Monday, February 17, 2020

I'm gonna rock and roll all night — even if I'm on fire!

A Kiss tribute band member caught on fire in the middle of a song in concert ... and just kept on singing and playing guitar until crew members put out the fire.

Do Americans overestimate what we spend on "foreign aid," or do they just have a different definition of "foreign aid"?

From 2018:

You’ve probably heard the statistic: “On average, Americans think 28 percent of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid, when it is about one percent.”

Reporters repeat versions of this “foreign aid” factoid all the time, sometimes with a certain anti-populist glee. As Ezra Klein notes, the foreign aid budget estimate is the “example budget wonks turn to when they want to underscore the public’s ignorance.” [Washington Post link.] ... A 2012 opinion piece in USA Today cited the foreign aid statistic to make the case that “not everyone should” vote.

In other words, the public’s foreign aid budget estimate underwrites an awful lot of doubt about the capacity of Americans to judge public policy.

The problem is, that statistic is quite misleading.... Americans commonly think of foreign aid as including military spending—and no surprise, given America’s enormous military budget, this inflates their estimates of the foreign aid budget....

When leaders use the language of humanitarianism to describe military endeavors, it is no wonder many Americans see defense department expenditures as a kind of foreign aid, and assume our foreign aid budget is enormous.

Also, people like to say foreign aid is only about 1% of the whole federal budget, but Wikipedia says it's about 8% of the federal deficit. That's significant. And we’ll be paying that back with interest in the future.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Would I vote for Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump?

This is my response to a Facebook post asking who you’d vote for in November if Bernie Sanders is the nominee and you have to choose between him and President Trump. (The question is interesting because of the uncomfortable limitation to only those two choices, so I may reject comments that bring up other options.)

I’m no fan of Sanders, and I voted for the Libertarian nominee, Gary Johnson, in the last 2 presidential elections.

In the unlikely event that Sanders is the nominee even though he’s behind in overall delegates and isn’t the type of candidate who wins the Democratic nomination ... I’d vote for Sanders.

I don’t know if Sanders would be a better president than Trump. I don’t need to have an opinion about that in order to choose Sanders over Trump. There’s something larger at stake, which is the need to send a message to the world and to history: “Whoops, we screwed up in 2016. We need a different tone and direction.”

If Trump is a two-term president, he’ll appear to have a halo 😇 in retrospect: people assume that Obama and Reagan were great presidents whether or not they really were. One-term presidents who lose their reelection bids are almost inevitably seen as failures and footnotes to history, whether that’s deserved or not.

Making Trump a one-term president will have positive ripple effects that could last for decades, far beyond the next president’s administration. That would change the thinking of future presidential candidates, and it would change how the Trump administration is viewed in history books.

Making Trump a two-term president will legitimize the idea that the president should sink to the lowest common denominator in his rhetoric, and try to close off America from other countries through his policies.

We need to make Trump a one-term president. We already know what we need to know about President Trump, and we have only one more chance to act on that knowledge. We don’t yet know what President Bernie Sanders would be like, but if he turns out to be bad, we’ll be able to deal with that problem in other elections.

Plus, Sanders would be the first Jewish president and he might legalize marijuana.

(Photo of Sanders in June 2019 by Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Andrew Yang drops out

Andrew Yang has dropped out of the 2020 primaries.

He wasn't my candidate. When I endorsed Pete Buttigieg, I dismissed Yang with a single parenthetical in the last paragraph.

But Yang brought a fresh approach to the primaries which made the debates more interesting.

Here are some highlights from Yang in my live-blogs of the debates:

June 2019:

9:18 — Andrew Yang — wearing no tie! — is asked how he'd pay for his plan to give a universal basic income of $1,000 a month to every American adult. He says companies like Amazon are paying no taxes, and he'd fix this by creating a value-added tax (VAT), creating "a trickle-up economy."

10:57 — Yang says he'll build "a broad coalition" including "libertarians" — the only time they're mentioned by any of the Democratic candidates.

July 2019:
8:22 - Andrew Yang: "We need to do the opposite of what we've been doing now. The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian math nerd. So let me share the math…" This segues into explaining how he'll give all Americans $1,000 a month.

8:45 - Yang says when he told his wife he wanted to run for president, her first question was: "What are we going to do about our health care?"

