Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category.

Reasons to Hate Politics

Bryan Caplan gives a number of apolitical reasons to hate politics.  I agree with them all, but want to add one more.  Here are his:

I hate the hyperbole of politics.  People should speak literal, measured truth or be silent.

I hate the Social Desirability Bias of politics.  People should describe reality as it is, not pander to wishful thinking.

I hate the innumeracy of politics.  People should focus on what's quantitatively important, not what thrills the masses.

I hate the overconfidence of politics.  People shouldn't make claims they won't bet on, and shouldn't assert certainty unless they're willing to bet everything they own against a penny.

I hate the myside bias of politics.  People should strive to be fair to out-groups, and scrupulously monitor in-groups, to counteract our natural human inclination to do the opposite.

I hate the "winning proves I'm right" mentality of politics.  Winning only proves your views are popular, and popular views are often wrong.

Last but not least:

I hate the excuses people make for each of the preceding evils.

To these I would add:  I hate how people treat politicians as personal saviors.  I can't even understand how people can permanently glue a politician's name to the bumper of their car.

Guide for Politicians: How to Lie in the 21st Century

Lying is an old, old skill among politicians.  What is new in the 21st century is that with the advent of the Internet and alternative media, it is much more likely for a politician to get caught publicly in a lie.  Based on my observations over the last year of the political-media process, here is my brief guide for politicians on how to lie, or more accurately, how to manage affairs when caught lying.

First, there must be a lie, as represented by this chart:

21st century lying

There is some underlying truth out there (shown with the blue dot), and given the squishiness of the English language at times, there are a variety of ways that truth could reasonably be restated, shown by the blue circle around it.  On the left we will assume someone has lied or made an incorrect statement about that truth, and again there is a reasonable range of meanings around that untrue statement, shown by the red circle around it.  Note that the reasonable range of meanings for the original statement do not encompass the truth.

So what happens next?  Well, one possibility is that no one calls you on the untruth.  Congratulations, you are done!  The other possibility, though, is that some crazy dude on the Internet found a cell phone video embedded in a World of Warcraft chat room that reveals you did not tell the truth.  So what now?

The thing to remember at this point is that you have two assets.  First, you presumably have supporters.  Your supporters want to believe you.  They are looking for some explanation or statement from you that is even minimally convincing, and they are ready to trumpet that explanation like it is the Word of God to the rest of the world.

Your second asset is the media.  Your original lie was maybe a week ago.  That is the Jurassic Period for the media.  They don't have the staff to track down what is happening today, much less go back over something from a week ago.

Taking these two assets in mind, you are going to restate your original untrue statement, as so in orange:

slide2

The key for this to work is to make sure the range of meanings from your original statement and the range of possible meanings from your new statement overlap.  By doing so, you haven't admitted to lying or changed your position -- you have clarified.  Cognitive dissonance in your supporters will cause their brains to immediately substitute all instances of your first statement in their memories with your new restatement.

OK, but what happens when that dude in his pajamas does it again, and claims you are still lying with your new restatement.  What do you do?  Same thing as last time: another restatement.  If necessary, you will keep restating until the range of meanings of your restatement overlaps with the truth:

slide3

Yay!  You are done.  If you really want to win the news cycle, take your final restatement to Politifact and get them to rate it as mostly true.   Sure, some crazies on the other side of the aisle are going to be screaming that the ultimate truth does not at all resemble your original statement, but just claim that they are dredging up old news and that it has already been settled.  For extra points, if you are a female and/or the member of an ethnic minority, claim discrimination, saying that the opposition is driven by racism, misogyny, etc.

I think this is all clearer with an example.  So let's take the case of Philander J. Donkeyphant, who is running for reelection.  Phil decides to lie about the vehicle he was driving yesterday.  Why does he lie?  Who knows, but Phil is a successful politician and senior government official and therefore one of our betters and let's not question his tactics.   So let's see how his lie plays out:

Lie:  I drove a red car yesterday

Soon, Philander has a problem.  Some crazy lady finds a traffic camera video and proves no red car drove by that could have been Philander's.  So Phil is forced into his first restatement:

First Restatement:  I was driving a deep-red pickup truck

A bit of a stretch but we can't really call it changing his story, since many folks might refer to the family car and actually be talking about a pickup truck.  And the "deep red" comment seems downright helpful, trying to provide more detail.  But wouldn't you know it, that lady can't find any deep red pickup trucks on camera.  So Phil moves to his second restatement:

Second Restatement:  I was driving a violet truck.

