Saturday, October 31, 2015

Nerdiest. Pumpkin. Ever.

"Pumpktris is a fully playable version of Tetris built into a pumpkin, with 128 LEDs for the display and the stem serving as a game controller."




Here's how he did it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Live-blogging the Republican debate on the economy

I'll be live-blogging tonight's debate, which is supposed to focus on the economy. This is the first 2016 Republican debate without Scott Walker, so there should be more of a clear-cut opposition between Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush.

As always, I'll be writing down quotes on the fly, so they might not be exactly verbatim, but I'll try to make them reasonably accurate (and I might go back and correct some of them later).

For other live-blogging, check out National ReviewTPMAlthouse (my mom), and Alex Knepper.

[Watch the debate here.]

[Here's the transcript.]

[Added later:] The debate took forever to start. Nicholas Kristof quips:

The presidential debate is starting at 8 pm, CNBC time.
8:17 — It's finally starting.

8:19 — The moderator asks all the candidates: "What is your biggest weakness, and what are you doing to address it?" John Kasich says "Good question," but doesn't answer the question — instead, he just attacks the other candidates and argues that he's better.

8:20 — Mike Huckabee's biggest weakness: "I try to live by the rules."

8:20 — Jeb Bush: "I am by my nature impatient, and this is not an endeavor that rewards that." Also, he "can't fake anger," but this process "rewards" it.

8:21 — Rubio's biggest weakness is "optimism."

8:21 — Donald Trump: "I trust people too much . . . and if they let me down, I find it hard to forgive."

8:22 — Ben Carson's biggest weakness was that he didn't see himself as president until lots of people told him he should be president.

8:22 — Fiorina says, with a big smile, that what other people said was her weakness in the last debate was that she didn't "smile" enough. [VIDEO.]

8:23 — Ted Cruz sarcastically says: "I'm too easy-going."

8:23 — Chris Christie brushes off the question and says he doesn't see much weakness on that stage — then he pivots to criticizes each of the three top Democratic candidates for separate reasons.

8:26 — Moderator John Harwood lists what he apparently considers to be some of Trump's more ridiculous proposals, including that he'd "make Americans better off because your greatness would replace the stupidity and incompetence of others." Trump agrees with that last point: "Right!" Then Harwood asks if this is "a comic-book version of a presidential campaign." Trump says: "It's not a comic book, and it's not a very nicely asked question." [VIDEO.]

8:31 — Kasich calls out Carson and Trump for their trite, implausible promises to make up for lost tax revenues by cutting "waste, fraud, and abuse."

8:31 — Trump comes back: "[Kasich] got lucky with a wonderful thing called fracking . . . and that's why Ohio is doing well." Trump also takes a shot at Kasich over being on the board of Lehman Brothers, the big bank which failed at the outset of the financial collapse of 2008. Kasich simply denies it: "I wasn't on the board of Lehman Brothers!" [VIDEO.] [Fact check.]

8:36 — Carly Fiorina says she'll reduce the federal tax code from 70,000 to 3 pages. The moderator looks and sounds incredulous: "Using really small type?!"

8:37 — Rubio is asked about how he's missing more votes than any other Senate running for president. He characterizes this as what "the Republican establishment" says: "Why don't you wait in line?" His response: "We're running out of time!" The moderator bluntly follows up: "Do you hate your job?" Rubio says this shows the liberal media's bias, since the media didn't question Barack Obama about missing most of his Senate votes when he was running for president in 2008.

8:39 — Bush finally attacks his former protege, Rubio: "Marco, . . . you should be showin' up to work. What is it, like, a French work week?" [VIDEO.]

8:43 — Question to Fiorina: "Your board fired you. I'm just wondering why we should hire you now?" Fiorina says her company was a "bloated, inept bureaucracy" before she showed up as "an outsider" and "saved 80,000 jobs." "I was fired over politics in the board room." She notes that CEOs are held "accountable" and even "criminally liable" — imagine if politicians were!

8:46 — The moderator asks Cruz about the debt limit, but instead of answering, he criticizes the questions for not being "substantive" and just "trying to get the candidates to tear into each other." He uses up all of his time, so he never gets to the substantive question. This seems like a contrived attempt by Cruz to have a "debate moment." [VIDEO.]

8:50 — The question about the debt limit goes to Paul, since Cruz missed his chance to answer it. Paul isn't worried about keeping the government open; he's worried about "bankrupting the American people."

8:53 — Huckabee says the government's fiscal attitude is "like a 400-pound man saying: I'm going to go on a diet but I'm going to eat a sack of Krispy Kremes before I do."

9:00 — Trump is asked about the bankruptcies of his Atlantic City casinos. "Bankruptcy is a broken promise. Why should the voters believe you now?" Trump gives the same answer he gave in the last debate when this was brought up: "I used the laws of the country to my benefit."

9:02 — Moderator Jim Cramer asks Carson about profiteering drug companies. Carson says they've "gone overboard," but says the solution is less regulation of businesses.

9:04 — Cramer asks Christie about GM's faulty ignition switch, which killed over 100 people; no one went to jail over it. Christie says he'd prosecute people over it. He also says he'd enforce laws against price gouging, which would be better than "Hillary Clinton's price controls" on pharmaceuticals.

9:08 — Fiorina on "crony capitalism": "This is how socialism starts: government starts a problem, so government tries to fix it. . . . The big and powerful use big and powerful government to their advantage."

9:10 — Rubio is asked about his personal financial problems, and whether he has "the maturity and the wisdom to lead this country." Rubio shoots down the moderator: "You just listed the Democrats' discredited attacks, and I'm not going to waste my 60 seconds going through them all."

9:14 — Cruz is asked about the lie that women earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn.

9:16 — Fiorina says: "It is the height of hypocrisy for Hillary Clinton talking about being the first woman president when every policy she espouses, and every single policy of President Obama, has been demonstrably bad for women." [VIDEO.]