9:00 - Yang says Democrats shouldn't only be talking about the most "distressed" immigration stories; they should talk about people like his dad, an immigrant who got a lot of patents in the US.

9:33 - Yang is asked why he'd be the best president to heal racial divides. Shockingly, Yang's answer is … he'd give everyone $1,000 a month.

10:41 - Yang goes meta: "We're up here with makeup on our faces, saying prepared attack lines, playing roles on a reality TV show."

September 2019:
8:10 - Andrew Yang makes a splash with his opening statement: "In America today, everything revolves around the almighty dollar.… We have to see ourselves as owners and shareholders of this democracy, rather than as inputs into a giant machine." He offers to give $1,000 a month to 10 families who go to his website and submit essays about how they could use the money.

10:07 - Yang points out that every candidate has proposed to solve climate change by curbing the influence of money. "But money finds a way! … The answer is to wash the money out with people-powered money."

10:30 - Yang talks about his first business failing and remembers "how isolating it was — it feels like your friends no longer want to spend time with you."

October 2019:
8:34 - Andrew Yang is asked, since he wants to give $1,000 a month to all Americans, whether he supports Bernie Sanders's "federal jobs guarantee." No, Yang says: "Most Americans do not want to work for the federal government." Yang imagines the Sanders plan will lead to "failed retraining programs and jobs that no one wants," while Yang's plan of simply handing out money would empower individuals to make the best choices for them.

8:57 - Yang says Warren's principles are right, and a wealth tax sounds good in theory — but numerous countries that have tried it (including Germany, France, and Sweden) have repealed it because it didn't work.

10:18 - Yang says we should be getting money back for the data we give to companies like Facebook.

November 2019:
9:45 - Yang: "There are only 2 countries that don't have paid family leave for new moms, and those are the United States and Papua New Guinea.… We need to get off that list as soon as possible!" Yang brings up the importance of young children hearing a large number of words, but he doesn't say whether he'd support Biden's proposal to address that need with record players.

10:31 - Yang makes a powerful statement about the need to reach out to alienated young men so they don't turn to hate and violence.

(Photo of Yang in August 2019 by Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Is there a homophobic undertone to Joe Biden's attack on Pete Buttigieg?

Now that Pete Buttigieg has been victorious (yes, victorious) over fourth-place Joe Biden in Iowa, and New Hampshire polls show Buttigieg continuing to gain momentum heading into the first primary, Biden has released an attack ad that paints Buttigieg as a mayor with misplaced priorities.

Biden's ad says Buttigieg "installed decorative lights under bridges" to create "colorfully illuminated rivers," and he "la[id] out decorative brick" on sidewalks.

So Biden is repeatedly trying to associate the word "decorative" with Buttigieg, the first openly gay candidate with a serious chance at becoming president.

The repetition of that word — "decorative" — could not have been an accident.

One of the oldest stereotypes about gay men is that they're interested in interior decorating.

Yes, I know: someone's going to say I'm reading too much into it, oversensitive, etc. I know that response.

I also know that political attack ads are designed to operate on a subtle and sometimes subliminal level.

One more thing. There are jarring shifts in the music as the announcer juxtaposes Biden and Buttigieg. As usual for a political ad, we hear dramatic, soaring music that sounds like it's from a movie soundtrack when the ad tells us about the great things Biden did. And that's fine. What's more interesting to me is that when the announcer switches to mocking Buttigieg, the music slows down and sounds a lot like the very beginning of one of the most famous pieces of classical music, from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, called "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy."

Friday, February 7, 2020

Live-blogging the first 2020 presidential debate after the Iowa caucuses

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

Any quotes I write down might not be word-for-word, since I'm doing this live without a pause or rewind button. But I'll trying to keep them reasonably accurate, and I might fix them later.

8:06 — Joe Biden is asked why he said Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg are too big of a risk. He dodges the question and instead says: "I took a hit in Iowa, and I'll probably take a hit here" in New Hampshire. I know candidates try to manage expectations, but it's odd for the former frontrunner to predict an outright loss in the first primary!

8:10 — George Stephanopoulos asks if anyone is worried about having a "democratic socialist," Bernie Sanders, "at the top of the ticket." Amy Klobuchar seems to be the only one who says yes. "We are not going to be able to out-divide the divider-in-chief."

