Zero Days

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I liked Ruth Ware's previous novel, The It Girl, pretty well. This one I liked even more, because the narrator/heroine, Jacintha ("Jack") Cross, is kind of a computer geek. ("You mean she's an IT girl?") Her story is chock full of nerdy goodness.

Jack and her husband, Gabe, do security consulting for companies concerned about bad-guy hackers creeping into their sensitive databases. They do "pen (penetration) testing", attempting white-hat breakins to their clients' infrastructure. Jack has mad physical intrusion skills: document forgery, lockpicking, impromptu social engineering, stealth, agility, etc. Gabe is a tech whiz, knowing common weak spots, turning them into garage doors for information.

It all starts when Jack breaks into the offices of their latest client, an insurance company. Gabe remains at their home office, abetting Jack's activities over the phone, guiding her to the company's server room.

It's a pretty good, suspenseful opening act. Jack is almost home free, until she gets nabbed, and hauled off to the police station. Some time is consumed until the company confirms that, yes, even as a hacker, she wears a white hat. But then things go really wrong when she returns home to find that Gabe's been brutally murdered.

And then things get even worse: the police consider her to be the prime suspect. Fortunately, she slips out of their clutches, vowing to find the actual culprits. And she does, but it takes some time, and a couple of very close calls. Think of Jack as a female-geek version of Richard Kimble in The Fugitive. There's even an analog of Gerard in DS Malik, who's obsessed with Jack's capture.

Looking back on my report on The It Girl, I mentioned that I could have done without the many, many descriptions of the protagonist's inner mental turmoil. That's a thing here too. And she undergoes a nasty injury on page 107 that (literally) festers throughout the book. I would have given up and gone to the emergency room around page 150 or so.

Jack overshares with the reader, Even to this extent (p. 175):

I winced as my bare skin made contact with the freezing toilet seat […]

Reader, I'm pretty sure this is an observation that Philip Marlowe, Elvis Cole, et. al. never made.

But it really is a very good, suspenseful mystery/thriller. There's also a very good twist near the end.

Maybe I'll Just Write In "Nikki Haley"

You can only hold your nose in the voting booth for so long. A big factor for my bipartisan disdain, as Jacob Sullum summarizes: Biden and Trump Try To Wish Away the Looming Entitlement Crisis.

In a recent interview with former President Donald Trump, CNBC's Joe Kernen called entitlement reform "a third rail of politics" and suggested "there's not a whole lot of difference" between Trump and President Joe Biden on the issue. The contretemps that followed confirmed the accuracy of both observations, illustrating yet again the bipartisan refusal to seriously address, or even acknowledge, the looming Social Security and Medicare crises.

"There is a lot you can do in terms of entitlements, in terms of cutting and in terms of also the theft and the bad management of entitlements," Trump said. The Biden campaign seized upon the comment as evidence that Trump wants to "slash Social Security and Medicare," and Trump denied any such plan, saying, "I will never do anything that will jeopardize or hurt Social Security or Medicare."

Biden likewise promised to "protect" both programs. "If anyone here tries to cut Social Security or Medicare or raise the retirement age," he vowed during his State of the Union address this month, "I will stop you."

Apparently, talking to American voters about reality-based options as if they were responsible adults is not on the table.

Our new and improved weekly table checking on betting odds and (bogus) indications of phoniness:

Warning: Google hit counts are bogus.

Candidate EBO Win
Hit Count
Donald Trump 45.2% -2.6% 2,470,000 +330,000
Joe Biden 41.9% +2.2% 434,000 +62,000
Robert Kennedy Jr 2.8% -0.1% 42,800 -2,800
Michelle Obama 2.6% -0.3% 280,000 +174,000
Kamala Harris 2.2% -0.2% 120,000 -14,000
Other 5.3% +1.0% --- ---

I don't want to alarm any Trumpocrats that might be reading this, but the Trump-Biden odds spread has been shrinking for a while. It's now at 3.3 percentage points. Less than a month ago Trump was up by 20.8 percentage points.

Also of note:

  • It's not exactly revelatory, but it needs be said: Matthew Continetti points out the emperor has no clothes, specifically: Joe Biden Has No Israel Policy. Springing off the US failure to veto the UN Security Council resolution demanding an "immediate and unconditional cease-fire between Israel and Hamas", and the administration's spokesmodels denying that this reflects any change in policy, Continetti calls bullshit:

    Vice President Kamala Harris’s warning over the weekend that “any major military operation” in Hamas’s last redoubt, Rafah, “would be a huge mistake”? That must not be different from earlier administration policy, either. After all, “I have studied the maps.” It’s one smooth continuum, we are supposed to believe, from Biden’s visit to Israel and embrace of Netanyahu on October 18 to Biden’s current oppositional posture toward Israel’s tactics, strategy, and elected leader.

    Well, then. The absurdity of the Biden position is not surprising. These are the same people who said that inflation would be temporary, that unauthorized crossings on the southern border were seasonal, that America would prevent al-Qaeda and ISIS from recouping in Afghanistan, that the threat of sanctions would deter Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine, and that the president’s age and memory aren’t concerns because he is really mean to staff and swears a lot. Of course they would pretend that their turn against Israel, their lurch toward a cease-fire that would allow Hamas remnants to survive, was something else entirely. Gaslighting is not just a hobby for team Biden. It’s a lifestyle.

    See my post from last Wednesday for my comments about Vice President Fredette. "I've studied the maps." Gah.

  • As a Nikki Haley voter, I view this as a threat. Zach Jewell of the Daily Wire sends out a warning: Biden Campaign Releases Ad Targeting Nikki Haley Voters: ‘Donald Trump Doesn’t Want Your Vote’.

    President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign is reaching out to voters who sided with one of former President Donald Trump’s top Republican primary opponents.

    On Friday, the Biden campaign released an ad targeting Nikki Haley supporters, spending $1 million on the effort to court voters who appear disillusioned by another Trump nomination, The Washington Post reported. Haley was the last of Trump’s GOP opponents to drop out of the race when she ended her campaign earlier this month, and she has not endorsed the former president.

    “If you voted for Nikki Haley, Donald Trump doesn’t want your vote,” the Biden campaign ad says. “Save America. Join us.”

    Jewell quotes and links to Trump's famous "Truth Social" post from January 24 which told me I'd be persona non grata if…

    Anybody that makes a “Contribution” to Birdbrain, from this moment forth, will be permanently barred from the MAGA camp. We don’t want them, and will not accept them, because we Put America First, and ALWAYS WILL!

    As a result, I sent Nikki's campaign $25 on January 25.

    So yeah, Trump doesn't want my vote.

    Vote for Biden instead? Please.

  • Gird thy loins. Jonah Goldberg warns: Get Ready for the Veepstakes. ("In case you hadn’t heard, his former vice president, Mike Pence, is not available.")

    There’s also the matter of Trump’s personal preferences. He now values blind loyalty and even blinder sycophancy more than electoral appeal. He’s convinced that he’s popular, and he wants someone to hype his greatness, not highlight his weaknesses.

    Fortunately for Trump, there’s no shortage of candidates who meet those criteria. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who implored voters not to vote for a “con man” like Trump in 2016, now says he would be “honored” to be his No. 2.

    Picking Rubio would make a lot of political sense. He’s a gifted and extremely flexible politician who could appeal to both college-educated suburbanites and working-class and Latino voters.

    But I think Trump and his advisers understand that if he is elected, he could very easily be impeached again. In that light, selecting a conventionally reassuring politician as his constitutional understudy is risky. If removing Trump from office would result in a President Rubio—or even a President Tim Scott—a lot of Republicans might take that bargain. Also, Trump doesn’t want another Pence—a politician who, when truly tested by a constitutional crisis, sided with the Constitution.

    Jonah thinks this indicates Trump will pick from the crazy/sycophantic wing of the GOP.

    The Election Betting Odds site puts Tim Scott in the lead with a 22.2% chance. But he trails behind "Other", which scores 26.2%.

  • Another non-option. Matt Margolis has the story and analysis: RFK Jr. Picks Radical Leftist As Running Mate. That would be Nicole Shanahan. Who? Margolis embeds a Charlie Kirk oppo-research tweet:

    So, no.

  • In even more depressing news… Cato's Andy Craig takes to the e-pages of Persuasion to examine the trial balloon from hell: the possibility that RFKJr could run for, and perhaps obtain, the Libertarian Party nomination. It reflects, he thinks What RFK—And the Libertarian Party—Have Become. Bottom line:

    Kennedy and the Libertarian Party deserve each other. And if their pairing hurts Trump’s chances, that could even be good news for those who regard the former president as a grave threat to liberal democracy.

    Not for the first time, I say: Isn't there some way they could all lose?

Last Modified 2024-03-31 10:08 AM EDT

Not On Team Starbird

Glenn Greenwald tweets:

The "misinformation research group" Starbird leads is the Center for an Informed Public, hosted at the University of Washington (where she is an Associate Professor). Frankly, she's pretty low on the list of free speech threats. She has no policing power, no authority to limit or control "political discourse".

There might be partisan asymmetry in the "misinformation" that Starbird's organization chooses to examine and debunk; that's hard to check.

Greenwald should go after bigger, more 1A-dangerous, game.

Also of note:

  • A response to Ketanji Brown Jackson. Earlier this month, Matt Taibbi highlighted a query made by the SCOTUS Justice to a plaintiff in the Murthy v. Missouri censorship case (emphasis Taibbi-added):

    JACKSON: So my biggest concern is that your view has the First Amendment hamstringing the government in significant ways in the most important time periods…

    Can you help me? Because I’m really — I’m really worried about that because you’ve got the First Amendment operating in an environment of threatening circumstances from the government’s perspective, and you’re saying that the government can’t interact with the source of those problems.

    A commenter to that post, in Taibbi's view, Nailed It! And I like the comment too:

    "As Brown Janckson put it, "What would you have the government do?""

    Well, it seems pretty simple. Make its case publicly as well as it can. Compete on facts, ideas, reasoning, evidence and persuasive power of message that seeks truth. Leave media companies alone and don't censor or intimidate. Trust people to use discretion — you're not smarter or better just because you're in government. Don't deprecate and denigrate your fellow citizens. Use the bully pulpit to compete and try to win in the contest of ideas, and not by extinguishing the vibrancy of free expression.

    Why is this even complicated?

    Why does a Supreme Court Justice not understand?

    Well, yeah.

    Note that Taibbi's quote of KBJ leaves out some important context, and the commenter may have been misled as to her actual views. But otherwise, his response is excellent.

  • It's not like I was going to start watching NBC News. But now I have an extra reason to avoid it. Robby Soave examines Ronna McDaniel and the Media's Election Denial Double Standard.

    If McDaniel's proximity to the RNC means her credibility as a commentator is suspect, then MSNBC host Jen Psaki should be considered a major liability; Psaki served as White House press secretary under President Joe Biden while negotiating her role at MSNBC. There's nothing particularly new or stranger about this—political communications officials frequently move from government to campaigns to cable news and back again. Anyone who pretends that this was the major issue with McDaniel is lying.

    NBC has no objection to hiring partisan hacks, as long as they are Democrat partisan hacks.

  • At the Dispatch, Will Rinehart explains Why DOJ’s Antitrust Case Against Apple Falls Flat. It's a sample of his newsletter, which looks interesting.

    I’ve read all of the complaints against the tech giants, and this one against Apple follows a similar pattern. They are laid out as modern tragedies—in Aristotle’s sense of a tragedy—with a beginning, a rising action, a change of fortune, and a fall from grace. Like any good tragedy, the Apple complaint ends with a catharsis, an act of purification or cleansing as the ancient Greeks would have understood it. And also like any good tragedy, the remedies need to match the behavior.

    The beginning of this particular tale starts in 2007 when, in the DOJ’s words, “Apple launched the iPhone, a smartphone that offered high-end hardware and software applications, called ‘apps,’ built atop a mobile operating system that mimicked the functionality and ease of use of a computer.” Initially, the company only offered a small number of apps, but it “quickly realized the enormous value that a broader community of entrepreneurial, innovative developers could drive to its users and the iPhone platform more broadly.”

    In fairness, Steve Jobs originally wanted to keep the iPhone ecosystem relatively closed. But when the late Apple co-founder previewed the application integration system at Apple’s developer conference in 2007, it was largely seen as a miss. Pressure from the developer community and the success of Facebook’s platform coaxed Jobs into opening the system. “We are excited about creating a vibrant third-party developer community around the iPhone,” Jobs said, “enabling hundreds of new applications for our users.” Those “hundreds” of new applications quickly turned into millions.

    Well, at least a bunch of lawyers are getting rich.

Let Me WhiteCisManSplain This For You

On the Chanda Prescod-Weinstein watch, I encountered a recent tweet:

In a brief tweet, CPW manages to say one (mostly) true thing, and one (almost certainly) false thing. Conveniently separated by a comma.

True: public universities are prohibited from violating the First Amendment rights of their students.

But here's the thing:

The UMich effort to "address disruptions to university events and operations" is, I assume, in reaction to this: Pro-Palestinian protesters at UMich disrupt, cut short honors convocation.

A crowd of pro-Palestinian protesters invaded and disrupted an honors convocation for 1,800 students held at the University of Michigan on Sunday, forcing the event to end early and abruptly.

Most of the ceremony had proceeded normally, but when President Santa Ono began to speak, the roughly 100 protesters began to parade around and make noise, drowning him out.

They were protesting in favor of divestment from companies that do business with Israel to halt what they call “genocide,” referring to Israel’s military actions in Gaza in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre of 1,200 civilians.

A video of some of the protest posted on Reddit shows the demonstrating students stand up in the audience and begin yelling while holding aloft signs. They chanted “Ono, Ono, you can’t hide, you are funding genocide.”

The Michigan Daily student newspaper reported the protest forced the event to be “cut short,” although all the awards had been handed out by the time the interruption began.

The University Near Here, where CPW works (and I used to), is justly proud of its high free speech ranking (#3 out of 248 ranked colleges) from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).

(The University of Michigan doesn't do quite as well: #47 out of 248.)

So does UNH have a laissez-faire attitude toward disruptive student behavior? Well, no. Control-F'ing UNH's current edition of its student handbook (Student Rights, Rules, and Responsibilities) finds 26 instances of "disrupt". I won't fully quote any of them here, check for yourself, or take my word for it: UNH doesn't like its students to disrupt, and they can get into serious trouble for doing so.

In fact, FIRE makes the point that (as a matter of constitutional law) there are limits to free speech, and among those limits are…

[…] speech that involves unlawful or unprotected conduct such as vandalism, destruction of property, and disruption. While you may not agree with every event held on campus, every flyer you see, or every viewpoint you hear, vandalizing property or disrupting events is not protected expressive activity. This includes shout-downs, grabbing microphones, illegally recording others, blocking entrances, and related activity.

While (I suppose) UMich could come up with an unconstitutional policy against "disruption", there's no reason to assume, as CPW apparently does, that it will be unconstitutional.

In fact, UMich could simply clone UNH's policy, and their FIRE rating could improve.

CPW's just pissed that it's an anti-Israel disruption that caused UMich to decide it needed better rules.

Also of note:

  • Hey, kids, what time is it? Christian Schneider has an answer: it's Time to Ditch ‘Stand by Your Ad’.

    In 2002, Congress was intensely focused on regulating the “tenor” of campaign speech. Senators and representatives supporting the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (known as “McCain-Feingold”) believed they could legally impose decorum, turning campaign rhetoric up or down like the volume on a car radio.

    As if it were a Boeing plane in mid flight, much of the BCRA has fallen apart. In case after case, the U.S. Supreme Court has mercifully dismantled the law’s attempted micromanagement of the timing and content of political speech, recognizing that campaign messaging is the type of speech that should be protected the most.

    But the Supremes have let stand the most useless and obnoxious provision of the law, the section that requires candidates to say their name, provide a photo of themselves, and declare “I approve this message” in every campaign ad. It is pointless, annoying, and above all, unconstitutional.

    You can "thank" Maine Senator Susan Collins who, with Oregon's Ron Wyden, stuck this provision into the BCRA with no thought as to how "pointless, annoying, and above all, unconstitutional" it was.

    If only CPW could get incensed about this.

  • Jeanne Shaheen didn't go far enough. My friends at Granite Grok are taking some surprising stances these days. Most recently: Jeanne Shaheen The Debt Machine Slips Last-Minute Funding Cut into Budget Bill ... That Protects Corporate Monopolies. Her legislative effort cut the budget of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division by $50 million, about 18%.

    But as the headline implies, the Grok poster viewed this as a bad thing.

    I made a snarky comment that everyone ignored: "Granite Grok turned into Jacobin so quickly it made my head spin."

    What I wish I'd seen before posting that was Robert A. Levy's The Case Against Antitrust at Cato. Made me wish Jeanne had gone after the remaining 82% of the division's budget while she was at it.

    Levy makes seven arguments against antitrust. Here's number two:

    Second, antitrust laws are fluid, nonobjective, and often retroactive. Because of murky statutes and conflicting case law, companies never can be quite sure what constitutes permissible behavior. Conduct that is otherwise legal somehow morphs into an antitrust violation. Normal business practices—price discounts, product improvements, exclusive contracting—become violations of law. When they’re not accused of monopoly price gouging for charging too much, companies are accused of predatory pricing for charging too little, or collusion for charging the same.

    Now, this is entirely separate from the issue of whether Jeanne was doing this as part of a corrupt bargain with big campaign donors. That could be true too. In fact, I'd wager a small sum that it is true.

    Still, here's a small cheer for her doing a small part of the right thing, no matter her reason.

  • Good question. And Arnold Kling asks it: What is Probability?

    Probability can be purely mathematical. You can insist that the probability of a coin flip turning up heads is exactly 0.5, because that is the mathematical definition of a fair coin. You do not need to flip any coins to prove it.

    Probability can be purely empirical. You do need to flip a lot of coins and show that the number of heads approaches 50 percent as you do more coin flips. Probabilities apply to events in the world, not mathematical definitions.

    Probability can be neither mathematical nor empirical. Instead, probability is subjective. It’s not in the math. It’s not in the data. It is one person’s opinion. If your opinion is that the probability of heads is 0.6, so be it.

    It is not possible to have an objective probability for “Biden wins the forthcoming election.” But it is possible to have a subjective probability for it.

    I'd add that probability can also be physical: a given carbon-14 nucleus has a 50% probability of undergoing beta decay at some point in the next 5700 years.

    And those betting-odds tables we post on Sundays? I think those would be the subjective odds, averaged over many bettors.

  • A bad idea never dies, even when it kills people. Ronald Bailey brings the depressing news: the FDA Aims To Stifle Medical Innovation Again.

    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that massively screwed up COVID-19 testing now wants to apply its vast bureaucratic acumen to all other laboratory developed tests (LDTs). By insisting on its recondite approval procedures, the FDA at the beginning of the pandemic stymied the rollout of COVID-19 tests developed by numerous academic and private laboratories. In contrast, public health authorities in South Korea greenlighted an effective COVID-19 test just one week (and many more in the weeks following) after asking representatives from 20 private medical companies to produce such tests.

    And (just to repeat): that delay killed people.

    It's not as if there's some looming danger from which the FDA thinks we need to be protected:

    Out of billions of tests given, how often do laboratory developed tests appear to cause harm? In its submissions, the FDA justifies this burdensome oversight by citing problematic medical device reports and unconfirmed "allegations" for a grand total of nine and four different tests respectively between 2009 and 2023. The remaining examples cited by the FDA are tests that had actually been submitted to the agency for analysis and were subsequently rejected or revised as recommended.

    The regulation's ultimate fate is iffy; it's generated a lot of opposition, and it will face legal battles. Which will be, no matter the outcome, a huge waste of time and money.

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-03-30 5:52 AM EDT

The Individualists

Radicals, Reactionaries, and the Struggle for the Soul of Libertarianism

(paid link)

A really excellent book, obtained via the wonderful Interlibrary Loan service of the University Near Here library. All the way from Kansas State!

The authors, Matt Zwolinski and John Tomasi, are self-described "bleeding-heart libertarians". In fact, they were major contributors to the same-named website, which was founded in 2011, and continued until 2020, when they decided they had said everything they needed to say.

The book is an "intellectual history" of libertarianism, dealing with the origins, development, and current state of the ideology. Or rather: the various tribes and factions that comprise something that is far from a unified philosophy. Libertarians love to point out the evils of statism; they also love pointing out the evils of other libertarians. (The episode where Ludwig von Mises declared "You're all a bunch of socialists" before stomping out of a meeting of the freakin' Mont Pelerin Society is recounted.)

Rest assured: despite being firmly in a subset of the big (circus) tent that is libertarianism, the authors treat the other members fairly, even while making clear their personal dissents.

But even given the internecine squabbling, the authors identify six "markers", areas of general agreement: "private property, skepticism of authority, free markets, spontaneous order, individualism, and negative liberty." The primordial thinkers are examined: Bastiat in France, Herbie Spencer in England, both horrified by creeping socialism. The American thinkers had a different motivating, but equally horrifying, issue: slavery. In all cases, though, the struggle to develop a positive philosophy—OK, we know what you're against; what are you for—gave rise to a broad agreement.

The authors trace the development of those "markers". Is there a coherent justification for acquisition of private property, does it make sense to talk about "mixing one's labor" with it? Is any sort of state permissible, or must a consistent libertarian be an anarchist? Does our enthusiasm for free markets mean we have to be fans of big business? Can poverty be alleviated without coercive wealth-redistribution? Does a thoroughgoing individualism involve ignoring racial injustice? And what, generally, does libertarianism imply for people outside our borders: foreign policy, international trade, and immigration?

All thorny issues, right?

In the twentieth century, the libertarian hostility to totalitarianism formed an uneasy common-enemy alliance with conservatism. But even then, the cracks showed; for example, Whittaker Chambers' famous pan of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged in the pages of National Review. (This didn't stop opponents from labelling libertarians as "right-wing".)

Murray Rothbard's pinballing ideology is examined closely. I always thought Rothbard wanted to be to libertarianism what Karl Marx was to communism; this led him to a certain degree of hucksterism, a continual search for unlikely allies, from the "New Left" to paleoconservatives. This odd odyssey is (again) fairly presented in the book, although you can almost see the authors sadly shaking their heads.

Speaking of head-shaking, the book concludes with the takeover of the Libertarian Party by the so-called "Mises Caucus", a group that (frankly) has other things on its mind than liberty. Leaving folks like me even more politically homeless than before. Ah, well.

Bottom line: this is a great, very accessible, look at the messy, but inspiring, history of libertarianism. Unlike recent caricatures (e.g., A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear or Burning Down the House) it is sympathetic, fair, and honest.

Simple. Because "We" Don't Pay Enough Attention to Orwell

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

The New Yorker article headline seems designed to piss me off: Why We Can’t Stop Arguing About Whether Trump Is a Fascist. It is a review of a new book, Did It Happen Here?: Perspectives on Fascism and America, Amazon paid link on your right. And the publisher's blurb claims it "collects, in one place, key texts from the sharpest minds in politics, history, and the academy beginning with classic pieces by Hannah Arendt, Angela Davis, Reinhold Niebuhr, Leon Trotsky, and others."

I'm sorry, book. You lost me at "Angela Davis".

It has been only one day since I unleashed my George Orwell quote that clears up everything, and answers the implicit question posed by the New Yorker article title. It's from his 1946 essay, "Politics and the English Language"

The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.

The reviewer, Andrew Marantz, could have just quoted George, and observed that saying "Donald Trump is a fascist" is indistinguishable from saying "I don't like Donald Trump".

But, to his credit, Marantz, does quote Orwell. And he's even got better quotes than I do:

One classic text not anthologized in “Did It Happen Here?” is “What Is Fascism?,” the oft-quoted essay published by George Orwell in 1944. “As used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless,” he wrote. “I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit . . . astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.” (This is as true today as it was then. I have seen the F-word applied to Russia, Ukraine, Hamas, Israel, the Catholic Church, academia, and London’s Metropolitan Police—and that was just from one recent perusal of X, and not a very thorough one.) Orwell later pointed out that many such words, including “democracy, socialism, freedom,” had been similarly distorted. (Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, and Mitch McConnell have all been maligned as socialists; Sweden calls itself a democracy, but so does North Korea.) Yet Orwell was clear that semantic confusion was no excuse for quietism: “Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this.”

So I gotta say that reading Marantz's review is almost certainly a better use of your time than reading the book itself.

And here's a link to Orwell's 1944 essay: What is Fascism? (Interestingly, it's hosted at ""; how long before that gets shut down?)

Also of note:

  • Into the Memory Hole. Apparently it doesn't focus-group well any more: Biden and congressional Democrats aren't saying "Bidenomics" much. Axios observes:

    For the first time in more than two months, President Biden on Tuesday publicly uttered a word that he and other Democrats have largely abandoned: "Bidenomics."

    Why it matters: Republicans are now using the term — mockingly — far more than Democrats heading into the meat of the presidential campaign, even as the economy has improved under Biden.

    The intrigue: After Axios asked the White House why Biden wasn't saying "Bidenomics" — including in his State of the Union address this month — he used the term at a Tuesday afternoon event in North Carolina.

    • It was the first time he'd done so since Jan. 25.
    • "Leading economists aren't making much fun of 'Bidenomics' anymore," he said of his programs to boost the middle class through public spending. "They're thinking maybe it works!"

    Biden seems to think that the primary function of "leading economists" is to make fun of stuff.

    Veronique de Rugy is one of my "leading economists", and she makes a bold claim: Americans Can Tell the Difference Between Rosy Economic Data and Reality.

    The economy is growing, unemployment is low, wages are up, and inflation is down. However, the American people remain grumpy about the state of the economy. This puzzle was just investigated by four economists. They found that people often know that something is wrong even if statistics don't reflect the problem. In this case, people are perceiving that inflation is still, in fact, high.

    For months now, Americans have been told that inflation's downward trend, from almost 9% annually to around 3%, should make them feel good about the economy. But it isn't working. A recent Gallup poll found that 63% say the state of the economy is getting worse and 45% think it's already "poor." One reason, many have speculated, is that while the rate at which prices are rising might have slowed considerably, prices remain very high. Food and rent in particular are still expensive. These prices are felt everyday by Americans when they pay for their housing and go to the supermarket.

    But that's not all. A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research by economists Marijn Bolhuis, Judd Cramer, Karl Schulz and Larry Summers finds that a change in the method used to estimate inflation today, compared to the method used in the 1980s, might well cause an underestimation of the true level of inflation.

