Archive for January 2017

The Politicization of Everything -- Is Escapism Even Possible Any More?

Tired of politics?  Want to escape for a while?  Maybe talk sports, take in a movie, play a computer game, or go to a show.  Well good luck.

Over the last year, I have turned off ESPN Radio, which I used to listen to all the time, because I got bored with all the discussion of politics and social justice.  It wasn't even that I necessarily disagreed with the content, it is just that I was tuning in to listen to discussion about the merits of various NFL defenses and not some ex-jock's views on politics.  If I want politics and social justice, I have other sources for those (I actually think there are some fascinating race and gender issues in sports, I just don't need to hear about them in every damn show).  The same thing is happening in almost all entertainment fields.  Over the last month at least a third of's blog posts have been purely about politics with no technology hook at all.  If you go to a Broadway show, there is a chance you will get lectured on social justice by the actors.  And God forbid one tunes into a music or movie awards show and expects to, naively, see non-political content about music and movies.  You can't pay me enough to watch the Oscars any more.

American Tribal Warfare: Red Tribe v. Blue Tribe

I often observe that American politics have become tribal.  It is an unfortunate human tendency to divide up into groups and then decide that some other group over there is really, really awful and an existential threat to your own group.  This is where I see politics today.  Sure, there are still real policy disagreements, but these can shift so much one has to wonder if people are taking a position based on real, rational evaluation or simply because the rival tribe has taken the opposite position.  Just look at shifting red/blue attitudes on Russia.  The Left hated drone strikes under GWB but have gone silent on them with Obama, despite Obama actually ordering more of them.   Republicans denounce Obama's executive orders on immigration as unconstitutional but welcome them from Trump.  Policy issues are no longer things to be solved, but are merely props to generate outrage and over which to score points in the left-right tribal warfare.

This post from Warden at Ace of Spades, which is  being greeted with cheers on the Right, is the best example I have seen in a while of political tribal warfare:

This same indifference that helped Trump carry the election has continued into the early days of his administration. With it comes a refreshingly freeing state of mind. Personally, I don't feel in any way responsible for Trump, nor do I feel compelled to defend him against attack.

Why? Because I voted for retribution.

"He's think-skinned and petty!" shrieks the left. "He takes everything personally!"

Good, I say. I want him to take attacks personally and deal out payback. I know I won't be the target, you will be.

"He's unpresidential! He'll destroy the integrity of the office!"

No, that's already happened. Remember, you elected a shit-talking jackass who takes selfies at state funerals when he's not giving stealth middle fingers to his opponents during debates. There is no dignity of the office, not after Clinton and Obama.

"He's a narcissist! He's got totalitarian impulses!"

Yes, he's basically a mirror version of Obama. Except now, he'll be working for what I want. The end justifies the means. You taught me that


I literally don't care what Donald Trump does because nothing he can do is worse than what they've already done.

Donald Trump isn't the bully; he only insults and abuses people in power who have attacked him. They're the fucking bullies. The left, with their smears, their witch hunts, their slanders, their insults, their riots, their violence, and their weaponizing of the federal bureaucracy.

There aren't any rules anymore because the left only applies them one way. And in doing so, they've left what once was a civil compact between the two parties in smoldering ruins.

I have no personal investment in Donald Trump. He is a tool to punish the left and roll back their ill-gotten gains, no more and no less. If he succeeds even partially in those two things, then I'll consider his election a win.

Further, I no longer have any investment in any particular political values, save one: The rules created by the left will be applied to the left as equally and punitively as they have applied them to the right. And when they beg for mercy, I'll begin to reconsider. Or maybe not. Because fuck these people.

Here is an example of the approving reception for this on the Right

We personally hope, as we’re sure that Warden does, that President Trump goes on to accomplish much greater things. All of our futures depend on it, after all. But even if all he does is to make the Prozis feel the pain that normal Americans have had shoved in their faces for 8 damnable years, if all he does is finally wake the limp wrists on our side up to the simple fact that it’s not wrong if you’re just turning the tables on the swine, using their own methods against them until they come crawling on their bellies, begging for peace, then we’ll take it as a solid win.

It’s wrong to kick somebody in the nuts, we’ve taught our Heirs that ever since they got old enough to potentially get in a fight, but it’s NOT wrong to do so if the dishonorable piece of shit facing you tries to do it to you first. And if he tries and succeeds, then you need to work on your technique and reflexes.

It’s never, ever wrong to use the enemy’s rule book against himself. He wrote it, not you, he made the choice when he deemed it acceptable to use his methods against you, when he showed up to a debate armed with a rifle, he made it OK to shoot him in the face with your own, and if you insist on resorting to limp notes of disapproval, then you’re the idiot, not him.

The other element I see in both statements is a strong flavor of the playground justification "the other guy started it!"  This is self-serving crap.   There is no good justification for violating the norms of rational civil discourse, or worse, for violating the rule of law.  None.  Every tyrant in all of history has justified their actions based on "the other guy started it".  Up to and including Hitler, who justified brownshirt tactics on the violence of communist groups who "started it".

