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Freedom ain’t free

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.

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.

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.

Freedom ain't free

Omitted

June 20, 2016

Heh.

towers omitted

Context here.

The battle over the narrative expands ever thus, so rapidly it will eventually eclipse the borders of the known universe. But consider, is it not at least possible if not likely that all the following factors played some role in the Orlando mass murder?

  • Jihadi ideology, infecting Mateen — there, his name — from abroad or from radicals of his acquaintance, even if he was not “directed” as the president suggests;
  • Rank homophobia, picked up independently of Islam, in the great cosmopolitan pine forests of central Florida;
  • Craziness, meaning Mateen was fucked in the head, manifesting as a lunatic’s craving for immortality;
  • Publicity of past mass murderers, both of the terrorist and loose-screw variety, enabling such craving; and
  • The relatively easy availability of guns in the United States.

Why does our politics require that it be only one of these things? Probably because we no longer teach nuance in our endless “national conversation,” probably because nuance does not bait clicks, but that’s a different subject.

Regardless, obscuring Mateen’s religion and expressed political opinions by editing offending words from the 911 transcript seems like management of the news cycle in furtherance of the war over the narrative, rather than an honest attempt to limit the publicity that might encourage more of these d-bags. One almost — almost — believes that the DOJ is trying to switch the conversation from the FBI’s failure to do anything about Mateen after the G-men had identified him as sufficiently dangerous to interview. Unfortunately, believing that conspiracy would require us also to believe that the president’s own strongly professed desire to deny the Islam in Islamism did not determine the redaction of the transcript, and that requires magical thinking far beyond our own trifling capabilities. We do offer this parting shot, though: Why is it that the partisan left no longer refers to itself as the “reality-based community”?

UPDATE: Well, now, the Obama administration changed its mind and released the full transcript. Good for them, but then why the redaction nonsense in the first place?

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Donald Trump is Hillary Clinton’s get out of jail free card

June 11, 2016

For more than a year, Republicans have desperately hoped (and the mainstream media has suggested) that the “FBI primary” — the longstanding investigation in to her private email server, the information that went over it, and the Clinton Foundation and the tangled web of favor-trading that it weaves — would somehow damage Hillary Clinton so badly that she will lose in November notwithstanding the massive Democratic edge in the Electoral College. Whether that damage would flow from the Department of Justice convening a grand jury (which would probably cut off her misleading claim that she is not a “target”) or mere voter backlash against the steady drip-drip of one revealed lie after another is not clear. What is clear is that the Republican desperation for the indictment of Clinton is rising in proximity with the party’s anxiety over its own probable nominee.

The last day brings exciting news for such Republicans. First, it now appears that Clinton indeed sent at least one email marked “Classified.” While the marking does not in and of itself confer culpability — it is unlawful to misuse classified information whether or not it is marked — it does make it easier, perhaps decisively so, to argue that Clinton knew she was doing. And knowledge equals intent equals mens rea, the type of intent necessary to prove criminal culpability. Or so the argument goes. In any case, we know the email scandal is getting worse, because journals of the left are now on the case, even if from a confused point of view: “FBI criminal investigation emails: Clinton approved CIA drone assassinations with her cellphone, report says.” No doubt it took “CIA assassinations” to get Salon interested. Welcome aboard!

Then, ABC News reported that a patron of the Clinton Foundation — a stock operator, to use an old term — had been pushed on to a “sensitive government intelligence advisory board even though he had no obvious experience in the field, a decision that appeared to baffle the department’s professional staff.” Worse, newly available emails reveal an internal attempt to “protect the Secretary” from ABC’s original investigation of the matter back in 2011.

Anyway, it is not our purpose here to persuade the unpersuaded that Hillary is indeed a crook — if you do not believe it now, it is likely you are not open-minded to the possibility that she is, or that you simply do not care. Rather, it is to say that her opponents are not irrational to hope or even expect that the probable nominee of the Democratic Party will find herself in a heap of legal trouble before the fall.

On the partisan left, of course, this is all laughed away, most fashionably with a nervous cackle. The partisan right, however, is divided between those who still hold out hope, as it were, and the cynics, who believe that there is no chance that the Obama Department of Justice will not stretch prosecutorial discretion to its theoretical limit in order to avoid hurting Clinton’s chances. (There is, of course, no meaningful constituency on the right for the position that Hillary Clinton is of high character, and that this is all of a piece with the “vast right wing conspiracy,” revivified, or at least warmed over, from the 1990s.)

The cynical camp, which will attribute any current expansive deployment of executive power to the aggrandizement of Barack Obama, believes that the DOJ will block the prosecution of Hillary Clinton to protect Obama’s legacy. Here is an exemplary post from that point of view. Money quote:

Since his recent endorsement of Hillary for president, Obama has staked his entire legacy on her candidacy, and it becomes less likely that Joe Biden can be tapped to replace her. Hillary has the momentum, money, and organization, whereas Biden has none of these. If Obama’s legacy is going to survive, he needs to keep Hillary’s campaign alive.

