May 6th, 2016

The future of Schengen

“Schengen” is the elimination of traditional border-crossing rules in Europe, a development that has been hailed and welcomed for years but which is increasingly threatened by Europe’s Muslim refugee crisis. If you’re interested (and I certainly am) in the topic, take a look at this article about the state of the Schengen policy:

What makes the allegiance to Schengen so strong among Europeans? We found that in 13 countries, protecting the principle of free movement is the most important issue regarding how member states feel about the future of Schengen. Second on the list were two tied results, the economic benefit of the Schengen zone, and the ability of Schengen to help manage migration flows.

So there’s a principle involved, one that’s attractive to many Europeans and their view of Europe and what it should be. People like the idea of how far they’ve progressed since the bad old days of conflict. The other attraction is practical: money. These two reasons make Europe loathe to give up its Schengen, even in the face of the very real problems they face:

..[T]he idea that terrorism is a European threat which is best tackled together…underlines the sense that although border controls have been reinstalled over the past few months, there is a fundamental belief that these are temporary, not permanent changes, even if the route back to the old Schengen is difficult to see at the moment.

So the principle—the ideal of togetherness and cooperation—is being applied to a possible solution for the refugee problem, at least in people’s minds if not in the practical sense. In the practical sense, Schengen has been very advantageous—so far, anyway:

It is clear that the economic effects of a suspension to the Schengen system are destructive for countries that have built their markets on the assumption of free trade and movement. Time is money, and border controls make commuting and cross-border transport a significant cost factor.

Competing with all of this is the fear that many citizens of European countries have that, unless immigration/migration is checked, Europe will be in trouble both demographically (and therefore culturally) and economically. This has led to an increase in support for nationalist and anti-immigration parties in many countries across Europe. The tension between the borderless EU dream and what people perceive as the results of the vast influx of “migrants” is inescapable and likely to continue.

May 6th, 2016

Trump, Clinton, and pathological lying vs. strategic lying

Pathological and/or compulsive lying is not the same as ordinary lying. Ordinary lying is strategic and episodic, and the person doing it usually realizes he/she is lying. There is a reason for the lying, a reason an objective observer can easily understand. The lie can be about the liar him/herself, another person or persons, a group, or something that occurred.

Pathological and compulsive liars certainly exercise that sort of lying. But sometime they just lie for the sheer fun of it, or to pile it on, or even for no discernible reason. And they tend to be the most convincing liars because they either don’t have a conscience to begin with, or they have lost all sight of truth and falsehood and think anything they say is okay because they said it.

Sometimes they even justify to themselves what they do because they have a basic assumption that everybody lies in exactly that way—that no one should be trusted, ever. So they think they’re just doing what all people (except perhaps the most naive of patsies/marks) do.

Politicians are often strategic liars to one degree or another—some to a great degree and some to a much lesser degree. In addition, some are pathological/compulsive liars, but this is much more rare.
Continued »

May 6th, 2016

The potato and societal development

Some people eat potatoes on a daily basis. They feel that a meal without a potato is like a day without sunshine

I’m not one of them, although I like potatoes and eat them about once a week. I especially like a mideastern potato salad I sometimes make, with a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, and dried mint instead of the conventional mayo. And I particularly enjoy those small potatoes coated in a little olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper and a smidge of oregano, and roasted in the oven to just the right degree of brown and crispy.

But all of that is just an introduction to this article about how potato cultivation—and grain vs. root cultivation in general—has affected societies, and been affected by them as well.

May 5th, 2016

The clueless, ignorant, and arrogant are in charge

Indeed, they are. But you probably already knew that.

May 5th, 2016

Trump: it’s all mutable

Do you like Donald Trump’s policy papers?

That’s nice, but they don’t mean much:

Trump’s abrupt dismissal of his own tax plan, which he regularly cited on the campaign trail, came a day after he signaled a willingness to raise the federal minimum wage, which would be a major reversal from his stance in the primaries.

Remember the idea that Obama could take the gloves off during his second term and do what he really wanted to do, especially after the 2014 midyear elections, because he no longer had to answer to the electorate?

