Maurice Chevalier’s America


The government shutdown — to what shall I compare it? How about the song that Maurice Chevalier sings in Gigi? Too old to suffer the pangs of love, Chevalier rejoices that from now on there will be

No morning-after surprise,
No self-delusion
That when you're telling those lies
She isn't wise.

America appears to have penetrated those lies about life being unlivable without the federal government. So the affair is over; the government is “shut” — and behold! We eat; we drink; we are even merry.

They are not glad they’re not young anymore; they are angry that they’re not young anymore.

All of us, that is, except politicians still suffering from the delusion that when they’re telling their lies, particularly their lies about their own indispensability, America isn’t wise. Well, she is. But I don’t hear Nancy Pelosi singing, “How lovely to sit here in the shade,” or feeling relieved by the failure of her romance with the voters. Not for her is

The longing to end the stale affair
Until you find out — she doesn't care!

The idea that “she,” America, fundamentally does not care must be grievous, intolerable, even unthinkable to people like Pelosi. Far from feeling grateful that they can go about their business, or even enjoy, like Chevalier, a breakfast “in the shade” — with singing, and a little dance — they clamor to be readmitted to a fraught and failed relationship. They are not glad they’re not young anymore; they are angry that they’re not young anymore. To cite the singer once again: “Poor boys! Poor girls!”

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Presidents Will Be Presidents


With the passing of former President George H.W. Bush, we’ve heard a multitude of eulogies. Though the media often savaged him when he was president, calling him a wimp and claiming he was out of touch with ordinary Americans, he is now being held up, by his associates and many in the media, as a man of sterling character. And they consider it rude if we disagree.

Particularly after they’ve left office, presidents are reassessed in a kinder light than they merit. It’s great if they were nice to their family, fraternity brothers, or fellow politicians, but what about the people whose lives their administrations affected? Our view of them is often different. How come they do us like they do?

Not only us, but people in other countries. Sometimes especially people in other countries. Do those on the receiving end of bombing raids or drone strikes regard the president who ordered them as a stand-up guy?

It’s great if they were nice to their family, fraternity brothers, or fellow politicians, but what about the people whose lives their administrations affected?

One of the things I most appreciate about libertarian principle is its bedrock-level moral soundness. We don’t believe in hitting people or taking their things. We do believe in behaving ourselves, instead of telling others how to behave, and, whenever possible, in simply minding our own business. This makes those rare libertarians in public life stand-up guys and gals. It also gives the rest of us a reliable yardstick by which to measure them.

By our yardstick, George H.W. Bush was a pretty typical president. He stuck his nose in everybody else’s business. Not content to regulate the lives of those in his own country, or to raise our taxes (after promising he wouldn’t), Bush 41 also wanted to run the show in other countries. From his “New World Order,” no one was exempt. On a person-to-person level, there were plenty of people to whom he wasn’t very nice.

We libertarians are loath to accept the opinions of those for whom political power is the only consideration. What can we do to help change the way elected officials are evaluated? We can tell the truth about who does what to whom. We can call what our elected officials do exactly what it is.

George H.W. Bush was a pretty typical president. He stuck his nose in everybody else’s business.

All presidents in recent memory have ordered military hits on people in other countries. They have dealt death to innocent civilians. If we did that to other human beings, we’d be locked up and possibly even executed. No matter how wonderful someone may be, when that person runs for president, we can reliably predict that if victorious in the election, he or she will become a murderer. By the law binding on the rest of us, the one who orders the hit is guilty of the crime.

I mean to draw a distinction, here, between the sort of killing that defends lives and the sort that results from a war in which we are the aggressors. I’m also letting off the hook people who take the lives of those attempting to take theirs. Nor would I begrudge the right to self-defense to anyone — in or out of uniform.

Libertarians want our presidents (and Congress) to stop killing people who aren’t trying to kill us. We tell the truth about the crimes they commit. For the sake of winning elections, should we do otherwise? If we don’t tell the truth, who will?

No matter how wonderful someone may be, when that person runs for president, we can reliably predict that if victorious in the election, he or she will become a murderer.

Crimes against humanity continue to be committed in our name, and on our dime. We can do little about this except to vote against it. I joined the Libertarian Party because active participation in the party is, I believe, one of the most important ways my voice can be heard. And I’m totally willing to be rude about it. Fake decency and fake civility are vastly worse than fake news.

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Is My Vote Wasted?


The purpose of this Reflection is not to argue for or against any specific position but merely to articulate and clarify various arguments. The issue is simple: if I vote for the Libertarian Party candidate, is my vote wasted?

Here are 25 responses to that question.

(1) If I vote Libertarian and the Republican candidate loses to the Democrat then my vote was indeed wasted and could have made a difference if cast for the Republican.

(2) But virtually no elections are decided by exactly one vote, so my vote was wasted either way.

(3) But if everyone who voted Libertarian had voted Republican, or Democratic, that could have made a difference.