I read blogs from the Left and Right in equal measure.  I have friends from both the far Left and far Right.  Hell, I have family from the far Left and far Right.  And I can tell you something -- every member of the Left and Right absolutely believe, without possibility of contradiction, that:

  • Their side loses too often because the other side use bare knuckle tactics and their side is too polite.
  • Their side does bad things only because the other side started it.

Trade and World Peace -- Economic Nationalism Leads to War

President Trump is a strong economic nationalist.  He believes that this country should source everything domestically - its products and its labor - and any labor or resources that are coming from other countries should either be stopped by a wall or heavily taxed.

Economists and I will spend a lot of time over the next four years trying to explain to our economically-ignorant administration why global trade and the global division of labor increase domestic incomes and production rather than decreasing them.  But I do not want to lose sight of another important benefit of open trade in the global economy - peace.

We often miss the fact because our news is dominated by stories of violence and terror, but we live in times of unprecedented peace around the world.  It is no coincidence that this is occurring at the same time that global trade is at a historic peak.  People and governments can obtain just about anything they want, inexpensively, through voluntary trade.  This has seldom been the case through history -- and when people could not get what they wanted through free trade, they tried to take it by force.

Think about the corollary of Trump's economic nationalism, particularly if everyone followed this same approach.  If one skews all the rules and taxes and prohibitions so everything must be sourced domestically, then if a country does not have some particular resource or skill domestically, it is out of luck.  No domestic rare earth metals?  Sorry.

But governments and powerful people seldom calmly accept that something they critically need is not available.  They will be tempted to go and take it.  The worst, most violent empire building of the last 100-150 years has occurred when countries have pursued economic nationalism.  Think of the colonialism of the late 19th century.  Today we happily trade with South Africa and other countries for valuable resources, but in that time of economic nationalism, if a country wanted access to these resources, it felt it had to control the land and the people.  Hitler in the 1930's wanted to make Germany self-sufficient in agricultural goods and certain other resources, and the only way to do that was to go and grab other people's land and resources.

The best example of all of this phenomenon is, I think, Japan in the 1930's.  Japan felt that it was resource poor and under Trump's theory of economic nationalism, it felt it had to control oil and other resources it did not have domestically.  So it plotted to go take it.  When the US instituted a trade embargo in these very goods to punish Japan's aggressiveness in China, it just accelerated Japan's thinking in this area, convincing it for good it had to control these resources, and it was soon invading the oil-rich islands of what is now Indonesia.  This example is all the more telling because Japan actually found true prosperity after the war when it traded peacefully for these resources.  Unfortunately, it adopted economic nationalism, via MITI, of another form and helped manage themselves into a 20-year recession, but that is another trade-related story for another day.

Postscript:  I have more to say on this when I get my thoughts better organized.  Right now I am hurrying to a plane, for Regina, Canada, where I am speaking on global warming tomorrow.  There is a related issue of what happens when strong protectionism on our part pushes China over into the crash they have been putting off for years -- suddenly a crash largely of their making becomes the fault of the US, with implications for a formation of a new cold war, but that again is another topic for another day.

Trade and Consumer Advocacy, Part 2

Yesterday, I suggested we needed a new, real consumer advocacy organization to replace the economically ignorant Nader-led PIRG organizations.  The reason is that it is time that consumers banded together and resisted Trump's protectionism, since such protection generally protects a few politically favored unions and corporations while raising prices and reducing choice for all consumers.

A couple of hours after I posted that, the absolutely indispensable Mark Perry brings us a great post on academic research about how protectionist actions nearly always cost consumers more than they help producers.

The empirical evidence above helps us to understand a very important economic lesson about international trade, call it “protectionist math” — and that mathematical reality is that the costs of protectionism imposed on American consumers in the form of higher prices and a reduction in trade will always be greater than the benefits generated for the protected industries and the workers in those industries. And here’s another part of that “protectionist math” that helps us answer the question: Sure, we can save US jobs with protectionist trade policies, but how much does it cost consumers for every job saved with protectionist trade policy, and is that cost worth it? Economic analysis and the empirical evidence presented above suggest that it’s very, very expensive to save US jobs with protectionism — more than half-a-million dollars on average per year per job in 2016 dollars (see chart above). If Trump enacts protectionist policies that save $50,000 per year US factory jobs but at a cost to consumer of $500,000 annually for each job saved, that’s a surefire formula to “Make America Expensive and Poor Again,” not “great again.”

I won't reprint his chart, but he has detailed results form a number of academic studies in different industries that back this statement up.

My point about needing a new consumer advocacy group was a little tongue in cheek, but here is Perry quoting from a study at the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis a number of years ago (back during the last wave of protectionism, which was based on Japan rather than China bashing).

The primary reason for these costly protectionist policies relies on a public choice argument. The desire to influence trade policy arises from the fact that trade policy changes benefit some groups, while harming others. Consumers are harmed by protectionist legislation; however, ignorance, small individual costs, and the high costs of organizing consumers prevent the consumers from being an effective force. On the other hand, workers and other resource owners in an industry are more likely to be effective politically because of their relative ease of organizing and their individually large and easy-to-identify benefits. Politicians interested in re-election will most likely respond to the demands for protectionist legislation of such an interest group.

Trump is Going to Destroy Economic Growth If We Don't Find Ways to Block Him -- We Need A Real Consumer Advocacy Organization

As an example, from the WSJ today:

Auto executives typically spend the end of the year prepping for product debuts and thinking up ways to spark sales.

