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Elie Wiesel, RIP

The man who came to embody the idea of “Never Again” has died. Elie Wiesel lived a long and full life and his work is so important that most people can’t remember what it was like before him. There was a period of time — about ten to twenty years after the war — where the Holocaust wasn’t talked about much. Survivors would be told that they were exaggerating and most people just didn’t want to hear about it. Wiesel was the key part of the movement that drew the Holocaust out of the shadows to the point where most people today can’t imagine not knowing about it.

I’m always sad when a Holocaust survivor dies. But a part of me is so happy that they lived so long in defiance of evil. RIP.

California’s White Elephant, The Saga Continues

I’ve written several times about California’s massive high-speed rail boondoggle. This project, which supposedly will allow travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in three hours (or about twice the time it takes to fly), has been praised to the skies by liberals and condemned by anyone with two brain cells to rub together. It is massively overbudget, massively behind schedule, has not secured all of its funding and doesn’t even have most of the land it needs to build.

Oh, it gets worse:

The total construction cost estimate has now more than doubled to $68 billion from the original $33 billion, despite trims in the routes planned. The first, easiest-to-build, segment of the system — the “train to nowhere” through a relatively empty stretch of the Central Valley — is running at least four years behind schedule and still hasn’t acquired all the needed land. Predicted ticket prices to travel from LA to the Bay have shot from $50 to more than $80. State funding is running short. Last month’s cap-and-trade auction for greenhouse gases, expected to provide $150 million for the train, yielded a mere $2.5 million. And no investors are lining up to fill the $43 billion construction-budget gap.

Now, courtesy of Los Angeles Times reporter Ralph Vartabedian, comes yet another damning revelation: When the Spanish construction company Ferrovial submitted its winning bid for a 22-mile segment, the proposal included a clear and inconvenient warning: “More than likely, the California high speed rail will require large government subsidies for years to come.” Ferrovial reviewed 111 similar systems around the world and found only three that cover their operating costs.

The truly damning revelation, however, isn’t just that Ferrovial’s research flatly contradicts the California authority. It’s that the company’s warning on subsidies disappeared from the version of the bid posted on the state’s website. The Times obtained a copy of the full document on a data disk under a public records act request.

In short, the government of California has gone from relying on insanely optimistic estimates of the light rail program (they project 117 million riders a year, approximately 40 times the ridership of Acela) to editing studies to make sure the claim that it’s going to work. And at least few outlets are now admitting that the program is in serious trouble but are saying it’s worth it because reasons.

And you know what? They have a point. Because as far as the Democrats are concerned, none of this is a problem. The California high speed rail program is fulfilling all of its objectives:

  • It’s spending lots of money on “infrastructure” and “jobs”.
  • It provides a convenient piece of virtue signaling so that supporters can prove how much they care about the environment.
  • It’s spendings lots of money.
  • If it ever actually gets built, they’ll be able to point to it and say, “we built his thing!”
  • It’s spending lots of money.

A bottomless money pit that shows how morally superior Democrats are too Republicans? We’ll take two please. Or maybe one for the price of ten.

The Bregret Nonsense

The indispensable Charles Cooke deals a shattering blow to the media’s desperate attempts to rewrite the Brexit vote result and pretend that there is a huge wave of regret engulfing Leave voters. The whole thing is worth your time — he notes how bogus the Google trends and petition stories are — but he concludes with this:

One of the great failings of the American media class – both in this case, and more broadly — is its refusal to accept that national sovereignty is just as important to people as is material wealth, and that the average person’s objections to unrestricted immigration are rooted in quotidian concerns rather than racism. The Voxes and the Wonkblogs of the world may well be hooked on questions such as, “If the French parliament handed regulatory control over to the Peruvians, what would happen to exports?” – but most people are not, and, if given a choice between being ruled from afar by self-professed experts or retaining more control over their lives, they will usually plump for the latter. At the Virginia ratifying convention of 1788, Patrick Henry instructed the electors, “You are not to inquire how your trade may be increased, nor how you are to become a great and powerful people, but how your liberties can be secured; for liberty ought to be the direct end of your Government.” Clearly, a considerable number of Brits still agree.