8:13 — Andrew Yang says the whole "dichotomy" between capitalism and socialism is "out of date."

8:17 — Pete Buttigieg says we need to reject "a politics that says, 'If you don't go all the way to the edge, it doesn't count' — a politics that says, 'It's my way or the highway.'" Stephanopoulos asks if he's "talking about Bernie Sanders." Buttigieg doesn't dance around it: "Yes!"

8:19 — Buttigieg says there's finally a majority of Americans in favor of covering everyone's health care — "just so long as we don't command people to accept a public plan if they don't want it."

8:20 — Biden goes after Sanders on Medicare for All: "Bernie says he wrote the damn thing, but he isn't willing to show us what the damn thing costs! … It would cost more than the entire federal budget that we pay now! … When you ask Bernie what it'll cost, he says … we'll find out later!"

8:23 — Amy Klobuchar mockingly quotes Buttigieg saying, years ago, "Henceforth, forthwith, affirmatively, indubitably, I am for Medicare for All, for the ages!" (Here's the real tweet from 2018.)

8:28 — Klobuchar brings up the impeachment trial which recently ended, and strikes a bipartisan note by praising the 2012 Republican nominee: "There was courage from Mitt Romney, who took a very, very difficult vote." Then Klobuchar pivots to attacking someone from her own party, Buttigieg, for saying on the trail that he was "exhausted" from watching the impeachment news and felt like changing the channel to "cartoons." Buttigieg clarifies what he meant: "The American people from outside Washington, we feel exhausted watching the division and dysfunction there.… The reason I bring up exhaustion is because I see the temptation to walk away."

8:39 — Yang on prosecuting Trump administration officials: "If you look around the world, the countries that throw their past leaders in jail are usually developing countries. And once you start doing that, it's a hard pattern to break."

8:42 — Tom Steyer on President Trump: "Is he a crook? I knew that 2 years ago. Is he going to be more of a crook now that he knows he can get away with things? Of course he is!"

8:44 — Klobuchar is asked about Hillary Clinton's comments about how "nobody likes" Bernie Sanders. Klobuchar says: "I like Bernie just fine!" Biden walks over and hugs Sanders to show how much he likes him.

8:50 — Buttigieg is asked if Soleimani would still be alive if Buttigieg had been president in the same situation. Buttigieg doesn't give a yes or no answer: "It depends on the circumstances." Biden is more decisive: "No… There is no evidence yet of an imminent threat."

8:56 — I'm not a big fan of Elizabeth Warren, but she has a strong moment talking about how much she's traveled through the Middle East, including with Republicans like John McCain and Lindsey Graham: "No one can describe what winning looks like. All they can describe is endless war."

9:02 — Buttigieg: "President Trump's imagination of national security is a big wall and a moat full of alligators. It's a 17th-century idea of national security." This is a power move by Buttigieg: he's focusing on how he would attack Trump in the general election, while we haven't heard him attacking any of the other Democratic candidates, even with a crucial primary coming up in a few days.

9:15 — Buttigieg is asked if he supports the "decriminalization of all drugs." He says "no," he wouldn't use "incarceration" to punish possession of drugs, but he wouldn't legalize selling drugs like heroin and cocaine. The moderator pushes back against his answer, saying his website does say he supports decriminalizing all drugs. ADDED: This fact check says Buttigieg "was right, and the debate moderator was wrong" about what's on his website. I don’t understand why the moderator kept arguing with Buttigieg over that, interrupting his answer. Do all the candidates get that kind of treatment?

9:17 — The moderator says Yang has called for "treatment" as a solution to the opioid crisis — but "there aren't enough beds" to hospitalize everyone.

9:24 — Warren points out that there are many gun deaths in "communities of color," but "there are no headlines about those." Later, Steyer falsely claims that no one has said anything about race in tonight's debate.

9:38 — Buttigieg is asked about the fact that the disparity between black and white people being incarcerated for marijuana was more severe while he was Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and increased while he was in office. He admits there was "systemic racism" in his administration. But he emphasizes that marijuana arrests overall were lower in South Bend than the national and statewide averages. And he says he made drug enforcement more focused on gang violence. Then the moderator asks Elizabeth Warren if Buttigieg just gave a "sufficient answer." That's like telling the audience there’s some kind of problem with Buttigieg's answer — moderators shouldn’t tip their hands about which answers they find satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

9:41 — Yang to Warren: "You can't regulate away racism with a patchwork of laws that are race-specific."