This time around, Detroit’s chiefs devoted considerable time to trying to figure out how to deal with the nation’s new commander in chief. Union bosses are being called in to consult on how to reshuffle factory work, board members are trying to figure out who has friends in President Donald Trump ’s new administration, and task forces have been created to monitor his Twitter account.

At a dinner party during the Detroit auto show earlier this month, Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Mark Fields said he reread Mr. Trump’s “The Art of the Deal” over the holidays. He first read it in the 1980s, but wants to better understand the new occupant of the Oval Office.

American companies, several of which have been scolded by Mr. Trump, often via Twitter, are suddenly grappling with a new, unpredictable force in their operations. Barbs have included the price the Pentagon pays for Lockheed Martin Corp. jets and whether Carrier Corp. assembles furnaces in Indiana. AT&T Inc. Chief Executive Randall Stephenson recently met with Mr. Trump, who had expressed concerns about the telecom giant’s proposed purchase of Time Warner Inc.

In other words, rather than worrying about pleasing consumers, auto companies are spending all their time figuring out how to please the occupant of the White House.  This sounds more like corporate life in Venezuela than the US.  It is absurd that Trump claims to be about reducing regulation, and then personally intervenes to micro-manage corporate division-of-labor and sourcing decision.

We need new consumer activist organizations.  The classic ones, like Nader's PIRG, are captured by progressives and economic illiterates.  Economic nationalism and tariffs and reduced immigration and border taxes and elimination of free trade treaties are all direct assaults on the American consumer.  Do all the Midwestern folks who voted for Trump ostensibly because they are struggling economically really want 20% higher prices in their Wal-Mart?

Postscript:  By the way, for a moment let's accept this awful situation.  Consider women's groups (as discussed here) and their response to Trump and Ford's response.  Which is more likely to succeed?  If abortion were my #1 issue (as it is for my wife), I would be seriously concerned that women's groups were using all the wrong tactics.  Trump is petulant.  He does not back down based on protests, he moves you up the target list.   This is a terrible, awful character flaw, but it is reality.  If women's groups had calmly sat down with Trump in a back room and worked out a deal (with a man who is a lifelong social liberal) they would probably be further ahead.

A Modest Proposal: Let's Adopt A Ceremonial Royal Family for the US To Safely Absorb People's Apparent Need for Powerful, Charismatic Presidents

I have been watching the Crown as well as the new PBS Victoria series, and it got me to thinking.  Wow, it sure does seem useful to have a single figurehead into which the public can pour all the sorts of adulation and voyeurism that they seem to crave.  That way, the people get folks who can look great at parties and make heart-felt speeches and be charismatic and set fashion trends and sound empathetic and even scold us on minor things.  All without giving up an ounce of liberty.  The problem in the US is we use the Presidency today to fulfill this societal need, but in the process can't help but imbue the office with more and more arbitrary power.  Let's split the two roles.

Update:  Don Boudreaux writes:

A Trump presidency comes along with awful risks for Americans.  Yet one very real silver-lining is that Trump’s over-the-top buffoonery and manic barking like a dog at every little thing that goes bump in his sight, along with his chronic inability even to appear to be thoughtful and philosophical and reflective and aware that he is not the center of the universe, might – just might – scrub off some of the ridiculous luster that has built up on on the U.S. Presidency over the course of the past 90 or so years.  Let us hope.

He also links a good article from Kevin Williamson on the cult of the Presidency

Thoughts on the Inauguration

Inauguration day is probably one of my 2 or 3 least favorite days in every decade.  My feelings on the whole exercise are probably best encompassed by a conversation I had the other day at a social function.

A couple of my many liberal friends were complaining vociferously about the upcoming Trump Presidency.  After a while, one observed that I seemed to be insufficiently upset about Trump.  Was I a secret supporter?

I said to them something roughly as follows:  You know that bad feeling you have now?  That feeling of anger and fear and exasperation that some total yahoo who you absolutely disagree with has been selected to exercise power over you, power that offends you but you have to accept?  Yeah, well I feel that after every Presidential election.  Every.  Single.  One.   At some point we need to stop treating these politicians as royalty and instead treat them as dangerous threats whose power needs to be circumscribed in every way we can find.

Anyway, 8 years ago I felt absolutely the same way (proof here) but at that time I was out-of-step with most of those around me, and my liberal friends thought I was being some sort of racist pig.  Now I act exactly the same way and they accuse me of being some sort of collaborator with the enemy.  Lolz.

Accountability for Police and Why Its So Hard

The other day, in writing about how I think Black Lives Matter has lost its way, I said that I supported their goal of increasing accountability of police forces but that goal was going to take a lot of hard, nuts-and-bolts legislative and policy steps that BLM seems uninterested in pursuing.  This article from Reuters (via link from Overlawyered) gives one an idea of some of the issues that exist:

The episode is a telling snapshot of the power police unions flex across the United States, using political might to cement contracts that often provide a shield of protection to officers accused of misdeeds and erect barriers to residents complaining of abuse.

From city to city, union contracts have become just as crucial in governing departments as police manuals and city charters. Yet those contracts are coming under scrutiny amid civil rights protests over alleged police abuses, including shootings of unarmed black subjects.

