care to global energy markets in reality cannot organize a two-car parade in Toeterville. Our would-be managers and planners are, in fact, useless as teats on a boar hog.

    How incompetent are the 2020 Democrats? Incompetent enough to make the 2020 Republicans look . . . sort of okay by comparison — and that is saying something.

    Click through for a KDWian take on the importance of political parties.

    I was going say that "Toeterville" was a typo, but no, it's an actual place, 2010 population of 48 souls, only about 40 miles east of where my folks grew up.


  • Oh yeah, the Senate's vote to acquit Our Impeached President is coming up later today. At Reason, Jacob Sullum offers Good and Bad Reasons for Acquitting Trump. A safe bet: zero senators not named "Rand" will read it.

    Impeachment has always been and will always be a largely partisan process. But an impeachment cannot be credible if the public believes it is driven solely by political or personal animus.

    As someone who does not feel at home in either of the two major parties, I was persuaded that Trump committed a serious abuse of power by pressuring the Ukrainian government to investigate a political rival, partly by withholding congressionally approved military aid. But the House's case, which suffered from an arbitrary, self-imposed deadline, was not strong enough to convince a single Republican that impeachment was warranted.

    The only interesting thing about the vote is how many Democrats will vote to acquit.


  • Daniel J. Mitchell offers The Best-Ever Tweet about Inequality. So without further ado:

    I usually dislike speculating on the underlying psychological motives for peoples' ideological positions. But my Bayesian credible interval for the truth of Jon's observation is high enough to make an exception here.

    Daniel comments further:

    I’ll close with some speculation about why some people fixate on inequality. What makes them focus on trying to drag down the rich instead of finding ways to build up the poor?

    I’m not sure, though there is polling data to suggest that some people really are motivated by envy and resentment of success.

    But I suspect that politicians who play the class-warfare card simply think it’s a way of maximizing votes.

    I'm not quite as sure about that last assertion, but … it's unfortunately pretty credible as well.


  • And the Google LFOD News Alert is ringing off the hook these days, as more lazy journalists refer to our motto on their filed stories. ("As the 'Live Free or Die' state prepares to vote…")

    But sometimes the stories are interesting anyway. Here's a look at our situation from the Forex folks, their analysis of New Hampshire Economy Heading into the Primary.

    An aging population and sluggish labor force growth are two defining features of New Hampshire's economy. Its 2.6% unemployment rate is the sixth lowest in the nation, but this is largely a function of the stagnant labor force, rather than strong employment growth. New Hampshire was one of only four states that had more deaths than births in 2019, which means its population would be contracting if not for the 6,400 people who chose to move there from other states and countries. New Hampshir does have a few notable strengths: its population is highly educated (36.5% with a bachelor's degree vs 31.5% nationwide), and it has the nation's highest median household income ($81,300 vs $63,200 nationwide). Proximity to Boston is another major plus, as is the state's historic individualist character, personified by its motto, ‘Live Free or Die.'

    I've interacted with some of the more stagnant members of our stagnant labor force lately, and it's sad. But, hey, at least they have jobs.


  • And Manchester Ink Link reports on some folks who haven't forgotten what LFOD means: Huge turnout against bill to require motorcyclists wear helmets.

    “Freedom” and “choice” were two often-heard words at the public hearing Tuesday, along with the state’s motto “Live Free or Die.”

    And for good measure, a local pol did a Nancy Pelosi imitation:

    Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier also opposed the bill citing the state motto “Live Free or Die.”

    “If this bill passes,” Grenier said, “this is what you will do to the state’s motto” as he ripped a copy of the bill in two.

    But in the interest of equal time:

    But another bill sponsor, Rep. Jerry Knirk, D-Freedom, said the bill deals with public health and health economics, noting the primary cause of death on a motorcycle is head injuries, and traumatic brain injuries are very expensive medically.

    Yes, Rep. Knirk is from Freedom, New Hampshire. As Buck Murdock observed: Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.

    We noted Rep. Knirk just a couple weeks back advocating that the state "ban the sale of all flavored vaping products, except tobacco flavors." Maybe the town of Freedom should change its name to Coercion?

