Friday, April 3, 2020

Bill Withers (1938 - 2020)

Bill Withers, the soul singer/songwriter/pianist, has died. The New York Times reports:

Bill Withers, a onetime Navy aircraft mechanic who after teaching himself to play the guitar wrote some of the most memorable and often-covered songs of the 1970s, including “Lean on Me,” “Use Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” died on Monday in Los Angeles. He was 81.

His death was announced in a statement from his family, which said he died of “heart complications.”

More from the obituary:
Mr. Withers, who had an evocative, gritty R&B voice that could embody loss or hope, was in his 30s when he released his first album, “Just as I Am,” in 1971. It included “Ain’t No Sunshine,” a mournful lament (“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone/And she’s always gone too long/Anytime she goes away”) that cracked the Billboard Top 10. Other hits followed, perhaps none better known than “Lean on Me,” an anthem of friendship and support that hit No. 1 in 1972 and has been repurposed countless times by a wide variety of artists.

There were also “Use Me” (1972), “Lovely Day” (1977) and “Just the Two of Us” (1981), among other hits. But after the 1985 album “Watching You Watching Me,” frustrated with the music business, Mr. Withers stopped recording and performing.

“I wouldn’t know a pop chart from a Pop-Tart,” he told Rolling Stone in 2015, when he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The New York Times on how he got started:
William Harrison Withers Jr. was born on July 4, 1938, in Slab Fork, W.Va. His father worked in the coal mines.

At 17, eager to avoid a coal-mine career himself, Mr. Withers joined the Navy....

He spent nine years in the service, some of it stationed in Guam. He quit the Navy in 1965, while stationed in California, and eventually got a job at an airplane parts factory. A visit to a club to see Lou Rawls perform was a catalyst for changing his life.

“I was making $3 an hour, looking for friendly women, but nobody found me interesting,” he said. “Then Rawls walked in, and all these women are talking to him.”

He bought a cheap guitar at a pawnshop, started learning to play it and writing songs, and eventually recorded a demo. Clarence Avent, a music executive who had just founded an independent label, Sussex, took note and set him up with the keyboardist Booker T. Jones, of Booker T. & the MG’s, to produce an album.

“Bill came right from the factory and showed up in his old brogans and his old clunk of a car with a notebook full of songs,” Mr. Jones told Rolling Stone. “When he saw everyone in the studio, he asked to speak to me privately and said, ‘Booker, who is going to sing these songs?’ I said, ‘You are, Bill.’ He was expecting some other vocalist to show up.”

Roger Ebert wrote this about Still Bill, a 2010 documentary about Withers:
"Still Bill" is about a man who topped the charts, walked away from it all in 1985 and is pleased that he did.

He didn't burn out. He hasn't burned out. He was free of the demons of drink and drugs. He is still happily married to his first and only wife. His grown kids still live at home -- Kori, who would like to follow her dad into music, and Todd, who is a law student. Marcia, his wife, has her MBA from UCLA and has manifestly looked after their finances, as we can guess after a look around their rambling hilltop home in a high-priced area of Los Angeles.…

He had a serious stutter until he was 20. We don't learn why it went away. Maybe music helped. The most emotional scenes in "Still Bill" show him accepting an award from a stutterers' association, and then talking with a roomful of kids who stutter. His advice is calm: He identifies with them, he observes that stuttering can make other people nervous, he says "we have to go just that little bit further to help them feel at ease."

He wipes away some tears in his eyes, and we suspect they have been unshed since childhood. Later he recalls being taunted to "spit it out!" -- as if stuttering were his decision. He says he decided while young to make the most of his opportunities, and did. He studied, joined the Navy, didn't own a guitar until 1970, and achieved his first hit record, "Ain't No Sunshine," in 1971.

Withers wasn't part of mainstream soul music. He used a few instruments -- guitar, bass, drums, piano -- and no driving beat. He depended on his pure baritone and his lyrics. Listen again to "Ain't No Sunshine," and you realize it is a rarity: a hit song that is essentially just a man singing.

Ebert was critical of only one part of the documentary:
Perhaps in an attempt to slip some "meaning" into the film, the documentarians Damani Baker and Alex Vlack arrange a conversation with the scholar Cornel West and Tavis Smiley from PBS. It feels like they're trying to lead Bill into heavy generalizations, but he won't go there. Withers seems as close to everyday Zen as I can imagine. He talks a great deal about his philosophy, to be sure, but it's direct and manifestly true: Make the most of your chances, do the best you can, stop when you're finished, love your family, enjoy life.

At 70, he sings once in the film, at a tribute to him in Brooklyn. And in his home recording studio, he and guitarist and songwriter Raul Midon collaborate on a song in Spanish, which I liked. He still has the voice, the chops and the presence. But he doesn't feel a need to spend days and weeks away from home proving that.... "I'm like pennies in your pocket," he says. "You know they're there, but you don't think about them."

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

One silver lining of this whole coronavirus thing ...

... has been the way it's vindicated all the political opinions you already had and totally destroyed the political opinions of people on the other side from you.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

10 movies from 10 decades you can stream

For years, I've been working on a list of "my favorite movie from each year of the last 100 years." It'll still take me a while to finish, but since we're all binging movies during the coronavirus situation, I'm going to give you a sneak preview…

So here's a sampling of one movie for each decade from my upcoming list. The final list will have a lot more to it than this — not just 10+ times as many movies, but also extra content about each one.

If you like this list so far, stay tuned — I'll be posting the list of all 100+ movies on this blog and my Facebook page once it's done.

From the 1920s: 

The Kid (1921) (Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan/dir. Chaplin)

Watch on Amazon Prime.

From the '30s: 

A Night at the Opera (1935) (Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Margaret Dumont, Allan Jones, Kitty Carlisle, Sig Ruman/dir. Sam Wood)

If you have a Roku, you can watch this movie on the channel called "My Retro Flix" (free with ads). Once you're in the channel, click "movies," then click "comedy," then scroll through to the 9th movie in that section. (If you'd rather pay than watch ads, you can rent it for $2.99 on Amazon.)

From the '40s:

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) (Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Kirk Douglas, Lizabeth Scott, Janis Wilson, Judith Anderson/dir. Lewis Milestone)

Watch on Amazon Prime. (And since this movie is in the public domain, you can find it in many other places too, like YouTube.)

This was the movie debut of Kirk Douglas, who died earlier this year at age 103.