Reuters, examining the fine print of 82 police union contracts in large cities across the country, found a pattern of protections afforded the men and women in blue:

• A majority of the contracts call for departments to erase disciplinary records, some after just six months, making it difficult to fire officers with a history of abuses. In 18 cities, suspensions are erased in three years or less. In Anchorage, Alaska, suspensions, demotions and disciplinary transfers are removed after two years.

• Nearly half of the contracts allow officers accused of misconduct to access the entire investigative file – including witness statements, GPS readouts, photos, videos and notes from the internal investigation – before being interrogated.

• Twenty cities, including San Antonio, allow officers accused of misconduct to forfeit sick leave or holiday and vacation time rather than serve suspensions.

• Eighteen cities require an officer’s written consent before the department publicly releases documents involving prior discipline or internal investigations.

• Contracts in 17 cities set time limits for citizens to file complaints about police officers – some as short as 30 days. Nine cities restrict anonymous complaints from being investigated.

Police and their supporters will say that Police have a particularly dangerous job and need such extra process protections.  In fact, while there are dangers, it is certainly not among the most dangerous jobs (trash collectors are twice as likely to die on the job than police).  I would argue that we give the police unique powers -- to use violence and to take away a persons liberty -- not possessed by any other citizens and thus we should expect more rather than fewer accountability provisions to go with these special powers.

I will say that I am not particularly optimistic about progress in this area.  The Right tends to fetishize police and are tend to oppose any restrictions on police.  The Left is the natural home for police reform, but most on the Left are loath to take on public employee unions, probably their strongest base of political power, and most of these changes (as seen above) require challenging the police unions.  Black Lives Matter brought a lot of focus to these issues, but they simply can't seem to get past disruption and into policy changes and legislation, and besides the group appears to have been hijacked by the Left to be a vehicle for generic protests of Progressive causes like climate change legislation.

Well, I Was Uninvited to Speak on Climate -- A Post-Modern Story of Ignorance and Narrow-Mindedness

Well, I got dis-invited yet again from giving my climate presentation.  I guess I should be used to it by now, but in this case I had agreed to actually do the presentation at my own personal expense (e.g. no honorarium and I paid my own travel expenses).  Since I was uninvited 2 days prior to the event, I ended up eating, personally, all my travel expenses.  There are perhaps folks out there in the climate debate living high off the hog from Exxon or Koch money, but if so that is definitely not me, so it came out of my own pocket.   I have waited a few days after this happened to cool off to make a point about the state of public discourse without being too emotional about it.

I don't want to get into the details of my presentation (you can see it here at Claremont-McKenna College) but it is called "Understanding the Climate Debate:  The Lost Middle Ground" (given the story that follows, this is deeply ironic).  The point of the presentation is that there is a pretty mainstream skeptic/lukewarmer position that manmade warming via greenhouse gasses is real but greatly exaggerated.  It even suggests a compromise legislative approach implementing a carbon tax offset by reductions in some other regressive tax (like payroll taxes) and accompanied by a reduction in government micro-meddling in green investments (e.g. ethanol subsidies, solyndra, EV subsidies, etc).

I am not going to name the specific group, because the gentleman running the groups' conference was probably just as pissed off as I at the forces that arrayed themselves to have me banned from speaking.  Suffice it to say that this is a sort of trade group that consists of people from both private companies and public agencies in Southern California.

Attentive readers will probably immediately look at the last sentence and guess whence the problem started.  Several public agencies, including the City of Los Angeles, voiced EXTREME displeasure with my being asked to speak.  The opposition, particularly from the LA city representative, called my presentation "the climate denier workshop" [ed note:  I don't deny there is a climate] and the organizer who invited me was sent flat Earth cartoons.

Now, it seems kind of amazing that a presentation that calls for a carbon tax and acknowledges 1-1.5 degrees C of man-made warming per century could be called an extremist denier presentation.  But here is the key to understand -- no one who opposed my presentation had ever bothered to see it.  This despite the fact that I sent them both a copy of the CMC video linked above as well as this very short 4-page summary from Forbes.  But everyone involved was more willing to spend hours and hours arguing that I was a child of Satan than they were willing to spend 5-minutes acquainting themselves with what I actually say.

In fact, I would be willing to bet that the folks who were most vociferous in their opposition to this talk have never actually read anything from a skeptic.  It is a hallmark of modern public discourse that people frequently don't know the other side's argument from the other side itself, but rather from its own side (Bryan Caplan, call your office).   This is roughly equivalent to knowing about Hillary Clinton's policy positions solely from listening to Rush Limbaugh.  It is a terrible way to be an informed adult participating in public discourse, but unfortunately it is a practice being encouraged by most universities.  Nearly every professor is Progressive or at least left of center.  Every speaker who is not left of center is banned or heckled into oblivion.  When a speaker who disagrees with the Progressive consensus on campus is let through the door, the university sponsors rubber rooms with coloring books and stuffed unicorns for delicate students.  There are actually prominent academics who argue against free speech and free exchange of diverse ideas on the theory that some ideas (ie all the ones they disagree with) are too dangerous be allowed a voice in public.   Universities have become cocoons for protecting young people from challenging and uncomfortable ideas.

