The Official Blueberry Town predictions for 2017

January 1, 2017

We are not sure of the rules, but we do know that any blogger or other gum-flapper who does not make a list of annual “predictions” might as well hang it up and climb in to a bottle. Last year, under another nom de plume, we produced a list that was oh-so-very-wrong in the matter of presidential politics and the Rose Bowl, but did not lack for inspiration (our call on the Dow Jones Industrial Average was close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades, and we generally did a lot better than famous predictor Byron Wien).

Anyway, in no particular order:

1. The Iowa Hawkeyes will win the Outback Bowl tomorrow. Note that the shelf life of this prediction is about 24 hours.

2. Donald Trump’s earliest actions in office will relate closely to Barack Obama’s efforts to stymie him. This is a good summary of those efforts. Specifically, we predict that Trump will:

  • Quickly take some step to reinforce the U.S. commitment to Israel, including at least one of (a) moving our embassy to Jerusalem, (b) visiting Israel personally, perhaps on his first official trip abroad, and (c) directing some form of overt military cooperation, such as an exercise, that will draw the ire of all the right people.
  • Trump will issue an executive order reversing President Obama’s 11th hour designations under the Antiquities Act, triggering the first of what will be relentless litigation from environmental activists on a wide range of subjects (in general, we believe that environmental activists will be the biggest losers among the core Democratic constituencies under Trump).
  • Similarly, Trump will move aggressively against the big raft of new regulations that the Obama administration has pushed through in the last year or so, with an emphasis on the new regulations from the EPA.

3. President Trump will indeed pursue a rapprochement with Russia, with two main objectives: (1) to increase Russian commitment to the fight against radical Islam so their guys die instead of our guys, and (2) to create a geopolitical counterweight against China. However, he will pursue this slowly, waiting a few months until the “election hacking” kerfuffle fades from public memory.

4. Mexico won’t pay for the “wall.”

5. The Democrats and the press will continue to make a big deal out of Trump’s various conflicts of interest, but this will not diminish his relatively low popularity, such as it is, unless something else entirely intervenes to hurt him with his base. Then the conflicts will suddenly get traction in the public’s mind. Democrats will develop a keen interest in having the FBI investigate the executive branch.

6. The first big domestic crisis of Donald Trump’s presidency will be catalyzed by a horrible urban crime or an ambiguous police shooting. Trump’s reaction in the moment will have a far greater effect on his popularity and credibility than any “scandal” likely to emerge, unless the organized left gets too excited and overreaches, in which case that will have the biggest effect on Trump’s popularity.

7. Trump will retract the Title IX “dear colleague” letter. University administrators will breath a sigh of relief, but not admit it in any circumstances that might involve a recording device. SJWs will go bananas, but nobody who has never heard the word “intersectionality” will actually care.

8. Black Lives Matter and allied groups will become much more active (see #6 above). Conversely, the word “alt-right” will all but disappear from the popular discourse by late spring.

9. In the spirit of striking “deals,” Trump will challenge the ideologues on both sides. Trump will act more like the “mayor” of America than its president, and at some point he will trade away some cherished position of the social conservatives — maybe a pro-business SCOTUS nominee who is a bit squishy on “life” — in return for Democratic Chuck Schumer’s support for corporate tax reform. Or something like that. Or, maybe, he will offer Democrats the huge infrastructure bill they have been clamoring for since, well, the end of the Johnson Administration, but only if they sign up for reforms in federal contracting, labor, and environmental rules that will allow that spending to be productive.

10. Trump will continue to call up CEOs and intimidate them in to high profile concessions. This will be very confusing for Democrats, who will not denounce the shakedowns per se — how could they after the Obama years? — but will try to deny that they do any good.

11. Income inequality in the United States will not increase, and may even narrow, during the Trump presidency (we will not see the data soon enough to know whether this will be true in 2017). The main reason will be because the stock market will do poorly compared to the Obama years, but the share of corporate expenses going to labor will also increase.

12. The Cubs will win the World Series for the second year in a row.

13. Other foreign leaders will follow Trump’s lead and will tweet with more, er, spontaneity than in the past. Twitter stock (NASDAQ: TWTR) will rally when investors figure out that it has become essential to populist democracy. For that obvious reason, Twitter will resist or ignore the many demands from the corporate media that it suspend @realDonaldTrump’s account. Because even Twitter isn’t that stupid.