9:52 — Warren snarks: "I'm glad to stand on this stage with my fellow Democrats who talk about how much they care about the African-American community — at least at election time…"

Haven't been updating this post in a while, and I can just repeat what I said in the last debate: "I've been zoning out on the rather dry discussion of who's for what trade deals."

Stephanopoulos prompts each candidate to give a canned statement on child poverty. This debate hasn't had any drama for a while now.

And it's over. Not the most exciting debate, and I'd be hard-pressed to say anyone "won" or "lost" tonight.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Biden should drop out

Joe Biden should drop out, to make room for more effective candidates who are relatively similar to him, to stop the far-left, avowedly socialist Bernie Sanders from running away with the nomination. Now, nominating Sanders would be wonderful — for Donald Trump.

From 2000 to 2016, every Democrat who won the Iowa caucuses went on to win the nomination.

And the only time anyone has ever won the Democratic nomination without being in the top 3 in Iowa was when Sen. Tom Harkin overwhelmingly won his own state in 1992, leaving everyone else in low single digits. That's the rare exception that proves the general rule.

The full results still aren't in yet (days later!). But with 71% reporting, Biden is a distant fourth, with about 15% to Pete Buttigieg, who's currently at 28% (in state delegate equivalents).

The point isn't just that Iowa is a big deal. If Biden underperformed so badly there, he's going to keep underperforming. When you face the daunting task of beating the incumbent president in a good economy, you don't want an underperformer.

It's time to bring Biden's third presidential campaign to a graceful end. The sooner the better.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Pete Buttigieg for the 2020 Democratic nomination

I've watched every 2020 debate and have done at least 859 Facebook posts about the 2020 election. I won't be voting until New York's relatively late primary in April, and most of the current candidates will have dropped out by then. But I've been thinking about how I would choose among the candidates who are running now, if I could vote/caucus in one of the early states.

I recently posted about how I was having trouble deciding between two candidates.

For anyone who wants Trump to lose his reelection bid, as I do, I think a reasonable choice would be either former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of Indiana, or Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

(For purposes of this post, I'll assume the problems with Trump are well-known and don't need to be repeated here. I can go into detail on that in a future post about who I'm going to vote for in the general election.)

I haven't found any major policy or ideological differences between Klobuchar and Buttigieg. For instance, they both want to reform health care with a public option. They've each proposed an array of criminal justice reforms.

You could try to find some distinctions among the policies they've posted on their websites — but those promises are, at best, only rough guides to what their presidencies would be like. So there's a limit to how useful it is to go through such a wonky exercise.

If not policy, what other basis is there to pick one of the two candidates? Experience. Temperament. Tone. Character.

Klobuchar's case is a pragmatic one based on experience. Her basic pitch is: she's a Senator who knows how to work together with both parties to get things done, and that's more important than being the candidate with the most attention-getting presentation on the surface.

Buttigieg's case is based on more intangible qualities. He aims to be uplifting and Obama-like in his rhetoric. He presents himself as unflappable and level-headed. He emphasizes moral virtues like courage, which, as he never fails to remind us, he's shown in his military service and in coming out as gay when he was up for reelection in the red state of Indiana.

Common criticisms of Buttigieg are that he's young and inexperienced. President Buttigieg would be inaugurated the day after his 39th birthday, making him the youngest president ever. You could fairly worry about that. You could also argue he'd be in good company: Teddy Roosevelt was the youngest president ever, and is widely considered one of the best.

And how inexperienced is Buttigieg really? In addition to his Navy service in Afghanistan, he was a mayor of a Midwestern city with a population of about 100,000 people.

We've never had someone who went directly from mayor to president, with nothing in between at a higher level than mayor. So his experience might not be ideal. Yet he has been the chief executive of a city government for 8 years, and there's some parallel between that and being president.

Buttigieg's experiences don't come close to being president — but then, no job is true preparation for being president. Every president goes into the job with limited experience. Governors and mayors are limited in that they have to be focused on their own geographic areas — a small percentage of the country.

