Wednesday Quick Hits

A few stories that have been lurking in my tabs:

  • Donald Trump’s 1995 tax return was leaked last week and showed a nearly billion dollar loss that he could have used to offset profits for years and thus pay no tax. It’s perfectly legitimate to criticize Trump for losing a billion dollars and proclaiming himself to be a business genius. Criticizing the NOL rule, however, is insanity. Allowing businesses to carry losses into future years allows them to navigate sometimes uncertain business waters without going bankrupt. Criticizing the rule because of Trump is sheer wealth envy. Trump should be making this point.
  • You remember the Phoenix VA scandal? Well, the government responded to this disaster by … funding the VA more generously, firing no one and appointing a new manager who had a series of failures. Stunningly, this has not worked. Coyote Blog reminds us that this is how government works. Failure means you get more funding and more people. Success means budget cuts.
  • An Iowa prosecutor wants to hit a 14-year-old with kiddie porn charges for taking non-nude pictures of herself. This is insanity. And it will not stop until we start shitcanning prosecutors who abuse their power this way.
  • John Oliver had a good show on police accountability.

More to come …

VP Debate

Just a quick few thoughts, again.

The VP debate rarely matters in an election. And I guess that’s good if you’re a Clinton supporter because Pence beat the crap out of Kaine. Kaine was constantly interrupting, frequently off-topic, vague with details and awkward in his transparent one-liners. By contrast, Pence was focused and prepared. I disagreed with him plenty, but I ended the night with a good impression of where he stands on the issues. I have no idea what Tim Kaine thinks about anything other than, “Donald Trump sucks.”

It was also a good reminder of what the GOP gave up when they nominated Trump. The election is still close — Clinton has surged in the last week but there’s still five weeks left; plenty of time for Trump to come back and win. However, the Pence debate made it really clear that any normal Republican would be crushing this. The only time Pence ever floundered was having to defend Trump: Trump’s statements, Trump’s positions, Trump’s “foundation”, Trump’s businesses. On these, he mainly resorted to “who is this Donald Trump person of whom you speak?” When he was talking about generic GOP policy or about Clinton, it was simply no contest.

I’m also told there was a moderator, but it was hard to tell. Someone seemed to keep asking pointless questions.

The Clinton Tapes

Hot Air has a good roundup of the most interesting quotes from the Clinton campaign audio tape that was leaked last week.

There is a…a strain of, on the one hand, the kind of populist, nationalist, xenophobic, discriminatory kind of approach that we hear too much of from the Republican candidates. And on the other side, there’s a just a deep desire to believe that, you know, we can have free college, free healthcare, that what we’ve done hasn’t gone far enough and we just need to, you know, go as far as, you know, Scandinavia, whatever that means, and half the people don’t know what that means, but it’s something that they deeply feel.

So as a friend of mine said the other day, I am occupying from the center-left to the center-right and I don’t have much company there. Because it is difficult when you’re running to be president and you understand how hard the job is. I don’t want to over-promise. I don’t want to tell people things that I know we cannot do. I want to level with the American people…and be very clear about the progress I think we can make.

She also gets into how she thinks that Sanders was selling a false promise of political revolution but that she understands why it appeals to young people with poor job prospects.

I would find the tape … reassuring had it been leaked months ago. So much to the point where I’m actually wondering if the Clinton campaign itself leaked this to try to win over moderates. The biggest problem I, and many others, have with the Clinton campaign is its drift to the far Left. It wouldn’t erase the concerns about Clinton’s ethics, temperament, corruption and history of bad decisions. But … it would be better than all that combined with a Far Left agenda.

However … Clinton ultimately embraced Sanders’ agenda. She let him write the party platform and she’s running on the very promises she once said were impossible (mainly because they are). If she wins the election … give me a second to choke down my bile … she will be expected to deliver this. And if, God forbid, she had a Democratic Congress, she might be able to. So for all the “pragmatism” she might be expressing in this audio, it means very little as far as practical politics.

Ultimately, this reveals that while Clinton does show an understanding of the limits of politics, she is perfectly willing to sell any pragmatism down the river if it gets her closer to power. It shows someone who can not be trusted. Because the second she feels her power slipping, she’ll geek for whatever cause is in the air.

