Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Brief Thoughts on the Brexit

I don't know much about the British vote to leave the European Union, so I haven't said much about it.  Staying was apparently supported by young, upscale, highly educated Britons, or ones who were not white.  Leaving was supported by the older less educated white working class, the same type of people who vote for Donald Trump over here.  So everyone on my side has been dead-set against the Brexit and attributed "Leave" votes to bigotry.  And, of course, they are outraged that Donald Trump's reaction to a plunging pound is to say that it will mean more business at his golf courses.

Speaking for me, I am not so sure.  I never thought I would defend Donald Trump, but in this case he is essentially right.  When a country's economy becomes stressed and causes its currency to fall, the result really is an exports boom and an upsurge in foreign tourism that help it to recovery.  Our side understood that perfectly well with the Grexit. Matthew Yglesias, for instance, assuring readers that if Greece returned to the drachma and it fell, there is no need to be ashamed to go to Greece and spend like a drunken sailor; quite the contrary, the country will benefit from it. Well guess what?  The same goes for a falling pound after the Brexit.  Granted, it will also make imports more expensive and in that way be painful, but in the end all that means is that everyone will be pinched but no one will be impoverished.

And as for the merits of leaving the EU -- well, it seems pretty clear to me that the EU has become essentially a vehicle of German hegemony, or perhaps more accurately, a tyranny of creditors over debtors.  Look at how savagely the EU has made an example of Greece.  Look at their eagerness to do exactly the same to Britain.  And consider that that actually deposed a duly elected Italian premier who would not do their bidding (granted, a bad one, but duly elected nonetheless), and is it any wonder the Brits wanted out?

Another awkward fact.  We hear a lot about the British Conservative Party being split between is political class and its populist class, rather like the US Republican Party in the Age of Trump.  But apparently there is a similar split in the Labour Party.  There, too, its political class favors Remain and many of the rank-and-file favor Leave and its anti-EU leader Jeremy Corbyn.  Kevin Drum calls Corbyn "sort of a lefty British version of Donald Trump."  Or, more likely, sort of a British Bernie Sanders.

And what about the nativist hostility toward immigrants?  And by no means only Muslim immigrants, either, much of it toward Eastern Europeans?  I guess all I can say is that I duly deplore British nativism.  But given the EU's record, I can see plenty of other reasons for wanting out.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Why Are Fortress America Politicians So Universally Bad?

And since I can't seem to leave the topic of Donald Trump, here are some links I found revealing. Jonathan Chait wrote a recent comment on the remarkable similarity between Donald Trump and Sarah Palin as candidates.  The difference, he says, is that Republican commentators are not as automatically falling in line behind Trump:
Trump’s candidacy has given them the chance to debate the merits of an ignorant demagogue, rather than defend him reflexively. Many of them have decided that a president who knows things about public policy, and does not indulge conspiracy theories from email chains, has a certain charm.
He then attempt to link to conservative columnist Matthew Continetti criticizing Donald Trump.  He accidentally links a puff piece on Trump, dated July 24, 2015.  The piece salutes Trump, like earlier candidates Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot and Sarah Palin as the voice of the "radical middle."
A brash showboat and celebrity, self-promoter and controversialist, silly and mocking, a caricature of a caricature, Donald Trump is no one’s idea of a serious presidential candidate. Which is exactly why the radical middle finds him refreshing. Not an iota of him is politically correct, he plays by no rules of comity or civility, he genuflects to no party or institution, he is unafraid of and antagonistic toward the media, and he challenges the conventional wisdom of both parties, which holds that there is no real cost to illegal immigration and to trade with China.
. . . . . . . 
Trump would enjoy press coverage no matter what he ran on. But the fact that he has chosen, perhaps unwittingly, illegal immigration to be his cause makes the coverage all the more polarizing, visceral, contentious, spiteful. He dared say what no one of his wealth and prominence ever says—that illegal immigration is not limited to DREAMERs and laborers and aspirational Americans, that it is not always, as Jeb Bush put it, an “act of love,” that also traversing our southern border are criminals, rapists and narcotics traffickers and human smugglers, displaced souls from illiberal cultures who carry with them not only dreams but nightmares, bad habits, and other costly baggage. . . . . It is immigration—its universally celebrated benefits and its barely acknowledged costs—that is the third rail of U.S. politics, with repercussions from the border to Eric Cantor’s district in 2014 to courtrooms and the Republican debate stage today. Trump didn’t step on the third rail; he embraced it, he won’t let go of it, and in so doing he’s become electric.
. . . . . . . 
These voters don’t give a whit about corporate tax reform or TPP or the capital gains rate or the fate of Uber, they make a distinction between deserved benefits like Social Security and Medicare and undeserved ones like welfare and food stamps, their patriotism is real and nationalistic and skeptical of foreign entanglement, they wept on 9/11, they want America to be strong, dominant, confident, the America of their youth, their young adulthood, the America of 40 or 30 or even 20 years ago. They do not speak in the cadences or dialect of New York or Washington, their thoughts can be garbled, easily dismissed, or impugned, they are not members of a designated victim group and thus lack moral standing in the eyes of the media, but still they deserve as much attention and sympathy as any of our fellow citizens, still they vote.
In short, Trump voters, though emphatically not liberal, are not especially conservative on economic issues, or on the social issues that interest organized Evangelical churches.  Instead their issues are ones that no one in Washington addresses, what I have called "fortress America" issues -- the desire to disengage from the rest of the world, whether in the form of immigration, foreign trade, war or diplomacy.  Continetti clearly sympathizes with these voters, their issues, their aspirations, their lack of a voice in any public policy circle and (it does not seem too much of a stretch to say) their authenticity and real American-ness.  And he appears to approve, not just of Trump, but of Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, and Sarah Palin, the politicians who appeal to "fortress America" voters.  I would add possibly Ron Paul and even George Wallace.