URLs du Jour

2020-02-04

Whoa, so how about those Iowa caucuses, hm? Here's hoping New Hampshire shows them how to do things right next week…

  • Empowering government to go after sources of "disinformation"? She's got a plan for that: Elizabeth Warren Absolutely Wants the Government To Punish Facebook for Spreading Disinformation.

    PEN America, an advocacy organization that defends writers, journalism, and free speech in general, asked Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) 10 pressing questions about how she would combat various threats to free expression. Warren responded by attacking Facebook repeatedly—indeed, she mentioned the social media company more times than she mentioned President Donald Trump.

    As evidenced by her answers, Warren believes that Big Tech is one of the greatest threats to free expression, if not the greatest. (Her proposed solutions to this supposed problem are themselves significant threats to free expression.)

    Apparently Mark Zuckerberg is going to play the role of Emmanuel Goldstein in Elizabeth's totalitarian dystopia.

    But, seriously, you can totally trust the Warren Administration would go after "disinformation" using objective, transparent, non-partisan, well-defined criteria.


  • So speaking of misinformation: I was listening to the local TV news last night, and they had an item (syndicated from some third party) raising alarm about how poor security at state and county websites threated election integrity. It seems to be based on McAfee research, summarized here: Election Website Security: Protect Your Vote in 2020. The claimed problems are:

    • A lot of state/county websites don't reside in the .gov top level domain (TLDs). McAfee alleges (somewhat credibly) that the .gov domain registrars impose validity checks when they hand out addresses, not present for other common TLDs, like .us and .org.
    • Too many county websites don't offer their services over HTTPS. Which (in theory) allows snooping and (possibly) alteration of the traffic between your web browser and the government site.

    There's a lot of "coulds" in the threat:

    Hackers typically look to carry out their attacks with the least amount of effort and the fewest resources. Instead of hacking into local voting systems and changing vote counts, hackers could conduct a digital disinformation campaign to influence voter behavior during the elections. These attacks would seek to suppress or disrupt the voting process by setting up bogus websites with official sounding domains and related email addresses. From there, hackers could use those bogus email addresses to send mass email blasts intended to feed unsuspecting voter email recipients false information on when, where, and how to vote.

    All in all, though, the impression was left by the TV resport that the bad guys could alter vote totals by hacking into government websites. That's not what the McAfee research was about.


  • The Google LFOD News Alert rang for this patch.com "neighbor news" article: Republican Matt Matern Offers Voters a Choice. Oh, yeah, one of the guys we looked at the other day.

    The byline on the article says "By Julia Cottrell, Neighbor". But it's actually Matt himself:

    The sky was gray and snow had just begun to fall as I left Manchester on a Saturday afternoon in mid-January. The annual meeting of "The Walpole Society for Bringing to Justice Horse Thieves and Pilferers of Clothes Lines and Hen Roosts" was convening at half past six as they began their 205th year, and I didn't want to miss it.

    It was already dark by the time I reached the Town of Walpole, a small community nestled in the hills above the Connecticut River in Cheshire County, just east of the border with the state whose junior Senator is leading in the polls in New Hampshire, even though his socialist platform of high taxes and government regulation are the antithesis of the Granite State's "Live Free or Die" motto.

    Yes, apparently that's a thing:

    [Walpole, Amirite?]

    But Matt's article, unfortunately, goes downhill fast from his promising beginning. Yes, he's not Trump, that's a plus, but all but one of the other sixteen candidates on the ballot could make the same claim.


  • Over on the other side, the Conway Daily Sun provides LFOD thoughts from Robin Tyner: Voters need to hear from candidate Tulsi.

    Mainstream media promotes corporate candidates, while smearing those who refuse PAC money (Tulsi and Bernie). CNN is excluding Tulsi from its New Hampshire town hall, although she met all requirements.

    The “Live Free or Die” and “First in the Nation” state must not allow national corporate media moguls to usurp our voices and stifle our freedom to hear from all candidates. This blatant, undemocratic bias disrespects our Founding Fathers and the thousands of my fellow New Hampshire veterans who fought for freedom.

