The debt ceiling and the danger of default

May 4, 2023

There are three things that are important to understand about the debt ceiling fight and the risk of default (in increasing order of importance):

  1. The Biden administration keeps saying that the US has never defaulted on its debt. That’s flatly untrue. The US has defaulted several times, most recently during the Carter administration. This is not to say that we should default, but facts matter.
  2. If the government continues to spend beyond its means, it will eventually pile up enough debt that it cannot service it. At that point it will either default or monetize the debt (which amounts to the same thing). Thus, working to rein in government spending is working to prevent default, not cause it.
  3. The federal government has more than enough current revenue to continue to service its debt even if its authority to issue new debt is exhausted. Reaching the debt ceiling does not cause a default. It would however mean that there’s not enough money for some other things.

    Thus, there will be no default unless Joe Biden chooses to spend current revenue on things other than servicing the debt. When Biden talks about the risk of default, that is an outcome that he alone controls. It is a threat.

    The 14th Amendment ought to prohibit Biden from carrying out the threat, but it’s never been tested in court. In 2011, Pat Toomey submitted a bill called the Full Faith and Credit Act that would have clarified this, thus ensuring that no default could take place, but it did not receive a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

This is all essential to know to understand where the risk of default is coming from.

As a dog returns to its vomit

December 3, 2021

There is a pattern in recent American history:

  1. A big problem exists.
  2. The conventional wisdom says it’s hopeless; all we can do is live with it.
  3. Republicans propose a plan to fix the problem.
  4. Democrats mock the plan. “It won’t work. Nothing will.”
  5. Republicans enact the plan. It works.
  6. Democrats and the media say that the improvement — which they previously said was impossible — was actually inevitable, and had nothing to do the Republican plan.

This has happened over and over during my lifetime: Inflation. The Cold War. Crime. Energy.

We defeated inflation by controlling the growth of the money supply. We won the Cold War using a variety of tactics, most prominently a military buildup that the Soviets could not match. We defeated crime using broken windows policing and by analyzing data. We became energy independent by developing domestic energy sources.

And in every case, Democrats and the media deny that our success had anything to do with what we did to bring about that success.

Now we’re seeing the bitter epilogue, as all those crises that we defeated in the past are returning. Inflation is back. China and even Russia are aggressive and we are in retreat. Crime is surging. And our shining moment of energy independence is over.

It’s not too late. Most of these trends can be reversed by returning to sound, proven policy. It will probably take a decade to repair the damage we have done to our police, and China will be a struggle of at least a generation. But we know how to do these things now.

The School-Board/DOJ scandal

October 26, 2021
It’s time to recap what we know about the School-Board/DOJ scandal:
  1. The White House Domestic Policy Council formulated a plan to solicit a letter from an outside group that is “not the usual suspects” (meaning not a group known to be political like a teachers’ union) warning that parents’ complaints were rising to the level of domestic terrorism.*
  2. The White House coordinated the letter with Viola Garcia, the president of the NSBA.
  3. Despite being filled with links, the letter contains virtually no evidence to support its main contention.
  4. Garcia and another executive sent the letter without the approval of the NSBA board. (The board latter repudiated the letter, but not in time to avoid serious blowback, as several state associations have broken ties with the NSBA.)
  5. After sending the letter, Garcia was appointed to a federal oversight board. (This is new information today.)
  6. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a federal investigation of school board protesters. Ostensibly the investigation is a result of the letter, but it was announced with such speed that most observers conclude it must have been in the works already.
  7. When questioned before the House, Garland conceded that he had no evidence of a “disturbing spike of harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence” beyond the NSBA letter (than the White House solicited and helped write).
  8. Rep. Nadler (D-NY) cut off Rep. Jordan (R-OH) before he could probe further.
* The first point is alleged in a complaint by a watchdog group. The other points are established facts.

Comeuppance received

October 19, 2021

During the previous administration, the United States achieved energy independence, a goal that many had thought unachievable. But Democrats like Joe Biden saw that as a bad thing. When he came into office, he deliberately kneecapped the domestic energy industry.

Now oil and gas prices are soaring and Biden’s poll numbers are plummeting. First he went to OPEC to ask them to help, but naturally they refused. As a last resort, he went to domestic energy producers — the same people he proclaimed to be the enemy — to beg for help.

It would be his just desserts if they told him to get lost, but the truth is, his appeal is irrelevant. Domestic producers are not a cartel like OPEC that can just decide to produce more. They are an industry that responds to economics, and Biden deliberately created a situation in which it is unprofitable for them to produce more. They aren’t going to agree to lose money just to help Biden.

If Biden wants more domestic production, he has to undo what he has done:

By pursuing policies that restrict supply and make it harder to produce oil and natural gas here in America, Americans will have to pay more for their energy,” said Anne Bradbury, chief executive officer at the American Exploration and Production Council, which lobbies for independent oil-and-gas producers.

(Via The Daily Signal.)

While world suffers, Biden lets millions of vaccine doses expire

June 30, 2021

The United States has hundreds of millions of extra doses of Covid vaccine, and we seem to have reached the point where nearly everyone willing to be vaccinated has been, so it’s a no-brainer that we should share our extra vaccine with the rest of the world. Beyond the direct human toll of the pandemic, it is breeding variants and there’s a possibility that it might breed a variant that our mRNA vaccines won’t protect against.

Basically everyone agrees with this. So why does the Biden administration seem to be unable to do it? We have millions of doses expiring right now:

Millions of J&J Covid-19 Vaccines Are at Risk of Expiring in June

Hospitals, state health departments and the federal government are racing to decide how to use up millions of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine doses that are set to expire this month. The prospect of so many doses going to waste in the U.S. when developing nations are desperate for shots would add pressure on the Biden administration to share stockpiled vaccines.

Instead of just putting the vaccine on planes and shipping it out somewhere — anywhere! — the administration spent weeks dithering about a plan for who should get our excess vaccine and how. And then once they announced the plan that they had worked so hard on, the plan was to give most of the vaccine to COVAX (a branch of the WHO, a UN agency), and let them decide. It took weeks to decide to let someone else decide.

On June 3, we finally saw this optimistic headline, from NPR:

The White House Says It Has Started Shipping Surplus COVID-19 Vaccines Abroad

Alas, the article didn’t really back up the headline:

The United States will send its first shipments of surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses abroad on Thursday [June 3], spelling out for the first time how it will share its wealth of vaccines with parts of the world struggling to get shots in arms. . .

“We expect a regular cadence of shipments around the world across the next several weeks. And in the weeks ahead, working with the world’s democracies we will coordinate a multilateral effort, including the G-7, to combat and end the pandemic,” [White House Covid coordinator] Zients said.

It seems that NPR’s headline writer looked at the calendar, saw that it was the day the Biden administration had promised to start shipping out vaccine, and assumed it must have happened. There’s no reporting in the story to suggest that it actually did.

I’ve been watching all month, looking for any news to suggest that any actual vaccine shipments had taken place. Finally, this week, there was some news:

1.5 Million COVID-19 Vaccine Doses Delivered To Honduras Via COVAX

A fleet of refrigerated trucks emblazoned with the flag of Honduras lined up to receive an air shipment of 1.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines at Armando Escalón Espinal Air Base, San Pedro Sula Airport, Honduras on June 27, 2021.

(Oddly, the story doesn’t actually say that the vaccine arrived and was loaded onto those trucks, but we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.)

Did shipments begin earlier, and I just missed them? I don’t think so. This story says a shipment to Peru at about the same time was the first:

U.S. Ships First Coronavirus Vaccines Abroad, Donating 2 Million to Peru

The United States will begin shipping its first doses of the coronavirus vaccine to other countries on Monday [June 28].

The story does appear to be a little bit wrong, as the Honduras shipment appears to have been one day earlier, but that’s a minor error. Clearly, Honduras and Peru are part of the same effort, which US News says was the first.

So what about about those millions of J&J doses that expire (optimistically) today? Those aren’t the doses we sent Honduras and Peru; we sent them Pfizer and Moderna. We appear to be letting all those doses expire.

Moreover, we have a lot more excess vaccine that isn’t about to expire, but we aren’t going to use. (Notably, 60 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine which isn’t approved in the US.) We may get all that shipped out eventually, but people are dying right now. We already missed the opportunity to help India when they badly needed it.

Tenet (Mostly) Explained

April 10, 2021

Christopher Nolan’s new film, Tenet, is my favorite film of the last decade. I don’t think it’s Nolan’s best film. But it’s hard to beat Tenet in terms of sheer fun and rewatchability. More than any movie I can think of, Tenet rewards multiple viewings. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen it, and I’m still noticing new things.

What follows is my exposition of the Tenet storyline, what happened and why, and what I think it means. This is directed toward people who found the movie confusing, want an explanation, and (for whatever reason) aren’t inclined to work it out themselves. It’s also directed toward other Tenet fanboys, to compare notes. But mainly it’s because I enjoyed working all this out and I wanted to share what I learned.

Obviously, here there be spoilers. I assume you’ve seen the movie at least once, so I won’t bother explaining who the characters are.

Read the rest of this entry »

That time the Biden campaign let 100 thousand people die

March 12, 2021

UPDATE (October 2021): In the months since I wrote this, the ebb and flow of covid numbers at different places and times have made it clear that something more than just vaccination rates are driving the covid death numbers. So while the Biden campaign’s deliberate suppression of the vaccine during the presidential campaign remains reprehensible and inexcusable, it’s possible those 100 thousand people would have died anyway.

Joe Biden is getting grief for claiming credit for the covid vaccines that were the centerpiece of Donald Trump’s covid response. That grief is well deserved, but it’s actually far worse than that. Biden’s campaign actively and deliberately inhibited the vaccines’ rollout. Without their actions, the vaccines would probably have been rolled out at least a month earlier, which would have saved over 100 thousand lives.

I have the receipts:

  • On September 2, 2020, the Trump administration notified public health officials that they should prepare for vaccine distribution as early as late October.
  • This panicked Democrats, who based their entire campaign on Trump’s ineffective response to covid. They feared that a big success in Operation Warp Speed would vindicate his response and give him the boost he needed to win re-election. (And, given how the election turned out, it’s nearly certain that it would have.)
  • On September 5 (three days later), Kamala Harris tells the world they should not trust Trump’s vaccine. She makes it explicitly political, saying “he’s looking at an election coming up in less than 60 days, and he’s grasping for whatever he can get to pretend that he has been a leader.” The campaign’s surrogates and the press (but I repeat myself) quickly follow suit. The threat is clear: put this vaccine out before the election, and we will destroy it.
  • On September 8 (three days after that), vaccine makers issue a pledge to put science first and to release only a safe vaccine. (Basically, pledging to do just what they’re already doing.) This fails to settle the furor, because the matter isn’t actually about safety; it’s about there being no announcement before election day.
  • On September 25, several “leading researchers and bioethicists” send an open letter to Pfizer, urging them to delay their vaccine. If you look up the signers, they are all Democrat donors. (Full disclosure: I only bothered to look up the first ten names.)
  • On October 9 the FDA alters its standard for how many positive cases the vaccine’s testers must see before they open their results. “This guidance ensures that no COVID-19 vaccine is likely to be approved before the US presidential election.” (The linked article doesn’t give much detail on the new standard, but we’ll come to that.)

    ASIDE: A lot of Republicans have given the FDA a lot of grief over this decision, but I don’t actually think it was wrong, given the Democratic extortion. If we want to get to herd immunity, it is essential that Americans trust the vaccine enough to get it. Far too many people distrust vaccines already, and we cannot afford to lose the rest of the left half of the country. That is exactly what the Biden campaign and its surrogates were not-very-subtly threatening to bring about.
  • On November 9 (less than a week after election day), Pfizer announces its results, and they are astonishingly good. Also in the press release, Pfizer mentioned the FDA’s moving targets. The issue was the number of positive covid cases they needed to see in testing before they could break the seal on their results and see what proportion of the positive cases were from the study’s placebo arm. (Almost all of them, it turned out.) More positive cases means less likelihood that good results were just random chance.
  • Originally the number was 32. But after “discussion with the FDA” the vaccine companies “elected” to increase the number from 32 to 62, roughly doubling the length of the test.
  • But in fact, they didn’t open the study at 62 either. By the time they opened it, the number had reached 94. The press release doesn’t say why; it just blandly reports the fact. But we learn why soon enough.

The New York Times ran a very informative story on the vaccines’ development. Among many other interesting details, it contained the smoking gun:

Pfizer decided it should drop that first benchmark [32 positive cases] and asked the F.D.A. to approve a new protocol on Oct. 29, effectively dashing Mr. Trump’s hopes of an announcement before Election Day.

The company also stopped processing test results from trial participants while it worked with the F.D.A. Protocol changes are discouraged once data is available, and Pfizer did not want to cross the benchmark before it got verbal approval to drop it. That approval came on Nov. 3, Election Day, or the day after.

[Emphasis mine.]

Pfizer didn’t look at the results even when the count reached the new benchmark of 62 because the FDA wouldn’t give them permission. The FDA finally gave them permission on election day or the day after. The notion that this was not a political decision defies all credulity.

So what was the consequence of this delay? Just because Trump said there could be a vaccine in October doesn’t mean it’s true. But let’s run the numbers. It took 99 days from the beginning of phase 3 trials (July 27) to get to 94 cases. To get to 32 cases would have taken until about the end of August (the infection rate was pretty flat at the time). A big company doesn’t move on a dime, so let’s give them a week to open the results, so September 5. In the history that actually happened, it took 40 or 41 days to begin vaccinations (December 14) after the results were opened, so in our alternate history vaccinations would have begun around October 16. So it appears that Trump’s estimate of “mid-October” was spot on.

When we started vaccinating in mid-December, it took until the end of January until the death rate was falling convincingly. So let’s call that a month-and-a-half. That means that in our alternate history the death rate is falling convincingly by the end of November. The two worst months of the covid epidemic in America were January 2021 (95 thousand) and December 2020 (65 thousand).

That’s 160 thousand lives lost to covid in December and January. If just two-thirds of those could have been saved (a conservative estimate, given how quickly the death rate was falling at the end of January), that’s over a hundred thousand lives lost as a result of the vaccine delays instigated by the Biden campaign.

WallStreetBets explained

January 28, 2021

TL;DR version: It’s hard not to laugh at a bunch of internet randos taking down hedge funds, but you should try. What’s happening is not good.

Less TL;DR version: When you buy Gamestop (etc.) at the say-so of WallStreetBets, you are giving your money to WallStreetBets’s founders and their friends, in the hope that in so doing you might be hurting some billionaires. As odd as it may sound to non-economists, those billionaires are actually providing a valuable service.

What’s going on:

One of the things you can do in the stock market is sell short, which is a way to bet that a stock’s price will fall. The way it works is you borrow the stock from someone else, and then sell it. This leaves you owning a negative number of shares. If the stock’s price goes up, you lose money, because you have to buy back the shares you owe at a higher price than you sold them at. But if the stock’s price goes down, you make money, because you can buy back in at a lower price.

It turns out that the people doing this are providing a valuable service, and we should be glad they’re doing it. I’ll come back to that later.

Now, the mechanics of how this works are important. The system is designed to prevent the following scenario: I borrow a thousand shares of Amazon and sell them. If the price goes down, I make money and buy a mansion. If the price goes up, I lose a lot of money, declare bankruptcy, and my creditors take the loss. To prevent me from doing this, I can only hold a short position as long as I have sufficient assets (called margin) in my brokerage account to cover my losses. If my losses exceed my margin, the broker demands that I deposit more money. (This is called a margin call.) If I cannot do it right away, the broker liquidates my assets to buy back the stock I borrowed.

Now, when I sell short, often the price doesn’t fall right away, even if I’m right that the stock is overvalued. Other investors might see things differently and keep investing in the stock, driving up the price. I still win, provided I can hold my short position long enough for the fundamentals to win out. But for me to do that, I have to have enough margin to ride out any temporary price increases. That’s why selling short is really only for the very rich. Without a lot of margin, you could be right and still lose because you get wiped out by a margin call before the price falls. The biggest players in this business are hedge funds.

That’s where WallStreetBets, a Reddit group, comes in. What they are doing is urging individuals to buy Gamestop, a surely overvalued stock that hedge funds are betting against. (Actually, they are urging people to buy call options, but that just complicates the story without really changing it.) This results in the price going up. The people who got in early — the founders of WallStreetBets and their friends — make out like a bandit. The people who got in later lose. That’s most of them; it’s a lot like a Ponzi scheme that way.

But the wrinkle here is: the losers don’t care, because they’re only in it to hurt the hedge funds. If they can drive the price high enough, the hedge fund gets wiped out by a margin call.

Now, ordinarily what WallStreetBets is doing would be an illegal pump-and-dump scam. But in this case it might be legal, because they aren’t actually pretending that Gamestop is a good investment. They are completely open about how they’re doing it just for yuks. If they get rich in the process, they’re fine with that.

Anyway, it worked. Melvin Capital was forced to close out its short position in Gamestop, taking a loss that is currently undisclosed but certainly in the billions. Melvin didn’t go under because it was rescued by other hedge funds.

Why it’s bad:

First of all, it’s morally wrong to spend your money purely to hurt someone else, even if that person is a billionaire. But let’s set that aside. Instead, I want to look at the service that hedge funds are doing us.

One of the greatest inventions in human history is the joint stock company. (In the United States today they exist as corporations.) It makes it enormously easier to start a business venture, because one can raise the capital from a lot of different people, each of whom has little risk, rather than all of it from a small number of very wealthy persons, all of whom are betting their fortune. It is one of the main reasons we have the bustling economy we have today.

But in order for the economy to allocate resources efficiently, we need stock prices to reflect companies’ true value. If Gamestop is over-valued, resources go into maintaining or even expanding Gamestop’s operations, when those resources ought to be going elsewhere. Inefficient resource use hurts our economy, which ultimately hurts employment and wages.

Stock prices are determined by investors, and, yes, speculators. If I see that a stock is underpriced, I buy it. If enough people see it the same way, the price goes up. The increase in the value of my investment is the payment I get for risking my money to assist the efficient functioning of capital markets.

The other direction is not as easy. If I see that a stock is overpriced, I can sell it, provided I already own it. But if I don’t already own it, how can I turn a profit on the research I did that determined it was overpriced? By short selling. Again, if enough people see it the way way, the price goes down. The increase in the value of my negative investment is my payment.

But there’s an important asymmetry between long and short positions. With a long position (buying stock), the most I can lose is 100% of my investment, because the price cannot fall below zero. With a short position, my potential losses are unlimited, because there’s no cap on how high the price can go. Thus, selling short is extremely risky. It is only going to be practiced by people who can afford to lose a lot of money.

What WallStreetBets is doing is making short selling much, much riskier. You no longer have to worry only about good-faith investors and speculators, but about vandals who are willing to throw money away just to hurt you.

You don’t care about the poor billionaires? I get it. But what you should care about the health of our economy. One of the things a healthy economy relies on is (mostly) efficient capital markets. And the way we get efficient capital markets is people (yes, mostly rich people) betting their own money whenever they see an inefficiency. If short selling goes away because it’s too dangerous, that ultimately hurts all of us.

In the short term there’s another serious risk. Even if short selling is too risky now, hedge funds have a lot of short positions already. They can’t just close them out, because doing so would just be preemptively taking the damage that WallStreetBets wants to do to them. If a lot of hedge funds start failing, that could spark another financial crisis. We saw how well the last one went, and this time the economy is already reeling from the covid lockdowns.

The speech not given

January 8, 2021

This is what Trump should have said, back in November:

There is much about this past election and its reported results that is profoundly suspicious. We believe that fraud was a significant factor in the outcome and it likely changed the election’s result. However, suspicion is not proof. It is the nature of an anonymous election that it is very hard to validate its results after the fact. We have not been able to find proof that votes were fraudulently cast or fraudulently counted in sufficient quantity to change the result of the election. Therefore, unfortunately, Joe Biden has prevailed in this election, and he will be inaugurated on January 20.

I share your frustration and disappointment at this outcome. We came tantalizingly close. The polls projected that we would lose by a landslide, but in the end the election was decided by just 40 thousand votes in four states. But it is now over, and our primary concern now must be to ensure an orderly transition of power and continuity of government. We will not obstruct the transition process, nor will we take any steps to sabotage the incoming administration. Neither will I endorse any objection to the counting of electoral votes, as has been the opposing party’s practice in recent decades.

Moving forward, I call on Mr. Biden and the new Congress to enact legislation to create uniform nationwide standards to prevent fraud in federal elections. Future presidents deserve to come into office without the cloud of suspicion created by this past election.

May God bless America, etc.

We all would all be in a much better place had he gone this route, and indeed Trump himself would be in a better place. But I suppose the fable of the scorpion and the frog applies.

Shockingly, NYT lied about anonymous source

October 28, 2020

In September 2018, the New York Times published an op-ed by an anonymous “senior administration official” who said that he and others were secretly working to sabotage the Trump administration from within.

Now, Miles Taylor has come out as “anonymous” and the NYT confirms that he is the author. At the time the op-ed was written, Taylor was the deputy chief of staff (i.e., an advisor) to the secretary of Homeland Security, which is not what most people would consider to be a senior administration official. Eyebrows are being raised, to say the least.

In a piece that accompanied the original op-ed, the NYT explained (sort of) what they mean by “senior administration official”:

I understand readers’ frustration that we didn’t provide a more precise description of the official. . . The term we chose, senior administration official, is used in Washington by both journalists and government officials to describe positions in the upper echelon of an administration, such as the one held by this writer.

(Emphasis mine.) This doesn’t say much, but the part in bold does confirm that they are using the term according to its conventional meaning.

The New York Times is trying to obfuscate this now. The profile of Miles Taylor they published today says:

On Wednesday, he disclosed his identity and his role in the administration as a top official in the Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Taylor ultimately became chief of staff to Kirstjen Nielsen, Mr. Trump’s former homeland security secretary. In that position, Mr. Taylor was one of the most senior political officials in the sprawling department, which employs more than 240,000 people.

The chief of staff to a cabinet secretary might be considered a senior official, but he was not in that role at the time. In their profile, they do not mention anywhere what role Taylor was in at the time, which is weird since there’s no other reason why anyone would be interested in a profile of Taylor today.