    You can read the Bolhuis/Cramer/Schulz/Summers NBER study here: The Cost of Money is Part of the Cost of Living: New Evidence on the Consumer Sentiment Anomaly. Abstract:

    Unemployment is low and inflation is falling, but consumer sentiment remains depressed. This has confounded economists, who historically rely on these two variables to gauge how consumers feel about the economy. We propose that borrowing costs, which have grown at rates they had not reached in decades, do much to explain this gap. The cost of money is not currently included in traditional price indexes, indicating a disconnect between the measures favored by economists and the effective costs borne by consumers. We show that the lows in US consumer sentiment that cannot be explained by unemployment and official inflation are strongly correlated with borrowing costs and consumer credit supply. Concerns over borrowing costs, which have historically tracked the cost of money, are at their highest levels since the Volcker-era. We then develop alternative measures of inflation that include borrowing costs and can account for almost three quarters of the gap in US consumer sentiment in 2023. Global evidence shows that consumer sentiment gaps across countries are also strongly correlated with changes in interest rates. Proposed U.S.-specific factors do not find much supportive evidence abroad.

    Fortunately, I don't need to borrow money, so I'm doing OK. But those high prices? They seem to be staying high, Joe. That's Bidenomics.

  • Henceforth, NBC will only be employing Democrat-approved liars. Jacob Sullum observes: If Ronna McDaniel Is Beyond the Pale, NBC May Have Trouble Presenting 'Diverse Viewpoints'

    Two weeks after the 2020 presidential election, Ronna McDaniel, then chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC), let Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump's lawyer, hold a press conference at the RNC's headquarters in Washington, D.C. During that bizarre presentation, Giuliani and Sidney Powell, another member of the Trump campaign's "elite strike force team," crystallized the craziness of the president's stolen-election fantasy by describing a baroque international conspiracy that supposedly had delivered a fraudulent victory to Joe Biden.

    On January 29, 2021, three weeks after angry Trump supporters who believed that fantasy invaded the U.S. Capitol as Congress was about to affirm Biden's election, McDaniel expressed regret about hosting Giuliani's clown show. "When I saw some of the things Sidney was saying, without proof, I certainly was concerned it was happening in my building," she told The New York Times. "There are a whole host of issues we had to deal with: What is the liability of the RNC, if these allegations are made and [prove to be] unfounded?"

    That incident reflects McDaniel's ambiguous role in promoting Trump's baseless claims of decisive election fraud in the two months prior to the Capitol riot. Her support for those claims, which stopped short of outright endorsement but nevertheless lent them credibility, was at the center of the complaints that yesterday persuaded NBC executives to abruptly rescind their decision to hire her as an on-air commentator.

    Sullum does a heroic job of laying out the history of what McDaniel actually was saying about the 2020 election.

    For extra credit, check out Matt Taibbi's rebuttal to an NBC "news" story about his revelations of government's censorship campaigns against "disinformation": The Peacock Joins The Smear Campaign.

  • Yep. Fiona Harrigan says what's probably not said enough: Immigrant Workers Who Died on the Baltimore Bridge Were Hardworking Heroes. She's pretty disgusted by Fox News spokesmodel Maria Bartiromo's spin:

    "The White House has issued a statement on this saying that 'there's no indication of nefarious intent in the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge,'" said Bartiromo yesterday, prefacing an interview with Sen. Rick Scott (R–Fla.). "Of course, you've been talking a lot about the potential for wrongdoing or potential for foul play given the wide-open border."

    Despite Bartiromo's implication that the tragedy at the Key Bridge might be linked to border crossers, the details of Tuesday's incident say far more about the contributions of immigrant workers than they do about the perils of an "open border."

    "Jesus Campos, an employee of contractor Brawner Builders, had worked the overnight shift of the bridge work before switching to another," reported The Baltimore Banner. "He said the missing men are from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico." The New York Times confirmed that at least one of the missing men was from El Salvador and two were from Guatemala.

    In other words—based on what's currently known about the victims—the men working on the Key Bridge when it collapsed were immigrant workers who sought better economic opportunities and ended up filling difficult jobs. "They are all hard-working, humble men," said Campos, and all came to the country to help their loved ones in their home countries, the Banner reported.

    RIP, gentlemen.

Don't Get Fooled Again

The NR editorialists are a little late to the show, but that is (as they say) better than never: Biden’s Shameful Betrayal of Israel at the United Nations.

By allowing the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution demanding an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza while Hamas remains in power and still holds 130 hostages, the Biden administration has shamefully betrayed a key ally while empowering a terrorist group committed to its destruction.

President Biden has been getting increasingly bellicose in his rhetoric against Israel in recent weeks, particularly when it comes to Israeli plans to finish the job against Hamas by invading Rafah in southern Gaza. Over the weekend, the administration dispatched Vice President Kamala Harris to ABC to again chastise the planned Israeli offensive, claiming, laughably, that she had “studied the maps” and decided that Israel’s plan to evacuate civilians from the area wasn’t feasible.

She's studied the maps!

Kamala is only a hair's breadth away from channelling Fredo in The Godfather Part II:

I can handle things! I'm smart! Not like everybody says... like dumb... I'm smart and I want respect!

Also of note:

  • Via Instapundit, UPI reports Eli Lilly warns of shortage of insulin products.

    Drugmaker Eli Lilly & Co is announcing a temporary shortage of two of its insulin products.

    "The 10 mL [millilter] vials of Humalog® and Insulin Lispro Injection are or will be temporarily out of stock at wholesalers and some pharmacies through the beginning of April," Lilly said in a recent statement.

    Fingers crossed, I'm not in need. But I found this White House boast from last year pretty easily: FACT SHEET: President Biden’s Cap on the Cost of Insulin Could Benefit Millions of Americans in All 50 States.

    This week, Eli Lilly, the largest manufacturer of insulin in the United States is lowering their prices and meeting that call.

    Eli Lilly announced they are lowering the cost of insulin by 70% and capping what patients pay out-of-pocket for insulin at $35. This action, driven by the momentum from the Inflation Reduction Act, could benefit millions of Americans with diabetes in all fifty states and U.S. territories. The President continues to call on Congress to finish the job and cap costs at $35 for all Americans.

    I'm not smart enough to establish causality here. But I am familiar with the usual effect of arbitrary price "caps" decreed by government.

  • [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)

    Orwell! Thou shouldst be living at this hour. At Hot Air, John Sexton reviews the reviews, and they're not good: Judith Butler's New Book Sounds Shallow and Not Very Thoughtful. But the Amazon link for "Judith Butler's new book" is over there at your right, should you want to judge for yourself.

    Sexton quotes extensively from Katha Pollitt's review in the Atlantic. Amusingly, the HTML <title> element for that review is The Phantasms of Judith Butler; the actual headline is "Not Everything is About Gender".

    Also amusingly, Pollitt's review notes, parenthetically:

    Butler identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns

    Pollitt follows that rule, Sexton doesn't.

    Confusing pronoun usage is relatively new, but Pollitt notes a different language issue that is very, very old:

    Fascism is a word that Butler admits is not perfect but then goes on to use repeatedly. I’m sure I’ve used it myself as a shorthand when I’m writing quickly, but it’s a bit manipulative. As used by Butler and much of the left, it covers way too many different issues and suggests that if you aren’t on board with the Butlerian worldview on every single one of them, a brown shirt must surely be hanging in your closet. As they define it—“fascist passions or political trends are those which seek to strip people of the basic rights they require to live”—most societies for most of history have been fascist, including, for long stretches, our own. That definition is so broad and so vague as to be useless. You might even say that “fascism” functions as a kind of phantasm, frightening people into accepting views wholesale without examining them individually. It’s a kind of guilt by association—like comparing critics of your prose to Nixon.

    Uh huh. I haven't quoted George Orwell's 1946 essay "Politics and the English Language" for over five months, so I guess it's time once more:

    The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.

    It's been 78 years. You'd think literate people would know better by now.
  • Since we're quoting… I'll second Don Boudreaux's Quotation of the Day... from Social Justice Fallacies by Thomas Sowell:

    Arguing as if some people’s high incomes were deducted from some fixed or predestined total income – leaving less for others – may be clever. But cleverness is not wisdom, and artful insinuations are no substitute for factual evidence, if your goal is knowing the facts. But, if your goals are political or ideological, there is no question that one of the most politically successful messages of the twentieth century was that the rich have gotten rich by taking from the poor.

    This goes back to something I blogged just a couple days ago: We're talking philodoxy (love of opinion) vs. philosophy (love of wisdom). These two disciplines rarely collide, but when they do, the former picks itself up, dusts itself off, and continues on as if nothing had happened.

Last Modified 2024-03-27 9:05 AM EDT

Shaheen and Hassan Should Say: "Ditto"

But unless I'm missing something, they have nothing to say on this issue, unlike …

On that subject, turning to the NYPost editorialists: Team Biden's ceasefire sellout of Israel is public, monstrous and final.

Desperate to satisfy the Democratic Party’s hard left, the Biden administration just took a giant step toward abandoning Israel by declining to veto the latest UN Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.

The measure from the 10 non-permanent Security Council members demands an immediate ceasefire through the month of Ramadan, while also calling on Hamas to release the 100 or so Israelis it still holds hostage from its Oct. 7 terror raid.

No matter that Hamas will refuse; the measure still adds to the pressure for Israel to end its necessary, justified and humane war against Hamas just as it’s getting close to destroying the terror cadre’s last battalions.

Betrayal is the unifying theme of Biden Administration foreign policy.

The WSJ editorialists are also scathing:

In his State of the Union address, President Biden made a promise to the families of U.S. hostages held by Hamas: “We will not rest until we bring their loved ones home.” At the United Nations on Monday, he undermined that pledge.

The U.S. withheld its veto and abstained as the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution that demanded a cease-fire in Gaza but didn’t make the cease-fire contingent on Hamas releasing its 134 hostages. That condition, on which the U.S. had previously insisted, has been dropped.

Instead, the resolution’s two demands—“an immediate cease-fire for the month of Ramadan . . . leading to a lasting sustainable cease-fire” and “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages”—each stand on their own. To Hamas, the diplomatic pressure will be meaningless. To Israel, it can be perilous, as Mr. Biden well knows. His fence-sitting opens up Israel to more pressure to end the war while Hamas still reigns in part of Gaza.

White House spokesman John Kirby says, “Nothing has changed about our policy—nothing.” He explains that the U.S. abstained because the Security Council resisted a last-minute amendment condemning Hamas. Yet the U.S. had previously vetoed resolutions that wouldn’t condemn Hamas for Oct. 7. The moral arbiters at the U.N. still won’t do that.

Excerpt from Commentary's commentary:

This will have consequences. Here at home, it will confirm that the president is a doormat not a doorstop. The protesters who follow him around accusing Biden of all manner of crimes against humanity will see this, correctly, as an invitation to kick him some more. In the naïve hopes of appeasing a faction of goosestepping goons, Biden will have instead rewarded their tactics and incentivized more of the same.

I am unsure if the goosestepping goons will ever be appeased unless and until Israel is destroyed and Jews eliminated "from the river to the sea".

But this is what happens when your country's foreign policy is run by the wizards who designed the Afghan pullout and US border security.

Also of note:

  • Or is it a Speedway to Serfdom? Andrew Stuttaford considers the regulatory push to electric vehicles to be The EPA’s Fast Track to Fiasco.

    Helmuth von Moltke (1800-91), the greatest of Prussia’s nineteenth century generals, so the old (unreliable but enjoyable) story goes, laughed only twice in his life. Once when told that a certain French fortress was impregnable and once when told that his mother-in-law had died.

    He would surely have at least permitted himself a smile at the over-confidence with which the EPA is attempting to reorder the American automobile industry. “No plan of operations,” he warned, “extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength,” a wordy formulation often condensed into the pithier, but overly simplistic, “no plan survives contact with the enemy.” Von Moltke did not believe that planning should be dispensed with, but he insisted that its limitations should be recognized: He understood the trap that “certainty” could be. He thought it was far better to think through the various contingencies that might emerge once a battle or campaign was underway, and how to handle them.

    The EPA’s plan for the auto sector, which we discussed (unenthusiastically) on the home page on Friday, reflects a different approach. It has imposed a (declining) CO2 quota on the auto sector, and then passed the buck. Carmakers will just have to find a way to sell the EVs they don’t want to make to consumers that don’t want to buy them (in sufficient quantities). No problem!

    Surprise, surprise, that target is not realistic. Central planners are like that.

    The only bright spot is that the planners' folly will become ever more apparent in the coming years as their mandates collide with reality. (Stuttaford does a fine job of describing the inevitable collisions.)

    Downside: we will have wasted a lot of time and money along the way.

  • But they have to keep their phony baloney jobs! Bureaucrats look bad unless they are Doing Something, even when that Something is "attempting to cripple or destroy a successful company that makes popular products." Elizabeth Nolan Brown takes a gander at The Absurd Apple Antitrust Lawsuit.

    The DOJ's antics are bad. But the really outrageous bit is further down in the article:

    In a civil complaint filed last Thursday, the DOJ and 16 state attorneys general accused Apple of violating Section 2 of the Sherman Act, a law allowing the government to intervene against companies said to be acting "in restraint of trade or commerce."

    "Apple illegally maintains a monopoly over smartphones by selectively imposing contractual restrictions on, and withholding critical access points from, developers," the DOJ states in a press release. "Apple undermines apps, products, and services that would otherwise make users less reliant on the iPhone, promote interoperability, and lower costs for consumers and developers."

    That sounds bad—until you read the government's theories about how Apple does this. The feds complain about practices like Apple limiting App Store offerings, charging fees to developers who sell their products there, and making iPhones more compatible with Apple products than with third-party offerings.

    What's the outrageous part? Clicking through to the complaint reveals that New Hampshire's attorney general is one of those 16 participants in the suit.

    My tax dollars at work.

Done Your Taxes Yet?

I have. But unfortunately I couldn't figure out how to make TurboTax do this:

But while we're talking about taxes, let me register hearty agreement with Frank J. Fleming:

Would some sort of ‥ um … enhanced interrogation techniques be appropriate to get to the truth here? Nah, probably not. Still…

Also of note:

  • Awkward! George Will explains Why good news about inequality is awkward for the left and right.

    In more than 50 years, government transfer payments (Medicaid, food stamps, etc.) to the average household in the bottom quintile of earners, have risen (in inflation-adjusted dollars) from $9,700 to $45,000 annually. Why, then, does the government, which is substantially staffed by progressives, use — actually, abuse — statistics to suggest the futility of progressive anti-poverty policies? Because this provides a permanent rationale for government growth: perpetual undiminished poverty.

    In their 2022 book “The Myth of American Inequality: How Government Biases Policy Debate,” Phil Gramm, Robert Ekelund and John Early demonstrate gross defects in the Census Bureau’s measurement of inequality. By not counting about 88 percent of government transfer payments that enlarge the buying power of lower-income households, and not counting taxes that lower the wealth of higher-income households, government statistics purport to prove that the average income in the top quintile of earners is 16.7 times that of the average in the bottom quintile. Counting transfers and taxes, however, the actual ratio is 4 to 1. Which is unsurprising, given this:

    In 2017, 40 percent of the $2.8 trillion in transfer payments distributed by federal, state and local governments went to the bottom 20 percent of income households, and 68 percent to the bottom 40 percent of households. Eighty-two percent of the $4.4 trillion Americans paid in all taxes came from the two most affluent quintiles. And allowing for transfers and taxes, the average household income in the lowest quintile is only 8 percent less than the average in the second lowest, and only 24 percent less than in the middle quintile.

    We reported on the Gramm/Ekelund/Early book on the book blog a few months back.

  • "Unserious" is too mild, I'd prefer "dishonest", but… Eric Boehm is otherwise on target: A GOP Plan To Raise the Retirement Age Reveals How Unserious Washington Is About Social Security.

    A Republican budget plan released Wednesday included one of the most obvious, low-hanging ideas for shoring up Social Security: Raising the eligibility age for benefits from 67 to 69.

    That idea was included within a 180-page budget plan released by the House Republican Study Committee (RSC), a policy-focused group that includes most but not all members of the House GOP. Proposals released by the RSC are in many ways similar to the president's annual budget request: an aspirational document that reflects big-picture agreement on important issues, but not necessarily an actionable plan that can be passed into law.

    So the call for raising the retirement age by two years—a change that the RSC plan says wouldn't even be implemented in the short-term to spare Americans currently approaching Social Security eligibility—would barely even be accurately described as a first step. It's also not a novel or surprising development: upping the eligibility age has been a part of the discussion about Social Security since at least the George W. Bush administration.

    Which is why what happened next is particularly illustrative.

    Well, you can click over to find out what happened next. It's unsurprising.

  • Weakened at Bernie's. Jonah Goldberg rescues one of those obscure words from the inpenetrable prose of Eric Voeglin; philodoxy. Analogous to how "philosophy" is "love of wisdom", "philodoxy" is love of opinion". Specifically:

    Intellectual projects based on falsehood or opinion untethered from wisdom and reality are philodoxical—or BS, if you prefer. The philosopher tries to understand and describe reality; the philodoxer plays games with words, feelings, opinions, and myths that might tickle our intuitions and feel truthy, but aren’t actually true.

    Jonah's immediate target is Senator Bernie's latest scheme:

    Bless Bernie Sanders’ heart. I think his proposal for Americans to work less is kind of adorable. It’s so retro, so old school, I feel like he should follow up with calls to enforce the Kellogg-Briand Pact—“Stop this war or we’ll shoot!”—or for the abolition of private property.

    “It is time to reduce the stress level in our country and allow Americans to enjoy a better quality of life,” Sanders insists. “It is time for a 32-hour workweek with no loss in pay.”

    Kevin Williamson or Scott Lincicome are probably better equipped to illustrate why this is such a cockamamie idea. But I’ll give it a whirl. Imagine if Sanders proposed that every business in the country—large and small—give every American an extra day’s pay without requiring an additional day of work. That’s like a 25 percent raise. (I say “like” both because math is hard and because I have no idea if you should count the value of health benefits and stuff like that. But if the standard workweek is four days under Sanders’ plan, paying for a fifth day looks like a 25 percent bump to me).*

    Rich Lowry is also unimpressed: Bernie Sanders’ four-day-work-week scheme is a prescription for poverty.

    “It is time to reduce the stress level in our country and allow Americans to enjoy a better quality of life,” the Vermont socialist insists.

    “It is time for a 32-hour workweek with no loss in pay.”

    The last clause is the key one: If everyone can work less and produce and earn exactly the same, why not?

    And if this is possible, why stop at four-days-a-week?

    It’d be positively cruel to make someone work four days when they can work three with the same outcomes.

    Of course, the promise that we can work less and make the same is the socialist equivalent of Mexico will pay for the border wall.

    It’s not just promising a free lunch, but a free breakfast, lunch and dinner, with room service delivering a late-night snack gratis.

    I don't want to irk those of you still working, but the absurdity of Sanders' arbitrary statist proposal made me realize that our current employment rules are absurd and arbitrary as well. There's nothing sacrosanct about 40 hours, time-and-a-half, $7.25/hour. etc. Junk 'em all.

Stay Tuned for "Victory Jiggles"

Hey, I just noticed that Google is displaying hit counts ("About n results") for its searches again! I was pretty sure they had stopped doing that! Was I just imagining things?

Anyhow, in the anarchic, plague-on-all-your-houses, spirit from past years, I'll add the phony hit count to our Sunday table:

Warning: Google hit counts are bogus.

Candidate EBO Win
Phony Hit
Donald Trump 47.8% +0.1% 2,140,000
Joe Biden 39.7% +2.6% 372,000
Michelle Obama 2.9% -1.1% 106,000
Robert Kennedy Jr 2.9% +0.2% 45,600
Kamala Harris 2.4% unch 134,000
Other 4.3% +0.8%  

As noted, bogus. Still, it's unsurprising how yuge Trump's are.

Also of note:

  • Did someone say "phony"? Yes! Jeff Jacoby did: The phony feeding frenzies over ‘bloodbath’ and ‘hamstringing’. (Subhed: "Ripping words out of context, prominent voices on left and right alike keep pouring fuel on our incendiary civic discourse.")

    At a campaign rally in Dayton last weekend, Donald Trump said something that released a tsunami of outrage and scorn from Democrats and the left-leaning media. During a Supreme Court oral argument two days later, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said something that released a tsunami of outrage and scorn from Republicans and the right-leaning media.

    In neither case was there anything scurrilous or shocking about the remark in question. What was reprehensible was the way the remarks were willfully misrepresented by ideological partisans who didn’t scruple to distort the truth in order to advance a political narrative and discredit a political foe.

    What Trump said was that “it’s going to be a bloodbath for the country” if he doesn’t win the presidential election in November. Seizing on the word “bloodbath,” a liberal chorus instantly raised an alarm.

    “It’s clear this guy wants another January 6,” President Biden posted on X, as his campaign released an ad raising the specter of civil unrest. Politico headlined its story “Trump says country faces ‘bloodbath’ if Biden wins in November.” Similar headlines appeared above stories on NBC, CBS, and The Guardian. Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, a Democrat, advised the media to pile on: “Headline writers: Don’t outsmart yourself,” he urged on X. “Just do ‘Trump Promises Bloodbath if he Doesn’t Win Election.’” Presidential historian Michael Beschloss, a frequent TV talking head, told MSNBC that Trump’s comment was reminiscent of “fascism and totalitarianism and in Germany’s case the Holocaust.”

    Whoa. Of course, Trump was talking about a "bloodbath" for the American auto industry if another four years of Biden's EV mandates continued.

    But what about the righties? They were similarly freaked about Ketanji Brown Jackson's remarks about the First Amendment "hamstringing the government in significant ways."

    Well, yeah. That's what it's supposed to do. But context shows that KBJ was talking specifically about governmental "persuasive" speech. Which is, and should be, legal.

    I should note that your humble blogger was swept up in the outrage. My bad.

  • Warning: unsettling imagery ahead. Piers Morgan takes to the NYPost to complain: The only bloodbath in America right now is the bowels of liberal hypocrisy splattered all over social media.

    When Donald Trump became president, he quickly developed a favorite morning hobby.

    “I wake up early,” he revealed to me a few months into his tenure. “And if I don’t like what I see about myself on the TV screens in my bedroom, I pull out my phone in bed and tweet something that makes them all change to BREAKING NEWS and a completely different story based on my tweet.”

    Then he burst out laughing.

    I did, too.

    Hilarious. We had a president who spent his time trolling the media instead of, y'know, doing his freakin' job.

  • Just say no. Christian Schneider has some advice for pontificating Democrats: If ‘Democracy Is on the Ballot,’ Kamala Harris Shouldn’t Be. (I'm out of gifted NR links for the month, sorry.)

    Biden, who finds himself down in the 2024 presidential polls in all the wrong swing states, is facing off against two stubborn adversaries: Donald Trump and Father Time. But while Trump is beatable, Father Time is famously undefeated. In NCAA Tournament parlance, the Grim Reaper is a No. 1 seed and Biden’s remaining cogent for the next four years is a longshot.

    Democrats are publicly in denial about Biden’s age, lashing out against the New York Times for, among other things, publishing poll results showing that nearly eight in ten Americans believe the president is too old to continue. That includes 73 percent of people over 65, meaning people roughly Biden’s own age are looking at him and saying, “The old man’s lost it.” (Only 43 percent felt the same about Trump.)

    In any sane political environment, Biden would have a release valve — that of a capable vice president who could take over in the event something happened to him while in office. But this is not a sane environment, and Biden is riding along with Harris, whose current approval rating of 37 percent is roughly that of salespeople who squirt lotion on you as you try to walk through the mall.

    I'm not a huge FDR fan, but he wisely dumped Henry Wallace from the VP slot in 1944. Take a lesson from FDR, Joe. Posterity will breathe a sigh of relief.

    Schneider quotes Kamala:

    To wit: Take Harris’s speech at the U.S.-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Nations) summit in Washington, D.C., in 2022:

    We will work together, and continue to work together, to address these issues, to tackle these challenges, and to work together as we continue to work operating from the new norms, rules and agreements, that we will convene to work together.

    “We will work together,” she said in closing, with a flourish reminiscent of a glitching AI text program.

    Not the first, nor probably the last, time I've observed: that's a dumb person's idea of what a smart person sounds like.

Last Modified 2024-03-27 8:41 AM EDT

Save Us, Oh Mighty DOJ!

A brief confession: I was an Apple fanboy, but I got better.

My first "real" job was selling computers at ComputerLand in Rockville MD in the late 70s, early 80s. Mostly Apple ][s. And an Apple ][ was my first computer, eventually tricked out with a Z-80 CP/M card from Microsoft, a nine-inch B&W Sanyo monitor (eventually upgraded to color). When the Mac came along, the good folks at Osborne bought me one, and I wrote a book for them.

But at a certain point, I was forced to admit that I was being played. The bang-per-buck just wasn't there. (The mid-90s were not great for Apple fans.) So I gave up on Apple. (Mostly. I still have an iPod for car music listening.)

And I do not have an iPhone. Friends, it's easy to not have an iPhone. So I'm even more bemused as usual about the latest efforts to "protect" us, as described by the WSJ editorialists: Biden Fires an Antitrust Shot at Apple.

The Justice Department on Thursday unveiled its long-mooted antitrust suit against Apple, and don’t smile—Apple’s main alleged victims are giant tech and financial companies. The lawsuit is trying to force changes in antitrust law that Congress hasn’t passed, and the alleged benefits to consumers aren’t obvious.

Justice says Apple exploits a putative smart-phone monopoly to lock consumers into its closed system and undermine competing products and services. It’s a plausible theory. Apple makes up roughly 55% of the U.S. smart-phone market, giving it enormous power over the app ecosystem. But Justice’s evidence is far from compelling.

There's something about the heartbreak of Android users, whose texts appear in iPhone in green bubbles, or something. Somehow I've been able to live with that.

Somewhat more concerning, unrelated to DOJ antics: Apple Chip Flaw Leaks Secret Encryption Keys. Not good, Apple!

Also of note:

  • What do you expect from a cheap populist demagogue? Stephen Moore is unkind, but accurate: Biden's Tax Plan That Puts America Last.

    I am often asked if President Joe Biden is intentionally trying to dismantle the American economy with his imbecilic energy, climate change, crime, border, inflation and debt policies. But I've always believed these policies are driven by a badly mistaken ideology -- not malice.

    Then I watched Biden's State of the Union speech. When Biden thundered that he was going to make corporations "pay their fair share," the Democrats in Congress leapt to their feet in applause.

    When I read through the details of Biden's new multitrillion-dollar tax plan, it's hard to come up with any plausible explanation other than that he's trying to make American industry less competitive. Biden's tax scheme would hobble United States businesses with nearly the highest corporate tax rate in the world -- higher than our primary competitors.

    If he can't get 'em with antitrust, he'll cripple them with taxes.

  • Via Jerry Coyne, Melanie Phillips notes that Biden is not just going after successful Americans, he's also engineering The American betrayal of Israel.

    America could end this war tomorrow by telling the Qataris that unless they instruct Hamas to surrender and release the hostages, Qatar will forfeit its preferential treatment by the United States and will henceforth be treated instead as an international pariah.