Ah, but Continetti appears to have thought the better of it in the past here.  Here is the the column Chait wanted to link:
This [Trump] is not a good man. This is not a stable man. It is in the self-interest of no rational person to have him near the situation room. . . . . Trump and his supporters overstate his competitiveness by conflating the wishes of the Republican primary electorate with those of the general electorate. Trump will replicate his success, they say, by continuing to do the things that won him the Republican nomination: “telling it like it is,” accepting “the mantle of anger,” not being “politically correct.” This is a huge error.  
. . . . . . . 
What disturbs me most is the prospect that Donald Trump is what a very large number of Republican voters want: not a wonk, not an orator, not a statesman, not even a leader, really, if by leader you mean someone who persuades and inspires and manages a team to pursue a common good. They just want a man who vents their anger at targets above and below their status. 
How cathartic it is to give voice to your fury, to wallow in self-righteousness, in helplessness, in self-serving self-pity. 
Well, yes, quite so.  People on my side of the aisle have been saying that for some time.  Continetti appears to sympathize with the frustration of Trump supporters who have seen their priorities ignored, mocked, or denounced as bigotry.  He sympathizes that they are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.  He may even sympathize with their desire to find a leader who can vent their fury.  But being President calls for more than just venting people's fury.  That is what Trump supporters don't seem to understand.

I am glad that Continetti understands this.  I am glad he also understands that Republican primary electorate, though they may consider themselves particularly authentic and real American, are not the general voting public.  They may be justified in their anger at being shut out of the political process altogether, but that is different altogether than saying that they are automatically entitled to win all the time.

But he doesn't go far enough.  He sympathizes with the "radical middle," or, as I prefer to say, the "Fortress America" crowd's frustration, but wishes they would pick a leader with something constructive to offer instead of basically just a talk show host.

But he doesn't consider the generally awful run of leaders the Fortress Americans have supported in general.  Besides Buchanan, Perot and Palin, more successful and mainstream leaders he says have appealed to the "radical middle" are Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich.  But Reagan was not exactly a Fortress American.  Quite the contrary, he seemed quite friendly toward both immigration and foreign trade, and, although he refrained from starting any serious wars, he engaged in a lot of covert ones and ended up embracing diplomacy.  As for Gingrich, I suppose he appealed to the "radical middle" in the sense of doing his best to de-legitimize the Democrats, but his basic agenda in power was to seek to turn Washington into a wholly owned subsidiary of the Chamber of Commerce, not exactly a Fortress America/radical middle goal.

As for the others -- well, Buchanan was an unabashed anti-Semite who flirted with Holocaust denial. Sarah Palin was utterly unqualified to hold the Presidency or any national office and based her appeal mostly on the same venting that has been so much of Trump's appeal.  Ross Perot, by contrast, did have a good grasp of national issues and serious policy positions to offer.  Unfortunately, he had markedly authoritarian tendencies, as well as symptoms of outright clinical paranoia.  Finally, I would throw in Ron Paul as well.  Granted, Ron Paul was an extreme libertarian and as such not part of the "radical middle," but he was also opposed to immigration, foreign trade, and war, all of which had an obvious appeal to the Fortress America crowd.  He also had wacky goldbug ideas and a past history of appealing to the lunatic fringe.