So, are members of Congress better because they work on national issues? Ah, but the process of a Senator's work is different from the presidential process. A Senator's world is legislation — writing it, arguing over it, voting on it. Of course, the president has to decide what legislation to sign and what to veto. But the president has to operate on so many other levels, interacting with so many different entities — Congress, government agencies that you and I haven't even heard of, foreign countries… It's almost dizzying to think about all that.

No candidate starts out fully ready. Any new president will need to learn the ropes on the job, and will make some mistakes along the way.

Klobuchar has headed one governmental organization (a prosecutor's office at the county level), but she hasn't been a chief executive — mayor, governor, head of a company, etc. Buttigieg knows what it's like to run a government, to set a whole administration's priorities.

Of course, Klobuchar has an edge in that there are many federal policy issues that would be more familiar to her. Buttigieg has gotten some education in federal issues just by being a candidate, and he seems intelligent enough to get up to speed quickly as president. Still, you could reasonably argue that even for the long term, President Klobuchar would be more effective at deal-making with Congress than President Buttigieg would be.

But speaking of working effectively with people, who would work best with their own staff? Klobuchar has reportedly mistreated some of her staffers, who've alleged that "in fits of anger, she threw things—including binders—in the direction of staff members, accidentally hitting an employee on at least one occasion." (That's a Facebook link to this Atlantic article, but going directly to the Atlantic link will count against your limited monthly articles unless you're a subscriber.)

As far as I know, Klobuchar hasn't strongly denied these reports. Her response is highly vague: “Am I a tough boss sometimes? Yes. Do I ask too much of my staff sometimes? Yes.…”

The New York Times endorsement of Klobuchar argues that the focus on her behind-the-scenes behavior is sexist; Presidents Trump and Clinton have treated their staff harshly without catching as much flak. But if you have a strong desire to fire Trump and replace him with someone very different, then likening Klobuchar to Trump is not encouraging. Aside from that, the Times admits that she's had the #1 highest overall turnover of any Senator going back to the early 2000s, and it would be hard to blame that statistic on sexism when it's based on female and male employees working for many women and men.

The question isn't just whether President Klobuchar would be able to retain her staff, but also whether her advisors would refrain from telling her things she doesn't want to hear if they're afraid of her getting mad. Every president promises to choose advisors who will fearlessly, openly disagree with the president, but that's a hard promise to keep. A president surrounded by sycophants could be dangerously unchecked.

It's fine to put this in perspective by listing other politicians who've reportedly had issues with their behavior toward staff, but the fact is that Klobuchar is one of them. And I don't know of any reports of problems with Buttigieg's behavior or personality.

Seeing the first president in a same-sex marriage would not end homophobia any more than Obama's presidency ended racism. But it would be a great, historic milestone for America to elect its first openly gay president, just 5 years after marriage equality was finally recognized nationwide.

It's understandable to care at least as much about other barriers that would be broken by other candidates, including Klobuchar as the first woman. Most of the presidential firsts that could happen in the future (as far as gender, race, religion, etc.) can't happen in this one election. But if the first openly gay president isn't Buttigieg, it might not be anyone else for a very long time. When I see him and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, I wonder how much longer we'd have to wait for another opportunity like this.

Buttigieg is a gifted communicator, and that's essential for the president, the country's #1 communicator. For instance, here's Buttigieg making the pitch for his "Medicare for All Who Want It" plan:

Buttigieg has also been doing better in the primary polls than Klobuchar, including in the first, second, third, and fourth states. The gap between them has recently been narrowing, but it's still significant. Given how similar their views seem to be, there's an argument that anyone like me who's trying to decide between these two candidates should strategically vote for Buttigieg, to avoid the collective-action problem of splitting the vote and inadvertently giving the nomination to a different kind of candidate.

I'm sure Buttigieg is to the left of me on some issues. But he also seems to be an agile thinker and has avoided the dogmatic tone of some of the other candidates. For example, he's made nuanced comments on what kind of capitalist he is and how he sees the current state of identity politics.

On the whole, Buttigieg has come across as an upstanding public servant who'd approach the presidency with an earnestness and humility that's been sorely lacking in recent years.

I support Pete Buttigieg as the Democratic presidential nominee of 2020.

Why not any of the other candidates?

Joe Biden is thought of as being in the same "lane" as Buttigieg and Klobuchar. They do have one important policy disagreement: Biden would merely "decriminalize" marijuana, while Buttigieg or Klobuchar go further and say we should legalize it. (Buttigieg would even decriminalize possessing cocaine!)