    As the Washington Examiner notes, Tulsi is (indeed) being unfairly excluded from CNN-hosted "town halls" that include Yang, Steyer, and Deval Patrick. FYI, as I type, she hasn't yet qualified for the February 7 debate at St. Anselm in Manchester.


  • And our final LFOD item, local radio station WOKQ highlights: Comedian Roasts NH State Motto on Netflix Special. The appropriate excerpt from Ronny Chieng's routine:

    Oh yeah, there are some f-bombs in there. Apologies if you didn't read this first.

Alien: Covenant

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

Yet another Alien movie! I remember seeing the first one at (I think) DC's Uptown theater back in 1979. And being antsy on the way home afterward imagining monsters lurking in every dark corner. Fortunately, this one I watched, over forty years later, in my well-lit New Hampshire living room, and had no creepy premonitions of being facehugged by a space lobster.

This is a sequel to 2012's Prometheus, the second in a planned trilogy of prequels to Alien. It concerns the misadventures of the colonization ship Covenant, bound for a happy new planet with a couple thousand colonists in hibernation, monitored by android Walter and the ship's computer, Mother.

Alas, a wayward neutrino pulse causes havoc with the ship's systems, awakening the ship's crew, and managing to kill one of them. And they notice an even happier planet much nearer than their original destination. Let's go there!

Fortunately, the only sensible crewmember, a young lady named Ripley Daniels, convinces everybody to stick to the original plan, and the mission proceeds with no further problems.

Just kidding! Daniels' pleas fall on deaf ears, and they're off to the new planet, Which turns out to be, more or less, filled with hostile beasties! And also (it turns out) David, from the previous movie. What's he been up to?

Anyway, it's decent. If they make another one, I'll probably watch it, even though (like the Star Wars prequels) the outcome is known ahead of time.

URLs du Jour

2020-02-03

Well, thanks a lot San Francisco. I should have gone more with my faith in traditional bourgeois Midwestern values triumphing over decadent left-coast whackadoodles.

On with our show.

  • Jonah Goldberg uses current disease news to come up with an interesting metaphor: The Intellectual Wet Market.

    Like a lot of people, I don’t want to talk about impeachment anymore. So, let’s zoom out. It seems to me that our entire culture is becoming a kind of wet market. Memes—ideas, customs, fashions, behaviors that spread via imitation—can be a trite concept these days. But another way to think of them is as germs. The internet is a particularly conducive medium for them. Look around and you can see what I mean all over the place. The various market stalls of the alt-right butcher their bushmeat daily, and some of it contaminates other stalls. Attempts at maintaining hygiene discipline fail and some people become infected, in part because the intensity of partisan captivity lowers their immune systems. Some of the products end up in the mainstream food supply and for one reason or another some people become fond of, even addicted to, exotic fare they would never dream of trying never mind developing a taste for. 

    Of course, it’s not just politics. Our culture is shot through with cross contaminations and exotic fetishes, as people shop for fashions and meaning from a global, uh, Chinese menu. As a result, weird, quirky, interesting and, yes, idiotic misapplications of concepts proliferate as it becomes ever more difficult to keep the batshit droppings out of the sauce. For instance, Gwyneth Paltrow is selling “psychic vampire repellent” to rich people who are dumb enough to buy it. People who can’t read Hebrew prattle about the Kaballah and try to fill their swimming pools with something called “Kaballah water.” Intellectuals grab square-peg concepts off the shelf try to cram them into the round holes of our souls. Politicians who think they know something about Scandinavian socialism believe that utopia awaits if they can just get it through customs intact and set it up here. 

    Jonah is to be congratulated on not making, as far as I can tell, the obvious point about things "going viral" on social media.


  • We didn't watch a lot of the Super Bowl, so we missed a lot of the good ads. And we missed at least one lousy one, Mike Bloomberg's. Which I will embed:

    Problem, as Jacob Sullum notes: Michael Bloomberg’s Claim About ‘Children’ Killed by ‘Gun Violence’ Is Off by 73%.