Remember how a lot of people have criticized politicians for pandering to the base in the primary and then tacking to the middle for the general?

Well, Trump is doing some combination of the two. He no longer has to please the GOP base, who can do little or nothing to stop him now. So now he’s appealing to Democrats and even the Sanders wing.

Unlike Trump, most candidates have a track record in political office to which to compare their campaign rhetoric. So we can at least try to judge or estimate what their real positions are, the ones they are most likely to carry out or try to carry out if elected. With Trump, since he has no such political track record, we have to rely on the evidence of his life, which is that he will do whatever he judges to be best for Trump, and that everything he says is up for grabs except as it relates to that one guiding principle.

I never gave a hoot what his website policy papers said, and I can’t understand why anyone would. It’s just window-dressing. Some say well, let’s roll the dice. But sometimes it feels more like playing Russian roulette with more than one loaded chamber.

[NOTE: I don’t watch Joe Scarborough, but I’ve read over and over that he’s been a big Trump booster. Well, today Scarborough criticized Trump for one of the few policy points about which Trump has been consistent:

“And I gotta say I was surprised and disappointed … that yesterday, he stuck by the Muslim ban. That’s a loser. It’s a loser with the majority of Americans. And you’ve got Republicans like me. I just, I’m not going to vote for a guy” like that, Scarborough said…

Surprised? Why? Disappointed? Why? Not going to vote for him? Then why did you support him all this time?]

May 5th, 2016

The history of the US primary system

Commenter “Nick” wrote:

…[R]emember, the reason that the parties got rid of the back rooms was Nixon. The Republicans chose him for the ticket five times. Unlikable and corrupt. The system had to be scrapped after that.

After I read that, I thought about the primary system and how it came to be. Although I realized I didn’t remember exactly, it seemed to me that it was not in reaction to Nixon.

And that turns out to have been the case. I think a refresher course in what actually happened is in order:

In 1910, Oregon became the first state to establish a presidential preference primary, which requires delegates to the National Convention to support the winner of the primary at the convention. By 1912, twelve states either selected delegates in primaries, used a preferential primary, or both. By 1920 there were 20 states with primaries, but some went back, and from 1936 to 1968, 12 states used them.

At that point, most primaries were non-binding. They were indications to the leadership of what the people preferred, but in many states the leaders could ignore that.

Seeking to boost voter turnout, New Hampshire simplified its ballot access laws in 1949…The first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary has since become a widely-observed test of candidates’ viability.

The impetus for national adoption of the binding primary election was the chaotic 1968 Democratic National Convention. Vice President Hubert Humphrey secured the nomination despite not winning a single primary under his own name. After this, a Democratic National Committee-commissioned panel led by Senator George McGovern – the McGovern–Fraser Commission – recommended that states adopt new rules to assure wider participation. A large number of states, faced with the need to conform to more detailed rules for the selection of national delegates, chose a presidential primary as an easier way to come into compliance with the new national Democratic Party rules. The result was that many more future delegates would be selected by a state presidential primary. The Republicans also adopted many more state presidential primaries.

See more here:

[1901-1906] is the time period in which many states started experimenting with or implementing the new primary system…By 1912, almost all states had some mix of laws that would allow for a preferential primary and/or a direct election of delegates to the convention…

The article goes on to explain that it was the McCarthy/Humphrey convention, and criticism by McCarthy, that propelled the process that led to the modern primary system, and it occurred in the Democratic primary.

The Republicans followed, but more slowly and more piecemeal, and the process doesn’t seem to have been a reaction to Nixon:

After a heated 1964 GOP National Convention, the republicans realized that they needed to take a more critical look at their own process…The GOP would then go on to form three committees to review their own procedures, but with interestingly different goals than the Democrats.

Read the whole thing—at least the part about the history of both parties with the primary system. To me, the primary system seems to have been a long time coming, and part and parcel of the slow evolution (devolution?) from a republic to a democracy.

May 5th, 2016

One difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

Republican Senator Ben Sasse has written an open letter to America. I agree with a great deal of it, but I wanted to take issue with something.

