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A Few Days in The Capital of the World

My blogging was light this week because I was visiting New York City with my extended family. I’ll be back up over the weekend with my thoughts on the RNC and so on. If you need some political meat to chew on, here’s the leak of the DNC’s internal e-mails which reveal an establishment — an a DNC chair specifically — who heavily favored Hillary Clinton, to the point of pushing garbage stories deleterious to Bernie Sanders. I expected as much. I’m still waiting for the big wikileaks bomb to drop in November when they reveal that Clinton put Trump up to running.

In the meantime, here’s a few thoughts from NYC:

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Not Caring

Trump has named a Vice President: Mike Pence of Indiana. Ordinarily, this would be something I’d blog about. He’s an OK choice, if a bit to the Culture War side of things.

The convention has started with an apparent attempted rebellion. Ordinarily, this would be something I’d blog about. It’s a squeal of protest against Trump but it won’t go anywhere.

The thing I’m finding is that I just don’t care. I don’t care what the GOP does right now. I don’t care to blog about Trump’s circus act, at least for a while. This is a freak show that can match anything the Democrats have ever put up. This is Kanye and Taylor and Kim with trillion dollar budgets and nuclear weapons. If something interesting happens, I’ll talk about it. But I’m going to be blogging very little about the RNC this week because I just don’t care for the circus act.

Update: I will, however, be throwing rocks from my alternate ego:

Attack on Nice

My God:

At least 77 people were killed Thursday night when a large truck plowed through a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France, President Francois Hollande said.

The driver first shot a gun into the crowd before driving 2 kilometers along the Boulevard des Anglais, the main street in Nice, mowing down people who’d gathered to watch fireworks, regional President Christian Estrosi told CNN affiliate BFM-TV.
Police shot and killed the driver, said Pierre-Henry Brandet, a spokesman for the French Interior Ministry. Police found firearms, explosives and grenades in the truck, Estrosi said.
So far, no group has claimed responsibility. Anti-terror prosecutors have taken over the investigation, according to BFMTV, citing the prosecutor’s office.

Given the recent spate of Islamist attacks on Baghdad, Dhaka, Istanbul and Miami, I think it likely this will turn out to be another ISIS supporter or sympathizer.

JAMA Jumps In Bed With Obama

Wut:

An author named “Barack Obama, JD” published an article on Monday in a scholarly journal. No prizes for guessing the topic: It’s an assessment of the Affordable Care Act as well as policy recommendations for the next president to improve the U.S. health care system.

The article, titled “United States Health Care Reform: Progress to Date and Next Steps,” was published by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The piece, which contains 68 footnotes to academic journals and government publications, claims to present evidence showing that the number of Americans without health insurance has dropped dramatically, and resulted in lower hospital readmission rates. Obama also used the article to recommend the introduction of a “public option” plan in parts of the U.S. and for the federal government to push down drug prices.

Seriously, JAMA? You guys decided to publish an unrefereed buffed-up propaganda piece?

I blogged about the public option earlier this week. Almost everyone — including the advocates of the public option — recognizes that it is a Trojan Horse for socialized medicine, a program that will finish the job of bankrupting private insurance companies so that the public option quickly becomes the only option (except for the elites, who will be allowed to keep their boutique private plans). And the result will be a system that somehow manages to be just as expensive but less efficient than the system we have now.

“But, wait, Hal!” you say. “Government insurance if more efficient because they don’t turn obscene profits!” Well, first of all the profit-margin in the insurance industry is not obscene, but fairly normal at a few percent. Second, as I noted earlier, Medicare’s “efficiency” mainly consists of hiding costs and allowing gigantic amounts of fraud.

But the real proof is in the pudding. One of the things Obamacare did was create insurance co-ops, non-profit insurance companies that were supposed to show what we could have without those evil evil profits. We even gave them government loans to prop them up. Well, 16 of the 23 co-cops have failed, sucking up $1.7 billion in taxpayer funds. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Every insurer is struggling to make Obamacare work because … get this … it turns out that when you just hand out insurance policies, sick people are the most likely to take them. Just imagine what would be happening to insurance markets if “sell-out” Republicans hadn’t stood firm and gotten the public option jettisoned.

