Capitalism Claims Another Victim

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A few years ago I invented something called the Atlas Shrugged Scale. It’s a way of estimating how close reality comes to the satire in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

Some may recall the time when the novel’s portrayal of bureaucrats, social activists, government enforcers, and crony capitalists was denounced as impossibly far-fetched, as just downright pigheadedly mean. We don’t hear much talk like that anymore.

The reason is that every day brings us real-life stories that seem to be written by Ayn Rand, still satirizing from the Next World.

The moral that friends of the college take home with them is that the college was a victim of the capitalist system.

Here’s one. A college is started by a dissident professor who thinks it’s a good thing for faculty to be scared by their students. He puts his college in an economically depressed town where lots of people have time and government benefits on their hands. It apparently admits everyone who wants to enroll, and to have no required courses. There are no grades. Yet in 40 years it manages to enroll at most 200 people at a time. When the college wants to establish a “cultural exchange” with another institution, it chooses the University of Havana. Vaunted college accreditors vouch for the place.

The annual budget of this college is around $20,000 per student, a hefty sum for a place that barely exists. But its president, who seems to owe her appointment to the fact that she is married to a congressman who is a former mayor of the town (and a future US senator), borrows millions of dollars to expand the campus, assuring lenders that there is plenty of money coming in. The money doesn’t come in, although the president has no problem collecting her large salary. Finally she is prevailed upon to resign. Her successor is persuaded to resign by a student mob. Two years after that, the college collapses and ceases to exist. The moral that friends of the college take home with them is that the college was a victim of . . . the capitalist system.

The story is well summarized here. The institution is Burlington College. Its former president is Jane Sanders, wife of Bernie Sanders. The story’s score on the Atlas Shrugged Scale is 9.

Don’t ask me what events would justify a 10. I’m not sure we can take that much satire.




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Buchanan the Wicked?

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Morbid curiosity tempts me to buy and read Nancy MacLean’s new book Democracy in Chains, but I have resisted so far; for I don’t want to add to the unearned wealth that her book’s notoriety will probably bring her. I know enough from reviews, favorable and unfavorable, and from a published interview with the author herself, to understand that one main theme is the supposed wicked influence of James Buchanan.

I knew Buchanan very well from 1957, when, as Economics Department chairman, he brought me to the University of Virginia. There I was his academic colleague and friend. After he left the University of Virginia (in honorable protest against the University administration’s maltreatment of a colleague), I kept in contact with him and often saw him at professional meetings and occasionally at his homes in Blacksburg and then Fairfax.

Buchanan took economics seriously. He wouldn’t waste time on conspiracies and was no apologist for the wealthy and powerful.

Buchanan took economics seriously. He drew inspiration from his admired professor at Chicago, Frank Knight, and from the writings of the Swedish economist Knut Wicksell. He encouraged the creative thinking of his graduate students. He was a fabulously hard worker whose collected writings fill 20 large volumes and whose Nobel Prize was amply deserved. He wouldn’t waste time on conspiracies and was no apologist for the wealthy and powerful.

I understand Buchanan’s economic and political philosophy quite well, for my own is close to his. He was more of an egalitarian than I am, favoring an extreme estate tax and pondering redistributionary taxation as an arrangement whereby people insure one another against economic distress. While not completely agreeing with John Rawls, who called for social and economic arrangements designed to maximize the welfare of the least-well-off stratum of the population, he admired Rawls and his writings.

As for his thought on limits to democracy, I could expound it at length and enthusiastically. He admired the American Founders, who wisely tried to create a constitutional republic charged with protecting people’s rights even against abusive majorities and government itself. (“Democracy” is a much abused word, sabotaging clear thought by cramming various and even inconsistent good things together under a single label.)

In short, James Buchanan was an entirely different person from the one that Ms. MacLean imagines. She did not bother to know what she was writing about. But historians and journalists have a professional duty to check the truth of what they write.




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Expiring Minds Don’t Want to Know

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I fear for many of my friends. I fear for my country. Because of many of my friends, I fear for my country.

Earlier this summer, I attended a pool party hosted by the local chapter of a gay and lesbian Catholic organization. Though a precious few of us are libertarians or conservatives, it shouldn’t be hard to guess the political sentiments of the rest. And sentiments they are. I’ve come to believe that they amount to little more.

Prior to the Era of Trump, these people talked about politics only slightly more often than anyone else. Since this past November, they’ve been obsessed with the president. Specifically, they’re obsessed with the notion of deposing him from power.

In their minds, Vice-President Mike Pence has morphed from a homophobic zealot into a genial and benevolent soul, sort of an amiable dunce.