This is a growing problem with supposed fact-based journalism as well as large parts of economics and sociology. They tend to see issues in very narrow academic terms and don’t even consider that some people might have values behind the purely utilitarian. Vox, in particular, is one of the absolute worst at this. In the recent past, they have advocating raising the smoking age to 21, keeping the drinking age high, restricting sugar and salt in our food, banning guns and all other manner of Nanny State nonsense. And their reasoning is entirely, “Liberal Think Tank X says policy Y will save Z lives per year.”

Even if the think tanks were right — and they frequently aren’t — that entirely misses the point. People value freedom. They value accountability. They value a government that both listens to them when they want it to and leaves them alone when they want it to. We are not numbers in a spreadsheet. This is not SimCity. We don’t win point based on our lifespans or healthcare expenditures. People want and deserve the freedom to make trade-offs. The pleasure of drinking in exchange for poorer health. The freedom to smoke in exchange for shorter life spans. The freedom to buy guns at the risk of being shot. And yes, the ability to be governed by your fellow Brits in exchange for slightly less wealth (most of which would go to the elites anyway, not to the masses).

It is vital to the national political conversation that we engage people on their own terms; that we address the arguments they are making rather than the arguments we assign to them. The “smug style of liberalism”, as Vox itself once called it, is an utter failure to do so.

Another example: yesterday, the Supreme Court rendered a landmark abortion ruling striking down Texas’ regulations on abortion clinics as too restrictive. As is their want, the Left responded to yet another massive victory in the Culture War with anger and outrage that anyone dared disagree with them. And over and over, we heard that this was about controlling women’s sexuality and punishing women for unapproved sex. Maybe that’s a part of this. But you’re not going to get anywhere with that besides making yourself feel superior to those awful awful cave-man pro-Lifers. It’s much more productive addressing the tens of millions of people (including tens of millions of women) who see abortion as the extinguishing of a human life and saw the Kermit Gosnell horror as an indication that abortion clinics were dangerously under-regulated. They might be wrong. But you have to engage them on the issue they care about, not the issue you wish they cared about.

I’m as guilty of anyone of talking past the arguments my political opponents are making. But the problem has become very acute with the Left in recent years. And the Brexit is simply the latest distillation of this.

Sunday Triple Play

Three thoughts on unrelated topics:

Brexit:

When it came to the Brexit vote, I was partial to Remain, mainly because I am an avid supporter of free trade. And I’m worried that the departure of the UK could trigger an eventual dissolution of the EU, with bad economic consequences and an empowerment of Russia. I still worry about this but … I think the reaction of the Remain faction has been hysterical. Vox alone has run a few dozen articles rending their garments and gnashing their teeth over this. To borrow a thought from Greg Guttfield, this is about ten times as many articles as they’ve run on Venezuela, which is having an actual economic meltdown right now, with severe shortages of good, medicine and power. For Americans to go into hysterics because the UK’s economy might be a little weaker going forward while ignoring the Lord of the Flies situation developing in our own hemisphere is insane. McArdle argues they are lamenting the decline of this idea that we will no longer be citizens of nations but “citizens of the world” — a notion that has a lot of sway in elite circles.

Warren Meyer has a great post up, contrasting the “it was racism!” explanation that is now the default on the Left against the real regulations coming down on things like tea kettles. It’s worth a read but here’s a critical point:

The real crime from a US perspective is the actions of our President. Mr. Obama has told the British that by voting for Brexit, they go to “the back of the line” for trade negotiations with the US. This is, amongst a lot of stupid things politicians say, one of the stupidest I have ever heard. My response as president would have been to move Britain to the front of the line, offering them a free trade treaty with the US the day after the Brexit vote. Like most politicians, unfortunately, President Obama does not view trade as a vehicle for the enrichment of individuals but as a cudgel to enforce his whims in the foreign policy arena. Why on Earth has President Obama threatened to undermine America’s strong interest in trading with the UK merely to punish the UK for not staying in the EU, a transnational body this country would certainly never join?

The UK would be one of the most logical countries in the world for us to have a free trade agreement with. I have little hope that our next President will grok this.

Orlando:

The FBI has said that they have no evidence that the Orlando shooter was gay. That doesn’t prove he wasn’t, as the FBI notes. There are still indications from his friends and wife that he might have been. But the narrative that he was actively dating men and a regular at the club appears very unlikely.

The FBI is currently saying “they may never know” his motive, given some of the ambiguity around his sexuality. But given that he called 911 to specifically pledge allegiance to ISIS and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the slightest thought might begin to speculate about the merest possibility of crossing our minds that this was Jihadist terrorism. Especially as Jihadism and killing gay people are not exactly incompatible ideas.