Beyond any specific issue, Biden has often seemed bumbling, uncertain, and out of his element in debates. And he seems unhinged when he lashes out at his constituents or tells them not to vote for him. When I see Biden struggle so much to make the case for himself even in the relatively friendly environment of the Democratic primaries, I don't have confidence that he's up for the challenge of defeating the incumbent president in a good economy.

Even when you disagree with Buttigieg or Klobuchar, you'd at least admit they go into a debate knowing exactly what they want to say, and they say it well, fairly consistently. The same cannot be said of Biden. There's a lot more to be said about someone with as long and varied a record as Biden's, but I don't feel the need to give him much consideration when his basic political competence falls so short of what the nominee is going to need.

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are so far left that they have little chance of beating Trump. I'm not persuaded by the Warren/Sanders view that big corporations trying to be profitable are the enemy of the people, any more than I'm convinced by Trump saying the press is the enemy of the people.

Sanders and Warren have proposed policies I find extreme and unfair, like canceling all student debt. I don't see why we should give that much money to people who are largely some of the more well-off Americans. It would be particularly unfair to give that money to them, rather than to those who made immense sacrifices day after day, year after year, because they assumed they couldn't borrow money they wouldn't be able to pay back. Something should be done about student debt, but forgiving all of it no matter what is too drastic.

Warren would defund charter schools, most of which are public schools (WSJ link), regardless of how well they've done at educating children. I don't see how that's reasonable or even progressive. The only explanation I can see is that she prioritizes unions over kids.

Warren and Sanders both want to force everyone to get their health insurance from the government. We need health-care reform because too many people are uninsured, but that doesn't make it a good idea to take most people's health insurance away from them. What they call "Medicare for All" is far more expansive than merely letting all citizens use Medicare, and would be more aptly called "Repeal and Replace Obamacare." If they actually pursued such a radical policy as president, they'd fail, and they'd squander the opportunity to reform the system in a more realistic way. (In fairness, here's a Wall Street Journal op-ed in favor of "Medicare for All.")

One of Warren's signature policies is a wealth tax. I agree with her basic goal of making the rich pay a fairer share of taxes; I'm open to various ways of making that happen, including increases to the highest federal income tax brackets. But other countries that have tried a wealth tax have abandoned it. You can see the problem with a wealth tax even if you have no sympathy for billionaires. It would be a logistical nightmare to try to make them assess and pay a tax on their wealth which is stored in so many different places — not just bank accounts but stocks, houses, cars, heirlooms, and on and on. Predictably, the government would end up taking in less revenue than promised, and that revenue shortfall would be made up for with more taxes down the road.

Warren promises she won't raise taxes on the middle class, yet will somehow fund all her expansive government largess, but that's implausible. That's not the way we've done it in the US; Social Security and Medicare are funded by broadly based taxes. That's also not how they do it in Europe — European welfare states work by broadly imposing high taxes on everyone, not by having steeply progressive taxes that target the super-rich. (NYT op-ed on that.) Anyway, Warren is misleading voters by claiming she won't raise taxes on the middle class while she proposes a tax on employers' health-insurance costs, which would be passed on to middle-class employees.

Perhaps the worst idea of any of the candidates is Sanders's plan to take the widely reviled local policy of rent regulation and impose it on the whole country from the top down.

I haven't seriously considered Mike Bloomberg or Deval Patrick, who entered the race so late that I don't feel like their heart is in it. I don't want to encourage last-minute campaigns. It's fair to complain that our presidential elections last too long — but given that they do, anyone who wants to win an election should go through the trouble of participating in the whole thing and at least trying to get into every debate.

Some of the others strike me as gimmicky or one-note candidates (Andrew Yang's main pitch is he'd dole out a monthly allowance to everyone; Tulsi Gabbard's favorite talking point is she's against "regime-change wars"), or have made so little impression on the public that I'd lack confidence in their ability to go up against a figure as dominant as President Donald Trump.

(Photo of Pete Buttigieg by Gary Riggs via Wikimedia Commons.)

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

"Chinese City Uses Facial Recognition to Shame Pajama Wearers"

That headline is from … not the Onion, but the New York Times, which reports:

When officials in an eastern Chinese city were told to root out “uncivilized behavior,” they were given a powerful tool to carry out their mission: facial recognition software.