(4) But I am only responsible for myself individually, not for the entire "libertarian voting bloc," so I shouldn't think like a collectivist.

(5) But that is a realistic way to think.

(6) One vote almost never decides an election, so shouldn’t I vote for the best candidate with the purest principles, as a personal statement?

(7) But voter turnout rates are low, so every vote counts, if only as a measure of opinion. In fact a lot of effort and money goes into getting every last voter available.

(8) Wouldn’t it be most idealistic to cast a vote that could make a real difference for real people? Which means . . .

(A) voting for a candidate who can win; or

(B) voting for a Libertarian, because this will force the GOP closer to libertarianism, because it will need to try to get our votes.

(9) If everyone like me voted for the LP, then couldn’t the LP win?

(10) The LP fundamentally does not care about winning elections, but the GOP does, so how can the LP win anything?

(11) Aren’t Republican candidates better that Libertarians, because they really enact laws? And aren’t most Republicans sympathetic to libertarianism, anyway?

(12) But aren’t Republicans really no better than Democrats? They support big government when it suits them; they are conservatives, not libertarians, so a vote for the GOP is a wasted vote.

(13) If I cast a vote for anyone, am I not giving my consent to and endorsing the big government state and its taxes, wars, regulations, plans for gun control, etc.?

(14) Won’t the big government machine steamroll on, regardless of whether I cast a vote? So I might as well try to vote for a politician who will fight to slow it down.

(15) It costs practically nothing to vote, and the marginal impact I might have is wasted if I don't.

(16) But actually going to the polls and taking an hour off from work to cast a vote is too much trouble, relative to how little my own vote matters.

(17) Politics is a dirty business, so I don't want to get involved by voting.

(18) Politics is a dirty business, and the only way to clean it up is for people like me to get involved. So I have to vote. Even if my vote is wasted today, it starts the process of moving toward a tomorrow when my vote will not be wasted.

(19) If a Republican runs against a Democrat, and the Libertarian gets 4% of the vote and the Republican loses by 2% and I voted Libertarian and the Democrats achieve world domination, then I am to blame.

(20) But if the other 96% had voted with me, then the Libertarian would have won, so they are to blame. And if the Republican candidate had been very libertarian-leaning he would have taken half the LP vote anyway, so he is to blame.

(21) My vote is my own; it belongs to me. So I owe no duty to do anything other than vote my conscience and my values, which are Libertarian.

(22) Libertarian Party candidates often disagree with voters on important issues, such as abortion or immigration or privatization. If I vote along Libertarian Party lines, I may be voting for individuals who differ substantially from me or the party, or both.

(23) As a member of the American experiment in democracy, initiated by Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, and other brave men, I owe a duty to my nation to act as a member of the body politic, which includes a duty to research the candidates and cast a vote that is intelligently designed to do the most good for the country by maximizing support for the most electable candidate who would also be competent, sane, and reasonable in his policies, which most often means the Republican candidate.

(24) The real war in American politics is between Democrats and Republicans, so any vote outside that system is a wasted vote.

(25) The establishment sells the idea that it is a two-party system, but if the public became aware of the nation's third largest political party the system would become a three-party competition and the LP could realistically go from 4% to 30% of the vote. The reason we don't get votes is because nobody knows who we are and what we stand for, not because voters don't like us.

* * *

I leave my readers with a question: which of these positions do you agree or disagree with, and why?

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The Tumblr Farce


On December 4, Tumblr ruined its business by banning “adult content.” This vast revision of the popular picture-sharing site was headlined as “a better, more positive Tumblr.”

More positively ridiculous, they should have said.

Tumblr is a free site (with lots of advertising). It allows — it did allow — people from all over the world to post their cat pictures, if they wanted, or their genitalia, if they wanted. Or their obnoxious political propaganda. Or their how-to’s about septum piercing. Or their illustrated stories about female domination.

And people from all over the world have used it to create hundreds of thousands of niche communities, many of them involving sex acts or fetishes that they happen to enjoy.

Tumblr allows — it did allow — people from all over the world to post their cat pictures, if they wanted, or their genitalia, if they wanted.

Now, one great rule of life is that everything outside the relatively narrow band of sex acts, customs, words, and pictures that excites any given person will positively disgust that person. And so what? Don’t look at things you don’t like to look at.

But Tumblr has the nerve to associate its banning of “adult content” with the notion of creating “a place where more people feel comfortable expressing themselves” and with the ideal of “more constructive dialogue among our community members.” Members’ former means of “self-expression” felt very “comfortable” to more and more people, thank you; the “dialogue” was going fine. People who wanted to communicate about their cats or their sexual conundrums were doing exactly that, and many of them were developing remarkable skills of “dialogue” and individual expression. You might not like it, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t constructive. And if it comes to that, I can think of few things more constructive than sexual pleasure.

Oh, heaven forbid that anyone should see "real-life human genitals," much less "female-presenting nipples"!