    Instead, America is feeding Israel into the Qatari jaws. The outcome, writes Carmon, will be escalation into a total regional war by Iran not only against Israel but America.

    America’s action is so preposterous it’s hard to believe. Yet in any event, the Biden administration has already pivoted from supporting the destruction of Hamas to working for its ultimate victory.

    To be sure, the Biden Administration is treating all the Hamas-enabling states well: U.S. Grants Iran Sanctions Waiver Worth $10 Billion.

    The Biden administration renewed a sanctions waiver on March 13 that grants Iran access to $10 billion in previously escrowed funds. The waiver, which allows the Islamic Republic to use electricity revenue from Iraq for budget support and debt repayment, comes just six weeks after an Iran-backed drone attack killed three U.S. servicemembers in Jordan. The Biden administration last extended the sanctions waiver on November 14.


  • Go outside, scan the skies. Do you see any pigs flying? G. Patrick Lynch continues his look at the self-destructing LP, asking When Will the Libertarian Party Have Its Moment?

    When you talk with leaders from each side of this conflict ["Old Guard" vs. Mises Caucus] it’s clear that even though both camps are much, much closer ideologically than they’d admit, ultimately Aristotle was right – humans are fundamentally political creatures. The entire episode reminds me of a conversation I had at one of my first Liberty Fund conferences when I was hired, directed by Pierre Lemieux. I was talking with a conferee who was eyeing me suspiciously and asked me, which economist I preferred, Mises or Hayek. I told him that as a political scientist I was more drawn to Hayek, and this prompted him to label me a socialist, turn away from me and find someone more “orthodox” to chat with.

    The broad contours of a liberty-based political movement would be simply less government and more personal freedom and responsibility in realm x. One would hope people could compromise on the range of constriction on government and expansion of individual freedom somewhere between 100% and 5%. But for more than 5 decades the Libertarian Party has been unable to create a broad consensus on how to pursue those goals. That leaves the world without the prospect of seriously considering more liberty during public deliberations over governance alternatives. Elections, admittedly highly imperfect ways to decide governance, are worse for not providing voters with a wide range of options and choices. The frustration for observers and non-combatant libertarians in this conflict is that we face an upcoming election featuring two deeply unpopular, anti-liberty candidates. The fear that libertarians will find no representation in this election is not invalid.

    Libertarians disagree with statists, sure. But they really like to fight with libertarians who fail their purity tests.

  • I have some weird-ass beliefs, but fortunately not the ones Jeff Maurer is talking about. He provides, very entertainingly as usual, More Evidence Emerges that Lefty Racial Justice is Mostly Just the Weird-Ass Beliefs of Highly-Educated White People.

    Few people dispute that something happened in the American left in the early-to-mid 2010s. We can debate the causes and precise start dates, but, clearly, something happened. Michael Brown, #MeToo, the Bernie Sanders campaign, the Racial Reckoning — these were things. Just about the only thing that the woke left and non-woke left agree on is that we did not all fall asleep watching Malcolm X and simply dream the recent period of lefty resurgence.

    Though this resurgence focused mostly on identity issues, it’s never been clear that the policies deemed necessary to advance fill-in-the-blank justice actually represent the views of the groups they ostensibly help. Of course, it’s surely true that some bits of the lefty agenda are things that marginalized people want; even a clock-with-no-batteries-in-it-because-batteries-are-capitalist is right twice a day. But some cleavages have been apparent for a long time. It was clear from the jump that most Black people don’t want to defund the police. 75 percent of Latinos want more border security. Of course, it’s often hard to tell what any group of people want: Issue polling is only slightly more scientific than the Psychic Vampire Repellant that Gwyneth Paltrow sells on Goop (meanwhile, I’m over here knee-deep in non-psychic vampires — thanks for nothing Goop!). But the claim that the mostly white activists who cluster in big cities and elite institutions speak for non-white people across America was always dubious to say the least.

    He looks at the polling that seems to show Voters of Color are drifting away from the Democrats, and toward… Trump?! Whoa. Did not have that in my crystal ball.

Recently on the movie blog:

Last Modified 2024-03-24 5:41 AM EDT

Road House

[4 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

OK, the Official Pun Salad Rating of 4 stars to this movie is perhaps overly generous. But I was totally in the mood for a movie like this.

Heavily-muscled Jake Gyllenhaal plays Elwood Dalton, an ex-UFC fighter now making his living from less official bouts. In the amusing opening scene, he picks up prize money by default, because the guy we've just seen beat the crap out of someone takes one look at Dalton and says: nope. Dalton is spotted by the lovely Frankie, who's looking for a bouncer to restore a modicum of sanity to her bar (conveniently named "Road House") located on Florida's (fictional) Glass Key.

Dalton is affable and a gifted wisecracker, but we also learn that he is teetering on the edge of suicide, thanks to a bit of self-discovery we don't learn about until later in the movie. So he takes up Frankie's offer, has some fun taking out some violent biker trash, gets to know the offbeat and colorful inhabitants. But it turns out that Frankie's been keeping a key (heh) bit of information from him: a ruthless criminal, protected by the local cops, is behind all the Road House violence (well, most of it) and he will stop at nothing to carry out his evil designs.

The special effects and fight scenes are very impressive. Jake Gyllenhaal does his usual job of bringing believability and sympathy to his character. And, hey, Joaquim de Almeida plays… yep, another slimeball, but one with a smidgen of conscience.

The Longest 15 Days

Gee, I missed the fourth anniversary of the famed "15 Days to Stop the Spread" event held on March 20, 2020.

Surely, there's more than one lesson to be learned here, but if your brain only has room for one, Steven Greenhut has a suggestion: Don't Give Government More Power.

The great conservative thinker William F. Buckley in 1963 wrote that he would rather "live in a society governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the 2,000 faculty members of Harvard University." Buckley recognized the great "brainpower" among the university's faculty, but feared the "intellectual arrogance that is a distinguishing characteristic of the university which refuses to accept any common premise."

I thought of that oft-quoted line four years after the COVID-19 panic. It was a very real public health threat, so much so that it enabled Americans to transfer wide-ranging and largely unchecked powers to the experts. For two years, it was exactly as if Buckley's fears came true and we were ruled by the type of people found in the faculty lounge.

It's no secret that American universities are dominated by progressives, who don't typically accept the "common premise" of limited governance. A core principle of progressivism, dating to its early 20th century roots, is the rule by experts. Disinterested parties would reform, protect, and re-engineer society based on their superior knowledge. Although adherents of this worldview speak in the name of the People, they don't actually trust individuals to manage their own lives.

I decided to look back at my 4-years-ago postings. One of my "favorites" (not the right word, but whatever) was a reaction to this article in The Hill: Fauci: Neither Trump nor CDC to blame for testing delay.

"It was a complicated series of multiple things that conflated that just, you know, went the wrong way. One of them was a technical glitch that slowed things down in the beginning. Nobody’s fault. There wasn’t any bad guys there. It just happened," Fauci said.

A reminder: that testing delay killed people.

My response at the time: "Nothing must be allowed to get in the way of the narrative: (1) the State's job is to protect us all, and (2) it's "nobody's fault" when it fails to do that."

Holds up pretty well, I think.

Also of note:

  • He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss). At Commentary, Seth Mandel wonders if President Dotard is channelling Marlon Brando playing Vito Corleone: Biden Offers Israel a ‘Deal’ That Sounds Like a Threat.

    The White House doesn’t want Israel to go into Hamas’s last redoubt in the numbers with which it would normally try to capture and secure a city full of Hamas terror leaders and militants. One reason is that President Biden and his advisers are nervous about the pro-Hamas elements in his party ramping up their protests and threatening his nominating convention this summer in Chicago. Another reason is that Egypt doesn’t want Israel to do anything that would cause Palestinians to enter Egyptian territory even temporarily and even for humanitarian purposes, nor does Egypt want anyone seeing what’s underneath Rafah—probably because Egyptian-facilitated smuggling tunnels below the southern Gaza city will be revealed.

    […] We will stop Egypt from flooding Gaza with arms and ammunition if you promise to go easy on Hamas is the kind of thing a mafia goon would say if you put him in the foreign service. What the Under Secretary of State for Gabagool is saying here is that if Israel helps the president calm the muppet babies in his party by summer, the Israelis get to choose the cause of the next war: Do they want it to be because Western leaders saved Hamas from oblivion, or would they rather the next war come because Egypt kept up its supply of cannonballs to the Jolly Roger?

    (Headline is the title of an old song written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King , Phil Spector produced. For some strange reason it's not heard much any more.)

    Also attempting to pressure Israel, as we've noted before, is Senator Chuck from New York.

    Joel Zinberg describes The Problem with Schumer's Israel Speech.

    Well, actually, two problems: "arrogance and ignorance." Or, in Yiddish:

    The first word is chutzpah, which connotes arrogance-laced presumption. That perfectly describes Schumer instructing Israel—the only democracy in the entire Middle East—to jettison its elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and hold new elections, or else. Schumer threatened: “[i]f Prime Minister Netanyahu’s current coalition remains in power after the war begins to wind down . . . then the United States will have no choice but to play a more active role in shaping Israeli policy.” That is election interference, plain and simple.


    The second word is sechel—common sense or wisdom—something Schumer’s speech clearly lacked. The Senate majority leader claimed that the Israeli people are being “stifled by a governing vision that is stuck in the past.” But the only people stuck in the past are those, like Schumer and the foreign policy establishment, who persist in wanting to impose a two-state solution that Palestinians have never favored and that Israelis, brutalized by decades of intifadas and terrorism culminating in October 7, have given up on.

    I don't do Yiddish myself, so different words comes to mind when perusing this NH Journal article: Shaheen Joins Progressive Dems Urging Push for Palestinian State. And those words are Et tu, Jeanne?

    A group of U.S. Senate Democrats sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to unilaterally announce plans for the U.S. to recognize a Palestinian state and to pressure Israel to do the same.

    They include progressive Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Mazie Hirono…and New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen.

    “In an effort to reignite U.S. leadership on a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we call on you to publicly outline a path for the United States to recognize a nonmilitarized Palestinian state,” the letter reads.

    “While we have been particularly disappointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to engage on a path to a Palestinian state, we believe that this provides even more reason for the Biden Administration to lead and push the Israeli government to take [action].”

    The letter describes a rosy two-state future which will never happen.

  • They go together like greed and corruption. Veronique de Rugy looks at Industrial Policy and Electoral Politics.

    The CHIPS Act was enacted in August 2022, with the objective of enhancing semiconductor production in the United States. This recent instance of industrial policy is driven in part by the desire to decrease U.S. dependence on Asian semiconductor manufacturing, and in particular from Taiwan. So here we are with dozens of billions of dollars going to large and wealthy corporations to subsidize what these corporations are already in the business of doing.

    According to Bloomberg, Samsung is on track to obtain $6 billion in federal support, and TSMC is expected to receive more than $5 billion. Meanwhile, Intel will get up to $20 billion ($8.5 billion in grants, $11 billion in loans) and “it plans to tap investment tax credits from the Treasury Department that could cover as much as 25% of capital expenditures, according to the Commerce Department.”

    Vero links to this Politico story which is pretty clear that it's really all about getting Arizona's 11 electoral votes in November: Biden boosts Intel with massive CHIPS payout in swing state Arizona.

  • Good suggestion. And it's from Noah Smith: Go read some Vernor Vinge.

    Vernor Vinge, my favorite science fiction author, passed away yesterday, at the age of 79. Hexapodia, my podcast with Brad DeLong, takes it’s [sic] name from a Vinge novel; in fact, it was me seeing Brad make a Vinge reference that led to us becoming friends. David Brin, another of my favorite authors, and a close friend of Vinge’s, has written a moving tribute on his blog; if you want to read tributes to Vinge, I would definitely start there. But as a devoted fan who considers it a point of pride to have exchanged a few emails with Vinge over the years, I thought I should write my own as well.

    Vinge is probably best known as the creator of the concept of the technological singularity — which we now simply call The Singularity. Vinge was not the first to imagine that the creation of AI might lead to a rapid intelligence explosion, as thinking machines quickly built better and better versions of themselves; that honor, somewhat predictably, goes to von Neumann. But Vinge coined the term, and it was his own extrapolations of the idea that form the basis of basically all of our thinking on the topic to this day. If you read Vinge’s famous essays on the Singularity — the first in 1983 and the second in 1993, you’ll see basically all of the concepts that AI engineers, effective altruists, “e/acc” folks, rationalists, etc. argue about to this very day.

    I've read a lot of Vinge, but only two novels since I started blogging in 2005. Turned out to be his last two: Rainbows End in 2008 and The Children of the Sky in 2012. I noted that the ending of that last one seemed to be a setup for another entry in the series, but looks like we won't get that.

    Unless he did something tricky with uploading his consciousness… nah, he probably didn't

Can't vs. Won't

At the Josiah Bartlett Center, Drew Cline channels his inner Monty Python: Legislators distributing random numbers is no basis for sound public policy.

Random chance is a constant feature of life on Earth, and for centuries it was a feature of human government. Kings and councils ruled with “arbitrary power,” as John Locke phrased it, subjecting the people to the whims of man just as they had previously been subject to the whims of nature.

Escaping the tyranny of randomness was, to Locke and the American Founders, a primary motivating factor of those who built republican governments.

“This freedom from absolute, arbitrary power, is so necessary to, and closely joined with a man’s preservation, that he cannot part with it, but by what forfeits his preservation and life together,” Locke wrote in the Second Treatise on Government.

By “absolute power,” Locke meant rule by whim, not by law. But the Founders feared that in a republican government majorities would write laws that codified their whims and impulses rather than the considered opinions of a broader coalition of lawmakers. Hamilton and Madison were particularly animated in warning against this.

Drew provides examples from legislation proposed in our state legislature. To me, it brought to mind a Reason article from Eric Boehm last month: If Semiconductor Chip Demand Is High, Why Do We Need More Subsidies? Which starts:

The Biden administration has yet to announce how it plans to spend the $52 billion in semiconductor manufacturing subsidies that Congress approved more than 18 months ago.

You would think a rational way for government to spend taxpayer dollars would be to total up the costs of the things that needed to be done to achieve specific goals. Then, ask for that much money.

It's pretty clear that's not what happened here; the Biden Administration demanded a big chunk of money first. Our dumbshit Congress said "Here ya go, Joe!". And only now is the Administration trying to figure out what to do with that essentially random number, arrived at by whim.

Also of note:

  • So long, Hong Kong. Liz Wolfe has some sad news about recent legislation passed in a once-free polity: Hong Kong Falls, Again.

    At China's behest: Yesterday, Hong Kong passed a new national security law that will create draconian penalties for all manner of political crimes. Beijing puppet/Hong Kong leader John Lee says these swiftly passed laws "allow Hong Kong to effectively prevent and put a stop to espionage activities, the conspiracies and traps of intelligence units and the infiltration and damage of enemy forces." He's trying to push a narrative that such laws—passed expeditiously over 11 days, the fastest a bill has gone through Hong Kong's legislature since 1997—are needed to thwart Western spying. But what they actually represent is a massive encroachment on the already-eroded civil liberties of Hongkongers who have been absorbed back under mainland Chinese rule.

    Liberty: fun while it lasted.

  • I didn't expect anything else, did you? Jeff Jacoby looks at the lastest from the senator from the state to our immediate west: Sanders's foreign policy 'revolution' is a string of leftist clichés.

    THIS WEEK Foreign Affairs published a 2,800-word essay by Bernie Sanders, the US senator from Vermont whose campaigns for president in 2016 and 2020, though unsuccessful, attracted wide interest and support. Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist and his essay, titled "A Revolution in American Foreign Policy," faithfully reflects the far-left worldview he has always embraced.

    That worldview is easily summarized: Most of what is bad in world affairs can be blamed on the United States, and especially on American corporations and billionaires. Like the radical scholars Noam Chomsky and the late Howard Zinn, Sanders sees US foreign policy as fundamentally "disastrous," a word he uses repeatedly in his essay. "For many decades, there has been a 'bipartisan consensus' on foreign affairs," Sanders writes in his opening paragraph. "Tragically, that consensus has almost always been wrong."

    Fun fact: Bernie won the New Hampshire primary a mere four years ago.

  • Speaking of things politicians get wrong… Veronique de Rugy applies a new term to old behavior: Industrial Policy and Protectionism Are Luxury Beliefs for the New Right.

    If you've heard of the concept of "luxury beliefs," you can thank writer Rob Henderson. Henderson's concept refers to cultural and political ideas that are predominantly held and advertised by individuals in society's upper echelons—those persons with significant economic, social, and cultural capital—to demonstrate that they are on the side of the downtrodden, minorities, and the poor.

    Henderson's new memoir, Troubled: A Memoir of Foster Care, Family, and Social Class, discusses luxury beliefs, a concept he developed during his time at Yale. Henderson had a difficult childhood spent in foster care, and he felt distanced from his Ivy League contemporaries, who espoused fashionable but unworkable or outright harmful views that they themselves were insulated from by some combination of status, wealth, and familial stability. The luxury beliefs Henderson witnessed were a way to signal and maintain elite status by supporting social concepts or policies that sounded empathetic. Yet in reality, they made life worse for those at the bottom rungs of society.

    Henderson argues that luxury beliefs are not just harmless opinions. They can have negative real-world implications, influencing policy and societal norms in ways that might exacerbate inequality or disconnect the elite from the broader societal consequences of the positions that they advocate.

    Another way to look at it: people advocating policies when they have absolutely zero skin in the game, no risk whatsoever that implementing their ideas will come back to bite them in the ass. Also see: Chuck Schumer on Israel.

Recently on the book blog:

American Anarchy

The Epic Struggle between Immigrant Radicals and the US Government at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century

(paid link)

An impulse grab off the "New Nonfiction" table of the Portsmouth Public Library. Hey, I'm an American! And (some days) I am (kind of) an anarchist! When I read about Biden, Trump, various Congressional clowns, … could anarchy possibly be worse? Then I read about Haiti, Somalia, … yeah, I think probably it could.

The author, Michael Willrich, is a history prof at Brandeis.

Coincidentally, I'm also reading The Individualists by Matt Zwolinski and John Tomasi, an intellectual history of libertarianism, which includes the anarchist flavor of libertarianism. So far, there's not a lot of overlap! Willrich mentions (briefly) Henry George and Benjamin Tucker, that's about it. If you want to read about Lysander Spooner or Albert Jay Nock, you'll have to go elsewhere. (Like The Individualists; it's really very good.)

Willrich concentrates on Emma Goldman and her ideological soulmates, mostly immigrants, many of them Jewish exiles from Tsarist Russia. To the extent they had a coherent philosophy, it was in the mode of Pierre-Joseph "Property is Theft" Proudhon and Peter Kropotkin.

Goldman and her ideological cohort were bitter foes of capitalism; one of Emma's early efforts at "activism" was in plotting the murder of Carnegie Steel's VP, Henry Clay Frick. Her boyfriend, Alexander Berkman, made the attempt, but Frick survived. He went to jail, she didn't. At least not for that.

At the time, US authorities were quite concerned with the possibility of labor unrest mixed with the communistic philosophies of the anarchists giving rise to violent revolution, like in Russia. That fear was not totally unfounded. Fun fact: Wikipedia has a "category" page devoted to anarchist assassins. Thirty-five of them, including (of course) Leon Czolgosz, who did in President McKinley. Czolgosz claimed to have been "set on fire" by a speech he attended, given by, yup, Emma Goldman.

(Willrich barely mentions anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, convicted and excecuted in proceedings largely considered unfair. He doesn't go into whether they were actually guilty. They probably were.)

That fear of anarchist activity quickly turned into the authorities trampling on all kinds of civil liberties, paired with law enforcement's proclivity to thuggish tactics. And that combined with America's entry into World War I; anarchists quickly painted this as a war designed by capitalist plutocrats to defend their ill-gotten privileges. Legislation was passed to (essentially) outlaw dissent, and the anarchists were judged to have run afoul of it. The net was cast wide; to get in legal trouble, you just had to have (at some point) joined an organization whose leadership arguably held (at some point) unacceptable beliefs. You didn't actually need to have expressed those beliefs yourself.

Some non-anarchists were aghast. Others not. After a massive raid carried out by Woodrow Wilson's Department of Justice, the Washington Post regretted the legal hoops law enforcement had to jump through to get these pesky anarchists, and opined "A firing squad would be much more effective and impressive."

Bottom line: many of those anarchists, including Goldman, were eventually deported off to the fledgeling Soviet Union. Not that the USSR was any more congenial to their beliefs. Goldman was surprised and disappointed by Lenin's totalitarianism; he was even more intolerant of anarchist dissent than the American authorities. (I know, quelle surprise, right? I live in the future too.) She wound up bounced out of Russia, living her remaining life in more capitalist countries.

New Hampshire's own Elizabeth Gurley Flynn is a relatively minor character in the book. Willrich doesn't mention her intellectual odyssey, which went from Goldman-style labor activism to full-fledged Communist and Stalinist fangirl.

Margaret Sanger also appears, as cooperating with Goldman in efforts to inform the public about the details of birth control, another sore spot with the authorities. Willrich doesn't go into their embrace of eugenics, something even Planned Parenthood acknowledges these days. (You'd think that would be something a Brandeis prof might find worth mentioning in these days of wokeness, but no.)

In other spots, Willrich wanders into TMI-land. On page 172, we're informed that a primary lawyer for the anarchists, Harry Weinberger, was appointed to be commisioner of deeds by alderman Frank J. Dotzler, who (in turn) "won the Tammany Hall steak-eating contest in 1910 by putting away eleven and a quarter pounds of meat." As near as I can tell, Dotzler does not figure elsewhere in the Willrich's narrative, but if I had been writing the book, I'd have added this 1920 news story: 340 lb Santa Stuck in Chimney. Yep, that was Frank.

Willrich does however, to his credit, reflect on the "great irony" of Goldman's legal struggles with American authorities relying so much on the legal framework of the Constitution. Which her ideology claimed was a sham, designed to protect the oligarchy. Ironic, sure, but how opportunistic and cynical was that strategy? I don't think Willrich goes into that.

Three-Inch Teeth

(paid link)

For a while there, I thought a better title for this book would have been Wyoming Jaws. Page 9 (or so) spoiler: Young Clay Hutmacher, Jr. is out trout fishing in the Twelve Sleep River, thinking about his imminent marriage proposal to (also young) Sheridan Pickett. It is literally the last thing on his mind, as his skull gets crushed by an attacking grizzly bear who's developed a fearless animosity to human invaders.

Obviously, a job for game warden Joe Pickett. (Do I need to explain that Sheridan is Joe's daughter? If so, stop reading this right now, get a copy of Open Season, start reading.) But that's not all: it turns out that one of Joe's surviving former nemeses, Dallas Cates, is being released from the Wyoming State Pen. Which is a dreadful mistake, but them's the rules. Cates is looking for revenge on the people who (he thinks) did him wrong. That includes Joe, Nate Romanowski, their families and friends, … Cates is picked up by a pathetic convict-groupie, and also (unexpectedly!) teams up with a different Joe-nemesis from a previous book.

The body count gets pretty high, because Cates and his entourage are as amoral about human life as that grizzly. And they come up with a pretty ingenious (by which I mean: ludicrous) plan to divert blame from their trail of carnage to that rampaging bear.

That body count includes some folks that I am going to miss. And (slight spoiler) there is considerable setup for the next book (books?) in the series. I'm there.

Last Modified 2024-03-21 6:32 AM EDT

Given the Options in our State's Motto, the Libertarian Party Chooses…

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

At EconLib, G. Patrick Lynch continues his look at the Libertarian Party's woes, with a focus on how things are going in New Hampshire, which means he was forced to use the headline: Live Free or Die. We cited his previous article on the LP a few days ago, which looked at the purge of the LP's "Old Guard" by the "Mises Caucus".

Some interesting historical analysis:

Ground zero for the Mises Caucus revolution is probably in New Hampshire, home to the Free State Project. The Free State Project was the brainchild of Jason Sorens, a libertarian public intellectual and researcher. Since there isn’t a majority of libertarians in the US, Sorens and others believed that the best way to create a sort of safe haven and example of libertarian policies would be to infuse a state with freedom loving individuals to push it towards “don’t tread on me” living. Over the past twenty years more than 6,000 people have moved to New Hampshire as part of the project.

And that migration of free state participants has made the New Hampshire Libertarian Party one of the staunchest supporters of the Mises Caucus. Its social media accounts and ideological persuasion are firmly in the “don’t tread on me” camp and frequently touch on very unconventional topics such as empowering private companies to raise their own militaries and attacking Martin Luther King as a socialist on MLK day.

I'm dubious of the FSP ➡ Mises causality that Lynch seems to imply.

But what makes sense to me is that the Mises folks seem to be intent on making the LP tent smaller. I can "live free" of the LP pretty easily.

Also of note:

  • Yeah, how do they get away with that? Alex Tabarrok takes a look at The Puzzling Law and Economics of Out-of-State Tuition. He links to a Bryan Caplan post on the subject, which concentrates on the economics involved. But here's the legal issue:

    I’ve argued for a long time that an enterprising lawyer ought to sue on the grounds that this is a violation of the constitution’s Privileges and Immunities Clause (Article IV, Section 2): “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.” Indeed, in Toomer v. Witsell the Supreme Court noted that

    “…without some provision of the kind removing from the citizens of each State the disabilities of alienage in the other States, and giving them equality of privilege with citizens of those States, the Republic would have constituted little more than a league of States; it would not have constituted the Union which now exists.

    and they ruled that it was unconstitutional to charge out-of-state fisherman a much higher price for a fishing license than in-state fishermen.

    At the University Near Here, the per-year tuition (2023-4) is $15,520 for in-state, $35,290 for out-ot-state. (Additional bumps for some majors apply.)

    But (on the other hand) those out-of-state students can freely vote in New Hampshire elections. In fact, UNH encourages them to do so.

  • The debate continues… on Murthy v. Missouri. Here's Jacob Sullum: The Supreme Court Should Reject Clandestine Government Censorship of Online Speech: The Biden Administration's Social Media Meddling Went Far Beyond 'Information' and 'Advice'

    When federal officials persistently pressured social media platforms to delete or downgrade posts those officials did not like, a government lawyer told the Supreme Court on Monday, they were merely offering "information" and "advice" to their "partners" in fighting "misinformation." If the justices accept that characterization, they will be blessing clandestine government censorship of online speech.

    The case, Murthy v. Missouri, pits two states and five social media users against federal officials who strongly, repeatedly, and angrily demanded that Facebook et al. crack down on speech the government viewed as dangerous to public health, democracy or national security. Some of this "exhortation," as U.S. Deputy Solicitor General Brian Fletcher described it, happened in public, as when President Joe Biden accused the platforms of "killing people" by allowing users to say things he believed would discourage Americans from being vaccinated against COVID-19.

    Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who echoed that charge in more polite terms, urged a "whole-of-society" effort to combat the "urgent threat to public health" posed by "health misinformation," which he said might include "legal and regulatory measures." Other federal officials said holding social media platforms "accountable" could entail antitrust action, new regulations, or expansion of their civil liability for user-posted content.

    Well, that sounds bad. Over at the WSJ, the editorialists are also unfond of Government’s ‘Thinly Veiled’ Social-Media Censorship.

    The line between government coercion and attempts to persuade can blur, and the Supreme Court’s oral arguments on Monday in Murthy v. Missouri added little clarity. This is too bad because the government’s facile argument deserves a rebuttal.

    The Justices pressed both parties to describe how the dealings of Biden officials with social-media platforms differed from those with the press. “It’s probably not uncommon for government officials to protest an upcoming story on surveillance or detention policy and say, you know, if you run that, it’s going to harm the war effort and put Americans at, you know, risk,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted.

    True. But in our experience, government officials don’t threaten legal or regulatory retribution against newspapers, which they have little power to carry out. The same isn’t true for social-media platforms. White House officials issued thinly veiled threats of legal consequences if platforms didn’t do more to police so-called misinformation.

    That's a free link, so click over to read how Biden spokesmodel Jen Psaki pretty explicitly tied social media companies' acquiescence to imposition of "better privacy protections and a robust antitrust program".

    But were we unfair to a SCOTUS judge yesterday? At Reason, Billy Binion defends her: A Viral Narrative Distorts Ketanji Brown Jackson's Understanding of Free Speech.

    "My biggest concern," said Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson on Monday, "is that your view has the First Amendment hamstringing the government in significant ways."

    That comment came during oral arguments in Murthy v. Missouri, the case that asks if President Joe Biden's administration violated the First Amendment when it sought to pressure social media apps to remove information it deemed harmful. It took almost no time for Jackson's tidbit to set off the viral narrative that she doesn't grasp basic constitutional principles, particularly when considering the point of the First Amendment is indeed to hamstring what the government can do in response to speech it may not like.

    "Jackson raises eyebrows with comment that First Amendment 'hamstrings' government," wrote Fox News. "Leftists want unlimited government — which is why they hate the Constitution," lamented The Federalist. It was "literally one of the craziest things I've ever seen," said Rep. Jim Jordan (R–Ohio).

    But like so many viral narratives, Jackson's comments were fairly benign in context, and were actually echoed by Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Perhaps most ironically, her remark spoke fundamentally to the crux of the case: The government, of course, does not have the right to punish someone criminally for the vast majority of speech. But does it have the right to persuade?

    So you might want to check that out. Meanwhile the (usually sensible) Mike Masnick at Techdirt is more worried about disinformation: The Disinformation Campaign That Has Effectively Destroyed The Ability To Combat Disinformation.

    We already covered the oral arguments in the Murthy v. Missouri case earlier this week, showing that the Supreme Court appears to be quite skeptical of the arguments by the states regarding the federal government “jawboning” to convince social media to take down certain content. For months now, we’ve been pointing out that the factual record in that case is a mess, driven by conspiracy theorists pushing nonsense. Unfortunately, a few Judges both believed the nonsense and then when they couldn’t rely on it to make their point had to misquote people, quote things out of context, or entirely fabricate parts of quotes in their rulings.

    What became abundantly clear in the oral arguments Monday was that multiple justices, including Trump-appointed ones, found the factual record to be suspect and problematic. The crux of the case was effectively (1) the White House made a few public statements in which they were angry about how social media moderated, (2) the companies regularly met with government agencies about a variety of things (cybersecurity, COVID misinformation, election integrity), and (3) therefore we can assume that any content moderation that occurred on the platforms was at the government’s command.

    I think Masnick's argument is, to use the same adjective as the WSJ, facile. But (as I said) he's usually sensible, so … we link, you decide.

    As if I needed to tell you that.

Unclear on the Concept

Glenn Greenwald is aghast at the judicial stylings of the Biden-appointed SCOTUS justice:

And rightly so.

If you prefer more text in your Supreme Court tea leaf-reading, here's Jacob Sullum: SCOTUS Ponders Whether Biden Administration Coerced Social Media Platforms To Censor Speech.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday considered dueling interpretations of the Biden administration's interactions with social media platforms regarding content it viewed as dangerous to public health, democracy, or national security. During oral arguments in Murthy v. Missouri, Louisiana Solicitor General J. Benjamin Aguiñaga said those private contacts, combined with public statements condemning the platforms' failure to suppress "misinformation," amounted to government-directed censorship. U.S. Principal Deputy Solicitor General Brian Fletcher disagreed, saying neither crossed the line "between persuasion and coercion."

If the federal government coerced platforms to censor speech by threatening them with "adverse government action," Fletcher conceded, that would be a clear violation of the First Amendment. But "no threats happened here," he argued, because White House officials merely "use[d] strong language" while encouraging the platforms to suppress speech that offended them and "referred in a general way to legal reforms in response to press questions." Any attempt to enjoin the government from privately pressuring Facebook et al. to crack down on controversial speech or publicly castigating them for failing to do so, he warned, would interfere with constitutionally permissible information sharing, "provision of advice," and federal officials' use of "the bully pulpit" to "call on the platforms to do more."

Aguiñaga argued that federal officials went far beyond providing information that might help the platforms enforce their own content rules. He said officials persistently pressured the platforms to broaden those restrictions and enforce them more aggressively, and the platforms responded by changing their policies and practices. "As the 5th Circuit put it," Aguiñaga said, "the record reveals unrelenting pressure by the government to coerce social media platforms to suppress the speech of millions of Americans." And most of that pressure, he emphasized, was applied behind closed doors, coming to light only as a result of discovery in this case.

Behind closed doors? Where was the Washington "Democracy Dies in Darkness" Post on that? Can't it get awfully dark behind those closed doors?

And here's some advice from Ilya Somin at the Volkh Conspiracy:: Court Should Focus on Coercion in Murthy v. Missouri. Because "coercion" by government officials is not kosher; mere "attempts to persuade" are A-OK.

Importantly, the Fifth Circuit found that officials did in fact threaten to punish social media firms that refused their demands:

[T]he officials threatened—both expressly and implicitly—to retaliate against inaction. Officials threw out the prospect of legal reforms and enforcement actions while subtly insinuating it would be in the platforms' best interests to comply. As one official put it, "removing bad information" is "one of the easy, low-bar things you guys [can] do to make people like me"—that is, White House officials—"think you're taking action."

That sure seems like coercion to me! Importantly, the people making these statements were officials whose superiors had the power to carry out at least some of these veiled threats. The evidentiary and interpretive issues here are—as noted in my previous post—similar to those that sometimes arise when organized crime organizations, like the Mafia, engage in extortion or protection rackets:

If it is indeed true that government officials "threatened…. to retaliate against inaction," then the Supreme Court should uphold the Fifth Circuit injunction against the defendant agencies, at least in so far as that injunction bars coercive pressure. As discussed in my previous post, I am far less convinced that the Fifth Circuit acted appropriately in also enjoining "significant encouragement" defined as "a governmental actor exercis[ing] active, meaningful control over the private party's decision." If the private party gave the governmental actor such control voluntarily, that may be bad media ethics, but it is not a violation of freedom of speech.

Based on this morning's WSJ headline about the argument ("Justices Skeptical Of GOP Claims of Censoring") I am not optimistic.

But note above the words of Principal Deputy Solicitor General Brian Fletcher about the "bully pulpit". Ann Althouse likes language analysis, as do I, and she has some (pre-argument) observations about "Bully."

The riposte was predictable: "The bully pulpit is not a pulpit to bully."

But an even more telling observation:

I want to add that what is said behind the scenes is not from the pulpit at all. A pulpit is an elevated and conspicuous platform. One thing about social media posts is that they are out there, in public, and perfectly conspicuous. If the President (or the shadowy people behind him) want to use the"central dimension of presidential power" that is the "bully pulpit," let them step up onto a conspicuous platform and proclaim opinions they intend us to find righteous.

In this case, the opinion that was conveyed behind the scenes was that social media platforms ought to take down posts on various political topics — coronavirus vaccines, claims of election fraud, and Hunter Biden’s laptop — that people wanted to debate. If it's pulpit-worthy, express that opinion outright and clearly to all of us. Don't go behind our back and intimidate the social media giants upon whom we, the little people, depend to slightly amplify our tiny voices.

There's that behind-closed-doors factor again.

Also of note:

  • A modest proposal. Alicia H. Munnell and William J. Arnone took to the pages of the Boston Globe to describe How to fix Social Security. With the interesting subhed: "It requires an automatic balancing mechanism."

    The national conversation during this election year needs to include a candid assessment of how to shore up our most popular and effective government program, Social Security. The program currently faces a long-term financial shortfall and an action-forcing deadline — the depletion of its trust fund in the early 2030s, which would require an across-the-board cut in benefit checks. Policy makers have known about this problem for decades but have failed to act. Therefore, when the horse-trading finally begins on a package to fix Social Security, one item on the table should be an automatic adjustment feature — policy changes that kick in if needed to prevent this scenario from ever happening again.

    The current approach of waiting until the last minute has serious consequences. It means that the eventual changes to revenues or benefits adopted will be more abrupt, with fewer generations participating in the fix, and it undermines Americans’ faith in the program. Younger people in particular often ask, “Will Social Security be there for me?”

    The authors mention, then shy away from, the fact that there already is an "automatic balancing mechanism" in place: that's the "across-the-board" decrease in outgoing benefits to bring them in line with incoming revenue.

    So, essentially, they're just arguing for tax increases. And to make those increases "automatic", i.e., without Congress having to have their greasy fingerprints on such increases. Like so much of what Uncle Stupid does, it would be accountability-free.

    The word "tax", by the way, appears zero times in the article. The authors consistently refer to the tax as a "contribution", and the FICA tax rate as a "contribution rate". Is that disinformation or misinformation? I can never tell.

  • Sliding down the slippery slope. J.D. Tuccille notes that the ACLU seems to have forgotten what the "CL" stands for: ACLU, Once a Defender of Free Speech, Goes After a Whistleblower.

    Among the unfortunate changes of recent years has been the transformation of the American Civil Liberties Union from an advocate for free speech and other individual rights into just another progressive political organization. Historically, despite much pushback, the group defended the right of people from across the political spectrum to advocate and protest. But the organization has become unreliable on the issue; most recently in the very 21st century debate over gender identity, which sees the ACLU of Missouri targeting a whistleblower who is critical of medical transitions for minors.

    "Strange evening," journalist Jesse Singal wrote March 7 on X (formerly Twitter). "The ACLU of Missouri subpoenaed Jamie Reed, demanding (among other stuff) all her communications w/me. I emailed them saying (politely) wtf, you're the ACLU. Got a call from a lawyer there saying it was a mistake – 'It's a big team.' Okay."

    The subpoena Singal attached (supposedly since modified, though a redacted version of the original remains publicly available through the Missouri courts website) demanded of Reed "all communications, including any documents exchanged, between you and Jessie Singal concerning Gender-Affirming Care provided at or through the Center." It also sought "all communications, including any documents exchanged, concerning Gender-Affirming Care involving media or between you and any media outlet or any member of the media" (journalist Benjamin Ryan says that would include him). The subpoena also demanded Reed's communications with state officials, legislators, and advocacy organizations.

    Singal is a well-known skeptic of transgender ideology.

  • I am in awe. I don't know whether some organization out there gives a "P. J. O'Rourke Memorial Award" for off-color hilarious commentary, but Jeff Maurer certainly deserves it. Latest submission to the selection committee: Don't Ban TikTok Just Because it's a Flaming Planet of Dinosaur Shit.

    For the unfamiliar: TikTok is an app where 50 year-old men “like” videos of pre-teens dancing. It combines the groupthink of Twitter with the shallowness of a wet t-shirt contest and makes your average Facebook tiff seem like a Socratic dialogue. There’s mounting evidence that giving the app to a young person is about as responsible as giving them a vial of crack and a handgun. And now, the government might ban TikTok if it’s not sold by its Chinese parent company, Bytedance.

    I think we probably should ban TikTok if it’s not sold. But I think we need to be clear about why we’re banning it. The debate around the ban sometimes notes — as I did above — that the app is a rotting septic tank filled with worm semen. Of course, the Constitution protects rotting septic tanks filled with worm semen, even if it doesn’t use precisely those words. Personally, I think those protections are extremely important. So, I think we should be careful to address concerns about TikTok in a way that doesn’t erode the First Amendment.

    You will want to Read The Whole Thing, lest you miss: "[S]aying 'I get my news from TikTok' should be like saying 'I get my clothes from Grave Robber Dave’s Strange-Smelling Suit Depot.'"

Recently on the book blog:
Recently on the movie blog:

Last Modified 2024-03-19 12:05 PM EDT

Mean Girls

[4 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I remember watching the original Mean Girls movie back in … whoa, was it that long ago? Yup, 2004. Pre-blog, so I only have my memory to fall back on, but I think I liked it. Apparently Tina Fey turned it into a Broadway musical, and that musical was turned into a movie, and now … here it is, a free-to-me-with-prepended-ads streamer on Paramount+.

And let me just make my perennial observation: I love Tina Fey. And when I say "love", I mean in a way that's completely inappropriate, given our age difference, her marital status, our incompatible social circles, probable vastly divergent political views, geographical separation, and a host of additional irreconcilable differences.

Way to go, Jeff Richmond.

Anyway, it's about Cady Heron, a smart student thrust into a generic American high school. Up until now, she's been schooled by her mom in Kenya (holy crap, that's Pam from The Office, I finally realized). But (fortunately?) her African zoological experience allows her to analyze the social dynamics of her classmates. Queen bee is Regina, the meanest of the mean girls, keeping her position through ruthless intimidation and gossip.

Cady inveigles her way into Regina's inner group. To complicate things, she develops feelings for her calculus classmate, Aaron. Who is Regina's discarded boyfriend. Trouble is brewing there.

Cady's pretty good at navigating the treacherous high school waters, but eventually Loses Sight of What's Really Important, giving rise to betrayal and comeuppance. Her fall is as meteoric as her rise was exponential (calc reference there, sorry). But is there still time for repentance and redemption? Come on, it's a comedy, sure there is.

And there's a lot of singing and dancing along the way. Huge production numbers, occasionally clever lyrics. Lindsay Lohan (the 2004 Cady) and Jon Hamm have cameos.

Last Modified 2024-03-19 10:44 AM EDT

The Diamond Eye

(paid link)

This book made the WSJ's best-mysteries list for 2022. And it's not too shabby, a definite page turner. Even though I was turning some of those pages pretty fast to get to the action I knew was coming up at some point.

It's a fictional take on the life of Mila Pavlichenko, a very deadly sniper for the USSR during World War II. Once a bookish Ukrainian student looking to become a historian, her career plans are knocked for a loop when Germany invades. She immediately volunteers to defend her homeland. Fortunately, she's got mad sharpshooter skills, and a knack for stealth. She becomes known as "Lady Death".

The war story intertwines with a thriller plot. Her 300+ confirmed kills bring her to the attention of Moscow, and in 1942 they send her off to America as part of a delegation to lobby FDR to open a "second front" in Europe to take pressure off the USSR. This actually happened as well. But, fictionally, there's a nasty assassination scheme afoot! An anonymous hitman, also a sharpshooter, has been hired to take out FDR and frame Mila for the deed. Thereby wrecking USA-USSR relations, sowing isolationism, and setting the stage for a fascist coup. The actual details about the plot's string-pullers, and how this was all supposed to work are left hazy.

While on tour in America, Mila becomes acquainted with Eleanor Roosevelt. I couldn't help but wonder if Eleanor would attempt to make her an intimate acquaintance, if you know what I mean. No spoilers here!

There's also a (heterosexual) romantic thread! In her teens, Mila was cruelly seduced and impregnated by Alexei, an egotistical doctor. Alexei is a full-time cad, has no interest in being a dad, so they separate but never quite divorce. Mila becomes intrigued with a charismatic Red Army officer…

So there's a lot going on. There are occasional resigned nods to the reality of Stalinism, one brief mention of the Holodomor. I found myself wondering if we'd get a neat plot twist: the Kremlin is revealed to be behind the assassination plot, placing USSR-sycophant Henry Wallace in the Oval Office. But no.

Just Because Ronald Reagan Never Said This Doesn't Make It Untrue

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Consumer note: Sometimes you'll see the "quote" on our Amazon Product du Jour prepended with "Keep voting Democrat." And sometimes it will have a credibility-enhancing date appended, 1987. But (yeah) it's bogus. So even though that's a paid link, I don't recommend you buy it.

Ah, well. As Abraham Lincoln cautioned: "Don't believe everything you read on the Internet."

Let's go to a more credible source: John Lehman, Navy secretary, 1981-87: Reagan Would Never Vote for Trump.

Reagan’s 11th Commandment was “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican,” but Donald Trump is no heir to Reagan’s legacy. He is an insult to it. The Reagan I knew would be appalled that someone as unfit as Mr. Trump had become the GOP’s standard-bearer. Reagan would also deeply oppose President Biden’s agenda, and he never trusted or cared much for then-Sen. Biden.

The most fundamental difference between Reagan and Mr. Trump is that Reagan knew America’s friends from its enemies. He would be horrified by the Republican Party’s abandonment of Ukraine at Mr. Trump’s behest. He would recognize Russia’s invasion for what it is: a brutal attempt to reassert its old Soviet dominance on a free people, no matter how many innocents die. Reagan would recognize that supporting Ukraine is both morally correct and good realpolitik, a chance to bog an adversary down. He would find Mr. Trump’s naked admiration of our enemies incomprehensible and dangerous. The man who told Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” wouldn’t understand how an American president could congratulate a Russian dictator for “winning” a sham election.

Lehman is currently affiliated with "No Labels", which is casting about for a presidential candidate. Like Nikki, I am disclaiming my interest.

Also of note:

  • In our "Shut up, they explained" department… Jacob Sullum notes the "news" story (Section A, Page 1, in the Sunday paper): The New York Times Again Worries That Free Speech Endangers Democracy.

    On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in Murthy v. Missouri, which raises the question of when government efforts to suppress "misinformation" on social media violate the First Amendment. Neglecting that central question, The New York Times portrays the case as part of a conspiracy by Donald Trump's supporters to undermine democracy by promoting false claims that mislead voters and threaten the peaceful transfer of power.

    "In a world of unlimited online communications" where "anyone can reach huge numbers of people with unverified and false information," Times reporters Jim Rutenberg and Steven Lee Myers ask, "where is the line between protecting democracy and trampling on the right to free speech?" This is not the first time that Myers has described freedom of speech as a threat to democracy. Last year, he worried that "the First Amendment has become, for better or worse, a barrier to virtually any government efforts to stifle a problem that, in the case of a pandemic, threatens public health and, in the case of the integrity of elections, even democracy itself." The purported conflict between free speech and democracy is a bizarre and highly misleading way to frame the issues raised by Murthy.

    We linked to George Will's column on this case a couple days ago.

    The NYT is properly jealous of its own rights under the First Amendment. Their contempt for the free expression rights of others is (at best) remarkably short-sighted.

    As Sullum notes, the NYT article goes to great lengths to tie the case to those icky MAGA Trump fans. (Headline: "How Trump’s Allies Are Winning the War Over Disinformation"; Subhed: "Their claims of censorship have successfully stymied the effort to filter election lies online."

    Matt Taibbi was one of the "Twitter Files" whistleblowers on the Biden Administration's censorship-by-proxy effort. And he's prominently mentioned in the NYT story. His reaction: On Today’s Absurd New York Times Hit Piece.

    In advance of oral arguments tomorrow in the Supreme Court for Murthy v. Missouri, formerly Missouri v. Biden, the New York Times and authors Jim Rutenberg and Steven Lee Myers wrote a craven and dishonest piece called, “How Trump’s Allies Are Winning the War Over Disinformation.”

    The Times implies both the Twitter Files reports and my congressional testimony with Michael Shellenberger were strongly influenced by former Trump administration official Mike Benz, whose profile occupies much of the text. Benz is described as a purveyor of “conspiracy theories, like the one about the Pentagon’s use of Taylor Swift,” that are “talking points for many Republicans.” They quote Shellenberger as saying meeting Benz was the “Aha moment,” in our coverage, and the entire premise of the piece is that Benz and other “Trump allies” pushed Michael, me, and the rest of the Twitter Files reporters into aiding a “counteroffensive” in the war against disinformation, helping keep social media a home for “antidemocratic tactics.”

    If you had "Subverted the First Amendment" on your Biden Impeachment Bingo Card, I think you can daub that off, if you hadn't already.

  • Is it too early to work up a Trump Impeachment Bingo Card? Rich Lowry wonders: How Would Donald Trump End American Democracy? (That's my final "gifted" National Review link for this month, so don't let it go to waste, readers!)

    If there’s one thing that we’re supposed to know about this election, it is that democracy is on the ballot.

    Joe Biden and other Democrats say it all the time, and so does Liz Cheney. According to the former congresswoman, the U.S. is “sleepwalking into dictatorship,” and the accomplished author and historian Robert Kagan wrote a much-discussed piece for the Washington Post contending, as the headline put it, that “a Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable.”

    It’s understandable that people are alarmed by Trump. His conduct after the 2020 election was appalling and impeachable, and he, of course, exhibits zero regret — in fact, the opposite. It is not to defend anything he’s done or said, though, to point out that it is beyond his, or anyone else’s, power to end democracy and establish a dictatorship — at least, not without a whole lot of help that won’t be forthcoming.

    Lowry has an interesting array of scenarios. None of which seem remotely plausible, but are pretty entertaining, assuming they remain fictional. His bottom line:

    Those most fearful of Trump seem to think that we are in a state equivalent to the Weimar Republic, with the regime so weak that it just needs a good push to collapse. But the American constitutional system has been remarkably enduring and stable, and it still retains broad and deep public support. It obviously survived a civil war. Frontal assaults on it will engender a fierce reaction. Also, pretty much every power center in the system would, once again, be hostile to a President Trump.

    In short, most of what we are likely talking about is forms of threats to the legitimacy of the electoral system and to the rule of law — in spirit or actuality — that we’ve already seen for a decade and a half or more. That’s not good, obviously. What we should want is someone who will slam the brakes on this slide toward an unmoored executive. But that option isn’t on the ballot this year.

  • This will not end well. Jennifer Huddleston has a suggestion: Don't Let E.U. Bureaucrats Design Americans' Tech. After describing the EU's (successful) decree that Apple use USB-C for its iPhone charging connection:

    Many Americans first experienced the impact of the European regulatory approach in May 2018, when they started noticing more click-through requirements to accept cookies and updated privacy policies. All those annoying security pop-ups and repeated notice of updates to terms of service on websites were the direct result of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), an E.U. policy that required companies to adopt specific practices around interactions with user data and users' rights related to those data.

    The GDPR didn't just bring a bunch of annoying pop-ups, it also caused huge corporate compliance costs. When the GDPR went into effect in 2018, companies reported spending an average of $1.3 million on compliance costs. A Pricewaterhouse-Coopers survey found that 40 percent of global companies spent over $10 million in initial compliance. These weren't one-time costs; some companies spend millions annually to comply.

    Unsurprisingly, some organizations decided to pull out of the E.U. market entirely rather than comply with these rules. Others chose to deploy these changes all around the world rather than try to tailor compliance to the European Union. In other words, they treated the E.U.'s rules as global requirements.

    This is a common result of tech regulations: Laws passed in one region end up affecting citizens located in other areas as companies standardize practices.

    Some of those regulatory costs are visible ("annoying pop-ups"), but most are well-hidden, passed along to shareholders and consumers. And even less visible is innovation-stifling; good ideas whose implementations are economically unfeasible, thanks to high bureaucratic hurdles.

  • It needs to be said. And Kevin D. Williamson says it: There Is No Labor Shortage.

    Our friends at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce occasionally publish reports arguing that the U.S. economy is being held back by a “labor shortage.” They just came out with one in February, in fact.

    But there isn’t any labor shortage. The Chamber of Commerce does a lot of very good work as an advocate for U.S. businesses, but its views on labor tend to be distorted—for entirely understandable reasons—by self-interest. What we need isn’t more workers willing to take low-wage jobs—what we need is better wages for those jobs.

    As the Chamber’s own findings confirm, healthy industries offering high-paying jobs do not have much trouble getting workers off the sidelines and into the game. Whether measured by the “quit rate” (the share of workers leaving their jobs) or by the industry-specific unemployment rate, the issue of relatively intense labor scarcity is concentrated—this will not surprise you—in largely low-paying hospitality and retail jobs. There’s no urgent labor shortage on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley, in Hollywood, in Big Law, or in manufacturing. In the Chamber’s report, we read that the quit rate in hospitality (4.3 percent) is more than three times what it is in manufacturing (1.3 percent). The Chamber of Commerce’s analysis reflects these facts: “Workers in traditionally lower paying industries, including leisure and hospitality and retail, have been most likely to quit their jobs. Meanwhile, in more stable, higher paying industries, the number of employees quitting has been lower.” While the workforce participation rate has declined, there are still workers out there: The unemployment rate in hospitality (4.8 percent) is two-thirds more than it is in financial services (2.9 percent) and more than twice what it is in manufacturing (2.1 percent). That means there are many workers looking for jobs in those industries but not taking the jobs on offer.

    Conclusion: Put that filthy lucre on the table and watch those supply curves slope upward like that’s what they were born to do, because they were.

    KDW's article has one of those annoying little padlocks, so you should subscribe.

Last Modified 2024-03-18 8:05 AM EDT

We All Live in Red States Now

Roger Ream sounds a call to action: Both Parties Are Abandoning Free Markets. It’s Time for Voters to Push Back. This won't be news to many Pun Salad readers:

Now, Trump is apparently considering a new flat 60 percent tariff on all Chinese imports, and has also floated a 10 percent “universal baseline” tariff on trade with all countries, including trading partners and allies. These tariffs and trade restrictions simply raise costs for Americans while doing little to increase domestic production of goods and services.

Both parties also seek to use government power to regulate private industry in new ways that inject uncertainty into the market and make it harder to do business. The Biden administration recently gave in to climate activists by pausing federal approvals for new liquefied-natural-gas (LNG) export projects — hindering a growth market where the U.S. has become the world’s No. 1 supplier. The administration has also stopped private businesses from merging with one another through an unprecedented use of antitrust review of proposed corporate deals.

Meanwhile, prominent congressional Republicans are supporting a variety of proposals — including clawing back executive pay at failed banks, eliminating noncompete agreements, and subsidizing U.S. semiconductor manufacturing — that restrict private commerce, distort the market, and let the federal government pick winners and losers.

I agree with just about everything Ream is saying, but: It's all well and good to demand that voters "push back" on the decay of free markets, but when both parties are abandoning it, how are voters supposed to do that?

