Friday, April 1, 2016

Live-blogging the 2016 Libertarian Party primary debate

I'll be live-blogging the Libertarian Party's first televised presidential primary debate of 2016 (or ever). Keep reloading this post for more updates.

9:03 — Gary Johnson uses his opening statement to talk about his "wonderful family," including his grandchildren and his fiance, with whom he shares "a passion for health and wellness." "It's great to be in love, and I'm in love!" He talks about starting a successful "handyman business," then selling it in 1999 — "nobody lost their job." He also points out that he got elected governor in a state that's 2 to 1 Democratic, New Mexico. And he's adventurous: "I climbed the tallest mountain in each of the seven continents!"

9:05 — John McAfee's opening statement strikes a different tone — philosophical, not personal: "Libertarianism is grounded in the concept of liberty. What is liberty? Liberty is the idea that our minds and bodies belong to ourselves. . . . Liberty cannot be extinguished . . . through laws; it can only be unjustly punished."

9:06 — Austin Petersen sketches his biography to highlight how he's learned the value of liberty. He grew up on a horse farm near a town called Liberty, Missouri. He learned about "economic liberty" as a kid, when his parents sent him to sell chrysanthemums. He learned about "personal liberty" from "the Golden Rule." "I may be the youngest candidate in this race, but I'm the oldest in libertarian years!"

9:09 — Johnson is asked how we can trust him on military issues when he wants to cut military spending. He says the terrorist threat is real, but our drone strikes have made things worse.

9:10 — McAfee is asked about the perception that libertarians are "isolationists." McAfee cleverly turns the tables by saying that "isolationism" is "taking on the role of world policeman, making ourselves separate from the rest of the world: we're the policemen, and you're the ones we police."

[I missed the first few minutes and added the above posts later. Here's where I started actually live-blogging:]

9:11 — When should we go to war? Johson and Petersen say: "When we're attacked." McAfee tries to cut the Gordian knot: "Why do we need war?"

9:12 — McAfee on drugs: "A heroin addict's addiction is its own punishment; we don't need any more."

9:18 — Petersen proposes a "penny"-based budget, where we take away one penny of every dollar from every federal program — with a way to bring that penny back in cases where Congress decides it's needed. He declares: "No one is going to be hurt!" But the moderator, John Stossel (a libertarian), seems skeptical of that.

9:19 — Johnson would cut the federal budget by 20%, including Medicare, Medicaid, and military.

9:21 — Stossel asks what specifically they'd cut. Petersen says everything — but in particular, he'd repeal Obamacare. Johnson says the Departments of Commerce and Education. McAfee says the FDA.

9:27 — When asked how to fight ISIS, the candidates all give pretty unexciting answers: McAfee says we need better intelligence, Petersen says we should fight them while following the Constitution, and Johnson says Congress should declare war on ISIS and we should cut off their funding.

9:30 — On foreign aid, Petersen forcefully says he'd get rid of "all" of it. Johnson is more cautious, saying he's uncomfortable with the word "all" — but he's generally against foreign aid. "It sounds nice, like you're giving them food, but it's really propping up dictators."

9:36 — Stossel asks each candidate about their flaws, starting with Johnson: He lost in 2012, he's "low-key," and he admits he sometimes smokes marijuana. Johnson says he hasn't had alcohol in 27 years, and legalizing marijuana would reduce the overall harm caused by all addictions.

9:38 — McAfee is asked about his shady alleged activities in Belize and Guatemala. "You're still technically a fugitive!" He was also arrested for driving on Xanax. McAfee says . . . well, he's never been charged with murder! (That's reassuring.) He admits his DUI was "the stupidest thing I've ever done."

9:39 — Petersen is asked about his young age. "I'm 35, so I'm constitutionally eligible. . . . Don't hate me because I'm young and pretty!"

9:40 — Johnson is asked how he can appeal to Democrats. He says he took a quiz on, which tells you what percentage you agree with each candidate. He agreed with himself only 90%! But the person he agreed with the second most was Bernie Sanders, at 73%. He agrees with Sanders on civil liberties.

9:42 — Petersen challenges Johnson on his support for requiring bakeries to make cakes for same-sex weddings. "Should a Jewish baker be forced to bake a Nazi wedding cake?" Johnson says: "Yes!" [Added later: Who would have though the most extreme, crazy statement made in the Libertarian debate would be in favor of government forcing a business to make goods that promote Nazism?] Petersen accuses Johnson of not understanding the free market. Petersen frames his argument as pro-gay: "Let the bigots out themselves!"

9:48 — On abortion, Petersen says Congress has no power to legislate, but we should be "morally pro-life." "Ending the federal war on drugs would allow women to buy birth control over the counter." Johnson and McAfee are strongly for legal abortion.

9:49 — Stossel does a lightning round on a couple issues. They're all against the death penalty, and they're all for same-sex marriage. McAfee jokes: "I met Austin [Petersen] in a gay bar!"

9:50 — Should government fix the fact that "women are paid less than men"? Johnson says women should be paid the same as men, but "the devil is in the details," and he'd have a hard time signing any legislation about it. McAfee says women and men should be paid equally — but "the employer should decide." Petersen correctly says the "gender pay gap" is because of "women's choices." More women than men go to college — should government force more men to go to college?

9:52 — If there were no Libertarian nominee, would they vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? They'd all refuse to vote for either. Johnson says he'd find another third-party candidate to vote for.

That's the end of the first half of this pre-recorded debate. The second half will air at 9 pm Eastern on April 8.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Libertarian Party debate is this Friday

"[T]he first ever nationally televised libertarian debate has been confirmed for April 1. The debate is set to air at 9pm EST on the Stossel Show on Fox Business."

Based on the photos, I'd say: Johnson for president, Petersen for vice president, and McAfee for head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Do these two messages about terrorism add up?

Notice two messages we've been hearing a lot — often from the same people:

(1) When speaking about Islamic terrorists, it's considered appropriate to adopt this understanding tone — not that we're excusing the acts, but that we recognize that terrorism comes from being oppressed and disenfranchised, that people turn to terrorism as a last resort, etc. (I don't necessarily agree with those statements, but I've heard them countless times, from people who seem to feel very strongly about it.)