By the way, what is “adult content”? The company thinks it’s “photos, videos, or GIFs that show real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content — including photos, videos, GIFs and illustrations — that depicts sex acts.” Oh, heaven forbid that anyone should see real-life human genitals, much less female-presenting nipples!

But heaven didn’t forbid it. Heaven gave us genitalia, and all of us have them still, except corporate executives who don’t want to be criticized for being adult. And aren’t.

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Fishing for Mackerel on the High Tide


I am at the municipal wharf fishing next to a Filipino. (I always try to place myself next to a Filipino. Filipinos know more than anyone else about fishing from a wharf; it’s a fact!) He says the mackerel are going to come over with the high tide. I already believe that, from experience.

There are always tourists on the wharf, from a little bit of everywhere. Invariably, some are fishermen and fisherwomen, or would like to be. Two tourists have overheard us. They are from southern Indiana. It’s the first time they have actually seen the ocean, they say.

One of them asks if he heard right: you catch mackerel on the high tide? He is a fisherman himself; he fishes a lake-reservoir near Bloomington. I explain to him that the tide is high every 11 to 14 hours or so and that the sea recedes between those high marks. The mackerel, for their own very private reasons, mass on the high tides, and that’s when they look for something to eat, an anchovy, or even a shiny bare hook.

I belong myself to the tribe that values knowledge for its own sake. Fortunately, I am a fisherman.

I make a disgusting noise with my mouth to signal that the moon causes the oceans to slosh by kind of sucking on them and then releasing them. The first tourist seems interested but also puzzled by my lack of precision about the times when high tides occur. He also wants to know how important it is to respect the tides. I tell him what I know, what I think I know: you catch much more fish on the high tide than at any other time. The Filipino guy moves his head approvingly. I have instant validation. How do I figure out the tides, the first tourist asks? You can get tide tables for the current year at the tackle shop right over there. They are not exactly accurate but they are good enough for fishing; ask any expert fishermen (plural).

Hoosier number two wants to know what causes tides. He has already heard that it’s the moon. If that is so, he states, why can’t the high tide occur at exactly regular intervals? I point out to him that the moon changes its position relative to the earth pretty much all the time. And then I let him know that the sun also has an effect, a sucking effect like the moon’s but a weaker one because it’s farther away, and the earth rotation, and the local relief, and the winds, and . . .

By the time I am less than a third into my lecture on tides, tourist number two is looking at me with vacant eyes; I am afraid that his face will fall forward and hit the rough wood banister. But tourist number one now has tide tables in his hand and he is examining them with animated curiosity. The man would soon catch mackerel if he lived around here, I am thinking. The other tourist, the head-nodding one, understands tides at least 500% better than he did a short while ago. It does not matter to him at this point that he knows no more than one one-thousandth of what’s known about tides. He has no idea of this reality anyway.

The Filipino guy moves his head approvingly. I have instant validation.

I belong myself to the tribe that values knowledge for its own sake. Fortunately, I am a fisherman (an average fisherman). It helps me keep track of the fact that catching fish is also valuable, in several ways. Plus, I really like the fatty taste of mackerel. What I told the two tourists about tides serves both purposes. I believe that the first guy does not need to understand in detail the complex mechanisms of tidal motions to catch more fish. Of course, he must be convinced that I am not lying to him, that the mackerel really run on the high tide, and not on the low tide, for example

In the end, it all depends on what you want, mackerel or knowledge.

* * *

PS: When you cook mackerel, gut it but don’t remove the head, ever! Put it in a fairly hot skillet (not to a maximum heat, more like three-quarters High). Do not use oil or butter. The fish cooks best in its own fat. After it’s well seized on both sides, reduce the heat and cover to finish by steaming. It’s ready when the flesh comes off the main bone easily. Mackerel is not a wimpy fish; it’s hard to ruin. Salt only just before you serve. You can add black pepper anytime. Eat with lemon, of course. One more thing: if your spouse or partner is not a fishy-fish person you may have to trade him or her in after the second or third time you cook mackerel at home. Life is made of choices.

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The Abyss Gazes Back


“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.
And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

Though I’m a Libertarian, and in the Left-Right fight I am both-yet-neither, I’m hardly on the 50-yard line. At this stage of my political evolution, I’m considerably more likely to vote Republican than Democrat when no other option is available. In the Arizona senate race this year, I cast my ballot for Martha McSally. I did so without much enthusiasm. I am close enough to the 50-yard line — yet far enough from the field — so that when I vote either Republican or Democrat, I usually end up regretting it.

President Trump, to put it frankly, is a drama queen. He plays every scene bigly. Those who cling to his coattails seem, to me, inclined to do the same thing. Martha McSally is no exception. There were several times in her campaign when I had reason to think, per the old Marx Brothers routine, “Oh, Martha! Slowly I turned, step by step!”