    Michael Bloomberg's Super Bowl ad, which presents the Democratic presidential contender as a brave advocate of public safety who is not afraid to take on "the gun lobby," claims "2,900 children die from gun violence every year" in the United States, which is not true. That number includes young adults as well as minors, and it includes suicides as well as homicides.

    Bloomberg's campaign cited Everytown for Gun Safety, a Bloomberg-backed group, as the source of the number used in the ad. "Annually," the organization said in June 2019 fact sheet, "nearly 2,900 children and teens (ages 0 to 19) are shot and killed." The ad changed "children and teens" (including young adults) to "children," presumably because that makes the deaths more shocking, strengthening the emotional case for the gun control policies Bloomberg favors.

    In contrast, note the "analysis" of the ad found at Politifact which notes the inclusion of young adults as "children", but does not mention the suicide inclusion.

    Politifact is garbage. And Mike Bloomberg is a liar.


  • To further gloomify your Monday, Brian Reidl of the Dispatch explains Why $1 Trillion Deficits Are Here to Stay. A fun factoid for us geezers:

    Those who dismiss 30-year budget projections should note that the existence of 74 million baby boomers is not a theoretical guess like an inflation rate. The boomers walk among us, and their Social Security and Medicare payment formulas are already set in permanent law. The typical married couple retiring today will, over their lifetime, have paid $161,000 into the Medicare system, and receive $498,000 in benefits. They will also come out $70,000 ahead in Social Security. Now multiply these shortfalls by 74 million retiring baby boomers and factor in a shortage of working-age taxpayers to replenish the revenues. The math is unforgiving.

    These costs are growing over time. The yearly Social Security and Medicare shortfall was $440 billion last year. It is projected to reach $1.869 trillion in 2030. This $1.4 trillion cost increase explains virtually the entire growth in the projected budget deficit over the next decade.

    Neither party's politicians are particularly interested in discussing this issue. Major media would rather cover "interesting" partisan catfights instead of drawing attention to boring math-based issues.

Frederick Douglass

Self-Made Man

[Amazon Link]

Hey, what better way to mark Black History Month (yes, they still call it that) than with Timothy Sandefur's biography of Frederic Douglass? It's short, 119 pages of text, and to the point. Published by the Cato Institute.

Why, you may ask, is it published by the Cato Institute? Well, the primary theme of the book is explicating Douglass's classical liberalism, his devotion to individualism and the U. S. Constitution.

But the biographical details are gripping enough too: Douglass was born a slave in 1818 Easton, Maryland, probably the result of the plantation's overseer's dalliance with his mother. Against all odds, he learned to read. And he grew to hate his enslaved status. As a young man, he escaped servitude by going north, winding up in New Bedford, Massachusetts, later moving up to Lynn. He became a preacher, an orator, and eventually an anti-slavery activist, initially under the wing of William Lloyd Garrison. But there was bit of friction between their anti-slavery ideologies, and eventually Douglass came out fully on his own.

Sandefur does a fine job of depicting Douglass's life, and the horror of slavery. Followed, after the Civil War, by Reconstruction and its ugly devolution into more oppression. For the full story, you'd probably want to go to this full Pulitzer-winning bio by David W. Blight. 913 pages, according to Amazon. Maybe next February.

The Sentence is Death

[Amazon Link]

This book, obtained from the Portsmouth Public Library, was on Tom Nolan's WSJ list of the Best Mystery Books of 2019. Three down, seven to go. The author, Anthony Horowitz, is a British writer mainly known for his television work (Foyle's War, some early episodes of Midsomer Murders, etc.) and juvenile fiction.

And the narrator in this book is named Anthony Horowitz, a writer working on Foyle's War, author of juvenile fiction… Oooh, that's kind of a neat trick! So it's not clear where the dividing line is between fiction and reality here. This book is the second entry in a series, but there's not a lot of reference to the previous book.