My mom says:
This debate is so stressful and ugly. The moderators are so disrespectful and the candidates are all yelling. Almost all. Carson will never yell.
9:26 — Rubio: "For the life of me, I do not understand why we stopped doing vocational training in America."

9:28 — Moderator Becky Quick asks Trump about his supposed criticisms of Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, but Trump says he's never been critical of Zuckerberg. Quick haplessly asks: "Where did I read that you were critical of him?" Trump says: "I don't know, you folks write this stuff! . . . Somebody's really doing some bad fact-checking." [Here's your fact check!]

9:30 — Rubio: "The Democrats have the ultimate super PAC — it's called the mainstream media." He says the media has been saying last week was a great week for Hillary Clinton. "It was the week she got exposed as a liar" for telling the public that the Benghazi attack was sparked by a video, while privately saying it was a planned terrorist attack. [VIDEO of 9:28 and 9:30.]

9:31 — Cruz says the Federal Reserve's role should be more limited, and we should switch to the gold standard. Paul agrees: "We shouldn't have controls on the price of money."

9:33 — Carson is asked if he's been inconsistent on subsidies, but he admits "I was wrong" about oil subsidies. "All this stuff about picking winners and losers — this is a bunch of crap!" It hurts the poor and middle class, not the rich, who "don't care if a bar of soap goes up 10¢."

9:35 — Huckabee says today's runaway blimp is "a perfect analogy" for government: a "giant bag of gas" that we "couldn't get rid of . . . because we had too much money invested in it."

9:39 — Rubio is asked about an analysis by the (conservative) Tax Foundation, which said his tax plan saves twice as much for people at the high end than the low end. Rubio denies it and says the opposite. [Added later:] On Twitter, Harwood had said he was "CORRECTING" his "earlier tweet" about the Tax Foundation's analysis of Rubio's tax plan. Harwood's correction said: "Tax Foundation says Rubio benefits lowest 10% proportionally more (55.9) than top 1% (27.9%)." Then Harwood asked Rubio a question that said the opposite of that correction, and when Rubio correctly pointed out that Harwood's incorrect post had to be corrected, Harwood flatly denied it!

[Correction, added after the debate:] This was more complicated than I thought. They were actually both right; they were just talking about different things. Let's go to the transcript:
HARWOOD: Senator Rubio, . . . [t]he Tax Foundation . . . scored your tax plan and concluded that you give nearly twice as much of a gain in after-tax income to the top 1 percent as to people in the middle of the income scale. Since you’re the champion of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, don’t you have that backward?

RUBIO: No, that’s — you’re wrong. In fact, the largest after-tax gains is for the people at the lower end of the tax spectrum under my plan. . . .

HARWOOD: The Tax Foundation — just to be clear, they said the —

RUBIO: You wrote a story on it, and you had to go back and correct it.

HARWOOD: No, I did not.

RUBIO: You did. No, you did.

HARWOOD: Senator, the Tax Foundation said after-tax income for the top 1 percent under your plan would go up 27.9 percent. And people in the middle of the income spectrum, about 15 percent. . . .

RUBIO: Yeah, but that — because the math is, if you — 5 percent of a million is a lot more than 5 percent of a thousand. So yeah, someone who makes more money, numerically, it’s gonna be higher. But the greatest gains, percentage-wise, for people, are gonna be at the lower end of our plan, and here’s why: because in addition to a general personal exemption, we are increasing the per-child tax credit for working families.
See the problem? Harwood said Rubio's plan would lead to "twice as much of a gain in after-tax income to the top 1 percent as to people in the middle of the income scale." Rubio responded that "the largest after-tax gains is [sic] for the people at the lower end of the tax spectrum." As Jon Chait and Jon Cohn point out, both of those claims are accurate reflections of the Tax Foundation's analysis. Here's the relevant graph from the Tax Foundation:


(The Tax Foundation used both "static" and "dynamic" models of how Rubio's plan would affect after-tax income. The "dynamic" model, shown in blue, includes predictions about how the tax plan would affect the economy as a whole; the "static" model, shown in red, assumes the plan would have no effect on the economy.)

So, I regret that I originally assumed Rubio and Harwood were talking about the same thing; ideally, I should have looked at the transcript, noticed what Cohn calls Rubio's "sleight of hand" in shifting the discussion further down the income scale, and looked up the Tax Foundation's analysis to see that they were both apparently right about different things.

Now back to my original live-blog:

9:40 — Paul awkwardly asks what the rules are on when candidates can jump in to talk, and Quick says: "It's at the moderators' discretion." So Paul jumps in to say he's the only candidate who'd repeal payroll taxes.

9:42 — Kasich is asked whether we should legalize marijuana to get more tax revenues (which non-marijuana-using conservatives should want, since they won't have to pay as much in taxes). Kasich says no, because it would be "sending mixed signals to kids about drugs," and his state of Ohio is doing so well it doesn't need the extra revenue.

9:49 — The moderator points out that Trump has criticized "gun-free school zones," and is asked if he'd feel more comfortable if his employees showed up carrying guns. He says he "might." Then he cleverly pivots to an attack an President Obama: Trump says he carries a gun only some of the time, because he wants to be "unpredictable," unlike Obama, who broadcasts what he's going to do in advance, which empowers ISIL.

9:51 — The moderator shamelessly asks Huckabee if he'll attack Trump. Huckabee doesn't take the bait: "I love Donald Trump. He is a good man. I'm wearing a Trump tie tonight." Someone else chimes in: "Was it made in China or Mexico?" Trump says: "Such a nasty question! But thank you, Governor." [VIDEO.]

9:54 — Fiorina is asked if the government should "do more" to encourage employer-sponsored 401(k) retirement plans. "No. . . . Every time the government gets engaged in something, it gets worse. And then the government steps in to solve the problem. And we get a little closer to that progressive vision that Hillary Clinton is talking about."

