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Archives for Politics (page 1 / 37)

Condemning the Alt-Right

I wanted to check in on what "my" side (the political right) was saying about the despicable events in Charlottesville, VA, so I took a look at the National Review's massive group blog, The Corner. I wasn't disappointed by what I saw.

David French:

Incredibly, key elements of the Trump coalition, including Trump himself, gave the alt-right aid and comfort. Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, proclaimed that his publication, Breitbart.com, was the “the platform for the alt-right,” Breitbart long protected, promoted, and published Milo Yiannopolous – the alt-right’s foremost “respectable” defender – and Trump himself retweeted alt-right accounts and launched into an explicitly racial attack against an American judge of Mexican descent, an attack that delighted his most racist supporters.

In other words, if there ever was a time in recent American political history for an American president to make a clear, unequivocal statement against the alt-right, it was today. Instead, we got a vague condemnation of “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” This is unacceptable, especially given that Trump can be quite specific when he’s truly angry. Just ask the Khan family, Judge Curiel, James Comey, or any other person he considers a personal enemy. Even worse, members of the alt-right openly celebrated Trump’s statement, taking it as a not-so-veiled decision to stand against media calls to condemn their movement.

America is at a dangerous crossroads. I know full well that I could have supplemented my list of violent white supremacist acts with a list of vicious killings and riots from left-wing extremists – including the recent act of lone-wolf progressive terror directed at GOP members of the House and Senate. There is a bloodlust at the political extremes. Now is the time for moral clarity, specific condemnations of vile American movements – no matter how many MAGA hats its members wear – and for actions that back up those appropriately strong words.

As things stand today, we face a darkening political future, potentially greater loss of life, and a degree of polarization that makes 2016 look like a time of national unity. Presidents aren’t all-powerful, but they can either help or hurt. Today, Trump’s words hurt the nation he leads.

Ted Cruz:

The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are repulsive and evil, and all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred that they propagate. Having watched the horrifying video of the car deliberately crashing into a crowd of protesters, I urge the Department of Justice to immediately investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism.

These bigots want to tear our country apart, but they will fail. America is far better than this. Our Nation was built on fundamental truths, none more central than the proposition “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Is there any doubt, at this point, that Ted Cruz would have been a far better President than Donald Trump?

Michael Brendan Dougherty:

Even if you believe as I do, that Spencer’s form of white nationalism is a marginal movement granted far too much attention, the sight of hundreds of unmasked young men marching through Charlottesville with torches and chanting racist slogans inspires genuine fear in many Americans. Trump was given a chance to speak to that fear today, and to offer the same moral condemnation and deflation he’s given others. Instead he essentially repeated his disgraceful half-disavowal of Duke. He refused to call out these white supremacists by name, and condemn them. He merely condemned “all sides.”  An energetic law and order president who had any sense of the divisions in his country would have announced today that he was instructing his Justice Department to look into the people in these groups, and zealously ferret out and prosecute any crimes they turned up. 

This is a target-rich environment. Some of these scummy racists in Charlottesville wore chainmail, others went around shouting their devotion to Adolf Hitler. A president with Trump’s intuitive sense of depravity should be able to call them what they are: evil losers. More pathetic: evil cosplayers.  Just as Spencer took Trump’s “I disavow” without a direct object to be a kind of wink in his direction, surely he’ll take today’s statement about “all sides” as another form of non-condemnation. With his performance today, Trump confirms the worst that has been said about him. He’s done damage to the peace of his country. What a revolting day in America. 

Rich Lowry:

—I’ve been skeptical of the rush to pull up Confederate monuments, and Robert E. Lee—the focus in Charlottesville—is not Nathan Bedford Forrest. But if the monuments are going to become rallying points for neo-Nazis, maybe they really do need to go.

I'd change this from "maybe" to "definitely". Otherwise, I agree with Rich. I've also been skeptical of the movement to remove Confederate monuments, but if the alt-right is organizing around them, it's long past time to take them all out.

—It’s always important to maintain some perspective. We aren’t experiencing anything like the level of political violence of the late-1960s and mid-1970s. But we now have two fringes on the right and the left, the white nationalists and anti-fa, who have a taste for violence, love the thrill and attention that comes with it, and are probably going to grow stronger rather than weaker. Depressing.

I agree.

This entry was tagged. Racism Terrorism

I Was Wrong About Robert E. Lee

Adam called me out on my respect for Robert E. Lee, after I posted "Dominance Displays Over Statues". He argued that Robert E. Lee, as a man, wasn't worthy of my respect. As proof, he pointed me towards "The Myth of the Kindly General Lee", published in The Atlantic.

I should have blogged about this then, but didn't. Recent events have forced me to do now, what I didn't do then. A city councilor from Charlottesville, VA wants to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee. That brought out the alt-right to stage an ugly demonstration supporting the statue — and Robert E. Lee.

I'm going on the record now: Adam was right and I was wrong. Robert E. Lee is not worth supporting and I oppose both the actions of the alt-right in Charlottesville and the cause that they're agitating for.

This is the history that I wasn't taught in Southern schools and that I didn't bother to research on my own.

The strangest part about the continued personality cult of Robert E. Lee is how few of the qualities his admirers profess to see in him he actually possessed.