Honestly, theres enough blood to go around. We don’t have to confine ourself to one motive.

Obamacare:

Blue Cross has announced that they are pulling out of the Minnesota individual insurance market. The Kaiser Foundation is projecting steep hikes in insurance premiums. The longer this goes on, the more Obamacare is faltering, slowly destroying the individual market. We’re barely two years into this thing and we are now at the point where it’s not if, but when, Obamacare is going to face a massive overhaul. I don’t know that the insurance market can be repaired after this. But I know that if we dick around for much longer, we’re going to see uninsured rates spike drastically to the point where individual insurance may cease to exist.

Makes you kind of wonder if that was the point.

Obama Smacked Down. Yes, Again.

The Supreme Court split 4-4 on United States v. Texas. This lets stand the lower court ruling that invalidated Obama’s attempt to do immigration reform by executive fiat. And it really should have been 8-0.

I support immigration reform. I also support doing it through Congress, as the Constitution mandates. If Obama has the executive power to rewrite immigration law, so will Trump.

No, Clinton is Not Inevitable

With Trump falling in the polls, his unfavorable numbers an all-time high and Clinton enjoying a huge money advantage, it would appear that the Donald’s campaign is in deep trouble. There are already people sticking a fork in him and Democrats dreaming of an electoral landslide and a capture of both houses of Congress.

This is way way way premature.

Look, I’m not saying this couldn’t end in an electoral massacre. I’ve put up several posts worrying about that possibility myself. But the idea that Trump is inevitably doomed and the only variables are just how badly the Republicans will be shellacked is ridiculous. There are four and a half months left of this campaign. Four and a half awful, interminable, grinding …

Ugh …. give me a second here.

Anyway, there are numerous reasons why Trump could make this close or even win:

  • The GOP is unlikely to allow the bad money situation to continue. There are simply too many people out there who want to contribute to the GOP for the money gap to persist.
  • The funding gap matters; it is not the end of the world. Money is important in politics: it’s how you buy ads, it’s how you get out the vote, it’s how you expand the ground game to get votes from people who aren’t political junkies. But money is not destiny. During Scott Walker’s re-election campaign, he was outspent massively. He still won.
  • We have an electoral system and the GOP has certain advantages. There are states that comprise a red wall that the Democrats are unlikely to take no matter how poorly the GOP candidate does. And, in the end, electoral college votes are what matter. If Clinton wins New York by three million votes and Trump wins Texas by one, Trump is still ahead. (That having been said, some alarming state polls are emerging, including a close race in Utah). Trump doesn’t need 50% of the votes. He just needs 50% of the electoral college.
  • Hillary Clinton is no Barack Obama. You have probably heard that Trump is the most unpopular Presidential candidate ever. The second most unpopular, however, is Hillary Clinton. Right now, she’s riding a wave from having clinched the nomination (just as Trump did). Eventually, people will remember that she’s Hillary Clinton. And the race will tighten.
  • The e-mail scandal is still hanging over Clinton. I don’t think she will be indicted even if she did commit a crime. This Administration has amply demonstrated that laws are for plebs, not elites. But there’s a reason Bernie Sanders isn’t packing it in. It turns out that he cares very much about Clinton’s damned e-mails after all.
  • The economy has shown signs of weakening. If we enter a recession later this year, that will hurt Clinton badly.
  • The news cycle … well, cycles. Trump has been hitting a wave of bad press recently — Judge Curiel, Orlando, Trump University, etc. Clinton, meanwhile, has been keeping her nose clean. This could reverse very quickly. Clinton is very good at screwing up and throwing away advantages. And she’s got 25 years of baggage. Watch the news regarding the Clinton Foundation. That could become a very big thing this summer.

I still think Clinton is going to win. But I don’t think it’s inevitable and I don’t think it’s going to be an historic blowout. There are simply too many balancing factors baked into our electoral system and this particular election to make that likely. It’s not impossible and I, for one, will be stocking up alcohol for election night. But it’s unlikely.

Of course, the gripping hand is that this election should be a slam dunk for the GOP. Their candidate should be leading by ten points right now. Paul Ryan should be smiling in his sleep, dreaming of what he could do with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. But the GOP mainstream rallied behind an extremely poor Bush III and the voters went with the angry cheeto. So here we are.