14. The talk radio boobery — who spent the last eight years predicting financial and economic catastrophe — will now expect the economy and the stock market to go to the moon. Instead, the Dow Jones Industrial Average will crack 22,000 during the year, but close within 5% of 19,762, its close on Friday last.

15. Libertarians will worry that the trend toward legal weed will slow under Attorney General Sessions, but politics will prevail — too many states have moved too far, and it is far too popular. Especially with Trump’s base.

16. I will weigh no more than 202 pounds (my current weight) on this date next year.

17. Uber and Lyft will resume passenger service in Austin.

18. Willie Nelson will be alive on New Year’s Day 2018.

19. As a defense mechanism, the attention span of the average citizen will continue to shrink.

Freedom ain't free Ugliness

Why we should hope the Trump family business thrives

November 23, 2016

There is much silliness abroad in the land, but little is as silly as the outrage on the left over the idea that the Trump family might actually profit in some way from the presidency. This, from the side that saw nothing inappropriate in the Clinton family’s sudden prosperity, from “dead broke” in 2000 to centimillionaires — one of only about 5000 families in the United States with that much wealth — a few short years later.

But never mind that moral cartwheel. The manufactured outrage over Ivanka’s bracelet is all you need to know about how the suddenly powerless chattering classes regard the Trump family. If you are late to the story, Ivanka’s jewelry company advertised the “bangle” that she wore on “60 Minutes” as the bangle that she wore on “60 Minutes.” Cue outrage. Repeat.

Please remind us why selling books and receiving royalties therefor — as Kennedys, Clintons, and Obamas, and many others before have done — is somehow less offensive than the daughter of the president-elect, who is a celebrity in her own right, continuing to promote her business after her father has won the White House? Because books are somehow less, er, deplorable than jewelry? Does not the precedent of Billy Beer amply cover the non-book situation? Jewelry is icky but books and beer aren’t? Some might even call that sexist, but who are we to know what is and is not an intersectionality foul?

The bracelet story had traction because the leftist opposition to Trump is trying to make the case that his presidency will be all about his own financial profit, as if there were anybody who voted for Trump who did not know he was a billionaire with sprawling business interests dependent on the glory, or gaudiness, of his name. The basic idea is that Trump will some how make a ton of money because of all the people willing to walk through the demonstrations surrounding his properties just to be seen spending money there. Or something like that. It is all very confusing, perhaps because most of the people who write such drivel haven’t the first clue how business owners and executives make decisions.

No matter. Our broader point is this: We should all hope that President Trump will try to increase the economic value of his business.

Yeah, we just wrote that.

Apart from the obvious point — that leveraged real estate assets are a lot more valuable in a vibrant economy than in a foundering one, and even lefties claim they want a vibrant economy — do the people who are denouncing Trump for this reason (as opposed to other reasons) really think that resorts and hotels and branded consumer goods thrive when half the country is in full-on boycott mode? Remember the liberal laughter back in September when stories emerged that Trump’s businesses were suffering because of the controversy over his campaign? See the comments at the end of this story if you missed that unifying moment.

Trump needs to put an end to the demonstrations and the boycotts before he has a chance of building value in his business. And there is only one way to do that: Tack hard to the center, actually govern as a moderate, and — this is the most important — act neutrally and even inclusively toward the groups who most resent the tone and rhetoric of his campaign. Will he do that? We have no idea, but if you believe that Trump will use the presidency to “profit” in his business, then you also have to believe he will at least try to stop offending and enraging his customers. And who other than an unreconstructed partisan wouldn’t be grateful for that?

Freedom ain't free

The paradoxes, mysteries and speculations of Trump and this crazy year

November 11, 2016

This post is no victory lap for Donald Trump, who we have opposed since well before his nomination and who apparently behaves like a pig, but neither is it a wringing of hands. There are paradoxes and mysteries in Trump’s election, and so we offer them up in no particular order for your consideration. There is, in all moments of attempted honesty, something to irritate all partisans. That will be the case here.

We have finally realized the great progressive dream, a president with virtually no debts to special interests. Oh, sure, you can find a few big contributions here and there, but Trump pretty much overcame all interest group opposition in both parties to win this one. So we will learn, once and for all, whether a president free of debts to big money interests and single-issue pressure groups is a good thing.