Scientific American Drifts From Science

A few weeks ago, Scientific American sent twenty questions to the four Presidential candidates, asking for their policy positions on scientific issues. I think that’s a fine idea. The next President will control billions of dollars in federal funding for science, have to set priorities for our various department and agencies that do science and have to deal with scientific issues like disease, vaccines and climate change. These questions won’t reveal much about what the candidates think, but will reveal the kind of people they surround themselves with who actually write the answers. Are they surrounding themselves with real scientists or cranks? Big government lackeys or free market gurus? Earth-first idiots or global-warming-is-a-fraud crackpots?

Having read through the answers, it’s about what I would expect. It’s mostly pablum but gives you a general sense of their philosophies. Clinton thinks government can solve everything, Johnson is very in favor of free markets, Stein is a crackpot and Trump is kind of all over the place. All show some grasp of the issues but differ on their approaches. In terms of the quality of answers, I would rank them Johnson, Clinton, Trump, Stein, but … that is an entirely subjective rating. I rate Johnson high because I favor free markets and Stein low because she’s a crank who favors massive government intervention in everything.

Well, that wasn’t enough for Scientific American, who decided to “grade” the candidates on their answers. They rated Clinton highest (64 points), Stein (44 points), Johnson (30) and Trump (7). But their ratings having nothing to do with the actual science and everything to do with politics.

Both Trump and Johnson are hit for favoring free market approaches to climate change. Why? Because Scientific American doesn’t think the free market can handle climate change. Maybe it can’t, but that’s an opinion not a fact. It’s fine for pundits to have opinions but SA is presenting this as though it is some kind of objective analysis, which it clearly is not.

It get worse. They are heavily biased against Trump, frequently giving him zeros on issues where he’s not entirely wrong. They give him 0 points on education because he favors bringing more market forces to bear on education. Trump may be right or wrong on that (I think he’s right) but they bash him because ITT folded and Trump University was a scam. This has nothing to do with what Trump said. It’s bashing him for things he said outside of the forum and for issues unrelated to what he’s talking about. If you’re going to hit Trump for the failure of ITT (which he had nothing to do with), why not hit Clinton for taking millions in “for profit” college money? Clinton and Trump give basically the same answer on nuclear power, but Clinton gets two points and Trump gets one because reasons. On scientific integrity, they give Trump 0 points because … Politifact has rated a lot of his utterance as untrue. Look, I’ll be the first to call Trump a liar but this has nothing to do with his answers to this specific question. It’s ridiculous.

But it gets even worse. On nuclear power, they give Jill Stein 2/5 points. Jill Stein’s answer on nuclear power is one of the worst answers the entire debate. She plans to shut nuclear power down based on junk science and favors on-site storage based on junk science. Her proposal would almost certainly make climate change worse, not better. And if we’re going to judge candidates by what they’ve said elsewhere, she once claimed nuclear power plants were bombs. Stein is a complete crank on nuclear power. There is no way she should get any points on this. She also get 2/5 on food, even though she’s a complete crank on GMOs and farming.

Nowhere is this bias more visible than the question on vaccines. Trump is given 1/5 for occasionally engaging in anti-vaccine nonsense. But Stein is given 3/5 when her entire party is devoted to anti-vaccine nonsense; nonsense she has not seen fit to dispel. Seriously, Scientific American? Seriously?

I’m glad someone is asking the candidates questions about science policy. But Scientific American needs to just lay out the questions and answers and leave it that. We do not need this kind of biased analysis showing up in a supposedly scientific magazine. Write about it on Politico or Daily Kos or whatever.

You might wonder why this set me off. It’s because this is one of the biggest problems facing science today: the efforts by scientists and scientific publications to wed scientific facts to political opinions. This shows itself most thoroughly in the debate about global warming where disagreeing with left wing policy solutions to global warming is considered a form of “denial” on par with claiming the planet isn’t actually warming. The debate over global warming (and a host of other issues) would be light years easier if we separated those two; if we said “you can accept that global warming is real and not accept my solutions to it”. SA’s “grading” of the answers to the science debate is just the latest in the misguided philosophy of mistaking opinions about scientific issues for facts about scientific issues. And it needs to stop. These issues are way too important.