Among their top targets? People wearing pajamas in public.

On Monday, the urban management department of Suzhou, a city of six million people in Anhui Province, sparked outrage online when it published surveillance photos taken by street cameras of seven local residents wearing pajamas in public along with parts of their names, government identification numbers and the locations where their “uncivilized behavior” had taken place.

City officials quickly apologized, but not before stirring nationwide ire over the use of a state-of-the-art digital tool to stamp out a harmless and relatively commonplace practice — an unusual note of resistance in a country where the instruments of digital totalitarianism have spread largely unchecked.

On social media, the Suzhou department publicly called out, among others, a Ms. Dong, a young woman in a plush pink robe, matching pants and orange pointy flats, walking on a street, and a Mr. Niu, who was singled out for donning a black and white checkered full pajama suit in a mall.

“Uncivilized behavior refers to when people behave and act in ways that violate public order because they lack public morals,” read a post on WeChat, a common social messaging app, which has since been deleted.

“Many people think that this is a small problem and not a big deal,” the post said. “Others believe public places are truly ‘public,’ where there is no blame, no supervision and no public pressure.”

“This has brought about a kind of complacent, undisciplined mind set,” it concluded.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Which 2020 Democratic presidential candidate should I support?

Help! I can't decide which Democratic presidential candidate to support, and I'd like to take a position before the Iowa caucuses on February 3.

I've narrowed it down to 2 candidates: Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar.

Which of those 2 should I support and why? Feel free to make your own arguments or link to anything relevant, as long as it's specifically about Amy Klobuchar and/or Pete Buttigieg.

I may do a future post about how I decided who to support. But to be realistic, it's unlikely that both of those candidates will still be actively running by the time I have to vote in New York, which won't happen until after 35 other states. If only one of them is still running by that time (April 28), I plan to vote for that person.

UPDATE: Lots of good feedback in the comments on my Facebook post about this.

UPDATE: I decided.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Live-blogging the last 2020 Democratic debate before the Iowa caususes

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

This could be a crucial debate, just 20 days before the Iowa caucuses.

It's also the first debate since US-Iran tensions have flared after we killed Qasem Soleimani.

You should be able to watch it on CNN's website.

I'll be writing down quotes live, so they might not be word for word, but I'll try to keep them as fair and accurate as possible.

9:01 — Why is Bernie Sanders the "best-prepared" candidate to be "Commander in Chief"? He says he opposed the Iraq War, and recently proposed a bipartisan bill to limit the president's war powers.

9:03 — Joe Biden apologizes for voting for the Iraq War: "It was a mistake, and I acknowledge that." But Obama was against it and picked Biden to end the war.

9:04 — Wolf Blitzer points out that Sanders has admitted his vote for the Afghanistan War was a mistake, so how is he any better than Biden? Because the Iraq War was even worse! "I did everything I could to prevent that war," but Biden didn't. [VIDEO.]

9:09 — A pretty dull debate so far — I haven't written anything down on the first answers from Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, or Elizabeth Warren (or Tom Steyer, but I generally don't write down his answers anyway because I don't see how he's relevant).

9:12 — Bernie Sanders makes a strong statement: "The two worst foreign-policy disasters of the last 50 years are the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. Both of those wars were based on lies. And what I fear now is that we have a president who is lying again, and could drag us into a war that is even worse than Iraq."

9:16 — Elizabeth Warren flatly says we should "get our combat troops out" of the Middle East. Biden jumps in to point out that not all our troops stationed there are "combat troops."

9:18 — Buttigieg calls out President Trump for adding more troops after promising to "end endless wars."

9:19 — Wolf Blitzer asks Biden if he'd ever "take military action without congressional approval." Biden doesn't answer the question, and instead goes back to the need for "small numbers of special forces," so we have leverage in negotiations.

9:25 — Buttigieg mocks Trump for "gutting" Obama's Iran deal — after his administration "certified that it was working."

9:28 — Klobuchar points out that in the first debate, when everyone was asked to name the biggest threat to the United States, she was the only who said "Iran, because of Donald Trump." (She also said China as an economic threat.)

