Monday, September 28, 2015

Trump's tax plan

I keep hearing that Donald Trump isn't a serious candidate, that he's a joke, that he's too egotistical and bombastic, etc.

I'm not a fan of Trump, and I don't plan to vote for him. But I don't think he's a joke, and I think the tax plan he announced today deserves serious consideration.

Oh, I'm not convinced by his statements that his plan won't increase the debt — I'm always unimpressed by politicians who argue, essentially, that their policies are so brilliant that they'll lead to so much economic growth that we won't have to worry about fiscal responsibility. That strikes me as wishful thinking.

However, I commend Trump for breaking with the Republican orthodoxy that there must be no tax increases: Trump has admitted that some rich people's taxes will go up, including his, while most people's taxes will go down.

I'm also glad to see that he's not cowed by Republican attacks on those who don't pay any net federal taxes as freeloaders or moochers; he calls for eliminating income taxes for single people earning $25,000 or less and married couples jointly earning $50,000 or less.

And here's something else I'd like to know, especially if you're someone who writes off Trump as unserious or crazy or a joke: Why isn't Trump exactly right in what he says shortly after 12:30 in this video — that we've been losing a ridiculous amount of money by maintaining bases in other countries like Germany and Saudi Arabia, and it's time to renegotiate those deals? How does it make sense for us to provide security to a variety of countries around the world without getting paid back? Why isn't the status quo crazy? Why isn't the status quo a joke?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Live-blogging the second main Republican presidential debate of 2016

I'm live-blogging tonight's main debate, which has all but a few of the Republican candidates. This is the first debate where Carly Fiorina is on the same stage as the other top candidates. A CNN announcer tells us that Fiorina is the only one who "graduated" from her last debate.

Keep reloading this post for live updates.

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

You can see more live-blogging by Althouse (my mom), Alex KnepperTPMNational Review, and Jim Gilmore.

[Here's the transcript.]

8:11 — They're debating in front of Ronald Reagan's presidential airplane.

8:14 — Marco Rubio uses his opening statement to make fun of himself: "I'm aware that California has a drought, which is why I brought my own water" — he holds up a water bottle.

8:16 — Donald Trump starts his opening statement by reminding us — but "not in a braggadocious way" — that he's made "billions and billions of dollars," and promising to bring the talents that let him earn all that money to the job of president.

8:20 — Carly Fiorina is asked whether Trump can be trusted with nuclear weapons. "All of us will be revealed over time and under pressure. I look forward to a long race."

8:21 — Trump: "Rand Paul shouldn't even be up here on this stage. He's got 1% in the polls." Trump wasn't asked about Paul, so that seems to be a brazen ploy to give more time to Paul — the moderator now has to let Paul speak since he was directly attacked.

8:22 — Paul calls out Trump for making fun of people's looks: "Short! Tall! Fat! Ugly!" Paul says Trump sounds like he's "in middle school." Trump responds: "I never attacked him on his look [sic], and believe me, there's plenty of subject matter there." [VIDEO.]

8:25 — Scott Walker pulls out a prepared zinger: "Mr. Trump, we don't need an apprentice in the White House — we have one right now."

8:26 — Trump attacks Walker's fiscal record as Governor of Wisconsin. "When people found that out, I went up in the polls; you went down the tubes."

8:28 — John Kasich says if he were watching the debate at home, which so far has been almost entirely about Trump and other candidates squabbling with each other, he'd "be inclined to turn it off."

8:29 — Chris Christie pithily deflects the charge of being a political insider: "I am a Republican in New Jersey — I wake up every morning as an outsider."

8:31 — Fiorina on "why people are supporting outsiders": "A fish swims in water — it doesn't know it's water. It's not that the politicians are bad people — it's that they've been in that system forever."

8:34 — Jeb Bush interrupts Trump, and Trump says: "More energy tonight — I like that!"

8:34 — Bush and Trump get into an extended, hostile dispute over Trump's supposed contribution to Bush in connection with Trump's casino project. Trump: "Don't make things up!" Bush: "Don't cut me off!"

8:36 — Trump is asked how he would get Russia out of Syria. His answer is that he would "get along with" Russian President Vladimir Putin, and President Obama doesn't.

8:37 — Marco Rubio has a sharper answer on Syria and Russia. Excerpt: "[Putin] is exploiting a vacuum that this administration has left in the Middle East."

8:38 — Fiorina tries to flaunt her foreign-policy fluency, reeling off several specific tactics she'd used against Russia.

8:42 — Ted Cruz promises to "tear up" our deal with Iran; Kasich says that "doing it on our own" would be the wrong policy.

8:43 — Paul suggests that Cruz's approach is "reckless." Paul would check to see if Iran is complying before he'd tear up the deal.

8:45 — Walker on Obama: "I'd love to play cards with this guy, because he folds on everything."

8:48 — Trump is asked if Obama should have bombed Syria after Syria crossed Obama's "red line." Trump says Obama had to do so after he made the "red line" statement, but Trump wouldn't have declared the red line in the first place.

8:49 — Paul: "ISIS would be in charge of Syria if we had bombed Assad."

8:53 — Huckabee predictably defends Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and attacks the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges as "legislating from the bench." Since "we made an accommodation for the Fort Hood shooter to let him grow a beard," Huckabee thinks we should let a government official deny couples their constitutional rights under Obergefell.

8:56 — Bush says someone else in Kim Davis's office should issue the same-sex marriage licenses instead.

8:59 — Cruz says we shouldn't be funding "a criminal enterprise," referring to Planned Parenthood.