In short, the "radical middle"/Fortress Americans politicians seem either to have been mainstream figures like Reagan or Gingrich who did not address their issues, or decidedly unsavory characters like Buchanan, Perot, Palin, and Trump.  At some point, it is fair to ask whether this is a coincidence. Do Fortress America politicians just happen to be unsavory because of the odds stacked against them, or are they representing an inherently unsavory ideology?  Is the Fortress America crowd's tendency to choose unsavory politicians, or politicians who do nothing but vent, an understandable expression of frustration at being shut out of the process, or is it a reflection of something inherently unsavory about Fortress America's voters?  I am not sure of the answers myself.  But Contenetti, and conservatives in general, are not even asking the questions.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Don't Race to Conclusions About the Election

Not too long ago, Donald Trump was starting to catch up with Hillary Clinton in the polls and maybe even to overtake her.  Clinton supporters started to panic, while the cooler-headed warned that panic was premature.

Well, now Trump has hit a rough patch and Hillary supporters are starting to gloat.  But gloating is just as premature as panic.  The election remains nearly five months away.  A lot can happen in that amount of time.  Most recent attention has gone to Trump's remarkably inept management of his campaign.  He currently has a mere 30 paid staffers nationwide, and unheard-of approach to a modern presidential campaign.  (The Republican National Committe, by contrast, has 438 paid staffers nationwide, including 60 in Florida alone). He has not run any ads whatever in battleground states. Nor has he made any attempt to coordinate messages.  Of course, it is an open question how much this will harm him.  After all, he got through the primary just fine on inflammatory comments and tweets.  And even if he needs something more substantial in the general election, my guess is the Republican Party has just staged an intervention and told him he needs to pull it together.  He has apparently just fired his campaign manager and replaced him with someone more conventional.  So I would say it is way too early to count him out.

More significant that what this says about his campaign is what it says about his potential administration.  After all, part of the appeal of business leaders, aside from being unsullied by politics, is their presumed greater administrative skill and efficiency.  If Trump runs the government the way he has run his campaign, he would be an absolute disaster.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

What Does It Mean to Be Qualified to Be President?

Donald Trump is not all that ideologically extreme, except on the issue of immigration.  What alarms me most is not so much his ideology (or lack thereof) or even his demagogic scapegoating of a vulnerable population.  It is how completely, utterly, spectacularly unqualified for the job he is.

Which raises an obvious question.  What does it mean to be qualified to be President?  For that matter, what does it mean to be qualified for any office?

Political offices may be seen on a general spectrum, from the specialist offices where the most important criterion for office is knowledge and qualification and values are of only minor importance to generalist offices in which credentials are of little importance and one is looking mostly for a candidate with the right values.

At the extreme specialist end of the spectrum are offices that really shouldn't be elective at all.  Some states have elective county surveyors or coroners.  But these are usually purely technocratic offices with no real policy-making role.  Only rarely do the office-holder's values impinge on the job; one is looking first and foremost for the best qualified candidate.  Election is a poor way of choosing who is best qualified.  That calls for in-depth interviews, examination of their background, talking to references, etc.  In short, it is a job better suited to being hired.

Next are the semi-technocratic jobs that do have policy making power, like district attorney or sheriff. These are reasonable to elect because they do set policy, so their values do matter.  Of course, so do their technocratic background.  But this is usually not a serious obstacle for several reasons.  For one, although people may be contemptuous of knowledge and credentials in a general office, the concept is easier to accept in a narrowly technical office.  It is not that hard to convince voters that they want their laws to be enforced by someone with a good background in law enforcement, or their criminals prosecuted by someone who has experience prosecuting criminals.  Besides holding up their values, candidates will presumably tout their professional experience and skill.  And if any candidate is obviously unqualified, presumably the other candidate will make an issue of it.

Members of the legislature are much more generalists who voters choose (quite reasonably) based more on their values than their technical skills.  But not entirely so.  For one thing, legislative candidates may prefer not to emphasize their views on a controversial subject for fear of alienating as many people as they attract.  They may prefer to talk about what a good job they did achieving some uncontroversial goal that their constituents can be counted on to uniformly support.  (That is one reason why incumbents are so hard to unseat -- what has the challenger ever done for the district, after all?)  And since there are more matters before the legislature than any member can hope to know in depth, they sort into committees, with each committee specializing in a particular area.  The legislature as a whole tends to defer to the superior knowledge of committees.  But at the same time, countering the appeal of the experienced problem solver who has done so much for the district is the fresh-faced newcomer, unsullied by the corrupt process of legislation.