9:59 — Bush is asked if he'd crack down on "fantasy sports." Bush says: "There needs to be some regulation." Christie is aghast: "Are we really talking about getting the government involved in fantasy football?! We've got ISIS attacking us . . . and we're talking about fantasy football?!" Moderator John Harwood interrupts Christie's answer, and Christie goes after him: "Do you want to answer, or do you want to let me answer? Even in New Jersey, what you're doing is called rude!"

10:02 — Paul admits we should have "some safety net" — "but you oughta acknowledge that government doesn't do a very good job of it." The entitlement crisis is "your grandparents' fault for having too many kids!"

10:08 — Trump says he'll make the economy so "dynamic" that we won't need any specific entitlement reform. Bush says that's naive — we can't just "grow our way out of it"; we need to do things like means testing for Social Security.

10:13 — We're at the point where the candidates have run out of things to say, so everyone (Christie, Rubio, Fiorina) has resorted to blandly saying there are a lot of "good ideas" on the stage.

10:17 — In her closing statement, Fiorina admits: "I may not be your dream candidate just yet, but I can assure you: I'm Hillary Clinton's worst nightmare, and in your heart of hearts, you can't wait to see a debate between Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina." [VIDEO.]

10:17 — Carson: "I just want to thank all of my colleagues here for being civil and not falling in the traps."

10:20 — Trump uses his closing statement to point out how he and Carson "renegotiated" the debate down from 3 hours to 2 hours "so we can get the hell out of here!" John Harwood says, contrary to what everyone was reporting, that the debate "was always going to be 2 hours." Trump points his finger at Harwood and shouts: "You know that that is not right!" [VIDEO.]

10:22 — Bush's closing statement is flat and low-energy, as Trump would put it.

It seems like the main story from tonight is:
Moderators lose control at third GOP debate

How CNBC Lost Its Own G.O.P. Debate

The CNBC Republican Debate Was A Total Trainwreck

This was indisputably the worst-moderated debate of this young cycle, and perhaps the worst-moderated debate ever.
(Note: that last link goes to the conservative National Review, and the link before it goes to the liberal ThinkProgress — so people across the spectrum agree.)

Here's Alex Knepper's verdict:
Winners: Christie, Carson . . . , Cruz, Rubio

Losers: CNBC, Kasich, Paul, Bush

Wash: Everyone else

Awful debate, and I anticipate most of the reporting about the debate will center around how badly it was conducted.
Two Washington Post writers agree with Knepper:
The third Republican presidential debate on Wednesday evening ended with a handful of winners – Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz – and one clear loser, former Florida governor Jeb Bush. . . .

Bush was a minor presence – a night so bad for him that his campaign manager confronted CNBC producers off the stage, angry about Bush’s lack of airtime [sic — the paragraph ends without any punctuation]
Hey, at least he won over the anti-fantasy-football vote.

Erick Erikson, the conservative commentator, says:
This was the debate where Jeb Bush sealed the deal and began transitioning to “former Presidential candidate.”
Election Betting Odds shows how the candidates' odds have changed since 8:00 p.m., right before the debate. As of about 10:30 p.m., right after the debate, Rubio and Huckabee are the only Republican candidates (who were in the main debate) whose odds have improved. Rubio improved the most (2.6%), and then Cruz (1%). There was no change for Carson or Paul. The rest declined (Trump by 0.4%, Bush by 2.2%, Fiorina by 1.9%, Kasich by 0.4%, and both Christie and Huckabee by 0.3%). Rubio has by far the best odds of being the nominee: 33% (and a 15% chance of winning the presidency). Trump has 17%, Bush has 14%, Carson has 10%, Cruz has 6.5%, and the rest are in low single digits.

Fiorina spoke the most (I would have thought it was Rubio), and Bush spoke the least (I'm not surprised — he made very little impression).

[Added the next day:] An observation, after thinking more about the debate: Bush seems uncomfortable in his own skin. Rubio seems comfortable in his own skin. And voters are always going to prefer the latter kind of person.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Celebrity shocks nation by winning presidency

A celebrity who's a "household name" in Guatemala and used to have a TV show, but has never held office, and was initially considered a long-shot contender who didn't offer enough policy specifics to back up his conservative platform, went on to shock many people by winning the presidential election as a result of "widespread discontent with Guatemala's political class." Fortunately, that could never happen here . . .

"Too big for the industry"

This model, Agnes Hedengård, talks about being rejected for being "too big." Her BMI is 17.5, which is considered underweight.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Rubio has senior-itis

That’s why I’m missing votes. Because I am leaving the Senate. I am not running for reelection.”

What are Americans most afraid of?

Americans are more afraid of tornadoes, reptiles, and Obamacare than of global warming; more afraid of insects than of death; more afraid of whites being in the minority than of robbery, rape, or murder; and more afraid of ghosts than of being judged based on race or gender.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness turns 20

20 years ago today, the Smashing Pumpkins released what to me was one of those rare life-changing albums, my favorite double album not by the Beatles, an album so good I recently paid over $100 for the reissue: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Even if you put aside the string of hits — "Bullet with Butterfly Wings," "Tonight, Tonight" (click the embedded video below), "Zero," "Thirty-Three," "1979" — the number of amazing songs on this album is just staggering — "Muzzle," "Jellybelly," "Love," "Galapogos," "An Ode to No One," "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans," "Thru the Eyes of Ruby," "We Only Come out at Night," "Beautiful" . . .


Thursday, October 22, 2015

I just saw the whole Back to the Future trilogy in the theater.

Well, that was fun. The Back to the Future movies are probably better enjoyed one at a time than back to back, but they still held my attention tonight for all 3 movies, each almost 2 hours long. I never once felt like leaving and finishing the rest some other time by watching the DVDs I have at home. It was the most enthusiastic movie audience I've ever been part of — people applauded and hooted not only during various climactic moments, but also when the time machine and Doc first appeared, the first time one of the characters said the words "back to the future," and of course, when Doc said "October 21, 2015."

At one point, Back to the Future Part III stopped in the middle (at Bow Tie Cinemas — Chelsea in NYC, which I don't plan to return to). The screen went black for a while. Audience members called out things like: "You've disrupted the space-time continuum!" "Not enough jigowatts!"