How are they going to accomplish this? Though the details are fuzzy, it has something to do with the Russians. They’ll find some other reason when the Russian thing poops out — as it eventually and mercifully will. And after that, there will be another, and then another. Their logic about each reason will be as murky as it was about the one before.

Reason itself is now considered, by the enlightened souls who have taken it upon themselves to enlighten my friends, to be Western and Judeo-Christian, white-skinned and patriarchal. Therefore it has been banished from Left World. I’m not sure what’s supposed to replace it. But if the leftists I know give any indication, what they say scares the hell out of me.

In the minds of my “progressive” pool party friends, Vice-President Mike Pence has morphed from a homophobic zealot into a genial and benevolent soul, sort of an amiable dunce in the tradition of their cartoon-character Reagan (rehabilitated from villainy when it suits them), who will be a “responsible caretaker president” in a time of new political peace. Which, of course, they’re currently convinced the nation will enjoy, once the Evil Donald has been driven from the White House. It’s what they are evidently being told by those who tell them what to think. When I told them what I thought would really happen, they reacted as if I were as unfabulous as the Wicked Witch of the West, swooping down on herbroom to snatch Toto.

Because of my pesky and apparently incurable habit of thinking without seeking permission, I became a heretic.

What I said was that Trump is not going to be impeached. But that if he were, the Republicans would probably not permit another Democrat president to finish a term for some time to come. And that in the meantime, the leftist puppeteers and their puppetettes would quickly turn from seeing President Pence as a harmless caretaker into damning him as the Devil. He’d almost certainly give them a lot more to be outraged about than Trump ever would.

How soon they forget that the same Mike Pence advocated taking money from research on HIV/AIDS and using it, instead, “to provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” That he defended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by calling it “a successful compromise” and warned that permitting gays to serve in the military without hiding their orientation would “advance some liberal domestic social agenda.” That he declared, “There’s no question [that] to mainstream homosexuality within active duty military would have an impact on unit cohesion.” And that he imagines Disney engaged in a dark plot to corrupt the tender flower of American womanhood, having once said, of the movie Mulan, he suspected “that some mischievous liberal at Disney assumes that Mulan’s story will cause a quiet change in the next generation’s attitude about women in combat and they just might be right.”

Do my friends even realize the next step to which they’re being led by their lords and masters? The goal, of course, is not merely to get rid of Trump. By whatever means necessary — no matter how illegal or unconstitutional — they want to control the government of this country and the lives of its people. This means that however benign the Left’s leaders may sound about the vice-president at the moment, they will not ultimately let him stand in their way.

Whatever must it feel like, to be told exactly what to think and not to be permitted to think anything else, on peril of excommunication from the Church of Progressive Feelgood? I don’t know; because of my pesky and apparently incurable habit of thinking without seeking permission, I became a heretic. I was a libertarian even before I knew what a libertarian was. I left the Left for many reasons, but perhaps the main one was that being led around like a sheep is little better than a walking death. The greater distance I place between myself and my former political comrades, the more horrifying their mentality becomes to me.

Would they want to live in a country where the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another was no longer possible?

Another friend of mine, an 80-something Hillary Clinton Democrat, recently remarked of Trump that “we need to get him out of there.” Once upon a time, simply to avoid an argument, I would have let that slide. But I’ve gotten so tired of listening to all the mean-girls-in-the-cafeteria sniping that I asked her for an explanation. She spluttered a little, then changed the subject.

I don’t think she knew why she thought “we” needed to get President Trump “out of there.” She just knew that she was supposed to think it. And she was perfectly comfortable saying so, because she assumed I knew that I’m supposed to think it, too.

Do the leftist demigods’ obedient little do-bees even realize what life in this country will be like if our electoral system is destroyed by nonsense like this? Would they want to live in a country where the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another was no longer possible? There’s a lot about our political life that I dislike. That doesn’t mean I want to see the United States turned into a Third World hellhole.

Our political environment is beginning to resemble one of those horror movies in which an evil entity possesses people, transforms them into zombies, and programs their terminated brains so they’ll destroy the country. That may sound hyperbolic, but I’m no longer sure that isn’t really what’s happening. As the undead rise out of the cornfields wielding scythes, they aren’t even allowed to suffer a stray idea. If there are any other ideas, expiring minds don’t want to know about them.

It simply isn’t natural for a huge population of human beings to have such uniform opinions. When their views are truly their own, unanimity is impossible. Even if they were all inspired to random acts of kindness and goodwill toward all, their uniformity would still be creepy, although it might make the world a nicer place. If they were all possessed by the spirit of self-reliance and fiscal responsibility, they could save the country. But the ideas they share are almost all abysmally stupid and destructive. It’s hard to understand how even a few of them could come up with such foolishness by their own best mental efforts.