​> …

The myth of Lee goes something like this: He was a brilliant strategist and devoted Christian man who abhorred slavery and labored tirelessly after the war to bring the country back together.

There is little truth in this. Lee was a devout Christian, and historians regard him as an accomplished tactician. But despite his ability to win individual battles, his decision to fight a conventional war against the more densely populated and industrialized North is considered by many historians to have been a fatal strategic error.

But even if one conceded Lee’s military prowess, he would still be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in defense of the South’s authority to own millions of human beings as property because they are black. Lee’s elevation is a key part of a 150-year-old propaganda campaign designed to erase slavery as the cause of the war and whitewash the Confederate cause as a noble one. That ideology is known as the Lost Cause, and as historian David Blight writes, it provided a “foundation on which Southerners built the Jim Crow system.”

What was Lee, himself, like?​

White supremacy does not “violate” Lee’s “most fundamental convictions.” White supremacy was one of Lee’s most fundamental convictions.

Describing an 1856 letter from Robert E. Lee, Adam Serwer writes:

The argument here is that slavery is bad for white people, good for black people, and most importantly, it is better than abolitionism; emancipation must wait for divine intervention. That black people might not want to be slaves does not enter into the equation; their opinion on the subject of their own bondage is not even an afterthought to Lee.

And Lee treated slaves horribly:​

Lee’s cruelty as a slavemaster was not confined to physical punishment. In Reading the Man, the historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s portrait of Lee through his writings, Pryor writes that “Lee ruptured the Washington and Custis tradition of respecting slave families,” by hiring them off to other plantations, and that “by 1860 he had broken up every family but one on the estate, some of whom had been together since Mount Vernon days.” The separation of slave families was one of the most unfathomably devastating aspects of slavery, and Pryor wrote that Lee’s slaves regarded him as “the worst man I ever see.”

Lee’s heavy hand on the Arlington plantation, Pryor writes, nearly led to a slave revolt, in part because the enslaved had been expected to be freed upon their previous master’s death, and Lee had engaged in a dubious legal interpretation of his will in order to keep them as his property, one that lasted until a Virginia court forced him to free them.

When two of his slaves escaped and were recaptured, Lee either beat them himself or ordered the overseer to "lay it on well." Wesley Norris, one of the slaves who was whipped, recalled that “not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done.”

​It wasn't just slaves. Lee treated free blacks horribly as well.

During his invasion of Pennsylvania, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia enslaved free blacks and brought them back to the South as property. Pryor writes that “evidence links virtually every infantry and cavalry unit in Lee’s army” with the abduction of free black Americans, “with the activity under the supervision of senior officers.”

​Lee even sounds like a modern, alt-right, white supremacist.

Nor did Lee’s defeat lead to an embrace of racial egalitarianism. The war was not about slavery, Lee insisted later, but if it was about slavery, it was only out of Christian devotion that white southerners fought to keep blacks enslaved. Lee told a New York Herald reporter, in the midst of arguing in favor of somehow removing blacks from the South (“disposed of,” in his words), “that unless some humane course is adopted, based on wisdom and Christian principles you do a gross wrong and injustice to the whole negro race in setting them free. And it is only this consideration that has led the wisdom, intelligence and Christianity of the South to support and defend the institution up to this time.”

Lee had beaten or ordered his own slaves to be beaten for the crime of wanting to be free, he fought for the preservation of slavery, his army kidnapped free blacks at gunpoint and made them unfree—but all of this, he insisted, had occurred only because of the great Christian love the South held for blacks. Here we truly understand Frederick Douglass’s admonition that "between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference."

Privately, according to the correspondence collected by his own family, Lee counseled others to hire white labor instead of the freedmen, observing “that wherever you find the negro, everything is going down around him, and wherever you find a white man, you see everything around him improving.”

​And he tacitly encouraged abominable behavior by others.

Lee is not remembered as an educator, but his life as president of Washington College (later Washington and Lee) is tainted as well. According to Pryor, students at Washington formed their own chapter of the KKK, and were known by the local Freedmen’s Bureau to attempt to abduct and rape black schoolgirls from the nearby black schools.

There were at least two attempted lynchings by Washington students during Lee’s tenure, and Pryor writes that “the number of accusations against Washington College boys indicates that he either punished the racial harassment more laxly than other misdemeanors, or turned a blind eye to it,” adding that he “did not exercise the near imperial control he had at the school, as he did for more trivial matters, such as when the boys threatened to take unofficial Christmas holidays.” In short, Lee was as indifferent to crimes of violence toward blacks carried out by his students as he was when they were carried out by his soldiers.

Slavery and Southern Income

Tyler Cowen shares this quote from Douglas Irwin’s book Clashing Over Commerce: A History of US Trade Policy.

The South’s enormous economic stake in slavery far outweighed the impact of protective tariffs on its income. In 1860, the aggregate value of slaves as property was $3 billion, nearly 20 percent of the nation’s wealth. The value of slaves was more than 50 percent greater than the capital invested in railroads and manufacturing combined, a calculation that excludes the value of land in southern plantations. Slavery generated a stream of income that enable overall white per capita income in the south to approximate that of northern whites. In the seven cotton states, nearly a third of white income came from slave labor.