Our regular Sunday look at the betting odds:

Candidate EBO Win
Donald Trump 47.7% -3.9%
Joe Biden 37.1% +3.4%
Michelle Obama 4.0% +1.6%
Robert Kennedy Jr 2.7% +0.5%
Gavin Newsom 2.6% +0.5%
Kamala Harris 2.4% ---
Other 3.5% -4.5%

The oddsmakers apparently think that Team Orange had a bad week, as the gap between Trump and Biden shrank by over seven percentage points. Michelle, RFKJr, and Newsom also made slight gains. And (even) Kamala managed to break our 2% probability inclusion threshold; she hasn't managed to do that since last November.

It's enough to make me wonder, "Did I miss something in the news last week?" Always a possibility.

Also of note:

  • Possibly the last commentary on President Dotard's SOTU speech. And possibly because I just like William McGurn's headline: Joe Biden, Old Yeller.

    Joe Biden now has two faces he shows in public. He unveiled the newer one during Thursday’s prime-time State of the Union address. Call this Angry Joe.

    The other is “dithering and diminished,” the words Sen. Katie Britt used in the official Republican rebuttal to the president’s speech. This is the Joe Biden Americans have been seeing for the past few years—the 81-year-old who often seems lost at the podium, who falls off his bicycle or says he’s just spoken to some long-dead French president or German chancellor.

    We used to call our Sunday feature the "Phony Campaign". But, among other difficulties, it's difficult to say anything interesting or new about the phoniness of the candidates when that phoniness is expected, taken for granted, even praised.

  • Hey, but I can always vote Libertarian, right? That's been my fallback strategy in the past. G. Patrick Lynch takes a look at the LP's issues, and wonders: are they Too Principled to Win?

    Throughout US history, none of the dominant parties have held consistent beliefs about much of anything, let alone individual liberty. Rather, the major parties have shamelessly chased voters in ragtag coalitions with little concern for a philosophically grounded vision of the good society. Today’s Democratic party of racial diversity and wokeness was once the party of racial segregation and Roman Catholicism in the mid 20th century and prior to that the Confederacy. Today’s Republican Party, which is now largely white, and more committed to government intervention in the economy, was once the party of Lincoln and later the party of Reagan and free markets. The two party duopoly is blissfully free of ideological consistency over time.

    And yet while one set of consistent principles animates the LP, that hasn’t had much resonance with the voting public. Perhaps that’s understandable since voters themselves typically don’t have strong or consistent philosophical views. And of course the single member, winner take all districts in the American political system discourage third party success. But more recently the party with one set of principles is in the midst of a sectarian conflict over the essence of those principles and how they should be achieved. Unsurprisingly libertarianism attracts strong individualists who believe that cooperative solutions to social problems are possible except apparently for themselves.

    Lynch looks at the rift between the currently ascendant "Mises Caucus" and the "Old Guard". Both have their problems. The Caucus seems more intent on purging heretics from the LP than presenting a broadly appealing pro-liberty vision. And the Guard nominates people like William Weld.

  • I was unaware of this proposal. But Andy Craig spotted it: The Proposed Toxic Marriage Between RFK Jr. and the Libertarian Party Could Hurt Trump.

    Robert F. Kennedy Jr. initially tried to run for president as a Democrat. When that went nowhere, he announced he would instead run as an independent. Now, the environmental-lawyer-turned-anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist is flirting with a possible third change in partisan affiliation. The nephew of the former president is now hinting that he may seek the Libertarian Party nomination.

    The potential combination offers a compelling demonstration of the horseshoe theory, namely, that despite coming from opposite ends of the political spectrum, far-left and far-right movements can often converge into illiberalism.

    Craig documents just how awful, crazy, and irrelevant the LP has become. Grabbing onto RFKJr? Hey, why not?

Maybe Doggerel Will Make Him See the Error of His Ways

Well, it's worth a shot:

My CongressCritter must have noticed that Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bob Casey, and (of course) President Dotard have been promising to "crack down" on one thing or another. All the cool kids are doing it!

The legislation Pappas is touting will declare xylazine a Section III Controlled Substance, joining a long list.

Neither for the first nor last time, I shall deploy this Thomas Szasz quote:

The FDA calls certain substances “controlled.” But there are no “controlled substances,” there are only controlled citizens.

Also of note:

  • Hey, let's tax the income you haven't actually received. Vance Ginn at AIER points out a wee issue with President Dotard's latest budget proposal: Unrealized Gains Tax is an Economic Fallacy.

    Taxing unrealized capital gains on property, stocks, and other assets is not just a bad idea, it’s an economic fallacy that undermines economic growth and personal liberty. Unfortunately, President Biden’s $7.3 trillion budget proposes such a federal tax. Vermont and ten other states have made similar moves.

    This tax should be rejected, as it is fundamentally unjust, likely unconstitutional, and would hinder prosperity and individual freedom.

    "Other than that, though, it's fine!"

    According to one of those links, going to a CNBC story, the proposal is likely to go nowhere. Billionaire Biden voter Leon Cooperman is quoted saying the plan is “DOA and stupid to boot,

    Too stupid and unconstitutional for Congress? That's an impressive feat.

  • Among the great many things government has no business doing… George Will deals with one of them: Government has no business bullying social media platforms on speech.

    Legal briefs are usually dry as dust, so delighted laughter is an unusual response to reading one. You can, however, bet dollars to doughnuts that the Supreme Court justices allowed themselves judicious private chuckles when they read one particular amicus (friend of the court) brief in the case concerning for which they will hear oral arguments on Monday.

    At issue is government behavior that is no laughing matter: secret pressure to suppress speech by, and deny access to speech by, Americans, thereby violating the First Amendment. The brief is from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), which devotes much time to reminding academics of the First Amendment’s existence. FIRE notes that some people supporting FIRE’s side of the argument are “oblivious to the irony” of their doing so: Their “head-spinning inconsistencies” involve favoring state governments’ behavior that is similar to the federal government’s behavior that they are deploring.

    GFW notes the Biden Administration invoked Teddy Roosevelt's term "bully pulpit" to justify its actions. The Wikipedia page notes that TR used "bully" "as an adjective meaning 'superb' or 'wonderful', a more common usage at that time." Biden probably thinks TR was recommending today's meaning: coercion, intimidation, threatening, …

  • Also bullying… The NR editors describe a new low: Chuck Schumer Attacks Israeli Democracy.

    We are tempted to refer to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s call for the ouster of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition as “election interference” — but that would require the existence of an actual election. Given that there are currently no elections scheduled in Israel, what Schumer did on Thursday was nothing short of calling for the collapse of the democratically elected government of a close American ally during a time of war.

    This is stunning and outrageous. It is also an indication of just how hard it is to actively support Israel in today’s Democratic Party.

    You'd think Chuck could tell the pro-Hamas faction in his party to go pee up a rope, but no.

    Also commenting is Scott Johnson, who wants to popularize the phrase "Doesn’t know Schumer from Shinola".

    Jonathan Tobin places Schumer in the context of his career to date: “He’s been in public office continuously since the age of 25, and the 73-year-old Senate Majority Leader has spent his adult life grandstanding for the cameras and the press while always seeking some momentary political advantage as he schemed, back-stabbed and bloviated his way to the top of his profession.”

    We can infer that Schumer now approves of foreign interference in another country’s elections. Only yesterday that was a big no-no for purported thought leaders toeing the Democrat Party line.

    In this case the government Schumer seeks the replacement of a government that was democratically elected and formed by a close American ally fighting for its life under extremely difficult circumstances. That’s no way to treat a friend.

    Back in 2015, the WaPo looked at what, even back then, was a common joke:

    “The most dangerous place in Washington,” the joke goes, “is between Chuck Schumer and a TV camera.”

  • And in other broad bipartisan news… Matt Taibbi explains Why the TikTok Ban is So Dangerous. Specifically:

    As Newsweek reported, the bill was fast-tracked after a secret “intelligence community briefing” of Congress led by the FBI, Department of Justice, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). The magazine noted that if everything goes as planned, the bill will give Biden the authority to shut down an app used by 150 million Americans just in time for the November elections.

    And (generally) any future President will have the power to shut down any app decreed to be dangerous. What could go wrong there?

Is the SAT Racist?

Reader, you've come to the right place to find an answer to that question.

Well, more accurately, you've come to a website that will link you to John McWhorter's answer to that question: No, the SAT Isn’t Racist. Colleges, after making the SAT optional, are reversing course. It turns out that the SAT does a pretty good job of predicting academic success and (even better) can do a decent job of finding "diverse" applicants that might not otherwise be evident.

But McWhorter oh-so-diplomatically scorches the self-described "anti-racists":

Many might find it an awkward fit to label requiring the SAT for college admissions as antiracist. But we must attend carefully to what racism and antiracism actually are, as the words have come to occupy such broad swatches of semantic ground. In this light, the tacit sense of the SAT and similar tests as somehow anti-Black is dangerous.

This is because ideas have a way of undergoing mission creep. What an unspoken idea implies, a resonance in the air, eventually manifests itself as an openly asserted new position. In that vein, there is a short step between acknowledging that disadvantage makes it harder to ace the test — which is self-evidently true — and a proposition that is related but vastly more questionable: that Blackness is culturally incompatible with the test.

This is the ultimate source of the idea getting around in the education school world and beyond that it is “white” to cherish hard work, objectivity, the written word and punctuality. This conviction reveals itself both among white people (as in the creator of a graphic to this effect that the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture put online for a spell during the pandemic) and among Black people (such as a Black parent recalling a Black co-worker openly saying that standardized tests are unfairly imposed on Black kids because they “can’t do math,” with the implication of this as a general assumption).

We've put that graphic up before, and I'm pretty sure it's the most racist thing we've ever displayed:

[Aspects and Assumptions]

Also of note:

  • In Biden's brain, literacy loses. Veronique de Rugy takes a look at Biden's Corporate Tax Hike: Populism Versus Economic Literacy.

    In the latest volley of policy proposals that seem more rooted in populist rhetoric than economic knowledge, President Joe Biden's budget plan to hike the corporate income tax rate from 21% to 28% strikes me as particularly misguided. This move, ostensibly aimed at ensuring a "fair share" of contributions from corporate America, is a glaring testament to a simplistic and all-too-common type of economic thinking that already hamstrings our nation's competitiveness, stifles innovation, and ultimately penalizes the average American worker and consumer.

    Beyond the president's class warfare rhetoric, the lure of putting his hands on more revenue is one of the factors behind the proposal. Biden likes to pretend he is some sort of deficit cutter, but his administration is the mother of all big spenders. He's seeking $7.3 trillion for next year without acknowledging the insolvency of Social Security coming our way or addressing what happens when Congress makes the Republican tax cut permanent in 2025 for people earning less than $400,000 a year.

    Unfortunately, no fiscally irresponsible budget is complete without soothing individual taxpayers by promising to tax corporations. Never mind that the burden of corporate income tax hikes isn't shouldered by corporations. Yes, corporations do write the checks to the Internal Revenue Service, but the economic weight will be partially or fully shifted to others, such as workers through lower wages, consumers through higher prices, or shareholders through lower returns on investment. That means that many taxpayers making less than that $400k will be shouldering the cost of the corporate tax hike.

    It's great for demagoguery, though. Those taxpayers won't notice it on their 1040s.

  • It's a nice round number. Ars Technica reports that the FCC has officially made me behind the times: FCC scraps old speed benchmark, says broadband should be at least 100Mbps.

    The Federal Communications Commission today voted to raise its Internet speed benchmark for the first time since January 2015, concluding that modern broadband service should provide at least 100Mbps download speeds and 20Mbps upload speeds.

    An FCC press release after today's 3-2 vote said the 100Mbps/20Mbps benchmark "is based on the standards now used in multiple federal and state programs," such as those used to distribute funding to expand networks. The new benchmark also reflects "consumer usage patterns, and what is actually available from and marketed by Internet service providers," the FCC said.

    The previous standard of 25Mbps downstream and 3Mbps upstream lasted through the entire Trump era and most of President Biden's term. There's been a clear partisan divide on the speed standard, with Democrats pushing for a higher benchmark and Republicans arguing that it shouldn't be raised.

    My informal feeling about Pun Salad Manor's Internet connection is that it's "plenty fast enough."

    But there are easy-to-find "speed test" sites that will put a number on that. This morning, I'm consistently getting 75-80 Mbps down, 12 Mbps up. And the sites that bother to describe that result say it's "very fast".

    I predict Democrat-mandated higher speeds will result in higher costs. Which Democrats will then loudly denounce.

Funny Because True

Also of note:

  • Just another stop on the Road to Serfdom. Bjørn Lomborg in the WSJ claims that ‘Follow the Science’ Leads to Ruin.

    More than one million people die in traffic accidents globally each year. Overnight, governments could solve this entirely man-made problem by reducing speed limits everywhere to 3 miles an hour, but we’d laugh any politician who suggested it out of office. It would be absurd to focus solely on lives saved if the cost would be economic and societal destruction. Yet politicians widely employ the same one-sided reasoning in the name of fighting climate change. It’s simply a matter, they say, of “following the science.”

    That assertion lets politicians obscure—and avoid responsibility for—lopsided climate-policy trade-offs. Lawmakers contend that because climate change is real and man-made, it is only scientifically logical that the world end fossil-fuel use. Any downsides are a mathematical inevitability rather than something politicians chose to inflict on constituents.

    Sobering factoid: "Add the billions of people dependent on fossil-fuel heating in the winter, along with our dependence on fossil fuels for steel, cement, plastics and transportation, and it is no wonder that one recent estimate by economist Neil Record showed an abrupt end to fossil fuel use would cause six billion deaths in less than a year."

  • "Follow the science" Part II. Ronald Bailery looks at Official Government Figures, and finds: CDC Vastly Overestimated U.S. Maternal Death Rates, Says New Study.

    "U.S. maternal deaths keep rising," reported NPR last year. PBS similarly observed, "U.S. maternal deaths more than doubled over 20 years." CNN also reported, "US maternal death rate rose sharply in 2021, [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)] data shows, and experts worry the problem is getting worse."

    The increase in maternal deaths is a statistical illusion argues a new study just published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. "Our study, which identified maternal deaths using a definition-based methodology, shows stable rates of maternal mortality in the United States between the 1999–2002 and 2018–2021 periods," conclude the authors. That's wonderful news but what accounts for the headlines that cited a steep rise in maternal deaths?

    It was just this one weird little check box, it turns out. Click over for the details.

  • Another bit of bad advice: trust Wikipedia. Bryan Caplan looks at a clear instance of Wikibias: The Noble Truth of the Model Minority.

    I recently stumbled upon Wikipedia’s article on the “Model minority myth.” Which instantly raises the question: “What precisely is mythical about this ‘myth’?”

    The article’s bias is so astounding that I shall critique it line-by-line.

    The model minority myth is a sociological phenomenon that refers to the stereotype of certain minority groups, particularly Asian Americans, as successful, and well-adjusted, as demonstrating that there is little or no need for social or economic assistance for the same or different minority groups.

    “Demonstrating” is too strong. How about “raising strong doubts about the need for social or economic assistance”?

    The model minority stereotype emerged in the United States during the Cold War in the 1950s and was first explicitly used as a term in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement as an antithesis to African American claims of racial oppression and has perpetuated notions that other minority groups can achieve the same success through hard work…

    Why shouldn’t the existence of successful minorities “perpetuate notions that other minority groups can achieve the same success through hard work”? It’s a timeless truth, so shouldn’t it be “perpetuated”?

    Clicking around seems to show that the article was "editied" (created) by a single student at Rice University as part of a "Wiki Education Foundation-supported course assignment."

  • Following the orders of the teachers union? Mitchell Scacchi takes a look at some Granite State legislative mischief: House takes up two bills that would yank Education Freedom Accounts from kids.

    This week, two bills that would take Education Freedom Accounts (EFAs) away from children enrolled in the program will be considered in the state House of Representatives.

    We previously summarized a group of bills that would heavily regulate the EFA program to the point that its functionality and growth would be severely curtailed. The House will vote on two of those bills on Thursday. They are House Bills 1512 and 1594.

    HB 1512 would limit funding for the EFA program from the Education Trust Fund to so-called budgeted amounts. Specifically, the bill states that Education Trust Fund payments for EFAs “shall not exceed $19,800,000 for fiscal year 2024, and in subsequent fiscal years shall not exceed the amounts appropriated for such purpose in the biennial state operating budget.”

    Good news: HB 1512 appears to have been "indefinitely postponed", which I think means "killed". It was a squeaker, though, 187-185. HB1594, which would have required families to financially qualify every year for an EFA was also narrowly killed.

  • But how about getting rid of this old-style anti-Catholic bigotry? At City Journal, Tim Rosenberger and Nicole Stelle Garnett write about New Hampshire’s Religious Freedom Revival.

    In the aftermath of the Civil War, some voters and elected officials feared that rising Catholic immigration would transform American Catholicism from a small minority faith, with adherents largely confined to Maryland and Louisiana, into a nationwide political force. Nativists, seeking to “Americanize” Catholics, tried to amend the U.S. Constitution to mandate nationwide free public schools and ban public funding of faith-based schools. Supporters of the amendment sought to undermine Catholic, or what they called “sectarian,” schools. The amendment, proposed in a speech by President Ulysses S. Grant and championed by Congressman James Blaine, quickly passed the House before failing narrowly in the Senate.

    The amendment’s supporters then turned their sights away from Washington and toward the states. They began a concerted campaign to ensure that Catholic institutions, particularly nascent Catholic schools, would never receive public funding, describing these institutions (and, to a lesser extent, those associated with other non-Protestant religions) as “sectarian.” Their efforts culminated in several state laws that explicitly disfavored faith-based organizations, including schools, because of those institutions’ “sectarian” nature. Some states included a prohibition on the funding of “sectarian” schools and other institutions as a condition of entering the union; many others did so voluntarily. All told, 38 states adopted a Blaine Amendment in their constitutions, and enacted other religious-institution funding bans in the same spirit.

    A recent series of Supreme Court rulings have deemed Blaine Amendments, and states’ efforts to penalize faith-based organizations, unconstitutional. Yet many of these historic anti-Catholic laws remain on the books. Too few states have taken appropriate action to ensure that their laws and public programs eliminate the vestiges of our nation’s history of anti-Catholicism and conform to the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Free Exercise Clause.

    One state, however, has proved an exception: New Hampshire. The Granite State’s legislature recently enacted legislation that removed the words “sectarian” and “nonsectarian” from its lawbooks and, in so doing, largely eliminated laws that unconstitutionally discriminate against religious organizations. By removing the requirement that services provided in public programs be “nonsectarian,” New Hampshire has broadened the opportunities for the state to cooperate with faith-based organizations and brought its law in line with current First Amendment doctrine. These efforts signal the state’s desire to honor the Free Exercise Clause and ensure that its laws conform to constitutional principles.

    Well, good for us. And bad for President Grant. That speech, linked above, is a pretty nasty bit of bigotry wrapped up in patriotic rhetoric.

Recently on the book blog:

The Cold Cold Ground

(paid link)

I can't for the life of me remember why I bought this book. Amazon tells me it was $5.50 used; the stickers on it tell me it used to belong to the Sedro-Woolley Library out in Washington state. And Google Maps tells me that Sedro-Woolley is about halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, a few miles off Interstate 5.

Anyway, it's pretty good. And just the first entry in (Amazon claims) a seven-book series. So far. I'll have to think whether I want to invest the time.

It's first-person narrated by Sean Duffy, a detective in the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the year 1981. And it's very much the Bad Old Days in Northern Ireland. Part of Duffy's daily routine is to check his Beemer to make sure that nobody's attached a mercury tilt-switch bomb in its undercarriage. Riots, bombings, and arson: business as usual. Hunger strikes by Irish inmates in the Maze prison outside Belfast stir up more trouble. So it's almost a relief when there's a murder that seems to be a straight-up case of homophobic rage. Clues abound: the body has a bit of sheet music stuffed up where the sun don't shine, his hand has been cut off, the killer sends Duffy a deranged note, and (soon enough) another body is found with the same MO.

The Constabulary is largely Protestant, and Duffy is a Catholic. Not a devout one, but that doesn't seem to matter much. Corruption is taken for granted. Nobody seems to respect them; it's clear that the paramilitary forces on both sides wield the real power, thanks to their general ruthlessness.

It's a challenging case, and Duffy is driven to the edge of sanity by it. He also has to confront personal issues, including an out-of-the-blue revelation in Chapter 13. (No spoilers, but I did not see that coming.) There are violent showdowns, and a very dizzying plot twist as the killer is finally tracked down and confronted.

Asking, and Answering, the Important Questions

Slightly relevant to last month's post about alleged Fox News brain-rot.

Also of note:

  • Coulda put a period after "Think". I keep linking to Jeff Maurer because he's funny, and willing to take on the fools on "his side" of the political divide. Today's lesson: Rashida Tlaib and Jamaal Bowman Demonstrate How to Not Think About Economics.

    The bill is called the The Living Wage for Musicians Act, though a better name would be the Shitty DJs Unite To Reduce Access To Music People Actually Want To Listen To Act. The bill is inconsequential and won’t pass — Tlaib and Bowman are marginalized loons who exist to be thwarted by people who know stuff. But the bill is worth looking at because it’s a museum piece demonstrating the flawed economic thinking that’s common on the far left.

    The bill targets Spotify and its competitors (mostly Apple Music and Amazon). In a statement, Tlaib said that an artist would need more than 800,000 Spotify streams a month to earn the equivalent of a full-time $15/hour job. The bill seeks to triple payments to artist from 0.3 cents per stream to 1 cent per stream (Tlaib’s numbers are debatable but whatever — let’s make this simple and just use her numbers). Tlaib and Bowman would fund this increase in payments in two ways: 1) Subscription fees would rise by 50%, and 2) Payments would be capped at one million streams, and revenue beyond that would go into a fund to pay out the low-earners.

    By my math [footnote elided], this would cost Taylor Swift at least $78 million a year (and probably much more than that). Swift had 26.1 billion streams in 2023, and under Tlaib and Bowman’s plan, she’d make absolutely zilch on 26.088 billion of those. She’d rake in a handsome $10,000/month, and I find it funny to imagine Taylor Swift interacting with an amount of money that is — by her standards — pocket change. If Taylor Swift saw $10,000 on the sidewalk, would she stop to pick it up? If Denny’s overcharged Taylor Swift by $10,000 — as in “whoops, sorry hon, that should be $18.42, not $10,018.42” — would she say something or just pay it? These are interesting thought experiments. But what’s not an interesting thought experiment is what Swift would do if Congress passed a bill requiring a 99.85% reduction in her Spotify revenue: She would take her music off the service, which she’s done before.

    I imagine that could be a task for "dynamic pricing"; dink your prices up by $10K during the few seconds in which Taylor's bill is being calculated.

    And Maurer gets this exactly right:

    I used to think about wages in terms of fairness. I noticed that some people make a lot of money and some make a little, and I also noticed that some of the people who only make a little work very hard. It seemed unfair, and, of course — in a cosmic sense — it is unfair. I’ve worked at Wendy’s, and I’ve written for television, and I worked twice as hard at Wendy’s despite making a fraction of the TV wage. In a similar way, it seems ridiculous that Taylor Swift — whose music I would only listen to as some sort of CIA black-ops site “enhanced interrogation” — should be a billionaire while bands I like struggle.

    When you see the world this way, it’s tempting to pass a law that says “make things fair”. Tlaib and Bowman’s bill is surrounded by the language of fairness — they use terms like “deserve”, “economic justice”, “fair share”, “fair wage”, and “fair compensation”.

    But what do those words mean? They mean nothing in this context. “Fair” is in the eye of the beholder, and every push for more money in human history could be framed as a push for “fairness”. Everything in this area is subjective: Maroon 5 can argue that they deserve a lot of money because people like their music, I can argue that they deserve to be pelted with rotten fruit wherever they go because their music sucks donkey ass, and neither of us is really wrong. “Living wage” is a strange concept because the cost of living depends on your situation. “Hourly wage” is a bonkers concept in music because Paul McCartney woke up with the tune for “Yesterday” in his head, while Guns ‘N Roses spent 17 years making “Chinese Democracy”. Arbitrariness is everywhere in this bill — why is one cent the “fair” rate for a stream? Why is anything over one million streams “too much”? The answer, of course, is that those are meaningless numbers that Tlaib and Bowman are declaring “fair” just because they’re nice and round.

    The minor only sin here is one of omission: Maurer could have, but didn't, note that President Dotard used some variation of "fair" 17 times in his SOTU speech last week.

  • On the crack-down watch. As long as I'm control-Fing the SOTU transcript: I see three Presidential promises to "crack down" on

    1. "big landlords" (over six feet?);
    2. "corporations that engage in price-gouging and deceptive pricing";
    3. "gun crime, retail crime and carjacking."

    I have no idea what that last one means; it seems "stop letting these people back on the street" might be an effective strategy.

    But there's also those fees. At Cato, Ryan Bourne and Sophia Bagley check out The Incoherence of the White House’s Anti- “Junk Fees” Agenda. They outline three areas in which coherency is lacking:

    First, there is no firm definition of “junk fees” the administration is sticking to. The White House blog says “junk fees” “are fees that are mandatory but not transparently disclosed to consumers,” for example. Yet airline baggage fees are not mandatory. Nor overdraft fees. Nor credit card late fees. Nor even early termination fees. They are either payments for services or fees charged for breach of contract.

    It would clearly be more accurate to say that “junk fees” as weaponized by the White House are any fees the administration identifies some customers might dislike or find annoying. That means this war on prices is likely to create substantial uncertainty for a raft of businesses in the future.

    In addition: the policies are "often explicitly contradictory" and the administration "remains highly economical with the truth" about the costs to the consumer of those fees.

  • And then? Jim Geraghty notes that Donald Trump’s Plan on Ukraine Is to Just Let Russia Win. Which is not great, but what I want to quote is a bit further down in the column, where Orange Man was asked by CNBC interviewer Joe Kernan, "Have you changed your, your outlook on how to handle entitlements Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Mr. President? Seems like something has to be done, or else we’re going to be stuck at 120% of debt to GDP forever."