Obamacare is turning into a slow-rolling disaster whose end-game is shoving all of us plebs into a socialized system. Again … this is why the GOP holding onto Congress is so important. Even if we can’t repeal Obamacare, we can pass an overhaul that moves it more toward a real market system (e.g., allowing insurance to be sold across state lines). Clinton and a Democratic Congress will only complete the job they’ve started.

It Takes a Village to Waste Money

For a time, it looked like Hillary Clinton might actually end up being the more conservative candidate in the race. Trump has been talking about restricting trade, blowing holes in the debt, opposing entitlement reform and expanding executive power.

Well, no longer. Apparently afraid that Bernie Sanders will bolt the Democratic Party for the Green (this tends to happen when you let people run who aren’t technically members of your party), she has now basically adopted Bernie Sander’s agenda in full.

  • She’s supporting the push for universal Pre-K, proposing a new bunch of subsidies and tax credits, doubling the size of the failed Head Start program and pushing for 12 weeks of mandatory paid leave. I’ve argued before the universal pre-K is a solution stumbling around in search of a problem and documented the complete failure of universal pre-K efforts. Clinton doesn’t care; there’s votes to be bought!
  • Clinton has now abandoned education reform in favor of more spending and more spending. There’s no evidence that this approach does anything but employ more union members. Clinton doesn’t care; there’s votes to be bought!
  • She’s now supporting a $15 minimum wage, a plank taken straight from Bernie Sanders. I’ve pointed out before that the push for $15 is a kind of mass insanity that has gripped the Left, only slightly more scientific than if the Republicans had responded to the Ebola epidemic with prayer. The cruelty of this is that it if the Democrats are wrong, it will not destroy their jobs, but the jobs for the people they purport to care for: the poor, the workings class, minorities, dropouts and convicted criminals trying to straighten out their lives. Clint doesn’t care; there’s votes to be bought!
  • She’s now embraced Bernie’s plan to massively inflate college tuition … uh … “make college more affordable“. As has been pointed out innumerable times, shoveling money at colleges will simply raises costs, increase debt and persuade more people to waste their time in college when they could be working or training. Clinton doesn’t care; there’s votes to be bought!
  • She’s now supporting creating a public option for Obamacare. Obama is now calling for this too, claiming the markets are not competitive enough. You have to admire the gall. First, the crush the insurance market with Obamacare. Then, they refuse to let insurance be sold across state lines. Then they propose a “public option” to bankrupt the insurance companies that remain. Every day, Obamacare looks more and more like a deliberate plan to destroy the private insurance market to create the “need” for socialized medicine. In this case, Clinton does care; there’s vote to bought!
  • She’s now turned not just against TPP but against free trade in general. Never mind that trade has made our country wealthy while almost eliminating poverty in other countries. Clinton doesn’t care; there’s votes to be bought!
  • All of this will be paid for with big tax hikes on “the rich”, who are close to maxed out. Clinton doesn’t care; there’s votes to be bought!

The $15 minimum wage is the issue for me with Democrats. It is so mindless, so stupid, so at variance with economics and so destructive to the future of the people it supposedly helps. If you wanted to create unemployment, make poverty more intractable and condemn a generation of people to lifelong unemployment and poverty, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a better plan than the $15 minimum wage.

I realize that a lot of liberal organizations don’t pay their interns or, in the case of groups like Ralph Nader’s, pay them sub-minimum wage through legal loopholes. But the University of California already fired 500 people to account for the minimum wage. Even the dumbest Democrat can do math. And Hillary Clinton is many things, but she’s not dumb. They must know, on some level, that this is going to be bad. They just Don’t. Fucking. Care.