I will take this all as a spur to do a next generation video or video series for YouTube  -- though YouTube has started banning videos not liked by the Left, there is still room there to have a public voice.  I just bought a nice new microphone so I guess it is time to get to work.  I am presenting in Regina next week (high 22F, yay!) but after that I will start working on a video.

Postscript:  You know what this reminds me of?  Back when I was a kid, forty years ago growing up in Texas, from time to time there would be a book-banning fight in the state.  Perhaps there still are such fights.  Generally some religious group will oppose a certain classic work of literature because it taught some bad moral lesson, or had bad words in it, or something.  But you know what often became totally clear in such events?  That the vast vast majority of the offended people had not actually read the book, or if they had, they could not remember any of it.  They were participating because someone else on their side told them they should be against the book, probably also someone else who had never even read the thing.  But I don't think that was the point.  The objective was one of virtue-signalling, to reinforce ties in their own tribe and make it clear that they did not like some other tribe.  At some point the content of the book became irrelevant to how the book was perceived by both tribes -- which is why I call this "post-modern" in my title.

The Left's Nutty, Irrational, Disruptive Opposition Tactics Almost Make Me Want to Switch Sides

I am embarrassed to admit that I initially supported the war in Iraq (though at least I admit that rather than try to rewrite history as do many public figures).   I got swept up in the post 9/11 nationalism and wasn't very sophisticated in my thinking about such interventions.  But I also think part of the  reason for my support was because the opposition was often so irrational and, well, loony.   At least subconsciously, I must have been thinking, "I can't be on the same side with these idiots."

This was a useful experience, though, because in the years since I have frequently found myself allied with the Left on certain issues where I have been appalled by their opposition tactics.  Black Lives Matter is a great case in point.  I absolutely agree with the premise that police forces need more accountability and that the costs of the current lack of accountability fall disproportionately on African Americans.  I thought this initial BLM 10-point plan was really very good.  But ugh, their tactics.  Blocking highways and threatening drivers, where does that get us?   Or the whole tactic of forcing someone to choose between "Black Lives Matter" and "All Lives Matter" -- I mean seriously, WTF?  How is this kind of social justice rhetorical trap at all useful?  And now the movement has so much cred that it has been hijacked by the Left to support climate change legislation and all sorts of unrelated matters, so it likely will never make any actual progress on police accountability.  It would be easy to recoil from all this and shy away from my passion for increasing police accountability because my allies are so off-putting in their tactics, but my Iraq War experience has taught me that this would be a mistake.

And now, we have the opposition to Trump, and all the same loony Left tactics are emerging.  We get lectured by celebrities, and discover that the deepest threat of Trump may be the marginalization of actresses who make $20 million a picture.  We get roads blocked and public violence.    I wonder if all this is driving folks who originally found Trump distasteful into his arms?

I fear that all the oxygen is getting sucked out of the room with protests of crazy hypothetical scenarios while ignoring the real problems that are occurring already.  So everyone is focusing on women marching on Washington, despite the fact that Trump is almost certainly no worse in his personal behavior towards women than Bill Clinton and is likely, on women's issues, the furthest to the Left of all of the 16 original GOP presidential candidates.    We focus on some hypothetical future slight to women while ignoring his economic nationalism, economic interventionism, corporatism, and cronyism that is already on display with Carrier and the auto makers.

As I wrote here, the ability to criticize public figures has limited bandwidth.  Sure, an infinite number of things can be discussed on the Internet, but only a few reach a general consciousness across society.  One way to look at it is to compare it to an NFL game.  In an NFL game, coaches only have two challenge flags they can throw to challenge a bad call by the referees -- after their challenge flags are used, they are out of luck.  The Left is using up all our challenge flags on their own social justice bogeymen, and causing everyone to miss the opportunity to challenge Trump on more relevant faults (of which there are many).

The other problem with the Left's tactics is that they are not well-matched to Trump and likely will be counter-productive.  All this crazy protest is more likely to cause Trump to petulantly lash back.  This one of his worst qualities as a leader, but it is a fact all the same.  Take abortion, for example.  My gut feel is that Trump has never had any problem with abortion, and likely has supported it in the past.  Hell, he's probably secretly paid for a few.  If women's groups had gone and sat down with him quietly and said, "hey, we are worried about creeping restrictions on abortion in many states", Trump probably would have been sympathetic.  This is the Trump, after all, who mythologizes himself as a deal-maker.  But groups on the Left can't seem to do this, in part because of tribal virtue-signalling on the Left.  The Left has decided that their tactic will be to treat Trump as illegitimate, so any group that goes to talk to him is marginalized and excoriated by the rest of the Left.  So rather than sit down and work with a likely-sympathetic Trump, they head out into the streets to denounce him in the craziest possible terms, tactics that may well drive him into exactly the actions that women fear.  If abortion was a big issue for me, I would be pissed at women's groups for their bone-headed tactics.

Diesel Emissions Cheating, Regulation, and the Crony State

One of my favorite correspondents, also the proprietor of the Finem Respice blog, sent me a note today about my article the other day about cheating on diesel emissions regulations.   The note covers a lot of ground but is well worth reading to understand the crony-regulatory state.  They begin by quoting me (yes, as I repeat so often, I understand that "they" is not grammatically correct here but we don't have a gender-neutral third person pronoun and so I use "they" and "their" as substitutes, until the SJW's start making me use ze or whatever.)