Anthony's writing talents are enlisted by ex-cop Daniel Hawthorne who has (in turn) been asked by the actual cops to help out on a murder investigation. Anthony is, to a first approximation, the Watson to Hawthorne's Sherlock. It is a mystery in the classic form: a lot of clues, a lot of possible suspects, a complex history that needs unravelling.

The (initial) victim is a divorce lawyer, bludgeoned with a bottle of expensive wine, then stabbed to death with the shattered bottle. Gory! But who's to blame? The lady poet screwed over (or was she?) in the lawyer's latest case? Or her ex-husband? Or does it have something to do with the lawyer's participation in a long-ago caving expedition which resulted in the accidental death of one of the spelunkers?

Complication: the unpleasant lady cop also assigned to the case despises Hawthorne, and attempts to blackmail Horowitz into disclosing what Hawthorne's uncovered, so that she can beat him to the solution.

There's also a complex relationship between Horowitz and Hawthorne; Hawthorne's not a particularly pleasant person, with a mysterious past of his own. Horowitz tries (not particularly successfully) to unwind some of that.

Bottom line: a good read. Now on to the next book in Nolan's list…

The Phony Campaign

2020-02-02 Update

Need a reason to get stinking drunk? Our phony update this week should do the trick, but just in case, it's also Groundhog Day. Nothing says "Have another glass of wine" more than Groundhog Day, amirite?

Oh, and also the Super Bowl. I have $20 on the 49ers against the spread. The nice thing about sports betting is that both winning and losing provides an additional drinking excuse.

But on to our normal Sunday featurette. Both Mayor Pete and Senator Liz dropped below our inclusion threshold (restored to 2% win probability). Liz is just barely under, at 1.9% as I type, but rules is rules.

Mayor Pete, in contrast, dropped all the way down to 0.9%. Below Hillary (1.1%).

So on the diversity watch: our current slate is 100% white, 100% male, 100% straight (as far as I know), 100% septuagenarian.

And, hey 50% Jewish, 25% Catholic, and 25% Presbyterian. At least technically. I don't know how seriously any of them take their religion.

But our phony leader is unchallenged:

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
1/26
Phony
Results
Change
Since
1/26
Donald Trump 54.9% +1.4% 1,870,000 -70,000
Bernie Sanders 16.2% +0.1% 557,000 +76,000
Joe Biden 12.2% -0.9% 510,000 +1,000
Michael Bloomberg 7.4% +0.3% 99,600 +12,800

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

This week, we concentrate on Bernie:

  • At his New York Times perch, Bret Stephens asks Anyone but Trump? Not So Fast. But an alternate headline could have been: "President Bernie? President Liz? Are You Kidding?"

    Bret is a proud never-Trumper, but he disdains the argument that either Liz or Bernie would be obviously preferable. Because:

    […] the argument understates the radicalism of what Sanders and Warren propose. Theirs is not a painless policy massage in the direction of a kinder, gentler economy. It’s a frontal and highhanded assault on American capitalism. If it succeeded, it would entail devastating dislocations to millions of workers lasting for years. If it failed, it would have devastating effects on the country lasting for decades.

    How devastating? In October, Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute tallied the costs of Mr. Sanders’s policy goals. By his calculations, the federal government would double in size. Half the American work force would be employed by the government, Mr. Riedl writes. Government spending as a percent of G.D.P. would rise to 70 percent (in Sweden, it’s less than 50 percent). The 15.3 percent payroll tax would hit 27.2 percent to help pay for Medicare for All. Total additional outlays would reach $97.5 trillion on top of the nearly $90 trillion the federal, state and local governments are projected to spend over the next decade.

    At least Sanders is honest enough to call this what it is: socialism. Warren’s terminology is less forthright. Her ambition is no less breathtaking.

    Bernie (however) is not honest enough to get nailed down on numbers:

    Norah O’Donnell, anchor for CBS News: “You don’t know how much your plan costs?”

    Mr. Sanders: “You don’t know. Nobody knows. This is impossible to predict.”

    Ms. O’Donnell: “You’re going to propose a plan to the American people, and you’re not going to tell them how much it costs?”