First Debate Thoughts

  • What did we do to deserve this?
  • Judged as as pure debate, Clinton “won” as far as that goes. You can tell because the conservative blogs are calling it a draw. She didn’t get rattled. She appeared almost human. Her answers were coherent if alarming. Trump held his own for thirty minutes. But, as I suspected, having a one-on-one debate meant his catch phrases began to wear thin after a while. His ignorance of policy and his tendency to shaft other people kept coming back up. Trump avoiding rising to Clinton’s bait a few times, but he did bite more than once and was on the defensive a lot. This is was clearly intentional from Clinton because the one thing we know about Trump is that he can. not. let. anything. go.
  • That said, I don’t know how much of a difference it will make. Trump has been exposed as a lair, a fraud and a policy ignoramus for months now. His core supporters simply do not care. They either despise Clinton more or cling to the strange belief that he will trash the system without also trashing the country. He could literally have spent the entire 90 minutes masturbating and they wouldn’t have cared.
  • I thought Holt did an OK job. He mainly let the candidates go at each other, which is a format I prefer. There’s been some criticism of him for not going after Clinton (bringing up Benghazi, etc.). There’s legitimacy in that. It seemed odd to press Trump on his support for the Iraq while ignoring the woman who voted for it. But … most of the things that put Trump on the defensive were brought up by Clinton. Trump punched back a few times, making Clinton talk about the e-mail scandal. But he spent so much time trying to weasel about his tax returns, his bankruptcies, his birtherism that he wasn’t able to push her on other issues.
  • I suspect Trump will do better in the next debate because Conway will make sure he stays on the offensive.
  • What was with the sniffing? Based on the internet speculation about Clinton, I’m going to assume that Trump has Ebola.
  • Trump has already surrendered much of the conservative agenda. Among other things, he called for massive investments in “infrastructure”, mandated paid parental leave, restricted trade and more gun control.
  • In fact, I challenge anyone to go through that debate transcript and find anything either candidate said about basic freedoms. The subjects of mass surveillance, the War on Drugs and mass incarceration weren’t touched on. Foreign wars were barely mentioned and the only in the past tense. Obamacare wasn’t really addressed. Regulation wasn’t really addressed. What this came down to was which candidate is most qualified to tighten the screws on our liberty.

Tight As A Drum

In 2016, Hillary Clinton has:

  • An arguable structural advantage in the electoral college.
  • An incumbent President with an approval rating in the high 50’s.
  • A media almost united behind her.
  • An historically awful Republican candidate: a deeply disliked two-bit conman who knows nothing about policy and has a poor ground game in battleground states.
  • A big funding advantage.

And, as of this morning, the campaign is basically a toss-up, according to 538’s analysis. There was a reason the Democrats rejected her in 2008 in favor of a freshman Senator. There was as reason the Democrats almost rejected her this year in favor of a 74-year-old crackpot Senator from Vermont. And that reason is not her extra X-chromosome. It’s because she’s a poor politician.

Cruz Gives In

I’ve been in proposal land all week, but I thought I’d put up a quick thought. Ted Cruz just endorsed Donald Trump. So … what was that convention imbroglio in aide of? What exactly did he accomplish with his “vote your conscience” speech?

Kasich at least didn’t go to the convention. Neither did the Bushes. While they oppose Trump, they at least realized that you don’t go to the convention to make it about you. If Cruz has stuck with his conscience and voted for Johnson or McMullin or something, I might see that. But by endorsing Trump at this stage he’s revealed his convention stunt as just that: a stunt, designed to make him look good at the expense of his party. And that was not the first time or the second or the tenth time he has tried to make himself look good at the expense of the party.

It make you realize why many in the GOP who didn’t want Trump as the nominee didn’t want Cruz either.

Late Night Fight

Last week, Jimmy Fallon had Donald Trump on his show. As is his wont, he didn’t press Trump on any real issues, but mostly joked around and chatted.

Apparently, this is no longer acceptable:

On Monday’s Full Frontal, Bee called out her fellow late-night host Fallon for his widely-panned softball interview with Donald Trump.

“Why do so many Americans think playing footsie with fringe hate groups isn’t a disqualifier from polite society, much less the presidency?” Bee asked. “Maybe because that’s the message they get from entertainment giants like NBC,” she said, referencing how they fostered Trump’s image through The Celebrity Apprentice.

She said the network “tacitly condoned a race-baiting demagogue” even after they claimed to “sever ties” with him following his presidential campaign announcement. “If by severing ties, you mean inviting him on their flagship comedy programs to show millions of Americans what a fun guy he is.

Why did Trump host Saturday Night Live last fall? “I guess because ratings matter more than brown people,” Bee said. “Sure, he’s making life palpably dangerous for Muslims and immigrants, but hey, he’s good entertainment! Here’s a thought: when Holocaust survivors are telling you this guy gives me déjà vu, maybe don’t invite him up into your house to play with your adorable children.”