9:00 — Christie: "I have vetoed Planned Parenthood funding 8 times in New Jersey." He says Hillary Clinton "supports systematic murder of children in the womb to preserve their body parts in a way that maximizes profit."

9:02 — Fiorina gets very passionate when challenging Obama or Clinton to watch a video in which Planned Parenthood employees talk while a live fetus is on the table. [Fact check.] She gets huge applause for this, although the audience has otherwise been pretty reserved. Alex Knepper says:

Fiorina is killing it, and may have sucked all the air Walker needed away from him.
9:05 — Trump attacks Bush for saying we shouldn't spent too much money on "women's health issues." Bush says he was only referring to Planned Parenthood, but Trump keeps asking why Bush made the comment.

9:07 — Fiorina is asked about Trump's infamous comment about her: "Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!" (Trump later said he was being "jocular" and was talking about her "persona.") Fiorina's response is perfect, and maybe the best line of the night: "Mr. Trump said that he heard Mr. Bush very clearly in what Mr. Bush said [about women's health]. I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said." Trump tries to salvage himself by saying: "I think she's got a beautiful face and she's a beautiful woman." [VIDEO.] My mom observes:
Carly utterly refrains from giving an appreciative smile. She's got her game face.
9:14 — Ben Carson talks about visiting the Mexican border and seeing "the kinds of fences that, when we were kids, would have barely slowed us down."

9:15 — Carson says it would be "worth discussing" deporting all illegal immigrants — if anyone had a practical way to do it.

9:16 — Bush: "My wife is a Mexican-American. She's an American by choice. She wants to embrace the values that make this country unique." Bush asks Trump to apologize for suggesting that his views on immigration are influenced by his wife's background.

9:18 — Bush says Trump's immigration plan would "destroy community life" and "tear America apart." Trump responds: "They'll come back legally!"

9:19 — Trump is asked about his comment that Bush should speak English. "I did it a little bit half-heartedly but I did mean it to a large extent. . . . This is a country where we speak English! Not Spanish."

9:26 — Trump is asked about birthright citizenship. Trump says that the Constitution doesn't provide for birthright citizenship and that an act of Congress could undo the policy. He says the 14th Amendment issue would probably need to be decided by the Supreme Court. Fiorina responds that getting rid of birthright citizenship would involve a very "arduous" process of amending the Constitution (which, she doesn't mention, the President has nothing to do with).

9:30 — Fiorina is asked why a voter who cares about private-sector experience should prefer her over Trump, since she was "viciously fired." Fiorina says her company, Hewlett-Packard, had to make "tough choices" (firing lots of people), but she lists the ways she improved the company. [Fact-check.] "Steve Jobs called me the day I was fired to say: hey, been there, done that." Trump disagrees: "The company is a disaster. They still haven't recovered." Then Trump has a devastating line: "She can't run any of my companies." Fiorina fires back hard: Trump ran his casinos by "running up debt with other people's money," so why should we expect him to be any more careful with the American people's money? Alex Knepper notes that the details of this Fiorina vs. Trump tiff probably matter less than the candidates' demeanor:
Voters might not necessarily understand the ins-and-outs of the details thrown around in the Fiorina-Trump dispute over their business histories, but they surely noticed that she was able to get him flustered while she kept her cool and defended herself confidently.
9:34 — Christie snaps at Fiorina and Trump: "We don't want to hear about your careers! You're both successful people — congratulations!" Christie says he's more interested in talking about the career of the "55-year-old construction worker" watching this debate. Fiorina points out that Christie has been talking about his career.

9:39 — Mike Huckabee tries to cut the Gordian knot of the candidates' claims about their experience: "We've all done great things, or we wouldn't be on this stage." Reagan "didn't get elected telling everyone how great he was. He got elected by talking about how great the American people were."

9:41 — Carson, a neurosurgeon, accidentally refers to Huckabee as "Dr. Huckabee." Huckabee wryly comes back: "You don't want me operating on you."

9:42 — Trump says hedge-fund managers "all know" him, but won't like him as much as president. "I know people making a tremendous amount of money and paying almost no tax, and I think it's unfair."

9:44 — Carson says "both sides" should "negotiate a reasonable minimum wage, and index that, so that we never have to have this conversation again in the history of America."

9:46 — Moderator Hugh Hewitt asks Kasich why he doesn't attack Clinton. This is a softball question because it's basically asking him to give a speech about what's so great about him (which, of course, is what he's more interested in talking about than Clinton). "Don't worry about me and Hillary. I'm from Ohio — she won't beat me there."

9:47 — Fiorina says Clinton has to "defend her track record" — "her track record of lying about Benghazi, lying about emails . . ."

9:49 — Christie says there should be a "former federal prosecutor," like him, on the debate stage in the general election. "I will prosecute her. She knows she's wrong and she cannot look in the mirror at herself, and she cannot tell the American people the truth."

9:51 — I just realized this debate isn't two hours, like the last one, but three hours! Alex Knepper says:
Time to pop out whatever Carly Fiorina is on so I can stay up.
9:53 — Moderator Jake Tapper brings up Rubio's attack on Trump for flunking a pop quiz in a radio interview by one of the other moderators, Hugh Hewitt. "We had a misunderstanding about his pronunciation of a word. Hugh was giving me name after name — Arab name, Arab name, Arab . . . And there are few people anywhere who would have known those names." [VIDEO.]