Trump’s election may mean the end of the evangelical social cons as a force to be reckoned with. They turned out en masse to vote for somebody who had nothing to commend him on any of their issues other than that he is not Hillary Clinton. We speculate that the evangelicals have become to the GOP as blacks are to the Democrats — so infallibly reliable that they can be taken entirely for granted in the formulation of actual policy.

If Ted Cruz had actually prevailed in his debt-ceiling showdown and forced the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, Donald Trump probably would not have won either the Republican nomination or the presidency.

As noted on Instapundit, Donald Trump’s election marks the first time that a presidential campaign managed by a woman has emerged victorious. Indeed, Kellyanne Conway’s turnaround is one of the really impressive “saves” of political history. It is revealing that the people who usually celebrate female “firsts” are ignoring this one, which strongly suggests that many such celebrations are actually just partisanship.

We have no idea whether to believe anything that Donald Trump says, or has said. Many traditional Republicans who supported him hope he will appoint pro-life judges, deregulate a bunch of stuff, and cut taxes, but that he does not actually mean what he says about tearing up free trade agreements, rolling back Pax Americana, and shutting down immigration important to businesses large and small. Democrats, meanwhile, are so invested in Trump as a fascist corporatist (as opposed to Trump-as-pig, which is different) that they will believe every unreasonable or irrational or offensive thing he has said as revealed truth but none of the policy promises he has made that they have long advocated for, including much restricted foreign trade, regulation or intimidation of businesses that would move jobs overseas, and the elimination of the “carried interest” preferences for the private equity Wall Street crowd. The truth is, we have no idea what the truth is. We think it is very likely that Trump will shock ideologues on both sides. Would he, for example, trade an anti-litmus SCOTUS appointment (perhaps a pro-choice pro-markets libertarian) for corporate tax reform? In a freaking heartbeat. At least in domestic policy, Trump is going to disappoint a lot of ideologues in the spirit of getting stuff done. You read it here first.

There is more than a little evidence that the Clinton campaign thought that Trump would be easy pickings and worked with allies in the press to increase the chance that he would win the Republican nomination. When the Clintons did this, they of course had known him a long time and would have understood Trump’s many putative shortcomings and alleged disqualifications. To the extent this is true, therefore, Democrats who today profess terror or outrage at the prospect of a Trump presidency might reflect on who in their own party and on their “side” promoted Trump out of rank cynicism.

If indeed Hillary Clinton’s team helped along Trump’s bid for the GOP nomination, what might be said about either her allegedly exemplary judgment or the bottomless depth of her cynicism?

Without getting to whether FBI Director Comey’s various statements about the investigation in to Hillary Clinton and her staff were appropriate — they were definitely unusual — this much is clear: The discovery of Bill Clinton’s meeting with, or perhaps ambush of, Attorney General Lynch on the tarmac set off a chain of events that could not be predicted at the time. Lynch should have offered to resign, but instead announced that in light of the discovery of her furtive meeting she would follow the recommendation of the FBI in the email case. That put Comey in the position of having to make a recommendation to the prosecutors, which reversed the established roles of the police and the prosecution. It is not surprising that Comey then felt the need to explain himself, as the Attorney General would have had to do had she made the decision she was supposed to make but could not because of the discovery of her meeting with Bill. And once he began talking, he found it hard to stop.

Regardless, President Obama could have fired Comey at any time, and chose not to do. Had he done so, Republicans would have been furious and his own reputation for straight pool would have been stained, but Hillary might well have won in the end, since she would not have been responsible. In other words, Obama either (i) doesn’t think that Comey did anything wrong, or (ii) calculated that keeping Comey on was more likely to protect his legacy than firing him. Oops.

After Ken Starr’s ever-expanding Whitewater investigation of Bill Clinton and Patrick Fitzgerald’s inquiry in to L’affaire Plame, neither of which uncovered anything really dangerous (even if icky, or sleazy, or stupid), the insiders in both parties agreed that this whole post-Watergate special prosecutor deal had gotten way out of hand. We wonder if both sides do not regret that now. For Democrats, a special or independent prosecutor would have insulated Attorney General Lynch from the consequences of Bill’s solicitations, and Comey would never have come under pressure to say anything to anybody. For Republicans, there might actually have been a robust investigation with no sweetheart immunity deals for Hillary’s inner circle. The wild card, of course, would have been timing.