The linked post goes on to propose that if the DOJ did move to prosecute Clinton, Obama might preemptively pardon her.

We are not in this corner of the cynical camp. In our view, Obama’s “legacy” is a secondary consideration, even for Obama. The far greater danger, at least in the minds of the Washington elite, is that Donald Trump becomes president of the United States.

Imagine, if you will, the bureaucratic dynamic that unfolds if the FBI submits findings to the Attorney General which argue strongly for the prosecution of Hillary Clinton on any of the aforementioned grounds. The Attorney General, if a partisan, could simply stonewall, and refuse to move forward. What is the FBI, or perhaps dissenters inside the DOJ’s professional staff, to do?

In an ordinary year with a perfectly respectable Republican nominee — say a Mitt Romney or John Kasich — the FBI would leak like a salad spinner and its director might resign in protest. Career lawyers within the Justice Department would complain to reporters. Cue shit storm, and substantial damage to Barack Obama’s legacy. That exact scenario happened during Watergate, and it was quite effective in taking down an actual president, much less a mere candidate.

The problem is, we suspect that even the principled professionals in the DOJ and the FBI shudder to contemplate a Trump presidency, and far fewer reporters will want the country’s blood on their hands, as they will see it, even if they could source such a story, write it, and get it past their editors. The “leak” deterrent, which would be the main reason a partisan Attorney General might think twice about stonewalling an FBI recommendation, will be inoperative with scary Donald Trump at the top of the opposition ticket.

Hillary Clinton should be very grateful that the GOP will nominate Trump. And, ironically, those among Trump’s supporters who believe that he has the greatest chance to beat Hillary may have neutralized the one thing that would definitely take her down.

Freedom ain't free

Justin Trudeau, legal weed, and the progressive impulse

June 11, 2016

The Washington Post‘s Wonkblog argues that “Justin Trudeau may have made the best case for legal pot ever.” Trudeau argues that young people are going to smoke it anyway, it is in fact more available because it is illegal and unregulated, and billions of dollars end up in the hands of organized crime which then does lots of other bad things.

Read it if you dare, but that is actually the most banal argument for legal pot ever. It
amounts exactly to this: “Prohibition was a great idea, but it made alcohol more fashionable among people who had not been drinking before and the mob and official corruption screwed it all up.”

How about, “it shouldn’t be illegal to smoke a plant, ever.” Or to distill one.

That liberals decided to rebrand themselves as “progressives,” the name of the movement that gave us Prohibition, perhaps the most socially pestilential idea ever, is the most compelling evidence that Americans don’t do history.

Freedom ain't free Ugliness

Gender identity’s crucible

June 6, 2016

We have found ourselves in a couple of touchy conversations about bathroom rules lately, specifically with regard to the sturm und drang over the apparently widely feared presence of trans women in the ladies room, especially in schools. We have been called upon by cis-normative conservatives (yeah, we wrote that just to misbehave) in our circle to defend the honor of our women — don’t we fear for our daughters? — but when we polled our women they were quite clear they needed no defense and agreed with the substance of President Obama’s intervention, cranky federalism qualifications to one side. The prevailing view in the hep ‘n’ cool circles in which our wife and daughters run is that trans people are far more likely to be victims of abuse than perpetrators, so diminishing that risk is a good thing even at the cost of some discomfort (or even the occasional assault by a trans person).

Anyway, our purpose is not to litigate the bathroom issue, which does not much interest us personally, but to put this story in to context. It seems that a former young man now identifying as a young woman has qualified for the 100 and 200 meter events in the Alaska state track and field finals. The competitor — yes, a dodge, but we’re trying not to go down a rabbit hole here — who rejoices in the name Nattaphon Wangyot, is no muscle-bound sprinter looking for an easy gold. wangyot

Wangyot may, however, have an advantage that girls who are born girls do not have. Who really knows in any given case? But who can prove otherwise? (We should say that this question of gender identity in sports is not entirely new to your Editor. Fifteen years ago he played on a company softball team that rounded out its required number of females with a trans woman who was not nearly so, er, lithe as Ms. Wangyot. It being New Jersey, the other teams were not entirely silent on the question of fairness, but justice prevailed basically because nobody gave a rat’s ass about the local corporate softball league.)

And therein lies the rub. While Americans can and will get comfortable with revisions to public restroom admission protocols (and we think Republicans are again shooting themselves in the foot on the issue), high school sports are freaking sacred. Reflect, if you will, on the many times you have witnessed the faintest shadow of a hint of “unfairness” in the sport of children leveraged in to a foam-speckled shouting match, figuratively or even literally. The chattering classes, who mostly got that way by sucking at high school sports, have literally no idea how big this issue will become, and what pressure it will put on the position of trans athletes, even in the otherwise forgiving hearts of northeastern suburban soccer moms and Little League dads. OK, there are very few forgiving Little League dads, but you get our point.

The only saving grace here is that this issue will not affect Texas high school football, at least as a question of fairness. But girls basketball in Iowa? Hmm…