9:56 — Rubio bears down on Trump's lack of knowledge, and Trump comes back: "I am not sitting in the Senate with the worst voting record." Trump says he'll know more by the time he's president. Rubio shows that a politician can make an uplifting speech about anything by saying he missed so many Senate votes because "the political establishment is completely out of touch with the lives of the American people."

9:59 — Hugh Hewitt points out Bush's "last name," and asks if his foreign-policy advisors would include anyone who hasn't also advised his family members. Bush says he "has to look to 41 and 43 — my dad and my brother." It's not really true that he's limited to the last two Republican presidents — Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have both had Republicans as foreign-policy advisors.

10:02 — Trump tells Bush: "Your brother gave us Barack Obama, because it was such a disaster in those last three months, Abraham Lincoln couldn't have been elected." Bush defends George W. Bush: "There's one thing for sure: he kept us safe." (With one exception.)

10:05 — Trump repeats his line from the last debate that he's the only candidate who opposed the Iraq War from the beginning. Carson points out that he urged George W. Bush not to invade Iraq. Trump leans over to shake Carson's hand. [ADDED: Carson wasn't an advisor to George W. Bush; Carson just sent him a letter.]

10:08 — When the moderator asks about our invasion of Afghanistan, Christie tells a chilling story about how his wife went through the World Trade Center to go to work two blocks away on September 11, 2001, and he spent 5 hours wondering if he was going to be a single parent.

10:21 — Ted Cruz says he shouldn't have voted to confirm Chief Justice John Roberts, because he isn't conservative enough. Cruz touts his experience clerking for former Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

10:31 — Paul says he won't enforce federal marijuana laws against states that have repealed their marijuana laws. Paul says there's at least one candidate on the stage who's been hypocritical on this issue, since that "privileged" candidate has smoked pot, but "wants to put poor people in jail." A moderator asks if Paul will identify that candidate by name, but Bush does it for them: "40 years ago, I smoked marijuana. My mom isn't happy about me admitting that. . . ." Of course, Bush emphasizes that this was 40 years ago, so it's not a big deal. He's 62. Has he stopped to think about the 22-year-olds today, who are the same age he was 40 years ago, who could be thwarted by the government from having the opportunity to have anywhere near Bush's success?

10:32 — Christie supports mandatory drug treatment for first-time drug offenders. "I'm pro-life, but . . . it gets a lot tougher when they get out of the womb."

10:34 — Christie suggests that Paul is wrong to paint him as a hardliner on medical marijuana, since Christie has supported New Jersey's medical-marijuana laws. As Paul points out, that doesn't change Christie's stated position on what he would do as president, which would be to enforce federal law against the states regardless of state policy. So President Christie would presumably crack down on medical marijuana in New Jersey, which, of course, is illegal under federal law.

10:35 — Fiorina: "My husband Frank and I buried a child to drug addiction. . . . We are misleading [Americans] when we tell them that smoking marijuana is just like drinking beer. And the marijuana today is not the marijuana that Jeb Bush smoked 40 years ago."

10:40 — Trump, a multi-billionaire, generously offers to stop receiving Social Security.

10:43 — While Christie speaks in defense of Rubio on climate change, Rubio appears nervous, grimacing and rubbing his hair. I'm sure he doesn't realize CNN is keeping him on camera in a split screen.

10:46 — Jake Tapper asks Carson about Trump's comments linking vaccines to autism, "which the medical community adamantly disputes." Carson agrees that the studies don't support that connection. "I think [Trump] is an intelligent man who can make a decision after reading the facts." Trump says: "I am totally in favor of vaccines — but I want smaller doses over a longer period of time. . . . And I think you would see a big impact on autism." Carson agrees that there are too many vaccines given in too short a period of time. [VIDEO.]

10:49 — Paul calls vaccines "one of the greatest medical discoveries of all time." "I'm all for vaccines, but I'm also for freedom."

10:55 — The candidates are asked what woman they'd put on the $10 bill. Huckabee says he'd put his wife, and Trump says he'd put his daughter. (They'd need to be dead for two years first.) Fiorina says she wouldn't put a woman on the $10 or $20 bill, because "women aren't a special-interest group." Multiple candidates say Rosa Parks, and others say Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, and Abigail Adams. No one gives the right answer.

10:59 — The candidates are asked what their Secret Service code name should be. Bush: "Everready. It's very high energy, Donald!" Trump sticks out his palm, and Bush gives him a low five. Then Trump says he'd want his code name to be "Humble." [VIDEO.]

10:04 — Carson admits: "I was a radical Democrat before I started listening to Ronald Reagan. And he didn't sound like other Republicans — he sounded logical."

10:07 — Trump, asked to talk about what will happen if he's president, adopts a gentle tone: "The world will respect us, and it'll be, actually, a friendlier world."

10:09 — Fiorina sums up her candidacy with an extended metaphor about "Lady Liberty and Lady Justice." Lady Justice wears a blindfold because "it doesn't matter who you are; it doesn't matter what you look like. . . ." This seems to be not just an obvious reference to the potentially historic nature of her candidacy, but also a subtle reprise of her retort to Trump's comments about her face.

Without reading any mainstream punditry, I feel confident in saying that Carly Fiorina won the evening.

Alex Knepper agrees:
Winners: Carly Fiorina

Losers: Scott Walker, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump

Wash: Everyone else
My mom's verdict:
Who most improved his case? I asked the question out loud and immediately thought: Rand Paul. Meade answered: Rand Paul. But he's got a long way to go. Did anyone hurt his case significantly? I don't think so. It's more: Who needed to make some real progress here and didn't? Maybe Walker.
I don't agree that Paul especially helped himself. He was good, but he was also good in the first debate, and that didn't improve his poll numbers. With such a crowded field, I don't expect Paul to get any bump from tonight.