The Democrats have been encouraging people to vote on the basis of their race, gender, sexual-orientation or other discrete status for at least two generations. The poorly indoctrinated less educated white population finally said “good point” and did the same, and now Donald Trump is president-elect. If that isn’t ironic, then we don’t know who made little green apples.

But maybe not. Donald Trump, in victory, got fewer votes than Mitt Romney did in defeat. More tellingly, Trump did better than Romney among minorities, especially damning since the proportion of minorities in the electorate has increased in the last four years:

In 2012, the electorate was 72 percent white (which went 59 percent Romney / 39 percent Obama) and 28 percent nonwhite (which went 81 percent Obama / 18 percent Romney), yielding a total margin of plus 3.1 percent for Obama. In 2016, the electorate was 70 percent white (which went 58 percent Trump / 37 percent Clinton) and 30 percent nonwhite (which went 73 percent Clinton / 21 percent Trump), yielding a total margin of plus 0.9 percent for Clinton.

If you dig deeper through the link above, virtually all of Trump’s gains vs. Romney came from his superior performance among minorities. So maybe the “white supremacy” theory is just so much bullshit. Either that, or “voter suppression” tactics in certain red states “worked,” at least insofar as they lowered the proportion of poorer minorities who voted. Our guess is that it is a little bit of both.

Eight years of zero interest rates, ratified and pushed along by Barack Obama’s Fed Chair, inflated asset prices (again) and thereby transferred a massive amount of wealth from middle class savers to the already rich owners of financial assets, exacerbating inequality. (The Fed leadership decided it needed zero interest rates because both Obama and the GOP Congress (after 2010) insisted on a contracting fiscal policy — Obama, to keep his promise to raise taxes on the “rich,” and the House Republicans to keep their promise to control discretionary spending.) Arguably, therefore, the toxic combination of zero interest rates, higher taxes, and constrained spending contributed to the populist uprisings in both political parties, which led to Donald Trump.

Trump has promised — and we write “promised” advisedly — that he will launch a massive amount of infrastructure spending, which Democrats have long argued to do. But infrastructure is hard to build now because of the welter of regulation of the environment, land use, labor, and government contracting. If Trump proposes to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure but also proposes to roll back a lot of that regulation to get it done efficiently and quickly, will the Democrats support the deal or oppose it? We literally have no idea, but it will be entertaining to watch.

Deficit hawks are going to hate the next two to four years, yet many of them voted for Donald Trump. Inflation hawks are also going to hate the next four years.

Our big and oft-repeated concern is in foreign policy — we believe it is a near certainty that some foreign bad guy will challenge the United States early in the Trump administration to see how it will react. This will be the Trump administration’s first big test. If it is not a catastrophe and Trump reacts with something approximating good judgment, we will breathe easier. We do have one speculation backed by the morning’s scuttlebut: That Trump’s threat to “tear up” Obama’s deal with Iran will be one of the first promises he will break. Indeed, it would not surprise us if that took up a part of the conversation yesterday in the White House, from which Trump emerged much more sober in look and tone. This will be seen as treason on the right, but will be reassuring to those of us who want temperance, rather than impulsiveness, in foreign policy.

Of all the left-wing interest groups, we believe that the biggest losers in this election will be the environmental activists. We suspect that in economic terms, at least, minorities will benefit relatively more than under Obama (although a lot also depends on the “replace” part of “repeal and replace Obamacare”).

The second biggest losing interest group will be universities, who have set themselves up as the crazed and implacable enemies of Donald Trump.

What did we miss? Release the hounds.

Freedom ain't free

A short note on “gun violence” and the idiotic tallying thereof

October 4, 2016

We are not gun people in the Blueberry Town household, but neither are we fans of gun regulation that is not closely tailored to solving a specific problem at a reasonable burden, as most proposed gun control is not. And, no, being a lover of freedom your Editor does not believe if it saves one life is ever a reason to regulate anything, even if the object of the regulation is not a fundamental right enshrined in our Constitution. Freedom ain’t free, dude.

So if you believe that if it saves one life is all the reason we need to ban something, carry on. You are unlikely to give up your safety-first authoritarianism on account of this post.