The New York Times has published reams upon reams of attack pieces against President Trump using anonymous sources. Now that we know, for certain, that they are willing to lie about their anonymous sources, why should we believe any of their other reporting?

1984 was not intended as an instruction manual

October 14, 2020

Unfortunately, we now live in a world in which you cannot trust the dictionary. For some time the Merriam-Webster dictionary has been giving alarming signs of increasing wokeness in its snarky social-media profile (case in point), but yesterday they took a significant new step toward Newspeak.

In her confirmation hearing, Amy Coney Barrett referred to “sexual preference” (not discriminating on the basis of), and we learned that the term is now forbidden. The politically correct term, we are told is “sexual orientation.” Many people who had not been tracking the politically-correct lexicon day-by-day were unaware of the change:

(Video by the Washington Free Beacon.)

Within the day, there was unanimity on the left about how offensive the term was. Politicians were lecturing Judge Barrett about it.

Enter the dictionary. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary had “sexual preference” as one sense of the word “preference”.

5 : ORIENTATION sense 2b // sexual preference

That put it out of step with Democrat messaging, so they changed the definition to:

5 offensive, see usage paragraph below : ORIENTATION sense 2b // sexual preference

If you visit the Wayback Machine, you see that the last time they crawled the page (September 28), the the old definition was still in place. We cannot say for absolute certain that this change was made on October 13, but some change was made on October 13:

Last Updated 12 Oct 2020

It seems extremely unlikely to be coincidence. In any case, they have not denied it. Nor indeed, have they made any comment on the controversy at all.

So we now live in a world in which the publishers of the dictionary give same-day service editing its definitions to fit the Democrat narrative. This is right out of 1984.

POSTSCRIPT: Merriam-Webster’s word of the day yesterday was an ironic choice, given what they had just done:

(Via Steve Krakauer.)

UPDATE: is getting in on the act too.

Vote for the jerk; it’s important

October 12, 2020

I was “never Trump” in 2016. Trump seemed to know hardly anything, least of all what it means to be a conservative. As Brit Hume put it, he put less preparation into running for president than most people put into buying a sofa. The things he said sounded very much like a bizarre liberal parody of conservatism, as if he learned what it means to be a conservative from reading the New York Times. (I still suspect this is the truth.)

I was convinced that if he won, he would be a national embarrassment and do a terrible job. I was half right. My aim here is to discuss Trump’s record issue-by-issue, and make the case that he deserves re-election.

Character: We’ll start with the bad one. Yes, he is a boor and a national embarrassment. The tweets are awful. I cringe every time he opens his mouth. His personal conduct is deplorable. It is true that Joe Biden is also a bad guy (indeed, the only decent human among the four candidates is Mike Pence), but probably not to the same degree. In any case, Biden at least pretends, while Trump seems to relish his outrageous behavior. Nevertheless, this is just one issue, and there are much weightier matters at stake.

The courts: He has appointed great judges who respect the Constitution, and they have been sorely needed. I doubt that he has had much involvement in the process, but who cares? Biden, if elected, will attempt to stack the Supreme Court, not only putting progressive activists onto the court, but destroying the respectability of the court as an institution.

ISIS: It’s easy to forget this since it was so early in his administration. Under Obama’s neglect, ISIS grew for years. At its worst, it was striking targets in the US. On coming into office, Trump destroyed ISIS in a matter of months, with zero US casualties.

The economy: Before covid lockdowns brought the economy to its knees, we had arguably the strongest economy in US history. We had indisputably the best economy for minorities in US history. Deregulation and tax reform had a lot to do with that. When we finally get to rebuild our economy post-covid, they will work again.

Covid: Yes, there were missteps. But Trump got the two most important things right. First, he focused on getting a vaccine developed and deployed, quickly and safely. We will see if he succeeded soon, but indications are good. (Alas, hopes that a vaccine might be ready before the election were recently dashed by a politically motivated rule change by the FDA to slow emergency authorizations.) Second, and more importantly, he kept the federal government in its lane. Under our Constitution, it’s the states’ role to take the lead, and the federal governments role to assist. It’s extremely clear that any Democrat (and probably most Republicans) would have jumped at the opportunity to seize power that does not belong to the federal government. Indeed, Joe Biden promises to do exactly that on his first day in office. Some day covid will be a painful memory, but the powers seized today will never be relinquished.

Much has been made of how Trump “downplayed” the virus, but he wasn’t wrong to keep covid in perspective:
Monthly deaths per million since 1900

(Chart made by VoidSurf.)

Law and order: Trump has taken steps, within the limits imposed by our federal system, to restore order to our cities. On the other hand, Democrats have sought to extend the riots. They have consistently dropped charges against rioters arrested by the police. Kamala Harris personally raised money to bail rioters out jail. They have tied the hands of police, and in some cases have even sought to defund the police. With their allies in the press, they have pushed the absurd narrative that the riots are “mostly peaceful.” As a result, crime is soaring.

Biden has been unable to condemn any of this with any clarity. He says that Antifa is “just an idea.” And he has made remarks that seem to support redirecting police funding to social services, although the media has made great efforts to clean up the remarks.

Embassy in Israel: Bill Clinton and George W. Bush promised to move our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, but they both broke that promise. Since 1995, presidents have been signing a waiver every six months delaying the legally required embassy move. Trump finally kept the promise. The foreign policy elite predicted that doing so would result in widespread violence from the “Arab street.” In fact, quite the opposite happened.

The Abraham Accords: The treaty normalizing relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain is the first real step toward middle east peace in many years. The importance is not so much the agreement itself, since there was already peace between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, but the signal it sends that the other Arab nations are no longer willing to put up with the nonsense of the factions ruling the Palestinians. If the Palestinians continue their intransigence, the other Arabs will go ahead without them and they will be isolated.

Of course, the UAE and Bahrain are not big players. The real promise is Saudi Arabia. The Saudis haven’t joined yet, but Bahrain (closely aligned with Saudi Arabia) joining is a signal that the Saudis are considering it. The Saudis agreeing to allow overflights is another important sign. And the public statements of Prince Bandar are yet another. If Trump is re-elected, there is a good chance the Saudis will join. But the Democrats don’t support the Accords. If Biden is elected, I doubt he will actually repudiate the Accords, but they will be dead as an agenda. No energy will be put into extending them.

Due process: In April 2011, the Obama administration issued its infamous “dear colleague” letter, which ordered colleges to deny due process to any students accused of sexual assault. The Obama administration bypassed the usual process of regulatory rule-making, and was unable to give any convincing legal justification for its order. Most colleges complied anyway, and for years students were denied due process. Horror stories abound. Fixing the problem has been one of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s priorities. Moreover, she fixed it properly, going through the normal rule-making process. Unfortunately, that takes time and they way the timing has worked out, a Biden administration might be able to reverse the process, returning us to kangaroo courts in which accused students are unable to defend themselves, or even be told what they are accused of.

Iran: Weakness invites aggression. Iran violated international law when it captured 10 Navy sailors who had wandered into Iranian waters due to a navigational error, and its outrageous, illegal treatment of those sailor upon capturing them was even worse. The Obama administration meekly thanked Iran for treating our sailors well (!). In negotiating his nuclear deal with Iran, Obama made it clear from the outset that he had to have a deal, no matter what, and Iran responded in exactly the manner one would expect. Obama got his deal, an unenforceable promise not to develop nuclear weapons for a while, and in exchange we were taken to the cleaners. In addition to accepting the abduction of our sailors, Obama spiked an investigation into Hezbollah trafficking drugs into Europe and the United States, lifted sanctions on Iran, allowed Iran to import sensitive equipment, and, most astonishingly, shipped Iran almost $2 billion in cash. (The claims that we owed them the money are untrue. Indeed, the payment was illegal: a law signed in 2000 by Bill Clinton prohibited it.)

Much of the damage could not be undone; certainly Trump could not claw back the money. But Trump has stopped presenting weakness, and has begun the process of reestablishing sanctions. Trump approved the killing of Iran’s terror mastermind Qasem Soleimani, who had boldly crossed the border into Iraq to organize attacks against our allies. The Democrats flipped out at this, saying that it would certainly lead to war. Of course, nothing like that happened. On the contrary, with an indispensable terror leader removed, things have been much quieter. Trump has also offered moral support for Iranian dissidents, which Obama pointedly refused to do.

Huawei: The Trump administration led the effort to have Chinese chips banned from use in 5G networks because of security concerns. That effort has been successful with several of our closest allies, including the UK, Australia, and Japan.

The environment: Trump will not ban fracking or push the “green new deal”, both of which Biden and Harris have both pledged to do. Fracking has finally made us energy independent, and in fact has helped the environment greatly, by making it possible to move industry from coal to natural gas. The “green new deal” is communism painted green. It would be an utter catastrophe to everyone except the nomenklatura that it would empower.

Nonsense: No, Trump didn’t call white supremacists “very fine people.” He has condemned white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK many times. He didn’t say covid was a hoax. He didn’t say that Mexicans are all murderers and rapists. He didn’t say immigrants are animals. And on and on. Certainly he has said some awful things, but the quotes that seem most appalling are misconstrued beyond all recognition.

Donald Trump is not senile. Joe Biden is.

Please tell me about the norms

October 12, 2020

Fun fact: The very first time the newly formed Democratic Party received a Supreme Court nomination, in 1828, they refused to vote on it, so that Andrew Jackson could make an appointment the following year.

Another fun fact: The very first time a Democratic president had a Supreme Court vacancy in the final year of his term, in 1841, the Democratic Senate confirmed the appointment. They confirmed the nomination four days after it was made, on the second-to-last day of the lame-duck session that took place after they lost the election.

Fact-check abolition

July 21, 2020

Today’s media has endless energy to fact-check Donald Trump (including fact-checking opinions, predictions, and literally true but arguably misleading statements), and the Atlantic is no exception. But it’s different when it comes to their own pages.

Two weeks ago the Atlantic ran an article in favor of “police abolition.” Central to the piece was a harrowing anecdote: when the author was 12 years old, she witnessed a police officer shoot a child at a local community center and faced no consequences for it.

Well, the Federalist did what the Atlantic would not; they fact-checked the piece, and found that nothing like it every happened. It’s impressive work; the community center wasn’t named in the piece, so they had to deduce it from hints in the piece, which was made more difficult by various minor errors (e.g., the age of the author, and which highway was nearby). They narrowed it down to two candidates. Interviews and a public record search found no evidence that any such incident had ever taken place.

The Atlantic refused to comment, but belated looked at the piece and has now admitted that the incident was not as described. The shooter was a security guard, not a police officer; the victim was an adult, not a child; and the guard was prosecuted for the incident. (They have not corrected their description of the 18-year-old victim as a “boy.”)

The Atlantic has edited the piece, adding an end note noting the correction. They don’t seem to have noticed that the correction eviscerates the piece. The author’s thesis is that we should abolish the police, and replace them with something else. (Exactly what we should replace them with, they never quite say.) Well here you have what they say they want: the law enforced by a city employee who is not police. The non-police officer didn’t have the professionalism of a police officer, and shot his (adult) cousin in a quarrel. The non-police officer apparently didn’t face consequences from his non-police department, and only faced consequences when the actual police became involved.

The author is unrepentant, cheekily tweeting:

I was not 12. I was 13. The shooter was a uniformed private guard with a badge and gun. When we say abolish the police, that includes private police, too. thank you for reading <3.

(Her tweets are now protected. I got the text of the tweet from the Federalist.)

That is just silly. People are not going to go unprotected. If you abolish the police, you will get more private police. You cannot disclaim the predictable consequences of your policies.

In the room where it didn’t happen

July 17, 2020

Danny Ayalon, formerly deputy foreign minister in Israel, tells the story of the day, exactly 20 years ago, when Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat everything. He offered East Jerusalem and three-quarters of the Old City, holding back only the Jewish Quarter and the Wailing Wall. But:

Everyone in the room stared at Arafat, who didn’t know what to say. He hadn’t envisioned or prepared for such a scenario. Finally he spoke: “I am sorry but I cannot accept this offer. There was never a Jewish Temple, so I cannot accept any Israeli presence. Not even underground.”

There was no way Arafat was making peace under any circumstances.

The Smithsonian on “whiteness”

July 15, 2020

At first glance, I seriously thought this was white nationalist propaganda, claiming that all the best ideas and attitudes are white:


Alas, it’s from a critique of “whiteness” by the Smithsonian Institution! According to it, the ideas and attitudes that are exclusively white include: individualism, self-reliance, the nuclear family, science, objectivity, rational thinking, classical antiquity, the work ethic, Christianity, respect for authority, planning for the future, delayed gratification, showing up on time, viewing time as precious, steak, English common law, the notion that justice should consider intent, trying to solve problems, making decisions, democracy, using correct grammar, and politeness.

No. Good ideas and attitudes do not belong to any specific race, no matter what the racists on the right or the left might say.

(Via Byron York.)

Everything is great as long as the cities burn

July 10, 2020

When the George Floyd demonstrations began, there was a lot of justified concern that they would act as super-spreader events and set back the progress we have made against covid. (One couldn’t help but notice that the same people who been highly critical of public gatherings just days before were fine with gatherings in what they deemed to be a good cause.) This paper argues that, against all expectation, the demonstrations actually slowed the spread of covid.

The paper has met with some skepticism, but the methodology seems reasonable to me. I think it’s very plausible. However, its results are widely misunderstood, and to some degree it is the authors’ fault.

The paper explicitly acknowledges that they did not even attempt to look at whether covid spread at the demonstrations. Instead, the paper looks at cell-phone data to determine whether, on balance, the public overall congregated more during them. (ASIDE: The paper also looks a little at growth in covid cases, and that part is less convincing.) They found that the general public was so scared of the violence at these riots that they stayed home, and that effect outweighed the effect of the demonstrations themselves.

This makes sense. As large as the riots were, the vast majority of people did not participate, so even a modest negative effect among the majority could outweigh the riots themselves.

This is being spun as a defense of the demonstrations. Partly, that is the fault of the authors who asserted in their conclusion that “public speech and public health did not trade off against each other in this case.” This is a bizarre take.

Yes, public speech and public health may have coexisted, but the price of their coexistence was burning cities, many deaths, immeasurable property damage, and countless ruined lives. This is not a positive result.

The paper compounds the problem by failing to look at the key question: what happened when the riots settled down but the protests continued? At that point we would expect the negative effect to fade and the positive effect to dominate. Alas, the paper does not look at that question, so we don’t have the cell-phone data, but we can look at public data on covid spread.

According to the notes I took at the time, there was relative peace in the cities starting June 2. We expect a week’s incubation time between exposure and symptoms, so we would expect to see a surge in covid cases starting June 9. And, if we look at the data, that is exactly what we see.

To summarize, the burning of our cities masked the anticipated effect of the demonstrations on covid, but the anticipated rise happened as soon as the demonstrations became peaceful.

(Via Daily Wire.)

Divergent charts

July 10, 2020

I think this chart is really interesting:

chart of covid cases versus deaths

(Credit for the chart.)

You can see that at the start of the epidemic, deaths were lagging behind cases by 6 days. But now it’s been a month-and-a-half since the two curves diverged. Cases have been soaring for about a month, while deaths have continued their steady decline.

The rejoinder is often “wait two weeks and deaths will rise.” But the chart shows that we’ve already waited more than four weeks, and, if the early pattern prevailed, we should have seen a surge in deaths in only about one.

Some say that the rise in cases is merely more testing. I don’t think that explains it (although it might be part of it) since the percentage of tests that were positive started rising at about the same time. My theory is that the people getting sick are younger (and thus less vulnerable) than the ones who were getting sick before.

In any case, I think the chart shows convincingly that although the rise in cases is surely troubling, we can temper our alarm.

UPDATE: The day after I posted this, the death rate started to rise, which obviously is bad. Nevertheless, the point still remains that deaths are not mirroring cases.

Heterogeneous measures

June 26, 2020

The CDC observes that the coronavirus outbreaks in Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas skew towards younger people, so the consequences will probably be less bad than the earlier outbreaks in the northeast:

Ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19 in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas are “significant,” but the younger average age of confirmed cases in these states might mean the “consequences” will be less severe, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said Thursday.

In light of that, I wanted to revisit this paper out of CMU and Pitt. It shows that heterogeneous measures lead to significantly fewer deaths than homogeneous measures. In fact, heterogeneity matters much more than the strictness of the measures: even a more-moderate heterogeneous measure is significantly better than a stricter homogeneous measure. In plain English, what that means is we should be protecting the vulnerable tightly, but be looser with the less vulnerable. (And keep in mind this is just about deaths, without any consideration of ruined livelihoods or economic damage.)

This CDC observation suggests to me that these heterogeneous measures are finally happening. That’s a good thing.

POSTSCRIPT: Heterogeneous measures are better assuming they are not upside-down — as they were in New York and some other states — which locked down the general public tight but pushed coronavirus patients into nursing homes. That was insanity.

(Via Instapundit.)

A play in one act

July 18, 2018

Time traveller from 1939: So this is 2018! How are things going?

Social justice warrior: Unfortunately, we have a big problem with fascism.

TT: Oh dear. What’s going on?

SJW: The judgements of the organs of the state must be accepted without question!

SJW: Speakers we disapprove of must be silenced, by force if necessary!

SJW: The president must set aside the law and do what’s right!

SJW: A supreme court that might rule contrary to our wishes is illegitimate and should be abolished!

SJW: Only the state should have access to weapons!

TT: You’re right, you do have a problem with fascism.

There is no substitute for free speech

April 7, 2018

I saw this article this morning:

A judge ruled yesterday that the Federal Election Commission could go ahead with a sharply limited investigation of the Reader’s Digest for distributing videotapes about Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s automobile accident at Chappaquiddick. . .

The case grew out of an article in the magazine last year about the 1969 accident on the island of Chappaquiddick. . . The publisher, the Reader’s Digest Association, distributed to television stations videotapes of a computer re-enactment of the accident, presumably to promote the article.

Last August the Federal Election Commission received a complaint from an Oregon resident saying that the publisher had distributed the tapes to harm Senator Kennedy’s race for the Democratic Presidential nomination, thereby making campaign contributions that were not permitted to corporations.

This was making the rounds because of the Chappaquiddick movie, but I think it’s very interesting it its own right. Recall Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that found that the First Amendment’s protection of free speech applies to everyone, including people who work for corporations. Many on the left were very upset about the decision, feeling that corporations (and, by extension, their staff) ought not to have the right to free speech.

Whenever anyone raises the horror of corporations speaking, I point out that essentially every single newspaper, magazine, publishing house, television network, movie studio, record label, social-media platform, church, private university, and special-interest group is a corporation. If you exclude corporation from free speech, you have eviscerated free speech.

Some have countered that when free-speech protection is removed from those institutions, they will continue to be protected by the freedom of the press. (Well, not churches, etc., but let’s set them aside for now.) There are few problems with this theory. First, it’s wrong as a matter of legal precedent and history. As Eugene Volokh explains, the freedom of speech and the press are a single clause; the press is mentioned in order to clarify that the freedom is not limited to spoken communication. But as a novel legal theory, I guess it was good enough for the Citizens United dissenters.

But, returning to the article, this Readers Digest incident shows how threadbare that protection would be. Here you have a major magazine, unambiguously protected by the Freedom of Speech, and a court still found that it might be improper for them to publish material outside their usual medium!

And don’t be consoled by the fact that the FEC’s investigation ultimately went nowhere (I assume). Free speech requires breathing room, and an investigation alone is enough to create a chilling effect. As a Washington Post writer put it in 1981:

If the commission insists on following the pattern it has established, every news organization in the country taking a position on any national candidate could find itself having to prove in exhausting, unnecessary and ridiculous detail that it is not a political entity and has not illegally used corporate funds in performing its clear First Amendment prerogatives.

No Denmark without Danes

March 2, 2018

Megan McArdle has an amazing article about the political culture of Denmark, and its implications for ours. It’s well worth reading in its entirety.

Don’t worry, the fact-checkers are on the case!

March 2, 2018

The Babylon Bee is a satire site, similar to the Onion but with rightward slant instead of the Onion’s leftward slant, plus they include a lot of humor about religious issues. Sometimes it is quite funny (much more often than the Onion these days). Yesterday, they ran this headline:

CNN Purchases Industrial-Sized Washing Machine To Spin News Before Publication

Given the headline, you pretty much know how the story is going to go, so I needn’t quote it further. First, let it be conceded this isn’t their best work, but that’s neither here nor there. This is nothing more than a pun; no reasonable person could possibly think that a literal washing machine could actually play any role in “spinning” the news.

But, don’t you worry, Snopes is on the case:

CLAIM: CNN invested in an industrial-sized washing machine to help their journalists and news anchors spin the news before publication.


Oh good. That’s a relief. Thanks Snopes!

Now, this sounds like nothing more than some low-level buffoonery on the part of Snopes, but it’s actually illustrative of the serious problem that arises when social media uses Snopes as a gatekeeper for permitted content. Since Snopes went to the trouble to mark the piece false, Facebook is automatically marking it as false content, which results in warnings when people share the piece on Facebook, threats to the Babylon Bee’s ad revenue, and (presumably, although Facebook’s algorithms are shrouded in mystery) steps to prevent it from going viral.

This is bad however you slice it. On the one hand, it shows how easy it is for Snopes to drag down content on Facebook, and their failures are not always so amusing as this one. On the other hand, if you think these sort of automatic warnings are important and valuable, incidents like this train people to ignore them.

Wanted: one moral compass

February 24, 2018

(This is more stream-of-consciousness than my usual essay. Sorry about that.)

The facts

We now know many things about the February 14 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. We know that a former student (I won’t be using his name) who had been expelled from the school, went in with a rifle and murdered 17 students.

We know that the shooter talked about shooting up a school all the time. He would introduce himself saying “Hi, I’m Nick. I’m a school shooter.” After another mass shooting he bragged “Man I can do so much better.” And we know that his threats were relayed to local police and the FBI on numerous occasions, but no action was taken. Some of the warnings were quite explicit. We know that the police were called to the shooter’s home on numerous occasions, but, as far as we know, no action was taken. (CNN has reported that this happened on 39 occasions, but the Broward Country sheriff’s office says it was only 23 times.)