Her opponent, now Senator-Elect Kyrsten Sinema, thinks it’s dandy for Americans to join the Taliban? That was the charge leveled against her by the McSally campaign. (“Step by step . . inch by inch . . ”) Actually, my very first thought, once McSally began making this claim, was that she thinks we’re all idiots. But in the 2003 interview in which Sinema made the “Taliban” comment, talk-radio host Ernie Hancock — himself a libertarian — was trying to show how liberal Sinema really was. His point was that she liked spending the taxpayers’ money on causes she considered noble. Flabbergasted when he said that as an individual, he had every right to join the Taliban (because the taxpayers wouldn’t be paying for it), and certainly thinking he was just trying to get her goat, she told him to go ahead and join: “Fine. I don't care if you want to do that, go ahead." The notion that she genuinely exhorted a middle-aged political pundit to become a terrorist is so absurd that it’s insulting anyone would expect me to believe it.

President Trump is a drama queen. He plays every scene bigly. Those who cling to his coattails seem inclined to do the same thing.

Congresswoman McSally’s views are closer to libertarian than Sinema’s, that’s for sure. It’s why I pulled the lever for the former instead of the latter. McSally generally believes in smaller government, at any rate. Though Sinema’s antiwar stance is significantly closer to mine, she is indeed a big-government booster on nearly every other issue. And I find political histrionics tiresome, regardless of which side indulges in them.

McSally used to be an Air Force fighter pilot — one of the nation’s female firsts. “I was shot at by the Taliban,” she tells us. The obvious and understandable emotion behind that assertion doesn’t change the fact that Sinema made an offhand, unscripted remark. It was a “gotcha” moment, plain and simple.

The fact that what she said would have been terribly insensitive (at the very least) had she meant it seriously does not change the fact that it was never meant to be taken seriously. She undoubtedly didn’t realize that, a decade and a half later, it would be scrounged up and used against her. But the fact of the matter was that Sinema didn’t think McSally should have been in the Middle East, flying a fighter plane, to get shot at in the first place. The whole point she’d been trying to make was that she was against the war.

The notion that Sinema genuinely exhorted a middle-aged political pundit to become a terrorist is so absurd that it’s insulting anyone would expect me to believe it.

Shenanigans like this are why libertarians — capital “L” or small — get frustrated with Republicans. The red-meat GOP base loves to call its political opponents “snowflakes.” But too often, they give the impression of being pretty snowflaky themselves. We want substance — logic — but what we so often get is emotional razzle-dazzle.

Politics these days reminds me increasingly of a black-and-white comedy. Lacking the wit of the Marx Brothers, it’s more on the level of the Three Stooges. Whenever a charge is lobbed by one side against the other, the opposition’s response is, basically, “But you started it . . . nyuk-nyuk-nyuk!” They’re forever poking their fingers in one another’s eyes and smacking one another on the head.

Yet as buffoonish as many politicians are, their antics don’t stay funny for very long. They’re taking our money and meddling in our lives. Republicans may do it less than Democrats, but they do it, all the same. When we gaze into the big-government abyss, the abyss gazes back. And there’s nothing funny about that.

The red-meat GOP base loves to call its political opponents “snowflakes.” But too often, they give the impression of being pretty snowflaky themselves.

We need a third option on the ballot: one with an “L” beside it. The only other choice in the Arizona senate race was a Green Party candidate, appropriately named Angela Green, who withdrew from the contest once it became obvious that Sinema needed her votes. Thousands of people still voted for Green, but in any case those wouldn’t have gone either to McSally or to a Libertarian.

We libertarians are prone to second-guessing our votes. The Republican Party in Arizona has done everything it can to keep us off the ballot, by rigging the system to deny us third-party status. To be frank, that didn’t endear McSally to me, either. What I probably should have done, in the choice for the senate, was vote for nobody at all.

With no third option (I would have voted for Groucho Marx before I’d have chosen Angela Green), I cast a lackluster vote, for a candidate I knew was trying to manipulate me. Though it made no difference to the outcome, I feel sullied and used. Now we have Kyrsten Sinema, a big-government, tax-and-spend “progressive,” in the US Senate seat formerly held by an at least somewhat libertarian Jeff Flake.

I believe the Republicans are fighting with monsters. The Democrats have little left in their arsenal besides cheap emotional appeals. But in stooping to their opponents’ level in the tactics they use, and in cynically shutting other candidates out, the Republicans are turning into monsters themselves. Voters are gazing into the abyss, and the abyss is gazing back.

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The Choices of Jeff Bezos


Amazon’s choice to expand in New York City and the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC reminded me of a story I did on the company in January 1999, when I was a business reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Amazon was three and a half years old and was approaching $1 billion a year in revenue — an amount it does now in two days. Back then Amazon was operating out of an old building near the Pike Place Market above a cheap Indian restaurant and across the street from the Green Turtle youth hostel.

Its employees there worked from desks that were made from interior doors the company bought for $135 each and equipped with legs. “We have a carpenter who makes a hundred of these at a time,” Jeff Bezos told me. Bezos made a point of showing me his CEO’s desk was made from a door, too. It was a matter of priorities, he said. Amazon could not afford to piddle away its cash on fancy office furniture.