I guess “ratings matter more than brown people” might resonate with Bee, whose show is typically pulling in a bit under 700,000 viewers a night, placing her almost dead last in the late night derby. She’s drawing a fraction of the audience Fallon is and an even smaller fraction of the audience John Oliver is drawing on a pay cable channel. But sure, Sam. I’m sure the problem is how much you value brown people. We just don’t get you.

The thing is, this taps into something very important. Part of the appeal of Trump is precisely that he drives liberals crazy. In the Second Age of Political Correctness, there is a tendency for people, even young people, to stampede toward something different. Ross Douthat:

But the Democratic Party’s problem in the age of Trump isn’t really Jimmy Fallon. Its problem is Samantha Bee.

Not Bee alone, of course, but the entire phenomenon that she embodies: the rapid colonization of new cultural territory by an ascendant social liberalism.

The culture industry has always tilted leftward, but the swing toward social liberalism among younger Americans and the simultaneous surge of activist energy on the left have created a new dynamic, in which areas once considered relatively apolitical now have (or are being pushed to have) an overtly left-wing party line.

In late-night television, it was once understood that David Letterman was beloved by coastal liberals and Jay Leno more of a Middle American taste. But neither man was prone to delivering hectoring monologues in the style of the “Daily Show” alums who now dominate late night. Fallon’s apolitical shtick increasingly makes him an outlier among his peers, many of whom are less comics than propagandists — liberal “explanatory journalists” with laugh lines.

As Douthat goes on to point out, it’s not just late night television. Everything has becomes politicized. Awards shows, sporting events, movies, you name it. If you’re culturally conservative or just not down with latest in political correctness, you can’t turn on the TV or bring up a web page without some smarmy Lefty telling you, in condescending tones, how stupid and backward you are. Hell, I’m socially liberal and it annoys the hell out me.

(It must be said, Bee is actually one of the worst at this. I liked her on the Daily Show but her new show is unwatchable. I’m used to liberal late night hosts but Bee combines the idiocy of Bill Maher and the charm of Hillary Clinton. She says the kind of things that make smug liberals cheer — hence the frequent links from Vox — but make everyone else change the channel.)

Returning to Douthat, he argues that the monolithic cultural landscape has given the Democrats the illusion that they’ve triumphed and caused them to surge hard left. And at the same time, it has made conservatives feel like they are under siege. And we’re seeing a response culminating in the rise of Donald Trump. And that in turn is making the Lefties hysterical. Hillary Clinton is still favored to win the election, but, to listen to Democrats, you would think the apocalypse is upon us because the race has gotten very tight.

Note where Clinton is hemorrhaging support — young people. They are stampeding not just to Donald Trump but also to Gary Johnson. Why? Well, on Twitter, Robby Soave linked to his article that details how much young people dislike the current push toward political correctness and smarmy liberal self-worship. With the Left now establishing a cultural hegemony in entertainment and academia, being liberal isn’t an act of rebellion; it’s an act of conformity.

I despise this notion that everything in our society has to have a political context. This is an idea that originated with the Marxists. It was disgusting when it slithered into public consciousness and it’s disgusting now. As I’ve said over and over again, Donald Trump is not Hitler. He’s a venal, lying dumpster fire who has no business near the White House. But he is not so evil that everything in our culture must be requisitioned to oppose him. Jimmy Fallon (and SNL) decided to keep the politics out of their entertainment. I think our culture would be a darn sight better off if more people followed their example. And to judge by how thoroughly Fallon is stomping Bee in the ratings, most people agree.

Election 2016: VI. Gary Johnson

This is the sixth part of a seven part series I will do this week making the case for and against each of the major candidates, with a wrap-up on the weekend. I did this in 2012 and I will observe the same ground rule I did then: making the case for a candidate means making the case for a candidate, not a case against the opponent. That’s the subject of later posts. So “he’s not Hillary” is not a reason I will list for voting for Trump and “she’s not Trump” is not a reason I will list for voting for Clinton. Each one of them will get their own special post all to themselves about they don’t deserve our votes.

Today, I’ll look at the case for and against the man I voted for in 2012 and will most likely vote for this year: Gary Johnson.

For the first time ever, the Libertarian Party has a chance to make some real noise. The extreme unpopularity of the two major candidates has Gary Johnson polling at about 10% and threatening to have a Perot-sized impact on the race. Young people, in particular, are taken with Johnson, who is currently outpolling Trump and could possibly overtake Clinton. Numerous analyses have indicated that this is the biggest reason for Clinton’s tumble at the polls: young voters moving to Johnson and Stein.