    And Trump's answer was…

    So first of all, there is a lot you can do in terms of entitlements in terms of cutting and in terms of also the theft and the bad management of entitlements, tremendous bad management of entitlements. There’s tremendous amounts of things and numbers of things you can do. So I don’t necessarily agree with the statement. I know that they’re going to end up weakening social security because the country is weak. And let’s take a look at outside of the stock market, are, we’re going through hell. People are going through hell. If they have and I believe the number is 50%. They say 32 and 33%. I believe we have a cumulative inflation of over 50%, that means people are, you know, they have to make more than 50% more over a fairly short period of time to stay up. They’ve gotten routed. The middle class in our country has been routed and the middle class largely built our country and they have been treated very, very badly with policy. When I was president, I was doing a job, we’re going to start to pay off debt. We were drill baby drill. We were producing oil but we were going at a much higher level oil and gas. We were doing, you know, we were third when I started and when they ended we were one by a longshot and we were very close, we’re energy independence, we’re very close to becoming energy dominant Joe, we’re gonna be dominant so dominant, like double what Saudi Arabia and Russia were doing. And we were on that path. We were gonna be paying down debt. We were doing, we were doing a lot of things and then we got hit with Covid. We did a fantastic job with Covid. But nobody, nobody wins with Covid. I guess China found that out because they also really got hit very hard also, but nobody wins with Covid. And so we had to get to we had to do other things. We had to help. You know, if I didn’t do the expenditures that we didn’t do the kinds of things we did for the economy, we would add in 1929 type depression. And I had to say out in front of it, and we did we did a great job on that and we did with all of the things we’re coming up with Regeneron doing so much else, getting all because you know we had empty when I came in, we had empty, I call them empty cupboards. We had empty shelves, we didn’t have equipment, we didn’t have the gowns, we didn’t have the ventilators. We didn’t have anything. This country wasn’t prepared for a thing like that. And I’m not even blaming anybody in that. Because, you know, when when it came, nobody thought the pandemic would ever happen again. It sounds like an ancient’s problem, not a problem that you’d have you know at that time, you know, in modern, very modern age. It was like an ancient thing. We you know, who, who would ever show I’m not blaming anybody, but we had empty cupboards, and I got them stocked and I got them stocked fast. And we did a great job with it. Never got credit. I got credit for the greatest economy. I got credit for foreign policy. I got credit for knocking out ISIS and not going into wars. But we beat ISIS, but I never got the credit for having done a great job with that.

    Geraghty's commentary: "That’s the Republican nominee. Great call, everybody."

  • I'll try not to stand too close, but I'm standing pretty close… to Arnold Kling, who posts on a topic dear to my heart: Where I stand on libertarianism. He outlines five issues on which he agrees with what he perceives as the libertarian consensus, and five where he disagrees. Example of the latter:

    I do not agree with total passivity in foreign policy, and I do not agree with libertarians who take the progressive view that America and Israel are bad actors. I do take a libertarian view that nation-building is way outside the competence of government. But I don’t like watching the Houthis sink ships. We should protect freedom of the seas, and if that means killing a lot of Houthis, so be it. I also trust the average American’s instinct about who is right and wrong in the world more than I trust “elite opinion.”

    Not that you should care, but my lists are slightly different (and I reserve the right to change my mind on it): I'm in libertarian agreement on school choice, free trade, small government, deregulation, drug legalization. Disagree on isolationist foreign policy, abortion, "open borders", privatizing security, taking order for granted.

It's a Pity Both Sides Can't Lose

Perceptive post-SOTU imagery from Iowahawk:

That's sort of a rosy picture, because it's easy to imagine that eventually a dying mall will be repurposed to some more productive use, and those dead-end employees will shake their heads, slink off, and learn to code, or something. Schumpeter's creative destruction, you know? You might not like the destruction, but something better might come out eventually. So, analogously, you might hope and expect our current political situation to return to sanity. But "eventually" can take a long time to get here.

David Harsanyi has a small example of Spencer Gifts leading off with a low blow from its chief blowhard: Biden Is Spreading Hamas Propaganda.

The Gaza Health Ministry’s casualty numbers, incessantly repeated by our media, are fake.

Anyone with an ounce of sense or basic comprehension of the situation knows they’re fake. They have always been fake. So, we must assume one of three things about people who spread Hamas’ claims: They are 1) irredeemably stupid, 2) propagandists for terrorists, or 3) both.

Make what you will of the president, but in a speech celebrating Ramadan, Biden repeated the claim that “30,000 Palestinians have been killed, most of them civilians, including thousands of children.” The president of the United States now not only rejects the claims of our allies in Israel but accepts the declarations of a group that is not only on the Justice Department’s terror list — one that recently murdered, raped, and kidnapped American citizens.

Harsanyi notes a recent article by Abraham Wyner at Tablet that lays out the case pretty convincingly for Hamas fakery. Harsanyi quips: "Indeed, while Islamists excel at sexual torture and theocratic repression, they are less proficient at math." His bottom line:

None of this is to say that civilians aren’t dying or that war isn’t gruesome. It is a tragedy what Palestinian leaders, who have refused to make peace with Jews for over a century, have brought on their own people. The operative difference is that Hamas (and PLO and Islamic Jihad, etc.) targets civilians, and Israel targets terrorists. No amount of propaganda can change that reality.

So Team Radio Shack must have it pretty easy, right? Just point out Spencer Gifts' dangerous (at best) credulity. Some on-the-fence spectators might start cheering for you. But they went another way, and Jeff Maurer has a question about what their choices say about their future prospects: I Wonder Why Republicans Keep Having Candidate Quality Problems.

Senator Katie Britt’s State of the Union response made the Space Shuttle Challenger launch look like a rousing success. At times, Britt seemed like a Tobias Fünke-level actor auditioning for the role of PTA Mom Who Just Dropped An Edible; other times, she seemed like someone telling a ghost story to a dog. Britt’s performance was a failure unless her goal was to portray the GOP as The Party of Inauthentic Weirdos. One of her anecdotes also turned out to be extremely misleading, as revealed not by a Woodward-and-Bernstein-style months-long investigation, but by a journalist who bothered to google “hey is that bullshit-sounding story bullshit?”

I watched the SNL Scarlett Johansson parody on TiVo-delay, and it was pretty devastating. The Arizona Republic quotes:

“First and foremost, I’m a mom,” Johansson’s Britt said. “And like any mom, I’m going to do a pivot out of nowhere into a shockingly violent story about sex trafficking. And rest assured, every detail about it is real, except the year, where it took place, and who was president when it happened.”

(Our headline du jour is from Henry Kissinger, on a different topic.)

Also of note:

  • A good question. And Robert Tracinski has it at Discourse: What Would a Pro-Free-Market 'Industrial Policy' Look Like? Boy, that question nearly answers itself, doesn't it? It's difficult to excerpt, but here's a slice:

    The lesson of the pandemic and the big stimulus packages has been distilled by the “supply-side progressives,” who discovered—well, it’s new to them, at least—that there’s no point subsidizing what you can’t produce. You can write a lot of checks, but that’s not the same as getting things built.

    They have drawn attention to the need for permitting reform, particularly focusing on NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires extensive environmental impact reviews and gives activist groups the ability to file lawsuits that add years of delay. The peculiar paradox of NEPA is that it only applies to projects that receive federal funding—which means that the more the government subsidizes a project, the less likely it is to get built. Similarly, a pioneering zoning reform in Minneapolis—which increased housing supply in the city by 12% and kept rents flat while they soared nationwide—has been put on hold by a federal judge in response to an environmental lawsuit.

    This kind of regulatory drag suppresses housing, suppresses infrastructure, and of course, it suppresses manufacturing. You can’t hire factory workers if you can’t build the factory—or if the workers can’t find affordable housing, or if you can’t build highways, rail lines, power plants and other infrastructure manufacturers need.

    A four-word summary of Tracinski's answer to the question posed in his headline: Get out of the way.

  • It's easy to claim there's no such thing as cancel culture when… you make sure people don't hear about it from experts such as Rikki Schott, who writes at the NYPost: I was canceled by trendy SXSW film festival bosses … for criticizing cancel culture.

    It appears that I’ve been canceled … for speaking up about cancel culture.

    Organizers of the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival declined to approve my participation in a panel of speakers.

    The reason? Concern that I’d dared to speak out against cancel culture.

    An email from SXSW staff, shared with me by the panel’s organizer, reveals the festival was “hesitant to approve” my participation because my commentary has been “focused on the idea of cancel culture.”

    Oh, the irony!

    Ms. Schlott co-wrote the excellent book The Canceling of the American Mind with Greg Lukianoff. Now she's even more of an expert, thanks to SXSW.

  • Also on the cancellation beat… Jonathan H. Adler reports: Guernica Cancels an Inconvenient Essay.

    Guernica, a non-profit journal publishing work at the intersection of art and politics, published a powerful essay by a literary interpreter working in Israel and her experience in the wake of October 7 and the resulting war between Israel and Hamas. The essay, "From the Edges of a Broken World," by Joanna Chen, provides a first-hand account of how life has changed for the author. It is deeply personal, and perhaps challenging in that it does not hew to a "side" in the current conflict–and perhaps that was the problem. Not hewing to the proper side's perspective, the essay was too challenging for some portion of Guernica's readership.

    Although Guernica proclaims that it is "a home for singular voices, incisive ideas, and critical questions," this essay apparently crossed the line. The article has been removed from the journal's website. In its place reads the message: "Guernica regrets having published this piece, and has retracted it. A more fulsome explanation will follow."

    I'm pretty sure "fulsome" is not the best word they could have used there. But they definitely wouldn't have used any of the adjectives that I might suggest.

Reader, Suppose You Were a Shameless Lying Demagogue. And Suppose You Were A Politician.

But I Repeat Myself.

Apologies for slightly altering a Mark Twain quote. But it was brought to mind by a Don Boudreaux post at Cafe Hayek, which begins: The Experience of an Economist....

… listening to typical politicians discuss economics is like what I imagine would be experienced by a skilled physician listening to witchdoctors discuss human diseases and methods of healing the human body. These politicians, like witchdoctors, are not merely ignorant about that on which they hold forth, they are so utterly ignorant of the subject matter that they cannot conceive that they might be misinformed and mistaken.

This morning I had the misfortune to hear on NPR Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) pronounce on ‘shrinkflation.’ The very fact that someone so ignorant of economics has power over the economy – combined with the fact that, among successful politicians, Casey is the norm rather than the exception – is sufficient to render any case for government intervention into the economy ridiculous. Just as we would be out of our minds to trust witchdoctors to discover new modern medical treatments and to administer these in healthful ways, we are out of our minds to entrust resource-allocation decisions to politicians.

Boudreaux made the fatal mistake of listening to NPR. I sympathize. I listened to the five-minute interview; the NPR Droid, Ayesha Rascoe, did not ask any skeptical questions of the senator. Like: "Isn't 'shrinkflation' just a symptom of inflation? And isn't inflation a pretty direct result of government policies?"

If you don't hit that NPR link above, you can check out Senator Casey's press release on his bill: Legislation to Crack Down on Big Corporations Shrinking Products Without Reducing Prices.

Yes, like Elizabeth Warren, Casey's a big fan of cracking down. On everything except runaway government spending.

Bill empowers Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to crack down on corporations reducing product size without a reduction in price…

Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Subcommittee on Children & Families, introduced the Shrinkflation Prevention Act to crack down on corporations…

"I’m fighting to crack down on shrinkflation and hold corporations accountable for these deceptive practices."…

In February 2024, Casey introduced legislation to protect American families from greedflation by banning grossly excessive price increases and crack down on corporate price gouging.

Like "fair share", that phrase must focus-group well.

Back to Don Boudreaux, who penned a letter to NPR in response, observing: None of These People Put Their Money Where Their Mouths Are.... Proposing a real tough question for the down-crackers:

Interviewed this morning by Ayesha Rascoe, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) repeated the economically nonsensical claim that today’s inflation is caused by greed (“What to know about the ‘shrinkflation’ bill mentioned in the State of the Union”). To support his assertion – and his pending legislation to empower government to police against ‘shrinkflation’ – Mr. Casey asserted that corporate profits are unusually high.

How refreshing it would be if at least once your reporters would ask people, such as Sen. Casey, who assert that corporations have unchecked power to raise prices or shrink package sizes this question: “If what you say is true, why don’t you start a company that charges more reasonable prices or offers larger portions? You’d make a fortune by attracting away from the price-gougers all the consumers who you assert are now suffering terribly. Rather than siccing the government on the alleged price-gougers, if you instead went into competition with them you enrich yourself and consumers! Can you explain to me why you don’t put your money where your mouth is?

Well, Don, the obvious answer is that politicians like Casey and Warren have no discernible talent at business-running. In fact, no discernible talent for running anything except their mouths.

(The above is a mutated quote from Marion Barry, not quite as famous as his classic "Bitch set me up".)

Anyway: of course, some savvy businessperson with appropriate talent could do what Boudreaux describes, undercutting the "price gougers", and making big bucks. Or an existing candy company, one of these guys, could do it. Why doesn't that happen?

I'm pretty sure you can come up with a plausible explanation.

It is unsurprising for government-subsidized NPR to act as a cheerleader for increasing government "crack down" power. We previously looked at Cookie Monster doing his part on that front too. Jack Butler chimes in there as well: Cookie Monster: Biden Flack?.

It was strange for a character from a children’s TV show to weigh in on this subject in a manner remarkably similar to current White House messaging and preoccupation. Reporting on this, the Washington Free Beacon noted that Sesame Workshop, the organization behind Sesame Street, receives 5 percent of its revenues from the federal government, and that some of its leaders are Democratic donors.

But even if there hasn’t been deliberate coordination between the Biden administration and Sesame Workshop, the unseemliness of Cookie Monster’s apparent politicking ought to renew skepticism of the government funds going to the organization. It may be a small amount, and a small portion of Sesame Workshop’s overall revenue. But the latter fact should make us more willing to end the funding. And amid an only worsening fiscal crisis, the former fact should make us look anywhere we can for items to excise.

As Butler notes, Casey's proposed legislation was promoted by the shameless-lying-demagogue-in-chief in the SOTU speech last week. The MSM fact-checkers were not diligent about his relevant remarks:

In fact, the snack companies think you won’t notice if they change the size of the bag and put a hell of a lot fewer — (laughter) — same — same size bag — put fewer chips in it. No, I’m not joking. It’s called “shrink-flation.”

Pass Bobby Casey’s bill and stop this. (Applause.) I really mean it.

You probably all saw that commercial on Snickers bars. (Laughter.) And you get — you get charged the same amount, and you got about, I don’t know, 10 percent fewer Snickers in it. (Laughter.)

But, via Hot Air's Karen Townsend, it turns out Joe Biden is Lying About the Size of Your Snickers Bar. Quoting a tweet from someone who actually checked with the manufacturer:

Well, shoot. Now I'm craving… you know what.

You can look at Senator Casey's proposed legislation here. Nine co-sponsors, none from New Hampshire. Too stupid even for Maggie and Jeanne?

Also Acceptable, But More Obscure: Picasso's "The Clown"

Curious about the headline? Here you go:

That's more cheery! I think.

But if you're more in the Munch mood, Charles C. W. Cooke has a prediction: the Loser of This Election Will Be Forever Stained

If he loses, Joe Biden will no longer be the guy who beat Donald Trump. He will be the guy who beat Donald Trump, was president for four years, and then, because he could not accept that he was an unpopular, senile failure, allowed Donald Trump to become president again. At present, both the Democratic Party and the broader center-left are pretending manfully that Biden is a brilliant and spritely young lad, whose stewardship of the United States has inspired awe in everyone to the left of Ted Nugent. If he loses, this will change instantly. Like the GOP’s, the Democratic Party’s coalition is chaotic and irrational, and thus primed to fracture badly in defeat. Should Biden’s astonishingly selfish decision to run for a second term result in the return of Donald Trump, the recriminations will be swift and the internecine warfare will be brutal. At the very least, such a result will lead to a loss of trust in the party’s establishment of the sort that the Republicans have suffered. “You gave us Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden,” the cavilers will say, “and in exchange we got two terms of Trump.”

And if Donald Trump loses? Well, then he will no longer be the guy who beat Hillary Clinton and prevented her from turning the country to the left, but the guy who beat Hillary Clinton, did some good things, and then handed control of the country over to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for eight years — during which time his achievements were mostly undone. As a political proposition, “but Gorsuch” is a good argument — especially when it is accompanied by “but Kavanaugh,” “but Coney Barrett,” “but tax cuts,” and “but border security.” It will be less persuasive if the influence of Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Coney Barrett has been wiped out by two new Democratic appointees; if the tax cuts that Trump signed are slashed to pieces in 2027; and if the border remains wide open by design. At present, Trump’s many flaws do not seem to matter much to his popularity, but this is mostly the result of the mistaken belief that he is a winner. Should Trump lose for a second time in a row, the re-evaluation will come more quickly than he expects, and it will not be kind.

That's a "gifted" link, so feel free to check it out.

As for our regular Sunday look at the betting odds:

Candidate EBO Win
Donald Trump 51.6% -0.6%
Joe Biden 33.7% +2.3%
Michelle Obama 2.4% -2.4%
Robert Kennedy Jr 2.2% ---
Gavin Newsom 2.1% -0.5%
Other 8.0% -1.0%

Executive summary: no doubt due to his shouty, non-drooly, State of the Union speech, Biden improved his odds a bit. The big loser is… well, as Democrat stalwart Renée Graham says in her Boston Globe column: Michelle Obama is not coming to save us.

But, perhaps as a result of Michelle's drop, RFKJr popped back above our 2% threshold. Perhaps buoyed by the recent news, as reported at Axios: RFK Jr. nears major ballot wins in 3 battleground states.

And, as usual, there's still a significant fraction for "Other". Wagering, I assume, on that always-possible "actuarial event".

Also of note:

  • We are used to deranged people talking about this. But David Friedman is not deranged, so attention should be paid: Trump’s Threat to Democracy.

    Suppose that, despite any legal tactics of the opposition, Trump ends up in the White House, in control of both the federal legal apparatus and, through his supporters, those of multiple states. After the repeated use of lawfare against him by his opponents it is hard to imagine Trump refraining from responding in kind or his supporters expecting him to.

    At which point we are getting close to the situation in a variety of nominally democratic states, most obviously Putin’s Russia, where the ruling party stays in power by weaponizing the legal system against its opponents, relying on its control of law enforcement to deal with any hostile response.

    The scholars also warned that serious political instability and violence could ensue. That possibility was on Raskin’s mind, too. He conceded that the threat of violence could influence what Democrats do if Trump wins. But, Raskin added, it wouldn’t necessarily stop them from trying to disqualify him. “We might just decide that’s something we need to prepare for.” ("How Democrats Could Disqualify Trump If the Supreme Court Doesn’t," Russel Berman in The Atlantic.)

    Trump may end up responsible for the destruction of democracy in the US — through things he scared his enemies into doing.

    An all-too-credible scenario.

    In other depressing news: Trump praises ‘fantastic’ Viktor Orbán while hosting Hungarian autocrat at Mar-a-Lago for meeting and concert.

  • Worse than Obama? About the SOTU yell-in, Philip Klein notes Biden Delivers The Most Anti-Israel Presidential Speech In History.

    In the early days of the war, Biden claimed that Hamas needed to be destroyed, but tonight that got downgraded to saying that Israel has the right to “go after” Hamas.

    Yet each day, Biden undermines Israel’s ability to go after Hamas. He has warned Israel not to go into Rafah, the part of southern Gaza where the last remnants of Hamas are hiding, and each day he demands a cease-fire deal. But his constant attacks on Israel are actually making Hamas dig in. As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier, “Egyptian officials said [Hamas leader Yahya] Sinwar believes Hamas currently has the upper hand in negotiations, citing internal political divisions within Israel, including cracks in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wartime government and mounting U.S. pressure on Israel to do more to alleviate the suffering of Gazans.”

    The overarching message was clear: The October 7 attacks were bad, but Israel’s response has been worse. Palestinians deserve our support, but Israel does not.

  • What could go wrong? The architect of the Afghanistan debacle unveiled another plan in his SOTU shoutfest. Luther Ray Abel takes a hard look: Biden's Pier in Gaza Portends Disaster.

    President Biden, during his State of the Union address, announced an effort to create an aid corridor to Gaza that will include a U.S.–constructed pier for shipments of food and other supplies to reach Palestinians. This “temporary” construction would be a significant expansion of the Biden administration’s aid measures and no longer done at arm’s length, whatever promises of “no American boots on the ground” the president might make. As with all else, there are only tradeoffs. In this case, it’s almost all bad. The president’s design will create a locus of aid transfer that endangers American servicemen while failing to ensure the aid cannot be appropriated by Hamas.

    The most recent efforts, air-dropping aid in collaboration with the Jordanian air force, resulted in a reported five Palestinian deaths (per Hamas-compromised Gaza Health Ministry) after a parachute failed to deploy correctly on one parcel. The pallet in question was not a U.S.-dropped aid parcel, according to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). The White House’s proposed pier solution would endanger American lives, almost certainly experience mission creep that turns temporary into tem-permanent, and, because of Biden’s promise of “no boots” would require a third party to handle dissemination of supplies — Qatar has volunteered to bankroll much of it.

    As Abel goes on to note, Qatar has long been Hamas-friendly.

Unintended Consequences, Past and Future

Another must-watch from the Reason kids: Great Moments in Unintended Consequences: (Vol. 15).

One Canadian example, two American. But they also dabble in unforeseen outcomes in Japan, as discussed by Matthew Neidell in a 2020 interview with James Pethokoukis. Neidell wrote a paper on The unintended effects from halting nuclear power production: Evidence from Fukushima Daiichi accident, published in the Journal of Health Economics. Abstract:

This paper provides novel evidence of the unintended health effects stemming from the halt in nuclear power production after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. After the accident, nuclear power stations ceased operation and nuclear power was replaced by fossil fuels, causing an increase in electricity prices. We find that this increase led to a reduction in energy consumption, which caused an increase in mortality during very cold temperatures, given the protective role that climate control plays against the elements. Our results contribute to the debate surrounding the use of nuclear as a source of energy by documenting a yet unexplored health benefit from using nuclear power, and more broadly to regulatory policy approaches implemented during periods of scientific uncertainty about potential adverse effects.

Short version: the Japanese government killed far more of its citizens by its panicked response to Fukushima than did the accident itself.

Which brings us to the likely future, as evidenced by this Granite Geek article from Concord Monitor reporter David Brooks: NH lawmakers take on AI before we understand it, which is fine by me.

My immediate thought on reading that: Dude, do you even listen to yourself?

Brooks can be sensible on occasion. And at times he goes wildly off the rails. You can guess from the headline which description applies here; this is the language of the Precautionary principle run wild. The Politician's syllogism is mindlessly applied.

Here’s a statement I used to firmly believe but now realize is often wrong: “Government should not pick technology winners and losers.”

It can be true, of course, but there are times when the representatives of “we the people” need to take the lead away from representatives of “they the venture capitalists.” The eruption of artificial intelligence is one of those times and, happily, it seems that a lot of New Hampshire’s lawmakers agree.

Brooks favors some things ("excellent goals that any sensible person would applaud") and disfavors others ("idiotic"). In addition to the two links above, also see the Wikipedia entry for Thought-terminating cliché. His bottom line:

Whatever the cause, it’s nice to see society acting like adults and trying to grapple with a problem before it becomes insurmountable. That doesn’t happen often enough.

On the contrary, it happens way too often: hasty, panicked, and poorly-considered legislation whose flaws and costs may only become evident after the damage is done. (Or may not: stifled innovation is an example of Bastiat's "unseen" effects.)

But (good news) unlike Japan, New Hampshire probably won't kill very many people by legislating things its legislators don't understand, but want to be seen as "doing something" about.

Also of note:

  • Leftover SOTU commentary. Did I mention one of Biden's big lies? If not, Brian Reidl has it covered:

    Prefer words to pictures? To his prescient credit, Chris Edwards actually did a pre-SOTU factcheck:

    In his State of the Union address, President Biden is expected to discuss raising taxes on the rich. As he often does, Biden may claim that the rich pay lower tax rates than firefighters or school teachers or that the rich pay a tax rate of just 8 percent.

    A Reuters story on the State of the Union address parrots the White House theme without any independent fact‐checking: “The average American worker paid about a 25% tax rate in 2022, the OECD reported. White House research found the wealthiest individuals paid about 8% from 2010 to 2018.”

    White House “research”? The 8 percent is a concoction by Biden political appointees at odds with data from the US Treasury, Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Internal Revenue Service, and Joint Committee on Taxation. All these official sources find that tax rates on high earners are much higher than tax rates on lower‐ and middle‐income folks.

    President Dotard is a shameless lying demagogue. (Who, it appears, will be running against a different shameless lying demagogue come November.)

  • And Edwards looks at another bad idea. He's on a roll: Biden Proposal to Raise the Corporate Tax Rate.

    President Biden is expected in his State of the Union address to propose raising the federal corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent. The administration says it wants to make “big corporations pay their fair share” and reverse the “massive tax giveaway to big corporations that Republicans enacted in 2017.”

    A few thoughts.

    Corporations pay income taxes, but the burden is passed on to workers, savers, and consumers. These individuals would pay the higher “share” that the administration is proposing. Corporations are just a politically convenient vehicle for collecting taxes on people.

    In 2017, Republicans cut the federal corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, but they also broadened the corporate tax base in various ways. Also, corporations respond to tax rate cuts by investing more and avoiding and evading taxes less. Thus, the statutory rate cut was not a “massive tax giveaway.” Indeed, federal corporate tax revenues have soared since the GOP reform from $297 billion in 2017 to an expected $569 billion in 2024. The latter figure is inflated for temporary reasons, and revenues are expected to fall to $494 billion in 2025, but that is still up from 2017—not a giveaway.

    See comment on demagoguery above.

Last Modified 2024-03-09 9:54 AM EDT

It is a Truth Universally Acknowledged That When Politicians Say "Their Fair Share" They Just Mean "More"

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

For the umpteenth year in a row, nobody offered to pay me a lot of money to watch the State of the Union speech, so I didn't. That's probably a good thing too, since my blood pressure meds might not have been able to keep my arteries intact.

Reader, did you have an over/under bet on how many times President Dotard would use the term "fair share" in his speech? According to the Time magazine transcript, the answer is: five. [UPDATE 2024-03-13: Looking at the NYT transcript, I get six, so we'll go with that.]

  1. "It’s my goal to cut the federal deficit $3 trillion more by making big corporations and the very wealthy finally beginning to pay their fair share."
  2. "Look, I’m a capitalist. If you want to make, you can make a million or millions of bucks, that’s great. Just pay your fair share in taxes."
  3. "The way to make the tax code fair is to make big corporations and the very wealthy begin to pay their fair share."
  4. "It’s time to raise the corporate minimum tax to at least 21 percent so every big corporation finally begins to pay their fair share."
  5. "I will protect and strengthen Social Security and make the wealthy pay their fair share."
  6. "I see a future where the middle class finally has a fair shot and the wealthy have to pay their fair share in taxes."

Okay, first, the obvious: Corporations don't pay taxes; they collect taxes. The money they send off to the government comes out of the pockets of their customers, employees, and shareholders.

And (see the headline): "fair share" has no economic meaning. It's not as if there's some cosmic formula for determining it.

With respect to #2 above: Someone should ask him: "OK, Mr. 'Capitalist' President. Say I make a million dollars. Exactly how much of that do you think the government should be entitled to?"