I agree that Walker needed to make something happen tonight, and he didn't do much of anything.

Rich Lowry says:
Carly had a terrific night. . . . I’d be shocked if she doesn’t keep rising in the polls.

Rubio was excellent. Everything he said was well-received. He knows the issues and is a smooth, relatable communicator. Of course, he got good reviews last time, but didn’t get a bump in the polls, perhaps because he didn’t have one signature moment. He didn’t tonight, either. But it’s clear that he is going to excel in these forums.

Bush had a tough time grappling with Trump. Even when he had cutting points to make about Trump, even when he had cause to be righteously indignant over Trump’s attacks on his wife and brother, he couldn’t quite pull it off. He had nice moments–his reminder that W. kept us safe, his jokes about his mom probably being disappointed in his admission he smoked pot and about “everready” being his prospective Secret Service name because it’s high energy. But he didn’t show mastery. The contrast with how Mitt Romney manhandled Rick Perry in the debates and Bush’s inability to wrestle Trump to the ground is striking.

As for the others: Carson seemed much more like he was during most of the last debate, without the strong finish; Cruz was good, although a number of his answers got cut off at the end by Jake Tapper and I’m not sure he made a big impression; Christie was crisp and forceful; Kasich seems in a rush to occupy the Jon Huntsman space in the race; Walker was fine, but didn’t stand out; Huckabee was his fluid, folksy self, but there don’t seem to be anything transformative; Rand Paul isn’t much of a factor.

Finally, Trump. He wasn’t any better than last time, and he presumably won’t be able to spin a narrative of victimhood coming out of this debate. One hopes for his sake that there is someone around him who can approach him tomorrow and say, “Sir, I regret to inform you that you actually have to know something to run for president and that I have no choice [but] to recommend that you read a policy briefing or two.”
Jonah Goldberg had a similar reaction:
I’m pretty much on the same page as Rich. . . . I think Fiorina was the winner. Rubio was, again, surefooted and relatable (except for that awful water joke at the beginning). I actually think that, after Fiorina, Chris Christie may have helped himself the most. He doesn’t need a huge pop in the polls right now. He merely needs people to be open to giving him a second look, and I think he did that. Maybe he’ll gain a point or two in the rankings, but the real sign he helped himself will be whether he gets bigger crowds in New Hampshire and an uptick in donations.

I am very disappointed in both Ben Carson and Rand Paul for not being more forceful on the issue of vaccinations — one of the only topics Trump discussed with any specificity. Both of these guys claim to be unconventional politicians — Carson more plausibly than Paul — and legitimately tout their medical careers. But their response to Trump smacked of political pandering.

As for Trump, who knows? From my perspective he continued to confirm that he has no place on the stage. He was boorish, uninformed and often pretty tedious. But he was also at times entertaining, and his fans have a keen gift for editing out the parts of his act they don’t like. I don’t think he’ll go down in the polls because of anything that happened last night. But I suspect his ceiling of support got a little lower and a little thicker.
"GOP insiders" agree with me:
Carly Fiorina nailed it in the second Republican debate.

That's the assessment of GOP insiders in a special edition of the POLITICO Caucus, our weekly survey of the top operatives, activists and strategists in Iowa and New Hampshire. . . .

Sixty percent of Republican insiders called Fiorina the biggest winner of the evening — no one else was even close — pointing to everything from how she handled Donald Trump to her grasp of policy issues. . . .

Republicans were divided by geography over who was the biggest loser of the evening. Trump had the worst night, according to 40 percent of New Hampshire Republicans. Walker came in second with 20 percent. But in Iowa, Republicans thought Walker had the worst night — 42 percent said the Wisconsin governor flopped.

"Walker who? Was he even in the debate?" jabbed one Iowa Republican.

"It's hard to believe he was once the frontrunner in this race," agreed another.

The early Republican debate tonight

I'm not live-blogging this debate. I'll blog the main debate, starting at 8:10 pm. I just have one thing to say about the early debate:

The moderator notes that Rick Santorum is the only one of the four candidates on the stage of the early debate who supports increasing the federal minimum wage, and Santorum passionately defends his position on that issue, calling for more "income support" for "American workers."

Santorum reminds me of Liz Lemon's terrible boyfriend, Dennis Duffy (the beeper salesman). There's an episode of 30 Rock where he's asked what his politics are, and he answers, in his smarmy, sleazy tone: "Social conservative, fiscal liberal."

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Justice Breyer on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Colbert: You go to work every day, and manage to get your job done with a group of nine people, half of whom will disagree with you vehemently on a host of different issues. How come you guys manage to keep doing your job and the rest of the government can't?

Breyer: When we're sitting around that table — that's a good question. I don't know about — leave the rest of the government out of it. But I'll say: when we're sitting around that table, the nine of us discussing — I've been there over 20 years, 21 — I have never heard a voice raised in anger. I have never heard one member of our Court say something insulting about another — not even as a joke. Of course we disagree. We disagree about half the time. We're unanimous about half the time. And we're 5-4 — and it's not always the same four — maybe 20% or so. And we feel it possibly quite strongly. But the discussion is professional. It is serious. And it is not personal. And we are good friends, despite the fact that we agree some of the time and disagree others of the time.

Colbert: You know, you're yelling at me now.