There’s a lot about our political life that I dislike. That doesn’t mean I want to see the United States turned into a Third World hellhole.

There is no way to turn this idiotic tide by dint of any collective counteraction. As big a job as it is, it must be tackled by a great many of us as individuals. It won’t be pleasant, because we’ll need to be the skunks at an endless number of garden parties. But I’m beginning to find that it isn’t as difficult as I feared. I keep making an infernal, contrary nuisance of myself, but I haven’t lost a friend yet.

What I do, in polite conversation, is the equivalent of waving a hand in front of their faces, snapping my fingers, shining a flashlight in their eyes (or ears) and saying — as encouragingly as I can — “I know you’re in there somewhere.” I tell them they’re too smart to believe the things they say. Instead of calling them idiots, I say that the people telling them such rot are mendacious hucksters who think (quite wrongly!) that their audience must be idiots. A surprising amount of the time, this works at waking them up,at least for a fewminutes.

They live in such a bubble that many of them honestly don’t know there’s any other way to think, but friends don’t let friends become zombies. Every expiring mind is worth saving. As they’re probably sure former Vice President Dan Quayle once said, “A mind is a terrible thing to lose.”




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The Courts and the Second Amendment

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In 2008, the Supreme Court started a new era of second amendment jurisprudence.

This is no exaggeration. When the Heller opinion was published (District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 [2008]), I was surprised to learn that the Court had never decided whether the Second Amendment gave individuals (as opposed to collectives, such as militias) any right to keep or carry firearms. That had been an open question. So, Heller was a big deal, and the justices knew it. The case opened a can of worms — hundreds of plaintiffs would try to wriggle out of states’ prohibitions on the possession and carrying of guns. However, the case said very little about the extent of the right or how it could be limited by law.

In restricting private ownership, possession, and use of guns, the D.C. laws went almost as far as imaginable without imposing a complete ban.

How could a legal opinion say so much and so little at the same time? It was the factual context of the decision that made this possible. When I was in law school I heard the maxim “hard cases make bad law,” meaning that cases of extraordinarily sympathetic circumstances (think widows and orphans) might motivate a lawmaker or judge to create a rule that had bad unintended consequences when applied generally. I think that the majority in Heller saw the case as sort of the opposite: an easy case to make good law. The plaintiff was challenging the laws of the District of Columbia. In restricting private ownership, possession, and use of guns, the D.C. laws went almost as far as imaginable without imposing a complete ban. Private ownership of handguns was banned. Rifles and shotguns might be kept at home but locked or disassembled, in other words, not useful in an emergency.

Finding an individual right in the Second Amendment was a big step. But if you wanted to make that big step as small as possible, the facts behind Heller were just about perfect.

What Heller said was that the Second Amendment gave the plaintiff some kind of individual, civil right, and that right was enough to invalidate D.C.’s heavy restrictions. It was a very limited application of an individual right. Even so, the opinion, a 5–4 split of the Court, drew sharp criticism from the dissenting minority and also from some very good scholars, including Richard Posner, generally thought to be a conservative from the “law & economics” school of jurisprudence. Critics accused the conservative majority of being unprincipled by practicing judicial activism instead of the restraint they often championed.

How far do the rights established in Heller go? What other restrictions on guns might be unconstitutional? Nobody knows. The individual right may be very modestly interpreted. Maybe every other gun law in the country is still constitutionally permitted.

Heller must mean a little bit more than sitting in your bedroom with a shotgun. Eventually, starkly contrasting circuit court cases will force the Supreme Court to say more.

The lower courts and the circuit courts of appeal have had to deal with Heller many, many times. The appeal of California’s Peruta case (Peruta v. County of San Diego, 824 F.3d 919 [9th Cir. 2016] [en banc]) gave the Supreme Court an interesting opportunity to apply Heller. In Peruta, the Ninth Circuit said that the Constitution does not give individuals any right to carry concealed firearms. In California, concealed carry requires a license, granted only for “good cause.” Licenses are rarely and, the plaintiffs would say, arbitrarily granted. Also, open carry is generally banned, by California Assembly Bill No. 144. The Ninth Circuit explicitly declined to say whether banning open carry was constitutional. Therefore, Peruta presents a nice little web of questions. Can all public carry be banned? Maybe. Heller was about keeping guns at home. But its principles seem to go much farther, once this is determined to be an individual right: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Can concealed carry be banned when open carry is permitted? Can open carry be banned when concealed carry is permitted? Can open carry be banned while concealed carry is extremely limited (the current law in California)?

We know that the Supreme Court does not want to answer any of these questions right now, because on June 26 it declined to hear the appeal. That means fewer than four justices voted to take the case. It does not mean they agree with the Ninth Circuit or that they disagree.