Again, a bit of a stretch, but violet is not far from deep-red.  He has dropped the detail of it being a pickup truck, now it is just a truck, but still arguably consistent with his immediately previous statement.

Finally, our annoying blogger-lady finds Philander and his vehicle on a video.  It turns out:

Truth:  He was driving a purple 18-wheeler.

When shown the video, old Phil says, "Sure, that's what I said.  A violet truck.  Obviously my opposition has nothing better to do than make stupid issues like this out of nothing.  Politifact confirms that "violet truck" is a truthful way to describe a "purple 18-wheeler" so the issue is closed.

Interesting Timing

This last Sunday, September 11, on the same day Hillary Clinton's staff were struggling to erase concerns that Hilary was in poor health after her collapse in New York, PBS Masterpiece aired a nice little movie called "Churchill's Secret".  I recorded it but did not watch it last night, so only yesterday saw the connection:  the movie was about a major stroke Churchill suffered circa 1953, in the midst of his second stint as Prime Minister of the UK.   One subplot, and the reason for the title, was of Churchill's political staff working like crazy to (successfully) hide Churchill's stroke and incapacity from everyone -- media, the public, his own party.  I wonder if PBS, likely Clinton supporters to a person, regrets the timing?

My Thought Watching the Dems Bash Trump Tonight

Hillary is hugely unpopular and embroiled in one scandal after another. She is not statist enough for her own party and statist in the wrong ways for Republicans. She is dogged by scandal. But Trump has allowed everyone to stop having to sell Hillary -- they can just bash Trump.

From Kevin Drum's summary of the evening:

Tonight's speech roundup:

  • Michael Bloomberg: Trump is a con man.
  • Tim Kaine: Trump is a liar.
  • Joe Biden: Trump is a sociopath.
  • Barack Obama: Trump is an asshole.

Are Your Kidding Me? Democrats Aren't Going to Drop Superdelegates, In Fact Republicans Are Going to Adopt Them

Apparently, Democrats voted down Bernie Sander's plan to eliminate superdelegates.  Duh.  Since the whole point of the superdelegate process was to prevent outsider candidates such as himself from winning, the Democrats are hardly likely to eliminate the process just after it demonstrated itself to be a success.  In fact, with the Donald as the GOP candidate, I can bet you there are a hell of a lot of Republicans running around in back rooms trying to figure out how they can have superdelegates too.

Thanks to Arnold Kling, I Sort of Understood Trump's Speech Last Night

My personal reaction was that Trump's speech was horrifying, a dystopian vision that bears no relationship to what is actually going on in this country (e.g. violent crime continues to fall, trade continues to make us wealthier, immigrants continue to make productive contributions, etc).  Peter Suderman has more in case you missed it.

But in Arnold Kling's 3-axis model of politics, the speech made perfect sense.   Trump has decided he is going to run hard on the civilization-barbarism axis.  The barbarians are at the gates, and his opponents are either too weak to deal with them or are actually in league with the barbarians.  He is the strong leader who will turn them back and make everyone safe again.  We're not going to trade with the barbarians, we are not going to treat with them, and we are not going to waste civil rights on them.  Ugh.  Trump is working hard to make me feel the victim, but I don't accept victim status.

I am not sure if this is marginally better or worse than what we are going to get at the Democratic Convention, where we will get four days of hearing that I personally am the bad guy and source of all misery in the world and the person that needs to be regulated harder and looted more furiously.   I almost prefer the Democratic approach, because at least evil is being done against me rather than in my name.

How Different Is Trump From Other Politicians?

This was an interesting profile of Trump featuring his ghostwriter on Art of the Deal.  Frequent readers will know that even years before he came on the Presidential stage, I was never taken in by the Trump-is-a-great-businessman meme  (most recently here).

In the New Yorker article, Trump's ghost says that Trump is not nearly as smart as he is made out to be, he is petty and childish and vain and self-absorbed.  He apparently makes promises he never keeps and has made a mess of a number of his businesses.  He has a short attention span and a shallow understanding of most issues.

Which all leads me to ask -- how does this make him any different from most other politicians, including the one he is running against for President?  Is he unique in these qualities or merely unique in his inability or unwillingness to hide them?  Does he have more skeletons in his closet, or does he just engender less personal loyalty so that more of his insiders speak out?

Don Boudreaux quoted a great bit from H.L Mencken the other day:

The state – or, to make the matter more concrete, the government – consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me.  They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office.  Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can’t get, and to promise to give it to them.  Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing.  The tenth time it is made good by looting A to satisfy B.  In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.