(2) We're told that the word "terrorist" is used too selectively, and especially that we should be more willing to apply it to white men and Christian men (e.g. the KKK, mass shooters, and those people who occupied the Oregon wildlife refuge).

Well, wait a minute . . . how oppressed and disenfranchised are white, Christian men?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Garry Shandling (1949 - 2016)

Garry Shandling, the comedian, died yesterday at age 66.

The New York Times says:

Mr. Shandling’s Larry Sanders was the host of a fictional show within the show, interviewing real celebrities playing themselves in segments that were virtually indistinguishable from real talk shows like “The Tonight Show.” (Mr. Shandling had frequently substituted for Johnny Carson as the “Tonight Show” host.)

But the show was mostly concerned with what happened when the cameras were off, especially the interplay among Larry, his bumbling announcer and sidekick (Jeffrey Tambor) and his mercurial producer (Rip Torn).

“The Larry Sanders Show,” often cited as a groundbreaking precursor of shows like “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “30 Rock,” was the second show by Mr. Shandling to take an unorthodox approach. The first, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” seen on Showtime from 1986 to 1990, freely admitted that it was a show, with Mr. Shandling often breaking the fourth wall by speaking directly to the audience. . . .

Playing a talk-show host who was, as Jacques Steinberg wrote in The New York Times, “a too-close-for-comfort amalgam of Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Jay Leno and Jack Paar,” Mr. Shandling offered a jaundiced insider view of the television business. . . .

Mr. Shandling’s profile was never again as high as it was during the “Larry Sanders” years, but the show’s influence has been lasting. “30 Rock” borrowed its unblinking warts-and-all look at how television is made; “Curb Your Enthusiasm” embraced its use of real celebrities to play versions of themselves that were perhaps only slight exaggerations.

Its influence was also felt in less obvious ways. David Chase, the creator of “The Sopranos,” once said that “The Larry Sanders Show” “inspired me to want to do something really good for television.” . . .

Just a few months ago Mr. Shandling was a guest on Jerry Seinfeld’s popular web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” in an episode eerily titled “It’s Great That Garry Shandling Is Still Alive.” Eighteen years earlier, Mr. Seinfeld had praised Mr. Shandling’s comedic instincts.

“Comedians all wait around to hear things that they can use,” Mr. Seinfeld said in 1998. “With Garry, it’s like being in a boat with a guy who’s constantly reeling in fish.”

In 2007, nine years after “The Larry Sanders Show” went off the air, Mr. Shandling spoke to The Times about his post-“Sanders” life.

“It’s very similar to — what is it? — the seven stages of grieving,” he said. “First there’s the shock. Now I’m going to head for something funny here. Then there’s denial, acceptance and” — he paused — “masturbation.”

Here's Shandling and Seinfeld talking on that recent episode of Seinfeld's show:
Shandling: I was sitting there watching CNN anyway, and they broke in and said Robin Williams had killed himself. And I sat there and I was frozen. . . . Then Wolf Blitzer says: "63 is so young!" And then I looked up with a little hope, because I'm about the same age as Robin. And then I realized: "63 is so young" is a phrase you never hear relative to anything but death. "63 is so young to be playing in the NFL"? There's nothing!

Seinfeld: You have to die in your 60s for them to say: "Boy, he was young!"

Friday, March 18, 2016

Marco Rubio is dropping out of government altogether

“I’m not going to be vice president. I'm not running for governor of Florida. I'm going to finish out my term in the Senate over the next 10 months. We're going to work really hard here, and we have some things we want to achieve. . . . And then I'll be a private citizen in January.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

8 Thoughts on Tuesday, March 15

1. Marco Rubio's loss of his home state by almost 20 points to Donald Trump wasn't just fatal to the Rubio campaign; it also dealt a devastating blow to the idea of Mitt Romney as an influential Republican elder statesman.

2. Tonight was also not a great night for the idea that betting odds are a better predictor than polls. For most of the time (since mid-October, which is the earliest time that website goes back to), betting odds have said Rubio is the most likely Republican nominee. (Full disclosure: Those links go to Election Betting Odds, which was co-created by my friend Maxim Lott.)

3. John Kasich is saying he might go to the Republican convention with more delegates than anyone else. And now, I'm afraid all the remaining Republican candidates might be mentally ill.

4. Losing Ohio could help Trump.

5. Alex Knepper explains why we should expect Trump to stay in the lead:

Presumably the only way to stop Trump at this point would be to look toward a Cruz-Kasich ticket, but the upcoming primaries are mostly friendly territory for Trump — Cruz will win Utah and Kasich might have a shot in Wisconsin, but Trump will likely sweep the Mid-Atlantic states on 4/19 and 4/26 — New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and so forth. Even without Ohio, Trump still has a perfectly viable path to a majority, and nobody else does.
6. I find it interesting that Trump made a point, in his victory speech, to congratulate Rubio on running a "tough" campaign, called him "smart," and said he'll have a great future. I don't think Trump said a word about Jeb Bush when he dropped out on the night of South Carolina.

7. Did anyone predict, before the voting started, that the Republican race would come down to Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich? Anyone at all, in the whole world?

8. Since Hillary Clinton seems to have won all 5 primaries and Trump won everything except Kasich's home state, we can now see that this Reason piece was right: "letting Trump speak is not merely the morally correct, philosophically consistent course of action: It's the tactically sound one as well." That article had prescient words the day before the primaries:
When the left stops Trump from speaking, Trump wins. He gets to tell his people that the forces of far-left activism and political correctness are trying to silence him. Implicitly, he is suggesting to his followers that when he becomes president, the tides will turn: see his promise to make it easier to sue newspapers for criticizing him. Trump supporters adore this shtick. Stop giving them ammunition.
As Bill Scher said on Twitter in response to the primary results:
Speculation: The visual of Bernie supporters disrupting Trump rallies offered a dismal picture of a Sanders-Trump general, fueling [Clinton] . . .