At the same time, legislators really do know more about policy, how it is made, and its probable outcomes than their constituents.  Thus, although it is fair to argue that a legislature should share his constituents' values and pursue the same general goals that they do, he should also use his greater knowledge and experience to decide how to achieve these common goals.  Here constituents might start resenting the elitism of a legislator who claims to know better than they do.  Well, as Alexander Hamilton said:
The republican principle demands that the deliberate sense of the community should govern the conduct of those to whom they intrust the management of their affairs; but it does not require an unqualified complaisance to every sudden breeze of passion, or to every transient impulse  . . . . It is a just observation, that the people commonly INTEND the PUBLIC GOOD. This often applies to their very errors. But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always REASON RIGHT about the MEANS of promoting it.
Or, to put in in more concrete terms, suppose a legislator is elected to represent a farm district. Farmers are being mercilessly squeezed by sharp-dealing banks and losing their farms.  Angry and upset, they call on their legislator to cancel all debts, abolish fractional reserve banking, and adopt the gold standard.  Their legislator agrees that their resentments are justified, but believes that the most immediate result of such a policy would be to cut off all credit to farmers, with disastrous results. (And that the longer-term results might be even worse).  So instead he backs stronger anti-predatory lending laws, bankruptcy provisions that make it easier to save the farm, and an agricultural loan office that will make credit easier to get.  Farmers are outraged with this snooty elitist who claims to know better than they do and elect a serious Ron Paul surrogate instead, then spin elaborate conspiracy theories as to why their preferred measures never pass.

So, yes, legislators are more generalists than specialists and properly chosen more for their values than their technocratic skills.  But in areas that matter most to their constituents, representatives will usually acquire specialized knowledge and probably know better than the people who elected them how to achieve their goals.

Finally the President (or other chief executive) is the quintessential generalist.  Legislators can limit themselves to a few specialties and defer to their colleagues in other areas.  The President, by contrast, is called upon to make decisions in many areas -- military, diplomatic, financial, law enforcement, and countless others.*  No one could possibly have in-depth knowledge in all those subject.  Presidents have to rely on advisers.  Sometimes this is unfortunate.  The 2008 election is an obvious example.  The US was facing its worst financial crisis since 1929, but finance had become such an abstruse and technical subject that only a few specialists could hope to understand it.  Either the President would have to defer to his Secretary of the Treasury and trust in his skill, or we would have to elect a banker President who did not know about any other subject.

So, granted that the President cannot possibly know in depth every subject -- or even most subjects -- that he/she will be called upon to deal with, what can it possibly mean to be qualified to be President? What can it call for more than sound instincts and good general administrative skills?  That, I think, is part of the appeal of Trump (or Palin, for that matter), the belief that someone who shares one's values will have the right instincts and make the right decisions based on them, without needing any in-depth knowledge.

To this I would reply -- George W. Bush.  Bush thought that in-depth knowledge was for out-of-touch liberal elitists, and that since he had the right values, his gut-level instinct would lead him to the right decision without having to worry about any pesky facts or expertise.  It didn't go so well.  Juan Cole is arrogant but devastating on the subject:
Goldberg is now saying that he did not challenge my knowledge of the Middle East, but my judgment. . . .  An argument that judgment matters but knowledge does not is profoundly anti-intellectual. It implies that we do not need ever to learn anything in order make mature decisions. We can just proceed off some simple ideological template and apply it to everything. This sort of thinking is part of what is wrong with this country. We wouldn’t call a man in to fix our plumbing who knew nothing about plumbing, but we call pundits to address millions of people on subjects about which they know nothing of substance. . . . If judgment means anything, it has to be grounded in at least a minimum amount of knowledge. 
Or, since Trump doesn't actually have any values or ideological template to apply, his decisions would essentially be based on blind impulse.

Still, if the President can't possibly have in-depth knowledge about every subject he (or she) will be called upon to decide about, what does it mean to be well-qualified?  I would say that to be qualified, a candidate needs a good general understanding of the major issues facing this country and a basic grasp of how our government operates.  Willingness to listen to experts in a field, but combined with the knowledge that sometimes experts have tunnel vision is very useful.  Being a quick study, eager to learn about a new area of knowledge is essential.  A good eye for what are the basics and what can are details that can be left to experts is also an important quality.  Skill at picking good advisers is one of the key measures.  And willingness to delegate is inescapable, since no one can do it all.