From the '50s:

Some Like it Hot (1959) (Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, George Raft, Joe E. Brown/dir. Billy Wilder)

Watch on Amazon Prime.

From the '60s:

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) (Natalie Wood, Elliott Gould, Robert Culp, Dyan Cannon/dir. Paul Mazursky)

Watch on the Criterion Channel (with a free trial if you don't already subscribe).

From the '70s:

Manhattan (1979) (Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway, Michael Murphy, Meryl Streep/dir. Woody Allen)

Watch on Amazon Prime.

From the '80s:

Atlantic City (1980) (Susan Sarandon, Burt Lancaster/dir. Louis Malle)

Watch on Amazon Prime.

From the '90s:

The Shawshank Redemption (1994) (Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, Gil Bellows, James Whitmore/dir. Frank Darabont)

Watch on Netflix. (It's leaving Netflix at the end of April.)

From the 2000s:

Ghost World (2001) (Thora Birch, Steve Buscemi, Scarlett Johansson, Illeana Douglas/dir. Terry Zwigoff)

Watch on the Criterion Channel (with a free trial if you don't already subscribe).

From the 2010s:

Burning [Korean: 버닝 — Beoning] (2018) (Yoo Ah-in, Jeon Jong-seo, Steven Yeun/dir. Lee Chang-dong)

Watch on Netflix.

I think that's a pretty good mix of movies for now, although there's only one in any language other than English. I expect that the final list of 100+ movies across 100 years will include at least 10 different languages.

I don't know when the list will be done, but again, check back here...

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Notable people who've died of the coronavirus (Covid-19)

3 artists in 3 different fields from 3 continents have died as an apparent result of the coronavirus in the last few days.

Terrence McNally, an American playwright who won 4 Tonys, including for Ragtime in 1998, died in Florida at 81. (That link is to the New York Times obituary.)

Here he is last year, accepting the Lifetime Achievement Tony:

I love being a playwright.… I love it when I know something I wrote softened the hearts of parents who had banished their son and daughter from their lives when they came out to them as gay and lesbian.

Manu Dibango, a saxophonist from Cameroon best known for the funky dance track "Soul Makossa" (1972), died in Paris at 86. (NYT obit.) He sued Michael Jackson for alleged plagiarism of that song in "Wanna Be Startin' Something," the first song on Thriller, and sued Rihanna over "Don't Stop the Music," which uses the hook from the Michael Jackson song.

Here's a Manu Dibango concert from 2018 (he comes out onstage after 10 minutes):

Lucia Bosè, an Italian actress who had lead roles in movies by some of the most acclaimed directors, including Fellini and Antonioni, died in Spain at 89. (That source and others note coronavirus as a cause, but the New York Times obituary doesn't.)

Here are 2 Lucia Bosè movies you can stream:

The Lady Without Camelias (1953), directed by Antonioni, is on Amazon Prime.

Death of a Cyclist (1955) is on the Criterion Channel. (If you don't subscribe to the Criterion Channel, you should be able to get a 14-day free trial if you're in the US or Canada — see my recent post about this.)

Things I'm tired of hearing about the coronavirus

🦠 "More people die in car crashes!”* (But car crashes have been decreasing for years, while Covid-19 is doubling every few days.)

🦠 "Why are people hoarding toilet paper? They must have some irrational bias!" (Right, because it's not like people have a good reason for buying more toilet paper than usual when they and their family members have to be at home all the time, and governments are announcing increasingly strict lockdowns.)

🦠 "Look, it's not that hard, just wash your hands and don't touch your face!” (Actually, it's pretty hard to wash your hands often enough and never touch your face.)

🦠 "Quit whining, other people have had to go to war, while you're just sitting around on the couch!" (That's a little tone-deaf when many people are sitting at home worried about how they're going to pay the rent or feed their families because they lost their jobs as a result of the virus.)

🦠 "China has almost no coronavirus cases anymore, so let's figure out what they're doing right and copy that!" (Yes, let's trust official reports from an authoritarian government known for secrecy and censorship. Also, China has admitted it isn't counting asymptomatic cases, unlike other countries.)

* These aren't exact quotes; I'm summing up what I've been hearing a lot, and linking to relevant sources.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Movies to stream on Criterion Channel

If you’re looking for great streaming movies, try the Criterion Channel if you’re in the US or Canada. (It isn't available in any other countries.) If you don't already subscribe, you should be able to get a free 14-day trial by going to the website.

The free trial turns into a monthly or annual subscription unless you cancel. The annual subscription is $100, or a little over $8 a month. You also get bonus features for some movies, like commentary or interviews.

Here are some movies on CC that you might want to check out. Some of these are movies I've seen and loved, while others are ones I haven’t seen but want to. In chronological order:

Safety Last! (1923), and more silent movies starring Harold Lloyd

Metropolis (1927), M (1931), and more directed by Fritz Lang

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), Ordet (1955), and more directed by Dreyer

City Lights (1931), The Great Dictator (1940), and more Chaplin movies

The Lady Vanishes (1938), and more early Hitchcock

Stagecoach (1939) — John Wayne’s breakthrough

Brief Encounter (1945), and more directed by David Lean (though none of his best-known movies like Lawrence of Arabia or Dr. Zhivago)

Gilda (1948), and more starring Rita Hayworth

The Red Shoes (1948)

The Bicycle Thief (1948) — CC calls it "Bicycle Thieves," which is a more direct translation of the Italian title

Rashomon (1950), Ikiru (1952), and more directed by Kurosawa

A Place in the Sun (1951) — especially recommended if you like Woody Allen's Match Point, which seems to emulate A Place in the Sun in some ways

Tokyo Story (1953), and more directed by Ozu

From Here to Eternity (1953) — leaving after this month (this movie won the Oscar for Best Picture, Frank Sinatra won Best Supporting Actor, and Donna Reed won Best Supporting Actress)

On the Waterfront (1954)

Pather Panchali (1955), and more directed by Satyajit Ray

Diabolique (1955) — classic horror movie, French

Edge of the City (1957), and more starring Sidney Poitier (one of which is also streaming on Netflix: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner)

The Cranes Are Flying (1957) — Soviet movie in Russian

Some Like It Hot (1959) — also free with Amazon Prime

The 400 Blows (1959), and more directed by Truffaut

L'avventura (1960) — Italian

8 1/2 (1963), and more directed by Fellini

Contempt (1963), and more directed by Godard

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) — French

Double feature — "Going Nuclear": Fail Safe (1964), Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Persona (1966), and dozens of other movies directed by Ingmar Bergman