We know that the sheriff’s office had a deputy stationed at the school. The deputy, Scot Peterson, ran to the building where he heard the shooting, and then waited outside while the shooting continued. The Broward County sheriff, Scott Israel, offered Peterson up as a sacrificial lamb, but the problem went beyond Peterson.

We know that, in addition to Peterson, three other Broward County sheriff’s deputies responded to the school. None of them went in. All four waited outside, taking cover behind their cars. (Sheriff Israel had previously claimed otherwise, but that turned out not to be true.) Nor did they even prevent the shooter from escaping. They might as well not even have shown up at all.

The first officers to enter the building were police from a neighboring municipality, Coral Springs, who responded even though the school was out of their jurisdiction. They reportedly were disgusted with the Broward County deputies cowering outside. But it appears that by that time, the shooter had already escaped. He was eventually captured by an alert police officer in another municipality.

We also know that a Sheriff Israel had a reputation for hiring political cronies to staff his force, and liked to reply to critics by saying “lions don’t care about the opinions of sheep.” And we know that the same Deputy Peterson had earlier refused to share information about a previous incident involving the shooter with the Florida Department of Children and Families. The reason he would refuse to cooperate with them has not been revealed, but it must be.

The rant

With all these facts known, who do the left/media blame for the massacre? The shooter himself? The FBI or various local police who ignored the warnings? The deputies who cowered outside the school, or the political sheriff who was responsible for their recruiting and training?

Of course not. The true culprit was the NRA.

The NRA, who had nothing whatsoever to do with it, that’s who the leftists and the media (but I repeat myself) think are to blame.

What in the hell is wrong with these people?

While they blame the NRA, they make excuses for the cowardly deputies. A guy with a rifle is just too scary, you can’t expect them to take him on. For example, an editor at the Los Angeles Times wrote “not every has, or should be expected to have, the guts to face a maniac with an AR-15.” It was their job!

ASIDE: While they excuse the useless cops and blame the NRA, let’s not forget the barefoot, civilian plumber from Sutherland Springs who engaged a shooter who was armed with a rifle and wearing body armor. That man was an NRA instructor.

But the worst take on the cowardly cops was from CNN’s Chris Cillizza, who wrote:

What happened in Parkland is proof that a good guy with a gun doesn’t always stop a bad guy with a gun

(CNBC’s John Harwood made the same point.) Clearly Cillizza and Harwood don’t actually understand the “good guy with a gun argument” so let me spell it out: If there is a bad guy with a gun, you want there also to be a good guy with a gun to stop him. The police can’t always be there, so citizens should be armed. The cowardly deputies are a confirmation of the the argument, not a refutation. Even if the cops are there, they might not do anything.

A related idiocy was from MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, who said it is useless for a handgun wielder to confront a AR-15 wielder, since AR-15 bullets travel faster. I guess a man armed with a laser will be invincible.

To go along with the idiocy were the outright lies. Everytown for Gun Safety — the deceptively-named gun-control advocacy group funded by billionaire Mike Bloomberg — claimed that there have been 18 school shootings so far in 2018. This isn’t remotely true. (To come up with this number, they have to count nonsense like a window being shot out by a bb gun.) Many media outlets pointed out this it wasn’t true, but not all. The always-execrable New York Daily News cited it without reservation. So did Jeff Greenfield, a long-time political analyst for various networks. (He later deleted the tweet.) Various politicians including Bernie Sanders and Bill DeBlasio cited it as well. ABC couldn’t pass it up either, but did point in the 4th paragraph that it was disputed. Finally, in CNN’s town hall they took a question that cited the bogus statistic; the event’s moderator, Jake Tapper, didn’t point out that it was false, nor did he give anyone else a chance to do so.

The CNN town hall brings me to the main point of this rant, the shameless politicization of this crime. The gun-control movement is clearly frustrated that mass shootings have failed to move to move public opinion on gun control. The reason for this is they have never rebutted the common-sense logic: If guns are made illegal, only criminals will have guns. There are other important arguments for gun-rights as well, but that one suffices.

The only way they can get their gun bans is to have them enacted when the public is emotional, and not thinking rationally. That is why they always bristle at the suggestion that we should wait to consider gun-control measures until we can do so with a clear head.

But even so, it hasn’t been working. Worse — from the anti-gun perspective, but also from the sensible perspective — we are getting accustomed to mass shootings, so they don’t create the same level of emotion as they used to. Something must be done to increase the emotional temperature.

Hence, the Parkland kids. To be clear, I don’t blame the kids. Being from Broward Country, they have surely be taught to view the world from a liberal perspective, and they survived a horribly traumatic experience. Their feelings are genuine. But making those kids the face of the gun-control movement is shameless emotional blackmail of the crassest sort.

They tell us — with a straight face — that these kids have a special wisdom we have to listen to. No. They are children. There is a reason that juvenile and sophomoric are synonyms. And this especially applies to high schoolers, who tend to think they know everything, when in fact they know very little. And everyone knows it. Yes, the bull curve is wide, and some children are wise, but you identify those special children by their wisdom. To assume they are wise simply because they are children is simply insane.

As I said, everyone knows this. Including the people who are pretending that these kids are Charles Wallace Murray because the kids are speaking from the worldview with which they were indoctrinated.

The game plan is clear: Put forward the kids. Some internet crazies will attack them. You publicize the crazies and the public recoils in horror. Then, you tar anyone who disagrees with the kids as the same as the crazies. That is, exactly this: You start with crazies like Alex Jones, and then sliiiiide into Ben Shapiro, The Federalist, and National Review. By the end, you’re supposed to condemn supposedly outrageous statements like:

If you have ever been, or known, a teenager, you know that even comparatively well-informed teens are almost always just advancing arguments they’ve heard from adults.

In case that seems nothing more than common sense, then comes the emotional punch: “Even, it seems, teens who have recently been shot at by a mass murderer.” You aren’t supposed to notice that this is a complete non sequitur.

Then there’s this:

Another approach was to find individual survivors of this massacre who did not happen to support the call from a large number of their classmates for gun control. The Daily Wire managed to find a pro-gun Marjory Stoneman student who accused the media of “politicizing” the massacre to talk about gun control.

Wait a second, you’re not supposed to have your own kids rebut ours! See, it’s not all the kids who have special wisdom, just the ones who agree with us!

That brings us to CNN’s travesty of a town hall. You can find a transcript here, but the transcript with its “(BOOING)” and “(APPLAUSE)” doesn’t capture the sense of the event. It resembled nothing more than one of Red China’s struggle sessions in which an audience would watch and jeer while the party abused a victim until he confessed his crimes against the people.

It was obviously a set-up from the beginning. The host, Jake Tapper, used to be the spokesman for Handgun Control, Inc. — not that CNN disclosed that fact — where he was known for insights such as this:

[Charleton Heston’s] interpretation of the 2nd Amendment is unique to him and his organization and has never been upheld in court.

(That was before Heller v. DC, so the latter part was true at the time, but only a true ideologue would try to claim that it is unique to the NRA to believe that the Second Amendment protects gun rights.)

The questions were all approved in advance. (Despite the he-said/she-said about the correspondence between the producers and possible participants, this point is not in dispute.) And this was the sort of insightful question they approved:

Senator Rubio, it’s hard to look Senator Rubio, it’s hard to look at you and not look down a barrel of an AR-15 and not look at Nicholas Cruz, but the point is you’re here and there some people who are not.


So, I had a question for Ms. Loesch but she’s not here yet. So for her and the NRA — she’s probably watching — and all of you puppet politicians that they are backing. Was the blood of my classmates and my teachers worth your blood money?

The government failed them at every level, but a civil-rights organization with no involvement whatsoever, one that wants to give your teachers the means to defend you, they are the ones with blood on their hands!

Rubio and Loesch were courageous going in there, and generally acquitted themselves pretty well. Rubio orchestrated this revealing moment:

RUBIO: … Now on the issue that you’ve raised about the background checks, relate directly to what you said about the — about the assault weapons ban. It’s not the loopholes. It’s the problem that once you start looking at how easy it is to get around it, you would literally have to ban every semi-automatic rifle that’s sold in the U.S.

(APPLAUSE) [this is an understatement]

RUBIO: Fair enough. Fair enough, that — that is a valid position to hold, but my colleagues do not support banning every semi-automatic rifle sold in America.

This is how far out of the mainstream the audience CNN assembled was. It’s not about “assault weapons,” it’s about banning every semi-automatic rifle in America.

Bottom line

Rant over. Let me wrap up with the bottom line. We are not going to ban guns in America. It isn’t going to happen. You are welcome to try; if you want to try, go ahead and get started.

But if not, please stop wasting our time with these proposals that sound superficially reasonable, but are extremely broad or nonsensical when you look at them closely. Stop telling us you want to ban assault weapons, when you actually want to ban all semi-automatic weapons. Stop saying you want to expand background checks, when your policy would actually make it illegal to fire any gun you don’t personally own. Stop saying you want to want to keep terrorists from buying guns, when your policy would actually give bureaucrats the power to block anyone from buying a gun without any probable cause at all. Stop saying you want to ban bump stocks, when a rubber band can serve as a bump stock

If you’re going to try to ban all guns, let’s get started on that fight. But if not, can we please try to do something about the problem? Something that could actually be enacted?

I’ve been told that I’m immoral because I don’t care if children die. This is offensive. Because I disagree about your preferred policy response does not mean I don’t care about the problem. I could just as well say that gun-control advocates don’t care about our children because they want to lock them into “gun-free” hunting preserves for psychos. But that would be unfair.

If we’re going to keep this on a partisan basis, then I’ll be pushing to end gun-free zones. They are idiotic, and history shows that mass shooters seek them out.

But there’s an alternative. We could look for other ways to address the problem that don’t involve expanding or restricting gun rights. We could look for a consensus approach. Personally, I think it would help enormously if we placed public pressure on the media to stop making mass murderers into celebrities. I’m sure there are other things we could try too.

Alas, that’s not what I’m seeing. When I tried to start such a dialogue among my Facebook friends, I had only one person join in.  For the rest, I gather it’s gun control or nothing. And that strikes me as lamentable.

Net neutrality, explained

December 16, 2017

With the recent FCC action on net neutrality, a lot of people are worked up, but almost no one seems to know what it actually means. Here is what it is all about:

The Internet is a protocol for delivering small packets of data over a wide-area network. An important property of the internet protocol (for present purposes it is the most important property) is that packet delivery is best-effort. That means that internet routers will attempt to deliver every packet, but there are no promises. If a router gets overloaded, some packets will be dropped (i.e., not delivered).

The key question is this: when packets have to be dropped, how do you pick which ones? Historically, internet routers have generally chosen the packets to drop arbitrarily.

But for many applications, this is not actually what you want. For example, in streaming video (nearly 80% of all internet traffic) some frames are more important than others. Some frames are keyframes (which give the entire picture), while most frames only describe the differences from the previous frame. If you miss a regular frame, there is some degradation in the picture, but if you miss a keyframe, you have no picture until the next keyframe arrives. Consequently, it would be best if internet routers preferred keyframes to other frames. More generally, there is an area of research called quality of service, which seeks to enable applications that require a certain amount of reliable bandwidth, and typically does so by identifying and reserving network resources.

So what is network neutrality? Network neutrality is the principle that says that routers must not distinguish between packets when deciding which ones to drop.

As a technical matter, network neutrality would tie the hands of networking innovators by prohibiting any routing strategy that intelligently chooses which packets to favor. One can improve the network by adding more hardware, but not by using the hardware one already has more efficiently. (Note: some dispute this. I will return to this point later.)

So why do some people want network neutrality? There is concern about a certain sort of network management practice that ISPs might adopt. To explain this, it’s helpful to know a few statistics.

Over three-quarters of the internet traffic in North America is from video streaming. Netflix alone accounts for over a third of internet traffic. YouTube (owned by Google) accounts for another sixth. (Figures from December 2015.) This creates a tension between ISPs and content providers. The latter’s business strategy requires that they consume a brobdingnagian amount of network bandwidth, while the former are concerned that the content providers will overwhelm their networks.

Thus, the content providers are concerned that the ISPs will throttle back their content, or that the ISPs will demand that they help pay for it. And, in fact, on a few occasions, ISPs actually did something like this.

Back in 2007, when the concern was peer-to-peer file-sharing (mostly music and video), rather than video streaming, Comcast throttled back certain file-sharing protocols. On the face of it, one could argue it was reasonable, but, being Comcast, they did it in a super-sleazy way. Rather than announce they were doing it, they just did it secretly. People noticed, made a fuss, and Comcast stopped doing it. (Ironically, Comcast is now trying to position themselves as big supporters of network neutrality, while they literally did exactly the thing that net neutrality advocates are trying to prevent.)

Nevertheless, the Comcast incident is instructive, because it was corrected by the free market without any government intervention at all. The customers noticed, the customers complained, and Comcast stopped. Years later, AT&T blocked its customers from using Facetime on iPhones, and they too stopped after public outcry.

That’s the technical background. At this point it gets political. Google (which owns YouTube) made a big push for net neutrality, and it became a cause celebre on the left.

In 2010 the FCC announced its rules governing internet routing and they were quite bad for innovation. (You can find the relevant rules on pages 17944-17956 here, but the summary in the draft rules is much more accessible.) They were full of lip service about freedom to innovate, but they never defined the key terms of “nondiscrimination” and “reasonable network management.” (The final rules improved the draft rules by giving a non-circular definition of “reasonable network management,” but they defined it (¶82) in terms of “legitimate network management purposes” which they did not define.) They specifically say (¶83) that “reasonable network management” will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Consequently, if you want to stay out of trouble, you have to go to the FCC for permission to do anything.

At this point, there is one more important element. The FCC actually had no legal authority to regulate the internet, and when they tried to do it anyway, they lost in court. But, never ones to allow something like that to stop them, the Obama administration reclassified the internet from an information service (which they have no power to regulate) to a telecommunications service (which they do).

A telecommunications service is a service that transmits information without change in its form or content. An information service is a service for generating, acquiring, storing, transforming, processing, retrieving, utilizing, or making available information via telecommunications. (Via Ars Technica.) The sticky thing is the internet is pretty clearly both of these. Some applications are more like an information service: the web, search engines, social media, video streaming, file sharing, cloud drives; while other applications are more like telecommunications: email, instant messaging, voice over IP, online gaming, remote login. Certainly the vast majority of traffic is in the first category, but a case can be made for either.

It is harder to make a case to reclassify the internet as telecommunications service when it is already classified as an information service, particularly since most internet usage is moving in the opposite direction. But, when the matter went to the Court of Appeals, only one of the three judges was bothered by that. The other two applied the Chevron principle which requires that judges defer to administrative agencies unless their decisions are clearly wrong. (It’s a terrible principle, but that’s another topic entirely.) As it happens, the 2-1 decision was Democratic appointees versus a Republican appointee, which emphasizes how political the matter has become.

Anyway, the reclassification allowed the FCC to regulate the internet (or, more precisely, home access to the internet). Another effect was to erase all of the FTC’s internet privacy rules. Instead, FCC crafted its own rules, but the FCC is not an agency with experience with consumer privacy protection, so the result was, as the FTC put it, “not optimal.” Moreover, there were other pernicious effects that had not fully played out yet.

At this point, net neutrality has become a proxy battle between progressives and conservatives. Conservatives oppose net neutrality because they generally oppose regulation, but especially because they don’t want to set the precedent that the government can regulate the internet. Net neutrality may be well-intentioned (if ill-conceived), but they worry that net neutrality will be just the beginning. Hillary Clinton’s statement that net neutrality is “a foot in the door” plays into that concern.

Now the FCC has re-reclassified the internet as an information service again, as it was until 2015. This makes the FCC’s net neutrality regulation null and void. So what happens now? In the near term, nothing at all. The internet survived without net neutrality until 2015, with very few abuses and nearly all of those quickly corrected by the free market. If an ISP ever tried to block an internet content provider that didn’t pay the ISP (a standard scenario in net neutrality’s parade of potential horribles), they would immediately face the wrath of their consumers, and have to reverse themselves. They know it, so they won’t even try.

In the longer term, it’s hard to say. The business model of Netflix and others, who soak up most of the internet’s bandwidth without paying anything for the infrastructure that makes it possible, may turn out to be unsustainable. If so, something will have to change. The same would have been true with net neutrality. But this is a technical problem, and the repeal of net neutrality means that networking researchers can develop a technical solution. Were net neutrality in play, technical solutions would be banned, so the solution would have to be political. That would mean that rent-seeking, not innovation, would be the future of the internet, and we would all be the worse for it.

UPDATE: Added the AT&T-Facetime affair to the preceding discussion.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The discussion above focuses on policies for choosing packets to drop, but there’s another aspect of network neutrality that I left out: concern that ISPs might block certain services entirely. This too happened once: a small phone company blocked voice over IP in an effort to force customers to pay for phone service. This case runs against my general thesis, because it was the (Bush-era) FCC, not the market, that put a stop to it. (Oddly, the FCC was able to do it at a time when it had no regulatory authority over ISPs at all, which says something about the intimidation powers of federal regulators.) Nevertheless, this is a baldly anti-competitive practice and I think the FTC has the power to address it under existing antitrust rules.

(Previous post.)

A brief history of recent US involvement in Iraq

December 16, 2017

We are just short of the 11th anniversary of President Bush announcing the surge. Iraq long ago faded from the headlines, but it’s been an eventful year, culminating last month with Iraq reclaiming its last piece of ISIS-held territory. It seems like a good time to look back at how the Islamists in Iraq were defeated, re-constituted, and re-defeated:

  • January 2007: President Bush announces surge.
  • January 2007: Barack Obama opposes surge, says it will make matters worse.
  • June 2007: Insurgent attacks peak at 1800 per week.
  • September 2007: General Petraeus reports to Congress that the surge is working. Democrats accuse him of lying.
  • October 2008: Insurgent attacks fall below 400 per week.
  • January 2009: President Obama takes office.
  • November 2009: Insurgent attacks fall below 200 per week.
  • February 2010: Obama administration claims credit for Iraq.
  • December 2011: President Obama withdraws all US troops from Iraq, having made no attempt to negotiate a new status of forces agreement.
  • August 2013: President Obama refuses to act on Iraqi requests for air strikes against ISIS.
  • January 2014: President Obama likens ISIS to a “J.V. team.”
  • May 2014: First ISIS attack outside the Middle East.
  • June 2014: ISIS takes Mosul.
  • June 2014: President Obama sends US troops back into Iraq.
  • October 2014: The New York Times reports on thousands of Saddam-era chemical weapons found in Iraq. Bizarrely, it accuses the Bush administration of covering them up.
  • October 2014: First ISIS attack in the United States injures 3.
  • June 2016: Orlando nightclub attack kills 49.
  • July 2016: Nice truck attack kills 86.
  • August 2016: Obama again fails to bomb ISIS convoy.
  • January 2017: President Trump takes office.
  • May 2017: Secretary Mattis announces new strategy and rules of engagement.
  • July 2017: ISIS defeated in Mosul.
  • October 2017: ISIS defeated in Raqqa, its supposed capital.
  • November 2017: Iraq reclaims its last ISIS-occupied territory.

UPDATE: This is timely.

On thoughts and prayers

November 9, 2017

I am really surprised and dismayed to see so many people who ought to know better jumping on the enough-of-your-prayers bandwagon. When an atheist says “if God existed he would have prevented this, so prayer is useless,” I strongly disagree with that, but at least it makes some logical sense. But when people whom I know do believe in prayer, come out against it in the wake of an atrocity, I find that regrettable.

“But no,” they explain, “I’m not against prayer at all. I’m against prayer as a substitute for action.”

Really? Let do a thought experiment. A few years ago, people were praying for the plight of the Yazidis who were being slaughtered by ISIS. Why only pray? Why not demand action? Why not demand a US invasion to rescue the Yazidis? No, we can’t support that action, it would be expensive, ineffective, and/or counterproductive.


In fact, “thoughts and prayers” are not a substitute for action, nor are they intended as such. They are an appropriate response for the believer, independent of whether he or she thinks any particular policy is wise. Unfortunately, prayer has become politicized as a proxy for a policy debate, and people who should know better have joined in.

“Well regulated”

October 24, 2017

The Second Amendment reads:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

The operative clause seems perfectly clear, but the prefatory clause has been the source of endless confusion and mischief. The proper role of the preamble in statutory interpretation is to clarify the statute’s intent and meaning, when ambiguity exists. In the case of the Second Amendment, there seems to be no such ambiguity, but we look to the prefatory clause to make sure it is consistent with the operative clause’s plain meaning.

Those who wish to ban arms often argue that the prefatory clause points to a meaning that actually conveys no right for the people at all, or a right that applies only for people who serve in a state militia. This argument reveals a confusion over statutory interpretation (again, the preamble is used to clarify the operative clause, not to alter it), but more than that, it reveals a confusion over the meaning of the terms in 1791, when the Bill of Rights was enacted.

What did the framers mean when they wrote “a well regulated militia”? In today’s parlance, we think of a militia as an organized military or paramilitary group. (Some go on to say that a well-regulated militia is therefore a military organized by the government, such as the National Guard.) But in the language of the day, the militia referred to the entire body of able-bodied men of military age, who could be called up in the event of war. Thus, taken in its historical context, “militia” is not constraining at all.

But what of “well regulated”? It has always seemed like an inkblot to me, meaning to everyone just what they want it to mean. Heller v. DC says it “implies nothing more than the imposition of proper discipline and training.” This seems plausible, but their citation didn’t seem super-convincing.

But reading Ron Chernow’s excellent biography of George Washington, I found a quote that sheds some light on the matter. On the eve of the disastrous Battle of Long Island, Washington was incensed by the poor discipline of his troops, finding “something more like a crazy carnival atmosphere than a tidy military camp.” Washington lashed out to one of his generals:

The distinction between a well regulated army and a mob is the good order and discipline of the first, and the licentious and disorderly behavior of the latter.

(Emphasis mine.) It is important to note here that the Continental Army, which was under Washington’s orders, is the one he deemed to be a “mob,” not a “well regulated army.” This makes clear that — to General Washington at least — the property that makes an army “well regulated” army is not to be under government orders (his army was under orders), but to show “good order and discipline.”