Regardless, one of the reasons we end up with silly gun regulation is that the media is not, in the main, intellectually honest on the topic of “gun violence.” Urban liberals, in particular, have long been irritated that we devote massive national resources to combating terrorism but will not pass “common sense gun control.” This morning’s CNN feed brings us a typical story — American deaths in terrorism vs. gun violence in one graph!

The linked story is especially precious, insofar as CNN published it because “[President Obama] asked news organizations to tally the number of Americans killed through terrorist attacks in the last decade and compare it with the number of Americans who have died in gun violence.”

Seriously. That was the reason. President Obama asks, and CNN is right on it! This approach will pay huge dividends during the next Clinton administration, required kneepads notwithstanding.

But we digress.

Never mind the free-floating factoid that deaths from “gun violence,” however counted (of which more below), overwhelm deaths from terrorism. One cannot leap from that fact to what we ought to do even if one promiscuously traffics in “is/ought” violations in one’s daily life. No doubt more Americans died of “gun violence” in 1941 than at Pearl Harbor on December 7, but that was not a good reason to confiscate civilian guns that year, either.

The smoking gun — if you will — in the story is CNN’s use of the “gun violence” metric promoted by anti-gun activists, of which Barack Obama is now the leading light. It is a grossly inflated number, because it includes suicides, which account for more than 60% of the total per CNN’s own data. Even those of you who deny Hume’s guillotine and believe that the fact that there is “gun violence” inexorably means that we ought to enact “common sense” gun control cannot possibly believe that we will meaningfully reduce suicides even on the small chance that gun control “worked” otherwise.

Wait. You do?

Then consider this: The suicide rate of the United States is 50th in the world, behind such gun-free socialist paradises as France, Finland, Belgium, and Japan, among others. Sure, outright confiscation of all guns in private hands might prevent a small number of American suicides, but the vast majority of that “gun violence” would pretty quickly convert to “rope violence,” “razor-blade violence,” “pill violence,” or “carbon monoxide violence.” Unless, of course, you believe Americans are more easily frustrated in their suicides than, er, the Belgians.

In other words, including suicides by gun with “gun violence” figures to “prove” that we need “common sense” gun control is the tell that you are reading the transmitted talking points of activists rather than journalism, even when the author doesn’t admit that is what she is doing.

Beautiful Austin

A whole buncha ACL Fest pictures

October 2, 2016

The annual Austin City Limits Music Festival is one of our favorite weekends of the year, not because we are a music aficionado — we are not — but because we love roaming around Zilker Park drinking beer, eating food, and watching the people incidentally to listening to music that we might not hear otherwise. For those of you who missed it this year or have not done in the past, here are a few pictures of Austin this weekend.









Freedom ain't free

Hillary’s cabinet: The Facebook connection?

August 16, 2016

Among the many grounds for worrying about our democracy, there is the fear that the social media channels through which most Americans under the age of old now get their news may not be, shall we say, as neutral as implied. If you were not under a rock this spring, for example, you recall the controversy that exploded around Facebook, when several former Facebook “news curators” told Gizmodo that they “routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers.” This shocked exactly nobody, but was a useful reminder that culturally powerful businesses punch above weight in our democracy.

For the conspiratorially minded, the under-reported news of the day may therefore be this list of “7 Executives Who Could End Up in Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Cabinet.” At the very top? Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.


All very unfair of me, we’re sure. Why would the chief operating officer lean in on something as trivial as the management of the “news curators”?

If the Republicans retain control of the Senate, which is looking less and less likely, this should at least make for an amusing confirmation hearing.

Freedom ain't free

The Washington Post gives away the game

August 15, 2016

Yesterday, the editors of the Washington Post gave away the game in the opening sentence of an unsigned editorial titled “A porous ethical wall between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department“:

IN ANOTHER election year with an opponent who is not so obviously unqualified, last week’s revelations about connections between Hillary Clinton’s State Department and the Clinton Foundation would have been bigger news.

Bold emphasis added, just to raise the odds you read that carefully.

Our question is the obvious one: Who, other than the editors of the major news organizations, is going to determine whether or not a story is “bigger news”? The editors of the WaPo are, effectively, confessing that they have decided not to make big news of this story because Hillary Clinton’s opponent is “so obviously unqualified.”