The Graduate (1967)

Belle de Jour (1967), and more directed by Buñuel

The Complete Monterey Pop Festival — documentary of the great 1967 music festival including Jimi Hendrix, Simon & Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, and the Mamas & the Papas

The Swimmer (1968), and more starring Burt Lancaster (which all seem to be leaving after this month)

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) — part of a collection of movies with soundtracks by Quincy Jones

The Passenger (1975) — Jack Nicholson

Grey Gardens (1976)

My Dinner with Andre (1981), and more directed by Louis Malle

Paris, Texas (1984), and more directed by Wim Wenders

Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) — leaving after this month

Babette’s Feast (1987) — Danish

The Thin Blue Line (1988), and more Errol Morris documentaries

The Player (1992)

Three Colors: Blue (1993), and more starring Juliette Binoche

Secrets and Lies (1996)

Taste of Cherry (1997), and more by Iranian director Kiarostami

The Daytrippers (1997)

Ghost World (2001) — also free with Amazon Prime (but leaving Prime after this month)

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) — Romanian movie about a college student trying to help her friend get an illegal abortion under Ceausescu's communist regime in the '80s

White Material (2009) — French

Fish Tank (2009), and more directed by Andrea Arnold

Here's another list of movies to stream on CC. But I was surprised by this sentence from the article: "There aren’t enough female directors on the Criterion Channel." CC has movies directed by Maren Ade, Chantal Akerman, Ana Lily Amirpour, Allison Anders, Laurie Anderson, Andrea Arnold, Clio Barnard, Catherine Breillat, Jane Campion, Vera Chytilová, Shirley Clarke, Kathleen Collins, Claire Denis, Mati Diop, Lena Dunham, Agnès Jaoui, Kirsten Johnson, Nietzchka Keene, Barbara Kopple, Lucrecia Martel, Elaine May, Sally Potter, Kelly Reichardt, Alice Rohrwacher, Céline Sciamma, Susan Seidelman, Larisa Shepitko, Agnieszka Smoczynska, Dominga Sotomayor, Agnes Varda, Chloé Zhao, and more. There are multiple movies by many of them. I don’t know of any other streaming site with more of an emphasis on movies directed by women.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Live-blogging the Democratic debate: coronavirus edition

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

Any quotations might not be word for word, since I'll be writing them down live.

8:05 — Bernie Sanders says that President Donald Trump needs to shut up, because he's "blabbering with unfactual information that is confusing the public." But Sanders praises Trump's decision to declare a national emergency. Sanders adds that we need to say: "If you lose your job, you will be made whole. You are not going to lose income."

8:08 — Joe Biden says "I agree with Bernie" that we need to provide new temporary hospitals.

8:09 — Sanders pivots to his general points about health care: "This coronavirus pandemic exposes the incredible weakness and dysfunctionality of our health care system.… We have a bunch of crooks running the pharmaceutical industry ripping us off every single day."

8:11 — Biden refutes Sanders: his Medicare for All plan wouldn't help — that's essentially what Italy has with their single-payer health system, and that hasn't seemed to help them. Biden keeps referring to what "we" did about Ebola in the Obama administration. That's a preview of how he'd present himself in the general election as more capable than Trump on this issue.

8:14 — Biden distinguishes between his plan to offer coronavirus treatment without charge in this "national emergency," vs. Sanders's Medicare for All plan, which of course isn't limited to this crisis.

8:17 — Biden tries to rise above the debate and act presidential: "This is a national crisis. I don't want to get into a back-and-forth… This is like we are being attacked from abroad.… This is like a war. And in a war, you do whatever is necessary to take care of your people."

8:20 — They're both asked if they'd use the military to respond to COVID-19. Sanders dodges the question by saying he'd use any "tools" we need. Biden is more decisive: "I would call up the military.… They did it in the Ebola crisis."

8:26 — Bernie Sanders is off his game. He repeats his exact words from before about how coronavirus "exposes the ... dysfunctionality of our health care system." Then he repeatedly calls the disease "Ebola," before finally correcting himself and blaming Biden: "You got Ebola in my head!"

8:28 — Biden sums up the lesson from the facts that he's been soundly beating Sanders: "People are looking for results, not a revolution."

8:29 — Sanders: "Half of the people are scared to death. Good!"

8:32 — Biden is having a stronger night than Sanders. Biden is clear and firm in his message about priorities: "First things first." Address the coronavirus emergency, and then make "profound" economic changes to address economic inequality. Sanders seems more vague, and more interested in talking about his general policies from before coronavirus emerged.

8:34 — Biden says if Sanders had gotten his way in the 2008 financial crisis, "we would have been in a great depression."

8:35 — When Biden is asked about immigration in the context of coronavirus, he slips and refers to an "undocumented alien," before correcting himself: "undocumented person."

8:37 — They're both asked what precautions they've personally taken, especially given their age. Sanders, 78, says he hasn't been shaking hands, including with Biden when they came onto the stage tonight. "I am using a lot of soap and hand sanitizers.… I do not have any symptoms." Biden, 77, says he hasn't been touching his face, and adds that he's "healthy."

8:39 — Biden elaborates on his earlier comment about results, not revolution: "We have problems we have to solve now. Now! What's a revolution going to do — disrupt everything in the meantime?"

8:42 — They start bickering over campaign finance, which feels off-key in the current moment. Biden bluntly sums up Super Tuesday: "I didn't have any money! I still won!" Biden says Sanders had anywhere from 2 to 6 times as much money as Biden.

8:46 — Sanders accuses Biden of going on the Senate floor and "talking about the need to cut Social Security, Medicare, and veterans' programs." Sanders repeatedly asks about Biden's support for "Bowles-Simpson," which included reductions in Social Security benefits.

8:56 — Sanders lists some wrong votes Biden cast in the Senate on numerous issues, including voting for the Defense of Marriage Act and the Iraq War. Instead of responding to any of those specifics, Biden brushes him off by simply saying: "We can argue about the past or the future."

9:09 — Biden promises to pick a woman as his running mate, and to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court if there's a vacancy. The moderator follows up to clarify if he's saying his running mate will definitely be a woman, and he says: "Yes." What about Sanders? He leaves himself more wiggle room: "In all likelihood, I will.… My very strong tendency is to move in that direction."

9:16 — Somehow, they clash over whether or not Biden has supported "slavery"!