That’s staggering. Growing up in the South, I had an inherent bias towards finding reasons for the Civil War that didn’t involve slavery. For instance, Southern anger over Northern tarrifs. And, sure, that was a factor. But these numbers are a convincing indication that slavery was the chief economic reason for the Civil War.

In terms of both capital investment and income, slavery was the foundation of the Southern economy. Ending slavery would have financially wiped out many of the Southern whites, especially the rich and the powerful. Moral arguments against slavery barely stood a chance — to paraphrase Upton Sinclair, “It’s difficult to get a man to agree to end slavery when his income depends on his maintaining it”.

Dominance Displays Over Statues

Dan McLaughlin wrote this, at the end of a blog post for National Review. And I'm quoting it, because I particularly liked the sentence that I bolded.

Lee was no hero; he fought for an unjust cause, and he lost. Unlike the Founding Fathers (even the slaveholders among them), he failed the basic test of history: leaving the world better and freer than he found it. And while he was not responsible for the South’s strategic failures, his lack of strategic vision places him below Grant, Sherman and Winfield Scott in any assessment of the war’s greatest generals. We should not be building new monuments to him, but if we fail to understand why the men of his day revered him, we are likelier to fail to understand who people revere today, and why. And tearing down statues of Lee today is less about understanding the past than it is a contest to divide the people of today’s America, and see who holds more power. That’s no better an attitude today than it was in Lee’s day.

Much of today's political fighting is cloaked in the language of justice, morality, and virtue. But it often feels more like gleeful displays of dominance than it does sober exercises in judgment. The end result may be good — removing statues that honor seriously flawed heroes — but the process can create bitterness and resentment rather than healing and unity.

Freaking Out Over Babies in Boxes

Rachel Rabin Peachman gives me the reason for my weekly eye roll directed towards the New York Times. Finland gives new mothers a box loaded with baby supplies. The box can double as an infant bed. It's been a successful program in Finland, so American hospitals are following their lead.

American "safety" experts are freaking out, because these are unregulated boxes. And, by the mighty power of the precautionary principle, anything unregulated must be treated as a danger to society.

But the rapid pace at which the box programs have been adopted by states and hospitals worries some experts, who say the boxes have not yet been proven to be a safe infant sleep environment or an effective tool in reducing infant mortality.

“I’ve been very surprised at how much enthusiasm there’s been for this and how people are just jumping on this bandwagon,” said Dr. Rachel Moon, chairwoman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ task force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. “They’re just assuming that since it worked in Finland that it’s going to be fine.”

Well, yes. That seems a reasonable thing to assume. Hence the reason why I'm rolling my eyes at Dr. Moon. She appears be a professional worrier, which does nothing to change my general opinion that the American Academy of Pediatrics is primarily run by professional worriers.

The CPSC joins her in stressing out about these boxes.

Ms. Buerkle said there are a number of unknowns about the boxes. “What is the box made of? How durable is it? If you use it through three different children does it deteriorate?” she said. “But those are things they’ll determine in the standards committee.”

But Dr. Moon said safety standards need to be decided by unbiased experts, not the companies that make a product. She said she has many unanswered questions about the boxes herself, including: What are the age and weight limits for baby boxes made in the United States? Is it safe to pick up the box with the baby in it? What is the airflow quality inside the box? Is it safe to place the box with baby inside on the floor or on another surface?

Good grief, people. It's a box for newborn infants. I think it's very nature indicates that it's a disposable start, not a full bed. She appears to worry that there will be a rash of parents trying to stuff their children in boxes, carry the boxes around the house, and then mail them to their grandparents.

Meanwhile, Temple University has been busy using these new box programs to do some research.

On Monday, Temple University released data showing that box programs may influence the sleep practices of new parents. When new mothers in the Temple program received a baby box and face-to-face sleep education from a nurse before leaving the hospital, their reported rate of bed-sharing with their infant within the first eight days of life was 25 percent lower than the reported bed-sharing rate of mothers given nursing instructions and no baby box. Bed-sharing is a risk factor for suffocation and other sleep-related deaths. The A.A.P. recommends that infants sleep alone, on their backs, without any loose, soft bedding.

Dr. Megan Heere, medical director of the Well Baby Nursery at Temple University Hospital and lead author of the study, said she was optimistic about the baby boxes and their potential role in promoting safe sleep. “At this point we have no reason to believe they’re dangerous,” Dr. Heere said. “We’re of the thought process that it can only help.”

I'm with Dr. Heere. Let's try acting as though parents had a modicum of common sense. Parents who already have a good bed or bassinet for their infant won't use the box as a bed. For the parents who don't have those things, the box may very well be better than whatever they'd been planning to use. Let's not freak out until we've first seen whether or not there's a reason to freak out.

(Oh, and why am I rolling my eyes at the New York Times? Because of their typically breathless coverage and the fact that they chose to lead the article with the fact that the boxes are, gasp!, unregulated. As though that were the primary thing that mattered.)

What a Conservative Sees From Inside Trump's Washington →

Megan McArdle, writing at Bloomberg, on the Washington scuttlebut about Trump's White House.