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

October 21, 2015!

"We're descending toward Hill Valley, California, at 4:29 p.m., on Wednesday, October 21, 2015!"

"2015? You mean we're in the future?!"


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Do "gun-free zones" attract mass shootings?

John Lott looks at the evidence in National Review:

Mass killers have . . . explicitly talked about their desire to attack gun-free zones. The Charleston, S.C., church shooting in June was instead almost a college shooting. But that killer changed his plans after realizing that the College of Charleston had armed guards.

The diary of the . . . movie-theater killer, James Holmes, was finally released just a few months ago. Holmes decided not to attack an airport because of what he described in his diary as its “substantial security.” Out of seven theaters showing the Batman movie premiere within 20 minutes of the suspect’s apartment, only one theater banned permitted concealed handguns. That’s the one he attacked.

Or take two cases from last year. Elliot Rodger, who fatally shot three people in Santa Barbara, Calif., explained his reasoning in his 141-page “manifesto.” He ruled out various targets because he worried that someone with a gun would stop his killing spree. Justin Bourque shot to death three people in Canada. On Facebook, Bourque posted a picture of a defenseless victim explaining to killers that guns are prohibited.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Carey Lander of Camera Obscura has died at 33.

Carey Lander, the keyboardist and backing vocalist of the Scottish band Camera Obscura since 2002, died of osterosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, three days ago.

She started a page to raise money for Sarcoma UK, a bone and soft-tissue cancer charity, saying:

In 2011 I was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in my leg. It's an aggressive form of bone cancer that's treated with a very harsh regime of chemotherapy and surgery or possible amputation of the affected limb. Particularly horribly, it's a cancer that most commonly occurs in children and because of its rarity, receives scarce attention or funding and there has been very little in the way of new treatments developed in the last 30 years. It's probably too late to help me, but it would be great if we could find something in the future that means children don't have to undergo such awful treatment and have a better chance of survival.
I highly recommend Camera Obscura's third album, Let's Get Out of This Country.

When I listed the top 100 songs of the past decade, I put Camera Obscura's "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken" at #24, and said:
When I listen to Camera Obscura, I imagine a band from the early '60s traveling through time to the '00s and trying to fit in.
I also listed "Let's Get Out of This Country" as a "runner-up" to the top 100 songs. You can see Carey Lander (the only woman in the band other than the singer) in the video:

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Live-blogging the first 2016 Democratic presidential debate

I'll be live-blogging the debate here. Keep reloading for more updates.

As always, I'll be quoting the candidates on the fly, but I'll try to keep the quotes reasonably accurate. (I might go back and tweak some of the quotes later, but if you need an exact quote, please don't rely on this post — check the transcript.)

[Here's an annotated transcript.]




It's easy to say that tonight will be all about Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. But even if you're sure that Martin O'Malley, Jim Web, and Lincoln Chafee can't win the nomination, they could still have an impact tonight.

As Bill Scher has pointed out, a pivotal moment in the 2008 Democratic primaries was prompted by a candidate who never had a serious chance: Chris Dodd.

The New Yorker's Amy Davidson reminds us:

[On] October 30, 2007, when the Democrats debated in Philadelphia[,] Clinton was the front-runner then, too, and it was the thirteenth time the candidates had met. But it was also, arguably, the first time that her opponents—Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Christopher Dodd, Joe Biden, and, most improbably, Barack Obama—seriously challenged her, on all fronts. Edwards accused her of “doubletalk.” Obama called her out for “changing positions whenever it’s politically convenient”—she was “for NAFTA previously, now she’s against it”—and for not being “truthful.” A lot of the time was taken up asking why records of her official work in her husband’s White House were sealed in the Clinton Presidential library. She responded with what must have been intended as judiciousness but came across as obfuscation. When Tim Russert, one of the moderators, tried to determine whether she was in favor of issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants—she had indicated both yes and no—she called his question a “gotcha.”

In the days that followed, Clinton and her campaign tried to frame the debate as a Hillary-against-the-world moment, a “pile-on,” orchestrated by what she called, in a speech at Wellesley College, “the all-boys’ club.” Clinton had been considered the winner in most of the previous debates, and even many of her supporters acknowledged that this one marked a turning point. A week before, she was at 48.5 per cent in an average of polls, the highest she had ever been. (Obama registered 21.2.) Immediately afterward, she began a decline and, despite some rebounds, never matched that number again.
As you can see in this video, Dodd wasn't the only one going after Clinton on drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants, but he was the first candidate to seize on it. Obama and Edwards then picked up on Dodd's cue and added to the criticism of Clinton for being unclear and trying to have it both ways. No one expected drivers' licenses to be a significant issue in the election before that night, but those five minutes were arguably the beginning of the end for the Clinton campaign.




8:41 — Sheryl Crow does a weak rendition of the national anthem.

8:49 — Lincoln Chafee notes, in his opening statement, that he's the only candidate who's been a mayor, a governor, and a Senator. Also: "I have had no scandals!" (Unlike some candidates!)

8:51 — Jim Webb emphasizes that "more than half of [his] professional life" has been outside politics (as a novelist, journalist, and businessperson).

8:52 — Webb vividly describes his family members, including his wife, who immigrated here from Vietnam and learned English, a language that wasn't spoken at home when she was growing up, and eventually went to my alma mater, Cornell Law School.

8:53 — Martin O'Malley's opening strikes a humble note: "There are some things in life I've learned how to do better than others. . . ."

8:55 — Bernie Sanders uses his opening to attack the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United for giving undue influence to "millionaires and billionaires." He also notes that "African-American youth unemployment is 51%." Instead of "providing more jails and more incarceration," Sanders would raise the minimum wage, further increasing African-American youth unemployment.

8:59 — Hillary Clinton starts out talking about how she's been "traveling across the country, . . . listening and learning." And: "Yes, finally, fathers will be able to say to their daughters: you too can grow up to be President."

