Economists at Supper

Lawyerly Chutzpah

It was no surprise when Bannon was found guilty this afternoon, both because he manifestly is guilty and also because all of his proposed defenses were barred by the judge. I was amused by his lawyer, though, having proposed a number of such defenses then claiming to the jury that ‘we didn’t feel the need to stage a defense against such weak charges.’

More Missing Records

This time it's not the IRS, it's the Secret Service.
The Secret Service says it “lost” critical communications from January 5 and 6, 2021, supposedly as a part of a routine process.

Does that explanation not quite sound believable? It shouldn’t. Because, really, how could the Secret Service, a law enforcement agency well versed in the practice of preserving documents and corroborating stories, just accidentally destroy communications from one of the most momentous days in its history—especially after the agency was asked to preserve exactly those types of documents?
It must be nothing. The DHS IG has told the Secret Service not to bother investigating the matter any further.

The President Reportedly has Cancer and COVID-19

Oddly neither of these reports may turn out to be very important, though they come from unimpeachable sources: the man himself, and the White House. The latter report is allegedly of a 'very mild' illness, which seems to be ordinary for the newer variant even in elderly men like himself, and the former one is probably just another sign of his mental decline rather than an actual cancer.

Convention of States

Instapundit today links a poll that suggests that an overwhelming percentage of Republicans support holding a Convention of States, that is a Constitutional Convention as pondered in Article V of the US Constitution. I agree that we definitely need one, as recently discussed (see comments), but I don't share their optimism about the limited goals they think would solve our problems.
...voters support an Article V Convention to propose constitutional amendments that address four specific issues:
  • Term limits for Congress
  • Term limits for unelected federal officials
  • Federal spending restraints
  • Constraining the federal government to its constitutionally mandated authority

While SCOTUS slowly and methodically curtails the powers of the administrative states, Meckler believes a Convention of States will act more like a sledgehammer to the foundations of the bureaucratic regime. “All we have to do is reinforce the non-delegation doctrine. Nope, sorry. There is no EPA anymore. Department of Education, gone. No Department of Energy. No Health and Humans Services. Those departments are fundamentally unconstitutional,” he asserted. ” We need to take that position as soon as possible.”
Amendments to the constitution that are proposed in this way require 3/4ths of states to ratify them, which is 38 states. As I was (not quite as recently) discussing, there probably are the votes to do that for interstate concealed carry and other gun rights: 38 states including my own recognize my firearms permit. It may or may not be possible to get them to sign off on gutting the Federal bureaucracy. 

Even if it were, though, the problem is that a substantial number of Americans -- perhaps a majority, though disproportionately located in a few high-population states like New York and California -- really want that big bureaucracy running every aspect of everyone's life. They want transfer payments on an even greater scale, perhaps a Universal Basic Income, perhaps Single Payer healthcare, and so on. A mere change in the wording of the constitution won't stop them from packing the Supreme Court and disregarding the new language just like they do the old language.

The real answer is independence and separation of the parts of the union that want fundamentally different forms of government. 
At that point, the several states could partner up into new (smaller) unions if they wished, as perhaps the Northeast would want to do. States could also hold similar conventions at home and dissolve if they feel like they're internally divided along geographic lines: North Carolina could dissolve east/west, with Western NC joining Tennessee to create a much more natural political union.

Then everything would be easier, almost: legislation and budgets could get passed, because people would agree on basic values. The continent would become somewhat more like Europe; we'd probably want to negotiate a free trade area and freedom of travel. We might break up the Army, but agree to jointly fund the Navy to keep the sea lanes open. That could be based on existing joint command structures like Supreme Allied Command -- Europe.
It would be easier to get 38 states for the bigger proposal, ironically, because New York and California might well vote for it too. They would each stand to gain a nation of several local states they could dominate and align with their own interests. There it would be nothing more than Green New Deals and Rainbow parades to the horizon, with no conservative ideas to muck up their vision. Like others, they might prefer to rule in their own hell than to serve in another's heaven. 


Just this weekend I was telling somebody about how in Israel there are two different McDonald’s. One has the red sign you know, one blue but otherwise the same. The major difference is that the blue McDonald’s won’t serve you a cheeseburger. 

The reason is that blue McDonald’s is kosher, and there’s some law against mixing meat and milk in the stomach in the Jewish tradition. I didn’t go — not to either species of McDonald’s, preferring to eat the local cuisine. I wonder if they’d serve you a milkshake as long as you didn’t also order a burger. 

Survey: Major Political Violence Thought Likely in USA

 The survey out of UC Davis is interesting, but note up front the funding statement:

This work was supported by grants from the Joyce Foundation, the California Wellness Foundation, and the Heising-Simons Foundation, and by the California Firearm Violence Research Center and UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program.