Bezos was 35 then. On paper he was worth $9 billion, though the company had not yet earned a nickel’s worth of profit.

Back then Amazon was operating out of an old building above a cheap Indian restaurant and across the street from the Green Turtle youth hostel.

In those days I wrote a lot of company features, which included an interview with the CEO and a walk around the plant. I always included the story of the founding, which in Amazon’s case was about how Bezos chose Seattle. Bezos wasn’t from here; he was from New York, where he’d been working on Wall Street. His idea for Amazon was an internet business to sell books, which were standard products, easy to handle, cheap to ship, and didn’t require after-market service. You might think such a business could be set up anywhere, but the location was important. It had to have good airline connections, for example.

The biggest thing, he told me, was the labor market. In order to grow, it had to have a deep pool of computer-savvy talent. The deepest pool on the West Coast was in Silicon Valley, but he avoided that place because the competition for talent was too fierce. He didn’t want to have to bid against Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and Apple. Microsoft had created its own talent pool in Seattle, and he was happy to dip into that.

When the movers came to his apartment in New York, he said, he still hadn’t decided where to start his company. He had narrowed it down to four Western cities: Boulder, Colorado; Reno, Nevada; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle. Portland and Reno, he decided, were too small; Boulder was near Denver, which was big enough. Well, he chose Seattle, which is now packed with 40,000 Amazon employees.

In order to grow, Amazon had to have a deep pool of computer-savvy talent.

Some commentators noticed that Bezos chose one of the seven states with no income tax, and suggested that when he went looking for “HQ2,” he would choose one of the others — Texas, maybe, perhaps Austin. If he had chosen Austin, the anti-income-tax people would have made hay over that.

A columnist in the Seattle Times, Danny Westneat, writes that by choosing New York City and suburban Washington DC, Amazon has thrown in with “two of the most expensive, high-tax environments in the nation,” places that have personal and corporate income taxes, including a city income tax in New York. Such a choice puts paid to the notion that a company like Amazon will go to the place with the best “tax climate.”

I have no objection to Amazon accepting subsidies—government’s offering them is another matter.

Was Amazon chasing subsidies? It was offered big ones by New York and by Virginia — but then, it was offered even bigger ones by other jurisdictions, and it turned them down. I have no objection to Amazon accepting subsidies (government’s offering them is another matter); Bezos owes it to his shareholders, including himself, to get the best deal he can. But he also owes them, and himself, the discipline not to be bribed into making a bad decision.

I note in the news reports that Amazon says it chose New York and metro Washington in search of the best pools of tech talent — which is the same thing Bezos told me about Seattle 20 years ago.

None of this is to say that a state’s tax and regulatory climates are not important. Texas has been growing faster than New York, and one of the obvious reasons is that Texas has fewer regulations and taxes. But to Bezos, that difference is not the most important one, and not enough to tip the balance in favor of Texas.

All of which assumes he is making a good decision.

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We Survived Another Election


A newspaper columnist in my hometown called the elections of 2018 about social justice and the soul of America. It was, some said, the most important election of our lifetimes.

So much for that. RealClearPolitics projected a Democratic gain in the House of Representatives of 25; Nate Silver said 35. As I write, the day after the election, the result looks to be in that range. The Democrats lost seats in the Senate, which the pollsters had also predicted.

Does that amount to a “blue wave”? Yeah, but more like a surfing wave than the tsunami for which the anti-Trumpers yearned. Consider that in 2010, two years into the reign of Obama, the Tea Party-driven Republicans conquered the House with a 63-seat gain. In 1994, two years into Clinton’s first term, Republicans took the House with a 54-seat gain. In 1966, two years into Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, Republicans picked up 47 seats in the House, though they fell short of controlling it. In each of these first-term off-year elections, the “wave” party also took seats in the Senate.

Does that amount to a “blue wave”? Yeah, but more like a surfing wave than the tsunami for which the anti-Trumpers yearned.

So we’ll have a Democratic House and a Republican Senate. That’s not such a bad outcome. We had divided government in most of the Bill Clinton years, and they were better years than most. Congress passed welfare reform, ratified NAFTA, and decided to keep its hands off the Internet — all good.

Rand Paul, libertarians’ favorite Republican senator, was not on the ballot this year, but he would have won. A Republican won Tennessee’s other Senate seat. Justin Amash, libertarians’ favorite Republican congressman, was easily reelected in Michigan.

In New Mexico, big-L Libertarian Gary Johnson came in third with 15% of the vote for a seat in the US Senate. He was not a spoiler; the Democrat had a majority and would have won had Johnson not been on the ballot. Johnson said it is his last campaign. Too bad. He’s a good man — but America has a two-party mind.

It's not such a bad outcome. We had divided government in most of the Bill Clinton years, and they were better years than most.

In Arizona, small-L libertarian Clint Bolick was up for a retention election for his nonpartisan seat on the Arizona Supreme Court. Bolick, who had been appointed to the court by the Republican governor, was targeted by the National Education Association — and he made it through easily.