9:19 — "Should undocumented immigrants, arrested by local authorities, be turned over to federal immigration officials?" Biden says only one word in response — "No" — and lets it hang there before the moderator moves on to Sanders (who agrees).

9:22 — Biden talks about the initial meeting he and President Obama had with the Defense Department: "The single greatest threat to our national security, they said, is climate change."

9:26 — Sanders calls for criminal prosecuting ExxonMobil executives for lying about what they knew about the effects of fossil fuels on climate change.

9:27 — Biden tries to get an edge over Sanders on climate change by implicitly reminding us of his position in the Obama administration: "We need someone who can deal internationally. We need someone who can bring the world together."

9:38 — Why would Cuban-Americans in Florida (which has its primary on Tuesday) vote for Bernie Sanders when he's praised Fidel Castro? Sanders blandly says he's always been opposed to authoritarianism in Cuba and any other countries. When the moderator presses him on this, Sanders argues that China is also an authoritarian country but we can still praise it for reducing poverty. Biden comes back: "Words matter! These are flat-out dictators!" Biden points out that Sanders has also praised the Soviet Union, and voted against sanctions on Russia for interference with our 2016 election.

9:43 — Now some more redundant debating about why Biden voted for the Iraq War and regretted it. If you've seen him talk about this in any of the many debates when it's come up (or when Hillary Clinton had to deal with the same problem in 2016), you know what Biden's going to say: his mistake was to trust President Bush.

My verdict: Biden won. Sanders is so far behind that in order to make any real progress in turning things around, he would have needed to have a fantastic performance while Biden stumbled badly. That didn't happen.

What's so frustrating about the coronavirus crisis

This is another one of those times when we're quickly becoming aware of how connected we are to people in other countries, how much we're all in this together, and how much closer to death we might be than we had thought.

Americans have had this feeling of unity before, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. But what's so frustrating now is that we can't fall back on the same spirit that arose after September 11. Back then, we could feel better than usual about doing everyday tasks like shopping or otherwise going out and participating in the economy, which is what the president and other leaders were telling us to do. The emphasis was on how dynamic and resilient our economy is, and how we'll ultimately beat terrorism through our grit, determination, and values.

That all made sense because of the nature of the threat, which was driven by human beings who had evil intentions. In one way, that made the crisis scarier: everyone was asking how so many people can hate us so much, and what they might come up with next to cause more destruction. But on another level, you could take some comfort in the idea that with the right attitude, we could end up winning a war of ideas and a battle for "hearts and minds."

COVID-19 doesn't have a heart or a mind, so it's indifferent to our attitude or culture. Instead of being encouraged to bravely go ahead with our lives as usual so as not to let the other side "win," we're being urged to make drastic changes to our daily lives and disconnect from each other. Instead of uniting, we're competing with each other to get to the store before its shelves are cleared. The words we're hearing are about canceling, postponing, distancing. And we're being urged to do all this without a visible catastrophe like September 11 galvanizing us into action. Instead, we're being shown charts and graphs about lowering a curve. That's important, but it's also hard to feel motivated by a theoretical graph to make sudden, massive changes. I hope everyone follows the advice we're being given by the authorities. But I also hope the authorities understand that this is so hard it could make the challenge of responding to September 11 seem easy by comparison.

(Illustration of COVID-19 from King County, Washington government webpage.)

Friday, March 13, 2020

25 years of Radiohead's The Bends

Radiohead released their second album, The Bends, 25 years ago today, on March 13, 1995.

Radiohead fans can endlessly debate which album is the band's best, but to me, the answer has always been The Bends. Of course, later albums took Radiohead's experimentation much further, deconstructing the very idea of a rock band. The Bends was more subtly radical. It might have seemed to be merely developing the same style as "Creep," the hit that put them on the map from their first album. But underneath the surface, The Bends hinted at the staggering changes to come. It was an evolution pointing to revolution. The Bends was Radiohead's Rubber Soul.

When I made a quick list of "the 20 albums that made the biggest impression on me when I was a teenager" in response to a Facebook meme a few years ago, The Bends was one of the easiest choices.

How many albums have so many great songs, and no filler? Even the least memorable songs on The Bends are still excellent.

Here are some of my favorites from the album, live:

"Planet Telex" (album version)

Everything is broken
Everyone is broken…
Why can't you forget?

"The Bends" (album version)
Where do we go from here?
The planet is a gunboat in a sea of fear

"Just" (the enigmatic music video)
You do it to yourself
You do
And that's why it really hurts

"Nice Dream" (album version)
They love me like I was a brother
They protect me
Listen to me

They dug me my very own garden
Gave me sunshine
Made me happy

"Fake Plastic Trees" (album version)
She looks like the real thing…
My fake plastic love

(10 things you didn't know about The Bends.)

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The many false statements in Trump's coronavirus speech

The Boston Globe has listed a number of false statements in President Donald Trump's address to the nation about coronavirus from the Oval Office last night.

Trump falsely said he's suspending "all" travel from Europe to the US. In fact, there are many European countries that aren't affected by the new policy. And it doesn't apply to certain groups of people, like US citizens in Europe.

Now, he doesn't need to tell us about every exemption and nuance in the new policy. If that would take too long, he could speak more generally and direct us to a webpage for more details.  But he didn't do that. He chose to speak in absolute terms, using the word "all." "All" is a powerful word, and it's important for the president's words to mean what they say.

(As CNN points out, Trump also neglected to mention that he is banning some people who aren't traveling directly from Europe to the US, but who've been to the restricted European countries within 14 days of coming here.)

Trump falsely said his Europe policy would extend to "trade and cargo." No, we're only limiting people traveling. We should at least give Trump credit for correcting this later in a tweet — but he still doesn't apologize or explicitly admit that he made an incorrect statement in the Oval Office address.

And Trump falsely said that all copays for coronavirus treatment will be waived. (Again, see the Boston Globe article for details on all this.)

How could the president's address to the nation include so many false statements about the issue that's been gripping the country and the world? In a way, having Trump as America's #1 communicator seems worse than having no president at all.

(A full transcript of the speech is at the end of this Haaretz fact check.)

Friday, March 6, 2020

On Biden and coronavirus

The worse coronavirus gets, the more sense it makes for Joe Biden to be the Democratic presidential nominee.

Why? 2 reasons:

1) Biden is uniquely credible because he has experience from when the Obama administration dealt with Ebola.