These are all left-wing activist organizations that strongly favor gun control. That doesn't mean the survey methodology is bad; it just means that the kind of people they'd fund are the kind of people whose cognitive biases point in the direction of the conclusions they want drawn. (Also the kind of people who could get tenure at UC Davis, I suppose.)

It hasn't been peer-reviewed yet, but it is a fairly large survey of 8,620 people nationwide. There were just over half women surveyed, which is approximately correct to the general population; but the median age at 48 is about a decade older than for the population as a whole. 

There is a big delta between attitudes about the probability and attitudes about practice. First:
Two-thirds of respondents (67.2%, 95% CI 66.1%, 68.4%) perceived “a serious threat to our democracy,” but more than 40% agreed that “having a strong leader for America is more important than having a democracy” and that “in America, native-born white people are being replaced by immigrants.” Half (50.1%) agreed that “in the next few years, there will be civil war in the United States.”
However, only about two thirds of the total were willing to concede that violence was even sometimes justified in politics. (It is, sometimes, or the Declaration of Independence makes no sense.) Of those:
12.2% were willing to commit political violence themselves “to threaten or intimidate a person,” 10.4% “to injure a person,” and 7.1% “to kill a person.” Among all respondents, 18.5% thought it at least somewhat likely that within the next  few years, in a situation where they believed political violence was justified, “I will be armed with a gun”; 4.0% thought it at least somewhat likely that “I will shoot someone with a gun.”
Those numbers are a lot less threatening. "At least somewhat likely," when you look at the polling questions, means getting to add up every answer except "Not likely" or "Not willing." You're still only getting to seven percent of the subset who are even willing to contemplate killing anybody, and only four percent of that subset who think there is any likelihood whatsoever of them shooting anybody.

It's oddly encouraging, then. In spite of all the appearance of danger, and all the anger, almost no one is actually intending to kill or shoot anybody. Of course, it may only take a single match to start a wildfire if the ground is dry enough.

"Homo Moto"

I spent some of my sparse nondriving hours during our cross-country trip reading Matthew Crawford’s “Why We Drive: Toward a Philosophy of the Open Road.”...

In this case Crawford is out to defend what he calls “homo moto,” the human being who moves purposively through the world rather than being simply carried through it, who uses a “car or a motorcycle as a kind of prosthetic that amplifies our embodied capacities,” who gains freedom, familiarity and mastery by navigating swiftly through a complex landscape.

I might have picked a different name for this phenomenon, though now that you mention it the phrase is evocative...

Yes, mastery gained by vehicle. Very familiar. 

There's actually a good point buried towards the end of the review.

It's getting harder to tell

Powerline cites two posts that may be trolling or may be the genuine lunatic article. Myself, I think the first one may be for real; if not, its tone is so spot-on as to be truly admirable. The second I suspect is just a little too cute and probably is a troll.
As Powerline notes, by Jove, I think they may have discovered marriage.
I pronounce the first one Babylon-Bee-worthy, the second merely an honorable mention.

Stumbling Closer to War

The EU is debating whether to adopt strict natural gas rationing for its member states as its members worry about Russian interruptions. It's easy to say "I told you so" since we all did, but the Europeans are now heavily dependent on a power source that comes from a foreign state that uses it as a tool of national policy.
If the bloc’s 27 member countries agree to adopt the plan and the new legislation that goes with it, it would solidify the sense that Europe’s economy is on war footing because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Maybe it would 'solidify' that, but it won't make it solid. As long as you're effectively paying tribute, it's no better than a protest -- though a very difficult protest, and an expensive one. 

Now if we hadn't cut off our own domestic energy production to such a degree, we might be positioned to offer an alternative and swing Europe back to American influence. Unfortunately, our 'greens' -- though not as strong as Europe's -- have likewise influenced our government to cut off its own nose to spite its face.

Start in the Wrong Place, Turn Left

As mentioned I get the NYT's morning newsletter. Today's is a true classic. It is a meditation on 'why the anti-democracy movement' is going on. The obvious problem is that there isn't, in fact, an anti-democracy movement in the United States. But let's not let that bother us!

“What is striking about the movement around the supposed theft of the 2020 election,” Charles writes, “is how much of it — the ideas, and rhetoric, and even the people involved in it — predated Trump’s presidency, and in some cases even his candidacy.”

Indeed, except the newsletter never mentions the name "Stacey Abrams" even once, nor the controversy she engendered about whether the election in Georgia was stolen by then-Secretary of State now-Governor Brian Kemp. As a consequence, they make two key errors that lead the whole piece into paranoid musings about anti-democratic fascists endangering America.

1) That suspicion of elections is per se an anti-democratic expression, and,

2) That it is only the right wing that does it.