Gun Grabbing Fails

The Democrats filibustered the Senate until they got a vote on four gun control measures yesterday. All four failed:

Senators couldn’t muster enough bipartisan support to pass a series of gun control measures Monday, the latest in a long string of failed attempts at enacting tighter curbs on firearms in the United States.

Spurred by the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, senators from each party introduced the measures they said would have strengthened background checks and prevented suspected terrorists from obtaining weapons.

But tough election year politics, paired with disputes over the effectiveness of each party’s ideas, proved too powerful to break the longstanding partisan gridlock that’s surrounded gun issues for years.

The result was expected. A fifth option, set to be introduced and voted upon as early as Tuesday by moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins, has generated more optimism, but still faces long odds at passage.

Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who sponsored one of the failed measures expanding background checks, reacted angrily after his provision was defeated.

“I’m mortified by today’s vote but I’m not surprised by it,” Murphy said Monday evening. “The NRA has a vice-like grip on this place.”

No, it really doesn’t. What has a grip on Congress is a fleeting minimal respect for due process of law. It wasn’t just the NRA that opposed this. The ACLU vehemently opposed it because the ACLU, unlike the Democrats, sees the danger in restricting basic civil liberties for “potential terrorists” through secret and nebulous FBI criteria.

The Collins bill is a little better in that it would only use the “no-fly” list. But even that list is secretive, vague and almost impossible to challenge. The Democrats know this because they’ve been complaining about that list for years. What’s more, they exposed those years of complaining as political opportunism, not genuine concern about civil liberties. Provisions were offered to reform the terror watch list, to make the process more transparent and to make it easier for people to challenge their placement on the list. The Democrats refused because they really don’t want a gun control law as much as they want a gun control issue for the election.

Remember when not compromising to get legislation passed was a sign of evil Republican unreasonableness and partisanship? Good times.

And just in case you thought the Democrats were the voice of reason here:

If I said opposing the Patriot Act empowered terrorists or opposing torture empowered terrorists or closing Gitmo empowered terrorists or ending mass surveillance empowered terrorists, Democrats would have a fit. But apparently it’s OK to say your opponents are terrorists when it’s gun control.

It’s kind of amazing the philosophical flim-flam the Democrats have pulled off here. As Lucy Steigerwald pointed on Twitter, passing gun laws is now considered an apolitical act, just “common sense”. The only people who “play politics” are those who oppose such laws.

The War on [Omitted]

What the actual hell?

In an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd, Attorney General Loretta Lynch says that on Monday, the FBI will release edited transcripts of the 911 calls made by the Orlando nightclub shooter to the police during his rampage.

“What we’re not going to do is further proclaim this man’s pledges of allegiance to terrorist groups, and further his propaganda,” Lynch said. “We are not going to hear him make his assertions of allegiance [to the Islamic State].”

The Obama Administration did indeed release redacted transcripts of the 911 call, with references to ISIS and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi replaced with “[omitted]”. After relentless and brutal mockery in both traditional and social media, they reversed course and released the unredacted transcripts last night.

I have no idea what Lynch was thinking. You can see the unredacted transcript at the link and, really, it’s trivial stuff. It’s just the names of people we are effectively at war with. I’ve read what Lynch said. I’ve watched the video. And it still have no idea what she’s on about. Do they really think some terrorist’s decision about whether or not to kill a bunch of people is conditional on him hearing the name ISIS? Is ISIS like Beetlejuice? If we say their name three times, a terrorist get an AR-15?

I don’t think there’s any deep conspiracy here. This is just another case of the Obama Administration trying to look smarter than it is. I’m sure when they discussed this, some Ivy League idiot came up with this notion and they all thought it made them some really smart (since actually being smart about terrorism seems a bit beyond their capabilities). But once it got out, the rest of the country sad, “Huh? What?! That makes no sense.”

Another Day, Another Trumpocalypse

If there is a difference between the campaign Trump is running and one designed to destroy the GOP and give the Democrats enough numbers to pass their dream agenda, I have yet to see it.

Assuming, for the moment, that Trump is earnestly trying to win this thing, it’s a good illustration of the difference between someone saying, “Hey, I should be President!” and actually being President. Being President means watching what you say because politics is stupid but real. It means compromising with people who don’t agree with you 100% and want some of the credit for themselves. It means cobbling together coalitions. And yes, it means calling up rich people and raising metric tons of money.