As with most elections, some of the more interesting things were choices other than candidates, especially in the central and western states. Start with dope and guns. Voters in Michigan, which has had medical marijuana since 2008, passed Proposal 1, general legalization. Voters in North Dakota rejected a similar proposal. Medical marijuana won in Utah, the nation’s most conservative state, and also in Missouri, which had three versions of it on the ballot. Medical marijuana is not a big deal any more, at least outside the South.

Voters in my home state, Washington (which has had medical marijuana for 20 years), passed Initiative 1639, which raises the age for owning a gun to 21. The measure, said to be one of the toughest gun-control laws in the country, was pushed by urban progressives, and they had the votes to pass it.

Medical marijuana is not a big deal any more, at least outside the South.

Washington is a Democratic state with a split personality: it is the leftiest state with no income tax and no appetite for income taxes or any other new taxes. This year its voters nixed Initiative 1631, which would have slapped a hefty tax on gasoline refiners and handed the money — a lot of money — to a coterie of political appointees to spend on environmental good. Bill Gates was for it and Big Oil was against it. Well, the people sided with Big Oil.

Washington also considered Initiative 1634, to prohibit local government from adding new taxes on food. The left-leaning city of Seattle had recently slapped a tax on sugary drinks — a measure that was, of course, entirely for the public health. This went into effect in January, raising the price of a case of Gatorade at Costco from $15.99 to $26.33. Though I-1634 advertised itself as a barrier to taxes on food, everyone knew it was to stop any more raids on the consumers of Coca-Cola, Gatorade, and Red Bull. The propaganda for it was paid for by Big Soda, and Big Soda had a big victory.

Thank you, Big Soda. And Big Oil. Several of my friends voted for the food and gasoline taxes because it offended them deeply that corporate interests were trying to sway their votes. I admit that some of the propaganda was bad, but not so awful as to make me vote against my own interests.

Bill Gates was for it and Big Oil was against it. Well, the people sided with Big Oil.

Californians, I thought, had a better reason to vote for taxes: their roads. I recall a stretch of interstate near Livermore a couple of years ago with so many potholes it looked like something from the Syrian civil war. Since then California’s gas tax has been raised by 12 cents, an increase Proposition 6 would have canceled. And the people voted not to cancel it. Well, I won’t argue with them.

Several states had things on ballots that were offers of free stuff, or almost-free stuff, of a welfare-state nature. One was an expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state medical insurance for the poor. Basic Medicaid covers children, pregnant women, parents, and caretakers. Under Obamacare, states can opt to cover other adults under 65 if their incomes below 138% of the federal poverty level. Some 33 states had opted to do this, but as of this year’s election the rest — mostly “red” states — had not.

Raising the minimum wage has proved to be an irresistible offer in “red” states whose business-friendly leaders are loath to impose it.

The federal government will pay 90% of the cost of Medicaid expansion — the same percentage it paid states to build the interstate highways. It’s an irresistible offer, and Idaho (Proposition 2), Nebraska (Initiative 427), and Utah (Proposition 3) voted to accept it. In Montana, which had already decided to accept the federal money, Initiative 185 asked voters if they wanted to pay the state’s 10% share by increasing the cigarette tax by $2 a pack. That’s a different question, and as I write it looks as if their answer will be no.

Raising the minimum wage has proved to be an irresistible offer in “red” states whose business-friendly leaders are loath to impose it. For example, Arkansas has an $8.50 state minimum because of a ballot measure passed in 2014. Voters there were offered Issue 5 to raise the minimum to $9.25 in 2019, $10 in 2020 and $11 in 2021. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson was against it, as was the state chamber of commerce. And the conservative voters of Arkansas approved it overwhelmingly. In Missouri, where voters just flipped a Senate seat to the Republicans, they raised the state minimum wage from $7.85 to $8.60 in 2019, $9.45 in 2020, $10.30 in 2021, $11.15 in 2022, and $12 in 2023, indexing it thereafter to the Consumer Price Index for urban workers.

Occasionally some electorates do reject freebies. In California, Proposition 10 was a measure to allow local governments to impose rent controls on private housing. And it failed. The people of California voted it down.

Why, I don’t know. Maybe they understood the economics. Maybe it’s just that more homeowners vote than renters.

So much for the election of 2018. The Republic survived.

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Paul Allen, R.I.P.


According to Forbes of March 5, 2016, the billionaires in my home state, Washington, had a combined wealth greater than that of the billionaires of Texas and one-third that of the billionaires of California. One of our signature tycoons, Paul Allen, reportedly worth $20.3 billion, has just died.

Allen was partly an accidental billionaire. At Lakeside, Seattle’s old private high school, Allen had a pal named Bill Gates. Together in 1975 they dropped out of college and founded Microsoft. Gates stayed on and built Microsoft into a global company. Allen left in 1982, four years before the company went public. He became rich because of what Gates and others did afterward.