Because of these errors, they never get around to asking whether there might be something about the nature of our elections that might be causing people not to trust the results. Abrams had a pretty good case that the Georgia election was extremely suspect: I know, I voted in it and wrote about it at the time. The voting machines did not produce printed receipts that might be used for an audit. Ballots were a plastic card with a magnetic strip on the back, which allegedly recorded your votes but had no visible signs of having done so -- and which were immediately wiped and re-used all day after they were swiped in the 'counting' machine. 

The process was thus completely opaque and impossible to audit, but no worries: one of the candidates for the office being voted on was in complete charge of the election, and swore that he would oversee any recount efforts as well.

That doesn't mean Abrams won, of course. It does mean that suspicion of the election being dishonest was extremely well-grounded. If this is a terrifying prospect, there are easy things we could do to ensure that elections were more trustworthy. Having a print-out ballot so you can see that your votes were correctly recorded, and which can be compared against electronic returns in an audit is a good start. Voter IDs are a good start. Real IDs are connected to proof of citizenship centrally maintained, so that voting officials can check the ID both against your face and signature in person, and then verify that your birth certificate or passport is on file.

On the left people worry that these are voter-suppression efforts (and occasionally on the right as well), but there is no need that should be true. We could embark upon a campaign to make sure that all eligible voters have proper IDs and their proofs recorded in the system. We could establish -- pre-election -- independent bipartisan bodies tasked with auditing the returns. We could do the sorts of things we would do, in a system that was designed to be carefully audited to prevent abuse. 

If we did those things, a lot of this would evaporate. 

Finally, 'anti-democracy' is arguably a bipartisan impulse (if not on either side a movement). Democrats are working very hard right now to try to prevent democracy from informing abortion laws, leveraging courts, bureaucracies, and executive orders to derail efforts by actual democratically-elected legislatures. The Republicans do, certainly, benefit from the Senate and the Electoral College to some degree, but until this very year Democrats benefitted from the Supreme Court being willing to strip the democratic branches (and direct democratic votes, as in the case of California Propositions passed by referenda) of the power to rule on major questions. There's no anti-democracy movement, but there is a real impulse on both sides to try to set one's preferences beyond question. 

Ha-Ha, It Is To Laugh

This letter is something else.
So at the start of this summer’s program, this teacher was supposed to have 11 students in his class. But on the first day only two students showed up and on day two he was down to one student. By week’s end, a few parents had withdrawn their kids but most simply did nothing.

The teacher found there were five kids on a wait list whose parents wanted to see them get extra help but when he asked about getting them in to fill the empty seats. He was immediately shot down because the district will not drop any student from a class even if they never show up. They won’t even contact the parent to ask if they plan to send their child because this is part of their “racial justice overhaul.”
Now, when I say the district is “not allowed” to do so, I don’t mean they’re forbidden by some state law or local ordinance. Rather, the district actively embraced this policy as part of their larger equity and racial justice overhaul, and even bragged about doing so in public-facing materials. Their explicit position is that requiring attendance for any district program unfairly victimizes children of color, as does factoring in attendance to any student’s grades during the regular school year. The administrator I spoke to seemed baffled that I would even ask. “I’ll let you know if any parents pull their kids out,” he told me, “but otherwise, your class is technically full.”


I once attended another meeting – lots of meetings when you’re a teacher! – where we were working to approve a new weekly schedule for students. When I said I was concerned that it would require leaving some sections of the curriculum untaught, a colleague said that might actually be a good thing, because most of our students are white and their test scores dropping slightly would help shrink the racial achievement gap in our state. 


 He concludes that the left has accidentally stumbled into a set of beliefs so crazy that to describe them accurately sounds like something made up, only they aren’t made up. 

Shouldn't Be About Popularity

Allahpundit is worried that Republicans are overdoing it in Idaho. I'm not a Republican and I don't live in Idaho, and it's a party platform rather than legislation anyway; there's no reason anyone should care what I think about this. 

If you happen to, though, what I think is that you should save the life that can be saved in cases where only one can be. It's not murder to save the one you can even if the one you can't is lost; that is a tragedy, which is what we call it when something terrible happens that is nobody's fault. (In Greek tragedy, you usually get there just because everyone was doing their duty instead of compromising it. Doing your duty is right, usually. Yet...)

I also think that concerns about what is popular shouldn't be the point. Winning elections shouldn't be the point. Doing what is right should be. 

Asking somebody to die in spite of the fact that you could save them should only be done in the most extraordinary of circumstances: I think of the scene in The Rock in which the rebel Marines have to seal one of their own in with the VX gas to die. He was banging on the door to get out, but they didn't save him because of the peril that it would claim them all. Perhaps they could have saved him, but the risk was so great they refused. 