    Mr. Sanders: “Of course, I will. Do you know exactly what health care costs will be, one minute, in the next ten years if we do nothing? It will be a lot more expensive than a Medicare for all single-payer system.”

    "I was told there would be no math."


  • Bulwark-based Trump-hater Richard North Patterson is also dismayed about Bernie: This Is How Trump Would Destroy Bernie Sanders. His article is very, very long. But here he discusses Bernie's "organizer-in-chief" vision for "rallying the American people" behind his proposals, once he's in:

    This turbocharged populist presidency […] will stampede the previously adamantine Republican majority leader into compliance: “That’s how change comes about: you make an offer to Mitch McConnell that he cannot refuse, and that is that the American people want to move in a different direction.”

    Put more starkly, Sanders proposes to effect this sea change by summoning from scratch a movement unprecedented in our political history: a permanent mass mobilization of a militant majority of voters—most of whom were previously passive observers—reanimated as unremitting progressive political activists bent on compelling a recalcitrant Congress to enact the Sanders agenda through an exponential expansion of governmental power.

    The anti-gravitational grandiosity of this vision raises fundamental questions about its honesty and practicability, the danger that inflamed expectations will breed further alienation and, not least, Sanders’ own grasp of observable reality.

    I can see why Trump wants to run against Bernie.


  • But to paint Bernie as an inflexible socialist ideologue with beliefs cast in stone… that's not quite right either. As Alex Griswold at the Free Beacon points out, he can adjust in at least one area: Sanders Says He Held Hawkish Immigration Views '250 Years Ago' (It Was 2015).

    In an interview transcript released on [January 13], New York Times editor Nick Fox asked Sanders if he still believed that foreign workers depress wages for Americans. "No," Sanders responded. "That's what I said on the Lou Dobbs show 250 years ago, right?"

    Sanders made that argument in 2015 on at least two occasions. "What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy," Sanders said in a Vox interview. "Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don't believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country."

    Whoa, he sounded almost like Trump there. Can't have that.


  • At Reason, Peter Suderman says what should be obvious to anyone not devoted to fantasy economics: Bernie Sanders’ Wealth Tax Would Be Bad For Workers. Even if it worked as advertised, which it would not:

    Strictly speaking, the Sanders wealth tax would be paid only by a relatively small number of wealthy families and individuals. But that doesn't necessarily reveal the full extent of the tax's impact on the broader economy. And according to a recent study by former Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Gordon Gray, both of whom are now affiliated with the conservative policy organization American Action Forum (AAF), the effects of a wealth tax would extend throughout the economy, reducing the supply of capital and decreasing investment, which would negatively impact worker pay. 

    Sanders' wealth tax would cost workers about $1.6 trillion over a decade, they estimate. Over time, as the impact of the tax grew, workers would end up implicitly shouldering about 63 percent of the burden. The wealthy would indeed have less wealth, but workers would come out behind as well. Sanders, the champion of the working class, would effectively be taxing the working class he claims he wants to support. 

    Also there's the minor problem that a wealth tax that destroys wealth is unsustainable nearly by definition.


  • At the Free Beacon, Andrew Kugle notes MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews proposing a religious test for public office: Sanders Is No 'Good Samaritan'.

    "Suppose you're lying on the road hurt, maybe you've had something happen to you, you fainted, whatever happened, which of the candidates would stop their car and get out and help you?" Matthews asked during Morning Joe. "You have your candidate, I think. I'm not sure about all of them. I think Biden wins that one pretty easily, Elizabeth maybe. I don't think Bernie wins it. Do you honestly think Bernie would stop and help you? I'm not sure.

    "I know these are tough questions, they cut to the gut, but they are the question you have to ask about. Will this person help me when I need them? Because the rest is BS. It is all speech writing," Matthews added.

    I'm not sure which I find more bizarre: (a) Chris Matthews thinking he can get inside candidates' heads; or (b) Chris Matthews thinking this is an important insight; or (c) Chris Matthews (somehow) equating private compassion with presidential qualities.

    For aren't we all lying in the road hurt, in a very real sense?

    Um, no.