Takeaway: spend more time knocking doors for your candidate than protesting the other party's candidate

Monday, March 14, 2016

How does this question asked of Donald Trump about H-1B visas make sense?

John Dickerson asked this to Donald Trump on Face the Nation yesterday:

TRUMP: At the debate, you talked about H-1B visas. You said: "It's something I, frankly, use, and I shouldn't be allowed to use it." When you have talked about the bankruptcy laws, you talk about how you took advantage of them. When you and I talked about your taxes, you say you try and pay as little as possible. If you are president, why would anybody follow the laws that you put in place if they knew you were taking advantage of those laws when you were in the private sector?
(That's from the transcript. You can see it in the middle of this video, starting at 5:18 — click the slider at the bottom of the video, a little more than half of the way through the interview.)

I asked John Dickerson about this on Facebook (he hasn't responded to me) (UPDATE: see the end of this post for his response):
Trump claims that he followed the laws, and used them to his business advantage; he hasn't said he violated any laws. How is that inconsistent with the assumption that people will "follow the laws that [he] put[s] in place" when he's president? Presumably he'd to try to improve the laws, leading to better results when businesspeople followed them in a way that worked to their advantage (as businesspeople can always be expected to do).
My mom, Ann Althouse, made the same point (and we hadn't discussed this with each other or seen each other's comments when we separately pointed this out):
What's Dickerson trying to say, that taxpayers should pay more than they owe? That businesspersons shouldn't understand the law, see what's to their advantage, and structure their transactions efficiently? Why wouldn't voters trust a businessperson who followed the law and figured out how to use it? Don't we want someone knowledgeable and competent? We're supposed to prefer someone who's so intimidated by law that he wastes money? Is Dickerson a fool or is he just trying to manipulate viewers into thinking ill of Trump?
Here was Trump's response, with an odd interjection from Dickerson:
TRUMP: Because I know the game better than anybody, because I have been on the other side. I have built one of the greatest companies. I did a filing which shows one of the great companies, great assets, very little debt, tremendous cash flow, some of the greatest assets in the world. But let me just tell you, I use the bankruptcy laws just like other very successful people. I don't [want] to use their names, but I could name 10 people right now, the biggest people in all of business. We do it. It's the game we play. We use the laws of the land.

DICKERSON: But why wouldn't people keep playing . . .

TRUMP: We use it. And that's the way we play the game. Wait a minute. As far as the visas are concerned, I'm not doing anything wrong. I think the -- those visas shouldn't be allowed. But they are allowed. They are part of the fabric of what you do. So, I'll use it. I mean, I'm a businessman. Now that I have turned politician -- I hate to say that, almost, about myself -- but now that I'm running for office, I know the game better than anybody. I'm the one that can fix all of this stuff. But when you start talking about -- I never went bankrupt. I never went bankrupt. You understand I never went bankrupt. But you take a look at the business leaders. Every once in a while -- I have 500 companies. I have so many different companies. And a very few, I will take advantage of -- frankly, by using the laws of the land, as every other major businessperson does.
My mom points out that Dickerson's follow-up was "weirdly obtuse":
"But why wouldn't people keep playing?" There's nothing wrong with "playing." The key is to put the right rules and regulations in place and then to enforce them. If you don't like what people are doing when they are following the law, then something's wrong with the law, not with the people who are finding effective ways to compete.

I don't see Trump as fomenting disrespect for the law. It's more the opposite. The law matters. Get it right. People using the law to their selfish advantage may reveal what's wrong with the law, and Trump is offering his services, as an expert player, in seeing and fixing the flaws so that the game produces a result that is in the general interest of the American people. There may be reasons not to trust him (and there are surely reasons to mistrust those who've played the law game from positions in government), but his use of the law isn't a good reason.
My mom notes that she's in the legal field and she found Dickerson's question "very weird." I'm also in the legal field and had the same reaction. If a journalist as prominent as Dickerson, the host of one of the Sunday morning political shows, saw fit to ask this on the air, how much similar confusion about law, policy, and business is out there among the general public?

UPDATE: John Dickerson has responded to my question on Facebook:
Good question. What I was trying to get at is where is he on the question of gaming the laws and abiding by them. Does he think laws exist to be maneuvered around and taken advantage of? In the case of companies like Apple and others he makes a moral objection to their taking advantage of tax and trade laws. But in his own business he says he plays every game he can even when he acknowledges (as he did with H1B visas) that it's a bad thing to do. (He's under investigation both for his use H1B visas and his tax filings) So what I was trying to get at is whether he expects everyone to game the system when he's trying to make the system better or whether he expected a different standard than the one he uses once he's on the other side-- since his view of standards is a moving target. (For example, he campaigns against foreign workers taking jobs but hires them; campaigns against foreign made goods but makes them). So where's' the line? How does he draw it? How will he draw those lines when he's president. He offered a lot of that in his answer. The point is to excavate his reasoning. The reason I asked about his event with Dr. Carson is that it's part of the same inquiry: what guides your behavior? Is politics a system to be gamed? Seems like a lot of people are upset about politics being turned into a game this election cycle. As the candidate who has achieved a special status because voters think he tells unique truths, how can he say something seemingly true one minute and then say oh that wasn't true it was just politics the next minute. There's no law against doing that. He's just playing the game. But I keep hearing that people are tired of the game playing. Also, it seems like a pretty shifting set of standards-- and campaigns are about whether what you're saying will still be true once you're elected. So why, if his standards are shifting now, should people not think he'll shift his standards when he gets into office. Nothing will be there to bind him in many cases but his personal set of standards. Thanks for asking!
As I said in reply to Dickerson on Facebook: He keeps referring to Trump "gaming the laws," "maneuver[ing]," "tak[ing] advantage of" the laws, etc. Those terms might sound vaguely nefarious, but the bottom line is that they all seem to refer to a businessperson following the law. If the consequences of businesspeople following the law are bad, then the law should be changed. So I fail to see a contradiction, or even a tension, between what Trump says about what he's done as a businessperson and his stance that he'd improve the laws and the economy as president. After all, his argument is not that he expects businesses to suddenly act in the country's best interests out of the goodness of their hearts. His argument is that he knows firsthand, from decades of experience, what it's like to do business under a lot of laws and regulations, and he has ideas for improving those laws to get better economic results. That's all under the assumption that people who run successful businesses, who are advised by lawyers and financial advisors, will always work hard to do whatever they think will advantage themselves under the existing law.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Hilary Putnam (1926 - 2016)

Harvard Professor Hilary Putnam died today at age 89. That website says:

Putnam was a tremendously influential philosopher, working across a broad range of fields, including philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of math, and moral philosophy.
Wikipedia says:
He was known for his willingness to apply an equal degree of scrutiny to his own philosophical positions as to those of others, subjecting each position to rigorous analysis until he exposed its flaws. As a result, he acquired a reputation for frequently changing his own position.
Wikipedia also notes that he was a computer scientist.