2) The risks of huge numbers of people coming to the US from everywhere else in the world are becoming more and more salient. This could put voters in a mindset where they’re not so disturbed by Trump’s hardline views on immigration. They might still think the administration has sometimes been inhumane. But they might deprioritize their empathy for masses of people from other countries, and give more weight to the health of their own families, coworkers, etc. In that context, it wouldn’t help Democrats to nominate someone who’s recently made statements that will strike many swing voters as too lenient on illegal immigration. The very fact that Biden was attacked so much in the primaries over the millions of Obama deportations means he’ll be less vulnerable to attacks from Republicans in the general over immigration.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Live-blogging the only Democratic debate in between Nevada and South Carolina

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

You should be able to watch it online on the CBS News website, starting at 8 Eastern.

As always, I'll be doing this without the benefit of a pause or rewind button, so any quotes I write down might not be word for word, but I'll try to keep them fairly accurate.

My mom, Ann Althouse, is also live-blogging the debate.

8:04 — Mike Bloomberg looks glum, walking out with his head down after his humiliating performance in the last debate.

8:05 — The unemployment rate is the lowest it's been for 50 years. So how will Bernie Sanders convince people to vote for him in November? He says "real wage increases" were "less than 1%" last year. That's a weak response — he's still admitting that wages are generally going up, even accounting for inflation.

8:07 — Bloomberg cuts in and says Putin is trying to get Bernie Sanders elected. [VIDEO]

8:08 — Elizabeth Warren's opening message: "Bernie is winning right now because the Democratic Party is a progressive party, and progressive ideas are popular — even if some people on this stage don't want to admit that!" But Warren says Sanders's team has "trashed" her for doing more hard work on health care than Sanders has.

8:11 — Joe Biden attacks Bernie Sanders for voting against the Brady Bill, and considering a 2012 primary challenge to President Obama.

8:12 — Bernie Sanders: "I'm hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight! I wonder why!"

8:14 — Pete Buttigieg aggressively interrupts Sanders to say Sanders has said something "false" about Buttigieg's campaign — that he's mostly funded by billionaires. Billionaires have given less to Buttigieg's campaign than just the voters in Charleston, South Carolina.

8:17 — Buttigieg says Bloomberg's "stop and frisk" policy in NYC was "racist." But Buttigieg also has "humility," both because he's dealt with racial issues as a mayor, and because "there are 7 white people on this stage talking about race."

8:21 — Elizabeth Warren attacks Bloomberg for funding "right-wing" Senators, including one who ran against Warren herself. Warren makes a strong statement: "I don't care how much money he has. The core of the Democratic Party will never trust him.… He is the riskiest candidate standing on this stage." Bloomberg lamely responds by invoking September 11, and boasting (with no sense of irony) that he has "the resources" to win. [VIDEO]

8:25 — Warren brings up Bloomberg's nondisclosure agreements with some of his female employees, and there are loud boos from the audience. Bloomberg says he's released them from the NDAs, and "we just cannot continue to relitigate this every time!" Buttigieg points out: "If you get nominated,  you'll be litigating this all year!"

8:28 — Amy Klobuchar goes after Bernie Sanders for his embarrassing 60 Minutes interview.

8:32 — Buttigieg mocks the "incredible shrinking price tag" of Bernie Sanders's health plan. "I'll tell you what it adds up to … 4 more years of Donald Trump."

8:33 — Biden: "Bernie, in fact, hasn't passed much of anything."

8:34 — Biden and Tom Steyer are shouting at each other when Amy Klobuchar cuts in: "If we spend the next 4 months tearing our party apart, we're going to spend the next 4 years watching Donald Trump tearing this country apart!"

8:37 — Bernie Sanders: "Bloomberg has a strong and enthusiastic base of support. Problem is, they're all billionaires."

8:45 — Biden talks about "carnage on our street"! Why is that OK for Biden to say but it wasn't OK for President Trump to say?

8:50 — Pete Buttigieg to Bernie Sanders on guns: "How are you going to have a revolution if you won't even support a rule change?" Sanders responds: "I am proud that I have a D- grade from the NRA. If I'm elected president, it will get worse than that!"

8:53 — I like what Bloomberg is saying on charter schools, but he's bad at saying it because he has shifty eyes. He keeps looking to the side nervously.

8:56 — Pete Buttigieg says: "I'm a little biased on teachers, because I'm married to one. I get an education on education every day."

9:00 — Bloomberg pulls out some prepared sarcasm at his own expense, saying of the other candidates: "I'm surprised they showed up, because … after I did such a good job of beating them last week, I would've thought they'd be afraid to do that!" [VIDEO]

9:09 — Bloomberg is asked about his anti-obesity polices as mayor, like banning large sodas — would he support similar ideas as president? He says what's good for New York City isn't necessarily good for the whole country — "otherwise we'd have the Naked Cowboy everywhere."

9:12 — Amy Klobuchar is asked if Bernie Sanders is right to propose legalizing marijuana, which is weird since Klobuchar is also in favor of legalizing marijuana! Seems like the CBS News staff just didn't do the research.

9:14 — Bloomberg seems to be the only one who's against fully legalizing marijuana. He'd merely decriminalize possession of small amounts while we keep studying it.

I thought the same thing my mom wrote in her live-blog:

I got bored. There's a lot of recitation of proposals, not so much attacking each other. I'm not going to try to provide you with notes on that.
9:34 — Pete Buttigieg (who I support) has been talking over Bernie Sanders a lot tonight, which seems like a desperate attempt to drown him out while he's winning — or maybe a reaction against the last debate's moderators who kept not letting him defend himself against attacks.

9:43 — Bernie Sanders is asked if he's not pro-Israel enough, and if he'd move our embassy back to Tel Aviv (after Trump moved it to Jerusalem). Sanders dodges the embassy question, but says: "I'm very proud of being Jewish. I actually lived in Israel for some months.… We have to have a policy that reaches out to the Palestinians and the Americans [sic]."

9:48 — Biden stops when the moderator calls time, but then Biden questions himself: "Why am I stopping? No one else stops! There's my Catholic school training."

9:58 — Each candidate is asked "the biggest misconception about you." Amy Klobuchar: "The biggest misconception is that I'm boring!"

10:00 — Bernie Sanders: "Misconception is that the ideas I'm talking about are radical.… Nelson Mandela said: 'Everything is impossible until it happens.'"