De Blasio to Announce 10-Year Deadline to Offer Computer Science to All Students

To ensure that every child can learn the skills required to work in New York City’s fast-growing technology sector, Mayor Bill de Blasio will announce on Wednesday that within 10 years all of the city’s public schools will be required to offer computer science to all students.
And if any kid tries to follow their dream of creating an app that provides a creative alternative to a city-regulated market, de Blasio will do everything in his power to crush that dream.

Best. Botched suicide. Ever.

The New York Times reported in 1988:

A mentally ill young man who shot himself in the head in a suicide attempt suffered a brain injury that apparently eliminated his phobia of germs and his obsession with washing his hands, doctors say.

The .22-caliber slug destroyed the section of the brain responsible for his disabling obsessive-compulsive behavior without causing any other brain damage, his doctor said in a report in Physician's Weekly, a British journal of psychiatry. Victims of the disorder typically have an inexplicable compulsion to repeat activities over and over.

The afflicted man, now a straight-A college student, tried to kill himself five years ago, when he was 19 years old, said Dr. Leslie Solyom, a psychiatrist at Shaughnessy Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia."

The man, identified only as George, washed his hands hundreds of times a day and took frequent showers, Dr. Solyom said. The behavior had forced him to drop out of school and quit his job.

Dr. Solyom treated him for more than a year before he tried suicide.

''George was also very depressed and told his mother that his life was so wretched that he would rather die,'' Dr. Solyom related. ''She said, 'So look George, if your life is so wretched, just go and shoot yourself.' So George went to the basement, stuck a .22-caliber rifle in his mouth and pulled the trigger.''

The bullet lodged in the left front lobe of the brain. Surgeons removed it but could not get out all the fragments. ''When he was transferred to our hospital three weeks later, he had hardly any compulsions left,'' Dr. Solyom said. George had also retained the same I.Q. he had before becoming ill, Dr. Solyum said, and he returned to school, got a new job and is now in his second year of college.

Monday, September 14, 2015

How is Trump such an effective candidate?

Two advertising experts explain:

Many good ads or politicians will make a direct appeal to viewers' emotions—and of all the candidates in recent memory, Donald Trump may be the best at doing this. . . .

Think about the emotions anger and fear. They’re both low in appeal (no one wants to feel angry or fearful) but have high levels of engagement.

So what makes these two emotions so distinctive from each other? Empowerment. When you’re scared, you feel like you’re not in control. But when you’re angry, you feel the irresistible urge to speak out and take action. . . .

[Trump is] able to consistently evoke issues in a way that makes people feel anger, rather than fear. (Some of his opponents use fear; for example, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Ted Cruz told the crowd that the IRS “would start going after Christian schools, Christian charities, and…Christian churches.”)

And though Trump frequently raises issues that could elicit fear—terrorism, crime, economic collapse—he does so with indignation, which suggests that the audience should feel that way, too.

He’s angry, but not fearful.

That’s why he’s said that he favors soldiers that have been wounded over those that were captured: to Trump, surrendering under any circumstance connotes fear.

Then there’s Trump’s solution to the illegal immigrants who are supposedly overrunning the country: “throw the bums out, build a wall.”

As for China, he’ll argue that China is “stealing” jobs from the US (there’s the indignation)—and if he were in office, he wouldn’t let the nation “have its way with us.”

Furthermore, the feelings of anger he evokes lead to action on his behalf. Outraged voters are all too eager to post his videos on Facebook, retweet his tweets and promote his candidacy to friends and family.

Note what’s going on here: he simplifies complex issues, framing them in a way that’s intended to get a rise out of voters and infuriate them. But he presents solutions (often simplified, often unfeasible) in a way that comes across as clear—even obvious—and has the added benefit of making him appear in control.

In the end, it’s a calculated image that makes him an incredibly appealing candidate.

"The death of cowboy conservatism"

Now that Rick Perry has dropped out of the presidential race, Matt Lewis observes:

For a long time, . . . being a "good ol' boy" was decidedly better than being an effete urbanite, and Republicans liked this contrast. Times are changing. Republicans are running out of old, white, married, rural voters. Being a "cowboy conservative" ain't what it used to be. . . .

Younger, more diverse, and cosmopolitan voters aren't so much embracing liberalism as they are rejecting what might be described as a caricature of a Republican. It's an image, largely of Republicans' own creation, that repels these voters culturally and aesthetically. A 2014 survey of millennials, for example, demonstrated that "[o]ften, they decided they were liberals because they really didn’t like conservatives."

The stereotypes that George W. Bush helped cement about the "dumb" swaggering cowboy made it almost impossible for Rick Perry to reinvent himself. The two men were never particularly close, but the prospect of electing another Texas governor (literally, the next Texas governor after Bush) was always going to be a tough sell, especially since the two were stylistically very similar. Bush left office extremely unpopular, and didn't just damage the Republican brand; he did specific damage to a particular type of Republican. . . .

In the end, Perry's accent and swagger were too much a part of our collective conscience for even hipster glasses to overcome.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The folly of predicting presidential elections

Alex Knepper observes:

Every presidential election cycle so far has increasingly taught me how full of shit 98% of political pundits are when they make predictions -- especially short-term predictions. And most have zero sense of irony or self-awareness about the nature of what they are doing. They mostly act as if they are doing God's work. . . .

One of the reasons bad popular narratives evolve is because there's a demand for them. A lot of people (maybe most people), pundits included, are lazy, plus there's a kind of bet-hedging involved in attaching yourself to the dominant narrative: Hey, you were wrong, but so was everyone else, right?
Ever since the 2004 primaries, when the media acted like Howard Dean was the only Democratic candidate who mattered (until the actual voting started), I've been highly skeptical of the media's election predictions.