It’s particularly instructive to note that Washington’s army had just swelled from 10,500 to 23,000 men, mainly by the arrival of newly recruited militiamen. (They faced 26,000 trained British soldiers and 8,000 Hessian mercenaries.) So Washington was acutely aware of the problem of discipline as it applied to “callow youths grabbed from shops and farms.” The common man needed to know how to handle himself in armed conflict, particularly since the founders had no intention of forming a standing army.

If we take Washington’s use of the terminology as canonical, the Second Amendment could be rephrased in modern terminology to say:

Since the security of a free state requires that the common man who might be called up for military service know how to handle himself in armed conflict, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

It should be noted, then, that Heller’s interpretation of “well regulated” to mean the “imposition of proper discipline and training,” seems to be entirely correct. However, where Heller seems to go wrong is when it gives license to ban the “weapons that are most useful in military service.” They base this on a historical analysis that suggests that the pre-existing right that the Second Amendment protects is for the weapons that were “in common use” and allows the prohibition of “dangerous and unusual weapons.”

But here the clarifying purpose of the prefatory clause is applicable. If the intent is that the common man be able to handle himself in armed conflict, he should be familiar with military weapons. More precisely, he should be familiar with the standard infantry weapon. This does not alter our view of the pre-existing right: At the time, standard infantry weapons and common weapons were one and the same. They are different today precisely because military weapons have been banned since 1934. If there were a “dangerous and unusual” weapon it would have been field artillery, not the standard infantry weapon.

Bump fire

October 5, 2017

Bump fire is all over the news this week, with reports that the Las Vegas shooter had several bump-fire stocks in his arsenal. Predictably, gun-control advocates are calling for bump-fire stocks to be banned, but, more surprisingly, gun-rights supporters are not putting up the same kind of fight they usually do. Let’s talk about why that is.

First, what is bump fire? Bump fire is a technique for pulling the trigger of a semiautomatic rifle more quickly. The idea is you let go of the rifle with the trigger hand, and push forward with the non-trigger hand. When you pull the trigger, the recoil causes the rifle to bounce against the forward pressure of the non-trigger hand. The upshot is the entire rifle bounces forward and backward while the trigger finger remains still, causing the trigger to be pulled very quickly.

You can buy a stock that makes bump fire easier to do. Bump-fire stocks containing springs are illegal under ATF regulations, but you can get a special stock that makes it easier to hold a rifle in the awkward way that bump fire requires. You can also construct a bump-fire stock from a rubber band and some other household objects.

A bump-fire stock does not make a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic weapon. The weapon still fires only one round per trigger pull. It also does not make a semi-automatic weapon into the functional equivalent of an automatic weapon. Bump fire — with the rifle literally bouncing around in your hands — is incredibly inaccurate.

We don’t know for sure that the Las Vegas shooter used a bump-fire stock in the shooting, we only know that he had several in his arsenal. But many people, myself included, suspected that he might have been bump firing, based on the sound.

So what are the arguments for and against banning bump-fire stocks? For:

  1. Bump fire has no purpose in either self-defense or hunting. Its only legitimate use is recreational. (Yee haw, look at all the bullets!)
  2. We might be able to strike a compromise in which we exchange bump-fire stocks for something harmless that we really want, like suppressors.
  3. With the rifle bouncing around, bump fire isn’t safe.
  4. Many serious gun aficionados look at bump fire as a tacky, low-class pastime.


  1. Sure, many serious gun aficionados look at bump fire as a tacky, low-class pastime, but we should not allow the gun-control advocates to use bump fire as a wedge to divide the gun-rights community.
  2. Bump fire is safer with a bump-fire stock than with a jury rig.
  3. The slippery slope: Gun control advocates want to ban all firearms. If they get anything, they will just move on to the next thing. Give them nothing.
  4. It’s nearly impossible to define what a bump stock is. You can get the same effect from a rubber band. Vague laws create opportunity for mischief.

For my part, the most telling arguments are #2 for and #4 against. Ordinarily I would agree with the slippery slope argument, but if we got something in exchange, that would mitigate it. Whether I could support a ban would depend a lot on the precise wording.

POSTSCRIPT: Alas, it might be hard to strike the compromise, because the gun-control people would have to admit that they’ve been lying about suppressors.

UPDATE: I guess the other reason to oppose banning bump fire stocks is the gun banners do not operate in good faith, and once they come forward with their ban, it will turn out also to cover a lot of other things that do matter. And that seems to be exactly what has happened.

Thoughts on mass murder

October 5, 2017

I was asked on Facebook if I had any thoughts on how to address the problem of mass shootings. This is what I said, pretty much off-the-cuff. I might update this at some point to give it more polish.

The sad truth is in an open society, with high population density, mass murder is easy. You can do it with guns; you can do it with trucks; you can do it with bombs; you can do it with hijacked airplanes; you can do it with poison; you can do it with a computer virus. You can do it using means that no one has thought of yet. Trying to keep killers from obtaining the means to kill just seems impossible to me.

I think the focus has to be on the perpetrators, not their tools. There are different sorts of mass murderer, and each sort demands a different strategy. On the one hand, there are terrorists (9/11, Boston Marathon, Orlando). Then you have random psychos (Aurora, Sandy Hook). Then you have people suffering from brain tumors or adverse drug reactions (University of Texas). (I suspect that when we figure out Stephen Paddock, we’re going to find he was in the third category.)

We fight terrorists by attacking their organization and their funding, by destroying their safe havens, and by intelligence work. We’re doing that.

The random psychos kill for the glory of it. They are basically all copy-cat killers. We need to stop giving them glory. Don’t release their name. Don’t release their picture. Get the whole story out of the news after a few days. We can’t force the media to do this because we treasure free speech, but maybe they can be shamed into doing the right thing.

The brain-tumor people are tough. They don’t kill for glory, they kill because something in their brain is broken. But unlike most mentally ill persons, they have the capacity for meticulous planning. Functionally they are like terrorists. I’m not sure what the solution is in this case, but it probably has something to do with public health.

There are also steps you can take to reduce your chance of becoming a victim. That doesn’t prevent the mass murder (most people prefer to live their lives unaware of the dangers around them), but you can make yourself less likely to be part of it.

Debunking Vox’s latest gun-control article

October 3, 2017

In the aftermath of the horrific shooting in Las Vegas, the opportunistic ghouls of gun control quickly emerged to exploit the incident. A lot of people are passing around an “explainer” from entitled Gun violence in America, explained in 17 maps and charts. It contains a few valid facts, but most of it is misleading or outright false. I didn’t find a rebuttal on-line, so I thought I would do it myself.

I’ll go through it point by point:

Point #1 (misleading):

America has six times as many firearm homicides as Canada, and nearly 16 times as many as Germany

The chart shows “homicides by firearm per 1 million people” for 14 countries, and shows the United States as an outlier, dramatically worse than the second worst country on the chart. There are two big problems with this chart: First, it focuses on “firearm homicides.” Who cares? Are people murdered using a gun more dead than if a different weapon were used? If you just look at homicides, the numbers change dramatically. For instance, the second worst country on the chart (Switzerland) actually has a much lower murder rate than the best one (Australia).

Second, they are cherry-picking the countries. This is a consistent pattern throughout this article (and others like it). There are countless statistics one can draw from the data, so it’s not hard to quote statistics to support any hypothesis. One needs to look at whether the quoted statistics are natural ones. In this case, one should ask, why choose these particular countries? In fact, there are many countries with a worse murder rate than the United States, and some of them are developed nations. (Russia and Brazil are much worse.)

In fact, the US does have one of the highest murder rates among developed nations. It certainly is a problem. But the chart exaggerates.

Point #2 (true):

America has 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but almost half of the civilian-owned guns around the world

In fact, American civilians have more guns than the militaries and police forces of the rest of the world put together.

Point #3 (false):

There have been more than 1,500 mass shootings since Sandy Hook

Simply untrue. The standard definition of a mass shooting is four or more people killed, in a public place, while not committing a crime, and excluding war. (This definition was employed by the FBI until Obama tinkered with it in 2013.) By that measure, this number is orders of magnitude too high. Even Mother Jones makes this point.

To get numbers like this, some people have deliberately lowered the threshold to include four or more people killed or injured, including criminals. That generates big numbers to be sure, but it’s plainly dishonest to pass off gang wars, and incidents in which no one was killed, as if they were incidents like Sandy Hook.

Point #4 (false):

On average, there is more than one mass shooting for each day in America

See above.

Point #5 (misleading):

States with more guns have more gun deaths

This one is very popular; I’ve seen it all over the internet the last couple of days. But note the careful wording: “gun deaths” not “gun homicides.” In fact, this statistic is entirely about suicides. If you remove suicides from the count, the correlation entirely disappears:

Also, recall point #1; people killed by other weapons are just as dead as people killed by guns. There’s no reason to exclude non-gun murders, other than to skew the numbers.

Also, their chart isn’t even honest in its own terms: they omit the District of Columbia which has the nation’s strictest gun laws and worst murder rate. If they put DC on the chart, they would have to resize the Y-axis to make room for it.

Point #5 goes on to say this:

And it’s not just one study. “Within the United States, a wide array of empirical evidence indicates that more guns in a community leads to more homicide,” David Hemenway, the Harvard Injury Control Research Center’s director, wrote in Private Guns, Public Health.

They are quoting the book accurately. But when you follow the link, the book does not cite a single one of the “wide array” of studies. It just makes a bald assertion. On the other hand, there is considerable scholarship to the contrary.

Point #6 (misleading):

It’s not just the US: Developed countries with more guns also have more gun deaths

This one hits nearly every misleading point. It uses gun deaths, rather than gun murders or overall murders. And the choice of countries is odd. If you follow the link, you find that the countries are supposedly selected by high scores (greater than 0.79) on the Human Development Index. But the choice of countries doesn’t match the linked data, it leaves out countries (Russia and Uruguay) that would completely spoil the picture.

Point #7 (misleading):

States with tighter gun control laws have fewer gun-related deaths

Once again they use gun deaths rather than gun murders or overall murders. Plus, their proxy for tight gun control laws is this: “States with at least 1 Firearm Law Designed to Protect Children in Place.” So, gun locks? Come on. This is obviously a cherry-picked criterion.

In fact, the cities that have the very highest murder rates (e.g., Chicago) are in states with very strict gun control. And states that have loosened their gun laws have not seen any increase in the murder rate.

Point #8 (true):

Still, gun homicides (like all homicides) have declined over the past couple decades

Point #9 (true):

Most gun deaths are suicides

Point #10 (dubious):

The states with the most guns report the most suicides

I don’t know the statistics, and I don’t have time to look them up, but it’s very suspicious that they use a 5-year window, 12 years ago. This smells like cherry-picking.

Point #11 (obvious):

Guns allow people to kill themselves much more easily

Point #12 (chart does not support headline):

Programs that limit access to guns have decreased suicides

It’s believable that there could be some low-order effect here, but the chart doesn’t show one at all. The chart shows that the suicide rate was already steadily falling when Australia instituted its gun confiscation program, and it continued falling.

UPDATE: The article also cites a study of the Australian gun confiscation program that found (page 532) that it did result in a statistically significant drop in firearm suicides. But the study did not find a statistically significant drop in the overall suicide rate. Quite the contrary. They found a small decrease in the overall suicide rate, but the p-value is a staggering 95.6%, meaning that the decrease is almost certainly due to random chance. So, once again, there’s something here only if suicide-by-gun is somehow worse than suicide by some other means. Moreover, the headline claims a decrease in overall suicides, which is flatly unsupported by the study.

Point #13 (irrelevant):

Since the shooting of Michael Brown, police have killed at least 2,900 people

Let’s assume this statistic is true. I fail to see why relevance it has to gun policy. Moreover, just on its own terms, I have no benchmark to judge whether this is a lot.

Point #14 (dubious):

In states with more guns, more police officers are also killed on duty

They are comparing the 8 states with the least guns with the 23 states with the most guns. 8 and 23. Those are very strange numbers to focus on; this is obviously a cherry-picked statistic.

Point #15 (true):

Support for gun ownership has sharply increased since the early ’90s

Point #16 (true):

High-profile shootings don’t appear to lead to more support for gun control

Point #17 (misleading):

But specific gun control policies are fairly popular

Yes, when posed using terminology tested on focus groups by gun control advocates, they are fairly popular. But, support plummets once people learn what is really being proposed:

  • “Preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns” is pretty popular. But once people find out that “mentally ill” means nothing more than “has someone handling their finances,” they realize they’ve been had.
  • “Barring gun purchases from people on no-fly or watch lists” is pretty popular, but “a bureaucrat can suspend your right to buy guns, and they don’t even have to suspect that you’re a terrorist, and in fact they don’t even have to tell you you’re on the list, and you have no legal right to contest being on the list, and even if you get off the list you still can’t buy a gun for years” is much less popular.
  • “Background checks for private sales and at gun shows” is pretty popular. That disappears when people find out “background checks for private sales” means you cannot borrow or rent a gun, so there’s no practical way to try a gun out before you buy it. Also, the so-called gun-show loophole is a complete myth.
  • “Banning high-capacity magazines” is somewhat popular, at least among people who don’t know anything about guns. But then people find out that “high-capacity” actually means regular capacity.

UPDATE: John Lott has a thorough debunking.

Snopes: Only once in history has Louisiana flooded

September 4, 2017

The quality of Snopes’s work has declined dramatically as they have become more partisan, but this one really takes the cake:

(Screengrab via Mediaite.)

They are complaining about this tweet:

This is false, Snopes explains, because Obama wasn’t president during Hurricane Katrina. Ha ha, what an idiot! Naturally, this led to a rash of people mocking Republicans for forgetting who was president during Katrina.

Except, the tweet never says Katrina. The entire premise of this fact-check is that if you’re talking about Louisiana floods, you must be talking about Katrina. But Louisiana has flooded lots of times, including once during 2016 when Obama was president. An unnamed storm dumped three times as much rain on Louisiana as did Hurricane Katrina, and Obama faced criticism for going golfing instead of visiting the disaster:

Here’s why President Obama isn’t stopping his vacation to visit the Louisiana flooding

Two important things happened today in the political world of President Obama.

The first was that the Advocate, a Louisiana newspaper chain, published an editorial calling on the president to come to the state to see the horrible flooding first-hand. It read, in part:

We’ve seen this story before in Louisiana, and we don’t deserve a sequel. In 2005, a fly-over by a vacationing President George W. Bush became a symbol of official neglect for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The current president was among those making political hay out of Bush’s aloofness.

Sometimes, presidential visits can get in the way of emergency response, doing more harm than good. But we don’t see that as a factor now that flood waters are subsiding, even if at an agonizing pace. It’s past time for the president to pay a personal visit, showing his solidarity with suffering Americans.

This isn’t to say that this criticism of Obama is necessarily fair (see below), but indisputably it is factually accurate.

It gets worse. The internet naturally pointed Snopes’s error to them, but (as we’ve seen before) they were too invested in it to correct it. Instead, they revised it to add this:

. . . during similarly pervasive flooding in Louisiana in 2016. Other users took that argument even further, knocking Obama for not “doing enough” to help Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina.

Their revised version also demotes the featured “origin” tweet to be just the first in a collage of many. But this version is incoherent. They still have that tweet and a similar one first in the collage, even though they are perfectly accurate. The rest of the tweets in the collage, on the other hand, do mention Katrina, so why keep the first two? Because the first two (the ones that are right) are the only ones from Twitter “blue checkmarks.” The rest are all from random internet people. Fact-checking random internet people is silly.

And what about those random internet people? Are they just the kind of crazy people that blame everything on the opposing party? Maybe, but maybe not. Two of them specifically mention Obama being on vacation, as he was during the 2016 floods. One of them mentioned he didn’t answer for three days, a specific detail that fits if she was talking about the 2016 floods. (Obama broke his silence regarding the floods on their third day.) And nearly all of them mention the golf; Obama went golfing at Martha’s Vineyard three times while the floods were ongoing.

So I think that most of those random internet people remembered the vacation-golf-during-a-flood incident, but they didn’t remember the exact circumstances (the storm had no name to tie a memory to), and they erroneously attributed it to Katrina. In other words, I think those people committed exactly the same error as Snopes.

Snopes should rate the claim mostly true, but note that some of them misremember the incident’s name. But that’s not what they’ve done, even when their error was pointed out. Instead, they continued to peddle misinformation, and I’ve now seen that misinformation dozens of places around the internet.

That’s right, Snopes is now starting urban legends of their own.

POSTSCRIPT: Snopes makes it unnecessarily difficult to critique their work. I’d like simply to link to the original post on the Wayback Machine, but Snopes blocks the Wayback Machine so I had to settle for a screengrab that someone kept. I can’t think of any reason for Snopes to do that, other than to memory-hole their mistakes.

POST-POSTSCRIPT: Is it fair to criticize Obama for golfing during a natural disaster? Chris Cillizza, now of CNN, makes a stab at defending him:

[I]t speaks to Obama’s unique and long-lasting commitment to not playing by a core rule of modern politics: making at least some decisions based on “how it looks” and/or “how it will play.” Obama has long been a rejectionist on this front.

First of all, this is nonsense. I’ll grant that the Obama had the unique conceit that he didn’t make decisions based on how they would play, but of course he did exactly that all the time. But never mind that; it’s beside the point. The question is: should the president engage in useless gestures in order to make people feel good? And the answer is yes.

The president is not just the head of government, he is also the head of state. That means that the job of being the country’s ceremonial leader falls to him. Other nations assign that job to a monarch, but America (thank God) has no monarch. The head of state should not be clowning around on the golf course in full view of cameras while a natural disaster is underway. Showing some solemnity during a disaster is part of his job.

(Via F. Bill McMorris.)

The denouncements

August 16, 2017

I was away from internet during the Charlotteville fiasco and aftermath, and I returned to find my Facebook feed filled with demands for denouncements. I don’t like to take orders, but in this case I’m game. So without further ado, the denouncements:

  1. To the white supremacists: Your ideology is repellent and you have no place in a civilized society. Moreover, you have no grasp of history. America is not the product of “white people.” It is the culmination of ideas that come down to us originally from the Jews and the Greeks, two peoples you hate. Among those who have tried to destroy America and the principles she is based on are the Confederates and the Nazis, two groups you love. We tolerate your presence in this country, not because we have any affinity for your racism, but because our own ideology demands that we tolerate even those we find repellent. Your aim of sparking a race war in America will never succeed.
  2. To Antifa and the other communist thugs: You represent the only ideology in the world with more blood on its hands than the white supremacists. I would say you’re not helping, but we both know you’re not trying to help. The only difference between you and the white supremacists is which collectivist tyranny you want to install after tearing down the republic.
  3. To Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe: I’m sure it seemed really clever to let the thugs fight it out in your streets and then exploit the carnage for political benefit. Now an innocent woman is dead. You should have done your job and directed the state police to maintain order. Don’t tell us the state police were outgunned. We know that’s a lie.
  4. To all the people who advocate political violence, against white supremacists or whomever: Your stance doesn’t mean you hate Nazis more. It means you are a bad American. In this country, we resolve our differences through legal and political processes, not through violence. Plus, you’re an idiot. If our republic breaks down because violence has replaced politics, do you think that will help your cause? Not bloody likely. I’m not just talking here to the Washington Post and to David Harbour. I’m talking to every person who has told me that it’s okay to punch neo-Nazis, imagining that saying so makes them a better person. I hope you see now where that road leads.
  5. To the media/Democrats: You share a common aim with the white supremacists. You both want the public to think that there are a lot of white supremacists, when in fact they are a tiny fringe movement. They think it will help them grow their disgusting movement; you think the backlash will push people to vote Democratic. I would have hoped that 2016 would have taught you the risks of trying to play angles. You wanted an easy win for Democrats, but instead you got Trump. Just tell the story straight. When Richard Spencer gives a speech, there are more press there than Nazis. It’s okay to ignore him.
  6. To Donald Trump: Please get better at your job. When evil people endorse you, you disclaim them immediately, even when there are other evil people out there. This isn’t hard.

The tragedy of Venezuela

August 2, 2017

Dedicated to all the socialists who have defended Chavism (some on this very site):

Venezuela had been a rising nation, buoyed by the world’s largest oil reserves, but by the time I arrived, even high global oil prices couldn’t keep shortages and rapid inflation at bay. . .

Over the course of three years, I said good-bye to most of those friends, as well as regular long-distance phone service and six international airline carriers. I got used to carrying bricks of rapidly devaluing cash in tote bags to pay for meals. We still drove to the beach, but began hurrying back early to get off the highway before bandits came out. Stoplights became purely ornamental because of the risk of carjackings.

There was no war or natural disaster. Just ruinous mismanagement that turned the collapse of prices for the country’s oil in 2015 into a national catastrophe.

POSTSCRIPT: I do have to point out that she contradicts herself between the first and last line. The fall in oil prices hastened Venezuela’s collapse, but it wasn’t the cause, as she recognizes in the first line. Today, the price of oil hardly matters, as Venezuela is mostly incapable of producing oil any more.

Why Democrats are upset about Garland

March 20, 2017

I can understand why Democrats are so upset that Merrick Garland’s nomination for the Supreme Court never obtained a hearing or a vote. Although the Democrats had used the same tactic for lower court nominees, and although they had announced their intention to do it for any Supreme Court nominees as well, the Democrats never had the opportunity to follow through on their pledge. Thus, the Republicans were the first ever to deny even a hearing to a Supreme Court nomination. In so doing, they broke an important rule of US politics: The rules and practices of the Senate shall be altered only by Democrats.

It was the Democrats who first added the cloture rule to allow filibusters to be broken by two-thirds majority. Decades later, when Democrats had 61 seats, they reduced the cloture requirement from 67 to 60 votes. In 2005, the Republicans considered abolishing the filibuster for judicial appointments, but eventually backed off the idea. Eight years later, it was the Democrats, then in control, who followed through on the scheme, abolishing the filibuster for nearly all presidential appointments. (They made an exception for Supreme Court appointments, as they currently had none pending.)