9:01 — Anderson Cooper asks Clinton about her flip-flops on gay rights, trade, and other issues. "Will you say anything just to get elected?" She claims to have been "very consistent" throughout her life — "but I do absorb new information." On President Obama's trade deal: "I wanted to make sure I could look in the eyes of American families and say this will raise your wages, and I concluded I could not."

9:03 — Cooper asks Clinton: "Just for the record, are you a progressive or a moderate"? "I'm a progressive, but I'm a progressive who likes to get things done."

9:04 — Sanders is asked how he can win as a "democratic socialist." He says this can work as long as he educates the public on "what democratic socialism means," including: "It is immoral and wrong that the top tenth of the top 1% own as much as the bottom 90%." Sanders invokes Denmark, and Cooper shoots back that it has a population of just a few million.

9:06 — Cooper asks Sanders if he's a capitalist. "Do I consider myself a part of the casino-capitalist process? . . . No, I don't." Cooper opens up the question to the other candidates, and Clinton says we need to "save capitalism from itself," to "rein in the excesses of capitalism so it doesn't run amok." "But," Clinton adds pointedly, "we are not Denmark," and we need to support small businesses, which she does associate with capitalism.

9:08 — Cooper asks Chafee how Democrats can trust him — "you've only been a Democrat for two years." Chafee: "You're looking at a block of granite on the issues." Cooper retorts: "It's pretty soft granite!" Why did Chafee switch parties? "The party left me! There was no room left for a liberal, moderate Republican."

9:09 — Cooper asks O'Malley about the unrest in Baltimore, which he led as mayor and governor. "We saved over 1,000 lives in Baltimore over 15 years, and most of them were young and black." [VIDEO.]

9:11 — Webb is asked about his position on affirmative action — isn't he out of step with the party? He says no, and clarifies that he has "always been in favor of affirmative action for African-Americans." He's against affirmative action being applied to "everyone but whites, including poor Appalachian whites."

9:13 — Cooper asks Sanders about his record on gun control. He responds in the third person: "Bernie Sanders has a D- rating from the NRA."

9:15 — Clinton is asked whether Sanders is "tough enough on guns." She directly attacks Sanders: "No. Not at all. . . . Senator Sanders did vote 5 times against the Brady Bill." After Sanders defended himself on the ground that a bill protecting gun manufacturers from lawsuits was complicated, Clinton says it was "not that complicated."

9:17 — O'Malley seethes with anger as he tells the story of the family of a woman who died in the Aurora shooting, who tried to sue the gun manufacturer. As O'Malley joins in Clinton's attack on Sanders, Clinton repeatedly nods her head with determination. O'Malley one-ups Sanders by touting his "F from the NRA," and accusing Sanders of "pandering to the NRA."

9:19 — Cooper points out that Webb has an "A rating from the NRA!" He doesn't back away from his support of gun rights: "The average American," who doesn't get free bodyguards, "deserves the right to protect their family."

9:23 — Clinton says it's "unacceptable" for Russia to be "bombing people on behalf of Assad." But isn't that [partly] a euphemism for bombing ISIL? [I added the word "partly" and the link afterwards, based on a comment.]

9:24 — Sanders calls the Iraq War the worst foreign-policy decision in American history (or one of the worst — didn't catch that). Clinton chimes in that no one on the stage supports the war. (Of course, she voted to authorize the war but eventually said she regretted it.)

9:24 — Clinton cleverly notes that she was at about 25 debates 8 years ago in which she and Obama went back and forth on Iraq — but after all that, "President Obama asked me to be Secretary of State. He valued my judgment." [VIDEO.]

9:28 — Sanders is asked when he would support military action. "I voted to make sure that Osama bin Laden was held accountable in Afghanistan." He also voted for the Kosovo War.

9:31 — As a question goes to Clinton, Webb complains that he hasn't gotten a question in a while. Clinton brushes him off: "Well, I am in the middle here! Lots of things coming at me from all directions!"

9:33 — Webb tells us, for the second time, that he fought in Vietnam and his son fought in Iraq. [He later brings up his Vietnam service for a third time.] How well has the "I'm a veteran" pitch worked for presidential candidates in the past? Just ask President Wesley Clark, President Kerry, President McCain, President Dole . . .

9:34 — Sanders on Russia and Syria: "I think Putin is going to regret what he is doing." Cooper: "He doesn't seem to be the type of guy to regret a lot."

9:38 — Webb comes out strongly against Obama's war in Libya: "It's not about Benghazi per se, but about the decisions that allowed Benghazi to happen. There were no treaties at risk, no Americans at risk, no attack or threat of attack."

9:39 — Sanders is asked how he could be Commander in Chief after he applying for "conscientious objector" status during the Vietnam War. "When I was a young man — I'm not a young man today — I strongly opposed the Vietnam War. . . . I am not a pacifist." [VIDEO.]

9:42 — Every candidate is asked what the greatest threat to the US is. Clinton says nuclear weapons being obtained by terrorists. Sanders says climate change.

9:46 — Cooper brings up Clinton's emails. "You dismissed it. You joked about it. You called it a mistake. What does that say about your ability to handle far more pressing responsibilities as President?" She attacks the House Committee that's soon going to hear her testimony about the emails as "partisan." "I think it's pretty clear what their obvious goal is. So I'll be there, I'll testify. But tonight, I want to talk not about my emails but about [the issues]."

9:49 — Sanders refuses to turn Clinton's emails into an issue: "Secretary Clinton is right. The American people are tired of hearing about your damn emails!" Clinton: "Me too!" She reaches over to shake his hand: "Thank you, Bernie! Thank you!" [VIDEO.]

9:50 — Chafee attacks Clinton over the emails. Cooper asks: "Secretary Clinton, do you want to respond?" "No!"

9:52 — An audience member asks: "Do black lives matter, or do all lives matter?" Why are those mutually exclusive?

9:54 — Clinton says we need to "tackle mass incarceration" — which might be "the only bipartisan issue this year." "We need a new New Deal for communities of color and the poor."