I guess that, if forced to decide, the Court would find something wrong with California’s restrictions. Heller must mean a little bit more than sitting in your bedroom with a shotgun. Eventually, starkly contrasting circuit court cases will force the Supreme Court to say more. For now, outside of a few states like California, the political battle for gun rights is way ahead of the courts. All but about 15 states have either “shall issue” licensing or no license requirement at all for the concealed carry of handguns.




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All the News that’s Fit to Tweet

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It case you’ve missed out on this, President Trump keeps making his tweets a subject of national controversy. Friends defend his messages as his way of breaking through the mainstream media’s circle of lies; foes denounce the messages as vulgar and stupid. Both sides are right.

I have a suggestion for Mr. Trump. If you want to hurt your enemies while bringing attention to your programs (not to your anger, about which everyone is fully informed), why not tweet some facts that might advance your agenda? Why not tweet things like the following (they’d be news to most people)?

It’s strange to me that Trump and his staffers haven’t thought of this already. But if he wants a stack of stuff he can use whenever his fingers get that 3 AM itch, I’ll be pleased to send it to him. It wouldn’t take much work.




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The Smartest Girl I Know

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When I first met Deja and Zhane, they were living with their mother in a Section 8 housing unit in Yonkers, New York. Their mother was what most people would describe as a “typical welfare mom” — she got a job once in a while, although the risk of losing her benefits if the job didn’t work out made it difficult to get off welfare. But she was proud of those girls! They didn’t go out on school nights, studied hard, stayed away from boys and drugs, and won numerous school awards. When Zhane was offered the opportunity to attend a scholastic camp during the summer, her mother hustled to contact everyone she knew who might be willing to sponsor the girl with a donation of $20, $10, even $5 if they could spare it. I was one of the hustled. More than once. And I was happy to help.

I lost track of the girls when they stopped attending our church, but I ran into Deja recently at the grocery store in my middle-class neighborhood north of Yonkers, where she is working as a clerk and saving money for college. She also works at a Burger King in the evenings, but she enjoys her grocery job better. “I like the customers, and I feel like ‘somebody’ here,” she said. I asked about her sister, and we caught up.

An estimated 40 million Americans are saddled with outstanding student loans totaling over a trillion dollars.

Zhane is also working two jobs, trying to earn enough money to pay off the debts she accrued after one year of college. “She didn’t want to owe all that money,” Deja told me, “so she’s working to pay it off before she goes back to college.”

Smart girl.

According to statistics compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank and the Chronicle of Higher Education, an estimated 40 million Americans are saddled with outstanding student loans totaling over a trillion dollars. Many of them are well into middle age now, with little hope of ever paying off their debt. In fact, student loans are the only debt that cannot be discharged through bankruptcy, and if the loans aren’t paid off by age 65, when Social Security kicks in, payments to Sallie Mae will be deducted off the top. So add student loans to the inevitability of death and taxes — and don’t plan to leave that fancy engagement ring to your heirs, because Sallie Mae will be first in line when your will is probated.

The average student debt is $30,000, but many students owe well over $100,000 when they graduate, and it isn’t unusual today for grad students from Ivy League schools to amass debts totaling over a quarter million dollars. Unless you’re fortunate enough to land a six- or seven-figure job, those loans will never go away. Never.

Deja and Zhane might not be in college yet, but they know the difference between “aid” and “debt.” Other college students aren’t so wise. One of my own students, repeating a required English course for thethird time, was rather flippant when I cautioned her that she was amassing a huge debt without making any progress toward graduation. “I don’t have to pay for it,” she said proudly. Thinking she meant that her parents or grandparents were footing her tuition bills, I reminded her that she should be more respectful of their money. “Oh no,” she crowed, “they don’t have to pay either. The school gave me financial aid!” This poor, foolish girl thought “aid” meant “help.” She had no idea that it really meant, “Let me hold the door for you as you step into a lifetime of debtors’ prison.”

Unless you’re fortunate enough to land a six- or seven-figure job, those loans will never go away. Never.

At the university where I teach, I encourage my students to purchase their textbook, an anthology of classic literature, on Amazon. Cheap, used editions are seldom available at the college bookstore because the book is updated every three years, making the older editions conveniently obsolete. Half the time the new edition is the only option, and they can’t sell it back at the end of the semester because a new edition is usually about to come out. But I don’t care which edition they use. It’s classic literature, after all! Most of my students find the book online for $5 or so (one found it for a penny!), instead of paying $120 for the new edition at the bookstore. However, last semester I received an email from the dean: “Please encourage students to purchase their books at the college bookstore. Remind them that this is to their advantage, as they cannot use their financial aid if they purchase books online.” So let me get this straight: my students are better off borrowing $120 from Sallie Mae and paying 4–8% interest for the next 20 years than they would be if they simply skipped Starbucks for one day and bought the book online with cash? What kind of new math is that?