Here's Martha Nussbaum on what Putnam can offer an America that seems much less interesting in philosophy than it used to be.

Two Putnam quotes from A Dictionary of Philosophical Quotations show his facility at refuting arguments. This is Putnam on the mind-body problem:
According to functionalism, the behaviour of, say, a computing machine is not explained by the physics and chemistry of the computer machine. It is explained by the machine's program. Of course, that program is realized in a particular physics and chemistry, and could, perhaps, be deduced from that physics and chemistry. But that does not make the program a physical or chemical property of the machine; it is an abstract property of the machine. Similarly, I believe that the psychological properties of human beings are not physical and chemical properties of human beings, although they may be realized by physical and chemical properties of human beings.
(You can read that quote in context here.)

And this is Putnam on logical positivism:
A.J. Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic spread the new message to the English-speaking philosophical world: untestable statements are cognitively meaningless. A statement must either be (a) analytical (logically true, or logically false . . .) or (b) empirically testable, or (c) nonsense, i.e. not a real statement at all, but only a pseudo-statement. . . . An obvious rejoinder was to say that the logical positivist criterion of significance was self-refuting: for the criterion itself is neither (a) analytic (unless, perhaps, it is analytically false!), nor (b) empirically testable. Strangely enough this criticism had very little impact on the logical positivists and did little to impede the growth of their movement.
(You can read that quote in context here.) In fairness, A.J. Ayer himself later repudiated much of Language, Truth, and Logic.

When an obituary is posted to Metafilter, the community blog, you'll typically see many commenters posting a single period to represent a moment of silence. So you'll see a long string of comments that are just:
That's been happening on the obituary post for Hilary Putnam, but one commenter did a variation on that, writing this as a moment of silence:

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Live-blogging the last scheduled Republican primary debate of 2016

I'll be live-blogging the last scheduled Republican primary debate of 2016 — which is also the last scheduled debate of either major party. Keep reloading this post for updates.

As always, I'll be doing this without a pause/rewind button, so my quotations might not be word-for-word, but I'll try to keep them reasonably accurate, and I might or might not go back and correct some of them later.

For more live-blogging, check out National Review, TPM, or the New Republic.

8:56 — The candidates walk out and stand next to each other in this order: John Kasich, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio. When Trump walks up to Cruz, they shake hands and Trump pats Cruz on the back. When Rubio walks up to Trump, those two have no eye contact or interaction of any kind.

8:57 — The moderator, Jake Tapper, leads a moment of silence in memory of Nancy Reagan. Most of the candidates do the usual looking down with their eyes closed — but Trump alternates between closing his eyes, and looking around the room.

8:58 — Finally, a nice subdued, soothing rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" instead of the usual showy, virtuosic versions.

9:01 — In his opening statement, Cruz says the election isn't about "insults" or "attacks" — an obvious reference to Rubio and Trump.

9:02 — Trump says, in his opening statement: "One of the biggest political events anywhere in the world is going on with the Republican party" — massive turnout of people who are "voting out of love." "The whole world is talking about it — it's very exciting." He urges "the Republican establishment" to "embrace what's happening." Trump seems to be using his relatively measured, diplomatic tone so far in this debate.

9:03 — Surprisingly, Tapper asks the first question of Kasich. (Usually the first question goes to one of the frontrunners.) Tapper asks if Kasich's views on trade put "the board room" over the middle class. Kasich says: "When countries cheat and take advantage of us, we need to blow the whistle."

9:05 — Tapper asks Trump why we should believe he'll change the system when he's taken advantage of it in his businesses. "Because nobody knows the system better than me."

9:07 — Tapper asks Cruz about his flip-flop on the "Pacific trade deal." Cruz says Tapper is confusing the TPP with the TPA; what matters is the TPP, which Cruz has consistently opposed. Cruz says he'll protect workers with a tax plan that "will not tax exports and will tax imports."

9:11 — Rubio is asked about the H-1B visa program. Rubio focuses on cracking down on companies that abuse the program.

9:12 — Kasich: "I'd maybe be running for President of Croatia if we didn't have immigration."

9:13 — Trump again distinguishes between what he's done in business and what he'd do as president, calling the H-1B visa program "something that I frankly use, and we shouldn't be allowed to use. . . . I'm a businessman, and it's sitting there waiting for you." He calls for pausing it for one or two years.

9:15 — Cruz seems to be trying to win over Trump supporters by talking tough on immigration: "We're going to build a wall; triple border control; end sanctuary cities; and end welfare for people who are here illegally."

9:16 — Rubio virtually admits that his immigration plan would not have allowed his parents to immigrate, but he says this is necessary because of how the economy has changed.

9:17 — Tapper asks Trump what exactly he objects to about Common Core. "Education through Washington, DC. I don't want that. I want local education." Trump slips in the news that former candidate Ben Carson is going to endorse him tomorrow.

9:18 — Kasich is asked about his previous statement that opposition to Common Core is "hysteria." Kasich sums up his position as: "Local control — high state standards."

9:20 — Cruz says in one of his first days in office, he'll issue an executive order saying: "Common Core ends that day." And he'll abolish the Department of Education.

9:23 — Now the topic is Social Security. Rubio calls for gradually raising the retirement age to 70 — otherwise, "we will have a debt crisis," in which the vast majority of the budget is spent on "Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the debt."