9:55 — Webb: "I risked my political life raising the issue of criminal justice reform."

9:58 — Cooper to Clinton: "You and your husband are part of the 1%. How can you represent the views of the middle class?" She reminds us that they didn't start out rich, then pivots from the personal to the political: "The economy does better when we have a Democrat in the White House."

10:00 — Clinton is asked about how she doesn't want to "break up the big banks," as Sanders does. Clinton says her plan is "tougher," and would actually "empower regulators to break up big banks if . . . they posed a risk."

10:01 — Sanders says he "fought" "the Clinton administration" on financial regulations. Clinton comes back that she went to Wall Street in 2007, before the crash, and said, "Cut it out!" Bernie laughs and shakes his head while she's speaking, and once she's done, he tells her: "Congress does not regulate Wall Street. Wall Street regulates Congress."

10:07 — Webb complains again about not getting enough time. Cooper: "You agreed to these rules, and you're wasting your time!"

10:08 — Chafee is asked about his vote on Glass-Steagall in 1999. Chafee's pathetic excuse: "I had just arrived in the Senate!" Cooper: "What does it say about you that you were casting a vote about something you weren't sure about?"

10:18 — Clinton supports in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. O'Malley agrees and presents this as a contrast with "Donald Trump, that carnival barker."

10:21 — Clinton says she doesn't regret her vote for the Patriot Act. "It was necessary to make sure that we were able after 9/11 to put in place the security that we needed." She says Bush's warrantless surveillance went too far, but doesn't comment on Obama's warrantless surveillance.

10:23 — Chafee on Edward Snowden: "I would bring him home. A federal court ruled that what the government did was illegal." Clinton disagrees: "He broke the laws of the United States. He could have been a whistle-blower. . . . I don't think he should be brought home without facing the music." Sanders splits the difference: Snowden was a hero, but he should also face consequences for breaking the law. Webb, when given the chance to talk (as he keeps begging for), takes no position on Snowden.

10:25 — Chafee says: "We need a new paradigm in the Middle East." He calls out the Obama administration for bombing a hospital and using drone strikes on a wedding. I like his message, but he's not a strong messenger.

10:26 — Clinton is asked how she'd be different from President Obama: "I think that's pretty obvious! I think being the first woman president would be quite a change from the presidents we've had up to this point!"

10:28 — Webb tries to tamp down the excitement over Sanders and his ambitious proposals: "I don't think the revolution is gonna come, and I don't think Congress is gonna pay for all this stuff."

10:29 — Cooper gives a teaser for the next round after the commercial break: "Some of the candidates have smoked marijuana, as has probably everybody in this room! Has it influenced their views on legalization?"

10:34 – Cooper says he's glad to see all of the candidates "back" after the commercial break, and says he's particularly glad to see Clinton back. Clinton, seeming out of breath, says: "You know, it does take me a little longer!"

10:36 — "I certainly am not campaigning to be president because my last name is Clinton."

10:37 — Sanders, in what's surely a gross exaggeration, says: "I am the only candidate running for president who's not a billionaire."

10:38 — On the environment, Cooper again asks Webb if he's out of step with his party.

10:41 — Clinton: "Literally, President Obama and I were hunting for the Chinese!" (Poor word choice!) "They told us they were going to the airport. We found out that they were having a secret meeting." [Added later: This is what she was talking about. This is what people pictured. Was this Clinton's "binders full of women" moment?]

10:43 — The candidates all talk about their support for paid family leave.

10:45 — Sanders says he "suspect[s]" he would vote for a Nevada referendum to legalize marijuana, if he lived in Nevada. (The moderator notes that he's admitted to smoking marijuana, but only twice.)

10:46 — Clinton says she supports medical marijuana but doesn't yet support legalizing recreational marijuana. (The moderator notes that she's denied ever doing it.)

10:53 — All the candidates are asked which "enemy" they're most proud to have made. Clinton's answer: "Well, in addition to the NRA, the health insurance companies, the drug companies, the Iranians, . . . probably the Republicans."

10:59 — O'Malley uses his closing statement to give evidence that America is on a progressive path: "Talk to Americans under 30, and you will never hear people who want to deny rights to gay people or bash immigrants."

11:02 — Hillary Clinton closes the evening with a statement reminiscent of Bill Clinton: "If you work hard and you do your part, you should be able to get ahead. . . . America's best days are ahead of us."

John Dickerson, host of Face the Nation, asks:
Anyone see an opening for Joe Biden after this debate?
I think things are easier for Biden now, because the question of why he should be running (rather than standing back to let Clinton glide smoothly to the presidency) no longer seems like such a big deal, after we've seen 4 other candidates all challenging her while standing right by her.

And while Clinton was very strong tonight, we already knew from 2008 that both Clinton and Biden are skilled at debating. This debate showed that Clinton has no strong challenger, which strengthens the rationale for Biden stepping in.

Alex Knepper sums up the night:
On the whole, Hillary tried to appeal to people's heads, with the knowledge that Bernie would have their hearts. Overall I think she did very well -- articulate, knowledgeable, and didn't allow Sanders -- or the audience -- to pull her too far to the left.
My verdict:

Winners: Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley, Anderson Cooper

Losers: Bernie Sanders, Lincoln Chafee, Jim Webb, Sheryl Crow

UPDATE: I originally called Sanders a "wash," but I'm moving him to the "losers" category. He didn't do much to win more support from the left than he already had; he was wounded on guns; and I can see many progressives who had been tentatively supporting him realizing that Clinton is the more sensible choice.

Monday, October 12, 2015

How did Europe come to dominate the world by 1914?

In two words, war and taxes:

Between 1492 and 1914, Europeans conquered 84 percent of the globe, establishing colonies and spreading their influence across every inhabited continent. This was not inevitable. In fact, for decades, historians, social scientists, and biologists have wondered: Why and how did Europe rise to the top, even when societies in Asia and the Middle East were far more advanced?