“Learn now, pay later” is one of the main reasons tuition has skyrocketed in the past two decades. When students can enroll without putting a penny down, they don’t give enough thought to how much it’s going to cost them later, and colleges can raise tuition almost indiscriminately. When our daughter began college at a private southern California university 15 years ago, she was awarded a scholarship that covered 50% of her tuition. We were delighted, and budgeted accordingly as we allowed her to select this expensive school. By the time she graduated four years later, however, the scholarship was only covering 25 % of her tuition, because tuition had doubled in those four years. How can anyone plan for college, when tuition is changing that drastically?

Banks would not be awarding these astronomical, uncollateralized loans to unproven debtors if the government weren’t guaranteeing the loans.

I fear for this generation whose future is being sold for a mess of pottage. Fully 60% of students accept some kind of loan for college, without ever considering the consequences. Most of them are mere teenagers when the university’s suave, educated, comforting grownups tell them to sign their lives away on the dotted line because “that’s the way everybody does it.” After all, it’s financial aid. The government is helping you get ahead. Aren’t you lucky.

I’m not suggesting that these loans should be forgiven. I don’t really have a solution for the 40 million Americans who are already hopelessly strapped with debts they knowingly contracted. I certainly don’t think free college is the answer. But something has to be done. Banks would not be awarding these astronomical, uncollateralized loans to unproven debtors if the government weren’t guaranteeing the loans by making them undischargeable through bankruptcy, and college tuitions wouldn’t be rising beyond the ability to pay if these loans weren’t creating artificial demand.

As I left the grocery store that day I congratulated Deja again on her wisdom in avoiding debt. By saving her own money for college, she is more likely to spend it carefully on a degree that truly interests her, and she’ll study more effectively because she won’t want to waste the money she has worked so hard to earn. She’ll live at home with her mother and sister instead of paying $1,000 a month for dorm life, and she plans to attend community college before transferring to a university, which will also help keep her costs down. She expects to have enough saved to pay for her first year of tuition by September. And she sleeps well, knowing that her savings account, not her loan balance, is growing.

Smart girl.




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Washington Post Arranges Win for Trump

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Before Tuesday, which was election night in Georgia’s sixth congressional district, I hadn’t been following the affair. I knew there would be a special election to replace a Republican congressman — Tom Price — whom President Trump had appointed to the cabinet. I also knew there was something funny about the Democratic candidate: the guy didn’t live in the district.

Jon Ossoff, a former Democratic staffer and “documentary film maker,” was typical of a class: a young, pretty-for-a-politician, supposedly charismatic person who was used as a target for big-money donations, most of them from Hollywood. A couple of times a year, one of these people — a Kennedy, some kind of activist, something — is revealed as the hope for America’s future, a leader whom the citizens of Anytown, USA, will certainly hail as a savior, if only he or she is well-funded. These people almost always lose. The locals just don’t like ’em.

But Ossoff pushed the envelope. He didn’t live in the district, and he didn’t bother to move there. His explanation was that his girlfriend didn’t live in the district. Oh, I see. His opponent, Karen Handel, a standard Republican, created what seems to have been the only memorable moment of her campaign by asking Ossoff, in a debate, whom he intended to vote for. Long silence from Ossoff, who couldn’t vote because he didn’t live in the district.

A couple of times a year, one of these people — a Kennedy, some kind of activist, something — is revealed as the hope for America’s future.

So that’s what I knew before Tuesday, June 20, when I saw the morning headline in the Washington Post: “Hard-fought House race in suburban Atlanta comes to an end as a referendum on Trump.” That headline was No. 1 all day in Google News Top Stories. It was run as if it were a locally generated headline by online newspapers across the world. And it got my interest. Polls were showing a 50-50 race in the sixth district of Georgia, but the guys at the Post hated Trump so badly that they couldn’t keep from betting all their chips on Blue. If, contrary to their fervent hope, the Republican happened to win — so would Trump!

That was enough for me; I decided to follow the returns as they came in. Clicking around, I discovered that the best sources for updates on the vote were the special live sites of the Atlantic and the New York Times. Both of them offered frequently refreshed totals, and the Times added maps of the district clearly showing where the votes for each party were coming from.