Republicans Shackle Themselves to a Suicide Bomber

Back in the depths of WWI, the Germans woke up one day and found that their erstwhile ally Austria-Hungary, to whom they had given that famous blank check in the madness that led up to the war, was completely incompetent. Worse than incompetent, in fact, because Germany had to keep sending troops to bail them out of various military fixes, an oddly similar situation to what Hitler found himself doing with Italy in the next war.  (This is a really interesting book if you have any doubts about how dysfunctional the Hapsburg Empire was in its waning days).

Anyway, Germans soon began to wonder if they were "shackled to a dead man."

I am reminded of that phrase as I see that the Republicans have officially nominated Donald Trump for the presidency, perhaps the worst choice the party has made in its history, Nixon included. I don't think "shackled to a dead man" is quite right. I think that "shackled to a suicide bomber" is more apt. Trump is not only going to lose big in this election to an incredibly weak Democratic candidate, but he is also going to kill the Republicans in the House and Senate and any number of down-ballot elections. Nutty over-the-top crazy talk that might have been mildly entertaining in the primaries is not going to be very funny to voters trying to pick who sits at the other end of the red phone.

As I said on twitter this morning, I almost wish I had not left the Republican party 30 years ago so I could quit today.

So Can We Really Not Hold Two Ideas In Our Heads Simultaneously?

Two statements:

  • Police do an important job and sometimes face real dangers in performing this job
  • Police sometimes abuse their authority and are sheltered from accountability for these abuses

I don't understand why so many folks seem to be unable or unwilling to hold both these beliefs at the same time.  I certainly think both statements are easily demonstrated as true.  Why do so many treat them as mutually exclusive?

Hillary Clinton and "Intent" -- Can the Rest Of Us Get A Mens Rea Defense From Prosecution?

Yesterday, the FBI said that Hillary Clinton should not be prosecuted because, though she clearly violated laws about management of confidential information, she had no "intent" to do so.  Two thoughts

  • Even if she had no intent to violate secrecy laws, she did - beyond a reasonable doubt - have intent to violate public transparency and FOIA laws.  She wanted to make it hard, or impossible, for Conservative groups to see her communications, communications that the public has the right to see.  In violating this law with full intent, she also inadvertently violated secrecy laws.  I don't consider this any different than being charged for murder when your bank robbery inadvertently led to someone's death.
  • If politicians are going to grant each other a strong mens rea (guilty mind or criminal intent) requirements for criminal prosecution, then politicians need to give this to the rest of us as well.  Every year, individuals and companies are successfully prosecuted for accidentally falling afoul of some complex and arcane Federal law.   Someone needs to ask Hillary where she stands on Federal mens rea reform.

Is Trump Smart Because He is Rich? Or Rich Because He Is Smart? Is He Even Rich?

I told my wife a number of times that my guess is that Trump won't release his taxes because they don't show nearly enough income to justify his ego.  Time and again I see he and his cohorts and even the media throwing around eye-popping revenue numbers for him.  Well, I can tell you from long, sad experience that merely having large revenue numbers won't get you anywhere - they have to actually be higher than expenses to be meaningful.  I was a part of several early Internet startups that rode tens of millions of revenue right into liquidation.

Here is my hypothesis of what makes Trump rich:

  1. He started with family money.  No shame in that, lot's of people have done productive things with the capital accumulated by prior generations of their family.  But in Texas we used to have  a saying -- the best way to make a million dollars is to start with $10 million.  Is Trump's fortune larger today than it would have been if, say, he had just shoved all of dad's money into stocks?
  2. He has the political clout to swing real estate deals average people cannot.  Real estate in New York and Atlantic City is entirely driven by crony capitalism, and Trump is a master.  Let's say I have a piece of land that is worth X.  It would be worth X+Y if I could build the building I want on it, but I can't get the permissions I need.  Trump can, buys it for X, and then makes Y profit from his political pull.  The example of his getting his cronies in the Atlantic City government to condemn a woman's home so he could pave it over for limo parking is just the ugliest of many, many such examples.
  3. He extracts rents from investors, even when investors lose money.  I don't know if there is an economic name for this, but there should be.  Trump's investors, particularly his bondholders, have frequently lost millions on his real estate and casino investments -- both in his many bankruptcies and his frequent debt restructurings, which he brags about on the campaign trail.  These investments are losing money and going bankrupt, so they can't be generating free cash flow.  Somehow Trump is saddling investors with the losses AND extracting income for himself personally.  Steven Job's lifestyle was paid for by people who voluntarily bought iphones and valued them enough to pay more for them than it cost to make them.  I hypothesize that Trump's lifestyle is paid for out of invested capital, and not out of profits.  Which of course leaves open the question of why investors continue to sign up for this treatment.  I understand why donors give to the Clinton Foundation despite the fact that the Foundation does relatively little actual charity work -- donors are looking for influence with the Clintons.   But why do Trump investors keep dumping in more money?  Could it be charisma?  Certainly Trump has an excess.
  4. Trump's best investments seem to be ones where his charisma comes into play -- his TV shows come to mind.  Beyond the TV shows, there is a long string of business failures, from steaks and schools to casinos.