Consider the endless debates over last week’s series of leaks. Washington conservatives read the news stories too. But for connected conservatives in DC, the media isn’t the only source of information about this administration. I’d venture to say that most of them have by now heard at least one or two amazing stories attesting to the emerging conventional wisdom: that the president either can’t, or refuses to, follow any kind of policy discussion for more than a few minutes; that the president will not be told no, or corrected about anything, forcing his staff to take their concerns to the media if they want to get his attention; that the infighting within the West Wing is unprecedentedly vicious, and that those sort of failures always stem from the top; and that his own hand-picked staffers “have no respect for him, indeed they seem to palpitate with contempt for him.” They hear these things from conservatives, including people who were Trump supporters or at least, Trump-neutral. They know these folks. They know, to their sorrow, that these people are telling the truth.

So even though they agree with conservative outsiders that the media skews very liberal, and take all its pronouncements about Republicans with a heavy sprinkling of salt, they know that the reports of this administration’s dysfunction aren’t all media hype. They have seen the media report on their own work, and that of their friends; they know what sort of things that bias distorts, and what it doesn’t. Washington conservatives know that reporters are not making up these incredible quotes, or relying only on Democratic holdovers, or getting bits of gossip from the janitor. They know that the Trump administration is in fact leaking like a rusty sieve -- from the top on down -- and that this is a sign of a president who has, in just four short months, completely lost control over his own hand-picked staff. Which is why the entire city, left to right, is watching the unfolding drama with mouth agape and heads shaking.

The White House dysfunction should discourage anyone who was hoping for big conservative policies and encourage anyone who was afraid of big policy changes.

And here’s the final thing that they know: that if you want to do anything big in Washington, there’s a lot of smaller stuff that has to happen first. You don’t write code or build a building without a lot of stuff that probably seems expensive and unnecessary to the customers, and our product requires similarly careful planning and management.

Some of the hoops that a president’s staff must jump through are legally required; some of them are simply necessary to make sure that your bill doesn’t explode on the steps of the Capitol, or die a gruesome public death in the Supreme Court. They include: appointing policy staff; deciding on policy goals, strategy and tactics; keeping the staff from descending into the infighting that inevitably besets any large organization; providing regular oversight of evolving policies to make sure they adhere to the president’s goals; setting up channels and a process to get input from Congress and legal advisers; writing a very detailed plan that provides guidance to staff and legislators, and reassurance to the public; and having your political and communications strategy lined up long before you roll out that plan. Insiders know that this process looks cumbrous and unnecessary to outsiders; they also know that getting majorities in Congress, and legislation that will survive a court challenge, is a Herculean task that cannot be completed without many thousands of people devoting many thousands of hours to these labors.

I don't think Trump knows how to be anything other than what he already is. And that could mean that this administration is among the least effective in American history. Good news for some, bad news for others.

This entry was tagged. Donald Trump

The crisis in American journalism benefits no one →

Salena Zito writes in the Washington Examiner about the lack of trust between America's most venerable news organizations and readers with traditional values. I found myself agreeing with everything she said.

Beginning in the 1980s, Washington and New York City newsrooms began to be dominated by people who had the same backgrounds; for the most part they went to the same Ivy League journalism schools, where they made the right contacts and connections to get their jobs.

Yes, elite networks are a thing not just in law schools, as "Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance so aptly described of his experiences in law school. They also exist in Ivy League or elite journalism schools.

And the journalists who came from working-class roots found it in their best interest to adopt the conventional, left-of-center views that were filling the halls of newsrooms.

In short, after a while you adopt the culture you exist in either out of survival or acceptance or a little of both. Or you really just wanted to shed your working-class roots for a variety of reasons: shame, aspiration, ascension, etc.

That does not make them bad people – aspiration is the heart of the American Dream — but it did begin the decline of connection between elite journalism institutions such as the New York Times and the Washington Post and the rest of the country.

So when fewer and fewer reporters shared the same values and habits of many of their consumers, inferences in their stories about people of faith and their struggles squaring gay marriage or abortion with their belief systems were picked up by the readers.

Pro-tip, don't think people can't pick up an inference, even the most subtle, in the written word. It is as evident as a news anchor rolling his eyes at someone on his panel he doesn't agree with.

The result was a populist explosion against all things big: big companies, big banks, big institutions and big media. The movement went undetected by the D.C. and New York centralized press not because they are bad people, not because they had an ax to grind against the center of the country. They just didn't know them. They did not know anyone like them, or if they did it reminded them of all the things they despised about their upbringing, and they wanted to correct those impulses.

And so they missed it. They were a little shocked by the support for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton, and they were really shocked by the support candidate Donald J. Trump received in the primaries

And they were really, really shocked by his win.

The problem journalists face right now is that they have never really acknowledged his win appropriately, at least not in the eyes of the people who voted for him.

Since the day he won, the inference that his win was illegitimate has been everywhere. It set the tone in the relationship between the voters and the press that has only soured since November of last year.

Did a Voter ID Law Really Cost Clinton a Victory in Wisconsin? →

It's not easy to say, but recent reports suggesting that Voter ID lost Wisconsin for Mrs. Clinton are overstating the evidence. So says Slate anyway, and they're not noted for being Republican shills.

But the Nation headline doesn’t say it all—not even close, as a number of political scientists and polling experts were quick to point out.

One of the first to arrive on the scene with a big bucket of cold water was Eitan Hersh, an assistant professor of political science at Yale University who has studied the effect of voter ID laws.