9:29 – Biden is asked if he'd "meet with the leader of North Korea without preconditions." What's the point of that question, when none of the candidates would possibly say they would? Biden says he won't meet with Kim Jong-Un, who called Biden "a rabid dog who should be beaten with a stick." Bernie Sanders quips: "But other than that, you like him!"

9:36 — I admit I've been zoning out on the rather dry discussion of who's for what trade deals.

9:44 — Bernie Sanders is asked about reports that he told Elizabeth Warren in 2018 that a woman couldn't win the presidential election. "Well, as a matter of fact, I didn't say it!"

9:46 — Moderator Abby Phillip, apparently not believing Sanders, asks Warren what she thought when Sanders said a woman couldn't win: "I disagreed!" She points out that the men on the stage have lost a total of 10 elections, while the women on the stage (she and Klobuchar) have never lost an election. And Warren is the only one on the stage who "beat an incumbent Republican." Wait, Bernie Sanders points out that he beat an incumbent Republican! This leads to an awkward moment when Warren asks: "When?" "1990." Warren has a lull while she seems to do some math in her head, before she points out that 1990 was 30 years ago. Then she says she's the only candidate on the stage who's beaten an incumbent Republican "in 30 years." I don't remember her saying that, so we'll have to check the video… [VIDEO.]

Me watching the debate:

9:58 — Biden scolds Sanders for proposing "doubling the entire federal budget every year." But Biden's next sentence is: "There's a way to do that…" and then he describes his plan. That makes it sound like he's saying his plan will double the federal budget!

10:04 — The moderator has a blunt question for Sanders: "How would you keep your plans from bankrupting the country?" Klobuchar joins in: "I think you should say how you're going to pay for things, Bernie!"

10:06 — Buttigieg is asked how it's "truth in advertising" to call his plan "Medicare for All Who Want It," when in fact it would force everyone who's uninsured to pay to be covered by the public option. "It's making sure there's no such thing as an uninsured American."

10:08 — Warren says the Buttigieg and Biden health plans "are an improvement, but they're a small improvement. That's why they cost so much less" than what Warren is promising. Buttigieg strongly disagrees: "It's just not true that my plan is 'small'!"

10:14 — Tom Steyer gives a shout-out to the Sanders and Warren plans, and says about health care: "This is not a complicated problem.… We're spending way too much because corporations own the system.… This is cruelty for money."

10:27 — Klobuchar says the Warren/Sanders idea of free public college for everyone "isn't thinking big enough." She lists jobs that have been underfilled, like home health aides and plumbers. Her point seems to be that Warren/Sanders are too college-focused, at the expense of pure job training.

10:49 — The moderator is asking the candidates about their potential weaknesses. Buttigieg is asked why he has "next to no" support from black voters. "The black voters who know me best are supporting me."

10:50 — Won't it hurt Sanders in the general election that he calls himself a "socialist"? Sanders says Trump is a socialist too — his socialism is about "giving hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry."

10:54 — Klobuchar is asked how she'll "inspire" voters with her "pragmatism." She talks about being in the Midwest, and she'd tell Trump: "You've treated these workers and farmers like poker chips.… These are my friends and neighbors."

10:56 — The moderator brings up Biden's questionable debating skills: "The debate against [Trump] will make tonight's debate look like child's play. Are you prepared for that?" Of course, Biden stumbles over his words in his answer.

11:05 — Klobuchar uses her closing statement to take an implicit shot at Sanders and Warren: "It is easy to draw lines in the sand and sketch out grand ideological plans that will never see the light of day."

11:06 — Buttigieg emphasizes that we need to not just defeat Trump, but "send Trumpism into the dustbin of history too."


I don’t like Elizabeth Warren's argument that she and Amy Klobuchar are the most electable because they’ve never lost an election.

Barack Obama lost an election. Bill Clinton lost an election. They ended up doing OK when they ran for president.

When Tim Kaine was Hillary Clinton’s running mate, he boasted that he had won every campaign in his life. Didn’t work out too well in 2016.

It might be better to have a nominee who’s experienced a crushing electoral loss, who can learn from their mistakes, who doesn’t feel invincible.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The Charlie Hebdo mass shooting, 5 years ago

The Charlie Hebdo massacre happened 5 years ago today.

12 people were killed, and others were injured, including a journalist who was shot in the face.

In response to a New Yorker article about it, I wrote this blog post at the time: "Revering the irreverent."