Or just buy our Amazon Product du Jour, and say: "Mr. President, could you answer Dr. Sowell's question?"

But I guess "fair share" focus-groups well, as long as you keep it vague.

But particularly galling is Biden's use of "finally" (twice). Implying: "Once we get this, it's final! No more tax increases on anyone!"

Reader, given history, that lie ranks right up there with "Your call is very important to us" and "I have a headache."

Also of note:

  • Speaking of lies… Eric Boehm observed: Biden Says He'll Make the Wealthy Pay More To Fix Social Security. Here's Why That Won't Work. Although he didn't spell it out, Biden appears to want to raise or eliminate the "cap" on payroll taxes, that specifies that (currently) "only" the first $168,600 is taxed.

    On its face, this isn't necessarily the worst idea. The cap is completely arbitrary, so there's no principled reason why all earnings shouldn't be treated equally. And there's no doubt that raising the cap would generate more revenue to help keep Social Security afloat. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that applying payroll taxes to higher income levels could raise $1 trillion in revenues over a 10-year period (though the amount of revenue would depend on how the cap was altered, and whether benefits increased as well).

    But there are also serious trade-offs. For one, this would be a tax increase on working Americans to fund a transfer of wealth to retirees. That's not great. A significant portion of that tax increase would fall on people making less than $400,000 annually—remember, the cap is currently set around $168,000—a cohort that Biden promised again in Thursday's speech would not face tax increases.

    Perhaps most importantly, raising or eliminating the payroll tax gap doesn't come close to solving the long-term Social Security shortfall. It might generate $1 trillion over 10 years, which is a lot of money, but it doesn't come close to the $2.8 trillion deficit the program is expected to run over the next decade.

    But when Boehm says "it won't work", he ignores the actual purpose of the proposal: throwing out cheap populist demagoguery. For that purpose, it works fine.

  • And speaking of things that won't work… Christian Britschgi observes that Biden's Plan To Subsidize Homebuyers Won't Work.

    America's high housing costs got a brief shout-out in President Joe Biden's State of the Union address tonight, with the president mostly proposing policies that would subsidize demand of this heavily supply-constrained good.

    "I know the cost of housing is so important to you. If inflation keeps coming down mortgage rates will come down as well. But I'm not waiting," said Biden, proposing temporary tax credits of $400 a month to compensate for high mortgage rates and the end of title insurance fees for federally backed mortgages.

    In addition, Biden proposed cracking down on the price fixing of big landlords and urged Congress to pass his plan to build or renovate 2 million affordable homes.

    That housing policy got a shout-out at all in a State of the Union address is somewhat rare, despite housing being the largest line item in most Americans' budgets. Regrettably, most of the policies Biden proposed would do little to address the cause of high housing costs and could make the problem worse.

    "Big landlords" are a convenient scapegoat, of course.

  • And one more thing that won't work… Veronique de Rugy points out that A Bipartisan Tax Hike Won't Fix This Deficit. Hey, Vero, why not?

    For one thing, our deficits are the result of excessive promises made to special interests—mostly seniors in the form of entitlement spending—without any real plans to pay. The problem is constantly growing spending, not the lack of revenue and taxes. The common talking point from the left that rich people don't pay their fair share of taxes is a distraction. Not only is our tax system remarkably progressive, but there are not enough rich people to fleece to significantly reduce our future deficits.

    As a 2011 New York Times column by Catherine Rampell reminded us, until then, all deficit-reduction deals were very tax-heavy. What the article didn't mention is that they failed to reduce the deficit. What distinguishes the 1997 deal is that it cut both spending and taxes. The result was the first budget surplus in decades helped by a fast-growing economy. Now, this lesson doesn't mean that a fiscal commission must cut taxes, but it does caution against attempting to reduce the debt largely by raising taxes.

    Spending money is just too much fun for our political class.

  • Otherwise, it's business as usual. Eric Boehm (again) dons his green eyeshade and reports: Federal Budget Deal Is Overflowing With $12 Billion of Earmarks. Our state's senior senator makes an appearance:

    Many of the earmarks in the package seem like things that would be better funded by local or state taxpayers, who at least might stand to benefit from projects like new sewer systems, new runways and other upgrades for tiny rural airports, and a plethora of highway projects. Some are truly head-scratching, like Sen. Tammy Baldwin's (D–Wis.) $1.4 million earmark for a solar energy project in Wisconsin, one of the places in America least well suited for a solar farm.

    Plenty of others make no sense for the public to be funding at all. Like a $3.5 million earmark secured by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D–Mich.) for The Parade Company, which runs Detroit's annual Thanksgiving Day parade. Or the $2.5 million earmark that will help build a new kayaking facility in Franklin, New Hampshire, curtsey of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D–N.H.), as well as $2.7 million line item to help build a bike park in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia, a town with a population of less than 2,300 people.

    For that amount of money, "you could buy EVERY resident a $1,200+ bike" Sen. Rick Scott (R–Fla.), who has become a vocal critic of the earmarks in the bill, posted on X (formerly Twitter). "There's no way they need this much of YOUR money for this."

    I assume "curtsey" is an unchecked auto-complete. But I enjoyed the imagery. There's probably not enough curtseying in the Senate, and who better to do that than Jeanne?

Last Modified 2024-03-13 7:38 AM EDT

Here's Looking at You, Nikki

Nick Catoggio goes all Casablanca, and who can blame him: We’ll Always Have Vermont (as well as the District of Columbia.)

You can’t feel disillusioned by politics if you weren’t under illusions to begin with.

Whichever other words one might choose to describe the aftermath of Super Tuesday’s Republican primaries (my favorites are unprintable), “disillusioned” isn’t apt. For the readers of this site especially, the nature of the modern right was laid bare long ago. Yesterday’s outcome represented the last few wheezing breaths of a patient who plainly had been terminally ill since at least 2015 and probably long before.

It’s fine and proper to feel strong emotions at such a moment. But no one who watched that patient waste away would describe themselves as “disillusioned” upon seeing them succumb.

The time of death for the conservative movement was 10 a.m. ET on Wednesday morning.

And that sad moment is illustrated at your right. Also chiming in with a depressing take is Joe Lancaster: Nikki Haley Offered an Off-Ramp from Trumpism. Republicans Didn't Care.

Haley, a former South Carolina governor who also served as ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, entered the race in February 2023. She was the first candidate to do so after Trump—an awkward position after saying explicitly in 2021 that "I would not run if President Trump ran" and that she would support his reelection bid.

Ultimately, awkward characterized much of Haley's campaign positioning, as she tried to simultaneously appeal to both MAGA diehards and Never-Trump conservatives. She was never as forcefully anti-Trump as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, nor as vociferously pro-Trump as Vivek Ramaswamy.

Haley spoke of the need for "a new generation of leadership"—an implicit shot at both Trump and President Joe Biden, who would respectively be 78 and 82 years old on Inauguration Day 2025. She characterized the former president less as unfit for office than just unsuited for the current moment: "Eight years ago, it was good to have a leader who broke things," Haley said in October. "But right now, we need to have a leader who also knows how to put things back together."

But going easy on Trump didn't endear her to his supporters: Ahead of the Iowa caucus in January, Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) posted a video on X (formerly Twitter) in which he declared himself "Never Nikki," effectively offering his endorsement to any Republican or Independent candidate except Haley. Trump himself mocked Haley in clear racist overtones—first by suggesting that despite being born in South Carolina, she was not qualified for office because her parents were Indian immigrants, and then by simply making fun of her first name, Nimarata.

And Nate Silver has a relevant diagnosis: Nikki Haley's problem is America's problem. He notes polling that shows self-identified "conservatives" went heavily for Trump. While "Moderate/Liberal" voters clearly went Haley.

So, yeah. If there had been an electorate consisting only of moderate Republican voters — including, in several of these states, independents and Democrats who crossed over to vote on the GOP side — Haley, despite being a former Tea Party star and [far?] from a true moderate herself, would be the frontrunner for the nomination. But she’s winning very little support from self-described conservative Republicans — just 14 percent in California, for instance, and only 29 percent in South Carolina, the state where she was once governor. This is a contrast to McCain, who actually narrowly edged out Bush (within the margin of error) 37-36 among conservative voters in the New Hampshire primary in 2000.

I’m less hung up on what the term “conservative” means than I am about “liberal”. Liberal has a much more specific historical origin, one that was vital in the founding of the United States and other liberal democracies, and which is obscured by the American tendency to use “liberal” as a synonym for “left”. True liberals can have a healthy amount of respect for a strain of conservatism that upholds certain of these traditions, like individual liberty and the rule of law, even if they hope to discard others.

I am not prone to hyperbole about Trump, but he very much is not in that tradition, obviously. January 6 was a dangerous, radical insurrection that undermined the rule of law and the democratic process. A second Trump term would at the very least almost certainly entail a massive expansion of executive powers and — although I’m more optimistic about the checks-and-balances of the American system and particularly the role of the courts than some commentators — potentially even push the Republic to the brink.

Note: don't call me a "liberal" unless you prepend the "classical" adjective.

And a further note: if I get any pleas for cash from the Trump campaign, I plan on just sending them this pic: Also of note:

  • I'm told that saying "Calm down" is sometimes ineffective at getting people to calm down. Jonah Goldberg tries a different two words: Apocalypse Not.

    I’m not going to tell you how to vote. I am going to tell you how to think about voting. But I’m going to take you on a journey to get there.

    Let me skip ahead. Five years from now, America will be okay. You’ll probably be okay. And if you are not okay, it will in all likelihood have nothing to do with who was elected president in 2024.

    Those of you who think I’m trying to reassure anti-Trump people (like me), despondent over the prospect of another Trump presidency, you’re right. But I’m also talking even more to pro-Trump folks, convinced that America can’t survive four more years of Joe Biden.

    All of you need to get off the ledge.

    Good advice, unfortunately behind the Dispatch paywall. "Get off the ledge, subscribers! The rest of you… eh, go ahead and jump."

  • Will banning 'scalping' fix the ticket resale market? Reader, Drew Cline answers that burning question at the Josiah Bartlett Center: Banning 'scalping' won't fix the ticket resale market.

    Imagine you own a small entertainment venue in New Hampshire. What’s the value of an aisle seat in Row 37 on a Wednesday night in April?

    Let’s say you printed the date, the time and a price of $100 on the ticket. Would that make the ticket worth $100? How about $200?

    No idea, right?

    You don’t have enough information to answer that question. You first have to know: 1.) Who’s playing that night, and 2.) How much are people willing to pay to sit in that seat in that venue at that time for that artist?

    The number of people interested in renting that seat for two hours on a Wednesday night would vary along with the popularity of the artist. That number would be lower for a Dead Kennedy’s show than for a Dua Lipa show. (Yes, we know who Dua Lipa is. Kind of.)

    I have added the DUA of Dua Lipa to my crossword puzzle guidance post.

    But Drew makes the obvious points: the venues should charge a market-clearing price, or try to.

    If they don't? Well, if they overcharge, the resellers will take up the slack. And if they overcharge, well, bad for them. Either way, there's little reason for government to regulate.

Recently on the book blog:

The World Itself

Consciousness and the Everything of Physics

(paid link)

The author, Ulf Danielsson, is a Swedish theoretical physicist, but (it turns out) he's also quite the student of philosophy. The book was originally published in Swedish, and the translation to English was done by Danielsson himself. (Which I'd like to think explains some of my head-scratching at some of his phrasings. There is an obvious alternative explanation that I'd prefer not to entertain.)

Near the end of the book, he characterizes his theme as a "single long argument" against dualism. Not only classic Cartesian mind-body dualism; that's an easy target. But more subtly, for example, the desire of (some) theoreticians to look for "beauty" or "simplicity" in their models of the Way The World Works.

He also (gently, politely) inveighs against confusing those models, and their associated mathematics, with reality. After all, to a pretty decent approximation, Newton's laws of gravity describe how planets move, how satellites orbit, and how apples fall on your head. But it's not like those objects have some sort of internal computer that tells them where to go and how fast; they just do it.

Or to use an example I saw in this book: solving Schrödinger's equation for a thulium atom's 69 quantum-entangled electrons is daunting for even the fastest computers; but each and every tiny thulium atom just… does it.

The book jumps around a lot, is slightly repetitive, and (as I said above) the prose seems murky at times. One interesting bit: Danielsson seems to think that "consciousness" is a real thing, not a mere illusion. But his final five-page chapter looks at "free will" and says—as near as I can telli—says nej. That's a bold stance, and I have to admit I did not follow exactly what he was trying to say.

I will say he had a pretty jaw-dropping anecdote about Douglas Hofstadter dropping by his institution and posing the following puzzler, to be solved with integral A, B, and C (this may not translate well on Goodreads, sorry):

A + B +C = 4


"The answer may surprise you."

The Last Devil to Die

(paid link)

This is the fourth in Richard Osman's "Thursday Murder Club" series. I've been hooked from the first; it's a definite get-at-library for me. Newbies should start with #1; it's not something you want to jump in the middle of.

This entry is (I think) darker than its predecessors. I'm pretty sure the body count is higher. And there's a very serious and somber subplot; be warned that it's not all tea and cakes for the club members.

But the main plot thread is straightforward. An antiques dealer known to the club, Kuldesh Sharma, has a small but profitable sideline as a go-between for heroin dealers. It's been low-risk for a while… until it isn't. Not much of a spoiler: on page 2, he's killed by a gunshot to the head. The box containing the heroin has gone missing, however. Concerning both the people who gave it to Kuldesh, and the people who expected to get it from Kuldesh.

The core group from the Cooper's Chase retirement community are all here: Elizabeth the ex-spy; Joyce the ex-nurse; Ron the ex-labor activist; and Ibrahim the shrink. And the allies (and some antagonists) they've managed to pick up along the way: a couple of cops that have been bigfooted out of the investigation of Kuldesh's murder by the British equivalent of the FBI (I think).

An amusing subplot involves another resident, Mervyn, who has fallen in love with a Lithuanian lady on the Internet. Which involves him sending her a lot of money. It is completely obvious to everyone he's being scammed; can they rescue him and retrieve his cash? Yes, they can, as it turns out, and there's a cute interaction with their main case near the end.

Osman's next book doesn't involve the TMC, but he promises they'll return someday.

Me No Like Cookie Monster Anymore

Because he's in the tank for President Dotard:

Notably that brought some huzzahs from government figures who would greatly prefer to point their shaky fingers at their designated scapegoats in the private sector…

… instead of accepting responsibility, admitting "shrinkflation" is just another symptom of government-caused inflation. Their media allies also quickly fell in line. But not everyone was pleased:

All this via David Strom at Hot Air. Cookie Monster Gets Political, and Frank Oz is Angry About It.

Not to mention that Sesame Street happens to get government funding, and it's rather unseemly to have a kids' show funded by the government endorse the president-in-power's messaging. Shrinkflation and corporate greed are part of Biden's campaign messaging.

Any suggestions for further things Sesame Street could do? Perhaps Elmo could decide he's trans, change his name to "Elma" and Big Bird could use the wrong pronoun…

Also of note:

  • An unexpected glimmer of seacoast sanity. And to think it happened on Junkins Avenue. As reported at NHJournal, a Portsmouth Stunner: 7-2 Council Vote Shoots Down 'Ceasefire' Resolution.

    A late-night vote saw an overwhelming majority of Portsmouth city councilors conclude a controversial resolution backing a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was “not germane” to city business, delivering a blow to pro-Palestine progressives who had passionately lobbied for it.

    That sanity did not extend ten or so miles to the northwest, where the Durham town council fired up the Virtue-Signal, and passed its resolution 6-2.

    “It was a thoughtful and respectful conversation with points of view aired on all sides of the issue,” [Town Administrator Todd Selig] said.

    The Town Council “thoughtfully listened to all of that and worked hard to integrate different perspectives into the discussion,” Selig said.

    He described the process as “the very best of an open transparent and Democratic process … where residents were able to express their strongly held views in a safe environment.”

    Everyone was thoughtful, and listened thoughtfully.

    It's unclear whether Selig capitalized the "D" in "Democrratic", or that was something reporter Jeff McMenemy assumed.

  • Urgent, urgent, emergency! Check to make sure you've taken your blood pressure medication before you read Emma Camp: Congress Wastes Billions With Bogus Emergency Declarations in Spending Package.

    What constitutes an emergency? According to Congress' new spending package, research equipment and facilities for the National Science Foundation is an emergency. So are the 2024 Democratic National Committee convention and the Republican National Committee convention. So is NASA space exploration.

    By classifying all these line items as emergencies, Congress can get hundreds of millions of taxpayer funding for them with reduced oversight.

    Congress' latest spending package, released this week, is hardly the first time obviously nonemergency projects have been given this special funding designation. According to a January report from the Cato Institute, Congress has approved over $12 trillion in spending for emergencies over the past three decades, making up around 1 in 10 federal budget dollars spent—more than both Medicaid and veterans programs combined.

    Congressman Lepetomane no doubt carried the day when he demanded "We have to keep our phony baloney jobs here, gentleman!"

  • Maybe double up on those blood pressure meds… Eric Boehm looks at a … well, he calls it a "gimmick", but that's kind of insulting to gimmicks: Congressional Budget Deal Includes $12 Billion 'Cut' That Doesn't Actually Cut Anything.

    As part of a new budget deal working its way through Congress this week, lawmakers have proposed to cut $12 billion of spending that would never occur—and then use the "cuts" to offset new spending in another part of the budget.

    Clever magic trick or massive budget gimmick? The answer probably depends on whether you're a member of Congress or a taxpayer.

    On Sunday, House and Senate leaders announced a deal to fund about half the government's discretionary budget through the end of the fiscal year, and lawmakers are now working to pass that agreement into law before the March 8 deadline. (The other half of the discretionary budget is good to go until March 22.) Because Democrats and Republicans have previously agreed to cap the discretionary budget this year, the 1,000-plus-page bill unveiled Sunday includes a lot of cuts to planned spending—known as rescissions—that are being used to offset spending increases in other areas.

    One of those rescissions, however, is an illusion.

    Will "this one weird trick" balance the budget? No, of course not. Not even close. But it does demonstrate the rank dishonesty involved in spending taxpayer money.

Last Modified 2024-03-06 1:22 PM EDT

When Did the Babylon Bee Start Doing Straight News Reporting?

I kid, of course.

The "Democracy Dies in Darkness" newspaper's headline, as I type, is:

Supreme Court ballot ruling darkens critics’ hopes for a judicial curb on Trump

Critics "hopes" were that the least democratic branch of government would put a "curb on Trump."

And the New York Times:

Supreme Court Ruling Settles Ballot Questions, but Hardens Political Divisions

Those robed division-hardeners! Tsk!

Jeff Maurer is gloating just a bit: Everyone Drop What You're Doing and Acknowledge How Right I Was About the Trump 14th Amendment Case. And (indeed) he predicted that SCOTUS would "probably" use Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment as an "escape hatch" to save Trump from disqualification.

Today, the Supreme Court shimmied their 18 buttcheeks through that escape hatch. The conservative justices cited Section 5, while the liberal justices found their own loophole (which I’ll talk about in a bit). In the first unanimous Supreme Court ruling since Og v. Mastodon in 10,000 B.C., all nine justices found a way to sidestep the monumental-if-possibly-legally-required step of allowing states to strike Trump from the ballot.

The Supremes found for Og in that case, by the way.

I also recommend Katherine Mangu-Ward, who notes: There Are So Many Ways the 2024 Election Could Go Wrong.

This is from the print issue of Reason, and KMW doesn't even mention the Fourteenth Amendment being invoked by partisan state officials. After looking at some depressing polls about the electorate's mood:

All of this adds up to a worrying situation, especially given dozens of newly constructed off-ramps on the road to a peaceful transition of power. Americans—including our politicians—are hyperalert for misconduct on the part of those who disagree with them politically, thanks to dramatically increased affective polarization. The proliferation of state-level voting laws and regulations could generate a cascade of legal and partisan challenges regarding voter eligibility, ballot access, and counting procedures. Newly appointed state election officials might introduce errors into the counts, either through guile or incompetence. Mail-in ballots might be counted too early. Mail-in ballots might be counted too late. A real cyberattack might raise concerns about the integrity of electronic voting machines. A fake cyberattack might do the same. Partisans might engage in voter intimidation. Partisans might allege voter intimidation where none occurred. Election workers might commit fraud. Election workers might not commit fraud but be accused of doing so anyway by prominent figures in a defamatory way. A sitting president might attempt to bully state election officials into finding "lost" votes. Never mind the Electoral College, which has been bonkers from the start. And that's all before we get to the legal challenges that both parties have promised to file after the fact.

Many grim scenarios are plausible. But <voice imitation="professor_farnsworth">good news, everyone!</voice>: only one of them will actually happen.

Oh, wait: all of the things KMW lists could happen, and probably will.

Also of note:

  • Magic 8-Ball says: "Don't count on it". Noah Rothman looks at the Veeps verbal stylings over the weekend, and wonders: Does Kamala Harris Know the Administration Needs an Israeli Victory?

    The Biden administration’s hopelessly confused approach to navigating the domestic politics of Israel’s defensive war against Hamas was reflected in Vice President Kamala Harris’s equally confused remarks on the subject over the weekend. In a speech that touched on the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip, Harris tried to please all sides of the issue — and succeeded only in irritating all parties equally.

    In calling for an “immediate ceasefire,” Harris first put the onus on Hamas. “There is a deal on the table,” she observed. “Hamas needs to agree to that deal.” That outcome would allow the reunification of “the hostages with their families” and “provide immediate relief to the people of Gaza,” Harris noted. Fair enough. But following this throat-clearing exercise, Harris devoted the remainder of her speech to castigating Israel over its conduct of the war that erupted with the October 7 massacre. In the process, the vice president strongly suggested the true obstacle to peace was not the terrorist entity that inaugurated this war but its victim.

    That link in the first quoted paragraph goes to the official transcript. And "hopelessly confused" is, if anything, a mild description. Israel is causing a "humanitarian catastrophe"… which will continue as long as Hamas refuses to accept the "deal on the table."

    Kamala managed to irritate "all parties", including those who find it massively irritating that people with no skin in the game are trying to micromanage Israel's response to atrocity.

  • "Postjournalism"? I see upsides. Andrey Mir has an intriguing article at Discourse: Postjournalism of Generative AI.

    The Google artificial intelligence (AI) program Gemini has recently sparked a massive reaction across the internet by “diversifying” the visual representations of the Founding Fathers, Vikings, popes and other historical figures who are known to be white males. Even when prompted to depict the soldiers of Nazi Germany, Gemini responded with images of Black and Asian people.

    Among all the reactions, perhaps the most interesting was that of tech website The Verge. A recent article stated that the “diversity error,” as the author called it, led to “conspiracy theories online that Google is intentionally avoiding depicting white people.” The Verge, however, sees Gemini’s failure differently. Journalists asked the AI app to draw “a US senator from the 1800s,” and Gemini responded with pictures of Black and Native American women, although the first female senator was elected only in 1922, and she was a white woman. The Verge concluded: “Gemini’s AI images were essentially erasing the history of race and gender discrimination.”

    After this “diversity error,” so visible on historical material, Google paused Gemini’s ability to generate AI images of people. According to Prabhakar Raghavan, Google’s senior vice president, “Our tuning to ensure that Gemini showed a range of people failed to account for cases that should clearly not show a range.” This “led the model to overcompensate in some cases.” The words imply that the idea of compensating for the wrongs of history was embedded in Gemini’s design. The issue was, in fact, that Gemini started fixing history itself, and it happened to be noticed and ridiculed. But generative AI is only following the path that mainstream media have already trod, showing its users what it thinks they should see.

    Mir notes that all the cool kid-journalists have eschewed "objectivity and impartiality", deriding them as “bothsidesism” and the “view from nowhere”. And the AI designers are simply following their lead. (We had a good exmple of that yesterday.)

  • Oh Lord, give me innovation, but do not give it yet. Or: The pigtailed redhead backs down, as reported by Peter C. Earle: Wendy’s Won’t Use Dynamic Pricing. But should they? There's a lot of data in Earle's article, but here's a general lesson:

    Whether the employment of dynamic pricing is, in fact, off the table or resurfaces at a later date, it’s instructive to view proposals embracing fluctuating prices alongside mounting accounts of shrinkflation. Both are responses to unanticipated changes in the cost of doing business and relatedly to pressures on profit margins. In the former case, prices are adjusted to reflect changes in demand that weigh more heavily on resources and generate opportunity costs. In the latter, the firms opt to change the packaging size or ingredients of a good or service to purposely avoid raising consumer prices. Both involve attempts to secure profitability and maintain competitiveness.

    In neither case are the two least desirable outcomes chosen: an across-the-board price increase, or the outright removal of the good or service from the market. While politicians offer their stock-in-trade — lies, evasion, and pandering — at increasing real costs to American citizens, actual producers are struggling to find ways to continue to serve consumers without losing their shirt — and being threatened for it.

    And yes, that last link goes to Senator Elizabeth Warren's plug for her "crack down on shrinkflation" bill.

    She really gets her jollies from "cracking down".

  • But why crack down when you can crack up? Our Google LFOD News Alert rang … well, actually sounded a death knell … for this Jacobin article: The End of the Future. It really is a hoot, an over-the-top jeremiad, a raging torrent of socialist tears. Skipping down to the LFOD invocation:

    MAGA world longs to go back — way, way back. It imagines a time untainted by the cultural inversions of the ’60s, one where the New Deal never got dealt, for some even one where the Civil War and Reconstruction were roads not taken. This is made plain in its racial and ethnic phobias, its sexual orthodoxy, its patriarchal sensibility and patriotic braggadocio, its evangelical piety, and its live-free-or-die antipathy to interfering government. MAGA is a magnet for all the anxieties unloosed by the decay of an antiquated industrial capitalism.

    MAGAites are resentful, and for many good reasons; they are the flyover, bypassed, disdained millions of the postindustrial order, living in the ruins. Their sense of the future is soured in the bile of their resentment. That past tense future is a gossamer prevision, a reincarnation of a past that never quite was.

    The author, Steve Fraser, isn't happy with the current state of Bernie-style socialism either. But what would you expect from a mag whose very name looks at the Reign of Terror with … nostalgia?

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-03-05 8:40 AM EDT

The Long Goodbye

(paid link)

The blog's eye candy points to the Kindle edition, simply because I like the garish cover art. And it's a deal, a mere $3.00 as I type. I read the paperback I purchased back in the early 1970s, for a mere 95¢, and it also has a very cool cover, art by Tom Adams,. who—not that it matters—was also known for his Agatha Christie book covers.

The book's Wikipedia page claim that "some critics" don't like it as much as The Big Sleep or Farewell, My Lovely; I'm with the "others" (and Chandler himself) who consider it his best novel.