9:25 — Trump, asked about Social Security, starts by talking about the Democrats: "I've been watching them very, very intensely, even though that's a very boring thing to watch." As for Social Security, he says he wants to "leave it the way it is, not raise the retirement." His plan to deal with the debt is just to grow the economy and cut "waste, fraud, and abuse." The moderator, Dana Bash, shoots back that Social Security abuse is only about $3 billion, yet we'd need to save $150 billion to make the program solvent. Trump says we'll "bring wealth back to our country" by making "deals" with other countries, e.g. about our military bases.

9:28 — Rubio joins in Bash's point that Trump's "numbers don't add up." "We'd better deal with it, or we're going to have to explain to our children how we allowed this disaster." Trump bears down: "We're going to bid out on virtually every facet of government — we're going to save a fortune!"

9:31 — Cruz says: "The answer can't just be: wave a magic wand and say: 'Problem, go away!'" He doesn't mention Trump — he says that's Hillary Clinton's plan. Dana Bash asks: "Did you just compare Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton?" Cruz won't answer, but he makes it clear he's ribbing Trump by dismissing the idea of "some fanciful 'waste, fraud, and abuse'" — Trump's favorite phrase when it comes to the debt. [VIDEO.]

9:34 — Trump says Cruz flip-flopped on ethanol, and then Cruz brings up his attack on Trump from the last couple debates: that Trump has been "funding" liberals. Trump doesn't take the bait to ramp up his attacks on Cruz. Instead, Trump tones it down: "We're going to come up with solutions. And so far, I cannot believe how civil it's been up here!" [VIDEO.]

9:36 — Kasich says on Social Security, we need to "innovate," not "cut."

9:40 — Cruz goes after Trump's proposal for tariffs: "A tariff is a tax on you, the American people." And that's just the direct effect of the tax; the indirect effect is that other countries would respond with their own tariffs, further increasing prices for Americans. Trump tries to allay those concerns by saying his proposal for a 45% tariff is just "a threat" of what we'd do if other countries "don't behave." Trump says it's "just the opposite" of what Cruz says: if we do impose those tariffs, we'll start manufacturing goods in the US, which will boost our economy.

9:47 — Trump is asked about his recent statement, "Islam hates us." Does he mean all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world? "I mean a lot of 'em! . . . There's something going on. . . . There's tremendous hatred, and I will stick with what I said." [VIDEO.] Rubio responds: "I know that people find a lot of appeal in what Donald says, because he says what people wish they could say. The problem is: presidents can't just say what they want." Rubio suggests that Trump's statements as a candidate may have already harmed America's image in the world. Trump stands his ground: "I don't like to be politically correct. I like to solve problems. . . . We'd better solve the problem before it's too late." Rubio: "I'm not interested in being politically correct; I'm interested in being correct!" [VIDEO.]

9:52 — Trump is asked about his statement that we should "take out the families of terrorists." Trump switches to talking about how we have a law against waterboarding, and we have to obey the laws, but ISIL doesn't obey any laws, so we should "expand our laws." That doesn't really answer the question about terrorists' families.

9:55 — Cruz dismisses Trump: "We've never targeted innocent civilians" (really? I want a fact check on that!) "and we're not going to start now." Cruz segues into emphasizing the foreign-policy areas where Trump has seemed less than conservative: saying he won't tear up the Iran deal, and saying he'd be "neutral" on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

9:57 — Trump insists that he's "very pro-Israel," and the crowd moans and boos. He points out: "I happen to have a daughter and a son-in-law that are Jewish." He uses the same argument he used in a recent debate: that he'd present himself as neutral in order to make a deal. If this issue didn't hurt him in past primaries, I don't think it's going to hurt him in the future.

9:59 — Cruz virtually devolves into baby talk when going after Trump: "The answer is not to yell: China bad! Muslims bad!" [VIDEO.]

10:03 — Now they're talking about ISIL. I'm not finding this very interesting, because they're just rehashing what they've said in many prior debates. They can't say anything other than that they'd do whatever is necessary to destroy ISIL. I don't think Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders would take issue with that.

10:07 — Rubio talks about a veteran who committed suicide after calling a VA suicide hotline and getting sent to voicemail. Rubio brings up his support for the VA Accountability Bill. In a rare moment for a Republican primary debate, Rubio says: "I'll give him credit, Bernie Sanders was a part of this!"

10:13 — Rubio and Trump go back and forth on Cuba, with Rubio taking a hard line and Trump focusing on making a "deal" with Cuba. The crowd cheers Rubio and grumbles in response to Trump. Cruz pounces on Trump's statements, saying Trump wants to be like President Obama but just make "a little bit better deals."

10:19 — Tapper asks Rubio if he'll "acknowledge the reality of the scientific consensus of climate change." Rubio says, yeah, "the climate is always 'changing'!" But "there's no such thing" as "a law we can pass in Washington to change the weather." The cost of climate-change legislation would be "rammed down the throat of the American consumer," and have "zero" effect on the environment. "America's not a planet — it's a country."

10:22 — Kasich admits that "we contribute to climate change." He seems to be trying to chart a complex middle path.

10:26 — Tapper insinuates that Trump tends to support authoritarianism, based on his comments about Vladimir Putin and Tiananmen Square. Trump clarifies that he said China was "strong" in Tiananmen Square, but that isn't an endorsement — it was "horrible." [VIDEO.] Kasich comes on strongly about Tiananmen Square, saying we should build a statue to the iconic but unknown man who stood in front of a Chinese tank. That's nice, though I don't think being on the right side of history about something that happened in 1989 is going to help Kasich get more delegates in 2016.

10:33 — Trump is asked if he's set a "tone" that encourages violence at his rallies. Trump says, "I hope not," then segues into talking about the "anger" that he's seen among the American people. Tapper quotes Trump's recent statements at rallies, like "I'd like to punch him in the face," and "Knock the crap out of him . . . I promise I'll pay for the legal fees!" Trump doesn't apologize, but focuses on how violent some of the protesters are and the fact that they're often dealt with by "the police." [VIDEO.]