Here’s an excerpt:

In the history of polling, we’ve basically never had a candidate viewed negatively by half of the electorate. This year, we have two. In fact, we now have the two most unpopular candidates ever – Hillary by a little, and Trump by miles (including now 3 out of 4 women – who vote more and influence more votes than men). There are dumpster fires in my town more popular than these two “leaders.”

With Clinton and Trump, the fix is in. Heads, they win; tails, you lose. Why are we confined to these two terrible options? This is America. If both choices stink, we reject them and go bigger. That’s what we do.

Remember: our Founders didn’t want entrenched political parties. So why should we accept this terrible choice?

Sasse goes on to suggest a non-Trump non-Hillary candidate (not himself, by the way), but he doesn’t say who that person would be.

I like the idea, but not naming such a person is one of the problems. If one such person existed—if there was that much consensus between/among the factions in America today—that person would probably be running for president already, and succeeding. But the war between the parties, and the abominable choices we face, represent factions of Americans (not just parties) that are in ideological war with each other. The people’s elected representatives in Congress are reflections of a very real impasse, and it’s not just between two groups, it’s among many. Compromise? Compromise has been shunned and rejected by the voters, too, as representatives who are too moderate are driven from office.

I’m not saying it’s good or bad, I’m just pointing out that I don’t see a moderate electorate right now.

The other thing I want to point out is that Trump and Clinton have differing amounts of support from their respective party movers and shakers. Imagine, if you will, those smoke-filled rooms of yesteryear, composed of party leaders choosing their standard bearers with little or no input from voter primaries. Does anyone for a single moment believe that Donald Trump would have been the GOP choice under such conditions? I thought not. But Hillary Clinton would almost certainly have been the choice of the Democrats.

In other words, Clinton expresses her party’s wishes, and Trump (who may not even really be “of” his party) does not.

What’s more—although I’m having trouble finding exact figures on this—Hillary Clinton also represents the choice of the majority of Democratic voters who have bothered to vote in the primaries, and Donald Trump does not represent the same for GOP voters. Even if the support for Hillary among Democrats is lukewarm, she is more liked by more of her party’s voters than Trump is by his (although his actual supporters are often very excited about him and quite fervent in their support).

In sum, whoever Hillary is and whatever she is proposing to do is more in line with the wishes and principles of her own party than Donald Trump is in line with his. He is the protest candidate, the hostile-takeover candidate, and he is leading in spite of the party leadership—or, rather, in reaction to their perceived failings—rather than because the party leaders would choose him as their nominee.

That is their dilemma. If they fall in with him and get on board, they are committing a form of suicide. And if they oppose him they’re doing the same thing (at least in the short term). This is most definitely not the dilemma the Democratic leaders face. And that’s a big, big difference.

[ADDENDUM: I see that a similar point of view to mine has been expressed by streiff at RedState.]

May 4th, 2016

The Legal Insurrection authors react to the probable Trump nomination

An interesting mix of responses from the crew at Legal Insurrection. You can’t say we’re not a varied bunch.

I especially identified with the response of blog host William A. Jacobson.

May 4th, 2016

Henry James ♥ George Eliot

George Eliot was the pen name of Mary Ann Evans, the 19th Century English novelist who lived for years with the married critic George Henry Lewes and wrote seven novels, including the highly-praised Middlemarch.

I’ve never read it. In fact, I’m not sure whether I’ve ever read any of her books, although I have such a strong memory of Silas Marner that I might indeed have read it.

Or maybe it was just the classic comic, because that was my introduction to many of the classics, and my memory of Silas Marner is mostly pictorial:


There’s no way to say this nicely, but George Eliot was an exceedingly homely woman. However, it didn’t seem to have set her back much, if at all; she seems to have had a rich full emotional, sexual, and intellectual life. Over the years, I’ve sometimes wondered how she managed that feat, and yesterday I happened across this quote from Henry James about meeting Eliot/Evans. It offered a strong clue:

She had a low forehead, a dull grey eye, a vast pendulous nose, a huge mouth full of uneven teeth and a chin and jawbone ‘qui n’en finissent pas’… Now in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a very few minutes, steals forth and charms the mind, so that you end, as I ended, in falling in love with her. Yes, behold me in love with this great horse-faced bluestocking.