  • Bryan Caplan does the math: Is Bernie Sanders a Crypto-Communist? A Bayesian Analysis.

    The word “crypto-communist” has a paranoid, McCarthyite connotation.  But during the Cold War, numerous communist intellectuals and politicians deliberately concealed their commitment to Marxism-Leninism.  Why?  To be more successful intellectuals and politicians.  A few crypto-communists even managed to become national leaders.  Fidel Castro gained power in 1959, but only announced his communism in 1961.  Nelson Mandela presented himself as a reasonable democratic reformer.  Yet after his death, the African National Congress openly admittedly that Mandela had been on the politburo of the South African Communist Party for decades.  Ho Chi Minh joined the Communist Party in 1920, but in 1945 he loudly posed as a moderate democratic reformer – famously quoting the U.S. Declaration of Independence to charm the West.  Juan Negrin, last prime minister of Republican Spain, was also very likely a crypto-communist.

    Which brings me to my question: What about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders?  Is he a crypto-communist?  Sanders has sent decades worth of frightening signals – praising Soviet bloc regimes, honeymooning in the Soviet Union, and such.  Indeed, he’s said and done almost exactly what you would expect a sincere Marxist-Leninist who wanted to be a U.S. Senator would say and do.  Note, moreover, that Sanders came of political age during the 60s and 70s, when communism made a big comeback in the U.S. radical left.

    Spoiler: Bryan puts the probability at 15.8%. Not crazy high, but high enough to worry.


  • And the Daily Wire notes an interesting tweet: Photo Shows How Bernie’s Campaign Tries To Downplay To Voters That He’s Socialist. And via the magic of Twitter embedding:

    A Google search reveals that this "Affirm/Answer/Redirect" thing is a standard Jedi mind trick pushed by labor organizers.

    But note the utter condescension of the argument. The only reason people don't like socialism is because it's "scary"? Assume your target finds the term "intimidating"? Because it's "unfamiliar"?

    Yes, these folks really think their target audience is frightened, ignorant, and easily intimidated.


Last Modified 2020-02-03 4:28 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-02-01

Happy February to all! Just a couple things in the hopper today.

  • First off, Chris Edwards of Cato is not lulled by the Federal Budget Outlook: Worse than CBO.

    The Congressional Budget Office has released new projections for federal spending and revenues through to 2030.

    Federal budget policy is a disaster. The government will spend $4.6 trillion this year, raise $3.6 trillion in tax revenues, and fill the gap with $1 trillion in fresh borrowing. That is like a worker earning $36,000 in income but spending $46,000 and putting $10,000 on credit cards. Maybe he can get away with the excess spending for a while, but eventually his finances will crash.

    The CBO’s baseline projections show spending rising faster than revenues in coming years, with the result that annual deficits by 2030 are expected to hit $1.74 trillion. Spending in 2030 at $7.49 trillion will be 30 percent higher than revenues of $5.75 trillion, as shown in the chart below.

    Bottom line: "We are marching into a fiscal crisis and our elected leaders seem to have no idea how to tackle it and do not even seem to care."

    Just hold off until after I see the new James Bond movie, OK?


  • Veronique de Rugy's column has perhaps 2020's least surprising headline ever: Trump's Derivative Tariffs Continue Faulty Narrative.

    The Tariff Man has done it again. President Donald Trump recently announced that he will expand import taxes on American consumers of auto parts, nails and other goods made in the United States with steel and aluminum. Apparently, untaxed imports of these metals put our national security at risk.

    Under the latest proclamation, some imports of products made with aluminum will be subject to an additional 10% tax, while some steel products will be hit with a 25% one. The decision comes two years after the first round of steel and aluminum tariffs, a little over a month following the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement's approval by the U.S. Congress, two weeks after Trump signed a phase one trade deal with China and while the U.S. government is in the middle of some trade negotiations with the Europeans.

    Veronique predicts "sour results".

Snow Crash

[Amazon Link]

Continuing on reread-Stephenson project. This was his first "big" book; at his website he says it "changed my life." It appears on Time magazines list of the "100 best English-language novels published since 1923".