We are of course not surprised, and indeed all is proceeding as we have foreseen: Donald Trump is Hillary Clinton’s get-out-of-jail-free card. The national political establishment, whether the “editors” of the mainstream media or the formerly principled leaders of our law enforcement agencies, are pulling out the stops to stop Trump. For good reason, they will say to themselves in those quiet moments when they know they have compromised what they claim to be their most cherished beliefs. Or at least what remains of their professionalism.

We wonder, however, whether this will not backfire, insofar as it makes Donald Trump’s invidious claim that the election is “rigged” seem true. We are confident that many Americans know quite well that it is going on, and that this heavy-handed partiality will register, unconsciously if not explicitly, as another example of cultural and political elites stiffing the average Joe.

Donald Trump is beating himself soundly, and will not be the next president. That is no reason to give Hillary Clinton a free pass, or manufacture for her what will be an entirely unearned mandate to govern.

Freedom ain't free

Against voting for the “lesser evil”

August 10, 2016

If you are actually for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the sense that you are delighted the GOP or the Democrats nominated him or her and you look forward to the next presidency as the dawning of a new day — or, in the case of Hillary’s supporters, the afternoon of a glorious one — this post is not for you. You will find no affirmation here. If, however, you support one of them only to prevent the election of the other, and you are filled with trepidation that you will then own a catastrophe or with the sickness of the soul that comes with any expedient cop out, we are here to lift your burden and show you the sunlit path to voting for a candidate that you might actually support, such as Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, or the equally respectable abstention at the top of the ticket.

There is the widespread view that in the electing of our next president, failure to vote for one candidate is effectively a vote for the other. The argument is essentially this: If A and B are detestable or unqualified, and if under duress to choose between only A and B you would vote for A on the basis that A is in some regard a “lesser evil,” or lower risk, than B, then any decision to vote for C is equivalent to a vote for B. See, e.g., this essay (“There is no such thing as a protest vote”) or around a grillion comments on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook pages. In short, the “lesser evilists” claim that the collective action required to elect a third party candidate poses an insurmountable hurdle, and that therefore such a vote is “wasted.”

There are both philosophical and factual — essentially utilitarian — reasons why this “lesser evil” calculus is just wrong. We will start with the utilitarian reasons, since they seem most persuasive to the despairing voters to whom we write this modest note.

The utilitarian argument against “lesser evil” voting

The utilitarian reason not to vote for the lesser evil is simply this: Your individual vote cannot, under any circumstances, affect the outcome of the election, so there is no reason not to vote for a candidate you actually like. Since this seems contrary to everything we might have learned from, er, politicians (and every-vote-is-sacred activists) we will take the argument from the ground up.

Let’s start with the easy stuff. If you live in a decidedly “blue” or “red” state, your vote cannot make a difference because if your state is in any way in play the national election will be a landslide. We exercise the great boon of the franchise in Texas, and if Texas is close Clinton will win an Electoral College landslide. The same applies if you live in roughly 40 other states comprising approximately 80% of the population that have voted for one party and not the other in every presidential election since the Reagan landslides.

But what if you live in a “battleground” state? Sad to say, your individual vote still does not matter. There is no chance that a state, even the decisive marginal state, will be decided by one individual vote. And by no chance, we don’t mean a super-small highly improbable chance, we mean no chance.

But what about Florida 2000?

Florida 2000 is exactly the practical proof that the outcome of a presidential election cannot turn on a single vote cast, and not only or even because the margin of Bush’s putative victory in Florida was by some indeterminate number bigger than one. The lesson of Florida, if we needed to learn it, is that there is a margin of error embedded in voting, and that there is no absolutely perfect counting of the results. Once an election is so close that it is within the margin of error, which is definitely more than one vote, political and judicial mechanisms kick in to determine the victor, who may or may not have received a plurality of votes cast and counted as such. Those political and judicial mechanisms are creatures of law and politics, and they do not necessarily arrive at the same answer as a theoretically perfect tabulation of ballots. Any individual vote, therefore, would never get to the point of significance at the margin, which is what matters.

But what about all those people who voted for Nader?