Eliot/Evans was by all accounts very happy in her scandalous yet stable liaison with Lewes (a complicated legal situation precluded him from divorcing his wife). After his death, she married a man 20 years her junior when she was 60, although she died just a few months later.

So here’s my question: have you read Middlemarch, and is there any point in trying to wade through it? It’s got 880 pages in the paperback edition. Whew!

May 4th, 2016

So, can Trump win the whole thing?

I think it’s safe to say that we will be likely to revisit this topic many, many times again, and that the answer may vary over time as events shape up in this crazy, crazy, crazy (mad mad mad mad) campaign season.

But my short answer is: of course he can. Never say never.

I think it highly unlikely, though, for the very simple reason that too many people cannot stand him. Some find his policies abominable, some his character, and some both. Fact is, though, that a lot of people hate Hillary, too (and I mean that literally: a lot of people hate both of them). The real question is who is more hated and whose presidency would be more feared, as well as whose supporters (and they each have a considerable number of those, too) are most devoted and especially most numerous. This is a campaign when the phrase “the lesser of two evils” seems literally true, but it’s more difficult than in most cases to decide who really would be the lesser.

People who say that Hillary Clinton doesn’t have devoted supporters are living in a bubble that doesn’t interface with the territory I inhabit. In other words, I know people who’ve been wearing Hillary buttons since last spring. And there’s no one who hasn’t lived in a cave for thirty years who would be so dumb as to say there aren’t Trump supporters and that many are extremely devoted.

The MSM has hardly begun to carry Hillary’s water the way it undoubtedly will. The Democrats have not unleashed more than a small percentage of their ammunition against him. Nor has Trump started the major attacks on Hillary of which he’s fully capable. I predict we are in for a campaign season so dirty that we’ll end up like Lady Macbeth doubting if all the water in the ocean can wash us clean. And the interesting thing is that this time, to dig up dirt, one doesn’t have to look far or even to lie, although these mendacious candidates almost undoubtedly will each lie often and eagerly.

As for me and who I’ll vote for, I have no idea. It won’t be Hillary, but can I bring myself to vote for Trump? I’ve answered previously that I’ll probably wait till it’s extremely close to the election to decide, and that I think my final decision might even happen in the voting booth. I still feel that way.

May 4th, 2016

John Kasich, we hardly knew ye

And what we did know, we didn’t like.

Reports are that John Kasich is about to drop out of the race. Only about six months too late.

From the very start of this fabulous primary season, Kasich seemed extraneous. Why is he here? was the question that bounced continuously around the blogosphere, along with Why isn’t he leaving? Well, now we need ask no more; he’s going, his work (whatever it may have been) fulfilled.

Now we can graduate to why was he there, and why didn’t he leave earlier? He was consistently obnoxious and egotistical in the debates, off-putting and repetitive. And yet just enough people kept voting for him to gum up the works, and that became more and more true as time went on and the field narrowed.

I have no idea what would have happened if he’d dropped out earlier. Would it have benefited Cruz, as many suppose? I never saw polling that convinced me of that, and I think it’s likely that at least a third or so of his voters would have gone to Trump and helped put him over the top. An earlier dropout might have benefited Rubio, but that’s all moot now.

The theories about Kasich’s campaign longevity abound. Pure ego. Or, he was there as a stalking horse for the GOPe, and once they saw putting him in there was impossible, he could depart. Or, he still might be Trump’s VP. Or, all of the above. Or, none of the above. If you care to, you can advance some Kasich theories of your own.

For what it’s worth, nearly every time I typed his name I wrongly added an “h” after the “s” and had to correct myself. It was some sort of bad habit I couldn’t break, just another reason that John Kasich annoyed me. But at least this one wasn’t his fault.

May 4th, 2016

Did they manage to “burn it down”?