I suppose Trump has that last trait, at least.  As his top adviser explained, “He needs an experienced person [as Vice President] to do the part of the job he doesn’t want to do. He seems himself more as the chairman of the board, than even the CEO, let alone the COO.”  Which brings up another point.  A President will over-extend himself if he tried to micro-manage, but he will run an administration without direction if he declines to manage at all.

Still, I will concede one thing.  Being qualified is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for being a competent President.  Our foreign policy establishment no doubt knows a great deal, but its judgment has been disastrous.  But to assume that someone with no knowledge will necessarily do better is to assume that a blind marksman can be counted on to hit the bull's eye.  It can happen.  But if it does, it will be purely coincidence and nothing you would want to count on.

*That is one reason I never really warmed up to the idea of Elizabeth Warren for President.  Warren is essentially a one-trick pony.  She knows a lot about bank regulation, but not all that much about other areas.  I would love to see her as chair of the Senate Banking Committee or head of the SEC or some other agency in charge of regulating banks.  Perhaps she could even be Secretary of the Treasury, although I am open to opposing arguments.  But I see nothing to indicate that she knows or cares enough about other issues to make a good President.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Why Some People Are Willing to Gamble on Trump (And Why I Think They Are Crazy)

So, will the Orlando shooting deliver the election to Trump?  And, if not, will the combination of terrorist shooting and softening economy deliver the election to Trump?  But in the meantime, I want to explore why some people who may not be taken in with everything he says, and may not be altogether thrilled with him, may nonetheless be willing to take a gamble on him.  The answer appears to be, they seriously overestimate just how bad things are now and underestimate how much worse they could be in the hands of, well, Donald Trump.

I think I first really understood this reading this column by Ross Douthat, in which he says that when he warns the "Trump curious" of the dangers of a Trump presidency:
[T]hey tend to raise an eyebrow and say, compared to what?
Compared to George W. Bush, who led us into a bloody quagmire in the Middle East and presided over the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression? Compared to Barack Obama, who’s basically stood by and watched while that same Middle East has gone up in flames, plus Russia’s near-abroad and oh, maybe Europe too?
In other words, many people think that our present leadership has botched things so badly that any alternative has to be a better one.  But, seriously, consider what they consider to be so bad.  Bush fought a ground war in the Middle East and saw it go badly.  Obama refrained from fighting a ground war in the Middle East (although he has made heavy use of drones) and that didn't go so well either.  I don't have the faintest idea how Donald Trump will handle the Middle East as President, but I am reasonable confident that either he will send in ground troops or he won't.  Sending in ground troops or not sending in ground troops appear to be our only options.  The fact that neither has gone very well is probably a sign that there are no good options, and that the President has less power to control the Middle East than many might like to think.

Presumably it does not worry the "Trump curious" that Trump doesn't have a clue about the important issues facing this country.  The insiders and experts have botched things so badly, they may assume, that an outsider is just what we need and that actually knowing what you are doing should be treated as suspect.  Let me try offering a point of comparison.  Let us say your town has a hospital which is badly managed.  Everyone agrees that it is egregiously mismanaged, and that the management is corrupt and is probably siphoning off funds for their own use.  New blood is needed to clean up the mess.  But does the call for new blood does logically imply that anyone with any experience in hospital administration is hopelessly tainted and that we should bring in someone who has never managed a hospital in his life and doesn't know the first thing about hospital management and, in fact, touts his total lack of experience as virtue?  Not in any hospital I would want to use!  And even if you decide that you want to bring in someone untainted by any experience managing hospitals -- well, an seasoned manager from some other field is one thing; Donald Trump is quite another!

The same, I should add, goes for anyone who thinks our current system is so hopelessly corrupt that any outsider will necessarily be an improvement.  Look, I agree our system is corrupt.  I agree that we have degenerated into a cozy little oligarchy in which the wishes of the 1% always prevail, and in which the 1% are not particularly enlightened or competent.  All this is bad.  But I still prefer it to Donald Trump.  There is ample evidence that he has run his business empire in a thoroughly corrupt fashion.  And he appears to see the presidency as little more that a private fief that he will use to bring libel and anti-trust actions against anyone in the press who criticizes him.  Argue if you want that Trump is too rich to buy.  The corruption I fear from him is less the corruption of wealth, but the corruption of ego.  I see no reason to prefer one over the other.  But there is another difference that does matter.  Our ruling class, like ruling classes everywhere, tends to confuse its own privilege with the public good.  But I still prefer that to Trump who seems to have no real concept of the public good, to regard anything and everything as simply a vehicle for his own personal aggrandizement.

