Rays Of Sunshine

In our cultural wars there are an enormous amount of battle lines that have been drawn.  According to the partisans, the last two presidents could either do nothing right or are playing six-dimensional chess.  There are all kind of trenches for various religious groups and races and ethnicities.  We see it as the bigotry of bigotry.  If those folks on the other side are against us then we can’t admit that they could  be right about anything.

The rays of sunshine come from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar via Jay Nordlinger at NRO.  Kareem’s “Where Is The Outrage At Anti-Semitism In Sports And Hollywood?” makes us see sunshine, rainbows and more for two reasons.  First, it is well done.  Of course you should read it it all but here is a great story about the wonderful Billie Holliday from Kareem:

One of the most powerful songs in the struggle against racism is Billie Holiday’s melancholic “Strange Fruit,” which was first recorded in 1939. The song met strong resistance from radio stations afraid of its graphic lyrics about lynching:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Despite those who wanted to suppress the song, it went on to sell a million copies that year and became Holiday’s best-selling record ever. The song was written by a white, Jewish high school teacher, Abel Meeropol, who performed it with his wife around New York before it was given to Holiday.

One small quibble: We expect that Abel got his royalties.  He didn’t give the song to Billie.  He gave her the right to sing it.

What makes us joyful about Kareem’s op-ed is that he black Muslim.  He began using his Muslim name many years ago at the age of 24.

Sidebar: Kareem’s Wikipedia entry might need some explaining.  He did win three consecutive NCAA championships.  Back in those days you couldn’t leave college early for the NBA and you couldn’t, how quaint, play varsity as a freshman.  End Sidebar.

Before that he was Lew Alcindor.  Kareem’s history makes his op-ed infinitely more powerful.  When Kareem takes Louis Farrakhan to task folks might listen.  He ends with this:

The lesson never changes, so why is it so hard for some people to learn: No one is free until everyone is free. As Martin Luther King Jr. explained: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” So, let’s act like it. If we’re going to be outraged by injustice, let’s be outraged by injustice against anyone.

We can still disagree about when X’s freedom impairs Y’s freedom but we need to first look at ourselves.  We are glad that Kareem found his voice.  We hope he will be a role model for others in every group.



Another Easy Binary Choice

Kevin D. Williamson writes with his usual clarity and wisdom on economic matters at NRO in “[The Frontrunner]: Make America Great Again.”  Of course you should read the whole thing.  You should read everything that Kevin writes.  His article compares the similarities between Biden’s recent speech and The Donald.  He is absolutely right that The Frontrunner and The Donald have much in common on the economic front.  For us capitalistic orphans or friends of economic liberalism, as Kevin calls them, the 2020 election will not be a feast.

Where we disagree with Kevin is on the choice.  Kevin says:

For the friends of economic liberalism, 2020 is going to be a choice between testicular cancer on the left or testicular cancer on the right.

We would like a whole loaf.  We would be delighted with a half a loaf to feed us economic orphans.  With The Donald we get a slice, perhaps the heel, while with The Frontrunner we get nothing.  To paint them both with the same brush Kevin has to stretch the evidence.  For example:

Trump is more of a born-again Republican on taxes today, but in 2016 he complained long and loud about Wall Street traders beating the tax man,

The Donald has reduced taxes, and most importantly corporate taxes, grudgingly renewed NAFTA, and reduced regulations.  He is far from what Keven and MWG wants but he is the dominant solution in a binary choice.  The Donald should be an easy choice for economic liberals and capitalistic orphans in 2020.  It is likely to be a tougher choice for us in 2024 with folks like Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley.

After COVID-19; When?

There is a danger in discussing what to do after COVID-19.  The danger of discussing alternatives is that you send a message that the danger is over.  It is not.  It may not ever be fully over but we need to have adults discuss the future.  If you are not up for that then here is a video from Mean Girls.  There are ads before the show.  The adults can discuss the possibilities of a second wave or vaccines.

The Dispatch is careful not to send the message that the danger is over but it doesn’t have much to say because it only discusses the cost of COVID-19 and not the cost of the current lockdowns.  In How Swede It Is they discuss the results from the Swedish model with less severe lockdowns.  They have a comparison between Sweden and Denmark that suggests the Swedish model is leading to more COVID-19 deaths.  It is not a robust model.  Then they say:

Nor is Sweden likely to be spared the economic devastation we are currently experiencing in more locked down countries. As several writers have pointed out, Sweden’s own government expects the Swedish economy to contract more dramatically this year than America’s.