But it’s worse. As McArdle points out in the link above, Clinton is proposing to pay for all this stuff with the usual litany of Democratic tax hikes: raising rates, eliminating the Social Security cap, closing the “carried interest” loophole, etc., etc. She’a also proposing to eliminate almost all tax deductions for the rich (which will produce 100+% marginal rate in some income brackets). But:

For while it is true that these programs are paid for, that doesn’t mean that the budget math is sound. The government’s spending capacity is, in the end, limited, and every dollar that you spend on one thing is a dollar that cannot be spent on something else. Virtually all of Clinton’s “pay fors” are concentrated on a relatively small number of affluent-to-rich people, and because of that, they represent a large cut of those incomes; if she managed to enact all of her plans, her top bracket would be inching close to a marginal tax rate of 50 percent before you factor in state and local taxes that can easily add another 10 percentage points to that figure.

Even if you think that it would be politically possible to extract taxes at those levels, and that you could do so without causing any unwanted economic side effects, the question remains: What do you do for an encore? After enacting Clinton’s agenda, America will still need to fix Medicare, Social Security, state and local pensions, the disability insurance program, and so forth. And given that Democrats have proven as unwilling as Republicans to raise taxes on the middle class, where are we going to get the money?

I’ve said this many times and I will keep repeating it until it sinks in: you can’t fund a welfare state by taxing the rich. There simply isn’t enough money. European welfare states aren’t funded by the rich. They’re funded with massive taxes on the middle class.

The United States has one of the most progressive tax systems in the world, being very reliant on the wealthy for revenue. The European welfare states, by contrast, are more regressive, having flatter taxes and relying on VATs and sales taxes that are regressive. They have to be that way because you simply can’t finance a welfare state by taxing the 1%.

A welfare state financed by the rich doesn’t even work politically. When everyone is paying taxes, there is more support for a welfare state because everyone is pitching in. The perception is that you’re getting out something related to what you paid in, which is why Social Security and Medicare are popular in this country (both financed by a regressive tax that is denounced by Democrats for not soaking the rich enough). But a system that is dependent on taxing the rich isn’t a welfare state, it’s a plunder state. And as I’ve pointed out before, most people don’t want that. They don’t want to feel like they’re living on someone else’s dime or on stolen property. The Communists discovered this 70 years ago when they tried to “redistribute” estates to the commoners only to discover that the commoners didn’t want that wealth if it was stolen.

But proposing to fund this garbage through a middle-class tax hikes would be political suicide. So — in a situation where we are already half a trillion in deficit, have $19 trillion in existing debt and have trillions of dollars in future unfunded liabilities — the Democrats are proposing to burn our last few sources of revenue on a series of brand new will-o’-the-wisp social spending programs.

(Yes, yes, we once had marginal tax rates of 70%. And we also had a huge number of exemptions. No one ever paid that rate. We are very close the practical limit on marginal rates.)

I understand why Clinton is selling out wholesale like this. She’s afraid Bernie on the Green Party ticket will wreck her chances. But I think this tells you how principled Hillary Clinton is. She has either completely changed her views on several major issues or she is going to betray her campaign promises the second she gets into office. I don’t think she actually cares either way. She just wants to be President. And if she has to wreck the economy to get there, well, she’ll wreck the economy to get there. This is way more of a sell-out to the party fringe than any Republican has ever made. But you won’t see it described as such because 98% of our media are going to vote for Clinton anyway.

This is worst election ever. Two rich leftists are battling to see who gets to the screw the country over and how badly they can screw us. And people wonder why I’ve voting for Johnson:

I will not vote for Trump. And I will not for Clinton. To hell with them both. The only election I really care about is Congress. It is absolutely critical that the Republicans hold onto Congress, preferably retaining a majority in both houses. Look at the agenda. Imagine the damage Clinton could do with a Democratic Congress. And then, whatever you may think of Trump, put that Republicans roadblock in her way.

Five Dead in Dallas

Pure awfulness:

Five police officers were killed and seven others were injured in the ambush, which began during a protest over police violence Thursday night, officials have said. It was the deadliest single incident for U.S. law enforcement since September 11, 2001. Two civilians also were injured in the shootings, the Dallas mayor’s office said.

The deadly gunfire erupted in Dallas as videos showing two African-American men shot by police in Louisiana and Minnesota spurred protests and debate over police use of force across the country.

Brown told reporters it’s too soon to speculate on the suspect’s motives, and it’s unclear whether more suspects are on the loose.