Postscript:  To be fair, I will add that I have in the past been a fan of his hotel on the strip in Las Vegas.  The hotel provides a screaming good value (you can almost always get a huge discount off rack rate) for an exceptionally nice room in a good location -- and in a non-casino hotel to boot.  I used it for years as a low-cost location for manager meetings.  The staff there is great -- the only problem is one has to look past the tacky gold gilding on everything and the goofy Trump-branded swag in the gift shop.  I will add, though, apropos to this post, there is no way on God's green Earth that this hotel makes money, at least if it is paying all of its capital costs (it is possible there was a bankruptcy at one point where Trump said "you're fired" to the bondholders).  If you ever stay there, by the way, it has the best view of the strip in Vegas because it is right at a bend and can look straight down the street.  Ask for a high room on the south side.

Update:  LOL, looking at #3, I think we do already have a name for this phenomenon of extracting rents from investors even when the investments are losing money -- it is called a hedge fund.  Given that hedge funds generally do not consistently outperform the market and result in outsize compensation for their managers even when the fund loses money (pretty sure Chelsea Clinton's and her husband did not give back any of the management fees they pulled down despite their hedge fund tanking most of their investor's money).

Update #2:  Being a billionaire is no guarantee that one knows anything about even basic economics:  Nick Hanauer argues the way to prosperity is to impose a $28 minimum wage.

The First Good Argument I Have Heard for Electing Trump

Walter Olson paraphrasing Paul Horwitz

...mainstream law professors would develop a sudden, strange new respect for constitutional law concepts such as separation of powers and federalism, which tend to serve as checks on the power and ambition of the President and his backers.

Gruber & Rhodes: Lying Politicians Are Old News, But Bragging About it Seems To Be An Obama Innovation

Does Ben Rhodes victory lap bragging about how he pulled the wool over the eyes of a stupid and gullible America on Iran remind anyone else of Jonathon Gruber?  Remember these famous words from Gruber?

"You can't do it political, you just literally cannot do it. Transparent financing and also transparent spending. I mean, this bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes the bill dies. Okay? So it’s written to do that," Gruber said. "In terms of risk rated subsidies, if you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in, you made explicit healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed. Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really really critical to get for the thing to pass. Look, I wish Mark was right that we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not."

Even the justification is the same -- its OK to break the law and lie about it in order to break up gridlock.  (By the way, my mother-in-law -- who tends to be a reliable gauge of mainstream Democratic thinking -- argued the same thing with me, that extra-Constitutional Presidential actions were justified if Congress did not accomplish enough.   Asked about whether she was comfortable with the same power in a Trump administration, she was less sanguine about the idea).

While political lying is old as time, it strikes me that this bragging about it is a new phenomena.  It reminds me of the end of the movie "Wag the Dog", when the Dustin Hoffman character refused to accept that no one would ever know how he manipulated the public into believing there had been a war, and wanted to publicly take the credit.  In the movie, the Administration had Hoffman's character knocked off, because it was counter-productive to reveal the secret, but I wonder if in reality Obama is secretly pleased.

To All The Folks In the Past Who Told Me I Was Wasting My Vote When I Voted For Libertarian Presidential Candidates:

Do you still feel that way?

Scared Away from Good Ideas by Their Anti-Rational Supporters

I look back on my original support for the war in Iraq and wonder how I made such a mistake.  Part of it, I think, was getting sucked into a general nationalist enthusiasm that strikes me as similar in retrospect to the August madness at the start of WWI.  But I also think I was scared away from the non-intervention position by the pathetic arguments and tactics adopted by some of the more prominent folks on the "peace" side of that debate.  Ironically in college I experienced the flip side of this problem, often lamenting that the worst thing that could happen in any argument was to have someone incompetent try to jump in on my side.