10:01 — Elizabeth Warren says: "One misconception is that I don't eat very much. In fact, I eat all the time!"

10:02 — Pete Buttigieg: "The biggest misconception is that I'm not passionate.… Some say unflappable. I don't think you want a president who's flappable." Maybe he read my endorsement of Buttigieg, which said: "He presents himself as unflappable.…"

So who won and lost? This and this piece both say Pete Buttigieg was one of the winners, and Bloomberg was one of the losers. But they disagree about whether Bernie Sanders won or lost.

UPDATE: Biden lied, and Klobuchar was afraid Steyer was going to hit her.

Mazzy Star's David Roback has died at 61

Mazzy Star's guitarist and keyboardist, David Roback, has died at age 61. He and the singer, Hope Sandoval, were considered the creative force behind the band. (See first comment for obituary.)

Mazzy Star's biggest hit, "Fade into You," from their 1993 album So Tonight That I Might See, is minimalistic on the surface but has an enduring, haunting quality.

Roback wrote the music, and Sandoval wrote the lyrics…

You live your life, you go in shadows
You'll come apart and you'll go black
Some kind of night into your darkness
Colors your eyes with what's not there

Fade into you
Strange you never knew
Fade into you
I think it's strange you never knew

Monday, February 24, 2020

The tragedy of the commons and vote-splitters losing to Bernie Sanders

Now that Bernie Sanders has won 2 of the first 3 states (Pete Buttigieg seems to have narrowly won in Iowa's delegates, but the results are still being disputes), we're seeing reports like this:

The basic logic has never been in question: If Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Tom Steyer all stayed in the race, they would continue splitting the delegates needed for the nomination while Sanders built up a commanding plurality.

Many of the candidates themselves agreed, and had started saying so in recent days. Some Bloomberg aides have called hosts of recent Biden fundraising events to dress them down for effectively boosting Sanders, according to Democrats familiar with the conversations.

And before last week’s debate, a Bloomberg campaign memo warned, “If Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar remain in the race despite having no path to appreciably collecting delegates on Super Tuesday (and beyond), they will propel Sanders to a seemingly insurmountable delegate lead.”

The next day, Buttigieg’s team shot back a warning that Bloomberg “will propel Sanders to a seemingly insurmountable delegate lead,” and then, later that day, Warren’s top surrogate, Julián Castro, called on Bloomberg to “drop out now,” too.

But the day after a decisive Sanders victory in Nevada, his rivals are all intent on staying in. Given the general agreement among anti-Sanders moderates that the field needs to shrink, why won’t anyone drop out?

To start, none of the candidates want to get out before any of their peers, if they can still conceive of some sliver of a path to victory.… [E]ach camp acknowledges that the party isn’t split into clear pro- and anti-Sanders lanes like many pundits imagine. After all, the Vermont senator is widely popular in the party, so he would likely continue to pick up a substantial share of support from any candidates who stepped aside.

Still, all the campaigns are convinced they are the one that’s best positioned to take on Sanders one-on-one. Some of the Biden donors, for example, told the Bloomberg aides calling to scold them that the former mayor is hardly one to talk if he’s accusing Biden of helping Sanders.

Beyond all this, there’s no organized effort to shrink the field, and none is coming.

“People have this idea — and Sanders stokes this — that there’s a Democratic establishment that’s meeting and figuring these things out. [The truth is] there’s a bunch of people who have different interests,” one top party operative explained after Sanders’s wide margin of victory in Nevada became clear.…

Klobuchar, for one, has been the subject of hushed speculation that she’s aiming to win enough delegates in upcoming contests in her home state of Minnesota and neighbors like North Dakota to be influential at the convention. But in Fargo on Sunday, she insisted she’s still trying to win, comparing her campaign to Bill Clinton’s, which also didn’t win any statewide contests until Super Tuesday.

Warren, meanwhile, has been trying to position herself as a Sanders alternative by becoming the field’s foremost Bloomberg attacker, even as a disappointing result in Nevada makes her road to victory look especially daunting.

Biden, too, has a tough path ahead, but is convinced a clear win in South Carolina could set him up as the non-Sanders portion of the party’s best bet.

And Buttigieg, who effectively tied Sanders in Iowa and came in second in New Hampshire, is using those results and his recent attacks on Sanders to claim that he is the obvious choice. “Pete has shown he’s the only candidate who can beat Sanders. In the first two contests so far, Pete is the only candidate who provides any real competition,” read his campaign’s postdebate (but pre-Nevada caucus) memo.

If any one candidate is facing the pressure more than the others, though, it’s Steyer. The California billionaire has yet to win a delegate, but he’s polling in third in South Carolina on the back of his massive investments (of money and time) there. Steyer’s critics argue that he has no shot at winning the nomination, and that his double-digit support in the state must be keeping Biden’s down. If he were to drop out, their theory goes, Biden might win the next primary by a comfortable margin instead of wrestling for it with Sanders.

Steyer, though, has consistently dismissed this idea.…

“People are lying now about their ability to win, what they’re actually in the race for. If people keep lying for the next nine days, we’re going to end up in a position where Sanders is probably going to be the nominee by default. And people are going to say, ‘What happened?,’” [a Democratic strategist said]. “You were faking it for all of February. That’s what happened.”

Wikipedia says this on "the tragedy of the commons":
The tragedy of the commons is a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users, acting independently according to their own self-interest, behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling the shared resource through their collective action.…

The "tragedy of the commons" is often cited in connection with sustainable development, meshing economic growth and environmental protection.… It has also been used in analyzing behavior in the fields of economics, evolutionary psychology, anthropology, game theory, politics, taxation and sociology.…

The commons dilemma is a specific class of social dilemma in which people's short-term selfish interests are at odds with long-term group interests and the common good.[35] In academia, a range of related terminology has also been used as shorthand for the theory or aspects of it, including resource dilemma, take-some dilemma, and common pool resource.

ADDED: A reader questioned whether this is really a tragedy of the commons problem, since only one of the Democratic candidates can end up winning the nomination. I responded on Facebook:
If you define "tragedy of the commons" so strictly that it applies only where every single person in the system is demonstrably worse off, then it's an open question whether there's a tragedy of the commons going on here. For instance, Klobuchar could be worse off for staying in and causing the nomination to go to Sanders. Sanders is unlikely to pick Klobuchar as a running mate or for any other position. If Klobuchar dropped out today and caused Buttigieg to win the nomination, that could be better for Klobuchar, since Buttigieg would be more likely than Sanders to choose Klobuchar as a running mate or for something else (their occasional tiffs would be more easily smoothed over than the epic Obama vs. Clinton battle of 2008, which didn't stop Obama from choosing Clinton as Secretary of State). If Klobuchar could become Vice President at age 60, she'd become more likely to end up being president than if she just stays in the Senate.