No offense, but this is something that is going to be shared hundreds of times and does not meet acceptable evidence standards. https://t.co/4M3ipqiaWg

— Eitan Hersh (@eitanhersh) May 9, 2017

The most glaring problem with the report and how it’s being interpreted, Hersh told me by phone, is that the firm behind the analysis decided to operate at a surface level when it almost certainly had the data and expertise to dig much deeper. “Civis presents itself as a very sophisticated analytics shop,” Hersh said, “and yet the analysis they’re offering here is rather blunt.”

The group relied largely on state-by-state and county-by-county comparisons to reach its conclusions, but it could have—and Hersh maintains, should have—conducted a more granular analysis. Civis could have isolated communities that straddle the border between two states, for instance, or even used a comprehensive voter file to compare similar individuals that do and don’t live in states with new voter ID laws. Doing either would have allowed Civis to eliminate variables that may have ultimately skewed its findings. “It’s very weird to do an analysis the way they did when they presumably had a better way to do it,” Hersh said. “That’s a red flag that jumps out right away.”

Civis says it mostly limited itself to publicly available information so that its analysis was repeatable; Hersh counters that repeating a flawed analysis will just lead to the same flawed results. As the New York TimesNate Cohn pointed out on Twitter, and as Hersh echoed in his conversation with me, the absence of a detailed voter file-based analysis of the impact of voter ID laws—by Civis or anyone else for that matter—is in itself telling at this point. “I would in no way argue that these [voter ID] laws have no effect, but what we’ve found is that it’s a relatively small one,” Hersh said. Making things more complicated, he added, is that the effect of a voter ID law can be difficult to separate from that of other non-ID-based measures that disenfranchise the same types of people. “It’s just very unlikely that these voter ID laws by themselves would translate into the effect of 200,000 voters,” Hersh said.

Richard Hasen, an occasional Slate contributor and a professor of law and political science at the University of California–Irvine, voiced similar concerns about the Civis findings on his blog, pointing to a New York Times story published in the weeks after the election. Reporting from Milwaukee in late November, Times national correspondent Sabrina Tavernise cited Wisconsin’s voter ID law as one potential reason why turnout was down in the city’s poor and black neighborhoods. Tavernise, though, ultimately found a bounty of anecdotal evidence that black voters were simply far less excited to vote for Clinton in 2016 than they were to pull the lever for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Here again it is difficult to offer a single explanation for depressed voter turnout: If a black man in Milwaukee decides it’s not worth jumping through hoops to cast a ballot, do we explain that by citing voter enthusiasm, the ID law, or both?

Some Precaution on Pence’s Precautionary Principles →

On the subject of Vice-President Pence's unwillingness to be alone with women other than his wife, I think Sarah Skwire makes a very good point.

It’s a cliché, but a true one, to note that the real work of many professions gets done at the bar or on quick lunches or dinner grabbed with a colleague, outside the formal constraints of official meetings. When that cliché is true, and to the extent that it is true, precautions like Pence’s, that cut women out from that kind of social interaction, also cut them off from at least one route to success.

Sauce for the Goose

I wonder, then, whether Pence and others who guard themselves in this way would consider extending their prohibitions on such private meetings with opposite gender colleagues to colleagues of the same gender. In other words, if Mike Pence won’t allow himself to meet with female colleagues for a casual private dinner or drink, then perhaps he should consider disallowing interactions like that with male colleagues as well.

I think, at a minimum, that considering that possibility will tell us a lot. If your immediate reaction to that suggestion is to think that it would be unfairly restrictive to men to tell them not to go golfing alone with the Vice President, or join him for an impromptu cheeseburger, or take advantage of a quick trip on a private jet in order to get to know him better and pitch him a few ideas…then maybe that policy is even more unfair when it is applied only to women.

If it is unreasonable to think that a woman’s career is damaged because the VP won’t meet with her privately, then it is unreasonable to think a man’s career would be damaged for the same reason. If it is not unreasonable to think that such restrictions damage a woman’s career, then Pence owes it to his female colleagues and constituents to ensure that their male counterparts don’t have better access to him than they do.

It is, at least, worth thinking about seriously.

Lawsuit filed over Wisconsin law banning 'illegal' Irish butter →

A state law that makes it illegal to sell a popular Irish butter in Wisconsin is unconstitutional and deprives consumers of their rights, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in Ozaukee County court.

The public advocacy group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty brought the suit against the state on behalf of five clients, four of them consumers and one a Grafton food store.

Good. Very good. And why was this necessary?

"Wisconsin’s current protectionist law requires butter that is bought and sold to be labeled by the government. This archaic labeling regime prevents very popular butter such as Kerrygold from being enjoyed by Wisconsin residents," the group said in a news release.

A state law with roots in the 1953 margarine scare requires all butter sold in Wisconsin to be tested and graded by state-approved experts.

As a butter made and packaged in Ireland, Kerrygold is not inspected in the United States, making it illegal to sell under the state law.

Lest you think this is a worthwhile regulation, Wisconsin is the only state in the nation with a law like this. It's a purely protectionist measure, to make the Wisconsin dairy industry happy.