By contrast, CNN’s TV coverage was absurdly bad. A big panel of “experts” had been assembled, and they dealt out the usual inanities; but if you wanted the vote totals, you wouldn’t get them from CNN. Sample: At 9:16 Georgia time, CNN showed Ossoff ahead by 2%, with 156,000 votes counted, while the Atlantic showed Handel leading by 4.5%, with 184,000 counted. Oops. Guess we missed something. CNN’s vote analyst kept talking about votes still being awaited from places that according to the Times were mainly counted already, and must have been, to reach the current totals. At 9:53, when the Times’ vote analysts called the election for Handel, she was 10,000 votes ahead with only 30,000 remaining to be counted; but at 9:50 the vote total on CNN was still 20,000 behind, and at 9:54, 42,000 behind.

Ossoff didn’t live in the district, and he didn’t bother to move there. His explanation was that his girlfriend didn’t live there.

Fox News followed the vote only sporadically, perhaps because it wasn’t betting on the success of the Republican, but it had an absurd moment too. At the point where the vote total reached 120,000, Bret Baier, its most respected news anchor, was brought in for an interview, and he prattled on about how it was still early in the evening, only a fraction of the votes had been counted, who could tell?, etc. Dauntless researcher that I am, I had just been checking Wikipedia to determine the number of votes that are usually cast in the district. I easily and accurately predicted that 250,000 would be counted on June 20, but Baier had obviously not benefited from such research. It was clear from discussions on both Fox and CNN that their people hadn’t noticed the difference between the percentage of precints that had (fully) reported and the percentage of votes that had actually been counted.

Suddenly, at 10 PM, CNN’s vote total miraculously caught up, and it conceded what had been obvious for almost an hour before: the election had gone to the Republican. The Times election-returns site called the election at 9:53. Right to the end, however, the Times itselfkept the headline it had been running all day (also high up on Google Top Stories): “Georgia’s special election comes to a nail-biting finish.” And the Post kept its own headline, which, as I mentioned, was “Hard-fought House race in suburban Atlanta comes to an end as a referendum on Trump.”

One minute after CNN declared a victor, its irrepressibly behind-the-curve anchor Don Lemon opined, “The results were actually really close.” No, they weren’t. Except in safe districts, a vote of 52-48 is well within the “decisive” range in an American election.

A big panel of “experts” had been assembled, and they dealt out the usual inanities.

So Trump had won? I doubt it. Ossoff was the kind of gasbag who in his concession speech informed his followers: “As darkness has crept across this planet, [you] have provided a beacon of hope for people here in Georgia, for people across the country, and for people around the world.” Well, Ossoff may not have had any self-awareness, but he did have money — something between $20 and 40 million in funding, making this the most expensive congressional election in American history. Still, it wasn’t enough to cancel the fact that he didn’t even live in the district. As for Trump, he appears to have been popular in some parts of the district, but not in others. What a surprise.

So who knows? Unfortunately, either the Republican or the Democrat had to win.

Now, I know that the Washington Post sees things differently. But I’m still waiting for the headline that, according to its own logic, it should now be running — the headline that says, “Trump Wins Referendum.”




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Temporization Fugit

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As speculated in a June 7 feature here, President Trump today (June 16) announced, before a packed Miami crowd, a big change in US-Cuba policy. Though tourism to the island by American-based visitors has been technically banned by the embargo for quite some time, the 2014 Obama thaw fudged the issue in a variety of ways. President Trump has just dumped the fudge.

Pre-Obama’s thaw, regulations allowed Americans to visit Cuba under a variety of categories, including a people-to-people category — once their itinerary had been vetted by the Treasury Department. Under that category, only organized tour groups with a detailed itinerary were allowed to visit, with the intent of American folks and Cuban folks getting to know each other.

Compliance with the travel regulations in all categories will be strictly enforced.

On December 2014, President Obama eliminated the vetting process and allowed visitors to vet themselves on an honor system. At the same time, visitors returning from the island weren’t scrutinized, only questioned perfunctorily or not at all, about their compliance with US government regulations.

According to CNBC, “President Trump's policy restricts this form of travel to Cuba for individuals. Americans pursuing this type of travel would have to go in groups.” And their compliance with the travel regulations in all categories will be strictly enforced.

But the ultimate aim of the new policy is to restrict American tourist dollars going to businesses owned by the Cuban military's holding company, GAESA. "The profits from investment and tourism flow directly to the military. The regime takes the money and owns the industry. The outcome of the last administration's executive action has only been more repression and a move to crush the peaceful, democratic movement," Trump said in Miami on Friday.

The ultimate aim of the new policy is to restrict American tourist dollars going to businesses owned by the Cuban military's holding company.

According to Fox News, The policy calls on Americans traveling to Cuba to use "private businesses and services provided by the Cuban people, rather than businesses and services provided by GAESA." In effect, government hotels and resorts are out. US-based visitors must use private B&Bs and restaurants otherwise known as casas particulares and paladares.