If instead you use a somewhat flexible definition of "tragedy of the commons," it very much applies to this situation. There are millions of Democrats involved with this in one way or another. There's no way to prove that every one of them who isn't named Sanders is going to be worse off if the other candidates keep splitting the vote. But if we look more broadly at whether it'll be good for Democrats in general, we can see a tragedy of the commons dynamic in the way Buttigieg/Bloomberg/Biden/Klobuchar/Steyer keep pursuing their individual interest in keeping their campaigns going in a way that collectively reduces the chances of a Democrat replacing Trump in January.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Can Bernie Sanders defeat Donald Trump in November?

2 things about Bernie Sanders:

He does much better with male voters than female voters.

He does much better with younger voters than older voters.

2 things about presidential elections:

Women vote more than men.

Older voters turn out more than younger voters.

Think about it.

(Photo of Bernie Sanders by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images via NPR.)

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Live-blogging the first 2020 debate with Bloomberg

Mike Bloomberg is finally going to debate other Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination tonight, and I'll be live-blogging the debate. Keep reloading this post for more updates.

As always, I'll be writing down quotes without a pause or rewind button, so they might not be word for word, but I'll try to keep them reasonably accurate.

9:03 — Why is Bernie Sanders's "revolution" a better bet than Bloomberg's centrism? Sanders says Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk policy "went after" black and Hispanic Americans "in an outrageous way."

9:04 — Bloomberg starts on a negative note; "I don't think there's any chance of the Senator [Sanders] beating Trump.… If he is the candidate, we will have Donald Trump for another 4 years, and we can't stand that." Bloomberg gives the example of Sanders wanting to take people's health plans away from them.

9:05 — Without being asked a question or mentioned, Elizabeth Warren jumps in and says "we're running against" someone who calls women "fat broads and horse-faced lesbians." She's not talking about Trump — she's talking about Bloomberg! "Americans take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another." [VIDEO]

9:06 — Amy Klobuchar (my second choice) says Bloomberg "thought that 3 of us should get out of the way." "I've been told many times to step aside. And I'm not gonna do that now." (Bloomberg surrogates wrote a memo suggesting that Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and Biden should drop out to clear the way for Bloomberg to defeat Sanders.)

9:07 — Bloomberg doesn't directly respond to any of those attacks, and instead makes his pitch: "I'm a mayor. I know how to run the biggest, most diverse city in the country." And he brought back New York City after September 11.

9:08 — Joe Biden also goes after Bloomberg over step-and-frisk, and says Obama/Biden tried to stop it.

9:09 — Pete Buttigieg (who I've endorsed) calls Sanders and Bloomberg "the two most polarizing figures on this stage." "Let's put forward somebody who's actually a Democrat!" Another good line from Buttigieg: "We shouldn't have to choose between somebody who wants to burn this party down, and somebody who wants to buy this party out." This leads to some harsh back and forth between Buttigieg and Sanders.

9:14 — Bernie Sanders on his supporters: "We have over 10 million people on Twitter, and 99.9% of them are decent human beings.… And if there are a few people who make ugly remarks … I disown those people." Buttigieg challenges Sanders: "We did this pattern arise? Why is it especially the case about your supporters? … Leadership is not just about policy. Leadership is also about how you motivate people to treat other people."

9:19 — Sanders promises he'll never "reduce" any Americans' health plans, but only "expand" them.

9:20 — Warren starts attacking almost everyone. First she says Buttigieg paid "consultants ... to paper over a thin version of a plan that would leave millions of people unable to pay for their health care. It's not a plan, it's a PowerPoint. And Amy's plan is even less — it's a Post-It note!" Then Warren even attacks Sanders over his plan!

9:21 — Buttigieg defends his choice of apps: "I'm more of a Microsoft Word guy!" On the substance: "The idea that people don't know what's good for them is exactly the kind of condescension that makes people skeptical."

9:27 — Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren both directly attack Pete Buttigieg by name, at length, but moderator Chuck Todd inexplicably doesn't give Buttigieg a chance to respond even though Buttigieg keeps asking to.

9:29 — Bloomberg says "the one thing" he's "worried about" or "embarrassed about" in his time as mayor is "stop and frisk." "It got out of control. When I discovered that we were doing many, many, too many stop and frisks, we cut them by 95%." He talked to "kids who got stopped" and "tried to learn."

9:30 — Biden: "It's not whether [Bloomberg] apologized or not. It's the policy. And the policy was abhorrent." Bloomberg opposed Obama's decision to send people to monitor the policy.

9:32 — Bloomberg: "If we took off everybody on this panel who was wrong on criminal justice at some time in their careers, there'd be nobody left."

9:33 — Chuck Todd questions Klobuchar about police shootings when she led a Minnesota prosecutor's office; none of the police were prosecuted. Klobuchar says they all "went to a grand jury.… Now I believe that prosecutors should handle those cases themselves."

9:36 — Buttigieg associates Sanders with Trump in that they've both withheld their medical records. "Everybody on this stage should be willing to get a physical and put out the results." Then Buttigieg says Sanders should "level with" us on his health-care plan and his own health.

9:40 — Mike Bloomberg is asked why he's said he'll release his tax returns later, when people are voting now. "It just takes us a long time! Unfortunately, I make a lot of money! … They'll be out in a few weeks.… Remember, I only entered this race a few weeks ago!"

9:42 — Bloomberg is asked about allegations that he's made "sexually suggestive" comments about female employees, like: "I would do you in a second." He doesn't directly address that, but generally talks about the policies in his company." Warren has a clever response: I hope you heard what his defense was: "I've been nice to some women!" [VIDEO] Warren asks Bloomberg if he'll release women who've sued him from their nondisclosure agreements. "None of them have accused me of doing anything other than they didn't like a joke I told." Bloomberg says they wanted to sign those agreements. Warren comes back: "Are the women bound by being muzzled by you?" Biden backs up Warren: "It's easy — all the mayor has to do is say, 'You are released!'" Somehow, Biden ends up going over to Buttigieg and grabbing his arm.