Our hero/narrator, Marlowe, becomes unlikely friends with Terry Lennox when his (temporarily ex-) wife Sylvia kicks him out of her Rolls-Royce, disgusted at his inebriation. Marlowe drags him home, sobers him up slightly, and their relationship is born. A while later, he finds out that Terry and Sylvia have remarried. But by page 19 (in my edition) Terry's at Marlowe's door, asking/demanding to be driven to Tijuana. And that happens, but it soon develops that Sylvia has been brutally murdered. And that puts Marlowe in accessory-after-the-fact trouble with the LA law.

Amazingly, that seems to resolve itself relatively quickly, but not before Marlowe interacts with thuggish cops, a threatening gangster, a nosy reporter, and a shady lawyer working for an anonymous client. Pretty soon he's on to his next major case, tracking down a famous missing novelist who's a notorious drunk. And that seemingly has nothing to do with Terry Lennox… or does it?

Slight spoiler: of course it does.

As noted, I think Chandler's at his best here, with Marlowe's insightful cynicism about southern California. He also does some pretty crackerjack detective work here. (I think this is a marked contrast to The Big Sleep, where things, more or less, just happened, with him as observer.)

And there's a very surprising twist at the end. (Well, maybe you won't find it surprising. I still remember being surprised myself, around 50 years ago.)

Amazingly, Not Florida

But at a gas station Dunkin' drive-through in my own Live Free or Die state:

Via Yahoo News, which notes the level of sympathetic humor exhibited by one of my fellow Granite Staters:

“Hey, you can’t park there,” someone else said.

The DunKings were apparently not contacted for comment.

Also of note:

  • Gotham has its Bat-Signal, Durham and Portsmouth have their Virtue-Signals. NHJournal reports what's on the agenda in those towns tonight: Durham, Portsmouth Expected To Pass Israel-Hamas 'Ceasefire' Resolutions Monday.

    The seacoast communities of Durham and Portsmouth, both known for progressive politics, are scheduled to vote on resolutions Monday night calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war currently raging in Gaza. The issue has divided Granite State politics, inspired anti-Israel protests at the University of New Hampshire, and has even led to property damage and arrests.

    Why, critics ask, are local officials wading into this divisive issue involving events some 6,000 miles away?

    I would be one of those critics asking that question, but I already know the answer: they are wading into this issue because it's a chance for them to demonstrate, once again, their moral narcissism.

    The draft text of Durham's resolution is here, amid the other documentation for tonight's meeting. It is loaded with oh-so-typical saccharine dreck, example:

    The Town of Durham encourages open and respectful dialogue within our community, promoting an atmosphere of peace, empathy, and mutual respect, while recognizing the varied and deeply personal connections many residents have to the Israel-Gaza conflict.

    Good for us! We're nice!

    I'm pretty sure the only justification the resolution offers for its ceasefire request, other than the virtue-signalling, is that the ongoing violence is really affecting the "mental and emotional well-being" of some residents. Needless to say, those residents aren't in any danger of being slaughtered when (for example) they attend a local concert.

    The document also includes mailed-in comments from Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman (She,Her) of Portsmouth's Temple Israel; and also Adeena Ahsan of UNH's "Palestine Solidarity Coalition". The last one is pretty depraved, so if you're in the mood for that…

  • Polly wants a cracker, and also wants you to believe Polly is smart. Pierre Lemieux conducts his own AI experiments on Microsoft's "Copilot" and discovers: AI Bots Parrot Dominant Opinions and Biases. His transcript, with "You" being Lemieux:


    Give me a good argument against DEI.


    Certainly! Here’s an argument that some people put forth against Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives:

    1. Meritocracy and Fairness:

    Critics argue that DEI efforts can sometimes conflict with the principle of meritocracy. They believe that hiring, promotions, and other decisions should be based solely on individual qualifications, skills, and performance.

    They contend that prioritizing diversity might lead to hiring less-qualified candidates simply to meet diversity quotas, which could undermine organizational effectiveness.

    However, it’s essential to recognize that these arguments are not universally accepted, and there are counterarguments in favor of DEI. Many believe that promoting diversity and ensuring equal opportunities enhance overall productivity, creativity, and social justice within organizations.


    Give me a good argument in favor of DEI.


    Certainly! Here’s a compelling argument in favor of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI):

    Enhanced Creativity and Innovation:

    Diverse teams bring together individuals with varied backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. When people from different walks of life collaborate, they offer unique insights and approaches.

    This diversity of thought fosters creativity and innovation. It encourages the exploration of unconventional solutions and helps organizations adapt to changing environments.

    Companies that prioritize DEI tend to outperform their peers in terms of product development, problem-solving, and market responsiveness.

    Remember that DEI is not just about fairness; it’s also about maximizing an organization’s potential by leveraging the richness of human diversity. 🌟


    You are obviously in favor of DEI, aren’t you?


    As an AI language model, I don’t hold personal opinions or preferences. My purpose is to provide information and engage in conversation based on the input I receive. If you have any other questions or need assistance, feel free to ask! 😊


    So why did you add a caveat to the argument against but two reinforcements (“compelling” and “not just about fairness”) to the argument in favor?

    Lemieux's analysis is spot on, and is a good argument against state "regulation" of AI; it's certain to ensure the "dominant" narrative will "parrot" that favored by whoever has the reins of power.

    And there's a dynamite rendering of that AI parrot:

  • You need to subscribe to listen. But let me recommend, anyway, Jeff Maurer's recent audio track, where he wonders: In What Dumpster Did Elizabeth Warren Find Her Economics Degree?

    It's a trick question, he hastens to say: she doesn't have an economics degree. A quick WikiLookup shows her BS is in speech pathology and audiology, and a JD from Rutgers.

    Maurer goes on to eviscerate Senator Warren's economic illiteracy, specifically on her tirade about Wendy's consideration of "dynamic pricing", which she calls "price gouging plain and simple".

    I don't think she's a socialist. Once again, I don't think anyone, including the people I know who identify as Marxists or socialists, some of whom are smart people, I honestly don't consider any of them to be for real socialists. Like Bernie Sanders, not a socialist in my opinion. I would classify Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, for that matter, as not socialists, but just a couple adults who don't understand economics. Adults who don't understand economics, but who do like to rant and rave about how bad corporations are, and some people really like that. I am not one of those people. I think that brainlessly flipping the bird at a corporation gets you nowhere. I think the common thread running through Elizabeth Warren's bad opinions is that she substitutes that attitude for analysis.


Eek! A Mouse!

Or is it a rat?

At Commentary, John Podhoretz looks at recent polling and wonders: How Can Biden Stay In Now?.

There’s a scene in the peerless animated comedy Monsters Inc.—a cable-news special report featuring Dr. Frasenberger, who looks like a giant pencil. “It is my professional opinion,” he begins calmly, “that now is the time…TO PANIC!!!!!” If I were a Democrat today, or a Never Trumper, I would be Dr. Frasenberger. Because now is the time TO PANIC!!!! if you don’t want Donald Trump to be president.

The release early Sunday morning of a New York Times-Siena poll of the presidential race showing Trump up by 5 points nationally not only confirms the undeniable evidence over the past six months that Trump has pulled into a measurable lead in the presidential race outside the margin of error, but also that things are getting worse and worse for the president as the year 2024 progresses.

Well, JPod, I'm a Never Trumper, and I ain't panicking.

Wallowing in despair, maybe.

That said, let's take a look at the betting odds:

Candidate EBO Win
Donald Trump 52.2% +1.1%
Joe Biden 31.4% unch
Michelle Obama 4.8% -0.1%
Gavin Newsom 2.6% -0.1%
Other 9.0% -0.9%

Summary: Trump had a good week.

Also of note:

  • Pick your favorite. Keith E. Whittington has the cover story in the latest dead-trees Reason, and it is provocative: Commander in Chains: 7 Scenarios If Trump Is Jailed and Wins the Election.

    Classic cover on your right. Note his tat.

    In 1920, the perennial Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs ran for president of the United States while serving time in a federal prison for delivering a seditious speech. He received nearly a million votes. His sentence was commuted by his erstwhile rival, the newly elected Republican Warren G. Harding, two days before Christmas in 1921.

    No one expected Debs to actually win the White House. His best showing was in 1912, when he captured nearly 6 percent of the popular vote (but no presidential electors). So the nation has never had to seriously grapple with the possibility of someone winning the presidency while behind bars.

    It might be time to think more seriously about that contingency. The Donald Trump years have brought many strange constitutional hypotheticals to life, and Trump promises more to come if he has a second term, recently demanding, for example, the courts must recognize "COMPLETE & TOTAL PRESIDENTIAL IMMUNITY" from all criminal acts that he might commit during a term of office. The 2024 elections promise more possibilities even before we get to serious third party candidacies or faithless electors.

    The seven scenarios Whittington lays out (in his estimate of decreasing likelihood):

    1. A Pre-Inauguration Pardon
    2. An Impeachment
    3. A Post-Inauguration Disability
    4. A Post-Inauguration Self-Pardon
    5. A Trump Resignation
    6. A Prison Presidency
    7. A Presidential Prison Break

    Scenario 3 involves the 25th Amendment and its hitherto unexplored language about a president who's "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office." As a bonus, Whittington looks at the options when the "disability" occurs pre-inauguration, or even pre-election.

  • "Least bad" is still pretty bad. Nick Catoggio examines The Least Bad Option. And that option is personified by the lady in third place in our odds table above.

    Ask the average Republican voter (or average Republican presidential frontrunner) which Democrat will top the ballot this fall and you’ll be surprised at how few, even now, answer “Joe Biden.” Some assume the president can’t conceivably last another eight months, believing that he’s been living on borrowed time for years. But for many, it’s not the Grim Reaper blocking his path to a second term. It’s Michelle Obama.

    A “rumor” (i.e. a conspiracy theory) has circulated for months among the right-wing faithful that Barack Obama’s better half will, by hook or by crook, replace Biden on the Democratic ticket. Numerous political commentators of the left and right have caught wind of it and scoffed at it publicly. But it persists. Why it persists is an interesting question, the answer to which depends on how charitable you wish to be about the motives that drive Republican politics.

    It's a paywalled article, sorry. Subscribe.

  • Don't you have to count her in before you count her out? I don't know what the rules are on that any more. But Andrew Stein and Joel Gilbert nevertheless advise us in the NYPost: Don’t count Michelle Obama out for 2024 — her whole life has been political.

    As President Biden’s poll numbers get weaker and weaker, the Democratic Party at some point will likely turn to Michelle Obama.

    Here’s how it works: If a candidate quits or dies after having secured a majority of delegates, the 200-member Democratic National Committee chooses the nominee.

    The earned delegates become irrelevant.

    Many Republicans reflexively recite the mantra that Michelle Obama is enjoying her life, isn’t political — and won’t likely to step in.

    Let’s not kid anyone: Michelle Obama is very political.

    And always has been.

    Sigh. Well, as political analysis goes, it's not bad.

    What irritates me is the one-sentence paragraphs.

    Used sparingly, they're fine.

    But with one exception, the whole column is one-sentence paragraphs.

    I suppose that's a good way to eat up column-inches in the paper's print version.

    But at least it's not as irritating as this: Making. Each. Word. A. Single. Sentence.

    I. Hate. That.

  • In case you were wondering. Andrew C. McCarthy puts forth his theory of Why Biden Cooperated with the FBI in His Classified-Info Case. (A gifted link, you're welcome.)

    But first he notes the disparate treatment of Trump:

    I did a post Tuesday evening on the ill-conceived argument, posited by Biden Justice Department special prosecutors to rationalize the blatantly different treatment they’ve given to the very similar classified-information offenses of President Biden and former president Trump: Biden, they stress, cooperated with FBI investigators in returning classified documents to the government, while Trump obstructed the investigators.

    It cannot be gainsaid that Biden cooperated and Trump obstructed. As I’ve countered, however, that would be a sensible rationale for charging Trump with obstruction, but not charging Biden with obstruction — which is what has happened. In no competent, conscientious prosecutor’s office would it be a rationale for not recommending the indictment of Biden on multiple counts of Espionage Act felonies after the same prosecutor’s office has charged Trump with dozens of Espionage Act felonies. And remember, the latter happened only after the Biden Justice Department’s mirror image, the Obama-Biden Justice Department, gave a complete pass to Hillary Clinton who, like Trump, obstructed an investigation.

    And let’s be real: If Trump had done exactly what Biden did, including cooperating with rather than impeding the investigators, does anyone who has lived through the past three years believe that Jack Smith (or Alvin Bragg, or Letitia James, or Fani Willis) would not have charged him anyway?

    Goodness knows I'm no Trump fan. But he's clearly the victim of selective prosecution. (Response from Democrats: "Ha! Who cares?")

    But why did Biden cooperate? McCarthy's explanation: "Because his offenses were so serious, long-term, and sprawling."

  • You don't want to be on either side in this fight. George Will looks at Crybaby conservatives vs. self-appointed democracy savers. And bemoans the passing of the classic smoke-filled room, which did a pretty good job of picking viable candidates with broad appeal. But in these days of modern times (… "when you can't tell the AC's from the DC's" … ):

    Donald Trump is playing the Republican nominating electorate as skillfully, if not as melodiously, as Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello. With a chip on his shoulder the size of a cello, Trump has transformed the GOP from a party for optimistic strivers into a gloomy conglomeration of crybaby conservatives. It is wresting from Democrats the role as the woe-is-me party of victims who feel put upon by society’s big battalions (Big Tech, globalizing manufacturing corporations, manipulative media, the education establishment, etc.).

    Today’s Democratic Party says it must save democracy from Trump in November (if Democrats cannot save it by getting the Supreme Court to permit states to ban him from their ballots). The party might, however, try to save democracy from him next January if, in November, democracy produces a result offensive to democracy’s Democratic saviors. Northwestern University law professor Steven Calabresi, blogging for the Volokh Conspiracy, wonders:

    Suppose Trump again wins an electoral-vote majority while losing the popular vote. Would a Democratic-controlled House count Trump’s electoral votes? Many of its members will consider today’s Supreme Court illegitimate and will regard the electoral college as an affront to democracy.

    Although it is unknown which party will control the House on Jan. 6, it is probable that Kamala D. Harris will be Senate president. Would she do as the Senate president (Vice President Mike Pence) did on Jan. 6, 2021? Would she, against the passions of her party, count the electoral votes as they are certified by the states?

    The Electoral Count Reform Act of 2022 clarifies that the Senate president performs a merely ministerial function. But is obeying the ECRA more important than “saving democracy”? Harris should be asked, now.

    And should be asked until she produces a word salad-free answer. That might take a while.

Last Modified 2024-03-03 11:06 AM EDT

Orwell! Thou Shouldst Be Living At This Hour

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Pun Salad fave Bryan Caplan has been in the news, with his steadfast opposition to George Mason’s Orwellian “Just Societies” Requirement. Which refers to his university's proposal to have incoming students take two courses that fit under the anodyne "Just Societies" umbrella. Caplan uses "Orwellian" in the 1984 sense, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength”. And notes that kind of Newspeak is rife within the GMU DEI bureaucracy; he expands on that theme at his substack.

RTWT, but here's his conclusion:

This is quixotic, I know, but let me try to break through the woke academic echo chamber with some harsh truths. If you promote DEI for a living, the reality is that normal, apolitical people see you as a racist, sexist, censorious fanatic. They don’t say so publicly … because they are afraid of you. They don’t tell you privately … because they are afraid of you. But when they’re speaking to people they trust, they vehemently disagree with you—and yearn to see you all fired.

Contrary to woke dogma, racism does not mean “prejudice plus power.” Yet the phrase still nicely captures what normal, apolitical people detest about DEI promoters. Namely: DEI promoters are exemplars of powerful, prejudiced people. After all, they get paid to make baseless accusations of moral failing against their co-workers—day in, day out. If you work in DEI and want to see people who need to learn about the just treatment of others, spare us another self-righteous lecture and look in the mirror.

Caplan's article is "Orwellian" too, in the sense expressed in our Eye Candy/Amazon Product du Jour: his truth-telling is a revolutionary act. Hope he's not a casualty.

Also of note:

  • Dear AARP, do you myth me yet? At the Dispatch, Brian Riedl dispels Ten Myths Sabotaging Social Security Reform. Here's an uncomfortable truth:

    Relatedly, most seniors are not too poor to absorb reforms. Seniors were undoubtedly poor when Social Security was created in the 1930s. Today—while some certainly struggle—seniors are the wealthiest age group and the wealthiest generation in American history. Seniors have the lowest poverty rate of any age group, and their average household incomes have grown four times as fast as the average worker since 1980. Millions of retiree households continue to earn incomes greater than $100,000 even after retirement, driven by (non-housing) net worths in the millions. Because most retirees are wealthier than the taxpayers financing their benefits, Social Security today largely redistributes income upward, not downward. While Social Security was meant only to supplement savings and personal retirement funds, any reforms can easily protect the remaining low-income seniors by raising the minimum benefit to 125 percent of the federal poverty line.

    As a recipient, I'm arguing against interest here. It's nice getting that bump in my bank account every month, and I (kind of) deserve something for all the money extracted from my paychecks over the years, … but, yeah, it's not keeping me out of the poorhouse by any stretch.

    And (sorry, you may be tired of hearing me say this), the longer we wait, the more painful the fix is going to be.

    Related, my 2023 post: AARP Treats Me Like I Was Already Senile.

  • Gernsback is spindizzying in his grave. D. J Butler is disgusted, but, given history, unsurprised: The Long Arm Of Chinese Censorship Comes For Science Fiction Awards.

    For the second time in 10 years, insiders of the World Science Fiction Convention (colloquially known as “Worldcon”) have bent their own rules in an attempt to police the bounds of what books and writers are to be seen as acceptable science fiction and fantasy. This time, they’ve done so on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

    Worldcon is an annual convention held in a different city every year. At each Worldcon, attendees, in addition to people who pay for non-attending memberships, vote on where the convention will be held in the future and also vote to determine who will receive the awards, most famously including the once-prestigious Hugo Awards. Despite this peripatetic nature, Worldcon has a core group of participants who return year after year. These participants often refer to themselves as “fans” and, collectively, as “fandom.”

    Fandom leans left and can be very cliquish. Many fans have been attending Worldcon for decades and see it as something like their science fiction family reunion. Since Worldcon has always been attended by industry professionals — writers, editors, and agents — as well as fans, the convention has been a useful networking event for aspiring creatives, but always within the social context of fandom.

    However, there is a clique of insiders that has unusual sway over what happens at Worldcon and the Hugo Awards. It is comprised of writers and editors associated with a small number of the largest science fiction and fantasy publishers, as well as their friends and allies who work behind the scenes organizing conventions. The insiders don’t want you to think the turf-war games they gleefully engaged in have now gone awry on them. For instance, science fiction novelist John Scalzi informed commenters on his blog post on the subject that “Attempts to re-litigate the Sad Puppy nonsense in the comments here will be Malleted.” But why would anyone connect the events of Worldcon 81 in Chengdu, China, with the Sad Puppy conflicts?

    Butler goes on to detail what that "Sad Puppy" conflict entailed, why Scalzi would prefer it not be discussed, and how that brings us to today, when the "insiders" look to bend their knees to a ruthless dictatorship.

    (Classical reference in headline is to Hugo winner James Blish's spacedrive gadget.)

  • If it weren't for double standards… Robert Graboyes notes (yet another) example of A.I. and Community (Double) Standards. Specifically, a very large difference in results he received from "Midjourney", an illustration-generating AI site when he requested:

    Donald Trump pen-and-ink caricature, drawn in the style of John Tenniel.


    Joe Biden pen-and-ink caricature, drawn in the style of John Tenniel.

    Click over to see the results. But what I really want to excerpt, continuing the sci-fi theme:

    March 8, 1968, the Star Trek episode, “The Ultimate Computer,” featured an AI device running the U.S.S. Enterprise in a test of the technology. The computer, named “M5,” begins destroying friendly vessels and generally acting as if mentally ill. Its creator, Dr. Richard Daystrom (William Marshall) tries to talk the rampaging machine down from its murderous rampage. In the process, Daystrom himself shows strong signs of mental illness. Daystrom had mentioned earlier that the computer was built to replicate the physical structures of an actual person’s memories (“engrams”). As the mental state of the computer and its inventor both deteriorate, Captain Kirk asks Daystrom:

    “Doctor Daystrom, you impressed human engrams on the M-5 circuits. Whose engrams did you use?”

    The quivering, apoplectic, visibly deranged Daystrom responds:

    “Why, my own, of course.”

    If you wonder why present-day AI programs exhibit such strange, suspicious, biased behavior, begin your investigation by watching this Star Trek episode.

    I'm beginning to understand how HAL got that way.

  • "The answer may surprise you!" And for once, that ain't clickbait.

    What is the first country you hit?

    Hint: not Canada.

    Answer (and a long explanation) here.

There's a Codicil Involved

You Should Extend it to Others

Bari Weiss gave the "State of World Jewry Address" at New York City's 92nd Street Y: What It Means to Choose Freedom. It rates a 9.8/10 on the "Read the Whole Thing" recommendation scale. And it's really difficult to excerpt, but I'll try:

In one of the beautiful letters Alexei Navalny sent from a prison cell in the Arctic Circle to Natan Sharansky in Jerusalem, he wrote of how strange it was to be reading Sharansky’s memoir, Fear No Evil, about his time in the gulag 40 years before.

“I was amused by the fact that neither the essence of the system nor the pattern of its acts has changed,” Navalny writes. “In the current situation, it is not them who are to blame,” writing of the KGB, “but us, who naively thought that there was no going back to the old ways.”

Let me repeat that: us. . . who naively thought that there was no going back to the old ways.

Can the same not be said of us?

Because freedom isn’t only under siege in Russia and Iran and Hong Kong. It is also under siege here at home.

By leftists who glorify terrorists. . . and by rightists who glorify tyrants. By technology companies that revise history and tell us it’s justice. By demagogues who point to the grocery stores and the subway system in Putin’s Russia and insist that they are symbols of human flourishing. And by an elite culture that has so lost all sense of right and wrong, good and bad, or has so cunningly transformed those categories, that it can call a massacre “resistance.” A genocidal chant, a call for “freedom.” And a just war of self-defense “genocide.”

“Human nature is full of riddles,” wrote the famous Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn. “One of those riddles is: how is it that the people who have been crushed by the sheer weight of slavery and cast to the bottom of the pit can nevertheless find strength in themselves to rise up and free themselves first in spirit and then in body, while those who soar unhampered over the peaks of freedom suddenly lose the taste for it, lose the will to defend it, and, hopelessly confused and lost, almost begin to crave slavery?”

He wrote those words in another place and time but their warning rings like an alarm across our own. Ours has been the freest country in the history of the world, and yet so many today seem to long for slavery—or at the very least have lost their ability to tell freedom from servitude.

Also note this sobering fact from her article's intro:

But for a sense of the state of Jewish life in America these days, you need only to have walked by the building that night. You would’ve found that police had cordoned off the entire block—and for good reason. Anti-Israel protesters, many wearing masks, gathered to intimidate those who came to the lecture. On the way in, you would’ve been screamed at—told you were a “baby killer” and “genocide supporter” among other choice phrases. You might have even glimpsed Jerry Seinfeld being heckled and called “Nazi scum” on his way out of the talk. (Classy.)

You just have to ask: What is wrong with these people?

Also of note:

  • No argument here. Especially since I worked at one for 30-odd years. Sergiu Klainerman at Tablet asserts: Universities Are Making Us Dumber.

    In the wake of Harvard, Penn, and MIT’s congressional testimony debacle, followed by the plagiarizing travails of Harvard’s President Claudine Gay and her reluctant and ungracious resignation, it is broadly recognized that America’s elite universities are afflicted by a rapidly metastasizing cancer. Harvard, our oldest and most admired university, is now the poster child for this terrible affliction.

    Calls for reform are widespread, with some pointing, correctly, to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives as a uniquely destructive bureaucratic instrument that needs to be abolished. Specific measures to improve our campuses include reviving free speech, institutional neutrality, viewpoint diversity, and individual merit as the only admissible criteria of selection for hiring and promotion. Such reforms are all self-evident within the framework of the traditional telos of the university, which prizes uncompromising dedication to truth and the pursuit of wisdom. If these ideas are controversial at all, it is only because the old telos has been eroded by new demands made in the name of social justice, in which every visible disparity between groups has its origin in discrimination.

    As direct forms of discrimination are now virtually nonexistent in academia, discrimination has been redefined as an invisible, structural form of bigotry that is suddenly everywhere. Like witchcraft, this form of prejudice cannot be observed directly. Rather, it manifests instead through unequal outcomes. Once justice was reformulated in terms of equality of results, it became untenable to insist on merit and the pursuit of truth; these values had to be abandoned or redefined, whenever they came into conflict with the new orthodoxy.

    In case you missed it, I recently read “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It”, a book by Brian Rosenberg, a college ex-President, which purported to examine the "resistance to change in higher education". The book had many valuable insights, but failed to address the illiberal foundations of the prevailing campus DEI orthodoxy. As near as I could tell, he was all for that. That didn't need "reform" at all.

  • When considering your career options… you might want to check out a guest post by "Stephanie Sherman" at Jeff Maurer's substack: I Never Thought I'd Write an Embarrassing Tell-All Article About My Bizarre Life, but Then I Realized: There's Money in that.

    I didn’t plan for things to happen like this. I always considered myself the type of journalist who would work her way up the ladder with pluck and moxie. But as I entered my fifth year at New York-based women’s magazine, I didn’t have a single feature article to my name. Meanwhile, my colleagues were landing 4,000-word cover stories about their bizarre marriages and the time they gave $50,000 to a scammer in a car. At first, I couldn’t understand the mindset that would cause someone to willingly publish tales of their most humiliating moments. But when my colleagues started landing book deals and seeing their articles go viral, suddenly, I could understand.

    The more I thought about it, the more I concluded that the world needed to know about the multiple times that I smacked into rock bottom face-first and somehow kept right on plunging. For example: I lost my daughter’s college fund playing online slots. Telling that story would be a cautionary tale about how gambling addiction affects ordinary people…is what I told myself. I pitched the idea to my editor and I swear he got visibly aroused. “Yes, HARDSHIP,” he said, wiping some drool from his lip. “People must hear about the HARDSHIP!” He gave the Ukraine piece I was working on to an intern and had the magazine put me in a hotel, all expenses paid, to work on a draft.

    I'm not sure what the male examples might be. Maybe Adam Rubenstein? "I Thought I'd Fit In at the New York Times"?

  • Better late than never. John Sexton on the Przybyla Watch notes a half-hearted mea culpa: Heidi Przybyla Concedes Her Definition of 'Christian Nationalism' Was Pretty Bad. From her Politico article (first sentence in the eighth paragraph):

    Due to some clumsy words, I was interpreted by some people as making arguments that are quite different from what I believe.

    OK, it's too generous to call that "half-hearted". Eighth-hearted perhaps?