The new policy does not go into effect until the new regulations are issued. We await the Cuban government’s reaction . . .




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Designer Reality

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Libertarians take great stock in the law of supply and demand. We understand that as long as something is in demand (as long as it isn’t a cure for cancer), there will generally be a supply of it. As it was with alcohol — the consumption of which only increased as a result of Prohibition — so, too, has it been with such drugs as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin.

Less obvious, perhaps even to us, is the driving force behind the seemingly unstoppable popularity of alternative reality. Why do so many people, in this increasingly dystopian century, appear to be disconnected from objective truth? I don’t believe it can simply be explained as dissatisfaction with dystopia. There appears to be a general notion that people can believe whatever they want, and that reality is so subjective that it is mere clay, to be molded into whatever shape they choose.

In childhood, this is called imagination. If it persists into adulthood, it can become a form of mental illness. And instead of the remedy for dystopia, it appears to be the cause of it. Even a great many of those who never resort to alcohol or other drugs are addicted to designer reality.

Why do so many people, in this increasingly dystopian century, appear to be disconnected from objective truth?

Nor are libertarians immune to the addiction. I recently made the mistake of involving myself in one of those pointless Facebook flame wars I keep resolving to stay out of. It was on a libertarian page, and some cocky young gun posted yet another of those dreary challenges to feminine patience: “Why aren’t there more libertarian women?”

Of those who jumped into this discussion on the commentary thread, at least half were women. Real live, flesh-and-blood women were saying that we did exist, explaining how we had come to be libertarians, and suggesting how more of us could be encouraged to follow. Not that this appeared to teach the young gun, or his buddies, anything of value.

The answer to every one of our comments was some variation of the same: “Libertarianism is a logical philosophy, and men are logical, but women are not. Women are emotional and cannot be logical.” It was basically only a slightly more mature version of “Girls are stinky and have cooties” or of that old playground taunt: “Girls go to Jupiter to get more stupider. Boys go to Mars to get more candy bars.” I suppose the goal was to get us to be more emotional, so they could prove their point.

The word “logic” kept being repeated, as if it were a magical incantation. I saw zero evidence that these guys were using much of it, but they seemed to think if they kept asserting that they possessed superior logic, they needed to do no more. They had their designer reality, it gave them a terrific high, and they could imagine nothing better. The possibility that if they stopped telling us how illogical we were, and actually made the effort to explain the libertarian philosophy to us, they might meet with more widespread results, apparently never occurred to them.

It differs little from telling children that Santa Claus doesn’t really come down the chimney and eat those cookies.

Taking the chance that since they talked so much about logic, they might actually recognize it when they saw it, I attempted to reason with them. I pointed out that libertarians believe in the value of the individual. That one of their sages, Ayn Rand (herself — ahem — a woman), proclaimed that the individual was “the smallest minority” and stalwartly championed individual rights. And that they were speaking of women in a strictly collective sense — lumping us all together in a most unlibertarian way. They responded by casting Rand, and presumably any other woman who actually used logic, as a freak of nature who was at worst a horribly deformed woman, or at best some sort of an honorary man.

I have had this experience with nearly all the designer reality addicts I have ever engaged in conversation, no matter what pretty world they’ve chosen to inhabit. The cherished belief is doggedly repeated. Regardless of how good my argument happens to be, or how much evidence I present to support my position, it has no effect except to make them less logical and more — well — emotional. It differs little from telling children that Santa Claus doesn’t really come down the chimney and eat those cookies. They seem not so much indifferent to the truth as afraid of it.

The problem does not begin with the seemingly endless variety of designer reality available to us. Its origin can be traced to an insatiable demand. And the lure is powerful. This is not because all designer reality is utter bunk, but because in almost every version, there is at least a grain of truth.

Women can be emotional. I know that after that online conversation with those male libertarians, I wanted to scream my head off. But the political powers-that-be can take a grain of truth, add a little yeast, and expand it into a monstrous blob of dough. Many women turn their frustrations with men into protest-marching, silly-hat-wearing, man-hating lunacy. Today’s feminists have managed to make burning bras look, by comparison, charmingly quaint.

The big-government power structure functions as a duopoly, neither side of which is totally right or wrong. Most people choose the portions of truth they prefer and ignore the fact that the rest of what they’ve chosen is falsehood. The powers-that-be are basically telling us that we can have no more than part of the truth. That we are not entitled to the full truth. That we must be content with whichever lies we find the most pleasant — or at any rate, the least painful.

Today’s feminists have managed to make burning bras look, by comparison, charmingly quaint.