Ann Althouse (my mom) says:

Bloomberg blew his chance to make a decent first impression. He’s dull and he looks like death.
9:47 — Bernie Sanders brings up Bloomberg's history as a Republican: "Bloomberg in 2004 supported George W. Bush for president." And Bloomberg said we should cut Social Security and not raise the minimum wage.

9:48 — Amy Klobuchar is asked about an interview when she recently admitted she didn't know the name of Mexico's president. Moderator: "Shouldn't the next president know about one of our largest trading partners?" Klobuchar: "I don't think that momentary forgetfulness reflects what I know about Mexico." She gives herself another quiz: "Who is the president of Honduras? Hernández!" Buttigieg goes after her: "You're on the committee that does border security. You're on the committee that oversees trade." Klobuchar: "Are you trying to say that I'm dumb?" [VIDEO]

10:03 — After a commercial break, they're talking climate change, and it's getting pretty technical, with discussions of mining specific minerals, and some confusing references to an energy facility in Nevada. Warren tries to broaden it and make it more relatable: "This isn't a controversial thing to say in the country, but it is controversial in Washington: I believe in science. We are going to increase, tenfold, our investment in science."

10:19 — Sanders and Bloomberg spar over which one of them caused billionaires to pay lower tax rates than middle-class people.

10:20 — Klobuchar is asked about Bernie Sanders's statement that "billionaires should not exist." Klobuchar: "I believe in capitalism.… I'm not gonna limit what people make."

10:21 — Sanders: "Mike Bloomberg owns more wealth than the bottom 125 million Americans. That's wrong! That's immoral!" Bloomberg responds dryly: "I can't speak for all billionaires. I've been very lucky.… I'm giving almost all of it away."

10:25 — Bloomberg on Warren's wealth tax: "It's ridiculous! We're not going to throw out capitalism! It was called communism, and it didn't work!"

10:27 — Sanders: "We are living, in many ways, in a socialist society right now. The problem is … we have socialism for the very rich, rugged individualism for the very poor." Bloomberg responds to Sanders with an ad hominem: "The best-known socialist in the country is a millionaire who owns 3 houses!" Sanders starts to defend himself by saying as a Senator he works in Washington. Bloomberg quips: "That's the first problem!" Sanders explains that he has separate homes in Washington, DC and Burlington, Vermont, plus he has a summer home.

10:33 — Elizabeth Warren: "Amy and Joe's hearts are in the right place, but we can't be so eager to be liked by Mitch McConnell that we forget how to fight Republicans." As soon as she mentions McConnell, Amy Klobuchar says: "Oh my God!" Biden: "Mitch McConnell has been the biggest pain in my neck for a long, long time!"

10:44 — Buttigieg calls out Klobuchar for voting to confirm a Trump appointee who designed the family separation policy, and for voting to make English the national language. Klobuchar snarks back: "I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete!" More from Klobuchar: "You have not been in the arena doing that work. You've memorized a bunch of talking points." Buttigieg retorts: "I'm used to Senators telling mayors that Senators are more important than mayors." [VIDEO starting after 2:50]

10:48 — Chuck Todd asks everyone what should happen if no one has a majority of delegates by convention time. Everyone vaguely says the process should work its way out, except for Bernie Sanders, the only one to make a definitive statement: "The person who has the most votes should be the nominee."

10:54 — Bloomberg uses his closing statement to preview how he'd challenge Trump in the general election: "This is a management job, and Donald Trump's not a manager. This is a job where you need teams, and he doesn't have teams."

10:57 — Elizabeth Warren, who seems to be losing her voice: "Of all the people on this stage, I've been a politician for the shortest amount of time, but I've been fighting for families the longest amount of time."

10:59 — Biden says they're in Las Vegas, "the site of the most significant mass murder in American history." (Well, with one minor exception…)

Mediaite has collected Twitter reactions to Bloomberg's "disastrous" debate night:
• I’m at a debate watch party at a Bloomberg campaign office in Virginia. People are in visible pain watching this exchange with Warren. Overheard: "I’m afraid Mike’s not coming off so well." — Olivia Nuzzi

• Bloomberg brought a wallet to a gun fight tonight

• Amy Klobuchar is about to prosecute Elizabeth Warren for murdering Mike Bloomberg.

• Bloomberg is weak - and he comes across as nervous too. If he didn’t have money, he wouldn’t be within miles of this stage. — Ari Fleischer

bloom more like wilt

• BREAKING: Bloomberg offers NDAs to every debate viewer — Trevor Noah

What should we do with plastic bags — recycle, reuse, throw out, or ban them?

John Tierney writes in the Wall Street Journal:

researchers have found that laws restricting plastic bags and food containers don’t reduce litter. The resources wasted on these anti-plastic campaigns would be better spent on more programs to discourage all kinds of littering.

Another myth—that recycling plastic prevents it from polluting the oceans—stems from the enduring delusion that plastic waste can be profitably turned into other products. But sorting plastic is so labor-intensive, and the resulting materials of so little value, that most municipalities pay extra to get rid of their plastic waste, mostly by shipping it to Asian countries with low labor costs. The chief destination for many years was China, which two years ago banned most imports. It now goes to countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. Some of the plastic from your recycling bin probably ends up in the ocean because it goes to a country with a high rate of “mismanaged waste.”

Yet single-use plastic bags aren’t the worst environmental choice at the supermarket—they’re the best. High-density polyethylene bags are a marvel of economic, engineering and environmental efficiency. They’re cheap, convenient, waterproof, strong enough to hold groceries but thin and light enough to make and transport using scant energy, water or other resources. Though they’re called single-use, most people reuse them, typically as trash-can liners. When governments ban them, consumers buy thicker substitutes with a bigger carbon footprint.

Once discarded, they take up little room in landfills. That they aren’t biodegradable is a plus, because they don’t release greenhouse gases like decomposing paper and cotton bags. The plastic bags’ tiny quantity of carbon, extracted from natural gas, goes back underground, where it can be safely sequestered from the atmosphere and ocean in a modern landfill with a sturdy lining.

If the goal is to reduce carbon emissions and plastic pollution, we can take some obvious steps: Repeal misguided plastic-bag bans. Stop exporting plastic waste to countries that allow it to leak into the ocean. Help those countries establish modern systems for collecting and processing their own plastic waste. Send plastic waste straight to landfills and incinerators. Step up enforcement of laws and treaties that restrict nations from polluting the ocean and prohibit mariners from littering the seas.

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."