"My thinking was that the Cat, Cummins, and VW cheating incidents all demonstrated that automakers had hit a wall on diesel emissions compliance -- the regulations had gone beyond what automakers could comply with and still provide consumers with an acceptable level of performance."

Exactly. More importantly, the regulators KNEW it. I was researching energy shorts and had a ton of discussions with former regulatory types in the U.S. I was stunned to discover that there was widespread acknowledgement on the regulatory side that many regulations were impossible to comply with and so "compliance trump cards" were built into the system.

For instance, in Illinois you get favorable treatment as a potential government contractor if you "comply" with all sorts of insane progressive policy strictures. "Woman or minority owned business" or "small business owner", as an example. Even a small advantage in the contracting process for (for example) the State of Illinois puts you over the edge. Competitors without (for instance) the Woman or Minority Owned Business certification would have to underbid a certified applicant by 10-15% (it's all a complex points system) to just break even. It got so bad so quickly that the regs were revised to permit a de minimis ownership (1%). Of course, several regulatory lawyers quickly made a business out of offering minority or women equity "owners" who would take 1% for a fee (just absorb how backwards it is to be paying a fee to have a 1% equity partner) with very restrictive shareholder agreements. Then it became obvious that you'd get points for the "women" and "minority" categories BOTH if you had a black woman as a proxy 1% "owner." There was one woman who was a 1% owner of 320 firms.

Some of my favorites include environmental building requirements tied to government contract approval. The LEED certification is such a joke. There are a ton of "real" categories, like motion detecting lights, solar / thermal filtering windows, CO2 neutral engineering. But if you can't get enough of that, you can also squeeze in with points for "environmental education". For instance, a display in the lobby discussing the three solar panels on the roof, or with a pretty diagram of the building's heat pump system. You can end up getting a platinum LEED certification and still have the highest energy consumption density in the city of Chicago, as it turns out.

U.S. automakers have been just as bad. There's been a fuel computer "test mode" for emissions testing in every GM car since... whenever. Also, often the makers have gotten away with "fleet standards" where the MPG / emissions criteria are spread across the "fleet." Guess how powerful / "efficient" the cars that get sent to Hertz or Avis are.

Like so many other things in the crony capitalist / crudely protectionist United States, (e.g. banking prosecutions) foreign firms will get crucified for industry-wide practices.

Gee, I wonder if state-ownership of GM has been a factor in sudden acceleration / emissions prosecutions?

BTW, I wrote about the silliness of LEED certification here, among other places, after my local Bank of America branch got LEED certified, scoring many of their points by putting EV-only spaces (without a charger) in the fron of the building.  In a different post, I made this comparison:

I am not religious but am fascinated by the comparisons at times between religion and environmentalism.  Here is the LEED process applied to religion:

  • 1 point:  Buy indulgence for $25
  • 1 point:  Say 10 Our Fathers
  • 1 point:  Light candle in church
  • 3 points:  Behave well all the time, act charitably, never lie, etc.

It takes 3 points to get to heaven.  Which path do you chose?

My Favorite Description To Date of the Problems and Appeal of Trump

Scott Alexander has a great article on the problems with Trump's approach to economics.  I want to begin, though, with an analogy he uses at the end because it is the best single framework I have seen about understanding Trump's appeal:

Suppose you’re a hypercompetent billionaire in a decaying city, and you want to do something about the crime problem. What’s your best option? Maybe you could to donate money to law-enforcement, or after-school programs for at-risk teens, or urban renewal. Or you could urge your company full of engineering geniuses to invent new police tactics and better security systems. Or you could use your influence as a beloved celebrity to petition the government to pass laws which improve efficiency of the justice system.

Bruce Wayne decided to dress up in a bat costume and personally punch criminals. And we love him for it.

I worry that Trump’s plan for his administration is to dress up in a President costume and personally punch people we don’t like, while leaving policy to rot. And I worry it’s going to work.

Basically, Trump is acting like a small state governor, focusing his economic efforts on getting the Apple factory to come to town

So based on these two strategies, we are in for four years of sham Trump victories which look really convincing on a first glance. Every couple of weeks, until it gets boring, another company is going to say Trump convinced them to keep jobs in the United States. The total number of jobs saved this way will never be more than a tiny fraction of the jobs that could be saved by (eg) good economic policy, but nobody knows anything about economic policy and Trump will make sure everybody hears about Ford keeping jobs in the US. Every one of these victories will actively make the world worse, in the sense that these big companies will get taxpayer subsidies or favors they can call in later to distort government priorities, but nobody’s going to notice these either.

It seems appropriate to end this with a bit of Bastiat:

In the economic sphere an act, a habit, an institution, a law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them.

There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.

Yet this difference is tremendous; for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil.

As Predicted By Coyote Over a Year Ago, Other Car Manufacturers Have An Emissions Cheating Problem

Back in November of 2015 I wrote:

I would be stunned if the Volkswagen emissions cheating is limited to Volkswagen.  Volkswagen is not unique -- Cat and I think Cummins were busted a while back for the same thing.  US automakers don't have a lot of exposure to diesels (except for pickup trucks) but my guess is that something similar was ubiquitous.