At least one shooter was killed when a robot detonated a bomb he had on him. Three more are in custody. There’s aspect of this that are still unclear, but it was clearly a targeted attack. There’s a video out there of one of the killer stalking and shooting a cop to death.

Up until the shooting, the protest in Dallas was peaceful. So peaceful, in fact, that officers were not wearing riot gear and were shaking hands and posing for pictures with protesters to show their support for better community relations:

This is actually not a surprise. Dallas has been on the leading edge of police reform for some time. Since 2009, they have been emphasizing community involvement and de-escalation of dangerous situations. The results are astonishing. Huge drops in complaints of excessive force and police brutality. Huge drops in violent crime. Dallas was and is a city where things are going right. This would be pointless awfulness anywhere. But is especially painful to see this happen to a police force that has embraced the idea of reform and become one of the best in the country as a direct result.

We don’t know anything about the killers yet. There has been some ham-handed effort to connect this to Black Lives Matter, but that’s mostly a peaceful movement. The shooters themselves say they are not connected to a group, but this sounds way too coordinated and planned for a spontaneous event. What I’m reminded of more than anything is the Charleston church shooting. That guy wanted to start a race war. I suspect these guys did as well.

Yesterday, I wrote about police violence and the need for reform. I stand by what I said. Simple Justice:

There is nothing inconsistent about mourning the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, while simultaneously mourning the murders of five Dallas cops and wounding of another six, who might have died but for where the bullets happened to strike.

Today is a day for grownups to talk the children off the ledge. These four shooters in Dallas do not reflect the Black Lives Matters movement, and any screaming that it proves anything is absurd. At the same time, there is no justification for the murder of these Dallas cops. The deaths of black men at the hands of police does not mean killing random cops is a legitimate response. Ever.

A concept that has been raised is that we now live in a fact-free democracy, where feelings have replaced facts and reason to guide our actions. This is what comes of your “passion,” death. The toxic mix of passion, anger, self-righteousness and ignorance will solve nothing. As the New York Times asked, when will the killings stop? They will stop when we stop indulging our base instinct to do as we feel instead of as we think. If we can’t get past our indulgence of mindless, simplistic emotional indulgence, the number of dead bodies will continue to grow.

I said yesterday that there was no War on Cops. That is still true. Back in the 70’s, this sort of things happened on a semi-regular basis. And parts of our society cheered it. That is thankfully no longer the case.

But … this is a reminder that the huge decline in anti-police violence and murders of police was not inevitable and is not guaranteed to last. Society is always a few steps away from chaos and bloodshed. If we are to keep policing safer than it has been since the 19th century, that means condemning violence of any kind, punishing those who commit violence and supporting the right of the police to do their job without being killed.

Five men are dead. Seven more are wounded. Lives are shattered. Blood is on the floor. Killing is wrong whether it happens at the hands of a cop or the hands of someone who hates cops. Let’s not let these shooters win and tear things apart. Let’s respond the way we did to the Charleston shooter: by working even harder to stop violence against anyone.

Alton Sterling and Philando Castile

Two days, two police killings caught on video. The first was of Alton Sterling, who was selling CDs outside a store. Based on a tip, the police showed up to arrest him. Sterling, who had a gun, was being held pinned down by two cops when one shouted, “He’s got a gun!” The other officer then shot him point blank in the chest, killing him. There is horrific video of the shooting which you can find at the links but I won’t embed.

The second shooting was yesterday of Philando Castile, a man who worked in a Montessori school, had no record and had a concealed carry permit. His girlfriend claims that they were pulled over for a broken tail light. He informed the officer that he had a weapon, then reached for his wallet when instructed, at which point he was shot and killed. The video starts after the shooting and you can hear the officer yelling that he was going for his gun while the girlfriend says he was going for his ID. Later, they cuffed both the girlfriend and the four-year-old who was in the back seat. It was eerily reminiscent of the South Carolina shooting of a man going for his license.