The one thing you can count on: in every presidential election, there's going to be at least one major turn of events that's a huge shock, that goes against all the conventional wisdom. At least one thing.

Knepper points to this argument by Jay Cost in the Weekly Standard as an example of a dubious prediction:
Trump is never going to be the nominee. Voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina care about the issues a lot more than Trump does. If he is still in first place by the new year, the candidates, their super-PACs, and outside groups will blanket the airwaves with attacks on his many deviations from conservative orthodoxy. That will surely be the end.
Knepper says:
I think it's wishful thinking to believe the voters care about the issues more than about style. . . . I'm not saying that Trump is going to be the nominee, necessarily. But how can people keep saying that with such confidence after the conventional wisdom about Trump has proven wrong over and over and over and over again, week after week?
I agree: the extent to which voters vote based on "the issues" is overstated. They vote for the whole person, and they vote for the person they like. And voters are smart to do this, since there's a limit to how much we can know in advance about whether a candidate will do about "the issues" once in office. Candidates break their promises, they find it isn't as easy to pass their agenda as they thought, unexpected circumstances come up, etc. So it can be naive to put too much emphasis on (what seem to be) the candidates' positions on "the issues."

Jay Cost's prediction that Trump will be destroyed once the public hears about his "deviations from conservative orthodoxy" also seems to be based on two incorrect assumptions: (1) that "deviations from conservative orthodoxy" are fatal to a Republican candidate, and (2) that the public hasn't already heard about Trump's deviations. "Deviations from conservative orthodoxy" didn't stop Romney or McCain from being nominated. And Trump's flip-flops have already been the subject of blistering attacks by the media and candidates like Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, but none of that seems to have made a dent in Trump's poll numbers.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Happy 70th birthday to Leo Kottke

One of the greatest acoustic guitarists.

How two comedy greats went back to work after September 11, 2001

September 11th news

David Letterman on September 17, 2001:

Welcome to the Late Show. This is our first show on the air since New York and Washington were attacked. And I need to ask your patience and indulgence here. . . . If we are going to continue to do shows, I just need to hear myself talk for a couple of minutes, and so, that's what I'm going to do here. It's terribly sad here in New York City. We've lost 5,000 fellow New Yorkers. And you can feel it. You can see it. . . . And watching all of this, I wasn't sure that I should be doing a television show. . . .

In the 20 years that we've been here in New York City, we've worked closely with the police officers and firefighters. And fortunately, most of us don't really have to think too much about what these men and women do on a daily basis. And the phrase "New York's finest" and "New York's bravest" — you know, did it mean anything to us personally, first-hand? Well, maybe, hopefully, but probably not. But boy, it means something now, doesn't it? They put themselves in harm's way to protect people like us. . . . And my hope for myself and everybody else . . . is that we never, ever take these people for granted. . . .

The reason we were attacked, the reason these people are . . . missing and dead, and they weren’t doing anything wrong, they were living their lives, they were going to work, they were traveling, they were doing what they normally do . . . as I understand it, and my understanding of this is vague at best — another smaller group of people stole some airplanes and crashed them into buildings. And we’re told that they were zealots, fueled by religious fervor. Religious fervor. And if you live to be a thousand years old, will that make any sense to you? Will that make any goddamned sense?

I’ll tell you about a thing that happened last night. There’s a town in Montana by the name of Choteau. It’s about a hundred miles south of the Canadian border. And I know a little something about this town. It’s 1,600 people. And it’s an ag-business community, which means farming and ranching. And Montana’s been in the middle of a drought for, I don’t know, three years? And if you’ve got no rain, you can’t grow anything. And if you can’t grow anything, you can’t farm. And if you can’t grow anything, you can’t ranch, because the cattle don’t have anything to eat. And that’s the way life is in a small town, 1,600 people. Last night at the high school auditorium in Choteau, Montana, . . . they had . . . a rally . . . to raise money for New York City. And if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the . . . the spirit of the United States, then I can’t help you. I’m sorry.

Rolling Stone notes that Letterman got married 8 years later in Choteau, Montana.

Notice how Letterman started out: "If we are going to continue to do shows . . ." That seems like a silly thing to say now. But back then, he was invoking a serious concern: it didn't seem to make sense for anyone to do a comedy show anymore. Everything seemed to have turned completely serious all of a sudden, and it was hard to imagine ever getting out of it. That's probably how people often feel in response to the death of a loved one — but that happens privately, not to the whole country at once.

It's interesting to compare how Letterman and Stewart dealt with the situation. In many ways, they were similar: they both highlighted inspiring Americans and lambasted the terrorists' way of life. But their emotional quality was different. Letterman was clearly rattled, but he also had a steadily controlled determination. Jon Stewart seemed absolutely raw and barely able to get through a sentence. He was speaking three days later than Letterman, but he seemed like he was speaking the day after the attacks. They were both great in their own ways.

This was Jon Stewart on September 20, 2001:

I'm sorry to do this to you. It's another entertainment show beginning with an overwrought speech of a shaken host, and television is nothing if not redundant. . . . They said to get back to work. And there were no jobs available for "a man in the fetal position under his desk crying" — which I gladly would have taken. So I come back here. . . .

We sit in the back and we throw spitballs, but never forgetting the fact that it is a luxury in this country that allows us to do that — that is, a country that allows for open satire. And I know that sounds like it goes without saying, but that's really what this whole situation is about. It's the difference between closed and open. It's the difference between free and burdened. And we don't take that for granted here. . . .