It was the Democrats who first brought hyper-partisanship to the consideration of judicial appointments with their shameful treatment of Robert Bork in 1987. The waging of character assassination against an appointment to public office soon came to be known as “borking.” During the Bush administration, Democrats first made filibusters of judicial appointments standard practice.

The tactic of leaving a judicial appointment to languish without so much as a hearing was first used by Democrats in 1988, who hoped in vain that a Democrat might be elected when Reagan’s term expired. The tactic worked better when Democrats used it again in 1992 against Bush (Senior). In 2007, Democrats took the tactic to the next level, leaving several Bush (Junior) appointments to languish for the entire 110th Congress, a full two years without so much as a hearing. In 1992, Joe Biden (then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee) pledged to do the same for any Supreme Court nomination, but the occasion to do so never presented itself. In 2007, Chuck Schumer (now Senate Democratic leader) made a similar pledge, but again the occasion did not present itself.

In 2016 the occasion finally did present itself, but the parties were reversed. Republicans took the Democrats’ lower-court tactic and applied it for the first time to the Supreme Court. Democrats were outraged, having grown accustomed to a pleasant situation (for them) in which Republicans felt bound by tradition, but Democrats did not. For the first time, it was the Democrats who felt the sting of having the Senate’s practices being changed to their disadvantage.

I can understand why they didn’t like it.

Next on the chopping block

January 14, 2017

Obamacare is getting all the attention right now, but Dodd-Frank needs to go too. This Economist article blasting the law must be read in its entirety, but here’s the best summary:

The law that set up America’s banking system in 1864 ran to 29 pages; the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 went to 32 pages; the Banking Act that transformed American finance after the Wall Street Crash, commonly known as the Glass-Steagall act, spread out to 37 pages. Dodd-Frank is 848 pages long. . . And the size is only the beginning. The scope and structure of Dodd-Frank are fundamentally different to those of its precursor laws, notes Jonathan Macey of Yale Law School: “Laws classically provide people with rules. Dodd-Frank is not directed at people. It is an outline directed at bureaucrats and it instructs them to make still more regulations and to create more bureaucracies.” Like the Hydra of Greek myth, Dodd-Frank can grow new heads as needed.

When “vote hacking” isn’t

December 31, 2016

Just one month ago, the left was extremely concerned about “fake news” tricking people into believing false things. Here’s something they might want to look at:

  • New York Times: Obama Strikes Back at Russia for Election Hacking
  • USA Today: Obama sanctions Russian officials over election hacking
  • The Guardian: Obama expels 35 Russian diplomats in retaliation for US election hacking
  • AFP: US sanctions Russia over vote hacking
  • CNN: House Democrats to offer bill on Russia vote hacking
  • BBC: Republicans Ryan and McConnell back Russia vote hack probe
  • BBC: Can US election hack be traced to Russia?
  • France 24: US expels 35 Russian diplomats over election hacking
  • Fortune: Obama Administration Will Announce Response to Russian Election Hack
  • CNBC: Russia’s election hack is a serious threat to US democracy
  • Yahoo: What we know about Russia’s alleged hacking of US vote

I could go on, but you get the idea. What all of these have in common is they describe the theft of emails from John Podesta and a few others as “vote hacking” or “election hacking.” This is grossly misleading, as it suggests that, you know, the actual vote was hacked.

It’s particularly misleading as it comes on the heels on intense interest in allegations that the voting machine totals in three key states were hacked. These allegations were never substantiated (and were denied by the White House), but the idea was planted, creating fertile soil for the media’s extremely sloppy headlines.

Given all the fake news, it’s no great surprise that a recent YouGov/Economist poll found that a majority (52%) of Democrats believe that Russia tampered with vote tallies in order to get Trump elected.

Before the election, the media (e.g., the New York Times) were very concerned that hacking allegations could undermine confidence in the legitimacy of the election. But that was before Trump was elected. Now that Trump is elected, undermining confidence in the legitimacy of the election is the order of the day.

A campus dialogue

December 21, 2016

I firmly believe in free speech.

So do I.

Great! Let’s talk current events. I think this latest terrorist attack shows that we really need to wrestle with the danger posed by radical Islam.

You can’t say that! That’s Islamophobic!

You just said you believe in free speech.

Hate speech isn’t free speech. You can’t say things like that.

Maybe another topic. I think that the owners of private property should be able to set the rules governing their own bathrooms.

Transphobic hate speech! I am feeling so triggered right now.

Never mind. Let’s talk about Israel’s security measures. Now that ramming attacks are becoming common around the world, we can learn a lot from the steps Israel took to fight them.

Israel?! Defending genocide is not free speech!

What genocide? Anyway, the official State Department definition of anti-Semitism includes holding Israel to a standard not demanded of any other democratic nation, so aren’t you wrong-footing your own espoused opposition to hate speech?


Oh, forget current events. Anyway, we’ve invited Ben Shapiro to come speak on campus. I think you might find him interesting.

Ben Shapiro? He can’t speak here; he’s a security risk!

A security risk? He’s just one guy, and all he does is talk.

There will be riots.

Riots? Who’s going to riot?

We are.

Oh. Well, on another topic, I read an interesting story in the alternative media. It said that on the first day of the Democratic convention, they didn’t have any American flags on stage.

Stop repeating fake news.

Fake news?

Yes, that’s fake news. Snopes said so. Facebook is implementing a system to suppress that stuff.

But, you can watch the convention video and the story is true. The only flags on stage the first day were during a brief opening ceremony, hours before prime time. The flags appeared the second day, after their absence was reported.

Fake news! Snopes!

Well, if we’re going to suppress fake news, at least we’ll clean up the mainstream media too. They won’t be repeating fabricated events like “hands up, don’t shoot” which have led to a dangerous backlash against police.

No, the mainstream media is reliable.

What?! Oh never mind. Let me tell you about a project I’ve been doing. Two friends and I made a documentary about some candidates for election.

Cool, I look forward to seeing it.

Okay, great. Anyway, we formed a corporation to distribute it, it’s called—

Hold on. A corporation? Forget it. Corporations aren’t people; free speech doesn’t apply to them.

But it’s just me and two other guys. We only formed the corporation to protect ourselves against frivolous lawsuits.

Nope. No rights for corporations. Our democracy is not for sale.

But, isn’t the New York Times a corporation? Or CBS? Shouldn’t they get free speech?

Yes, but we can trust the government to suppress the right corporations.

Oooo-kay. Let’s just talk sports. I think that Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest is ill-considered, and the means of his protest is not only disrespectful to veterans but frankly ungrateful toward a nation that has given him a lot.

Why are you so opposed to free speech?

Quantitatively assessing honesty

December 3, 2016

A month after the election, people are still arguing the relative mendacity of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. “Who lies more?” ought to be a quantitative question, admitting an empirical test. But as a practical matter, collecting all their statements and fact-checking them all is difficult. Worse are the methodological problems: Hillary was in politics much longer than Trump; how do you normalize for that? During the campaign, Trump spoke much more than Hillary, how do you normalize for that? What do you do with the things they said more than once?

In order to get a controlled basis for comparison, I focused on the first presidential debate. Restricting our attention to that setting addresses the practical and methodological problems. (All three would have been better, but it was too much work.) I fact-checked the entire thing, using a neutral standard that I call the “misleading” approach.

To summarize the results: Trump, Hillary, and Lester Holt were all almost exactly as truthful, when you restrict your attention to determinate claims of fact. Nevertheless, nearly everyone savaged Trump as much more dishonest than Hillary. It simply wasn’t so.

Now, I’m quite sympathetic to the notion that this was an unusual setting, and Trump is normally less honest than Hillary. But how are you going to demonstrate it? Polling the “fact-checkers” is easy but useless. The only controlled assessment I’m aware of is the one I did, and it found no difference between the two. To broaden its basis out to the entire campaign (or more) is a worthy goal, but then you would have some severe practical and methodological problems to address.

Thank goodness for editors

November 26, 2016


(Via Andrew Klavan.)

I’ve got your authentication right here

October 25, 2016

The latest find in the Wikileaks document drop has the White House on the defensive. In the email, Cheryl Mills (Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff) learns that Barack Obama claimed to have learned that Hillary was using a private email server “the same time everybody else learned it through news reports.” She replies:

we need to clean this up – he has emails from her – they do not say

Whatever the White House might claim now, this shows clearly that they saw a problem with Obama’s statement. You don’t clean up something that isn’t dirty. And, indeed, a few days later they walked back the president’s statement:

President Obama exchanged messages with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at her private email address but did not know how the address was set up, the White House said Monday.

ASIDE: I actually find the revised statement plausible, but it’s not really exculpatory. You don’t have to know how the server is set up to know that there’s something shady about doing official business over “”.

Anyway, now the email is public and people are calling it the smoking gun. Naturally, the White House would love to impeach the email, so the hapless White House spokesman is sent out with this:

“I can’t verify the integrity of these emails,” Earnest told reporters traveling with Obama as he fundraised in California, speaking of illegally obtained messages from Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, that were published by WikiLeaks and apparently show the Clinton camp challenging Obama’s assertion that he didn’t know Clinton was using a private email account.

Podesta’s emails were “stolen,” and, therefore, their authenticity cannot be verified.

Well, as a public service, let me help. The email includes a DKIM signature:

DKIM-Signature: v=1; a=rsa-sha256; c=relaxed/relaxed;; s=20120113;

(You can see it yourself by clicking “view source” on the email.) The purpose of DKIM is to authenticate that an email came from a particular domain; in this case, It uses a mathematical technology called digital signatures. A digital signature is a string (all the nonsense text at the end of the signature) that testifies to the content of a message, and that can only be computed by the holder of a secret key (in this case, Google). A signed message cannot be forged or altered by anyone who doesn’t have the key. In DKIM, a mail server automatically adds this signature to outgoing mail, thereby proving that the mail has not been tampered with since it left the server.

So all we have to do to authenticate the mail is to verify the digital signature. This is very easy to do. The Thunderbird mail reader has a DKIM verifier plugin that you can install in about 15 seconds. Then you simply open the email and see:


Observe the fourth line: “DKIM Valid (Signed by”.

This tells us that this email definitely hasn’t been altered since it left, assuming that Google has kept its secret key secure, and assuming that Russia can’t crack a 1024-bit RSA key or a SHA-256 hash. In 2016, both of these are very safe assumptions.

So what are we to make of Josh Earnest’s claim that the email can’t be authenticated? We know it’s false. We also know that Earnest didn’t bother to check with any experts before he made the claim. (Or, that he just outright lied.)

A misleading fact-check

September 30, 2016

The reason “fact checking” has become such a joke is the the supposed fact-checkers can’t seem to limit themselves to checking the facts. They also want to check that the facts give the right impression. This is natural for leftist journalists, I suppose, since the actual facts give an impression that they don’t want.

This has led the fact checkers to such absurdities as Politifact grading an objectively true statement — crime is rising — as “pants on fire,” their lowest possible rating. Murders rose by 10.8% in 2015 and other violent crime increased as well, but Politifact said that “crime is rising” is not only false, but actually absurd. Their justification is that, although crime rose in 2015 (and probably 2016), it is to soon to say that the long-term downward trend is over. This true fact gives (what they view as) a false impression, so they call it false.

Another problem with grading impressions rather than the underlying facts, is they aren’t able to do it consistently. When two politicians made essentially the same statement (the official unemployment rate doesn’t capture real unemployment), they graded one of them (the politician they like) “mostly true” and the other one “pants on fire.”

Once you go down that path, you’re not fact-checking any more, you’re just writing an opinion column. And if you want a leftist opinion column, there are much better ones than Politifact, Glenn Kessler, et al. Still, I think there’s room for a misleading fact-check. By “misleading”, I mean one that grades statements according to whether they are literally true, and doesn’t worry about whether they might lead to false impressions.

So let’s go through the first presidential debate and do exactly that. We’ll limit ourselves to determinate claims of fact, not to opinions. (We won’t assess whether Trump has a winning temperament, or whether Mexican industry is the eighth wonder of the world.) I also won’t grade claims made about private or classified conversations, or about their own state of mind, since there’s no way to know. We will still have to make some judgement calls, since some claims are ambiguous. Our rule will be that ambiguities are construed in favor of the speaker (even when I don’t think that’s what he/she really meant). Statements that too ambiguous to construe as concrete claims, I will simply omit.

I’ll put the statement (drawn from the Washington Post’s debate transcript) in bold, and my evaluation in plain typeface.

TRUMP: [China is] devaluing their currency. True. +1 Trump.

TRUMP: So Ford is leaving. You see that, their small car division leaving.Thousands of jobs leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio. This hasn’t happened yet, but Ford has announced it. +1 Trump.

TRUMP:  All you have to do is take a look at Carrier air conditioning in Indianapolis. They left — fired 1,400 people. They’re going to Mexico. True. +1 Trump.

CLINTON: We are 5 percent of the world’s population. 4.4% is close enough. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: He started his business with $14 million, borrowed from his father. Actually, it was much more than that. We’ll construe her claim with an implicit “at least”. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: My father was a small-businessman. . . He printed drapery fabrics on long tables. True. +1 Clinton.

TRUMP: I built [my father’s loan] into a company that’s worth many, many billions of dollars. Impossible to determine with the information he has released.

TRUMP: Let me give you the example of Mexico. They have a VAT tax. We’re on a different system. When we sell into Mexico, there’s a tax. When they sell in — automatic, 16 percent, approximately. This much is true. +1 Trump.

TRUMP: When they [Mexico] sell into us, there’s no tax. Although it is true that the US does not have a federal sales tax or VAT, plenty of states have sales taxes. It’s not true there’s no tax when they sell in America. This would have been literally true if he had said there was no Federal tax, but with his phrasing it’s false. -1 Trump.

TRUMP: We owe $20 trillion. The national debt held by the public is $13.6 trillion. But if you include intragovernmental holdings, it’s $19 trillion, which is close enough. According to our rules, we’ll resolve this ambiguity in favor of the speaker. +1 Trump.

CLINTON: Well, let’s stop for a second and remember where we were eight years ago. . . Nine million people — nine million people lost their jobs. False. By September 2008, we had lost 1.7 million jobs. If you include the rest of 2008, you get to 3.6 million. To get close to 9 million, you have to include the first year of the Obama administration in which 5 million jobs were lost. -1 Clinton.

CLINTON: . . . Five million people lost their homes. False. 862 thousand families lost their homes in 2008. To get to 5 million, you have to include five years of the Obama administration. -1 Clinton.

CLINTON: . . . And $13 trillion in family wealth was wiped out. True. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. . . TRUMP: I did not. I did not. I do not say that. We can’t know what he thinks, but he did say that. +1 Clinton, -1 Trump.

TRUMP: We invested in a solar company, our country. . . They lost plenty of money on that one. Solyndra cost the government between $535 million and $849 million, which satisfies a reasonable interpretation of “plenty of money.” +1 Trump.

TRUMP: Well, [Bill Clinton] approved NAFTA. . . True. +1 Trump.

CLINTON: [During the Clinton administration] Incomes went up for everybody. True. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: Manufacturing jobs went up also in the 1990s. . . If you construe 1990s to mean the Clinton administration, manufacturing jobs went up slightly. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: When I was secretary of state, we actually increased American exports globally 30 percent. We increased them to China 50 percent. As long as you’re talking about exports, not net exports, this is plausible. (It’s very sensitive to exactly how you measure and I wasn’t able to produce exactly this number.)  +1 Clinton.

TRUMP: And now you want to approve Trans-Pacific Partnership. You were totally in favor of it. . . CLINTON: Well, that is just not accurate. I was against it once it was finally negotiated and the terms were laid out. . . TRUMP: You called it the gold standard. CLINTON: No. TRUMP: . . . CLINTON: Well, Donald, I know you live in your own reality, but that is not the facts. The facts are — I did say I hoped it would be a good deal. . . Hillary said “This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field.” She did not say “hoped”. It is true that the deal wasn’t negotiated at that time, so it’s possible she changed her mind once it was, but we’re not grading their private thoughts. +1 Trump, -1 Clinton.

HOLT: Secretary Clinton, you’re calling for a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans. . . And, Mr. Trump, you’re calling for tax cuts for the wealthy. Obviously true. +1 Holt.

TRUMP: But you will learn more about Donald Trump by going down to the federal elections, where I filed a 104-page essentially financial statement of sorts, the forms that they have. It shows income — in fact, the income — I just looked today — the income is filed at $694 million for this past year, $694 million. TL;DR, but that seems to be in the right ballpark for what the document says. +1 Trump.

TRUMP: I’ve been under audit almost for 15 years. This seems impossible to verify or disprove.

CLINTON: We have been told through investigative reporting that [Trump] owes about $650 million to Wall Street and foreign banks. The New York Times did report this. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: We have an architect in the audience who designed one of your clubhouses at one of your golf courses. It’s a beautiful facility. It immediately was put to use. And you wouldn’t pay what the man needed to be paid, what he was charging you to do. . . The architect exists and alleges what she says. It would be better if she said “alleges”, but we’ll call this true. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: You even at one time suggested that you would try to negotiate down the national debt of the United States. TRUMP: Wrong. Wrong. This is muddled. Trump gave an interview in which he sounded like he was suggesting that, but during the same interview he gave a plausible clarification. We’ll resolve the ambiguity in favor of the speaker for both of them. +1 Clinton, +1 Trump.

HOLT: Stop-and-frisk was ruled unconstitutional in New York, because it largely singled out black and Hispanic young men. There’s been a lot of talk about this, but Holt is wrong. The Supreme Court has upheld stop-and-frisk, and district judges don’t overrule the Supreme Court. The ruling in question found that stop-and-frisk as applied by New York at the time was unconstitutional. -1 Holt.

TRUMP: No, you’re wrong. It went before a judge, who was a very against-police judge. It was taken away from her. And our mayor, our new mayor, refused to go forward with the case. They would have won an appeal. If you look at it, throughout the country, there are many places where it’s allowed. It’s true that the case was taken away from the judge; it’s true that the mayor refused to appeal; and it’s true it’s still legal in many places. Whether the judge was “very against-police” and what would have happened on appeal are opinion. +1 Trump.

TRUMP: . . . you have 3,000 shootings in Chicago from January 1st . . . True. +1 Trump.

TRUMP: . . . you have 4,000 people killed in Chicago by guns, from the beginning of the presidency of Barack Obama . . . I wasn’t able to find gun deaths specifically, but the number of murders is in the right ballpark for that to be plausible. +1 Trump.

CLINTON: Violent crime is one-half of what it was in 1991. Property crime is down 40 percent. True, crime rates peaked in 1991. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: If you’re a young African-American man and you do the same thing as a young white man, you are more likely to be arrested, charged, convicted, and incarcerated. I wasn’t able to find a study with precisely this finding (it’s hard to control for “do the same thing”), but with all the studies finding disparities in the criminal justice system, we’ll say this is plausible. +1 Clinton.

TRUMP: In New York City, stop-and-frisk, we had 2,200 murders, and stop-and-frisk brought it down to 500 murders. The cause is opinion (and I don’t agree), but the numbers are accurate. +1 Trump.

CLINTON: Well, it’s also fair to say, if we’re going to talk about mayors, that under the current mayor, crime has continued to drop, including murders. So there is… TRUMP: No, you’re wrong. You’re wrong. CLINTON: No, I’m not. TRUMP: Murders are up. All right. You check it. The year before Bill DeBlasio took office there were 332 murders in New York City. Last year there were 352. That’s not a big increase, but it’s certainly not still falling. -1 Clinton, +1 Trump.

TRUMP (regarding who started birtherism): Sidney Blumenthal works for the campaign and close — very close friend of Secretary Clinton. And her campaign manager, Patti Doyle, went to — during the campaign, her campaign against President Obama, fought very hard. . . And if you look at CNN this past week, Patti Solis Doyle was on Wolf Blitzer saying that this happened. Blumenthal sent McClatchy, highly respected reporter at McClatchy, to Kenya to find out about it. He garbled the heck out of this, but something like this happened. +1 Trump.

TRUMP: When I got involved, I didn’t fail. I got him to give the birth certificate. That much is true. +1 Trump, I guess.

HOLT: The birth certificate was produced in 2011. You’ve continued to tell the story and question the president’s legitimacy in 2012, ’13, ’14, ’15. . . True. +1 Holt.

CLINTON: Donald started his career back in 1973 being sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination because he would not rent apartments in one of his developments to African-Americans. True, except for it being the start of his career. +1 Clinton.

TRUMP: We settled the suit with zero — with no admission of guilt. True. +1 Trump.

CLINTON: It’s one of the reasons why 50 national security officials who served in Republican information — in administrations . . . have said that Donald is unfit to be the commander- in-chief. It was national security and/or foreign policy officials, but close enough. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: I was involved in a number of efforts to take out Al Qaida leadership when I was secretary of state, including, of course, taking out bin Laden. Yeah, yeah. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: Donald supported the invasion of Iraq. TRUMP: Wrong. The claim that Trump supported the invasion of Iraq hinges on this: “Yeah, I guess . . . sooo.” Listen to the recording to get a sense of how unenthusiastic he was. He did say the words, though. On the other hand, he came out against it before it took place. He was never in a position to cast a vote, which would have made his position clear. There’s enough ambiguity here that we’ll give this one to both of them. +1 Clinton, +1 Trump.

CLINTON: He actually advocated for the actions we took in Libya and urged that Gadhafi be taken out. True. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: George W. Bush made the agreement about when American troops would leave Iraq, not Barack Obama. This is misleading: The way the agreement worked was it needed to be renegotiated periodically. If it was allowed to expire, it contained a clause requiring American withdrawal. But, according to our rules, this is literally true. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: The only way that American troops could have stayed in Iraq is to get an agreement from the then-Iraqi government that would have protected our troops, and the Iraqi government would not give that. This is unknowable because Obama never tried.

TRUMP: I read on the front page of the Wall Street Journal that NATO is opening up a major terror division. True. +1 Trump.

TRUMP: We pay approximately 73 percent of the cost of NATO. True, in the sense of being responsible for 73% of all defense spending by NATO partners. +1 Trump.