This is misunderstanding binary choices.  The choice is not economic devastation or not.  The question is how much.  Comparing the US and Swedish economies is even less robust that Denmark versus Sweden on COVID.  The comparison is Sweden with severe lockdown versus Sweden with less severe lockdown.  And it is more that just the economy.

A more serious discussion comes from Jonathan Geach, M.D. in Eight Reasons To End The Lockdowns As Soon As Possible.  Jonathan’s publication was removed until he put a disclaimer that he was not advocating an end to policies like social distancing now.  It should have already been obvious from the title but such is the world we live in.

You should read the whole thing but two of the eight items that hit home for us were suicides and the delay of non-COVID care.  Quantifications and comparisons are going to be difficult.  The solution is federalism.  Some communities and states will take the legal steps to open up earlier than others.  Some folks will take advantage of those opportunities while others will not.  We should have a serious conversation about the alternatives.  The reaction to Jonathan’s article suggests it won’t happen.


After COVID-19: The David French Version

In the VDH version we talked about three things should happen in the intermediate to long term after COVID-19.  First, the federal government needs to improve its intelligence gathering on disasters and be better prepared for them.  The Donald is making steps in the right direction.  Second, we need to pay off the debt incurred in supporting our population.  Third, and this is where we don’t entirely agree with VDH, we need to in-shore critical production while making sure America doesn’t become a protectionist nation.

David French’s newsletter title is that “It’s A False Choice To Pit Public Health Vs. Economic Health.”  Here is the link at The Dispatch.  David’s headline is exactly right but the problem with the text becomes clear at the start.  Here is his first paragraph:

One of the most frustrating aspects of the online debate about coronavirus is the ongoing idea that we confront some kind of stark binary—that we can have a lower number of deaths and a dreadful recession or our government can tolerate a higher level of risk and “open up” the American economy, thereby avoiding most of the economic pain. In reality, our national challenge is almost fiendishly complex. Human behavior, urban/rural economic disparities, international trade, and federalism all combine to mean there is no either/or, but rather a series of both/ands that ultimately require that we keep the virus under control.  [Emphasis added]

His last two sentences that we have put in bold are exactly right and reflects what serious people are talking about.  His first sentence doesn’t seem to make any sense until later on he tells us what he is responding to:

Interestingly enough, this either/or conversation is taking place—especially in conservative Twitter and on conservative media—just as coronavirus deaths are spiking to almost 2,000 per day in the United States, with the state of New York now facing more confirmed cases and deaths on a per capita basis than the worst-hit European nations of France and Spain.

His link on quite militant is a Tweet!  We understand that pundits who write for a living need to be on Twitter to get the brand out and feel the zeitgeist (thank you auto spell) but David is complaining Twitter with character limits doesn’t have enough nuance.  Like The Donald, David ought to ease up on using Twitter.  We are glad we don’t use it but we don’t need readership.

Serious discussion abound on the fiendishly complex process of opening up.  You could find it in theBest Of The Web almost every day recently.  Or here, here, or here.   Then David brings up a false binary of his own (David really has a problem understanding binary choices):

Is it even possible to restore the economy before the virus is brought under control?

As David discusses below the false choice quote there are lots of reasons why the economy won’t come roaring back immediately.  He is right but that is not an argument that we should continue or not continue lockdown.  Both COVID-19 and economic lockdown cause suffering and death.  Our guess is that NYC isn’t going to open anytime soon, in fact the public schools just closed for the year, but other states and localities should.  Retired folks like us are going to be more cautious compared people half our age.  What we need is a little federalism and local control.  We think David is in favor of those concepts.

Leadership is going to be required to balance the damage from COVID-19 versus the economic lockdown.  Different areas can and should make different choices.  One of big problems for politicians making decisions is that the damage from COVID-19 is reported much more and is more quantifiable (x deaths) than the damage from the economic lockdown.  We hope we are wrong but we think that David’s false choice might carry the day.

Disagreeing With Kevin D.

We are big fans of Kevin D. Williamson.  Today we need to disagree with him.  About what?  Binary choices.  In his Tuesday newsletter Kevin D. says:

When somebody says to you, “Elections are binary!” he is more or less showing you a flashing neon sign over his head announcing that he intends to be intellectually dishonest and is not worth discussing anything of substance with.

First of all it is almost always true in the US that general elections are binary.  It is true that somebody could proceed from that truism to ague as Kevin D. suggests:

The things that are wrong with [The Donald] exist independently of the things that are wrong with The Frontrunner or The Bernie, and vice versa.