10:35 — Cruz is asked what he thinks about Trump's rallies. Cruz seems to hesitate on this. "We need to show respect for the people." Cruz contrasts this with Obama, who sees himself as "an emperor." He finally comes back to Trump, criticizing him for having his audience raise their hands in a pledge of loyalty to Trump. "That is exactly backwards! We're in a job interview — we should pledging loyalty to you!" Trump lambastes the media for comparing his mass pledge to "Nazi Germany."

10:39 — Rubio takes the question about Trump's rallies as an opportunity to blandly express concern about "violence in general in our society." Rubio also adopts Obama's tack of invoking the moon landing as a symbol of how "anything's possible" in America.

10:40 — Hugh Hewitt asks Kasich about the fact that it seems like the only way he could be nominated would be through a contested convention, not by winning the majority of delegates. Shouldn't the nominee be whoever has the plurality? Kasich talks about how in school, if you got 86%, you got a B — you didn't get an A just because the people with 84% got a B!

10:42 — Trump: "I'm gonna have the delegates, OK?" He points out that two of them have some chance of getting a majority, and two of them don't. "That is not meant to be a criticism; that is just a mathematical fact."

10:43 — Cruz says it would be an "absolute disaster" to "parachute in" Washington's favorite nominee. Of course, he agrees with Trump that they're the only two who have a shot at earning the nomination outright. But he says: "If we nominate Donald Trump, Hillary wins!"

10:45 — Trump impersonates Cruz saying: "I'm the only one who beat Donald in 6 contests!" Trump points out: "I beat him in 13 contests — he never mentions that!"

10:45 — Rubio admits he's been disappointed with the primary results, but says he's inspired to keep going by a man who's supposed to stay indoors to recover from surgery, but keeps standing outside polling places with a sign saying "Marco Rubio."

10:46 — Trump is asked if he'll pledge not to take "outside contributions" throughout the whole election. He says he hasn't made that decision yet — he's only self-funding during the primaries. (He's only taking "small" donations.)

10:50 — Rubio is asked about how he mocked Trump in the last debate for being "flexible." Won't the next president need to be flexible to get things done with Congress? "You can be flexible about your ideas; you shouldn't be flexible about your principles." Boring!

10:58 — In what might be his last closing statement, Kasich says he's run "an unwavering positive campaign," which his kids can be proud of (unlike some people).

11:00 — Rubio, in his closing statement: "America is great because each generation before it did what needed to be done."

11:01 — Cruz talks about how great is it that "the son of a bartender [Rubio] and the son of a mailman [Kasich] and the son of a dishwasher [Cruz] and a successful businessman [Trump] can all stand on this stage and run for President of the United States." He previews his attack against Hillary Clinton in the general election: "Madam Secretary, you are asking for a third term of a failed administration."

11:02 — Trump uses his closing statement to tell us: "The next president could appoint 3, 4, maybe 5 Supreme Court Justices." If that's done by a Democratic president, "it could take centuries to recover." "Unify! Be smart and unify!" That's probably the smartest thing he could say at this point.

After his closing statement, Trump turns to his right, toward Cruz, and says: "Great job! Great job!" Trump shakes hands with Cruz and Kasich. Then, Trump turns to his left and shakes hands with Rubio in a more business-like way. Trump and Rubio don't make strong eye contact, but they do shake hands, and Trump pats Rubio on the back, as he did with Cruz at the beginning of the debate. Trump and Rubio walk away from the podiums together, both looking straight ahead, not at each other. They've spent the last couple weeks lodging blistering attacks against each other, but they both must know by now that there isn't much more they can do. This debate was far more civilized than the other recent Republican debates. After a primary season filled with many moments of indignity, these candidates are all walking off with dignity tonight.

Failed constitutional amendments

The Washington Post takes a look at proposals to amend the US Constitution that never became law:

What if we selected the president by lottery?

Or changed the name of the country to the United States of the World?

Or limited how wealthy a person could be?

How about if we outlawed drunkenness, prohibited divorce, or forbade duelists from holding public office. What say we?

All these have been suggested amendments to the Constitution — some of the 11,000 proposals made over the years to adjust one of the nation’s founding documents. . . .

Some of those that were not ratified were unusual — such as the one in 1911 that would have given Congress the power to protect migratory birds.

Another failed proposal, in 1846, called for presidential election via a lottery system. It called for each state to select its own presidential candidate. Then the name of each state would be written on balls equal to the number of congressmen from that state. One ball would be picked at random, and the candidate from that state would become president. The vice president would be selected the same way.

Blackerby said the proposal came amid sectional strains over slavery. “This could have been a way to purposefully randomize the presidency,” she said. “There was lots of discussion over whether the next president would come from a slave state or a free state, and there were people who were talking about secession if the other side won.” ...

An 1860 proposal would have abolished the presidency outright and replaced it with an executive council. One in 1886 would have created the offices of first, second and third vice president.

An 1893 suggestion would have renamed the country the “United States of the World.” Another in 1866 would have changed the name to “America.”

On Feb. 24, 1838, Rep. William J. Graves, a Whig from Kentucky, shot and killed Rep. Jonathan Cilley, a Democrat from Maine, in a duel in Bladensburg, Md. Ten days later, an amendment was offered in the House that would let Congress ban anyone who had fought, or arranged, a duel from holding federal office. The proposal failed.

In 1978, Congress approved an amendment to give the citizens of Washington, D.C., full representation in Congress. But the states failed to ratify it.

Other failed suggestions were more disturbing.

Four years before the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in 1865, an amendment proposed in 1861 would have protected it. The Civil War intervened, and the amendment was never ratified.

An amendment proposed in 1912 would have banned blacks from marrying whites or people of other races.

The 1938 proposal to make drunkenness illegal came after prohibition had been repealed. It didn’t go anywhere, and the copy in the archives bears some anonymous commentary in pencil:

“Why not add . . . [']Congress and the several states shall have concurrent power to change human nature from time to time in its or their discretion.[']"

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Live-blogging the last scheduled Democratic debate of 2016

I'll be blogging the debate here. Keep reloading this post for live updates.