As for management, I don't think that anyone truly believes that our main problems are incompetent management in Washington.  Still, there are people who believe that government is innately inept, and we should bring in a business leader who will be inherently a better manager.  However, Trump is not all that administratively competent, either.

Douthat quotes two tweets that he thinks sum up well the attitude of the Trump curious, "I think I finally get it: all these people freaking out about Trump are in denial about the character & competence of all other politicians," and "There’s something pollyannaish about people who think it would be unprecedented to have a spiteful, vindictive monster in the White House."  But I can only agree with Douthat -- there is bad, and then there is BAD!!!!  Trump in the White House means escaping the frying pan by jumping into the fire.

Finally, I recall a comparison in the comments section of a blog by a Trump-curious poster.  He compared our position to a car careening down the highway and seeing a dead elephant lying in the middle.  You have no choice but to swerve.  On one side, there is a sheer drop-off cliff.  On the other is a ditch that is rough and uneven, full of brush and what looks like raw sewage.  It isn't a great choice, but given the options it is a total no-brainer.  I assume he intends the ditch to represent Trump (not great) and the sheer cliff to represent conventional politicians (disastrous).  But speaking for me, I am more inclined to see conventional politicians as the ditch and Trump as the sheer cliff.

But actually, I can find a better analogy.  A dead elephant is lying in the highway.  You have to swerve one way or the other.  On one side is ditch that is rough and uneven, full of brush and what looks like raw sewage.  On the other side is a fog so dense you have no idea what is there.  The owners of both sides are urging you to swerve onto their land.  (Um, why?  I have no idea, but surely we can invent something).  The owner of the ditch isn't exactly appealing, but urges you not to take a chance on the impenetrable fog.  You ask the owner of the fog side what is over there.  He says it is an amusement park, the best amusement park you ever saw, you just won't believe what a good amusement park it is and all the fun and games you can have if you swerve that way.  You point out that swerving blindly into an amusement park is not a good idea because you might hit something or someone.  He assures you that it is surrounded by a parking lot, a YUUUGE parking lot, smooth as you can imagine, and he needs such a yuge parking lot to accommodate all the people who go to his really great amusement park.  You express doubt about swerving into the parking lot.  What if you run into parked cars?  He tells you the parking lot is empty now because the amusement park is closed.  Isn't it obvious that the amusement park closed, you aren't seeing any lights or hearing any sounds from it and wouldn't you expect to if it were open?  You agree there is no evidence of an amusement park over there, but ask why there aren't at least security lights on.  He then admits that the amusement park hasn't actually been built yet, but the ground has been smoothed to put it in, and it us unbelievably smooth, you just wouldn't believe how smooth the ground is, nothing you could possibly run into or that would throw you off-balance.  What about running into earth-moving equipment, you ask.  Don't worry about the equipment, he says, it has all been taken away.

By this time, you are reasonably confident that the owner of the fog-bound land doesn't know any more than you do what is really over there.  Swerving in that direction is a YUUUGE gamble.  It might be a sheer cliff.  It might be a steel-reinforced concrete wall.  Or it might be a giant, empty parking lot with plenty of room to stop, or a smoothed-off ground.  Most likely it is similar to what is on the other side, rough ground with some brush and irregularities.  But even if you could be 100% sure that was what was on the other side, your choice would be between navigating a rough ditch full of brush and sewage that you could at least see to navigate and navigating rough ground blindly without seeing it at all.  And that alone is an excellent reason not to swerve off into the fog.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Bernie Sanders and a Brokered Convention

It should go without saying that everything I said about a Republican brokered convention applies no less to a Democratic brokered convention.  I can think of few better ways to hand the election to Trump than for the Democrats to commit ceremonial self-disembowelment on the national stage.

But there is one difference.  Among the Republicans, the question was whether the establishment would be willing to tear their party asunder to prevent an insurgent candidate.  Unsurprisingly, the establishment decided no, we don't much like the insurgent candidate, but we prefer him to destroying our party in the name of ideological purity.  The Republican establishment had a realistic understanding that those were the options.

Among the Democrats, the question is whether the insurgents are willing to tear their party asunder to prevent an establishment candidate.  The answer there is less clear.  Bernie Sanders supporters may not understand just how destructive a brokered convention would be to their brand.  Or they may prefer to see their party lose in the interest of ideological purity -- even if that means that Trump wins -- than make political compromises.