GOP Defectors Have Received Thousands From Teachers Union →

The two Republicans who broke ranks with their party and announced they would vote against education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos have received thousands of dollars from the nation's largest teachers union.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) and Susan Collins (R., Maine) have each benefited from contributions from the National Education Association. Collins received $2,000 from the union in 2002 and 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Murkowski, meanwhile, has received $23,500.

Is this an example of a special interest buying legislators or of legislators being responsive to public opinion? Careful — I'll hold you to your answer the next time that there's a vote involving a lobbying group and legislators that have received donations from that lobbying group.

Thumbs Up to a Justice Gorsuch

Tonight, President Trump nominated Judge Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court. I'll give credit where credit is due: I didn't think President Trump would nominate someone that I liked, but he surprised me. From what I've read, I'll like Justice Gorsuch quite a bit.

I'm basing my opinion on SCOTUSblog's potential nominee profile. First of all, Judge Gorsuch is definitely qualified.

Neil Gorsuch was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit by President George W. Bush on May 10, 2006, and confirmed shortly thereafter. Both his pre-judicial resumé and his body of work as a judge make him a natural fit for an appointment to the Supreme Court by a Republican president. He is relatively young (turning 50 this year), and his background is filled with sterling legal and academic credentials. He was a Marshall Scholar at the University of Oxford, graduated from Harvard Law School, clerked for prominent conservative judges (Judge David Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, as well as Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy of the Supreme Court), and was a high-ranking official in the Bush Justice Department before his judicial appointment.

And he has the potential to live up to Justice Scalia's legacy. Given that Justice Scalia was my second favorite Supreme Court Justice, this is no small thing.

He is celebrated as a keen legal thinker and a particularly incisive legal writer, with a flair that matches — or at least evokes — that of the justice whose seat he would be nominated to fill. In fact, one study has identified him as the most natural successor to Justice Antonin Scalia on the Trump shortlist, both in terms of his judicial style and his substantive approach.

With perhaps one notable area of disagreement, Judge Gorsuch’s prominent decisions bear the comparison out. For one thing, the great compliment that Gorsuch’s legal writing is in a class with Scalia’s is deserved: Gorsuch’s opinions are exceptionally clear and routinely entertaining; he is an unusual pleasure to read, and it is always plain exactly what he thinks and why. Like Scalia, Gorsuch also seems to have a set of judicial/ideological commitments apart from his personal policy preferences that drive his decision-making. He is an ardent textualist (like Scalia); he believes criminal laws should be clear and interpreted in favor of defendants even if that hurts government prosecutions (like Scalia); he is skeptical of efforts to purge religious expression from public spaces (like Scalia); he is highly dubious of legislative history (like Scalia); and he is less than enamored of the dormant commerce clause (like Scalia).

​It's especially refreshing to see that Judge Gorsuch shares Justice Scalia's disdain for vague and overly broad criminal statutes. A Justice should be skeptical of the government's position and should demand that criminal law be unambiguous and clearly defined. My biggest complaint with Judge Merrick Garland was that his record showed too much deference to the government. I'll be very happy indeed if a Justice Gorsuch is Scalia's heir on criminal law.

The Reporters Who Cried "Trump" →

Glenn Reynolds:

SO THIS ISN’T EXACTLY A CLIMBDOWN, but I’m rethinking my position that a good argument for having Trump as President is that if he gets out of line, the press and the Deep State will go after him and bring him under control.

There are two reasons for that. First, the press and the Deep State are already going after him, before he’s even had a chance to get out of line. And second, I mean, holy crap, could they be any sorrier at doing so? I mean, “Peegate?” Really? What the hell?

This is good news for Trump, sort of, but overall it’s really bad news, since it means that both journalism and the intelligence community are both more politicized, and less competent, than even I thought. Sweet Jesus, these people are terrible.

I agree. If the media hyper reacts to President Trump every single week of the next 4 years, we're going to stop talking about "the boy who cried wolf" and starting talking about "the reporter who cried Trump". And guarantee Trump's reelection. Trump was already elected once by a perception that the media takes sides. They shouldn't be trying to confirm that perception with every story they write.

This entry was tagged. Donald Trump News

Does The Left Know How To Make An Argument Not Based On Racism? →

Warren Meyer makes a very good point, over at his blog.

An even better example of focusing on all the wrong problems is the confirmation hearings for Jeff Sessions. If you read pretty much any of the media, you will be left with the impression that the main issue with Sessions is whether he is a racist, or at least whether he is sufficiently sensitive to race issues. But this is a complete diversion of attention from Sessions' true issues. I am not sure what is in his heart on race, but his track record on race seems to be pretty clean. His problems are in other directions -- he is an aggressive drug warrior, a fan of asset forfeiture, and a proponent of Federal over local power. As just one example of problems we may face with an AG Sessions, states that have legalized marijuana may find the Feds pursuing drug enforcement actions on Federal marijuana charges.

Why haven't we heard any of these concerns? Because the freaking Left is no longer capable of making any public argument that is not based on race or gender. Or more accurately, the folks on the Left who see every single issue as a race and gender issue are getting all the air time and taking it away from more important (in this case) issues. The SJW's are going to scream race, race, race at the Sessions nomination, and since there does not seem to be any smoking gun there, they are going to fail. And Sessions will be confirmed without any of his real illiberal issues coming out in the public discussion about him.