Did he deserve his wealth? Unlike Gates, Allen appears to have worked for only a small part of it. He performed the initial role in a system that creates great wealth for people who start great things, and a bunch of that wealth fell in his lap. Seattle is full of people who made money on Microsoft stock, and I can’t argue that their capital gains are directly proportional to their value added. Still, it was his money.

Allen was partly an accidental billionaire. He became rich because of what Bill Gates and others did at Microsoft after he left.

Paul Allen had a fabulous life. He bought the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team and the Seattle Seahawks football team. He funded a museum that collected the memorabilia of Jimi Hendrix and another that collected the aircraft of World War II. He spent money on rockets into space and on a telescope array to look for life on other planets.

He spent — I hesitate to say invested — in all manner of wonderful projects.

And some of them right where I live. Seattle Times business columnist Jon Talton wrote that Allen “may be the last of the great moneyed stewards who invested deeply and with abiding person affection for the city of Seattle.”

I was fine with Allen wanting a stadium for his football team, but I thought he should pay for it himself. For this, I was denounced by football fans.

One of his hometown projects was buying, restoring, and preserving Seattle’s curved-screen Cinerama Theater, which is where I watched the Lord of the Rings movies. Another was funding the Seattle Public Library’s purchase of thousands of DVDs, many of which I watch. Another was funding the Allen Library at the University of Washington, where I do historical research.

I have benefitted from this guy. I am sad to see him go.

Allen has had a respectable send-off, but not from the Seattle Left. Kshama Sawant, our city councilwoman, posted on Facebook:

He spent $250 million on the biggest yacht in the world in 2003; he also owned two more yachts and a fleet of private jets, several sports teams. He paid to put the Qwest Field on the ballot so that working people picked up most of the $425M tab. He spent half a million dollars to defeat the I-1098 Tax the Rich statewide initiative in 2010.

This is posted above an image that says, “Remember the Greediest.”

Sawant is right about Allen paying to put a measure on the statewide ballot to subsidize a football stadium. I was a newspaper columnist at that time, and denounced the ballot measure vehemently, and the state lawmakers who voted for it. For this, I was denounced by football fans. I was fine with Allen wanting a stadium for his football team, but I thought he should pay for it himself.

Sawant derided her colleagues as chickens, which they were.

But I never denounced Allen for what he was, which is what Sawant does. She doesn’t believe people like Paul Allen should exist. (He would be replaced by what? Workers’ committees?) I find her attitude distasteful — and I note that on my neighborhood blog,, in this left-progressive town I am not the only one down on Sawant.

Some examples:

  • “She is repulsive and needs to be removed ASAP.”
  • “I am very eager to see her out of a $123k a year job.”
  • “I’m one of the misguided people who voted for her . . . She seemed so grounded, solid when I heard her speak in person. Boy, oh boy, was I wrong!”
  • “If it wasn’t for Paul Allen, she wouldn’t even be here. She came to the US after marrying a Microsoft engineer. Show a little gratitude, Kshama.”

Much of the annoyance is for disregarding the taboo against abusing the freshly dead. I hope that’s not all it is.

Sawant, who may be the only hard-socialist councilwoman of a major American city, was at the losing end of the big political battle of 2018 — the Seattle City Council’s “head tax” on large private employers. Her target was Amazon, the company founded and headed by Jeff Bezos, a man even richer than Paul Allen. After the tax passed with the support of Sawant and the council’s progressive Democrats, Amazon, the city’s #1 employer, donated money to an effort to put the ordinance up for a public vote. (We have the initiative and referendum in Washington, and you can do that.) When pollsters discovered that the people of Seattle didn’t support the head tax, the council reluctantly repealed it.

Sawant voted not to repeal it. She derided her colleagues as chickens, which they were.

Sawant demonized Bezos as the greedy rich, particularly when his company said that if the head tax passed, it would not build a planned office tower. When Sawant led a demonstration of her left-wing supporters in front of Amazon’s new headquarters, she faced a counter-demonstration from union ironworkers who wanted to build Amazon’s new tower.

Sawant is up for reelection in 2019. Maybe voters will remember her nastiness at the death of Paul Allen.

Recalled one of the bloggers:

“I do still get a kick out of seeing the footage of construction workers shouting ‘No Head Tax!’ when she was trying to speak in front of the Amazon spheres. Funny watching her getting completely drowned out by their chants.”

Sawant is up for reelection in 2019. It’s a year from now, but I think people will remember the head tax. Maybe they will also remember her nastiness at the death of Paul Allen.

I think of it every time I get a DVD from the library.

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Still Amazing After All These Years


Nearly 50 years ago I was a high school student working my first summer job as a maid-waitress-cook at a rustic lodge in the Trinity Alps of northern California. The lodge was owned and still under construction by one of my high school teachers. My sister had worked there for a week and gone home, saying it was too much for too little. I stuck it out for another three weeks, until one evening when a coworker badly mistreated me. I fled the lodge and walked three miles to the nearest phone to call my parents and ask them to come get me. I then trudged the three miles back to where I had been working so they would be able to find me (life before cellphones!). It was July 20, 1969. I looked up through the trees at the starry sky, totally unaware that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were about to touch down on the moon. Because of my call, my father missed the moon landing on TV. He never let me forget it.