I wanted to tell you why I grieve, but why I don't despair. . . . One of my first memories is of Martin Luther King being shot. I was five. . . . That was a tremendous test of this country’s fabric. And this country’s had many tests before that and after that. And the reason I don’t despair is because — this attack happened. It’s not a dream. But the aftermath of it, the recovery, is a dream realized. And that is Martin Luther King’s dream. Whatever barriers we’ve put up are gone, even if it’s just momentary. And we’re judging people by not the color of their skin, but the content of their character.

And you know, all this talk about: “These guys are criminal masterminds. They got together, and their extraordinary guile, and their wit and their skill.” . . . It’s a lie! Any fool can blow something up. Any fool can destroy. But to see . . . these firefighters, these policemen, and people from all over the country, literally, with buckets, rebuilding. That’s extraordinary. And that's why we’ve already won. It’s light, it's democracy. . . . They can’t shut that down. They live in chaos, and chaos, it can’t sustain itself. It never could. It’s too easy, and it’s too unsatisfying.

The view from my apartment was the World Trade Center. And now it’s gone. They attacked it! This symbol of American ingenuity and strength and labor and imagination and commerce, and it is gone! But you know what the view is now? The Statue of Liberty. The view from the south of Manhattan is now the Statue of Liberty. You can’t beat that.

So we’re going to take a break . . . and we’re going to get back to this. And it's going to be fun and funny, and it’s going to be the same as it was.

Now the World Trade Center is back. And we've recently said goodbye to David Letterman and Jon Stewart. They quietly played a role in helping America work through its feelings after the unthinkable happened.

(Photo by my mom, Ann Althouse.)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Iran puts you in prison for a political cartoon, then keeps you there longer after a handshake

"Amnesty International reports that Atena Farghadani, 29, who was jailed after she depicted Iranian government officials as monkeys and goats in a satirical cartoon, may face a longer sentence amid claims over the handshake.

Charges of an “illegitimate sexual relationship short of adultery” have been brought against Farghadani and her lawyer Mohammad Moghimi amid allegations he visited her in jail and shook her hand - which is illegal in Iran."


(Uncredited photo from the link.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Hillary Clinton's apology

There's something odd about Hillary Clinton's apology. At the end of her Facebook post, she links to a page on her website that explains why she did absolutely nothing wrong. So why exactly is she apologizing? It's easy to say "I'm sorry" — but what is she sorry for if she did nothing wrong? Does she just mean she's sorry that it's hurt her politically? I think we already knew that.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

How Trump has changed the whole Republicans primaries . . .

. . . as told by Republican insiders:

"It was going to be Jeb and someone else; now a lot of people think it'll be Trump and someone else, maybe two others," a strategist for one Republican campaign said. . . .

“There is a dynamic of these typical politicians, they’re just not interesting,” said Craig Robinson, a prominent GOP activist in Iowa and the editor-in-chief of The Iowa Republican. “With Trump, everything he does is interesting. I don’t know what Jeb Bush would do that’s interesting to me. What they’ve done all summer just hasn’t worked.” . . .

“Three of four months ago I never imagined we were headed for a circus, but it is – one that includes elephants, everything,” said GOP media guru Alex Castellanos. “I don’t think we ever imagined how not only angry, but how desperately anxious Republicans are about losing our country. A hunk of Republicans just want a strongman as big as our fears.”

Monday, September 7, 2015

Paul Krugman explains why Donald Trump's economic policies are better than most Republican candidates'

Krugman writes (via):

[Jeb] Bush has chosen to attack Mr. Trump as a false conservative, a proposition that is supposedly demonstrated by his deviations from current Republican economic orthodoxy: his willingness to raise taxes on the rich, his positive words about universal health care. And that tells you a lot about the dire state of the G.O.P. For the issues the Bush campaign is using to attack its unexpected nemesis are precisely the issues on which Mr. Trump happens to be right, and the Republican establishment has been proved utterly wrong.

To see what I mean, consider what was at stake in the last presidential election, and how things turned out after Mitt Romney lost.

During the campaign, Mr. Romney accused President Obama of favoring redistribution of income from the rich to the poor, and the truth is that Mr. Obama’s re-election did mean a significant move in that direction. Taxes on the top 1 percent went up substantially in 2013, both because some of the Bush tax cuts were allowed to expire and because new taxes associated with Obamacare kicked in. And Obamacare itself, which provides a lot of aid to lower-income families, went into full effect at the beginning of 2014.

Conservatives were very clear about what would happen as a result. Raising taxes on “job creators,” they insisted, would destroy incentives. And they were absolutely certain that the Affordable Care Act would be a “job killer.”

So what actually happened? As of last month, the U.S. unemployment rate, which was 7.8 percent when Mr. Obama took office, had fallen to 5.1 percent. For the record, Mr. Romney promised during the campaign that he would get unemployment down to 6 percent by the end of 2016. Also for the record, the current unemployment rate is lower than it ever got under Ronald Reagan. And the main reason unemployment has fallen so much is job growth in the private sector, which has added more than seven million workers since the end of 2012.

I’m not saying that everything is great in the U.S. economy, because it isn’t. There’s good reason to believe that we’re still a substantial distance from full employment, and while the number of jobs has grown a lot, wages haven’t. But the economy has nonetheless done far better than should have been possible if conservative orthodoxy had any truth to it. And now Mr. Trump is being accused of heresy for not accepting that failed orthodoxy?