Lesser evilists of the left love bringing up Ralph Nader, who picked up more than 97,000 votes in Florida, presumably mostly from would-be Gore voters. (There were in fact no fewer than eight third-party candidates who collected more votes than the margin between Gore and Bush, but Nader and the Greens had by far the biggest tally among the also-rans.) Were not those third-party voters in some sense “responsible” for Bush’s election? Well, not individually. No one of them would have helped Gore. They only would have had an impact if they had acted collectively. But wait. Isn’t the collective action problem the big reason why a vote for a third party is “wasted”? You cannot magically erase the collective action problem in the case of Nader voters in 2000 and at the same time claim that it is insurmountable for a third-party candidate on the ballot in all 50 states. So it remains the case that no individual voting for Ralph Nader tipped the election to George Bush.

There is, therefore, no circumstance under which your vote can change the outcome of a presidential election, even if you happen to live in a swing state in a year when the national Electoral College majority comes down to a single state. That should make you feel a lot better. But it does invite an interesting question…

Well, then, why bother to vote at all?

Philosophers, political scientists, and the League of Women Voters have written vast tracts on the question of voting, whether it is a right or a duty, that every vote is sacred (which nostrum, by now, you should have concluded is basically a crock), and so forth. Our purpose is not to argue them all here, but to assert that among the many reasons for voting there is a dominant one: Voting is the act that gives democracy its legitimacy, and legitimacy is pretty much the only advantage that democracy has over other forms of government (there being no evidence that it is by its design less corrupt or more effective or efficient than than other systems). We believe our government is legitimate because we vote, and there is tremendous value in that. When you vote you help your country no matter whom you vote for, because you increase the legitimacy of the government that is eventually convened. And, it should be said, you as a citizen ratify that legitimacy by voting for someone you actually want to occupy the office in question, whether a major party nominee or your brilliant Uncle Fred. Otherwise, you are letting vested players in the system neutralize your sovereignty as a citizen.

(We should not pass this point without saying that politicians and activists who challenge or dilute the legitimacy of votes or elections with no real basis, such as Donald Trump in the current moment or bitter partisans following the 2000 election, are hurting the country rather than helping it. Richard Nixon was in 1960 more concerned with American greatness any of these clowns.)

Now that you are fully persuaded that your vote, as a factual matter, cannot change the outcome of the presidential election but that your vote nonetheless matters, we should consider the philosophical or, rather, logical objection to lesser evilism.

The logical objection to lesser evil voting

There is a logical objection to lesser evilism, and we might well have written it up in our own fancy words, but it seems much better to quote Christopher Hitchens, who taught it to us in an essay written about the Clintons back in the fall of 1996, when progressives were to some degree in the position of Republicans today (insofar as they felt betrayed by Clinton’s center-right triangulations). Apologies for the long quotation, but it makes for better reading than our poor effort to summarize it would do:

Whenever A and B are in opposition to each other,” wrote George Orwell in 1945, in “Through a Glass, Rosily,” “anyone who attacks or criticizes A is accused of aiding and abetting B.” He added: “It is a tempting maneuver, and I have used it myself more than once, but it is dishonest.” Orwell lived and wrote in a period when the pressure on intellectuals to “take sides” was ostensibly much more palpable than it is now, and when with that pressure came a surreptitious invitation to moral blackmail: the element that tells thinking people that the less adventurous the use they make of their ratiocinative capacity, the better. When the big decision has already been taken, what need of paltry misgivings? Who desires to be called a wavering intellectual dilettante when grand enterprises are on foot, and when the engine of destiny has gone to all the trouble of revving itself up?

In our time, of course, the great question has become more banal. It is most commonly stated as the theory and practice of the “lesser evil.” And, as argued in its conventional form, it has become worn as smooth as a stone. Thus A will exhort B, how can you vote for Clinton when…(list of betrayals and depredations follows) and B replies, without the slightest rehearsal, do you suppose that the right wing (taxonomy of depredations and fell intentions ready to hand) would be preferable? And that’s the whole exchange. And not just in a nutshell either, since the amount of time and of mental effort expended is usually less than it has taken me to set it down. However, as Prince Hamlet once exclaimed, one may be confined in a nutshell and still count oneself a king of infinite space. Folded inside the “lesser evil” argument, there is a worthwhile confrontation waiting to be enacted. The smooth stone can become an effective projectile, to be employed with care by either antagonist.