So far, satisfactory answers have been elusive. But this question is of the utmost importance given that Europe’s power determined everything from who ran the slave trade to who grew rich or remained mired in poverty. . . .

Mostly, it derived from the incentives that political leaders faced in Europe—incentives that drove them not just to make war, but also to spend huge sums on it. Yes, the European monarchs built palaces, but even the huge Chateau at Versailles cost King Louis XIV less than two percent of his tax revenue. The rest went to fighting wars. He and the other kings in Europe had been raised since childhood to pursue glory on the battlefield, yet they bore none of the costs involved—not even the risk of losing their thrones after a defeat. Leaders elsewhere faced radically different incentives, which kept many of them militarily weak. In China, for example, emperors were encouraged to keep taxes low and to attend to people’s livelihoods rather than to pursue the sort of military glory that obsessed European kings.

For this and a variety of other reasons, leaders outside of Europe could not match Europe’s innovations in warfare innovation. The huge sums of money showered on fighting in Europe gave military leaders the flexibility to buy new weapons and battleships and try out new tactics, fortifications, and methods of supply. In the process, they learned from their mistakes and improved their technologies. And because European countries were small and geographically close, they could easily learn from their rivals’ errors and copy their improvements. . . .

Europe’s ability to tax was no small achievement. China could not raise equivalent tax revenues, even in the nineteenth century. And countries in sub-Saharan Africa today still lack the basic capacity to tax, which keeps them from providing security and other basic public goods to their citizens.

Europe had yet another advantage as well: its entrepreneurs were free to use gunpowder technology to mount expeditions of conquest, colonization, and militarized trade. Although they usually needed official permission to launch a voyage, entrepreneurs were often encouraged by authorities eager to find riches abroad. And they had no trouble acquiring weapons or finding battle-hardened veterans to train military novices who joined their undertakings. By the seventeenth century, such private expeditions had spawned gigantic enterprises that raised huge sums on Europe’s burgeoning capital markets to finance ventures abroad, enterprises such as the Dutch East India Company, which was not only a private arm of Dutch foreign policy, but also the first business to issue tradable shares of stock.

A final difference between Europe and the rest of the world lies in political history. From 221 B.C. onward, China, more often than not, was unified in a large empire. The Chinese empire soon developed a centralized bureaucracy that drew local elites into government service and gave them a stake in the empire’s survival. The rewards of government service helped hold the empire together, and as long as the empire was strong and unified, other East Asian powers hesitated to attack it. This meant that China had little incentive to seek out new enemies or opportunities.

Western Europe, by contrast, experienced no such lasting unification after the collapse of the Roman Empire. What it endured instead were centuries of warfare by bands of warriors whose leaders resembled modern-day warlords. The incessant fighting groomed leaders who were victorious in war. The conflict also generated enduring enmities between leaders and their followers, enmities that eventually hardened into lasting political borders. It was such ill will—and not Europe’s physical geography—that kept any single leader from ever uniting Western Europe in the sort of durable empire that prevailed for centuries in China. In the long run, the winners in Western Europe were the military leaders who learned how to impose heavy taxes to fund their fighting, and as a result, Europe ended up with kings who spent pharaonic sums on warfare and who had, in the words of Machiavelli, “no object, thought, or profession but war.”

Without a single-minded focus on war and the extraordinary ability to tax, there may never have been any European empires. The wars and the taxes lavished on them gave the Europeans an enormous lead in military technology. This enabled their conquests, and allowed them to keep native populations under control without stationing large numbers of European troops abroad. Without such advantages, the Europeans might have grown rich anyway—and perhaps even industrialized early—but they would not have dominated the world in 1914.
Happy Columbus Day!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The question for Biden: "Why are you running?"

John Dickerson writes:

If [Joe Biden] does decide to jump in the race, there will be one critical question for which he doesn’t quite have an answer: Why are you running?
Well, let's look at Hillary Clinton's answer to the question:
I'm running to be the champion for Americans and their families, so that we can not just worry about treading water, but you can get ahead and you can stay ahead.
I'm sure Biden and his staff can write an answer at least as convincing as that.

Biden is no political novice — he was a Senator for decades, ran for president twice, and has been vice president for almost a full two terms. He's going to anticipate the "Why are you running?" question, and he'll have an answer that sounds good. It'll be entirely positive — focused on how his experience, policies, and principles will allow him to tackle the challenges facing the country. There's no way he's going to say that the reason he's running is that he noticed Hillary Clinton's poll numbers have been dropping, she's become surprisingly vulnerable, and none of the other candidates are viable. People think of Biden as a bumbling gaffe machine, but they forget that he was outstanding in the 2008 primary debates. So I don't think this one question is going to hold him back from running.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Guess the source of this quote!

Guess before clicking this link for the answer (and please don't give it away in the comments):

We cannot tolerate illegal immigration and we must stop it. For years . . . , Washington talked tough but failed to act. . . . [O]ur borders might as well not have existed. . . . Drugs flowed freely. Illegal immigration was rampant. Criminal immigrants, deported after committing crimes in America, returned the very next day to commit crimes again.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Guns and mental illness

Politico runs an article with this headline and subheading:

Allowing the Mentally Ill Guns Is Insane

The Oregon shooting is a tragic reminder that the laws on the books are woefully inadequate.
The article says:
The National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration caution against creating special laws aimed at the mentally ill, including laws related to gun violence. SAMHSA indicated that subjecting the mentally ill to extra scrutiny perpetuates the misconception that the mentally ill are especially violent. This stigma, mental health professionals warn, increases the tendency of the mentally ill to avoid treatment and counseling. Though this is a valid concern, the safety of the public must be weighed against it.
But if that's a "valid concern" weighing against barring the mentally ill from owning guns, how are current laws "insane," as the headline says? If there were a law saying no one who's been diagnosed with a mental illness (or any mental illness out of a certain list) can own a gun, wouldn't this predictably cause many people who want to own guns to avoid getting any mental-health treatment? And if mental illness is so strongly linked to mass shootings, then couldn't discouraging gun enthusiasts from getting treatment lead to an increase in mass shootings?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

On gun control, it's "heads, conservatives win; tails, progressives lose"

This blog post in National Review points out that the Oregon mass murderer obtained all of his guns legally, then snarkily concludes:

Presumably this will stop precisely nobody linking the incident to their preferred firearms-purchasing reforms.
Of course, if he had obtained the guns illegally, National Review and other conservatives would be saying that shows the gun laws were ineffective at stopping murder, because murderers brazenly violate the law.