My thinking was that the Cat, Cummins, and VW cheating incidents all demonstrated that automakers had hit a wall on diesel emissions compliance -- the regulations had gone beyond what automakers could comply with and still provide consumers with an acceptable level of performance.

So we have this:

U.S. environmental regulators accused Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV of using software that allowed illegal emissions in diesel-powered vehicles, the latest broadside in an unprecedented government crackdown on auto makers for alleged pollution transgressions.

The Environmental Protection Agency, days before the end of the Obama administration, delivered a violation notice to Fiat Chrysler accusing the auto maker of using illegal software that allowed 104,000 recent diesel-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee sport utilities and Ram pickup trucks to spew toxic emissions beyond legal limits. The affected vehicles have model years ranging between 2014 and 2016.

Regulatory compliance can be a royal pain in the *ss, but I comply with everything I know about and can figure out in my own business.  There just is no percentage in cheating.  Where regulation has made my business untenable, such as in certain parts of California, I have closed the affected parts of the business.

So if I see no good reason to cheat in my own business when the rents for doing so would flow directly into my own pocket, how in the hell do middle managers on a salary with little or no share in the marginal profitability gains of the company convince themselves to take these risks?

Conflict of Interest In Government

You want to raise a government ethics violation?  Here is one for you with which I absolutely agree:

I am not sure that this is a suitable subject for a blog post, probably more a project for an aspiring PhD student, but with all the discussion of conflicts of interest in the Trump cabinet, it strikes me that the most glaring conflict in the public sector is ignored: The CoI between state and local politicians elected with the support of public sector unions who then participate in compensation negotiations for the members of those unions.  Here the temptation of the politicians to buy the support of the unions with public money is overwhelming.  The impact of this is potentially trillions when public pension liabilities are included.

This is such an obvious conflict that I have looked to see if there are laws preventing this, but my initial research shows nothing.

Does The Left Know How To Make An Argument Not Based On Racism? The Trouble With the Left's Critique of Trump

As I predicted in my letter to the Princeton University President last year, two decades of living in university monocultures and political echo chambers, combined with a one-track focus on social justice, seems to have left the political Left with no ability to engage in rational opposition politics.

The Golden Globe Awards were a magnificent example.  I presume that many of these actors are reasonably intelligent people.  And they are obviously upset and worried about Donald Trump's election to President.  But they can't express anything beyond their fear and loathing.  They can't articulate what specifically worries them, and when they do articulate something specific - e.g "this may be the last Golden Globes Awards" - it is silly and illogical.

Perhaps worse, these critiques of Trump are, IMO, focusing on all the wrong things and sucking the oxygen out of the room for more relevant criticism.  The Hollywood types all seemed terrified that they and their industry are going to somehow fall victims to government authoritarianism.  At some level I guess this makes sense -- when the Left was in power, they used their power to hammer industries they did not like (eg energy) and thus expect that the Right will do the same once they are in power.  But Trump is a New York social liberal who is a part of the entertainment industry.   While I confess that one of the problems with Trump is that he is wildly unpredictable, Hollywood is an unlikely target, at least until they just  went on TV and begged to be one.

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.

I have said this before about Left and Right and their different approaches to politics.  The Left is great at getting attention on an issue.  Think of BLM and their protests and disruption tactics -- they had everyone's attention.  But they went nowhere on policy.  I challenge you to list the 5 or 10 policy goals of BLM (they actually had a good set once, but abandoned them).  The Left is great at expressing anger and dismay and frustration and outrage, but terrible about thoughtfully taking steps to fix it.  The Right on the other hand is great at working (plodding, really) in the background on policy issues, often at the local level.  ALEC is a great example, building a body of model legislation, working in groups around the country to try to implement these models.  But they absolutely suck at generating emotion and excitement around key issues (except maybe for wars and in abortion protests).  The only example I can really think of is the Tea Party, and (despite how the media tried to portray it) the Tea Party was extraordinarily well-behaved and moderate when compared to protest movements on the Left.

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.

Postscript:  All of this is without even mentioning how the Left's over-the-top disruption tactics seem to just feed Trump's energy.  At some point, Hercules figured out that cutting heads off the hydra was only making things worse and switched tactics.  If only I could be so confident about the Left.

Bad Reviews

John Scalzi often posts some of his more over-the-top one-star Amazon book reviews as a sort of self therapy.  I have done the same think in the past with our online campground and TripAdviser reviews.  Here is a two star review we received the other day for our Juniper Springs facility in Florida.

I have had problems with employees here in the past telling lies about me to other campers & employees, because my extreme good looks are a threat to them somehow. I am an Actor. The amount of jealousy is ridiculous. I won't repeat any of it here, but the defamation & slander has been pretty extreme. I am camped here now for a planned long stay, & if they come off with that crap again I plan to sue them individually & as a company.

As for the campground itself, I love it. The showers are awesome & the best in the forest. They have bear boxes now to store food, but these seem large enough to hide a couple of people. Can be opened from the inside an emergency I'd go for it. There are No Electric sites, which makes things difficult. But it is far enough away from civilization to make sleeping at night quiet & peaceful, with an occasional smooth hum of a tractor trailer going by.