Which just goes to reinforce my point.  Bernie Sanders is no Donald Trump.  But I do not think it entirely unfair to compare him to Ted Cruz.

A Lawyer's Perspective on Trump's "Conflict of Interest" Charges

I think a lot of lawyers must be rolling their eyes at Trump's statement that Judge Gonzalo Curiel should remove himself from the lawsuit against Trump University because (1) he is Hispanic, (2) he is an Obama nominee, and (3) he opposes Trump's policy of "build a wall."  Of course, we all know the real reason Trump thinks Curiel should remove himself is (4) he ruled against Trump.  And how could anyone possibly rule against Trump except for reasons of bias?  This quote explains very well why Trump's proposal could not possibly work:
Trump’s theory is, apparently, that anyone can get any judge disqualified for ‘conflict of interest’ just by saying things that the judge finds offensive enough . . . . Don’t like the Jewish judge on your case? Say things that are critical of Jews, and now the judge presumably has to step aside because of a conflict of interest. Don’t like the female judge? Say things that women tend to find offensive. Don’t like the judge who was a Republican activist? Say nasty things about Republicans.
Yeah, basically.  Under Trump's theory, every time a judge rules against Trump, he public insult the judge and force the judge to remove himself/herself from the case until Trump finally gets a judge who rules his way.  Of course, if we want to be consistent (not that I think consistency matters much to Trump, but just sayin') this rule cuts both ways and the other side could do the same thing.  But there is a basic asymmetry here.  A defendant can basically prevent the case form ever going to trial by regularly insulting whoever is judge at any given time -- a great deal for the defendant, because so long as the case does not go to trial, he cannot lose.  That is not so good a deal for the plaintiff, because so long as the case does not go to trial, the plaintiff cannot win.

I bring this up because just today I attended a hearing in which one of the lawyers had run for judge against the judge then presiding!  Another lawyer had donated to the presiding judge's campaign.  Imagine what Trump would have made of that!  (It was a simple matter, a hearing seeking the judge's permission to settle on behalf of a minor, but even so. . .).

And on a related by slightly different note, I just can't resist this post explaining why the judge's rulings are well within the norm and not reflective of bias.  I particularly like the following:
It sure sounds like Trump University made false statements and promises. But from what I've seen, the best defense (though not necessarily the one that Trump will follow) is that anyone minimally rational would have recognized that all of the Trump University sales patter was puffery, trumpery, and bullshit, the equivalent of saying your coffee shop offers the most amazing coffee in the universe. But that's a jury question on these facts. Trump's gigantic successes in the Republican primaries demonstrates that many Americans may not share my view that most of what he says is obviously not to be taken seriously.
 I'm not entirely sure of that.  Plenty of people have suggested that many of Trump's supporters are well aware that his promises are so much "puffery, trumpery and bullshit," they are just so happy to hear someone expressing their values and showing he cares about they same things they do that they don't care.

Still, I am inclined to think that Trump should be relieved that trial was postponed until after the election.  An unspoken understanding between a candidate and his supporters that his promises are so much hot air, and that he is just pandering with no intent of keeping is promises is one thing.  Having him stand up in court and say, "Anyone who's not a total chump should know better than to believe a word I say," is quite another.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Reflections on Attempting to Improve And the Children Shall Lead

OK, now that I've made at least the attempt to improve And the Children Shall Lead, what have I learned from the attempt.  I would slightly revise what I said before.  Before I said that And the Children Shall Lead had only one plot, the Gorgan taking over the Enterprise, but there are two angles on the plot, either one promising but not possible to do both right at the same time.  But actually there is one plot with three angles.  The plot is the Gorgan taking over the Enterprise.  One angle is the creepy-legend-that-comes-true angle (and all the mystery of what his happening).  The second is the villain-manipulating-children-against-their-parents angle.  And there is the if-you-face-your-deepest-fear-you-will-overcome-it angle.

None of these angles is very original, but so what?  As my grandfather used to say, unlike cliches, themes never wear out.  Any one of these themes/angles, done right, could make a good story.  Maybe a two to two and a half hour movie could do justice to all three themes.  A one hour TV show cannot. I would say that to do any one theme justice, you would have to demote the other theme to secondary and exclude the third theme altogether.  One of these three angles cannot be removed.  That is the Gorgan manipulating the children against their parents.  Since the episode is entitled And the Children Shall Lead, and since its absolutely central premise is the evil being and its child followers, any reasonable version of the episode would have to give us some insight into how the Gorgan turns the children so far against their parents that they don't even care if they are lying dead all around. Either the legend or the beast can be left out.  One of the two should be left out.  And of the two surviving angles one (either) should be subordinated to make room for the other to be fully developed.