HOLT: Mr. Trump, a lot of these are judgment questions. You had supported the war in Iraq before the invasion. . . TRUMP: I did not support the war in Iraq. [More of the same.] As above, except that Holt is a little more careful (“had supported . . . before the invasion”) than Hillary. +1 Holt, +1 Trump.

CLINTON: You know, NATO as a military alliance has something called Article 5, and basically it says this: An attack on one is an attack on all. And you know the only time it’s ever been invoked? After 9/11, when the 28 nations of NATO said that they would go to Afghanistan with us to fight terrorism, something that they still are doing by our side. True. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: [Trump] said, you know, if [Iran] taunted our sailors, I’d blow them out of the water and start another war. He didn’t say start a war, but if we read that part as her commentary, not as part of the quote, this is true. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: [Trump] has said repeatedly that he didn’t care if other nations got nuclear weapons, Japan, South Korea, even Saudi Arabia. I don’t know about repeatedly, but he has said this. +1 Clinton.

TRUMP:  Just to go down the list, we defend Japan, we defend Germany, we defend South Korea, we defend Saudi Arabia, we defend countries. They do not pay us. False. Japan and South Korea pay us. -1 Trump.

TRUMP (regarding the Iran deal): One of the great giveaways of all time, of all time, including $400 million in cash. Nobody’s ever seen that before. That turned out to be wrong. It was actually $1.7 billion in cash. True. +1 Trump.

HOLT: Earlier this month, you said [Hillary] doesn’t have, quote, “a presidential look.” True. +1 Holt.

CLINTON: [Trump] is a man who has called women pigs, slobs and dogs. True. +1 Clinton.

CLINTON: [Trump is] someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers. TRUMP: I never said that. He said it. +1 Clinton, -1 Trump.

CLINTON: [Trump said] women don’t deserve equal pay unless they do as good a job as men. TRUMP: I didn’t say that. (I have to interject here: why on earth is this a controversial proposition? Of course people don’t deserve equal pay if they don’t do as good a job!) What Trump said was, “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.” Hillary is committing a logical fallacy, going from “P implies Q” to “not P implies not Q.” -1 Clinton. (I’m not giving +1 Trump, because when you listen, I think he is still replying to Clinton’s previous statement.)

CLINTON: And one of the worst things [Trump] said was about a woman in a beauty contest. He loves beauty contests, supporting them and hanging around them. And he called this woman “Miss Piggy.” Then he called her “Miss Housekeeping,” because she was Latina. . . Her name is Alicia Machado. The Trump camp has tried to rebut this with Machado’s very checkered past (allegations of murder, death threats, links to organized crime), but he did say those things. +1 Clinton.

TRUMP: She spent hundreds of millions of dollars on negative ads on me, many of which are absolutely untrue. It’s certainly true that she’s spent millions on attack ads. Whether they were untrue is beyond the scope of this fact-check. + 1 Trump.

TRUMP: I’m either winning or tied, and I’ve spent practically nothing. True. +1 Trump.

HOLT: One of you will not win this election. Preferably both. +1 Holt.

TRUMP: The other day, we were deporting 800 people. And perhaps they passed the wrong button, they pressed the wrong button, or perhaps worse than that, it was corruption, but these people that we were going to deport for good reason ended up becoming citizens. Ended up becoming citizens. And it was 800. And now it turns out it might be 1,800, and they don’t even know. True. +1 Trump.

Tallying up the score, we have Trump +25/-4, Clinton +25/-5, Holt +5/-1. So all three participants were almost exactly as accurate, when it comes to verifiable claims of fact. This is not to deny that an awful lot of nonsense was peddled on that stage, but when it comes to verifiable claims of fact, both candidates were correct by a ratio of about 5:1 or 6:1.

Is 5:1 or 6:1 good enough? If we look at it as a test of remembering facts, that’s probably a B. On the other hand, if we assume they both have very good memories, and it’s a test of honesty, then 5:1 or 6:1 is terrible.

The blog is back?

July 27, 2016

Well, maybe. We’ll see.

Having gone to the trouble to debunk Snopes on the DNC flags controversy, I wanted to put it in a more persistent location than Facebook.

Snopes can no longer be trusted

July 27, 2016

If there is one strategy the left has used to move our country in their direction it’s this: They find institutions that have built up public trust, often over generations, and they take those institutions over, corrupt them, and put them to work on the leftist agenda. It’s happened most notably with academia and the media, but they’ve done it everywhere.

Snopes, the urban legend debunking site, has not been building up credibility for generations, but since 1994 Snopes has been the go-to site for debunking misinformation travelling the internet. Now they seem to be carrying water for the Democratic party. Case in point: the Snopes article on American flags at the Democratic National Convention.

First let it be said, this is a somewhat silly controversy. But never mind that. It’s a question of fact that Snopes weighed in on; let’s see how they handled it. The allegation is that there were no American flags on display at the DNC, and Snopes rated it False. Not “mostly false”, not “mixed”.

You can read the Snopes article here. The thrust of their debunking is two-fold:

  1. A widely circulated image featured Donald Trump on a stage festooned with flags, but those flags weren’t real. They were digitally added in real-time.
  2. Look, there were a bunch of flags at the Democratic convention.

Let’s start with #1. Yes, it appears to be true that Trump’s flags were virtual, not physical. So what? Virtual flags are fine. Moreover, it has no bearing on whether there were flags at the DNC. I guess we’re supposed to think that the DNC had virtual flags too? If so, that would be a strong debunking. But they didn’t. Here is Michelle Obama, the final speaker on the convention’s first night:

All you see is a mottled gray and turquoise background. No flags.

On to #2. The Snopes article has eight photos of the DNC with flag-ish imagery in them. The first two are from a color guard ceremony:


That image is from day two, but there was a color guard ceremony on day one as well. So there’s that.

The third image is a guy setting up some flags, and the fourth shows the podium with some flags on the far right:


That’s conclusive, right? No. That image is from the day before the convention opened. (UPDATE: I originally thought the image was from day two, but the Politifact piece I discuss below indicates otherwise.) The flags were gone on day one. Go back and look at first image in the Michelle Obama video. It briefly shows the entire stage and the flags aren’t there. You can skim the entire first day on video; no flags on stage. The flags reappear on day two, after the Democrats faced criticism for not having flags.

Next they have four crowd images:


Three of those are not actual flags. (In fact, the two on the left are improper uses of the flag on apparel, but never mind that. I seem to be the last person in America to care about that sort of thing.) But the upper-right is an actual flag. And, if you skim the full-day video, you can occasionally see other flags among the crowd.

Finally, they have a video of Fox News conceding that there are flags on stage. But, again, that’s from day two. (You can tell from the chryon, “roll call vote underway.”)

ASIDE: Bonus points for Snopes taking their Fox News clip from the far-left Media Matters.

Let’s take stock: There were no flags on stage on day one, except during the opening ceremony. On the floor there were a few small flags. (If there was a big one, I haven’t seen it.) On day two the flags appeared, but still pretty subdued.

The controversy seems to have started with a story in the Daily Caller. (ASIDE: Snopes calls them a “right-wing web [site] known as purveyors of misinformation.” Nice.) They mention a few other sources, including a Facebook page, but all of those came after the Daily Caller story.

The Daily Caller story is dated the evening of day one. On day one, the story was true, except for a color guard ceremony and a smattering of flags in the audience. There’s no way you can honestly call that story anything but mostly true.

POSTSCRIPT: When you google “dnc flags”, the first hit is the Snopes page. The second is the Daily Caller story. The third is on a blog called Occupy Democrats. It says largely the same thing as the Snopes page. In fact, almost the whole post is ripped off from the Snopes page. At the end, they conclude:

Flags are so ubiquitous at the DNC that it is not possible that conservative websites made a ‘mistake.’ They created a lie using a minority of DNC images, and they deserve to be held accountable.

“Ubiquitous”? Not remotely. Yes, even on day one you could find a few flags if you looked, but as we’ve seen, they were certainly not ubiquitous.

UPDATE: Snopes is doubling down on this. They’ve posted another article attacking the Daily Caller for claiming there were no flags at the DNC. As we’ve seen, the Daily Caller was largely correct. But that doesn’t stop Snopes from writing this:

The first thing you have to wonder is, was this Daily Caller “reporter” actually “at the Democratic National Convention,” as he implied? Because his entire article was based on two Getty Image news service photographs, one of which wasn’t even taken at the Democratic National Convention. Did this “reporter” not know how to operate a camera (i.e., a cell phone) to snap a few shots of what he supposedly witnessed? Did he have a really crummy seat at the DNC that didn’t afford him a view of the proceedings (in which case he shouldn’t have been writing about the subject at all)? Or is he just incredibly inept at his job?

The tone is surprisingly strident, very unlike the Snopes of old. They also include a picture of a crying baby.

When they get down to business, they make a claim explicitly that they merely insinuated in their first article:

Of course, the Daily Callerdeceptively didn’t mention that their RNC shot captured a digital backdrop displaying images of flags, and not actual physical flags — the very same form of display used at the DNC.

This is absolutely untrue. No, the DNC did not display virtual flags on a digital backdrop. Once again, you can scan the entire first day here. They simply did not use the digital backdrop that way. To be totally clear, when introducing a new session, they did use some bunting (flag-esque imagery) on the digital backdrop, like the image below, but did not use actual flags.


After stridently attacking the Daily Caller so stridently for its poor reporting, it is ironic that Snopes did not actually go to the video themselves to check this claim.

The rest of the attack piece was similar to the original article, but they did add one element, a tweet purporting to show a flag on day one:


But, again, this is from the color guard ceremony. You can see the color guard if you zoom in (which you have to do to see the flags anyway). The “call to order” on the backdrop is also a clue.

If Snopes’s point is that the DNC had flags on their digital backdrop, they are dead wrong. You can see that by looking at the video. If Snopes’s point is that the flags at color guard ceremony are enough to refute a report of no flags, that would seem very weak for an unqualified “false” rating, but if they want to go with that, they need at least to mention the color guard. To leave it out entirely is simply dishonest.

In all, a very bad performance by Snopes. Getting the facts wrong is pretty bad, since that is Snopes’s entire trade, but it’s the overt malice with which they do so that shows clearly that Snopes has changed.

POSTSCRIPT: The second Snopes article is titled “Daily Caller Throws Another Temper Tantrum After Being Debunked by”, but they don’t actually say anything about the supposed temper tantrum. The article is here. It sounds indignant, to be sure, and rightfully so, but it’s nowhere near as strident as the article that Snopes published in response. In substance it says pretty much what I wrote above, but I had it a day earlier.

UPDATE: They’ve added this paragraph to the original story:

In fact, U.S. flags were present on the stage during the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem, and photographs captured U.S. flags being set up prior to the start of the convention. Flags at stage left were apparently moved or removed at some point (for reasons unknown), but one or more flags were visible at stage right on Day 1:

There’s good and bad here. Good: they’ve admitted that the flags were on stage for the pledge and the national anthem (i.e., while the color guard was out). Bad: everything else. Photographs capture flags being set up prior to the start of the convention? Show us those photographs. All we see is an undated photo of a man setting up flags exactly where they were placed on day two. Flags were removed for reasons unknown? No, we know the reason: those flags were being carried by the color guard and the color guard left. One or more flags were visible at stage right? Exactly one, and only while the color guard exited to the right.

Look, none of this is hard. Just watch the video.

UPDATE: Snopes also wrote this in their second post:

The flag rumor, as is typical, went through multiple mutations as those who spread it repeatedly shifted the goalposts to try to keep up with the debunkings, moving it from “there are no flags (of any kind) at the DNC” to “there were no flags at the DNC on Day 1” to “there were no actual flags at the DNC on Day 1,” to “there were no actual flags on stage at the DNC on Day 1” to “there were no actual flags on stage at the DNC for the entirety of Day 1” — and, as is also typical, we’ve continually modified our article to keep up with the shifting rumors.

The second post, recall, was the one specifically about the Daily Caller. Did the Daily Caller change its article? I don’t think so. I didn’t keep a copy of the original, but there wasn’t much to change, it was only three sentences. (In fact, Snopes specifically insulted them for how short the report was.) No, here they switch to talking about “the flag rumor” in general. Doubtless that changed, as they tend to do, when people repeat things without reading carefully. But by including a paragraph about the rumor at large, and then going back to the Daily Caller as if nothing had happened, they give the false impression that the Daily Caller shifted its goalposts.

UPDATE: Amazingly, Politifact gets this story pretty much right. There were no flags on stage on day one, apart from the honor guard. They also show some footage of flags on the video screen before the convention opened. (Perhaps that’s what Snopes was thinking of with their talk of virtual flags, which otherwise seems irrelevant.) They also have a picture of physical flags on the right side of the stage the day before the convention opened. It’s interesting that they would have flags during the set-up and not during the first day of the convention itself.

UPDATE POSTSCRIPT: The Politifact image of physical flags on stage is from July 24, the day before the convention. (They say the photo is from the New York Times. I’ve been unable to find it with some persistent googling, but I’m taking their word for it.)


This photo is interesting because the flags are in exactly the same place, and draped in exactly the same way, as in the Snopes image above (the one with the oval around flags on the right side of the stage). The flags clearly were not moved between the two photos. This shows that Snopes’s image is from July 24, and not July 26 (i.e., day two) as I previously thought.


Iran deal is illegal

October 9, 2015


Some senior U.S. officials involved in the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal have privately concluded that a key sanctions relief provision – a concession to Iran that will open the doors to tens of billions of dollars in U.S.-backed commerce with the Islamic regime – conflicts with existing federal statutes and cannot be implemented without violating those laws, Fox News has learned.

But so what if it’s illegal? Does that still matter any more?

Fact-checking is dead

September 29, 2015

Carly Fiorina likes to talk about she rose from secretary to CEO. For example:

I started as a secretary, typing and filing for a nine-person real estate firm. It’s only in this country that you can go from being a secretary to the chief executive of the largest tech company in the world, and run for president of the United States. It’s only possible here.

This is, in fact, true. She did start as a secretary. She did become a CEO. Full story here (sorry, video only).

But somehow, the Washington Post gives Fiorina “three pinnochios” for the claim. How does a completely factual statement become a big lie?

You’d have to read their article to get the full tortured reasoning. But the gist of it is that the secretary-to-CEO story is part of a “Horatio Alger-like” rags-to-riches narrative that they judge to not be a good description of her career. She left her secretary job to go back to school, earn advanced degrees, and work other jobs, before eventually returning as CEO of HP, and that — says the Washington Post fact-checker — isn’t a rags-to-riches story.

You can make that case, I suppose, but it isn’t fact-checking. The facts she stated were true and not even misleading.

(Via Ace.)

Movies that don’t exist

September 29, 2015

The most memorable scene in The Empire Strikes Back, I’m sure everyone would agree, is when Darth Vader reveals himself as Luke’s father:

No, Luke, I am your father!

As a kid in a movie theater, seeing Empire for the first time, this blew my mind. I remember it so vividly.

Alas, that movie doesn’t exist.

What, you ask? The Empire Strikes Back doesn’t exist? What are you talking about?!

It’s true. No such movie exists with that scene.


As you can see, the line is slightly different than the one that is burned into my memory:

No. I am your father.

When I remember the line, I am off by one word. He never says “Luke”. The movie I remember doesn’t exist.

In a hyper-technical sense, what I just wrote is true. But if you were explaining the error, would you say (1) the movie doesn’t exist, or would you say (2) I made an insignificant error in remembering a key scene? Of course you would say (2). To say (1) is stupid, unhelpful, and misleading.

Unless, for some reason, I wanted to convince people that The Empire Strikes Back doesn’t exist at all. (Actually, for the Star Wars prequels, I do, but that’s another story.)

This is the bizarre place we find ourselves in the attack on Carly Fiorina, who said in the Republican debate:

Anyone who has watched this videotape, I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’ This is about the character of our nation, and if we will not stand up and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.

First, let it be conceded that Fiorina made an insignificant error in remembering the scene. The sentence “We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain” is not word-for-word, it’s a paraphrase; and the paraphrase obscures the fact that the fully formed fetus to which the interviewee referred is not the same one that appears on screen. As it turns out, the fully formed fetus on screen — its heart beating and its legs kicking — is B-roll footage, used to illustrate the interview. The whistleblower didn’t have a hidden camera to capture the scene she described.

So we don’t know what happened to the fetus on screen. Well, we do know that it was left to die, cold and alone, in a stainless steel specimen vessel. But we don’t know whether someone cut into his skull to harvest his brain.

Nevertheless, the video certainly exists. (Warning: horrifying footage.)

When discussing this, you can say (1) Fiorina’s video doesn’t exist, or you can say (2) the video is slightly different that Fiorina’s off-the-cuff description.

Why would you say (1), which is stupid, unhelpful, and misleading?

There’s only one reason. You want to insinuate that the video doesn’t exist at all (even though you know it does). You want the people who read your column to think that video appeared out of Carly Fiorina’s fevered imagination.

For their target audience at least, it seems to be working. Other leftists echoing the attacks — people who haven’t seen the videos, and therefore don’t know how narrow and hyper-technical the attacks are — misunderstand them, and thus say things that are simply false. They say that the videos are “imaginary”, which they certainly or not. Or, this outright falsehood (from Amanda Marcotte):

There is nothing in the videos made by CMP, either in the edited or full-length versions, that has anything approaching images of legs kicking or hearts beating.

(ASIDE: I’m assuming that Marcotte is a dupe here, but perhaps she is simply lying.)

So that is the plan: Announce that the video does not exist [whispering] precisely as described [/whispering]. Let everyone draw the wrong conclusion and repeat that the video doesn’t exist at all.

In support of this, they also Dowdify Fiorina’s defenders. For example, Jonah Goldberg wrote:

The exact scene, exactly as Fiorina describes it, is not on the videos. But anybody who has watched the videos would find Fiorina’s off-the-cuff account pretty accurate.

(Emphasis mine.) But when Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick quoted Goldberg, she deleted the part in bold. (ASIDE: She also added many outright falsehoods, such as describing live babies as stillborn, but that’s not my point here.)

I’ll be interested to see if the new standard for off-the-cuff descriptions is consistently adhered to. (Just kidding! We know it won’t be.) Misremember a detail from Uncle Tom’s Cabin? That means the book doesn’t exist, and no one needs to grapple with its content.

It’s just too bad about Casablanca, Dirty Harry, Silence of the Lambs, Field of Dreams, The Graduate, The Wizard of Oz, All About Eve, and Snow White and Seven Dwarves. I guess I imagined some really good movies.

(Previous post.)

POSTSCRIPT: More along these lines from Ross Douthat. (Via Instapundit.)


September 28, 2015

Barack Obama clearly has no idea what motivates Iran’s rulers:

Chanting death to America does not create jobs.

Judging not only by this clip, but from the entire speech, it seems never to have occurred to Obama that economic prosperity might not be their aim.

This always seems to be our problem with this bunch: We assume that they think like we do. This was the central folly of the Oslo agreement. It seemed to us like a really fair and reasonable agreement. I confess that I too was taken in. But it assumed that the Palestinians wanted peace. In the years since 1993, we’ve learned that they (and all the Islamist fundamentalists) want peace only after the complete annihilation and/or subjugation of their enemies.

What was an excusable error in 1993 is sheer idiocy now.

Your lips are moving again

September 25, 2015

Is anyone surprised that Hillary Clinton, despite all her claims to the contrary, still has not handed over all her work-related emails?

The Obama administration has discovered a chain of emails that Hillary Rodham Clinton failed to turn over when she provided what she said was the full record of work-related correspondence as secretary of state, officials said Friday, adding to the growing questions related to the Democratic presidential front-runner’s unusual usage of a private email account and server while in government.

The messages were exchanged with retired Gen. David Petraeus when he headed the military’s U.S. Central Command, responsible for running the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They began before Clinton entered office and continued into her first days at the State Department.


September 25, 2015

Barack Obama has released the 20th 9/11 hijacker from Guantanamo Bay. I have no words for this.

(Via Instapundit.)

Your lips are moving again

September 25, 2015

Believe literally nothing this woman ever says:

Documents released by a conservative watchdog group Thursday show Hillary Clinton personally signed official forms in 2012 that allowed her top aide [Huma Abedin] to attain status as a special government employee (SGE), despite the Democratic presidential frontrunner’s denial of any involvement in the situation during a recent interview. . .

The document, obtained by Judicial Watch as part of a Freedom of Information Act request, shows that Clinton signed off on a title change for Abedin on March 23, 2012. . .

In an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that aired Sept. 4, Clinton was asked about the propriety of Abedin collecting a salary from the State Department and Teneo, which was founded by a longtime aide to former President Bill Clinton.

“Well, you know, I was not directly involved in that,” Clinton answered.


September 21, 2015

If the idea of the federal government ranking colleges and universities made you a little queasy, you were right:

The new “College Scorecard” released by the Department of Education and the White House that ranks universities excluded several institutions widely considered among the best conservative colleges in the nation: Hillsdale and Grove City colleges.

Of course progressive politics plays a role in their rankings. Could you imagine anything else?

(Via Instapundit.)

Things liberals believe

September 21, 2015
  1. Mormons are too weird to be president. (2, 3, 4, 5)
  2. There are too many Catholics on the Supreme Court. (2, 3, 4, 5)
  3. Jewish senators are not loyal to the United States. (2, 3, 4, 5)
  4. It is never acceptable to consider religion when evaluating candidates for public office. (23, 4)

UPDATE: “What they really mean is that no values should ever come before the liberal agenda.”

Of course they did

September 18, 2015

The IRS has been using the donor lists that they (illegally) demanded from conservative organizations applying for non-profit status, to identify people to audit.

This is what Obama describes as “not even a smidgen of corruption.” Because if it serves the Democrats, it’s not corruption.

Smart diplomacy

September 18, 2015

It seems that the Russians offered to dump Bashar Assad in 2012. The Obama administration refused the offer because they were sure the Assad would fall soon without Russian assistance.


Donald Trump is bad at business

September 18, 2015

I’ve heard people describe Donald Trump as a self-made man. He is, in fact, the opposite of a self-made man. He inherited a huge real-estate fortune. If he had sold all his real-estate holdings and invested the proceeds in an S&P 500 index fund, he would be much richer today than he is, according to the Washington Post.