I recall all of this because I was reading this post from Ken White where he is responding and giving advice to a student who was the subject of an earlier column.   I really liked this bit:

We're in the middle of a modest conservative backlash and a resurgence of bigotry, both actual and arrested-adolescent-poseur. I believe a large part of this backlash results from the low quality of advocacy for progressive ideas. Much of that advocacy has become characterized by petulant whining and empty dogmatism. The message conveyed by too many of your generation is not that people should adopt progressive ideas because they are right or just, but that they should adopt them because that is what they are supposed to adopt because that is what right-thinking people adopt. That is irritating and ineffectual. Faced with an idea, I don't expect your generation to confront it. I don't expect you to explain how it's wrong, and win hearts and minds that your ideas are better. Rather, I expect you to assert that you should be protected from being exposed to the idea in the first place. That's disappointing and doesn't bode well for the success of progressive ideas (many of which I admire) in society. In short: if this is how you're going to fight for what you think is right, you're going to lose. Do better.

I find this election particularly depressing -- not just because the candidates are so disappointing (that has happened many times before) -- but because it has highlighted how large the anti-rational voter pool is, with both Sanders and Trump acting as attractors for them.

The Fallacy of Centrism

I thought this was a fascinating article on how political reformers may be underestimating the moderation of voters

Most voters support some liberal policies and some conservative policies. Academics have long taken this as evidence of voters’ underlying centrism.

But just because voters are ideologically mixed does not mean they are centrists at heart. Many voters support a mix of extremeliberal policies (like taxing the rich at 90 percent) and extremeconservative policies (like deporting all undocumented immigrants). These voters only appear “centrist” on the whole by averaging their extreme views together into a single point on a liberal-conservative spectrum....

Donald Trump’s rise exemplifies these dangers.

Political scientists and pundits alike argue that it would improve governance to devolve political power from the political elites who know the most about politics and policy to the voters who know the least. Polarization scholars hold these uninformed voters in the highest esteem because they look the most centrist on a left-right spectrum. They are also Donald Trump’s base.

Yes, you read that right. Political scientists have long exalted the centrist wisdom of those who now constitute some of Trump’s strongest supporters — the poorly educatedauthoritarianxenophobes who are attracted to a platform suffused with white supremacy, indulge in unapologetic nationalism and use violence to silence opponents. As commentator Jacob Weisberg has written, these extreme voters’ views are a mix of “wacko left and wacko right” — the key credential one needs to qualify as centrist by scholars’ most popular definition.

A large part of the problem is the left-right political spectrum with which we are saddled.  This spectrum was pushed on us by Marxist academics of the 1950's-1970's.  It is meant to show a spectrum from really bad (with fascism at the far Right) to really good (with their goal of communism on the far Left)**.  For some reason non-Marxists have been fooled into adopting this spectrum, leaving us with the bizarre scale where our political choices are said to lie on a spectrum with totalitarianism on one end and totalitarianism on the other end -- truly an authoritarians "heads I win, tails you lose" setup.  In this framework, the middle, whatever the hell that is, seems to be the only viable spot, but Brookman is arguing above that the middle is just a mix of untenable extreme positions from the untenable ends of the scale.

The Left-Right spectrum is totally broken.   Trump is unique in the current presidential race not because he appeals to centrists, but because he simultaneously demagogues both the Conservative civilization-barbarism language and the Liberal/Progressive oppressor-oppressed narrative.  The fact that his supporters find appeal in extreme versions of both narratives does not mean they should average to centrists.  A libertarian like myself would say that they are extremists on the far authoritarian end of the liberty-coercion axis  (I, of course, am an extremist as well on the other end of this scale).

 

** Postscript: This is part of a long history of the Left trying to define political terms in their favor.   I love the work on totalitarianism by Hanna Arendt, but you will sometimes hear academics say that Arendt was "repudiated" (or some similar term) in the 1960's.  What actually happened was that a new wave of Leftish professors entered academia in the 1960's who admired the Soviet Union and even Stalin.  They did not like Arendt's comparison of Nazism and Stalinism as being essentially two sides of the same coin, even though this seems obvious to me.  Nazism and Stalinism were, to them, opposite sides of the political spectrum, from dark and evil to enlightened.  Thus they dumped all over Arendt, saying that her conclusions did not accurately describe the true nature of life under communism.  And so things remained, with Arendt pushed to the margins by Leftish academics, until about 1989.  As the iron curtain fell, and new intellectuals emerged in Eastern Europe, they cast about for a framework or a way to describe their experience under communism.  And the person they found who best described their experience was... Hannah Arendt.