Kevin’s point could make the binary choice harder in 2020 than it was in 2016.  As we saw 2016, the things that were wrong with The Donald were wrong with Herself.  Items that we classified under ethics and character for The Donald were a big negative for him.  We didn’t compute an exact score but Herself ended up with a big negative too.  Both of them got a big negative from us on tariffs too.  The Donald’s positions on income taxes, judges, immigration, and regulation were clear winners over Herself.  It made The Donald a dominant choice for us because on the issues that we value he was never worse than Herself.  As we said at the time, The Bernie would have made our choice more difficult because he would win on ethics and character issues and perhaps tie on immigration issues but have big negatives elsewhere.  For us weighting would have mattered if the election was The Donald versus The Bernie but it didn’t in the actual election.

It looks like it is a binary choice for president already: The Donald versus The Frontrunner.  Compare them on whatever model you choose.  If it is an additive compensatory model then pick the criteria, evaluate the criteria you choose, weight each criteria as you see fit and come up with a choice.  Then you have second binary choice: vote for that person or take some other action.

In 2016 lots of people professed to have a decision model where candidates that failed the ethics and character test were rejected. Most them didn’t cast a significant vote in that election.  It is OK not to vote or write in Bugs Bunny.  If you wait for somebody that you agree with 100% of the time then you might not vote much.

US presidential elections are binary.  Recognizing the obvious is the only way to have a discussion of substance about the two candidates but it does not necessarily lead to such a discussion.


Jonah’s Bogus Journey

Conservatives, and especially those of us in fly-over country, tend to poke fun at the coastal leftists that try to discover these hidden tribes with odd beliefs that lurk in these strange burgs that the locals often pronounce wrong.  Places like Cairo, Illinois.  Jonah Goldberg, writing at NRO, goes on a similar journey as he tries to understand folks who support The Donald.  As if we didn’t know, Jonah tell us where he stands on The Donald at the end of his journey:

It may be that once [The Donald] is no longer the commander in chief in the war against Blue America, the ardor of his troops will give way to a better understanding of the price the GOP paid on his watch.

It is difficult to write about stuff you don’t understand.  Jonah put the question about The Donald’s approval rating by Republicans this way:

[The Donald] is consistently hitting in the mid- to high 80s with Republicans in polling, which demands a question: Why are his actual numbers so high?

When you write or talk about what you don’t know you sometimes get distracted and forget what you know.  Jonah knows many things but two things he knows for sure are, one, approval of The Donald, or anyone else, is a yes or no question. Two, in any coalition, like The Donald’s, there are lots of different factions.

That means that Jonah’s emphasis on “unwavering support” for The Donald is not related to his approval rating.  There are folks that give unwavering support or unwavering resistance to The Donald.  We are open to evidence but we don’t see these as large the largest groups in either coalition.  There are supporters of The Donald that love his twitter feed but many would lock him out.  Others like his trade wars while we hate them.

Jonah does have a point that hyper-partisanship on one side causes some on the other side.  It is like arguing with your roommate about sports teams and folks say things like no player from Arsenal could start at Tottenham (or vice versa) and things escalate from there.  Some of the Republicans are rabid supporters of The Donald but we think more are like us.  The Donald has done good things on regulations, taxes, the court appointments.  Then there is the alternative.  First, there was the choice in the 2016 election.  We thought The Donald dominated his opponent.  The alternatives have not gotten better since then.  Kevin D. Williamson at NRO puts the choice in his usual acerbic manner:

Eliminating the ability of those who currently align with the Republican party to meaningfully participate in national politics is not only wishful thinking in the pages of the New York Times. It is the progressive program, from Washington to Palo Alto and beyond.

The Editors at NRO tell us about Elizabeth Warren’s (and some other Democrat presidential candidates) plan for eliminating fracking:

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts promises that if she is elected president, she will issue an immediate unilateral prohibition — based on some presidential power that she’ll invent as soon as she gets around to it — on the method of natural-gas production known colloquially as “fracking.” Other Democratic contenders, including Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris of California, have made similar promises.

It is not just AOC.  People that you might describe as serious senior leaders of the Democrats are making The Donald look good now and in 2020.  Like many other folks on the right, we approve of The Donald.  Our judgment is he is far from perfect but he has done some good things and we don’t approve of the opposition.  We hope Jonah will reverse the Bill and Ted franchise and soon go on an excellent adventure.  Strange things are afoot at the Circle K … and in the whole country.

The Donald And Trade

Michael Tanner from CATO is on NRO taking The Donald and the Democrats to the woodshed on trade.