The last part of the review was nice but the first paragraph was a total head-scratch.  I have polled the staff and no one has any idea who this person is or what he is referring to.  I usually respond to negative reviews online but have no idea what to write on this one.  I sent a private message to the customer to please give me a bit more detail so I can investigate.

By the way, one of the reasons I think we are successful is that I have systems in  place where nearly every negative review from a variety of sources, including our own surveys, flow right to my inbox.  I read every one, and respond to most.

As a second by the way, the Juniper Springs canoe run is a very special experience if you are ever in the area and like that sort of thing.  It is not for beginners, but it is one of the most beautiful wild areas in Florida.  When the author of the Unofficial Guide to DisneyWorld was asked in the back of his book what his favorite attraction in Florida was, he did not answer Disney or Universal but said the Juniper Springs canoe run.

Dave Barry on the Ephemeral Nature of the "Deeply Held Beliefs" Of the Coke and Pepsi Party

Via his end of year roundup, about the election:

In Washington, Democrats who believed in a strong president wielding power via executive orders instantly exchange these deeply held convictions with Republicans who until Election Day at roughly 10 p.m. Eastern time believed fervently in filibusters and limited government.

The two parties' attitudes about Russia are another great example.  Through Russian invasions of its neighbors and a variety of hacking episodes on US government infrastructure, Republicans wanted Russian blood and the Democrats were in forgive and forget mode (remember also the "reset" and Obama's poo-pooing of Romney's claim that Russia was our #1 geopolitical adversary).  But as soon as Russia is accused of stealing and releasing private emails from (non-government) Democratic Party servers that made some party officials look bad, suddenly everything changes.  Republican President-elect Trump wants to forgive and forget and Obama is suddenly, and for the first time that I can remember, putting (mild) sanctions on Russia.  And the attitudes of the rank and file have shifted on a dime:

Even more surprising, however, is the change in Republican attitudes toward Putin. He is still viewed unfavorably, but much, much less so. Putin’s current net favorability among Republican voters is now -10, meaning that Putin’s net favorability among Republican voters has improved an astonishing 56 points in the last two years.

Among Democratic voters, meanwhile, Wikileaks and Putin have remained relatively unpopular. Wikileaks’ net favorability among Democrats was -3 as of June 2013, and it has fallen today to -28. Putin’s net favorability among Democrats in July 2014 was -54, according to YouGov; it has now fallen slightly to -62.

I am more convinced than ever that our political parties are two tribes who are just going to take the opposite side of any issue from the other tribe, without any need for intellectual consistency either across positions or over time.

Bank of America is Protecting Merchants Who Lose Credit Card Data By Hiding Their Names

My small business has a Visa account with Bank of America so that our managers can have the ability to charge small expenses.  My personal corporate card is part of that account.  At least twice a year, I get the dreaded call from the bank telling me my card number was part of a data breach and I have to get a new card.  And then I have to spend hours and hours updating a zillion online accounts with new numbers, and I face weeks and months of past due notices from accounts I forgot to change.

I am willing to accept Bank of America's explanation that some merchant outside their system caused the breech.  So each time I ask the obvious question, "who was the merchant so I can stop doing business with them?"  And every single time Bank of America refuses to tell me.  For reasons beyond my reckoning, Bank of American and apparently the Visa system have a vow of Omerta in which they protect security-deficient retailers from scrutiny.  It is infuriating.  In a free society, we should not need the government to hold merchants accountable for data privacy, we should be able to do it ourselves as customers.  Apparently I am not the only one who is similarly frustrated by this.

Does anyone know of any Visa issuers that are more transparent about the sources of data breaches?  Is Amex better on this than the Visa/MC system?

Update:  From a Senior Fraud Analyst at Bank of America:

I am responding to an email you sent to us regarding the data compromise situation that keeps happening with your corporate card.

I do understand the frustration you experience.  We are not provided specific details about where the compromise occurred.  The compromise could have happened sometime in the past and it may not be limited to one specific merchant or processing center.  I do understand that  you not wanting to use the card at the site of the compromise, but keep in mind that when a merchant or processing center is compromised they likely took measures to improve their security, the continued compromises could be coming from different processing centers or merchants and not the same place each time.

My email back in response:

This is how banks invite regulation on themselves.  If Visa and the large credit card issuing banks were more transparent with customers about retailers that create data breaches, customers could take their own action to police irresponsible parties by taking their business elsewhere.  Ditto merchant processors -- we businesses could easily shift our merchant processing accounts.  But instead, by creating this sort of rule of Omerta where you protect the irresponsible party from public disclosure, people feel helpless.  It is in that environment that folks like Elizabeth Warren can create so much havoc with regulation.

By the way, please do not tell me to be comfortable that the offending merchants have already tightened up their security.  It has been nearly 18 months after the requirements that merchants accept chip cards to avoid extra liability and half the stores I visit still have the chip card slot on their credit card machines disabled.  No retailer is going to stop being irresponsible until you banks stop protecting the bad ones.  Look what happened at Target - they got a lot of bad publicity from their breach but you can be damn sure they were one of the first that were accepting chip cards.