So am I saying that Mr. Trump is better and more serious than he’s given credit for being? Not at all — he is exactly the ignorant blowhard he seems to be. It’s when it comes to his rivals that appearances can be deceiving. Some of them may come across as reasonable and thoughtful, but in reality they are anything but.

Mr. Bush, in particular, may pose as a reasonable, thoughtful type — credulous reporters even describe him as a policy wonk — but his actual economic platform, which relies on the magic of tax cuts to deliver a doubling of America’s growth rate, is pure supply-side voodoo.

And here’s what’s interesting: all indications are that Mr. Bush’s attacks on Mr. Trump are falling flat, because the Republican base doesn’t actually share the Republican establishment’s economic delusions.

The thing is, we didn’t really know that until Mr. Trump came along. The influence of big-money donors meant that nobody could make a serious play for the G.O.P. nomination without pledging allegiance to supply-side doctrine, and this allowed the establishment to imagine that ordinary voters shared its antipopulist creed. Indeed, Mr. Bush’s hapless attempt at a takedown suggests that his political team still doesn’t get it, and thinks that pointing out The Donald’s heresies will be enough to doom his campaign.

But Mr. Trump, who is self-financing, didn’t need to genuflect to the big money, and it turns out that the base doesn’t mind his heresies. This is a real revelation, which may have a lasting impact on our politics.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


I wish they could appreciate everything I'm doing for them tonight. First I set up a humane, no-kill mouse trap in my kitchen (baited with a generous dollop of peanut butter drizzled with honey), then I carefully cut the plastic rings from a 6-pack of club soda to remove any holes that animals could get stuck in.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Have moderate Republicans been losing the presidency because conservative voters stayed home in protest?

Ramesh Ponnuru says no:

Conservatives sometimes argue that Republicans lost the last two presidential elections because they nominated moderates who did not inspire conservatives to vote. On NRO today, Bernard Goldberg places blame on those conservatives who stayed home. He writes that “millions of the ideologically pure — who normally would vote Republican — did in fact sit home, if not handing the elections to Barack Obama, at least making it a lot easier for him to win.”

The premise of both arguments–Republicans shouldn’t have nominated moderates because they can’t turn out conservatives, and conservatives shouldn’t have sat out the elections–does not appear to be correct, based on the exit polls. There was no drop-off in conservative turnout in either 2008 or 2012. Conservatives were 34 percent of the electorate in 2004, 34 percent in 2008, and 35 percent in 2012. They voted Republican at a normal rate in 2012 too: Romney got 82 percent of them, a bit lower than George W. Bush’s 84 percent in 2004 but higher than his 81 percent in 2000. (McCain did a bit worse in 2008, with 78 percent.) Goldberg’s argument could end up being true about 2016, but it has not been true in the last two elections.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Viral obituaries

Slate on "viral obituaries":

Take Michael “Flathead” Blanchard, who “enjoyed booze, guns, cars and younger women until the day he died.” Then there’s Kevin J. McGroarty, who died in 2014 “after battling a long fight with mediocracy,” and who noted in his apparently self-penned obituary that the church he was baptized in burned to the ground, his elementary school had been torn down, and his middle school converted into an apartment building. . . . This is the obituary as inspiration—or at the very least, as pleasant distraction. Whether or not these writers were aiming for online immortality, they’re mixing and matching certain elements that produce it: humor, optimism, authenticity, young love, elderly cantankerousness, and tweet-sized life lessons. . . .

But not all death notices that catch on with a broader audience are so playful. Take the obituary for Coleen Sheran Singer, posted at the Bangor Daily News in late July. Singer was a 32-year-old Maine drug addict whose bracingly angry obituary reported “she was a victim of herself, of [Maine Gov. Paul] LePage’s politics, of our society’s continuing ignorance and indifference to mental illness, and of our society’s asinine approach to drug addiction.” The portrait was both more frank and more loving than those written by journalists could be, feeling both like a tribute and a kind of cleansing that the writer could never allow him or herself while the subject was alive: “While Coleen was capable of great compassion and would give the shirt off her back to one less fortunate, she was also at times a con artist, thief, and liar,” her then-anonymous obituarist wrote.

The newspaper ran a follow-up news story a couple of days later in which the writer, her friend and ex-husband, explained that he wanted people to get a true picture of Singer’s complicated life, including her good qualities. “Not just think of her as some junkie,” he told the paper, “or have her die without even the sort of public tribute that most people receive.” He excoriated Maine’s Republican governor for vetoing an expansion of Medicaid that, he wrote, would have allowed Singer access to a methadone clinic she wanted to enter but couldn’t afford on her own. The personal and the political have mingled in other popular obits, but the tone is usually cheekier. When Elaine Fydrych died on Aug. 13, her obituary noted, “Elaine requests, ‘In lieu of flowers, please do not vote for Hillary Clinton.’ ”

Some of these postmortems are blunt about the kinds of deaths that traditional obituaries often euphemize as “sudden.” Clay William Shephard died at 22 of a drug overdose, his family wrote in May. “He successfully completed drug rehab several times, but the craving that comes from true addiction was more than he could overcome.” Singer’s obit noted she “died in Lewiston in an unsuspecting suburban professional couple’s home of a heroin overdose”—on Christmas morning. Others refuse to gloss over the failures of the deceased. A brief but raw 2013 obituary for Marianne Theresa Johnson-Reddick, written by her son and daughter, claimed, “Everyone she met, adult or child was tortured by her cruelty and exposure to violence, criminal activity, vulgarity, and hatred of the gentle or kind human spirit.”