Naturally, we have to wait until more information comes out. But both of these incidents look very very bad. In both cases, we have cops who reacted to what they thought was a dangerous situation but probably wasn’t. In both cases, they had guns drawn in situations where it’s not clear that was necessary. Sterling did not appear to be going for his gun and we don’t have any information that Castile was either. But in both cases, the officers reacted to the presence of a gun — one in an open-carry state, one with a concealed carry permit — as if the presence of the gun was automatically a threat.

Balko, who thinks the Sterling shooting may have been the result of a miscommunication between the officers:

Was Sterling resisting? It’s difficult to say, as is often the case with these videos. He may have been. But what looks like resisting often isn’t conscious fighting back or an affirmative attempt to hurt or injure police officers so much as instinctual self-defense. If the cops bend your arm in a way that it doesn’t want to bend, you feel pain. Your body tells you to resist whatever or whoever is bending your arm in that manner. So you push back. That isn’t aggression; it’s a natural product of our aversion to pain. Similarly, a suspect flat on pavement with a knee in his back or with multiple officers putting their weight on him may try to lift his chest. That can look like the suspect is trying to get up, resisting orders, and possibly trying to attack the officers. But he may also simply be trying to create some space to breathe. Many people panic when trapped under a lot of weight. Panic isn’t also aggression. It’s an attempt to survive.

All of which is why training police in de-escalation is so important. Physical confrontation like the kind we see in this video immediately raises the stakes and narrows the margin for error for everyone involved. A misheard directive, a misinterpreted gesture, or any other miscommunication can quickly become fatal.

If we really want to reduce fatal police shootings instead of merely adjudicating them, we need to train officers in tactics that subdue threats, reward those who resolve threats without violence, and discourage actions that create unnecessary confrontation, violence, and escalation. And when these shootings are investigated — be it by the DOJ, internal affairs departments, local prosecutors or an outside agencies — it’s time to start looking beyond whether or not the shooting was justified under the black letter of the law. It’s time to start asking whether the shooting was preventable — and if it was, whether the failure to prevent it was due to poor training, bad policies, or police officers acting in contravention of policies or training.

Was it legal? is the question we ask when deciding whether or not to prosecute. Was it preventable? is the question we need to ask to save lives.

That’s the key point. We are constantly told the policing is the most dangerous job in America (it isn’t in the top ten), that there is a war on cops (policing is safer than it’s been in over a century) and that there is a constant danger of ambushes (literally less than one in a million chance). We give officers pseudo-military training and tell them to react before they think because the world is full of people who want to kill cops. We give them military weapons and send them on SWAT raids. And then we act all surprised when a thousand people get gunned down by cops every year.

If you watch the videos, listen to the officers’ voices. They are nearly hysterical. Their reaction is nothing so much as, “What the hell just happened?” They are trying to justify what they just did. That’s a key point that’s missing here — the emphasis on aggressive policing creates bad and dangerous situations for civilians and cops. When you are in an emergency situation, you react on instinct. If that instinct is to be aggressive, you will be aggressive because you don’t have time for thought to intervene. If policing tactics emphasized de-escalation, not only would we have less civilians on the ground, we’d have less cops holding a smoking gun wondering what the hell they just did. And maybe a few less getting shot by deranged or scared civilians.

There are other issues here, of course. We need to decrease the number of laws and the number of interactions between cops and civilians. We especially need to rid ourselves of laws governing non-violent behavior, like selling CDs or having busted tail lights. The issue of race will be at the heart of this. And all the Second Amendment advocates should be appalled by a conceal-carry holder being shot like this (modulo any other facts that come out).

But the main thing we need to do is stop treating our country like it’s a war zone. Twenty years ago, crime was out of control. It has fallen precipitously since then. Even if aggressive tactics were justified in the 90’s — and I would argue about that — they are no longer necessary. If we’re going to give cops guns and body armor and send them out to enforce the law, if we’re going to make sure that citizens can exercise their Second Amendment right, we have to emphasize ways that these two things can co-exist without a law-abiding man bleeding to death in front of a handcuffed four-year-old girl.