Furthermore,

Trump has an enormous number of problems in his policy goals, not the least of which is his wealth-destroying, job-destroying ideas on trade nationalism. But all we get on trade are a few lone voices who have the patience to keep refuting the same bad arguments (thanks Don Boudreaux and Mark Perry) and instead we get a women's march to protest the Republican who, among the last season's Presidential candidates, has historically been the furthest to the Left on women's issues. It is going to be a long four years, even longer if the Left can't figure out how to mount a reasonable opposition.

GOP Congress Has a Detailed Agenda →

Dave Weigel, writing at the Washington Post.

For six years, since they took back the House of Representatives, Republicans have added to a pile of legislation that moldered outside the White House. In their thwarted agenda, financial regulations were to be unspooled. Business taxes were to be slashed. Planned Parenthood would be stripped of federal funds. The ­Affordable Care Act was teed up for repeal — dozens of times.

When the 115th Congress begins this week, with Republicans firmly in charge of the House and Senate, much of that legislation will form the basis of the most ambitious conservative policy agenda since the 1920s. And rather than a Democratic president standing in the way, a soon-to-be-inaugurated Donald Trump seems ready to sign much of it into law.

The dynamic reflects just how ready Congress is to push through a conservative makeover of government, and how little Trump’s unpredictable, attention-grabbing style matters to the Republican game plan.

That plan was long in the making.

Almost the entire agenda has already been vetted, promoted and worked over by Republicans and think tanks that look at the White House less for leadership and more for signing ceremonies.

In 2012, Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist described the ideal president as “a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen” and “sign the legislation that has already been prepared.” In 2015, when Senate Republicans used procedural maneuvers to undermine a potential Democratic filibuster and vote to repeal the health-care law, it did not matter that President Obama’s White House stopped them: As the conservative advocacy group Heritage Action put it, the process was “a trial run for 2017, when we will hopefully have a President willing to sign a full repeal bill.”

“What I told our committees a year ago was: Assume you get the White House and Congress,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) told CNBC in a post-election interview last month. “Come 2018, what do you want to have accomplished?” Negotiations with the incoming Trump administration, he said, were mostly “on timeline, on an execution strategy.”

​That's funny. I've been hearing for the last 6 years that the Republican Congress just liked thwarting President Obama and didn't know how to govern or have any plans of its own. I wonder if that's an example of the fake news that I've suddenly been hearing so much about.

This entry was tagged. Government News

New York City's Expensive New Subway →

Progressives are fond of pointing out the excellent quality of life in Europe. America, they say, could enjoy the same quality of life if only we were willing to tax each other and spend the way Europe's democracies do. The problem, of course, as conservatives and libertarians are fond of pointing out, is that there are vast differences between Europe and America. Matt Yglesias, at Vox, explains.

According to transit blogger Alon Levy’s compendium of international subway projects, Berlin’s U55 line cost $250 million per kilometer, Paris’ Metro Line 14 cost $230 million per kilometer, and Copenhagen’s Circle Line cost $260 million per kilometer.

​Okay.

Today, New York City is celebrating the opening of the first phase of the Second Avenue subway, a project that’s been anticipated for nearly a century, and that’s sorely needed to relieve overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue lines and to extend access to some very densely populated neighborhoods. But exciting as the opening is, phase one is also a very modest-sized project encompassing just three stations. The plan is, eventually, to extend it up into East Harlem, and potentially then either go further south or else swing west to provide crosstown subway service across 125th Street.

Any of this would be extremely useful to the city, but it’s far from clear that any of it will ever happen. That’s because even with $1 billion currently allocated in the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s capital budget for phase two of the Second Avenue subway, they’re still badly short of the $6 billion that’s going to be needed.

That's a lot of money.​

The $6 billion price tag for phase two works out to $2.2 billion per kilometer. That would make it the world’s most expensive subway project on a per kilometer basis, narrowly surpassing phase one of the Second Avenue subway, which clocked in at “only” $1.7 billion per kilometer.

And there's your difference. NYC is spending 10x more per kilometer than Berlin, Paris, or Copenhagen is.​ And it's not that NYC is unwilling to spend money. It's just not it's not getting much for the money that it's spending.

But this kind of discussion too often elides the real practical difficulties in implementing big domestic policies like those, and the ways in which the US system is uniquely bad and inefficient about doing so. Between the Second Avenue subway, the $10.2 billion East Side Access tunnel for the LIRR, and the $4 billion World Trade Center PATH station, the New York City region is in fact spending a lot of money on upgrading its mass transit system. The money is simply not going to generate as much transit service as a comparable amount of spending would in Paris or Copenhagen, because New York’s institutions don’t seem up to the task of spending it as effectively. Improving is both possible and desirable, but it would take actual time and skill and effort.

...

Until places like New York and California — the bluest jurisdictions that are most open to the idea of taxing and spending to improve public services — get better at actually delivering those services in a cost-effective way, it’s going to be difficult to persuade residents of more skeptical jurisdictions that it makes sense to take the same agenda national.

​American governments are good at spending money but bad at spending money well. I think it's perfectly reasonable for American citizens to look at the poor management of their governments and then ask why they should be giving those governments even more resources to mismanage.