Advice and Consent

I will begin by saying that I am the last one in the world to bemoan Congressional "gridlock".  I have this argument all the time, but I just don't see that we Americans are facing some imminent shortage of laws and so lack of productive lawmaking by Congress doesn't pose any great problem for me.  And gridlock certainly is not an adequate reason for rule by Presidential fiat, as I have seen argued a number of times in the past couple of years.  There is no Constitutional clause allowing Executive action if Congress won't pass the President's preferred legislation.  The narrow party split in Congress is a reflection of a real split in American voters --  gridlock on particular issues in Congress will pass, as it always has, when the electorate coalesces into a majority on the issue.

All that being said, I have always thought that the Senate's advice and consent functions should be exempt from the filibuster.  Presidential appointments need to get an up or down vote in some reasonable amount of time.  It is fine if the Senate wants to say "no" to a particular judge or appointment, but there needs to be a vote.  I say this obviously in the context of the current Supreme Court vacancy.  I am almost certain not to like Obama's appointment, so I say this now before I get tempted to move off my principles here in the exigency of politics.  But not voting on a Supreme Court nominee for a full year is just stupid  (btw Republicans, for all your love of the Constitution, show me anywhere in the document where it says "lame duck" presidents have less power).   If Republicans want to run out the clock by voting down one candidate after another, then they can of course do that, and suffer the political consequences -- positive or negative -- of doing so.  And suffer the future precedent as well (if a one year wait is the precedent now, what about 2, or 4, next time?)   If Republicans wanted to pick Supreme Court nominees in 2016, they should have won the last Presidential election.

Politics is a multi-round game that goes on for decades and centuries.  This is one reason the filibuster still exists.  Both parties have come achingly close to eliminating it when they had slim majorities in the Senate, but both walked away in part because this was a move that worked for one round of the game (whatever vote was at hand) but has downsides in a multi-round game (where one's party will be in the Senate minority again and will want the filibuster back).  It just infuriates me that the current participants in this game seem bent on making decisions that seem indifferent to future rounds of the game.  GWB and Obama have both done this with expansions of executive power - the Left is cheering Obama on to govern by fiat but will they really be happy with these precedents in a, for example, Cruz administration?  Ditto now with the Republicans and trying to run a full year off the clock on a Supreme Court nomination.

Postscript:  By the way, the very fact a Supreme Court nomination is so politically radioactive is a sign of a basic governmental failure in and of itself.  The libertarian argument is that by giving the government so much power to intervene in so many ways that creates winners and losers by legislative diktat, we have raised the stakes of minutes points of law to previously unimaginable levels.  In a world where the government is not empowered to micro-manage our lives, a Supreme Court nomination would be as interesting as naming the postmaster general.

Stupid BS Government Officials Get Away with Everywhere

I don't know if you have ever had to write a check or sent a form to a county assessor, clerk, treasurer or the like.  But the odds are that the forms you were working with did not tell you to send a check to "Loudon County Tax Assessor" but to something like "Mike Cambell, Loudon County Tax Assessor."  There is absolutely no reason the assessor's personal name has to be on the check, or on the forms, or on the letterhead, or on the envelope, or on the return address.  But it is.  Because this is a way that small-scale elected officials have found to get free advertising and name recognition in their next election at taxpayer expense.  It is an advantage they have structured as incumbents against any would-be challengers.

And it has real costs even beyond the artificial limiting of electoral competition.  When the current assessor loses office, or retires, or just gets hit by a bus, all the printed materials in the office have to be thrown away as they all had his or her name on them and are thus obsolete.  All new material has to be printed.   Someone has to go in and manually edit every single form.  The printer has to reset to make a new batch of return address envelopes and such.  The bank needs to be notified that checks to the deposit will be addressed to a different person.  It is crazy.

Of Course There Are Accusations of Fraud in Iowa...

...Because the caucus process is absolutely backwards.  It uses non-anonymous voting, for god sakes.   Sophisticated democracies adopted anonymous voting centuries ago for really good reasons -- in particular it limited the ability to pressure people before and after their vote.  So no one should be surprised that a stupid system without anonymity designed to allow voters to "persuade" people voting for someone else over to their side results in stories of coercion and fraud.  Iowa should not be the first primary, not the least because of the damn ethanol issue but also because their process is archaic.

The Average Conservative Doesn't Care About Free Markets

For a long time I have hypothesized (and worried) that the average Republican / Conservative's support for free markets was merely tribal -- the team's official position was pro-free market, so individuals supported the team's position without actually, really understanding it.  I have developed this hypothesis after a lot of private discussions with Conservatives who have betrayed many of the same economic mis-conceptions and bits of ignorance that drive much bad interventionist government policy.