A temptation to accept partial truth is, it seems to me, the contemporary equivalent of taking the apple from the Serpent. It is the fruit the State dangles before us. And when we get cast out of the Garden, we waste our time arguing over trivialities — such as whether to blame Adam or Eve. Or maybe Adam and Steve.

Liberty enables us to pursue the full truth. We certainly don’t all agree on what that is, but each of us who values freedom should never settle for anything less. When we waste our time bickering over whose designer reality is prettier, we sell our freedom short. And, so divided, we invite the potentates of big government to conquer us.




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The Reusables

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My state, California, recently enacted a Bag Law. Intended to reduce the mighty environmental danger of plastic bags, it forbids drug stores and groceries from giving them out for free; they have to charge at least ten cents. This nanny-state microaggression was approved at last November’s general election, by the same voters who gave Hillary Clinton a majority in this state.

I have only anecdotal and speculative evidence about the effects of this law. I assume that workers who make plastic bags have been hurt, and that retailers have not been hurt, because they get to keep the ten cents. A slim majority of voters waked up in time to keep the money from going to some phony environmental fund.

Is saving a dime worth all that effort? Would it be worth ten cents to keep other customers from hating you?

As for the customers, a remarkable number of them are doing what the law wants them to do — bringing their own “reusable” bags.

Of course, some of them did that before the law was passed. These were environmental zanies, and their post-election conduct was predictable. They look smug, make self-congratulatory observations to the clerk, bother their kids with information about the purpose of “daddy’s bag,” etc. Such people were always few, and their numbers have not increased.

But there has been a substantial increase in the number of people who seem sane in other respects but are now showing up with reusables. Nowadays, I rarely hit the checkout line without being preceded by someone who spends five minutes, in close collaboration with the clerk, packing and repacking his week’s supply of groceries in a container made to hold an avocado, a piece of kale, and three back issues of Prevention magazine. Is saving a dime worth all that effort? Would it be worth ten cents to keep other customers from hating you? Would it be worth a dime to spare yourself the scientifically documented risk of disease entailed by the reuse of bags in public and the difficulty of washing them? By the way, wouldn’t it be worth ten cents, just to save yourself the trouble of washing a stupid shopping bag? Not to mention all the precious energy consumed in the process.

No rational defense of reusables is possible.

Now, on to me. I may not like the Bag Law — in fact, I detest it — but when I’m paying $50.00 for groceries, an increase of ten cents (twenty for double bagging) is insignificant. Compared to the hassle of dragging reusables around, it’s microscopic. I don’t mind carrying a wine bottle out in my own bare hands; in fact, It makes me feel all manly and edgy and lumpen. But I mind even less spending ten cents for a bag that will hold the wine, the frozen dinners, the two avocadoes, the tortilla soup, and that weird cheese from New Zealand, without any need for forethought or planning — a bag that will then be available the next day, to line the garbage can.

Of course, this is not a principled stand, but neither is it a principled stand to torture yourself with reusables — if you’re a normal person, that is. So why do normal persons do it?

The answer, according to a conservative-libertarian friend who also detests the law but who reluctantly admits to using reusable bags instead of paying the damned ten cents, is the following:

"I hate to waste money."

I’m puzzled by his reasoning. So you’d be wasting ten cents on a plastic bag, but you’re not wasting more than that on a reusable?

This is not a principled stand, but neither is it a principled stand to torture yourself with reusables — if you’re a normal person, that is.

 

Thinking about what he said, I discovered numerous parallel puzzlements. For example:

I never spend a minute balancing my checkbook, but I’ll spend an hour calling to protest a three-dollar overcharge on my credit card.

I’ve caught myself putting up with terrible service in store A, simply because I don’t want to waste five extra minutes to travel to store B.

We all know people who are grossly inconvenienced — even threatened in their lives or livelihood — by the machinations of X political party, but who will never, never vote for Y political party, because some proponent of Y once made some offensive remark, or because their Ma and Pa always voted for X.

These are all instances of being penny wise and pound foolish, and some serious research needs to be done on them. It might explain a lot about life on earth.

But my friend pointed out something else. He lives in what, according to South Park, is the citadel of “Smug” — the San Francisco Bay area. There, he says, he has observed the three types of bagholder whom I have observed, here in Southern California: the people (e.g., me) who just go ahead and pay the ten cents for a plastic bag, the people who reluctantly but willingly tote a reusable (that’s him), and the people who gleefully advertise their allegiance to reusables.

But he says that he frequently encounters a fourth type, which is worse, even, than the third: people for whom reusables became a fact of nature as soon as the Bag Law was passed, people who see them not as a hardship or a puzzlement or a moral victory but as an expression of the way things ever were and ever ought to be. For them, there is no problem — because they are the problem.




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