There is no similar risk here. I can accept that a surgeon with religious convictions who believes his or her soul will be lost should be allowed to except themselves from all abortions; but were I a surgeon I think I would perform one under these circumstances, and simply pray for forgiveness if in God's judgment it was wrong. My understanding is that God will forgive you for anything if you ask, especially if it was done with a good will and for a good purpose such as saving an innocent life. 

Only the Police Can Be Trusted...

UPDATE: Col. Kurt says this means the elite can't trust the police either. He says "thirty cops," but that was the figure from The Terminator that was supposed to be comforting until Arnold showed up. There were almost four hundred cops in and around that building in this case.

Sketchy Review of "Alvin's Secret Code"

Written by Clifford B. Hicks, this 1963 book is a kid-level introduction to cryptography hidden in a mystery novel. My guess is that it will appeal most to the 10-12 y/o demographic.

Alvin, AKA Secret Agent K-21 1/2, accidentally finds a message written in a secret code. Is someone spying on the defense plant in town? He sets out to solve the mystery with his trusty sidekicks Agent Q-3 and The Pest. Soon, he begins learning about ciphers, codes, and codebreaking with the help of a retired and bedridden WWII spy, which allows him to solve the mystery. Meanwhile, a new puzzle has arrived with one Miss Fenwick, a mysterious Mr. Smith, and a cryptic message.

Today, it seems like novels for kids have followed Hollywood in introducing some exciting event first and then sharing bits about the characters as the story evolves while keeping up the excitement. Alvin's Secret Code was written before that storytelling development and introduces the characters first, so it seems a bit slow to get started. However, the action gets going around the third page and the story is fairly well-paced after that.

The story introduces substitution ciphers, codes, scytales, and symbol ciphers. There is even an appendix with additional information on cryptography, including key word substitution ciphers, the Alphabet Box, and a common Civil War cipher. The appendix also includes frequency tables of letters and some hints on how to break ciphers along with a few practice exercises.

Hicks was a professional writer and editor for most of his life, but in WWII he served as a USMC officer on Guam and Bougainville and, according to Wikipedia, earned the Silver Star. In his biography at the back of the book it states that "In  the service he learned something about codes and ciphers, a subject he had studied briefly in college." My guess would be that he did something in intelligence, but a short search didn't turn up anything more specific.

If you know kids who like solving puzzles, I would recommend this book.

Update: To make this review a little less sketchy, I'll add that the story part is only about 132 pages long, and the appendix adds about 15 pages. I read it all in 2 evenings, and I enjoyed it as well, even though I'm considerably older than 12.

An American Gunfighter

Hero bystander stops mall shooting in Indiana.
"The real hero of the day is the citizen that was lawfully carrying a firearm in that food court and was able to stop that shooter almost as soon as he began," [Police Chief Jim] Ison told reporters during a press conference on Sunday night.

Well done. 

A Short Trial

Provocateur and talk jockey Steve Bannon is beginning his short trial for contempt of Congress. Not only is he plainly guilty -- contempt of Congress is the duty of every American these days, but is a more technical sense of 'contempt' of defying an order which he did in fact defy -- and not only is this another trial in DC, where the juries are returning universal convictions against anyone associated with Trump in any way. Also, the judge has disallowed all of his proposed defenses in advance.
In a pretrial hearing last week, the judge overseeing Bannon's case, Carl Nichols, entered a series of rulings that will significantly limit the lines of defense Bannon's attorneys will be able to present to the jury.

Nichols said Bannon won't be able to claim he defied the subpoena because Trump asserted executive privilege over his testimony, nor can Bannon claim he relied on the advice of his lawyer, or that he was "tricked" into believing he could ignore the subpoena due to internal DOJ opinions from previous administrations about executive branch officials' immunity from complying with congressional subpoenas.

Nichols also rejected Bannon's defense that prosecutors would need to show that he knew his conduct was unlawful, saying that prosecutors only need to prove that Bannon acted "deliberately" and "intentionally" to defy the Jan. 6 panel.

Bannon's attorney, David Schoen, questioned the judge's rulings, asking the judge at one point, "What's the point in going to trial here if there are no defenses?"

It shouldn't take long to get through the need to hold a trial with no defenses, so we can get on to the punishment part that is the point of the exercise. Obama officials defied Congress with impunity, but special rules as always apply.

The Scotsman Public House

Waynesville has a new attraction, the Scotsman Public House. It’s pretty great. 

Haggis egg rolls.

A fine gentleman in the entry.

Lochaber axes.

The food is great. Good jukebox here. Black Sabbath, Joan Jett, Joy Division, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, Iggy Pop, Motörhead. The first song I picked a lady at the bar said, “This is one of my favorite songs.” Then while Joan Jett was playing the barmaid came over and said, “You’ve got good taste honey.”

My new favorite place.