Now there is this, from the leading Republican candidate for President:

Speaking at Liberty University today, Trump escalated his rhetoric on Apple's overseas manufacturing, and claimed somehow the US would reclaim those jobs in the future. "We have such amazing people in this country: smart, sharp, energetic, they're amazing," Trump said. "I was saying make America great again, and I actually think we can say now, and I really believe this, we're gonna get things coming... we're gonna get Apple to start building their damn computers and things in this country, instead of in other countries."

So the Republican who is currently leading in the polls (among Republican voters, mind you) supports government intervention in a successful company's manufacturing and sourcing decisions.  Which just reinforces my view that we are dealing with the Coke and Pepsi party.  Heads we get statism, tails we get statism.

Thoughts on Ted Cruz's "New York Values" Statement

I don't want to give too much credence to Cruz's "New York values" dig on Trump.  First, it's silly -- New York is not at all monolithic.  Second, it doesn't really even apply to Trump, who often thumbs his nose at New York elite.

But I think that if you asked a lot of people in flyover country, the statement would still have resonance.  I think the reason is that while New York is not at all monolithic in its culture and values, its media exports do tend to be much more homogeneous and tend to reflect a Left-liberal coastal condescension.

I was thinking about this watching the Broadway show If/Then which was in Phoenix this weekend.  I thought this was a pretty forgettable musical, essentially a sort of remake of the movie "Sliding Doors", that was elevated by Idina Menzel in the lead.  We in flyover country seldom get stars of this caliber (at least after they are famous) in our roadshows and she (along with one other female lead who was quite good) made the show worth the ticket.

Anyway, a couple of observations about the show in the context of Cruz's statement:

  • No character in the show (with 2 exceptions) had a productive job in the private sector.  Everyone worked in the city planning department or was a housing activist or a public school teacher.  I kid you not, there was actually a song about the joys of urban planning.   The two exceptions were:  1)  a private architect who thanked the city planning department for overruling his designs and 2) an investment banker who acted like a complete tool and was included for 10 seconds only to illustrate the worst possible imaginable male date.
  • Accusing a character of being a Republican was used as a laugh-line twice.  Since the character was one the authors wanted to the audience to have sympathy for, the character quickly avowed he was an Independent.
  • Living any place in flyover country (e.g. Nebraska, Arizona**) was used as a laugh line in the show and choosing to live in those places was offered up as an example of bad decision-making.  The only place deemed acceptable to live outside of New York was Oregon.

I got over getting too worked up about this sort of stuff years ago (or else I would spend all my time holed up in a cave listening to a few old Rush albums).   Cruz was wrong to criticize New York values but I think there is a .... call it an attitude that emanates from New York media that the rest of the country sometimes finds irritating.

 

** in the show we saw, the lead character had just escaped from a bad marriage in Phoenix.  My guess is that this was not the original location, but was switched for the show here (though I could be wrong, since such a switch would have meant adjusting a couple of songs too).  Anyone see it on Broadway and know what location was used there?

Media Demonization of Koch Money is Pure Partisanship

The media does not like people spending money to elect non-Democrats.   That is the only conclusion I can draw from the fact that all of their articles on "dark money" seem to focus almost exclusively on the Koch brothers (who to my eye are more libertarian than Republican).  One would get the impression that the Koch's are the #1 giver of money to election campaigns, but in fact according to OpenSecrets.org they were #14 in 2014 and #49 in all elections since 2002.  Why wouldn't the media illustrate election-spending articles with someone in the top 10?  It's as if the sports media spent all its time talking exclusively about quarterback Ryan Tannehill (14th in 2015 in NFL passing yards per game) without ever mentioning Tom Brady or Drew Brees.

If the Koch brothers deserve to be excoriated for their election spending, then the organizations that give more than they must really be evil, right?  If one were cynical, one might think that the media ignores the top 8 or 10 because they mostly all give to Democrats.   Well, here is the list from 2014 via OpenSecrets.org.

2014-electrion-spending

Update, from a reader and via Instapundit:

Consider this: in 2013, the left wing Center for Public Integrity reported that “Four foundations run by [the Koch brothers] hold a combined $310 million in assets…” By contrast, the Ford Foundation’s endowment is more than $12 billion — about 38x larger than the Koch Foundations.

On a list of the top 100 US Foundations (by asset size), the Ford Foundation is #2. The various Koch Foundations don’t make the list, nor do they make the list of top 100 Foundations by annual giving.