There is a good reason for the [Democrat] rhetoric. Several recent studies, from researchers at Harvard, Columbia, the IMF, and two different branches of the Federal Reserve, have all concluded that the tariffs imposed by President Trump on China and others have indeed hurt American consumers and threatened economic growth domestically and internationally.

As Michael’s title says, the Democrats are no better.

But with the exception of extreme long-shot Representative John Delaney, every major Democratic candidate either joins Trump in opposing the TPP or is highly critical of the current negotiation.

You knew that John Delaney was running for the Democrat nomination, right?

Sidebar: Wisconsin is an open primary state.  Suppose that John or another sensible Democrat like Joe Sestak is still in the running for the nomination.  Would MWG take a Democrat ballot and vote for one of them?  What would such a nomination do to the probability of The Donald or the Dems winning?  We have not done this much math since grad school.  End Sidebar.

So 2020, just like 2016 presidential election, shapes up to be a binary choice but there is no choice that supports of free trade.

As always, MWG is with Kevin D. Williamson on trade.  In the NRO Corner, Kevin quotes his acerbic self:

Protectionists often describe reciprocity as if it were a cover charge for admission to American markets, but that gets the issue exactly backward: The question isn’t whether Washington may properly interfere with foreign sellers but whether it ought to interfere with American buyers. The case for allowing Senator Sanders to interpose his political interests between buyers and sellers is non-obvious, on either moral or economic grounds. It takes a special kind of stupid to believe that a voluntary exchange — willing seller, willing buyer — is transmuted into a form of hideous predation simply because some of the parties to the transaction may hold different passports.

We are with Kevin in supporting unilateral free trade.  We wish there was a major candidate that was supporting it in 2020 but there isn’t.  So when you make your decision between The Donald and the Democrat in 2020 free trade will not relevant to your decision unless there is a big surprise.


Binary Situations

It happens that we are reading Jonah Goldberg’s email and Kevin D. Williamson in the print version of the National Review on the same day.  You should always read all of both of them for the joy of their prose if nothing else.  We don’t have links for either because Jonah’s comes as an email (it is the Goldberg File: Mob Ascendant) and Kevin is, as Jonah says, on dead tree (ODT).  Make sure you read Kevin’s footnotes.

Sidebar One: Yes there is a digital version of the National Review and we do subscribe but there is a paywall.  You should subscribe so you can look.  Frankly, we prefer to read stuff ODT.  End Sidebar One.

We are generally with Jonah that mob-like actions are a big problem in politics and society.  Then he reports (we’ve pasted the tweet):

Sohrab Ahmari tweeted amidst the Trump rally the other night: Every political situation like the one we’re living through is a binary. Would that it weren’t so. But it’s as ironclad as the laws of thermodynamics.

We expected a response like nonsense on stilts or some such Jonahism.  Instead we get the weakest gruel possible from him:

I think this is axiomatically true—if enough people believe it to be true. Then, it becomes true. It’s just not obvious to me that Sohrab doesn’t want it to be true.

Jonah’s first sentence seems to contradict itself.  The tweet is much closer to being axiomatically false.  There are many factions: Trumpers, NeverTrumers, libertarians, social conservatives, crunchy conservatives, and economic conservatives to take a few of the factions from one side of the aisle.  Some folks might be in more than one faction.  Political situations like tabling the impeachment of The Donald, and the steps in their resolutions have a variety of wins, loses, and no impact.

Votes are different than political situations.  Votes by citizens are often binary.  In the general election you generally pick between two choices and hope for the best.  If you were a member of Congress voting on legislation then you can try to game the system.  You might have voted to table the impeachment of The Donald now because you think that chances will improve later.  The spin doctors will work on declaring victory and try to influence future outcomes.  So, for citizens the NeverTrump argument fails because we can’t influence the 2024 GOP nominee.  People arguing that things are binary don’t make it so.

Kevin has a better argument on a similar topic that he puts in the title: A Herd Has No Mind.  Or put another way: Only an individual can think.  He agrees with Jonah that the mob is ascendant but has a better analysis of the challenges we face.  The problems with the mob leads him into a wide ranging discussion of discourse and antidiscourse.  Language is the instrument of discourse while antidiscourse is mob rule.  Kevin didn’t use a hyphen so we will not either no matter what the word processor does.  It is a wonderful rambling, acerbic, and thoughtful piece.

Sidebar Two: Kevin’s footnote eight asks in part who could read the sentences of Moby-Dick?  It is part of his test of the intellectual skills of the electorate to conduct discourse.  We don’t think that is a good test for understanding an argument, political or otherwise.  Before we retired from teaching we used to use a passage from another Melville book, Pierre, to make a point about the difference between types of writing.  We can’t find the passage but our recollection was that it included a 125 word sentence with lots of punctuation.  Our point was that emulating Melville was not an effective way to convince others.  End Sidebar Two.