That the current laws allowed him to obtain the guns is consistent with those who say the laws should make it harder to obtain guns.

Now, I don't know whether there's any good reform that would have stopped him from obtaining his guns, since this isn't a big issue of mine and I'm just not very well-informed about it. But I can state the obvious: pointing out that the law allowed a mass murderer to possess the gun he used to kill people does not make the case against cracking down on gun possession!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Yeonmi Park's escape from North Korea and "journey to freedom"

I first posted about Yeonmi Park's escape from North Korea last year. As I quoted from her back then:

I lived in North Korea for the first 15 years of my life, believing Kim Jong-il was a god. I never doubted it because I didn't know anything else. I could not even imagine life outside of the regime. . . . I had to be careful of my thoughts because I believed Kim Jong-il could read my mind.
When I posted that, I had no idea she would ever go to America, let alone that I’d have the pleasure of meeting her in NYC. Her memoir, In Order to Live, came out this week, and I just started reading it.


At a talk by Yeonmi the other day, my friend Peter Prosol took these notes (using first and third person):
Is it that difficult for other leaders to say one sentence to Xi Jinping when they meet him: if you encounter North Korean refugees in China, can you please not send them back?

If I had the things Americans throw away, I wouldn't have left North Korea. The way people have to live is unimaginably, indescribably bad.

A refugee she met in China was trying to injure herself to induce an abortion so as to be able to escape a man who kept her in captivity, enabled by the legal shadows China keeps refugees in.
Everyone should read this book.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Two great albums by British rock bands came out on this day.

Radiohead released their fourth album, Kid A, 15 years ago, on October 2, 2000.






Oasis released their second album, (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, 20 years ago, on October 2, 1995.



Johnny Carson explains how shyness made him want to perform

Johnny Carson: I grew up in the Midwest . . . I guess what you'd call a normal upbringing. . . . My folks were supportive of what I wanted to do.

Interviewer: Did you always know what you wanted to do?

Carson: Oh yeah, oh sure.

Interviewer: From the very beginning? How old?

Carson: I must have been about 12 or 13 years old, and I knew I wanted to entertain.

Interviewer: You liked the attention?

Carson: Oh, sure.

Interviewer: But why? Why you? I mean, why at age 12 or 13?

Carson: Because I was in a play or something and I got up, and people laughed . . . so it makes you the center of attention.

Interviewer: Yes, but why did you want the attention?

Carson: Why did I want the attention? Because I was shy. Because I was shy. Now, that sounds like ambivalence, right?

Interviewer: No, not at all.

Carson: On stage, you see, when you're on stage in front of an audience, you are kind of in control. When you're off of the stage, or you're in a situation when you're with a lot of people, you are not in control. And I felt awkward. So I went into show business thinking . . . I could overcome that shyness.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Whole Foods to stop using prison labor

Whole Foods has been selling products made with prison labor, creating the potential for inmates to leave prison with some savings and a recent line on their resume. But left-wing protesters have prompted Whole Foods to shut this down on the grounds that the prisoners' wages are, of course, very low. NPR reports:

Whole Foods Market has announced that by April of next year it will stop sourcing foods that are produced using prison labor.

The move comes on the heels of a demonstration in Houston where the company was chastised for employing inmates through prison-work programs.

Michael Allen, founder of End Mass Incarceration Houston, organized the protest. He says Whole Foods was engaging in exploitation since inmates are typically paid very low wages.

"People are incarcerated and then forced to work for pennies on the dollar — compare that to what the products are sold for," Allen tells The Salt.

Currently, Whole Foods sells a goat cheese produced by Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy in Longmont, Colo., and a tilapia from Quixotic Farming, which bills itself as a family-owned sustainable seafood company.

These companies partner with Colorado Correctional Industries, a division of the Colorado Department of Corrections, to employ prisoners to milk goats and raise the fish.

CCI's mission is to provide inmates with employment and training. The intent is to give them skills that could help them find employment once they're released. CCI employs about 1,600 inmates, according to a report by the Colorado state auditor. . . .

In an email, Whole Food's spokesperson Michael Silverman tells [NPR] that the company liked the idea of employing inmates. "We felt that supporting supplier partners who found a way to be part of paid, rehabilitative work being done by inmates would help people get back on their feet," he writes.

But Silverman says, "we have heard from some shoppers and members of the community that they were uncomfortable with Whole Foods Market's sourcing products produced with inmate labor."

And in order to stay "in-tune" with customers' wishes, the company came to its decision to stop selling the goat cheese and tilapia. . . .

And there are also questions about the justness of prison-work programs. Allen and other protesters in Houston hung signs that said: "End Whole Foods Market's Profiting From Prison Slave Labor."

By some accounts, though, they're progressive. For instance, CCI supporters point to a lower recidivism rate among inmates who are employed while they're incarcerated.

Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy's John Scaggs says the farm will begin to source more milk from dairies that don't rely on inmate labor — so that it can continue to sell some cheeses to Whole Foods. But Scaggs says he's still a supporter of the prison labor program that CCI has created in Colorado.

"This is a model example of a prison-work program," Scaggs says. "By purchasing goat's milk from the facility [that uses prison labor], we're supporting ... rehabilitative incarceration." He says prisoners are taught teamwork and getting job training.

Scaggs says the inmates make about $1,500 to $2,500 a year, but he isn't sure what the hourly rate of pay is.

"If an inmate is serving a sentence for a few years, they can come out with a few thousand bucks [in savings] and a whole new skill set," he says.