As always, I'll be writing down what the candidates say without a pause/rewind button, so quotations in this post might not be verbatim, but I'll try to keep them reasonably accurate, and I might correct some of them later.

This is a Univision debate, done partly in Spanish, and focusing on issues of particular concern to Hispanic Americans.

9:11 — Hillary Clinton is asked how she "failed" last night, when she lost Michigan. She doesn't answer the question. Instead, she points out that she got more total votes and delegates last night — in Michigan and Mississippi combined. When pressed to answer the question, she just says it was "close."

9:13 — Bernie Sanders is asked if he can "realistically catch up" to Clinton in delegates. He says last night in Michigan was "one of the major upsets in modern American political history." He says he'll continue to do "extremely well" — and convince super delegates to switch to him. [VIDEO.]

9:15 — Clinton is asked about her emails. She says her emails have been "retroactively classified" — and the same has been done to former Secretary of State Colin Powell's emails. Jorge Ramos, whose daughter works for the Clinton campaign, asks if she'll withdraw if she's indicted. "Oh, for goodness . . . ! It is not going to happen! I'm not even answering that question." [VIDEO.]

9:17 — Question to Clinton: "Is Donald Trump a racist?" She won't directly answer, but she takes credit for being the first candidate to say "¡Basta!" when Trump tarred illegal immigrants from Mexico as "rapists." "You don't make America great by getting rid of everything that made America great! . . . What he has promoted is not at all in keeping with American values."

9:20 — Bernie Sanders points out that his father immigrated to America from Poland, yet "nobody has ever asked me for my birth certificate." He points to his hand and says: "Maybe it has something to do with the color of my skin!"

9:25 — Clinton attacks Sanders for voting against the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, and for suggesting that it would lead to "modern-day slavery."

9:26 — Sanders claims that Clinton was against New York giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. I wonder how Clinton feels about this issue coming back to haunt her, after it played a pivotal role in leading to the downfall of her 2008 campaign.

9:34 — The moderator plays a clip of himself, earlier this year, asking Clinton if she'd promise not to deport immigrants without criminal records, particularly children. In the video, she didn't make that promise, and only said everyone should receive "due process." She says she disagrees with "the current administration" — "stop the raids, stop the roundups, stop the reporting of people who are living here, living their lives, doing their jobs." She finally does promise not to deport children or people without criminal records. "I do not want to see them deported; I want to see them on a path to citizenship."

9:39 — Sanders makes the same promises — but Clinton uses that as an opportunity to come back to Sanders's opposition to the 2007 bill. She says if the bill had passed, "a lot of discussions we're having today would be in the rear-view mirror."

9:41 — Clinton accuses Sanders of "supporting the Minutemen and their ridiculous, absurd efforts to hunt down immigrants." Sanders denies it.

9:44 — Clinton reprises her attack on Sanders for voting against the auto bailout, from the last debate. Sanders it wasn't an "auto bailout" — it was a "Wall Street bailout."

9:47 — Clinton is asked: "What is the difference between the wall that you voted for, and Donald Trump's wall?" In a possible preview of the general election, Clinton mocks Trump for proposing "a very tall wall — a beautiful tall wall — better than the great wall of China — that he would somehow, magically get the Mexican government to pay for! And it's just fantasy!"

9:51 — A mother who brought her 5 children to the debate asks a question, in Spanish (translated by a moderator), about the fact that her husband has been deported and can't see his family. Of course, Sanders and Clinton both say they're committed to stopping that kind of thing from happening. But Sanders's answer is relatively vague. Clinton gives a stronger answer, not just because she gives more policy specifics, but also because she starts by connecting with the woman on a more emotional level, praising her for her bravery: "This is an incredible act of courage that I'm not sure many people really understand." Clinton seems to have sharply observed her husband in a famous moment in one of the general-election debates in 1992, when incumbent President Bush gave a weak answer to a woman who asked about the national debt, and then Bill Clinton connected with the questioner in a way Bush hadn't:

Ironically, a few minutes later, Clinton candidly admits: "I am not a natural politician, in case you haven't noticed, like my husband or President Obama. . . ." [VIDEO.]

10:05 — They play a video of one of the Benghazi victims' loved ones saying Clinton told her one thing about the nature of the attack while telling her family something very different. Clinton flatly says: "She's wrong." Sanders refuses to discuss Benghazi. [VIDEO.]

10:22 — This debate has been pretty dull for a while now.

10:23 — After Clinton explains her plan for student debt, Sanders snarks: "What Secretary Clinton said is absolutely right. I think I said it many months before she said it! But thanks for copying a very good idea!" [VIDEO.]

10:25 — Clinton says Sanders's health-care plan will be way more expensive than he says. "As my dad used to say, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

10:28 — The moderator says two dozen Florida mayors urged her to ask the candidates what they'd do about "the effects of rising sea levels and climate change in their communities," especially in Miami. Sanders calls out Trump and other Republicans for calling climate change "a hoax," which Sanders translates as: "We don't have the guts to stand up to the fossil-fuel industry." Clinton points out that she'll stick with Obama's executive actions in this area; a Republican president would undo them.

10:32 — Sanders keeps interrupting a lengthy answer by Clinton on climate change, while the moderator keeps telling Clinton, "Thank you!" (which is debate-speak for "Shut up!"). [VIDEO.] When Sanders finally gets to talk, he says: "You're looking at the Senator who introduced the most comprehensive climate-change legislation in the history of the United States Senate."

10:34 — Clinton says Sanders is "always criticizing" the two most recent Democratic presidents, and "that's fine," but he should criticize George W. Bush too. Sanders scoffs: "I gather Secretary Clinton hasn't listened to too many speeches, or followed my work in the Congress. . . . "

10:40 — The candidates are asked if they'd visit Cuba. Clinton makes a series of statements that are worded to sound strong without answering the question. Sanders calls for "normalized relations with Cuba."

10:43 — They show a video of Sanders, in 1985, saying Fidel Castro was being unfairly criticized, when he "educated their kids, gave them health care, totally transformed the society!" Sanders says this was about his opposition to invading Cuba or other Latin American countries. [VIDEO.]