For quite a few years now I’ve been hearing the slogan “burn it down” from a lot of people on the right side of the blogosphere. So one thing I didn’t have to learn from Trump’s candidacy is that there are a lot of angry people out there, and that in particular, they are angry at the GOP.

I’ve argued and discussed why and how and whether I think all their anger is justified or not and how much I share of it and what I think the solution might be. A lot of the “burn it down” folks (although not all) became Donald Trump supporters this year, in part because he fit their definition of a handy incendiary device.

So here we sit tonight, among the still-smoldering ashes. The nominee of the Grand Old Party will almost certainly be Donald Trump. What John Kasich is going to do I no longer either know or care, although he’s nominally still in the race.

The party failed to stop this when they could, or at least the candidates failed to stop it by not dropping out in a more timely fashion. That’s what I thought at the time, and I still think it’s likely to have been true, although now we’ll never know. But I also ask: would that have stopped it at all? Or had the anger been too great for too many years, so great that nothing would have stopped this once Donald Trump tossed his hat in the ring? Certainly nothing Trump himself did during this long primary season made a dent in it. As he said, he could have shot someone on Fifth Avenue and it wouldn’t have mattered, and I believe him. This morning Trump lodged a charge against Ted Cruz’s father that should have stopped almost every GOP voter in Indiana from voting for Trump, but they didn’t even break stride about it.

So maybe it was baked in the cake that the electorate was going to do this, or something of the sort. Trump just provided the perfect opportunity. And I don’t think the GOP establishment has the strength or the will to regroup this year. They certainly didn’t seem to be willing to do it in order to support Ted Cruz; only a random few (Lindsay Graham, of all people) were the least bit interested. They must either think they can work quite well with Donald Trump, thank you very much, or they are afraid of his revenge on them if they cross him. Maybe both.

This year, small government conservatives discovered they are much more of a minority than they ever thought they were. They learned that their old dream of nominating and electing someone who could clearly articulate the conservative cause is more of a pipe dream fantasy. They discovered that a lot of people who call themselves “conservative” on those surveys have their own idiosyncratic definitions of the word. And they may wish they were back in the Big Tent of yesterday, the one that got blown down and ripped apart and can no longer give them the shelter and nourish the illusion that they are very strong in number and influence.

This could change. I’m not suggesting that anyone give up. Commenter “Eric’s” suggestion of activism—particularly on college campuses, where the rot is well advanced—is important. There’s grass roots politics, too. It’s important to keep as many GOP seats in Congress as possible, as well, although how to do that with a Trump candidacy will be quite the challenge. But politics is a long haul, and we can’t see the future and should not imagine that we can.

Back in October of 2012 I made a prediction I’ve had a chance to revisit many times since. I wish I hadn’t been correct, but so far I was (that doesn’t mean that I can see the future, either). To refresh your memory:

One thing I believe is that, if Romney loses this election, the right will start tearing itself apart in anger…I already see some evidence of it in articles and comments from the right that accuse Romney of not wanting to win, of not going on the attack enough (as though that would elude the negative media spin), of not doing whatever it might be that the brilliant armchair strategists would be doing if they were running for president, an election they of course would win by dint of their brilliant strategy. If Romney loses, the RINO theme will rise again undiminished, and the hatred of the “Republican establishment.”

My opinion of what’s going on is quite different: if the American people re-elect Obama despite his failures, lies, betrayals, immaturity, gaffes, arrogance, destructive foreign policy, demonstrated leftism, small-mindedness, lack of leadership, executive power-grabs, fiscal irresponsibility, and a host of other negatives I may have forgotten to list but which have been operating for the last four years, then it will prove that the American people have fundamentally changed in the direction they want this country to take, and it will require some major upheaval to reverse that trend.

I don’t think a man like Donald Trump could have won the nomination just a few short years ago. But this evening has been building and building and building for many years. One hint is in that first paragraph: people were mad at Romney for being too “nice” and not going on the attack enough. Well, that problem has been remedied, hasn’t it?

Tonight the “burn it down” folks got what they wanted. And I believe that tonight the Democrats and Hillary Clinton got exactly what they wanted. So a lot of people are celebrating tonight. I’m not one of them.

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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