Me Make Nice To Trump

I’ve been slagging Trump pretty heavily on the blog lately. It’s not like he doesn’t deserve it. But I don’t want to go all-in on hate like I’m a Democrat or something. So to lighten the mood, I’ll say five positive thing about Donald Trump. And I’m not being sarcastic. These are five things that are genuinely good about his candidacy.

  • Trump doesn’t care about the Culture War. Trump has fumbled the abortion issue because it doesn’t matter to him. He’s been semi-pro-LGBT. He’s punted on issues of bathroom access and drugs. Maybe one good thing that could come out of this is that the Culture War goes back to being something in the culture, not something in politics.
  • He would almost certainly defer to conservatives on SCOTUS appointments. The appointment of SCOTUS justices over the next four years is the issue for this campaign. Trump might appoint some lunatic but the Senate would have a thing or two to say about that. Most likely, he would do what he did earlier this year: grab a list from the Federalist Society and go down it, name by name. That would not be good for civil liberties, but it would be OK for restraining government power.
  • I don’t think he’s a bigot. Trump has been accused of racism, anti-Muslimism and anti-semitism. I don’t think he’s any of those. He’s tone-deaf on issues or race and religion and is clearly blowing some dog whistles that the racists are responding to on social media. But I don’t think reflects what he thinks.
  • I think he’s tapping into a very real and important backlash against elites. This is the big issues that is driving the Trump campaign and every time the elites work themselves into a fainting spell over the last Trumpism, it only strengthens this argument. I don’t believe in direct democracy. Our founders created a constitutional Republic because they distrusted mob rule. But I do think we’ve developed a huge disconnect between the ruling class and the people. And Trump is riding that wave.
  • He may break the idea that money == political power. Trump is being massively outspent by Clinton and was outspent in the primary. We’ve had indications for many years that money has, at most, a small impact on elections. If Trump wins or even comes close, the narrative that elections are bought and sold by special interests takes another big blow. Not a decisive one, since Trump’s celebrity has made up some of the money gap. But a big one. That’s not to say that special interests wield no power, because they clearly wield a lot. But money isn’t the problem. Access to politicians is the problem. The size of government, which mandates that people give oblations to politicians, is the problem. Campaign donations and campaign finance reform are red herrings (which is precisely why politicians talk them up so much).

Like I said, not much. I still won’t vote for him. But the idea that Trump is America’s Hitler or the quintessence of evil is just ridiculous.

Of Course Not

The FBI has recommended that the DOJ not seek charges for Clinton’s e-mail scandal. Here is Comey’s statement. I expected this, as did most people. Law are for plebs, not monarchs. Although I expected maybe a few low-level grunts to be the fall guys.

Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. Prosecutors necessarily weigh a number of factors before bringing charges. There are obvious considerations, like the strength of the evidence, especially regarding intent. Responsible decisions also consider the context of a person’s actions, and how similar situations have been handled in the past.

In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.

Now maybe this would be acceptable if it came from someone who was not James Comey, who has pressed felony charges in far less clear circumstances. Comey admits that Clinton deliberately set up her own e-mail servers to shield her e-mails from FOIA. He admits she mishandled classified evidence, enormous amounts of it, including at least seven piece of Top Secret information and that there is no way she couldn’t have known this information was classified. He admits she tried to conceal what she did. But he focuses heavily on intent, which is something the FBI never focuses on with the rest of us.

Inadvertently breaking the law can get you indicted. Covering up what you did, even if you didn’t break the law, can get you indicted. But Clinton, who deliberately broke the rules and tried to cover it up, won’t even get a wrist slap. And people wonder why Trump is so popular.

Happy Fourth

240 years of freedom*. Happy Birthday, America.

(*Note: “Freedom” does not apply to cigarettes, alcohol, sex work, guns, “hate speech”, insensitivity, salt, sugar, fat, raising children, education, farming, catering, baking, self-incrimination, privacy, papers and persons, driving, hiking, boating, fishing, hunting, flying and anything else we think of that should be banned or regulated for your own good.

It does however, include the freedom to pay for sports stadiums, drug wars, prisons, TSA beatdowns of disabled teenagers, SWAT raids, corporate welfare, “alternative energy”, bullet train boondoggles and faux FBI investigations.)