Yet, the news media and transparency groups constantly harp on the Koch’s massive organization and its “insidious,” “dark money” influence on American politics, while almost completely ignoring the far larger left-wing political Foundations.

In part, this is due to the perception in the media that money from conservative/libertarian/free market leaning organizations must be tainted, while funding from left-wing Foundations is free of such bias. It may also be due to the fact that the left wing Foundations fund many media organizations — I’m looking at you, NPR, PBS, Washington Post, LA Times and others — sometimes even funding them to cover “[other people's] money in politics.”

 

Postscript:  If you really want dark, check out the website for hedge fund Elliott Management.   There is not a single byte of information in the publicly accessible pages, only links to contact forms.

Trump and Campaign Finance Limits

And This is Different from the US, How?

I am out of the country (currently in Thailand for a wedding).  I read this in the local Asian WSJ, an article about money and patronage in the Malaysian political process.  And while I suppose I was supposed to think "wow, Malaysia is sure screwed up" -- all I was really left with at the end of this article was "how is this any different from the US?" How does 1MDB differ from, say, various green energy funds at the Federal level or community development funds at the local level?

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was fighting for his political life this summer after revelations that almost $700 million from an undisclosed source had entered his personal bank accounts.

Under pressure within his party to resign, he called together a group of senior leaders in July to remind them everyone had benefited from the money.

The funds, Mr. Najib said, weren’t used for his personal enrichment. Instead, they were channeled to politicians or into spending on projects aimed at helping the ruling party win elections in 2013, he said, according to a cabinet minister who was present.

“I took the money to spend for us,” the minister quoted Mr. Najib as saying.

It still isn’t clear where the $700 million came from or where it went. But a six-month Wall Street Journal examination revealed that public entities spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a massive patronage machine to help ensure Mr. Najib’s United Malays National Organization stayed in power. The payments, while legal, represented a new milestone in Malaysia’s freewheeling electoral system, according to ruling-party officials....

The effort relied heavily on the state investment fund Mr. Najib controlled, 1Malaysia Development Bhd., according to minutes from 1MDB board meetings seen by The Wall Street Journal and interviews with people who worked there.

The prime minister, who is chairman of 1MDB’s board of advisers, promised repeatedly that the fund would boost Malaysia’s economy by attracting foreign capital. It rolled up more than $11 billion in debt without luring major investments.

Yet Mr. Najib used the fund to funnel at least $140 million to charity projects such as schools and low-cost housing in ways that boosted UMNO’s election chances, the Journal investigation found.

The minutes portray a fund that repeatedly prioritized political spending, even when 1MDB’s cash flow was insufficient to cover its debt payments.

This illustrates one (of many) reasons why those lobbying to reduce campaign spending are on the wrong track.  Because no matter how much one limits the direct spending in elections, no country, including the US, ever limits politicians from these sorts of patronage projects, which are essentially vote-buying schemes with my tax money.

The reason there is so much money in politics is because supporters of large government have raised the stakes for elections.  Want to see money leave politics? -- eliminate the government's ability to sacrifice one group to another while subsidizing a third, and no one will spend spend a billion dollars to get his guy elected to public office.

By the way, in this current Presidential election we are seeing a vivid demonstration of another reason campaign spending limits are misguided.  With strict spending limits, the advantage goes to the incumbent.  The only people who can break through this advantage are people who are either a) already famous for some other reason or b) people who resort to the craziest populist rhetoric.  Both of which describe Donald Trump to a T (update:  Trump has spent virtually no money in this election, so he should be the dream candidate of clean elections folks, right?)

A Modest Proposal to Improve Elections - CBO Scoring Resources for Candidates

At some point in the election, based on some criteria I do not understand, a Presidential candidate crosses some threshold of seriousness and they are given Secret Service protection.

I have a similar idea.  At some point in the election, candidates should have the ability to have a certain number of their proposals (spending, regulatory, tax plans) scored by the CBO, just as legislation is scored.  Use of such services would not be mandatory, but I would assume that there would be a certain pressure to get one's own plan scored if one's opponent is waving around a scored plan.

CBO scoring has all sorts of problems, not least of which is the common trick of spending like crazy for 9 years and then inserting some huge imaginary savings in year 10 that makes the whole thing score as budget neutral.  But folks will be able to see that (if they want to) and I think the advantage of being able to see actual costs and revenues of candidate plans in the same way they would be viewed as legislation  (which presumably is the goal of candidate proposals, to turn them into real legislation) would outweigh these shortcomings.