All that Trump’s ballyhooed deal-making has accomplished is to lose himself $3 billion, relative to what a passive investor could have obtained. (That’s according to Forbes’s numbers. According to Trump’s own numbers, he’s only lost $2 billion.)

And in order to get himself that terrific -$3 billion return, he has had to employ strategic bankruptcies, abuse eminent domain, and exploit taxpayer funds. If business acumen is an important quality for President of the United States, Donald Trump is disqualified.

Fact-checking is hard, I guess

September 18, 2015

In the most recent GOP debate, Carly Fiorina had strong words for abortion-supporting Democrats in light of the Center for Medical Progress’s expose on Planned Parenthood’s horrifying practices:

As regards Planned Parenthood, anyone who has watched this videotape, I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.

The left went ballistic, claiming that no such video exists. Uber-feminist Amanda Marcotte, for example:

There is nothing in the videos made by CMP, either in the edited or full-length versions, that has anything approaching images of legs kicking or hearts beating. . .

and again:

Many people have [watched the videos] and continue to be pro-choice anyway—and not just because they missed the part with the legs kicking (which doesn’t exist!).

(Emphasis mine.) Clearly Amanda Marcotte is not one of those people, since the leg-kicking part does indeed exist. It is horrifying.

Glenn Kessler, who writes a fact-checking column for the Washington Post, and who usually seems to be trying to be somewhat fair, is more connected with reality, but nevertheless starts with the snark:

Fiorina might have trouble finding this video to show to Clinton. No video has surfaced showing the scene Fiorina describes taking place inside a Planned Parenthood facility.

What he’s getting at here is not that the video doesn’t exist (it does, of course), but he is nit-picking Fiorina’s description. The fetus pictured with legs kicking is not actually the same one from which the former procurement technician being interviewed in the video was ordered to harvest the brain. It’s an illustration using stock footage (properly noted as such on screen), which of course is standard practice for any news organization unable to obtain pictures or video of an actual event.

So yes, CMP was not able to obtain footage of the vivisection. (Or, if they did, they haven’t released it yet.), However, they did get people to admit to extracting brains from live fetuses exactly like that one.

Others have claimed that the fetus wasn’t from an abortion, that it was stillborn. This is stupid, since the fetus was moving and thus obviously not stillborn. More plausibly, they claim that the fetus might be from a miscarriage. Not so, says the organization that obtained the footage:

The video clip we provided to CMP depicted an intact delivery abortion. It was filmed at an abortion clinic. It was not a miscarriage. Mothers don’t go to abortion clinics to miscarry. Had this case been a miscarriage, the mother would have presented at a hospital and her baby would have been rushed to an Isolette for appropriate neonatal care — not abandoned to writhe and eventually expire in a cold, stainless steel specimen vessel. As regards the organizational affiliation of the abortion facility in which this termination was performed, our access agreements forbid the disclosure of any information which might tend to identify the relevant clinics or personnel with whom we work. Preserving confidentiality is vital to future clinic access. I can, however, assure you that the footage in question is not anomalous. It is representative of the frequent outcomes of many late term intact delivery terminations performed at clinics of all organizational affiliations.

In short, Planned Parenthood extracts brains from live babies, and sells them. There is a video about it. That video is very disturbing. Carly Fiorina challenges abortion-supporting Democrats to watch it. However, it does not contain video of any actual vivisection; it merely contains people talking about performing vivisections — some cheerfully, and others in horror.

Also, it’s not a “tape”. No one uses video tape any more. Gotcha, Carly!

Thank heaven for the editors!

September 16, 2015

There was a time, not that long ago, when the New York Times was a good newspaper. It’s not good any more.  It’s not just the relentless bias, but how their relentless bias prevents them from employing good writing and reporting. Kevin Williamson edits an egregious example from two days ago.

Never forget

September 11, 2015


Chutzpah, thy name is Hillary!

September 4, 2015

Okay, first let’s be clear (again) that Obergefell is the law of the land. (Okay, literally it’s controlling Supreme Court precedent, but let’s not split hairs.) Government officials have no right to deny citizens any service (including marriage licenses) to which the law entitles them. Kim Davis, the (Democratic) clerk jailed by a (Republican) judge for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, is in the wrong.

Now, let’s marvel at the astonishing hypocrisy shamelessly exhibited by our Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton:

I guess she was out of characters, and simply didn’t have room to add the important conclusion:

But just this one time only.

I mean, where could Kim Davis have possibly gotten the idea that Democratic elected officials can ignore the law?

Could it be from Democratic officials in DC and Chicago who — in a very parallel situation — refuse to issue firearms permits despite a Supreme Court decision ordering them to do so? Could it be from Democratic officials in California who violated California law to issue marriage licenses before the court cleared them to do so? Could is be from a Democratic president who decided simply to ignore immigration law, or who many times has ignored the text of his own health “reform” law, or who decided that the Constitutional requirement to obtain Senate approval for treaties is obsolete? Could it be from a Democratic administration that ignored a court injunction against its immigration policy? Could it be from a Democrat-run IRS that illegally targeted conservatives for negative treatment, and illegally shared confidential filings with progressive activists, and which destroyed the relevant records once their misconduct came to light? Could it be from a Democrat-run ATF that shipped weapons to Mexican drug cartels, and never gave a plausible explanation why? Could it be from a Democratic Secretary of State who, in violation of public records laws, maintained a private email server, and then, in violation of classified information laws, used it for classified information, and then in further violation of those laws, turned all that classified information over to a private law firm? Could it be from a Democrat-run Justice Department that filed false affidavits in order to obtain illegal wiretaps on journalists? Could it be from a Democratic president who ignored the War Powers Act and launched a war against Libya without any notice to or consultation with the Congress? Could it be from Democratic officials in Seattle who imposed punitive taxes on guns and ammunition in clear violation of state law? Could it be from a Democrat-run EPA that imposed limits on carbon dioxide that were plainly outside the parameters of the law, and justified it by making up entirely different parameters? Could it be from a Democratic mayor of Baltimore who “gave those who wished to destroy space to do that”? Could it be from a Democratic prosecutor in Austin, Texas who indicted the governor for using his constitutional veto prerogative? Could it be from Democratic prosecutors in Wisconsin who raided homes with no cause other than their support for Republican candidates, and then barred them from discussing the raids, even with their own lawyers? Could it be from Democratic strategiests who urged the president to ignore the Supreme Court if they lost the King v. Burwell case? Could it be from a Democratic White House that set new records for denying Freedom of Information Act requests, and did so in violation of the law one-third of the time?

And could it be from a Democratic Party that watched all above the above happen, and never gave the slightest hint of any discomfort with any of it? From a party that scoffs at the rule of law in any circumstances where it might stand in the way of their goals?

Gee, where could Kim Davis have possibly gotten the idea that Democratic officials can get away with anything at all?

So yes, officials should be held to their duty to uphold the law. Let’s start doing that now please. Any time you’re ready would be fine.

POSTSCRIPT: This was all just off the top of my head. If I went through my notes, I could find plenty more.

UPDATE: Wow, the White House spokesman said this:

I will just say on principle that the success of the democracy depends on the rule of law, and there is no public official that is above the rule of law. Certainly not the president of the United States, but neither is the Rowan County clerk.

He really did say that. Unbelievable.

Ha ha ha

August 10, 2015

Thank goodness for the fact checking. (Via Instapundit.)

Sure, why not

August 8, 2015

In keeping with its mission to ruin absolutely everything, the Obama administration is trying to put an end to vagrancy laws.


August 7, 2015

We invaded Syria with 60 people. Six-zero.

The outcome was the one you might predict when you invade with 60 people. I haven’t the words to describe this administration. Feckless seems so inadequate.

Feel good story of the day

August 6, 2015

According to this article at the Telegraph, your favorite terrorist-supporting, woman-oppressing monopolists are screwed:

Saudi Arabia may go broke before the US oil industry buckles
It is too late for OPEC to stop the shale revolution. The cartel faces the prospect of surging US output whenever oil prices rise

I sure hope this is true. But if economic means have failed, it just means that the Saudis and their gang will redouble their efforts to stop fracking by political means. Matt Damon, call your office.

POSTSCRIPT: This chart is really interesting:


Wow, how badly is Venezuela run?

Do not trust content from the New York Times

August 6, 2015

Sixteen days later, the New York Times post a major correction of its reporting on the Planned Parenthood body-parts-for-sale scandal:

An article on July 21 about a video made by abortion opponents, which they said proved that Planned Parenthood sells tissue from aborted fetuses for profit, referred incorrectly to the timing of the release of what was described as the full-length, unedited version of the video showing a Planned Parenthood employee talking about how much clinics charge for specimens. The full video was posted at the same time as the edited version. It is not the case that the full video was not released until “after Planned Parenthood complained of selective, misleading editing.”

Sixteen days seems a bit long for an error that is easily checked in under a minute, if they had ever bothered to look. One might hope that the NYT would now be more hesitant to accept Planned Parenthood’s claims as fact, but that would assume that the NYT is more interested in accurate reporting than in protecting progressive institutions.

I don’t think Planned Parenthood can be at all dissatisfied in the service the NYT did them. Their misreporting aided Planned Parenthood in their claim that there was something dishonest or misleading in the videos. Planned Parenthood could never cite anything that was actually misleading, so they relied on a vague accusation that the video was edited. (As if a nine-minute video drawn from a lengthy conversation might somehow not have been edited.) The untrue notion that the Center for Medical Progress might have been hiding the full context certainly assisted that spin.

POSTSCRIPT: This is actually the second (at least) version of the correction. The August 5 version included this gem:

While the full-length video of more than two hours took longer to download than the nearly nine-minute edited footage, the full video was in fact posted at the same time as the edited version.

162 > 9. A New York Times exclusive!

(Via Twitchy.)

Potemkin interview

August 1, 2015

In 2009, Hillary Clinton was fed questions in advance of an appearance on Meet the Press.

(Via Instapundit.)

I guess the Middle East is all quiet now

July 30, 2015

With everything going on in the Middle East right now, the Navy is pulling out of the Persian Gulf:

The U.S. Navy will not have an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf this fall for the first time in years, President Obama’s nominee to be the Navy’s top officer told Capitol Hill lawmakers Thursday.

The gap in the Gulf — expected to last two months — would come at a time when the U.S. is not only launching sustained airstrikes against nearby Islamic State targets but trying to keep a check on Iranian aggression in the region.

But don’t you worry, the French are on the case:

Fox News is told that when she departs the area sometime this fall, the U.S. military may rely on a French aircraft carrier until they can deploy another carrier.

Well, France has always been a stalwart ally, particularly in the war on terror. I’m sure this will work out fine.

Believe nothing this woman says, ever

July 30, 2015

Despite reports to the contrary, Hillary Clinton is adamant that she never sent classified information over her illegal private server:

“I am confident I never sent nor received any information that was classified at the time it was sent and received,” Clinton said. “What I think you’re seeing is a very typical kind of discussion to some extent, disagreement among various parts of the government over what should or what should not be publicly released.”

This story directly contradicts the Inspector General, who said the emails “were classified when they were sent and are classified now.

But now it gets worse:

Classified emails stored on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private server contained information from multiple intelligence agencies in addition to data connected to the 2012 Benghazi attack, a source familiar with the investigation told Fox News.

The information came from the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National-Geospatial Agency, as well as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency, the source said.

It got so bad the intelligence community started cutting the State Department out of the loop:

The official responsible for overseeing the government’s security classification system, John Fitzpatrick, told McClatchy Newspapers that while reviewing four years of Clinton’s emails, intelligence agencies grew concerned that State Department officials were not guarding classified information in screening documents for public release.

The State Department actually posted one classified email in its entirety on a public website.

(Previous post.)

Emergency dispatcher leaves teen to die

July 29, 2015

Fox News has the heartbreaking story of an incident in which an Albuquerque emergency dispatcher hung up on a caller when the panicked caller swore at him. The caller was trying to summon help for a 17-year-old boy who had been shot in a drive-by shooting. The victim later died.

Aside from the tragedy of the story itself, this illustrates the folly of relying of the government to protect you. (This was the fire department, not the police, but the same principle applies.) Under Supreme Court precedent, the government is under no obligation to assist you, and sometimes it simply chooses not to, either through malice or (as in this case), through callous indifference.

Hillary Clinton withholding Libya emails

July 29, 2015

Fox News reports:

A reported two-month gap in emails from Hillary Clinton’s private account during 2012 coincides with a period of escalating violence in Libya and the obtaining of a special exemption by her top aide, Huma Abedin, to work for both the State Department and the Clinton Foundation.

The Daily Beast reported late Tuesday that no emails between Clinton and her State Department staff for the months of May and June 2012 are among the estimated 2,000 messages that have been released from the Democratic presidential frontrunner’s account.

A State Department spokesman told The Daily Beast that only emails related to the security of U.S. diplomats in Libya or the consulate in Benghazi were turned over to the House select committee investigating the deadly Sept. 11, 2012 attack. If true, that means neither Clinton nor her staff communicated via e-mail during a period that saw three attacks on international outposts in Benghazi, including one on the consulate itself.

I love the journalistic “if true” here. It’s so much more even-handed than “she is obviously lying, because.” I wonder if one of the missing emails would have shed some light on how the Benghazi consulate got an exemption from the usual security requirements.

Happy Birthday

July 28, 2015

The lawyers for a class-action suit against Warner/Chappell Music claiming that the famous song “Happy Birthday” is actually in the public domain appear to have found the proverbial smoking gun. The newly discovered documents seem to show not only that the song entered the public domain no later than 1922, but also that Warner/Chappell knew it, and deliberately covered up the fact.

If Warner/Chappell really covered up the fact that the song was in the public domain, it seems to me that they committed fraud, and should be liable for damages at least to everyone who paid to license the song.

(Previous post.) (Via Instapundit.)

Hillary Clinton lies over and over and over again

July 24, 2015

Literally nothing Hillary Clinton has said about her use of an external email account has turned out to be true: She said that she just wanted to have everything on one device. (As if you can’t have multiple email accounts on a single device, but never mind that.) False. She said the account was used for private correspondence with her husband. False. She said she turned over everything work-related. Not even close to true. She said she was never subpoenaed over it. False. Some of the emails she actually did turn over, she edited before doing so!

In the latest development, Clinton says that no classified material was ever sent using the external account. (This claim was made in the wake of the disclosure that two different Inspectors General are trying to open a criminal inquiry into her actions.) Their story was that any classified information was only classified after the fact:

A spokesman for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign released a statement on Twitter on Friday morning. “Any released emails deemed classified by the administration have been done so after the fact, and not at the time they were transmitted,” it read.

As Ed Morrissey points out, this would mean that she exercised very bad judgement — transmitting sensitive material on an unsecured system — even if technically no law had been broken.

But never mind, because this story too was a lie:

An internal government review found that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent at least four emails from her personal account containing classified information during her time heading the State Department.

In a letter to members of Congress on Thursday, the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community concluded that Mrs. Clinton’s email contains material from the intelligence community that should have been considered “secret” at the time it was sent, the second-highest level of classification. A copy of the letter to Congress was provided to The Wall Street Journal by a spokeswoman for the Inspector General.

The four emails in question “were classified when they were sent and are classified now,” said Andrea Williams, a spokeswoman for the inspector general. The inspector general reviewed just a small sample totaling about 40 emails in Mrs. Clinton’s inbox—meaning that many more in the trove of more than 30,000 may contain potentially secret or top-secret information.

(Emphasis mine.) Also note the numbers. Out of 40 emails, four of them (that is, 10%) contained classified information.  It’s reasonable to extrapolate that there could be thousands of such.

NYT standards

July 24, 2015

When a politician complains about the New York Times’s coverage, the NYT’s practice is to find some story attacking him and put it on the front page the next day. They admit this.

Obviously, though, that practice applies only to Republicans.

When Hillary Clinton complains about the New York Times’s coverage, they fix it overnight:

The Times also changed the headline of the story, from “Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email” to “Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account,” reflecting a similar recasting of Clinton’s possible role. The article’s URL was also changed to reflect the new headline.

As of early Friday morning, the Times article contained no update, notification, clarification or correction regarding the changes made to the article.

One of the reporters of the story, Michael Schmidt, explained early Friday that the Clinton campaign had complained about the story to the Times.

“It was a response to complaints we received from the Clinton camp that we thought were reasonable, and we made them,” Schmidt said.

(Via Hot Air.)


July 23, 2015

Hillary Clinton really did say this today:

Clearly I’m not asking people to vote for me simply because I’m a woman. I’m asking people to vote for me on the merits. And I think one of the merits is I am a woman . . .


(Via Ace.)

John Kerry really is an idiot

July 20, 2015

One of the serious concerns about the Iran nuclear deal — other than the fact that now Iran will have nuclear weapons soon — is the possibility (nay, inevitability) Iran will take the money it’s getting and use it to fund terrorism. And we’re not talking chump change; it’s over a quarter of Iran’s GDP. That kind of money can murder a lot of people.

When Judy Woodruff asked John Kerry about this, he stammered a bit and then said:

They’re not allowed to do that. They’re not allowed to do that.

Kerry then went on to explain that there are already UN resolutions that prohibit Iran from funding terrorism, apparently without realizing that that admission completely vitiates his point. (Dear John Kerry: If the UN resolutions already aren’t stopping Iran, why would they stop Iran now?)

This fool is our Secretary of State. Can you imagine if he had been president?

UPDATE: National Security Adviser Susan Rice contradicts Kerry:

We should expect that some portion of that money would go to the Iranian military and could potentially be used for the kinds of bad behavior that we have seen in the region up until now.

The past ain’t what it used to be

July 20, 2015

So now we’re told that meaningful inspections weren’t ever on the table in the first place:

On April 7, 2015, President Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “under this deal, you will have anywhere, any time 24/7 access as it relates to the nuclear facilities that Iran has.”

Now, on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Secretary of State John Kerry said, “This is a term that, honestly, I never heard in the four years that we were negotiating. It was not on the table. There’s no such thing in arms control as any time, anywhere.”

Did they lie then, or are they lying today?

This is why we didn’t join the ICC

July 17, 2015

Five years ago, Turkish anti-Israel militants on a flotilla purporting to carry humanitarian supplies to Gaza ambushed Israeli soldiers who boarded their ship. A battle ensued in which a few of the thugs were killed, and a predictable international outrage followed.

The prosecutor at the International Criminal Court looked into it and found no grounds to bring charges. (ASIDE: Astonishingly, given its history of hostility to Israel, the UN issued a report that fully exonerated Israel.) In a sane world, the matter would be over, but we do not live in a sane world.

The ICC itself has now ordered the prosecutor to reopen the investigation, and refers to crimes having been committed. Gee, I wonder what the outcome of the case will be when the judges themselves are directing the prosecution?

Under the circumstances, there could be no real doubt about whether the proceedings will be fair, but nevertheless the order makes it even more clear. It explicitly orders the prosecutor to take public outrage (i.e., politics) into consideration in his investigation.

(Previous post.)


July 7, 2015

Fox News reports:

International negotiators have extended their deadline once again as they struggle to reach a nuclear deal with Iran.

Negotiators had been running up against a Tuesday deadline, after initially extending a June 30 deadline amid lingering differences. On Tuesday morning, the State Department said the new deadline is now Friday, as talks continue.

Amazingly, they still haven’t figured out what’s going on here. They have left mere stupidity behind, and are in willful-blindness territory now.


June 30, 2015

Onion or no, this is utterly believable:

Study: U.S. Wastes 2 Million Hours Annually Figuring Out Where Tape Roll Starts

Obama administration threatens reporter with arrest for attending press conference

June 29, 2015

The Washington Free Beacon reports:

Officials with the Department of State threatened to call security Monday on a Washington Free Beacon reporter who was attempting to report on a briefing held by senior Obama administration figures in Vienna on the eve of an expected nuclear agreement with Iran.

Two State Department officials booted the Free Beacon from a room where Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, was talking to reporters, despite the Free Beacon’s being credentialed by the Austrian government for the ongoing Iranian nuclear talks.

Western observers present in Vienna for the talks linked the State Department’s behavior to jitters over media coverage revealing a still growing list of concessions being made to Iran by the Obama administration. . .

“You have a press pass from the [European Union], not from me,” Turley said, after being informed that the Free Beacon was officially credentialed to cover the event.

Turley and her colleagues then threatened the reporter, instructing him to leave the room or be dealt with by “security.”

Taking such an extreme step to exclude a reporter from a press briefing does not indicate confidence. It also speaks poorly of the rest of the press that they accepted this.

(Via Instapundit.)

Naturally not those chemical weapons

June 29, 2015

While America focuses its attention on domestic concerns, the rest of the world keeps getting more dangerous:

U.S. intelligence agencies believe there is a strong possibility the Assad regime will use chemical weapons on a large scale as part of a last-ditch effort to protect key Syrian government strongholds if Islamist fighters and other rebels try to overrun them, U.S. officials said.

That’s strange, because Syria doesn’t have any chemical weapons any more. Barack Obama told me so:

The reason we did not [take military action] was because Assad gave up his chemical weapons. And that’s not speculation on our part. That, in fact, has been confirmed by the organization internationally that is charged with eliminating chemical weapons.

How is there a strong possibility Assad will use chemical weapons — on a large scale, no less — when he gave them all up? It almost sounds like our president wasn’t telling the truth.

(Via Morning Jolt.)

Michigan v. EPA

June 29, 2015

The Supreme Court ruled against the EPA today, finding that the EPA must take cost into account when deciding whether to regulate power plants. But don’t be too excited. (Or, if you favor regulating coal-fired power plants out of existence, don’t be too disappointed.) The Court leaves up to the EPA how to account for cost, so the EPA will simply come up with an accounting scheme that will justify doing the exact same thing.

The main benefit of this is to delay the regulations, perhaps long enough to elect a new president. But I wouldn’t even count on that. Rather than restarting the process from scratch, I expect that the EPA will try to rush through a new “appropriate and necessary” finding, and then use the same regulations it already devised.

Liars for “gun safety”

June 29, 2015

When gun control advocates, such as Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), cannot make their case without lies, it gives one the strong impression that they do not have a real case at all:

Since Sandy Hook there has been a school shooting, on average, every week. How on earth can we live with ourselves if we do nothing?

