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’ll 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 limitation to only those two choices, so I may reject comments that bring up other options.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Andrew Yang drops out

Andrew Yang has dropped out of the 2020 primaries.

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

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

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

June 2019:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 8, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 7, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Biden should drop out

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

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

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

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

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

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