The reason to not for Gary Johnson is pretty straight forward.

A vote for Johnson may spill the election to Clinton or Trump (although it’s not clear which). This is the biggest reason I’ve heard for not voting for Johnson. I’ve heard it from the Right and from the Left (Krugman had a particularly silly column today on the subject). If you honestly think that one of these candidates is going to bring about the apocalypse and the other won’t, this is a big reason not to vote for Johnson.

Johnson is a small-government conservative who favors marijuana legalization and a United States that is less involved with foreign countries. I know it sounds weird, in this election, to make the case against a candidate based on, you know, issues but those are the biggest reasons one might vote against him: if you fear isolationism, support the War on Drugs and want a bigger government, Johnson is not your guy.

There are some other things you could say against him: he doesn’t have foreign policy experience; he’s an admitted marijuana user (who has given it up for the campaign); he has been out of government for more than a decade; he hasn’t got much of a personality (although I find that to be a blessed relief). But for me, the main reasons one might vote against him arex his potential as a spoiler and his stance on the issues.

The reasons to vote for him?

Johnson-Weld is easily the best of the four tickets. Donald Trump has no experience in government. His running mate is one-term governor who had a very good chance of being unelected this fall. Clinton’s experience, as I noted, is less impressive the more you look at it. Her running mate was a moderately successful governor of Virginia.

By contrast, Johnson and Weld were both twice-elected Republican governors of blue states with strong records of fiscal restraint. Johnson, in particular, vetoed the hell out of spending in New Mexico (although he was often overridden). Both are fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Neither has been tainted by scandal. And they are running a clean issues-oriented campaign. They have now received more endorsements than Trump, including the New Hampshire Union Leader, which broke a century-long streak of endorsing Republicans. And every endorsement says what I said above: they are experienced governors who can get things done but have shown no compunction about facing down their legislatures when they think it’s important. They do have a few positions I don’t like, such as the Fair Tax. But overall, this is best ticket I’ve seen on a ballot since Reagan-Bush. No, that’s not a joke.

If they had a shot at winning, this would be no contest. But they are polling at around 10% and likely to perform a bit under that. They have not been invited to the debates (despite polling around where Perot was in 1992), which puts a crimp in any plan to upset the leaders. So it is very likely, barring a spectacular meltdown by one of the front-runners, that they will win. So, ultimately, this may end up a protest vote.

But in this case, a protest vote might be more important than ever because:

A strong libertarian vote would scare the parties. Ross Perot’s 1992 success was a big reason we had a balanced budget in the 1990’s. That was his signature issue and garnering 19% of the vote scared the crap out of both parties and let them know what the American people wanted.

Johnson doesn’t have as much of a signature issue, however, so it’s not clear what message would be sent other than, “We hate you both.” But a strong libertarian movement would, while not necessarily empowering the Libertarian Party itself, create a formidable voting block that has to be reckoned with.

The popularity of Johnson among young people is one of the most positive political trends in the last decade. I really hope he can sustain it because young liberty-oriented people would grow up to a motivated liberty-oriented voting block. And God knows we need that right now.

A strong libertarian showing would deny either candidate a mandate. If Gary Johnson polls well, the winner of this election will have less than half the vote. If he polls extremely well, they could even poll under 40. Such a low showing would deny either candidate a mandate for their agenda (although both would claim it anyway). They would find themselves in the same position Bill Clinton once did: weak, opposed and without a mandate. Bill was a slick enough politician to get what he wanted done anyway (while he still had Congress, at least). Neither Clinton nor Trump are the equal of Slick Willie. And they will face a determined Republican Congress.

This “lack of mandate” stuff is not just inside the beltway politician talk. It’s real. It’s the biggest reason why the parties agreed to lock third parties out of the debates after 1996. They realized that if Perot-scale showings became routine, we would have a series of weakened Presidents governing without a mandate, if you can imagine such a thing.

The reason to vote for Gary Johnson, oddly enough, is the same reason many people voted for Bernie Sanders. It has the potential to shake up the system. And this system badly needs shaking. Donald Trump isn’t the one to bring real change. He’s the vomitus of a sick system; a political insider pretending to be an outsider. Hillary Clinton isn’t the one to bring real change, either. As my friend Maggie McNeill said, Hillary couldn’t be more establishment if she had a concrete foundation and were wired for electricity. Johnson, on the other hand … could be.