Watching First Man, Damien Chazelle’s new film with Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong making his way to that historic step onto the moon, I finally understood why my father was so upset. What a glorious, terrifying, awe-inspiring moment that was, and we sense it with more caution than elation as Armstrong hesitates on the final rung of the ladder before finally stepping down onto the dusty landscape. I don’t know whether Chazelle got it right, but he certainly got it impressively — the absolute quiet of space, the broad expanse and rugged terrain of the moon’s surface, the suspenseful risk of training, the view from the cockpit. And the musical score by Justin Hurwitz, who has worked with Chazelle on four award-winning films, works perfectly throughout the film.

So much could have gone wrong — and did, along the way.

For two hours the film builds to that moment when Armstrong steps onto the moon, demonstrating that it was more harrowing than glorious. So much could have gone wrong — and did, along the way. The film opens with Armstrong fighting to control his X-15 supersonic jet and land it without crashing. Training requires astronauts to practice precision tasks while spinning at such dizzying speeds that it’s a race against the inevitable moment when they will pass out. As the men are strapped into the Gemini module before taking off to practice docking in space, we expect to see the excitement and jubilation of astronauts finally realizing their little-boy dreams. Instead, their faces are subdued, focused, and even a bit apprehensive. And with good reason: despite all their earthbound preparations, there was no guarantee that they would return successfully. Indeed, numerous pilots had died during the testing phase. The space race was a grim undertaking, punctuated by moments of exhilaration, performed against a backdrop of angry protestors chanting against the enormous financial and personal cost.

Armstrong is calm, almost emotionless, as he contends with the rigors of space travel, the tragedy of a child’s death, and the stoicism of his wife Janet (Claire Foy). He can roughhouse with his young sons, but he can’t tell them he loves them. As he leaves for the moon, he hugs one son but shakes hands with the other. Such passionless focus is a strength, not a weakness, for someone in his position; Armstrong’s ability to think and react impassively in an emergency is a primary reason for his success, and Gosling portrays him masterfully.

But as an audience we want our heroes to be exciting and outgoing. My husband happened to meet Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins a few months later during their victory tour around the world. He was in Colombia at the time, and called out Armstrong’s name in his strong American English. As Mark describes it, Armstrong turned with a broad, winning smile and shook his hand vigorously before rejoining the parade. The weighty burden of weightless space had lifted for a while, and he could enjoy the gravitas of what he and the others had accomplished.

Raising the American flag and leaving it on the moon as a reminder of who got there first was a huge deal. It did not “transcend countries and borders.”

The quietness of Armstrong’s character makes the film less compelling and may explain the reason for poor turnout on opening weekend. It’s more likely that the poor turnout was owing to the controversy that preceded opening weekend. You’ve probably heard the disgruntled rumblings about the flag on the moon being left out of the movie, so let me address the controversy right here: yes, the American flag does appear on the moon in the film. It’s distant, and it’s small, but it’s there. Rumors about the flag’s absence began shortly after the film’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival, when audiences waited expectantly for that iconic moment. It didn’t happen, and social media exploded with boycott-laden outrage. (I don’t know whether the film was re-edited after the festival, or if audiences were simply expecting more, but the flag is definitely in the scene now.) Gosling explained in an interview that the moon landing “transcended countries and borders [and]… was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement,” so that’s why they didn’t include the flag-raising moment.

This is pure 21st-century poppycock, of course. Competition with the Russians was the driving force behind the space program, and the reason JFK dedicated so many billions of dollars for it. The Russians were ahead of the Americans nearly every step of the way. Raising the American flag and leaving it on the moon as a reminder of who got there first was a huge deal. It did not “transcend countries and borders.” It was the reason we were there. Chazelle and company should not have minimized it into a kumbaya moment of one-world humanism. Moreover, in his zeal to turn American exceptionalism into ordinary human accomplishment, Chazelle missed a great opportunity to make his statement — with the flag. Armstrong’s biography recounts how the astronauts struggled to assemble the malfunctioning flagpole. That struggle could have been presented as a metaphor for 21st-century American politics and the difficulty of raising the flag today.

First Man is a good film with some great special effects and fine acting all around. Jason Clarke is especially good as Ed White, and Corey Stoll is feisty as Buzz Aldrin. Claire Foy, best known for her role as Queen Elizabeth II in the excellent Netflix series The Crown, is wonderful as the stoic yet passionate Janet Armstrong. And with the 50th anniversary of the moon landing just six months away, I’m happy that this film has been made.

Editor's Note: Review of "First Man," directed by Damien Chazelle. Universal Pictures, 2018, 141 minutes.

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