So, yeah, it's pretty good.

There are a lot of things going on. It's set in the near future, where America is more or less anarchic, the Federal government dwindled to a small office complex somewhere in the L. A. area, relegated to mostly writing software for nefarious purposes (uh, it turns out). The CIA is now the CIC, Central Intelligence Corporation, and it's taken over the Library of Congress, now simply the cyberspaced "Library", with a natural language, avatared AI librarian to assist you in finding out just about anything.

The main guy is (I am not making this up) Hiro Protagonist, a gifted coder, expert swordsman, and now … ace pizza deliveryman for the Mafia's pies, thanks to his bitchin' high-tech motorcycle. Only problem is: if you don't fulfill Uncle Enzo's 30-minute delivery promise, the repercussions are unpleasant. And one fateful night, a series of mishaps puts him and his bike into a swimming pool, wrecked, with only four minutes and 43 seconds left.

But he's unexpectedly saved when Y. T., a fifteen-going-on-thirty girl "Kourier" on a very high-tech skateboard takes over the delivery, saving him from Enzo's termination procedures.

After that harrowing experience, Hiro and Y. T. form a partnership of sorts. It turns out there's the previously-mentioned nefarious plot. It involves "Snow Crash", a virtual designer drug that does nasty things to programmer's minds. You don't snort it, shoot it, smoke it, or otherwise ingest it: all you have to do is see it on your computer screen, and it infects your brain like a computer virus, bricking your higher cognitive functions.

Man, I hate it when that happens.

There's much more, involving a virtual-reality version of sorta-Facebook (the code for which Hiro wrote long ago). A Heinleinesque discovery involving the Babel myth, ancient Sumerian linguistics, …

And, just sayin': if you read the book, pay close attention to Chapter 32, especially the end. Dog lovers will nod in understanding, and it makes the end of the book very poignant.

Why Liberalism Works

How True Liberal Values Produce a Freer, More Equal, Prosperous World for All

[Amazon Link]

After seeing Deirdre Nansen McCloskey's book quoted numerous times at Don Boudreaux's blog, Cafe Hayek, I finally wangled a copy through Interlibrary Loan at the University Near Here. It appears that nobody at Williams College was interested in reading it, more fools they.

It's a collection of 50 short chapters/essays/articles, which I decided to read at a rate of two per day. Many first appeared in magazines, lightly adapted and updated for the book. Many are independent, a few link together. (For example, a fifty-page review of Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century is sliced up into seven chapters.)

Deirdre's overall purpose here is to update and defend her thesis about the cause and nature of "The Great Enrichment", started in northwest Europe in the 18th century: it was due to a newfound and unique respect for the tools of the marketplace, bourgeois moral values, and individual liberty. Hence what most people call "free market capitalism" was born, and proceeded to make the parts of the world that adopted it very very prosperous.

I should mention that Deirdre doesn't really care for the term "capitalism". She patiently explains that "capital" always existed, roughly since horse-traders traded horses. She prefers terms like "trade-tested betterment" (for the process) and "innovism" (for the attitude). And of course "liberalism" for the overall philosophy.

Deirdre is funny and insightful, and her unique prose style is something you have to read to appreciate. In my case, she was pushing on an unlocked door; I don't know her approach works on people more skeptical to her ideas.

I should mention one sore spot, Chapter 45, titled "Liberalism is Good For Queers". That's almost certainly true, but Deirdre goes into the jihad she and associates mounted against J. Michael Bailey, a Northwestern U psych prof. Wikipedia's article on Bailey has an overall description of the hubbub. Don't want to get into it here, but it seems that Deirdre's actions toward Bailey were reprehensible. And here she goes full Orwell, when she deems the National Academy of Science's publication of Bailey's work to be a (G. W.) Bush Administration homophobic plot. And falls into that great trap of equating "hate speech" with "speech I hate":

That's censorship, the encouragement of hate speech and then hate action by government-funded entities.

Well, no. Sorry, Deirdre, your lapse into illiberalism here mars your otherwise fine book.