I don't even think it's fair to claim that this problem would be fixed if only Republicans stopped obstructing good government and worked together with Democrats in a bipartisan alliance. ​​Taking a long view of the patronage machines that have dominated city governments throughout America's history, it's easy to conclude that American government is best at looting the private sector and handing it out to the ruling party's friends. This is a bipartisan problem and one that argues against giving American governments, of either party, too many resources.

Hacking Democratic Rules Isn’t Good Government →

Megan McCardle makes a good point about people's increasing desire to "win" at politics, by any means, at any cost.

What’s most worrying, however, is that intelligent people are discussing this stuff. Over the last decade, we’ve spent more and more time on these sorts of procedural hacks. Filibusters to prevent judicial nominations -- and parliamentary maneuvers to weaken the filibuster. Debt ceiling brinkmanship -- and whether Obama could mint trillion-dollar platinum coins to get around it. We have become less and less interested in either policy or politics, and more interested in finding some loophole in the rules that will allow one party or the other to impose its will on the country without the messy business of gathering votes and building public support. It started with the courts, but it certainly has not ended there.

Each procedural hack slightly undermines the legitimacy of the system as a whole, and makes the next hack more likely, as parties give up on the pretense that winning an election confers the right to govern, and justify their incremental power grabs by whatever the other party did last.

​> ...

What matters is not who started it, or the last outrage committed by the other side. What matters is who ends it. Unfortunately, while both sides quite agree that it needs to end, they also agree that it should end only after they themselves are allowed last licks. As long as both sides cheer their own violations while crying foul on the other side, the escalation will continue -- until we no longer have a political system worth controlling.

​I've long believed that the most important thing isn't whether you win or lose in politics. The most important thing is to have a system of rules and to strictly abide by those rules, whether or not it gives us the win we want. Increasingly, at all levels of politics, we're choosing to throw out the rule book in favor of winning. In the short term, it appears to give us what we want. In the long term, it's going to destroy the entire concept of American government, with results that no one will like.

Election Thoughts

Bad News

  • Trump won the Presidential election.
    • We had a choice between Nixon and Smoot-Agnew for the Presidency. We elected Smoot-Agnew. This is not likely to end well.
    • As President-elect, Trump is now the head of the Republican Party. The Republican Party is now anti-free trade and anti-immigration.
    • I am no longer a Republican.
    • Conservatives have spent the past year creating an imaginary version of Donald Trump. This imaginary person is a savvy businessman and a strong leader who will rely on the wisdom of others as he governs. They'll now have four years to learn the truth. I wish them joy of it.
    • Searching for a silver lining: maybe Trump will accidentally nominate an engaged jurist for the Supreme Court.
    • Who honestly thought that Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin would all go for Trump? I'm gob smacked. Wisconsin in particular is a surprise. I thought that people in this state were too fundamentally nice to stomach Trump's brand of meanness.

Good News

  • The Senate stays in Republican hands. This was the outcome I was hoping for.
    • I hoped the Senate would stay Republican, to block the worst of President Clinton's Supreme Court picks.
    • Given that Senators are less populist, I'm hoping the Senate will block the worst of President Trump's policies.
  • Maine is adopting ranked choice voting for federal and state elections. This will be an interesting experiment to watch.
  • Marijuana was legalized in four more states and medical marijuana was legalized in four. Thirty-six states have now legalized marijuana in some form: 8 have legalized recreational marijuana and 28 have legalized medical marijuana.

Limited Government Limits Corruption

Alberto Mingardi, writing at EconLog:

We are back to the original argument: "liberalising" policies, that go in the direction of decreasing government powers, are in a sense the best competition policy. The less the government can give away, the least a private business could ask from it.

Most people seem to think that there's a way to limit government corruption while continually expanding the areas of our lives that the government controls or affects. This is a false. As long as governmental policies can have a large impact on the economy, people will find a way to make sure that the impact is positive for them (or at least negative for their competitors).

The only effective way to reduce corruption is to reduce the government's ability to make some groups winners and some groups losers.

One of My Reasons for Voting Third Party →

A lot of people (most people?) think that voting for a third-party candidate is wrong. It's either throwing your vote away or it's enabling the "wrong" candidate to win. Roderick Long, at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, gives one of my reasons for voting for a third-party candidate.

And once one considers what other results one might be contributing to besides someone’s simply getting elected, the case for voting third-party looks even stronger. After all, the larger the margin by which a candidate wins, the more that candidate can get away with claiming a mandate, thus putting him or her in a stronger political position to get favoured policies enacted. So if one thinks that both of the major candidates would do more harm than good if elected (even if one is worse than the other), then making the winning candidate’s totals smaller becomes a public good to which one might choose to contribute – perhaps by voting for a third-party candidate (though also, perhaps, by voting for whichever of the major candidates one thinks is most likely to lose).

If you think both Trump and Clinton are unfit to be president, which I do, than this is a way to decrease the vote share for both of them.

I'm voting for Gary Johnson. I'm not delusional — I'm well aware that he won't win tomorrow. But my vote against both Trump and Clinton ensures that whoever wins, wins with a smaller majority than would otherwise be the case and wins with a smaller mandate than would otherwise be the case. It's an infinitesimally small contribution to the vote pool, but it's all I can do.