10:47 — Clinton lambastes Sanders for saying, in another part of the 1985 video (which isn't shown), that Cuba brought about a "revolution of values." "When you disappear people, you imprison people, you even kill people, for expressing their opinions, for freedom of speech, that is not the kind of 'revolution of values' that I want to see anywhere!"

10:50 — When asked about the Supreme Court vacancy, Clinton reminds us of Bush v. Gore: "A court took away a presidency! Now we've got the Republican Congress trying to take away the Constitution!" As for what kind of Justice she'd like to see appointed, she says that Citizens United should be overruled and Roe v. Wade should remain "settled law." For some reason, Sanders doesn't get to address that issue.

And that's all for the Democratic primary debates in 2016.

Sir George Martin (1926 - 2016)

I read the news today, oh boy . . . George Martin has died at 90.

It would be hard to overstate the effect George Martin had on the Beatles. And it would be hard to think of any human being in the world who wasn't an actual rock musician, yet had a bigger impact on rock music, than him.

George Martin wasn't just a great producer who happened to work with the greatest rock band of all time. There's a reason he's called the fifth Beatle, but even that honorific fails to capture what he really did. He didn't merely provide so many studio innovations that it's possible to pick out many Beatles songs where his effect on the finished product was at least as important as that of some of the actual Beatles. He radically challenged every preconception of what a rock band was supposed to be, in a way that didn't just change what the Beatles sounded like, but changed the next 50 years of music. George Martin allowed the band to encompass Western classical music ("Eleanor Rigby," "In My Life"), Indian classical music ("Without You Without You," "Love You To"), jazz ("When I'm 64," "Honey Pie"), and more.

There have been so many volumes written about what George Martin added to the Beatles' recordings. I'll just point to one small example, remembering that there are dozens and dozens of things like this in the Beatles' oeuvre. This is an analysis of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" by Ian MacDonald in his book Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties:

Lennon wandered into an antiques shop and picked up a Victorian circus poster advertising . . . a show put on by some travelling tumblers . . . in 1843. This appealed to his sense of the ridiculous and, when the new album [Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band] called for another composition from him, he hung the poster on the wall of his home studio and, playing his piano, sang phrases from it until he had a song. Taking it to Abbey Road, he asked George Martin for a 'fairground' production wherein one could smell the sawdust — which, while not in the narrowest sense a musical specification, was, by Lennon's standards, a clear and reasonable request. (He once asked Martin to make one of his songs sound like an orange.) While The Beatles' producer worked more naturally with the conventionally articulate McCartney, the challenges of catering to Lennon's intuitive approach generally spurred him to his more original arrangements, of which Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! is an outstanding example. Using harmonium, harmonicas, and a tape of Victorian steam organs and calliopes cut up and edited into a kaleidoscopic wash, he created a brilliantly whimsical impression of period burlesque, ideally complementing Lennon's dry nasal delivery. Few producers have displayed a tenth of the invention shown here.

From the New York Times obituary:
George Martin, the urbane English record producer who signed the Beatles to a recording contract on the small Parlophone label after every other British record company had turned them down, and who guided them in their transformation from a regional dance band into the most inventive, influential and studio-savvy rock group of the 1960s, died Tuesday. . . .

When the Beatles played “Please Please Me” for him for the first time, for example, it was in a slow arrangement meant to evoke the style of Roy Orbison, one of their heroes. Mr. Martin told them the song sounded dreary, and insisted that they pick up the tempo and add a simple harmonica introduction. His suggestions transformed “Please Please Me,” which became their first big hit.

Always intent on expanding the Beatles’ horizons, Mr. Martin began chipping away at the group’s resistance to using orchestral musicians on its recordings in early 1965. While recording the “Help!” album that year, he brought in flutists for the simple adornment that enlivens Lennon’s “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” and he convinced Mr. McCartney, against his initial resistance, that “Yesterday” should be accompanied by a string quartet.

A year later, during the recording of the album “Revolver,” Mr. Martin no longer had to cajole: The Beatles prevailed on him to augment their recordings with arrangements for strings (on “Eleanor Rigby”), brass (on “Got to Get You Into My Life”), marching band (on “Yellow Submarine”) and solo French horn (on “For No One”), as well as a tabla player for Harrison’s Indian-influenced song “Love You To.”

It was also at least partly through Mr. Martin’s encouragement that the Beatles became increasingly interested in electronic sound. Noting their inquisitiveness about both the technical and musical sides of recording, Mr. Martin ignored the traditional barrier between performers and technicians and invited the group into the control room, where he showed them how the recording equipment at EMI’s Abbey Road studios worked. He also introduced them to unorthodox recording techniques, including toying with tape speeds and playing tapes backward.

Mr. Martin had used some of these techniques in his comedy and novelty recordings, long before he began working with the Beatles.

“When I joined EMI,” he told The New York Times in 2003, “the criterion by which recordings were judged was their faithfulness to the original. If you made a recording that was so good that you couldn’t tell the difference between the recording and the actual performance, that was the acme. And I questioned that. I thought, O.K., we’re all taking photographs of an existing event. But we don’t have to make a photograph; we can paint. And that prompted me to experiment.”

Soon the Beatles themselves became intent on searching for new sounds, and Mr. Martin created another that the group adopted in 1966 (followed by many others). During the sessions for “Rain,” Mr. Martin took part of Lennon’s lead vocal and overlaid it, running backward, over the song’s coda.

“From that moment,” Mr. Martin said, “they wanted to do everything backwards. They wanted guitars backwards and drums backwards, and everything backwards, and it became a bore.” The technique did, however, benefit “I’m Only Sleeping” (with backward guitars) and “Strawberry Fields Forever” (with backward drums).

Mr. Martin was never particularly trendy, and when the Beatles adopted the flowery fashions of psychedelia in 1966 and 1967 he continued to attend sessions in a white shirt and tie, his hair combed back in a schoolmasterly pre-Beatles style. Musically, though, he was fully in step with them. . . . His avant-garde orchestration and spacey production techniques made “A Day in the Life” into a monumental finale for the kaleidoscopic album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”