If one divides the contending parties into the purists and rejectionists on the one hand, and the pragmatists and lesser-evilists on the other, one can discover at once that neither really means what they say. Out of respect for Orwell, and for the sake of sheer convenience, let us call these respective debaters A and B for now. A does not really maintain that it makes no difference which party wins the election. It must be agreed for one thing that no outcome is identical to any other. Nor does A usually like to argue that it would be better for “the other side” to win, because it is that “other side” that anchors the concept of “lesser evil” to begin with. (There used to be a subset of A, which said with contempt that the worse things were, the better. Tanto pio, tanto meglia, as the Italian Red Brigades once happily intoned. But this faction no longer exists for our purposes.) Thus, B starts with the advantage of being able to address A in pitying tones, as if A had a lesson still to learn from that great moral tutor, “the real world.” Yet B would never be caught arguing in favor of permanent one-party rule, in the real world or any other. One-party rule does not work in practice or in principle. Why, then, does B argue that it is always better for the Democratic party to win an election, whether congressional or presidential, and that it always has been better? If the “lesser evil” argument is not an axiom, it is nothing. It cannot be true only some of the time, without losing all or most of its force. Furthermore, surely B would generally scorn anyone whose vote was, so to speak, mortgaged in advance. How can you be an autonomous and free citizen if your franchise is pledged to one machine, without conditions, whatever happens in the course of the election or in the conduct of the argument? (bold emphasis added)

In other words, “lesser evilists” are peddling a logical fallacy and are actually just unreconstructed partisans, which makes them narrowly oriented toward a result that benefits their tribe, rather than in the legitimacy of the government to come. There is nothing wrong with that orientation, but it does mean that “autonomous and free citizens” need not, and ought not, pay them any attention.

Where lesser-evilism has taken us

While we cannot prove it, we believe that the legitimacy of American government is in sad shape. There are no doubt many reasons for this, but among them is the idea that certain culturally influential or economically powerful interests have increased their stranglehold on the two major parties and alienated huge numbers of people, and (further) that the two major parties are the only device by which we may form a government. This alienation led to the Sanders insurgency and the Trump revolution, and it will not go away when Hillary wins in November, as she will almost certainly do. We believe that lesser-evilism has played a major part in bringing us to this sad place, because it confers greater legitimacy on the winners of elections than is otherwise earned or warranted. If you deplore our state of affairs, ask yourself whether casting your vote for the “lesser evil,” which cannot affect the outcome of the election, will have the unintended but real effect of increasing the legitimacy of the winner (if by an individually small amount) and thereby strengthening the control of the elites over the parties and the parties over the citizens that confer legitimacy on our government. The answer is to vote your conscience, and confer your legitimacy as a citizen only on leaders who have earned it.


My whereabouts

August 9, 2016

No, we have not forgotten our bounden duty. We have, however, been otherwise engaged, including on a long trip to Italy, three weeks working like a banshee out of town, and then another ten days in the Adirondacks. Photographic evidence of each. You can guess which is which!










Austin controversies

Prop 1 fallout: The Austin fuzz crack down on the working folk

June 21, 2016

More or less the entire world knows that Austin imposed such onerous regulations on Uber and Lyft that they withdrew from the city rather than suffer under the burden. Since taxis are too expensive for many people, generally suck, and in any case are in short supply in Austin because the local politicians have so decreed, a massive black market — a fleet of “gypsy cabs,” to those of us of a certain age and incorrectness — has emerged. More than 30,000 people (as of early June) have joined a Facebook group and arrange for entirely unregulated rides off the grid, thereby vitiating the disingenuos “safety” rationale put forth by the “progressives” on the Austin city council.

Well, apparently the Austin Police Department has decided, or been instructed, to put its jackboots down on the necks of the now illegal — or, because it is Austin, perhaps “undocumented” — drivers trying to recover some of the income they lost.

The city of Austin is using sting operations to crack down on drivers working for unlicensed ride-hailing companies, issue fines and seize cars, authorities told the American-Statesman on Tuesday.

The cars of four drivers for Arcade City, a peer-to-peer service that connects passengers with drivers through its Facebook page, were impounded Friday after the city’s Transportation Department conducted a sting.

Yeah, don’t issue a ticket to these poor slobs. Impound their freaking cars so they cannot get to any other job, either. That’ll fix ’em just right.

Addendum: Here’s an interesting post with a lot more detail around the illegal ridesharing cooperatives. The significant safety issues compared to Uber and Lyft ought to make anybody realize how much safety the established companies imposed by the operation of the apps.