Kevin comes to a related but different conclusion.  He says that our INSTANT CULTURE that leads to antidiscourse has become neatly binate.  Binate?  Binate: Growing in pairs or couples.  Kevin uses the example of Proud Boys and Antifa as such a pair.  We are not entirely convinced but agree that binate is much closer to our current political reality than binary.




National Review Disappoints

We look forward to the print version of the National Review (NRODT).  They have been on a roll lately with the special issues on socialism and capitalism  Despite the article below you should subscribe in some manner.

We have started a category for Josh Hawley because he has been the most disappointing GOP Congress critter in recent memory and the only person obviously running for the ’24 GOP presidential nomination.  The National Review puts him in the spotlight with Josh Hawley’s Virtue Politics by John McCormack.  We were disappointed that it turned out to be a hagiography.

Sidebar: We understand that Josh is a rising star in the GOP and the National Review can hardly do a MWG piece on him.  On the other hand, John and his editors could have been more even handed.  End Sidebar.

Our disappointment started early when John described him as a “conservative intellectual.”  We find him neither although, to be fair, we do find him “a populist with a paternalistic streak” that shows up in the same sentence.  We see the two descriptions as mutually exclusive but not collectively exhaustive in case you thought we were going to make a connection to binary choices.  Still you should subscribe and read the whole thing, online if you prefer.  You will learn he is up to other mischief beyond our reporting.  He and Florida senator Rick Scott have introduced legislation that would prevent drug firms from charging more in America than they do in Canada or some European countries.  The “some” is from the article.  We don’t understand it either.  Anyways, we are highly disappointed that two GOP senators are fighting markets and attempting to micromanage drug companies to the detriment of our children and grandchildren.  He Rick don’t think it will stifle innovation.  They are wrong.  Even worse, Josh suggests he knows what profits should be: “Pharma is turning a nice healthy profit in Europe.”

Josh seems like the worst possible presidential choice for the GOP in ’24.  Worst?  Well, we hope they can do much better.  On the other hand, he is just fine as the senator from Missouri.

The Bad Idea Machine

Our buddy, and the junior senator from Missouri, Josh Hawley is at it again. Lots of folks are upset about political comments on Internet giants like Facebook and he wants to put Washington in charge.   David French at NRO and Elizabeth Nolan Brown at Reason do a good job of explaining why Josh has a particularly foolish bill.  Of course you should real both of them in their entirety.  Here is David’s description:

[Josh] wants to replace common sense with a legal fiction, making Facebook responsible for user comments unless it can satisfy an extraordinary condition — it has to prove to the Federal Trade Commission [FTC] by clear and convincing evidence that it doesn’t moderate content in a manner “designed to negatively affect a political party, political candidate, or political viewpoint” and that its moderation doesn’t “disproportionately restrict or promote access to, or the availability of, information from a political party, political candidate, or political viewpoint.” [Emphasis added]

Josh’s proposal would put the Internet giants in an impossible position and make them  subject to FTC’s whims.  Do we think we will get limited government with Facebook appearing before the FTC every two year?  As you are already going to read David and Elizabeth, we shall limit our comments to conservatism and level of proof.

We want to make clear that changing the level of proof would not make the bill acceptable but the level of proof shows how poorly thought out or dishonest Josh’s bill is.  Josh says:

“Today I’ve introduced legislation to end Big Tech’s biggest sweetheart deal from government,” [Josh] tweeted Wednesday morning. “No more government protection for Big Tech’s political censorship.”

As the bold shows, Facebook will need to show clear and convincing evidence of lack of bias. It is an daunting task especially when you think about all the groups you could show bias against.  Nolo gives us four legal standards of proof in ascending order: Substantial Evidence, Preponderance of Evidence, Clear and Convincing Evidence, and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.  Josh’s choice is, according to Nolo, reserved for civil lawsuits where something more than money is at stake.  The bill is not going to reach Josh’s stated goal because Facebook will not meet that standard and that would mean much more government involvement.

And that brings us to conservatism and conservatives.  Part of political classifying is the Venn Diagram issue.  How much to folks need to overlap before you can give them a common categorization?  But it also a matter of priorities and thinking process.  There might be substantial evidence based on his positions that Josh is a conservative but his processes and priorities are clear and convincing evidence to us that he is not.  We are not voting for him in the ’24 presidential primaries that he is clearly positioning himself but we shall reserve judgement on the general election.  It will be another binary choice.