One per week? We certainly haven’t seen anywhere close to that number on the news. Is it possible that so many could go unreported?

Obviously not. Nevertheless, the Washington Post Fact Checker column takes a look at the numbers. (SPOILER: They give it four pinnocchios.) The number is based on a report from a gun control organization called Everytown for Gun Safety. (ASIDE: It offends me that the gun prohibitionists are now trying to relabel gun bans as “guns safety.”  Gun safety is important and we mustn’t lose the term.)

Everytown for Gun Safety claims there have been 126 school shootings since Sandy Hook, as of earlier this month. Almost none of those bear any resemblance to Sandy Hook, even including unsuccessful attempts. The Post came up with 10 such. In order to get their number an order of magnitude higher, they included suicides and gang-related violence. That’s a standard tactic for the prohibitionists to inflate their numbers, but even that didn’t get them there.

To get to 126, they also had to include virtually any discharge of a firearm on any premises connected with any kind of school. For example, they included the case in which a man accidentally shot himself while unloading his gun in the parking lot of Beaver County Community College.

(Via Hot Air.)

I wonder why our allies don’t trust us?

June 28, 2015

Our treaty with the Marshall Islands (formerly part of the US Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, and independent since 1986) provides that the United States takes full responsibility for their defense. In the words of the State Department:

The United States has full authority and responsibility for security and defense of the Marshall Islands, and the Government of the Marshall Islands is obligated to refrain from taking actions that would be incompatible with these security and defense responsibilities.

But when a Marshall Islands ship was seized by Iran, the Pentagon announced:

You thought that treaty meant something to the Obama administration? Think again.

UPDATE: David Kopel gives the Pentagon’s position more thorough consideration than it deserves, and finds it wanting.

(Via Hot Air.)

Bypass the Supreme Court?

June 28, 2015

So, I saw this cross my Twitter feed:

This gives the impression that Texas is preparing to ignore the Supreme Court ruling. That would be surprising, and in fact, the actual facts are a bit different:

He said his office believed state religious freedom laws would allow clerks to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if they have sincerely held beliefs that prohibit them from doing so, and if there was someone else present – like a deputy – who would be willing to service the couple.

So, it’s not that Texas is going to deny same-sex couples a marriage license. Rather, some government agents empowered to issue licenses might decline to do so, leaving it to others to do so. Paxton went on to say that anyone who tried it should expect to get sued. (That’s for sure!)

This may or may not be legally defensible (I am not a lawyer), but I think it’s wrong. If it’s part of your job to issue marriage licenses, it’s part of your job. If government provides a service, its agents should provide that service to everyone entitled to receive it, without adding additional inconvenience for applicants you’d rather not serve. (ASIDE: This principle is routinely flouted in applications for firearms permits, and that too is an outrage.)

But let’s suppose that Texas really were going whole hog, and simply ignoring the Supreme Court ruling. That would certainly be wrong. It’s also exactly what the Democrats were talking about doing if they lost in King v. Burwell (the Obamacare subsidy case). From the pages of the New York Times:

Luckily the Constitution supplies a contingency plan, even if the administration doesn’t know it yet: If the administration loses in King, it can announce that it is complying with the Supreme Court’s judgment — but only with respect to the four plaintiffs who brought the suit.

This announcement would not defy a Supreme Court order, since the court has the formal power to order a remedy only for the four people actually before it. The administration would simply be refusing to extend the Supreme Court’s reasoning to the millions of people who, like the plaintiffs, may be eligible for tax credits but, unlike the plaintiffs, did not sue.

The whole matter became moot when they won the case, but back when they looked likely to lose, this scheme was the talk of the town. We certainly never saw anyone from the White House rule it out.

The analogous scheme regarding Obergefell would have been to issue marriage licenses to the 14 plaintiffs, but otherwise ignore it. I trust that progressives have no trouble seeing that such a response would be lawless and wrong. But that’s exactly what they wanted to do prop up Obamacare.

ACLU, you are dead to me

June 27, 2015

For some time, the ACLU has been lukewarm at best toward religious freedom, but now they have officially come out against it:

The ACLU supported the RFRA’s passage at the time because it didn’t believe the Constitution, as newly interpreted by the Supreme Court, would protect people such as Iknoor Singh, whose religious expression does not harm anyone else. But we can no longer support the law in its current form. For more than 15 years, we have been concerned about how the RFRA could be used to discriminate against others.

It’s useful to start by looking at what the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act actually says. The key provision says:

(a) In general
Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in subsection (b) of this section.

(b) Exception
Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person—
(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

This means that “strict scrutiny” (the standard used for freedom of speech) applies in all religious freedom cases. This was the precedent until 1990, when the Supreme Court ruled the government could burden religious freedom pretty much as much as it wanted, provided that the law applied to everyone equally. Thus, for example, the government could ban circumcision — a key ritual for Jews for thousands of years — provided the ban applied to everyone equally. (Alas, this example is not entirely hypothetical.) The RFRA sought to restore the old standard; it passed almost unanimously and was signed by President Clinton. (The Supreme Court later narrowed it to federal cases only, which is what occasioned many states to pass their own RFRAs.)

So if you say you are against the RFRA, you need to say what you think should change. You have three possibilities: (1) the government should be able to burden religion without a compelling government interest, (2) the government should be able to burden religion more than necessary, or (3) both. So which is it, ACLU?

Okay, but what about discrimination? The ACLU opines:

In the states, legislators, governors and businesses are citing state religious freedom restoration acts to justify all manner of discrimination against gay men and lesbians, including at commercial establishments.

Okay, perhaps they have been citing it, but how many of them have been successful? I believe the answer is zero. (Indeed, hardly any have even gone to court.) The reason is that ending discrimination has been found to be a compelling government interest, and prohibiting it is arguably the least restrictive way of ensuring it doesn’t happen. (ASIDE: As a libertarian, I think that all virtually exchanges should be voluntary. But we’re talking here about what the law is.)

Is the ACLU conceding that ending discrimination is not a compelling government interest? That would be a surprise. And if not, what are they saying? They don’t say; in fact, they say nothing about the actual content of the law at all.

I think the whole discrimination thing is a smokescreen. This is what it’s all really about:

In the Hobby Lobby case last year, a Supreme Court majority blessed the use of the RFRA by businesses to deny employees insurance coverage for contraception, a benefit guaranteed by law, if those businesses object on religious grounds and there is some other means of furthering the government’s interests.

Yes, it did. The Obama administration (not the Congress, mind you, just the HHS department) sought to force Christian employers to violate their beliefs by paying for abortion drugs. This plainly violates strict scrutiny, since the government could easily arrange for employees to have such drugs without requiring the employer to pay for them — for example by the government paying for them itself.

This would be just like the government mandating that all restaurants serve bacon (yum!) — including kosher and halal restaurants.

Except that it’s not Jews or Muslims. It’s not native Americans. It’s not Sikhs. It’s Christians, and I think that’s the point.

The ACLU suddenly realized that it was against religious freedom as soon as it was used by Christians, instead of various religious minorities.

Court rules against IRS in targeting case

June 27, 2015

Remember the IRS scandal? It faded from the headlines, but it never ended, as the IRS never actually changed its behavior.

One of the organizations that the IRS has been discriminating against is Z Street, a pro-Israel group. Z Street sued the IRS, demanding that its tax exempt application be considered in a fair process. The IRS argued in court that Z Street had no right to a fair process.

No kidding, that’s exactly what they argued. The IRS argued that, since Z Street could appeal the rejection of its application after nine months, they had no need for legal action:

The agency argued that Z Street was seeking non-profit status, and that this could be remedied outside of court if the group waited for the government-prescribed 270-day period process where it was not subject to discriminatory delays because of its positions on Israel.and then petitioned the for an IRS ruling.

However, Z Street argued that it was not seeking non-profit status, but rather a fair application process where it was not subject to discriminatory delays because of its positions on Israel.

During the hearing, Chief Judge Merrick Garland was highly critical of the IRS’s defense.

“You don’t really mean that, right?” said Judge Garland to the IRS attorney. “Because the next couple words would be the IRS is free to discriminate on the basis of viewpoint, religion, race [for 270 days]. You don’t actually think that?” . . .

While the panel of judges was more subdued in the Friday ruling, it still dismissed the government’s argument against Z Street.

What possible reason is there to suppose that that isn’t exactly what the IRS thinks? We’ll have the opportunity to find out now, as Z Street finally has the right of discovery.

Another university lists banned ideas

June 27, 2015

The University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point has put out a list of banned ideas similar to the University of California’s list. In fact, the list and its formatting is almost the same, which tells me that there is someone out there pushing this stuff.

This is CNN

June 27, 2015

Dylan Byers writes:

No matter their perceived editorial biases, it would be difficult to imagine legacy news brands like The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, NPR or Time magazine taking sides in a political debate that they were expected to cover. The Times, Post or Journal editorial boards would surely be expected to take a stand, but not so the news divisions.

You might have thought so, but:

UPDATE: CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin accidentally admits celebrating the decision. (Via Instapundit.)

The same-sex marriage decision

June 27, 2015

As a libertarian, I’ve long felt that people should be able to form whatever partnerships they want to form, without interference from the government. However, as a constitutionalist, I’ve long felt that that change should be made by the legislative process, not by judicial fiat. In any case, this outcome was so obviously going to happen, I cannot muster much satisfaction or much outrage. I pretty much priced it in long ago.

Ideally, the government should now get out of the marriage business entirely. Let any two (or more) people form whatever relationship they choose, and then let society decide which ones they wish to respect. If not all parts of society make the same decision, that’s fine.

But the progressives are clearly against that outcome. They want everyone to be coerced into respecting same-sex marriages, and indeed into participating in the ceremonies. We’ve already seen bakers threatened with ruinous fines, and we’ve even seen ministers threatened with arrest, for refusing to participate. As the Chief Justice’s dissent observed (p. 28), Obama’s Solicitor General has basically promised to try to revoke the tax exemption of churches that refuse to perform same-sex marriages.

So if there used to be some tension between libertarianism and constitutionalism, there won’t be any going forward.

What happens next? When it comes to social issues, most American opinion always sides against the side they see as the aggressor. Much of America has already decided who they see as the aggressor, but media is key for swinging the middle. Ordinarily, they paint the conservative side as the aggressor, and the progressive side as the victim. They were able to do that for same-sex marriage (“why not let these loving couples get married?”), but it will be much harder when it comes to punishing churches.

POSTSCRIPT: For a particularly bizarre instance of coercion, consider this:  A same-sex couple asked a jeweler to make their custom-made wedding rings. The jeweler, who was personally opposed to same-sex marriage, nevertheless made them the rings. The couple were happy with the outcome. However, when they subsequently discovered that the jeweler opposed same-sex marriage, they demanded a refund! The jeweler, having done exactly the work requested of him, naturally refused to refund the money, but he eventually agreed after heavy pressure on online media was brought to bear. So what exactly is a jeweler supposed to do?

Rule of law, RIP

June 25, 2015

I guess it’s time to abandon the old-fashioned notion that the meaning of a law has anything much to do with the words that make up the law:

You would think the answer would be obvious—so obvious there would hardly be a need for the Supreme Court to hear a case about it. . . Words no longer have meaning if an Exchange that is not established by a State is “established by the State.” It is hard to come up with a clearer way to limit tax credits to state Exchanges than to use the words “established by the State.” And it is hard to come up with a reason to include the words “by the State” other than the purpose of limiting credits to state Exchanges.

From now on, the way our system works is: (1) Congress passes a law; it doesn’t much matter what it says because, (2) the President then does whatever he feels like to achieve what he deems to be the aims of the law.

If, to make the law work, someone who the law plainly says does not have to pay a penalty, must nevertheless be ordered to pay a penalty, he has to pay. That’s how our system works now. (Uh, I mean tax, not penalty. Sorry.)

POSTSCRIPT: Ann Althouse says that Republicans should be glad, because this is politically better for them. That’s only true if we value the GOP’s political fortunes over the rule of law.

Ban that old symbol of racism

June 24, 2015

In light of recent events, I think that it is indeed time to ban that old symbol of slavery, racism, and division. It should have no place in today’s society. So, once and for all, let’s get rid of this:


The legacy of the Democratic Party is thoroughly entwined with the Confederacy, and every bit as appalling. For decades, the Democrats were the political vehicle for the perpetuation of slavery. Slavery’s abolition only became possible when internal struggles among the Democrats allowed Abraham Lincoln (our first Republican president) to be elected. A Democratic president (James Buchanan) shipped weapons to the south in advance of the Civil War. Even once war was underway, the Democratic platform called for allowing the south to secede.

And, of course, the Democratic party continued its legacy of racism long after it failed to preserve slavery. All of the implementers and defenders of the Jim Crow south were Democrats, and of course it was a Democratic president (Woodrow Wilson) who resegregated the military and federal government.

UPDATE: Randy Barnett has more on the astonishing racism of Democratic hero Woodrow Wilson. (Although one of the pieces he quotes whitewashes Wilson’s non-racist evils. I wouldn’t say that the only US President to hold political prisoners was particularly interested in the “extension of democratic liberties.”)

UPDATE: Indeed.

FBI retracts bogus mass shooting study

June 23, 2015

Another troubling aspect of the Obama administration is its politicization of the government’s statistical agencies, which are supposed to be free of politics. In the latest instance, the FBI commissioned a bogus report on mass shootings, which it has now been forced to retract:

Last September the Obama administration produced an FBI report that said mass shooting attacks and deaths were up sharply—by an average annual rate of about 16% between 2000 and 2013. Moreover, the problem was worsening. “The findings establish an increasing frequency of incidents,” said the authors. “During the first 7 years included in the study, an average of 6.4 incidents occurred annually. In the last 7 years of the study, that average increased to 16.4 incidents annually.” . . .

But late last week, J. Pete Blair and M. Hunter Martaindale, two academics at Texas State University who co-authored the FBI report, acknowledged that “our data is imperfect.” They said that the news media “got it wrong” last year when they “mistakenly reported mass shootings were on the rise.”

Alas, but surprisingly, the retraction was issued with much, much less fanfare than the original bogus report.

It’s worth noting that criminologist John Lott debunked the study almost immediately, while the report’s authors dithered for the better part of a year before admitting he was right.

Contempt of court

June 23, 2015

First, Obama decided to ignore the law and admit illegal immigrants by executive order. Second, when a federal judge was examining the order, the Obama administration lied to the judge:

At issue is whether the DOJ misled the judge into believing that a plank of the Obama program — giving deportation reprieves to thousands of young illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children — would not go forward before he made a ruling on a request to halt it. In fact, federal officials had given more than 108,000 people three-year reprieves before that date and granted them work permits under the program.

So I guess we shouldn’t really be surprised that, third, the Obama administration kept doing their thing even once the (angry) judge ordered them to stop:

The government “erroneously” doled out about 2,000 expanded immigrant work permit authorizations under President Obama’s controversial executive actions, even after a federal judge blocked the move, the Justice Department says.

“The Government sincerely regrets these circumstances and is taking immediate steps to remedy these erroneous three-year terms,” the Department of Justice wrote in a court advisory filed late Thursday in the Southern District of Texas.

The advisory comes after District Court Judge Andrew Hanen halted the implementation of the executive actions, which defer deportations for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally and provide them with expanded access to work permits, until the courts could decide whether the policies are constitutional.

The Obama administration has nothing but contempt, not only for Congress, but also for the courts. That is, he has nothing but contempt for any branch of the US government other than his own. The Constitution envisions our government as a three-legged stool, but Barack Obama sees it as a pogo stick.

More on the Iraqi WMDs

June 23, 2015

The NYT reports:

The United States recovered thousands of old chemical weapons in Iraq from 2004 to 2009 and destroyed almost all of them in secret and via open-air detonation, according to a written summary of its activities prepared by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international body that monitors implementation of the global chemical weapons treaty. . .

It included a table disclosing limited details on 95 separate recoveries and destructions of chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, for a total of 4,530 munitions from May 2004 through February 2009 — a period of often intense fighting in Iraq.

The United States later recovered more Iraqi chemical weapons, pushing its tally to 4,996 by early 2011, according to redacted intelligence documents obtained by The Times via the Freedom of Information Act.

And more:

The Central Intelligence Agency, working with American troops during the occupation of Iraq, repeatedly purchased nerve-agent rockets from a secretive Iraqi seller, part of a previously undisclosed effort to ensure that old chemical weapons remaining in Iraq did not fall into the hands of terrorists or militant groups, according to current and former American officials.

The extraordinary arms purchase plan, known as Operation Avarice, began in 2005 and continued into 2006, and the American military deemed it a nonproliferation success. It led to the United States’ acquiring and destroying at least 400 Borak rockets, one of the internationally condemned chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein’s Baathist government manufactured in the 1980s but that were not accounted for by United Nations inspections mandated after the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

Most people believe that Bush was wrong (or even lied) about Iraqi WMDs. As this illustrates, he was not. Nevertheless, the Bush administration has no one to blame but themselves. They knew this stuff back when they were being accused of lying about WMDs, but they never bothered to put it out there. Now the truth is out, but no one is paying attention.

(Previous post.)

University of California lists banned ideas

June 23, 2015

It’s very helpful for the University of California to put out a list of ideas you’re not allowed to hold. Thanks guys!

For example, one of those banned ideas is “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.” That, like the other 50-odd prohibited sentiments, are “microaggressions,” a new term that is taking the politically correct world by storm. It provides a invaluable tool for proclaiming any sentiment a progressive disagrees with to be racist, even though it isn’t. (If it were actually racist, you wouldn’t be bothering to call it a microaggression.)

It is a sign of the times that the University of California, having been exposed for this, doesn’t even have the decency to backpedal in shame:

The university stood by the use of the guides.

“Given the diverse backgrounds of our students, faculty and staff, UC offered these seminars to make people aware of how their words or actions may be interpreted when used in certain contexts. Deans and department heads were invited, but not required, to attend the seminars,” University of California Office of the President spokeswoman Shelly Meron told

She added that the university had not banned the words when it labeled them as examples of micro-aggressions and insisted that the university system is “committed to upholding, encouraging and preserving academic freedom and the free flow of ideas.”

Meron said that they have one more seminar scheduled that makes use of the training guides.

Terrific! We are committed to the free flow of ideas; we just want you to know that expressing certain ideas (like merit-based hiring) will brand you a racist. I’m sure that untenured faculty will take great comfort from that reassurance and will feel perfectly free to speak their minds.

Ironically, the University of California was the birthplace of the so-called “free-speech movement“, but it’s quite clear now that the movement was never about free-speech per se, but their speech. They were all for free-speech when they were in the minority, but now that they control the campus, everyone must toe the line.

POSTSCRIPT: Eugene Volokh takes a look at the University of California’s unconvincing explanation.

You’ll take my crowbar from my cold, dead hands

June 23, 2015

The UK, having largely banned guns, is shocked to learn that non-firearms can also be used to commit crimes. Hence this: “British Police Call On Nation To ‘Save a Life, Surrender Your Knife’ As ‘Knife Violence’ Continues.” No word on whether the next step is sticks or chains. Rocks may take a few years.

Why do bad things happen to good bureaucrats?

June 23, 2015

The director of the OPM says no one is responsible for the catastrophic OPM hack:

“Fox News has learned that the number of victims of a pair of massive cyberattacks on U.S. government personnel files has soared to at least 18 million — but the head of the hacked Office of Personnel Management refuses to blame anyone in her agency.

“I don’t believe anyone is personally responsible,” OPM Director Katherine Archuleta said Tuesday. . .

Grilled on whether anyone takes responsibility, Archuleta said only the perpetrators should be blamed. . .

Only the perpetrators should be blamed; the government has no responsibility to secure its data!

One good person to blame would be whoever thought it would be a good idea to give root access to the Chinese, but Archuleta’s remarks prove that the idiocy started at the top. Take a look at the White House announcement of her appointment. It contains not one word on any actual qualification that Archuleta had for the job. Let’s go through each paragraph:

  1. (The title) First Latina appointment
  2. First latina appointment; diversity and inclusion
  3. Workforce that reflects the population
  4. Diversity
  5. Political connections
  6. Political connections
  7. Trite meaningless praise, plus diversity

It’s clear what happened here: It’s only the Office of Personnel Management; what difference does it make who the director is? It’s the perfect place to appoint a minority with political connections.

Except that it did matter. Oops.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that the title isn’t really fair to bureaucrats. A typical bureaucrat at least has experience with bureaucracy, but there’s no evidence Archuleta even had that. A little slavish devotion to procedure might actually have helped here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Charlie Martin writes about how this kind of disaster goes about happening.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: More on Archuleta’s complete lack of any qualifications for the job.

US now okay with negotiating with terrorists

June 23, 2015

It’s an official change in US government policy:

In a softening of longstanding policy, the Obama administration will tell families of Americans held by terror groups that they can communicate with captors and even pay ransom without fear of prosecution — part of a broad review of U.S. hostage guidelines that will be released Wednesday. . .

Two people familiar with the review said there will be no formal change to the law, which explicitly makes it a crime to provide money or other material support to terror organizations. However, the administration will make clear that the Justice Department has never prosecuted anyone for paying ransom and that that will continue to be the case.

POSTSCRIPT: And, of course, note how this was done; no change in the law, just an official announcement that the law will be ignored.

The mask comes off

January 28, 2015

Anti-Israel agitators like to claim that they aren’t anti-Semitic: they have nothing against Jews; it’s just Israel they oppose. It’s just a coincidence that the one country they hold to a different standard than every other country in the world just happens to be the world’s only Jewish state.

That’s why incidents such as this are so instructive:

Pro-Palestinian activists disrupted a City Council meeting Thursday to protest Council members’ planned trip to Israel next month.

Protesters in the balcony of the Council chamber unfurled a Palestinian flag and began yelling “Palestinian lives matter,” “Don’t support genocide,” and “Melissa, you’re a hypocrite,” a slam on Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who will lead the Israel delegation.

Council members reacted furiously to the demonstration – especially because the disruption began as they were concluding a vote on a resolution commemorating the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

They disrupted a vote remembering the Holocaust. These people don’t draw any distinction between Jews and Israel. Don’t let them pretend otherwise.

(Via PJ Tatler.)