Clearly my version focuses primarily on the creepy legend and how it comes true.  I flesh the legend out and then use it to explain what this mysterious being is and what it wants.  Secondarily, I show the evil being manipulating the children and turning them against, not just their parents, but all adults. I do not claim to do this part very well.  A whole lot more complex psychology would be needed to make this part convincing.  And I leave out the overcoming your fears angle altogether.  That makes the children's mind control seem very generic and denies our hero the chance to overcome it by sheer force of will.  But it removes a bunch of vapid, mindless platitudes, so I still consider it an improvement.

There are other ways to modify this episode.  One might focus on the psychology of how the Gorgan manipulates the children and reduce the legend to a secondary role.  Or one might leave the legend out altogether and focus either primarily on the Gorgan manipulating the children, or on the children manipulating the crew by invoking their fears and Captain Kirk overcoming his.  Although I think that even if you omit the legend, you need some kind of explanation of what the Gorgan is, and a better one than actual episode offered.  I do not claim that my approach is the best.  Arguably, it is the worst approach because it sacrifices psychology to legend and explanation and omits the more profound potential of the episode.  I can only plead that I am just not a good enough writer (especially a psychological writer) to do the other approaches justice.

But, I flatter myself, despite the overly long and talky briefing room scene, it is an improvement on the original.

My Ending to And the Children Shall Lead

Okay, the taking over people by fear is rather truncated, and the briefing room scene is overly long and talky. Any better way to cram all that information in is welcome. But here it is:

[Act 3. Same as before].

GORGON: Friends we have reached a moment of crisis. The enemy have discovered our operation, but they are too late. They no longer control the ship. We do. We shall prevail. They will take us any place we desire. Go back to your stations. Maintain your controls. If resistance mounts, call upon their beast. Their beast will serve us well. The fear in each one of them is the beast which will consume him. Remember how it was on Triacus. If they resist, so shall it be on the Enterprise. If you need me, call and I will appear. Our new goal is Marcos Twelve. It is our new beginning. We must not falter.
(The appararition vanishes.)
TOMMY: Go to your stations.
KIRK: You’re not going anywhere. Security, confine these children to quarters. They are not to leave under any circumstances.
(Tommy shakes his fist. The security guards are overcome with panic and flee. Tommy advances on Kirk, shaking his fist. Kirk stands his ground despite the terror clearly overcoming him. Finally, as the other children advance, also shaking their fists, he steps aside and huddles against the wall, shaking. The children split up and run in different directions. Again, we see one in Engineering, one in Auxiliary Control, etc. shaking their fists and terrifying the crew into submission).

[The bridge. Tommy and Mary there together with the usual crew].
KIRK: (Walking in) Helmsman, disregard what you see on the screen, what you think you see on the screen. Set a course for Starbase Four.
SULU: Helm not responding, sir. The controls seem fused, unable to go anywhere but Marcus XII and back.
KIRK: Institute repairs.
SULU: Aye, aye, sir.
(Starts to make repairs. Tommy shakes his fist. Sulu is overcome with terror and unable to proceed).
KIRK: Lieutenant Uhura, how are your repairs coming along on communications?
UHURA: Should be complete in about an hour, sir.
(Tommy shakes his fist. She, too, is overcome with terror).
KIRK: Lieutenant, what are you staring at?
(Kirk goes to the security guard.)
KIRK: Take Mister Sulu to his quarters. He is relieved of duty.
(Tommy shakes his fist and they are overcome with fear as well).
KIRK: Spock, I could use your lack of emotions now. Start the repairs.
(Tommy advances on Kirk again, shaking his fist and the terror overwhelms him more and more).
(Spock throws Sulu aside and begins repairs on his console. Tommy shakes his fist and all the others rise up against him. A struggle as Spock’s superior strength prevails for a time, but he is hopelessly outnumbered. At last he seizes Kirk and makes his escape).

[The briefing room. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty and Security Chief Giotto (remember him from Devil in the Dark?) are sitting around the table].

KIRK: Status report. Mr. Scott?
SCOTTY: Children have taken over every part of the ship that steers it. They’re controlling my lads. The least resistance is met with uncontrollable terror.
GIOTTO: Security has tried to remove the children, but everytime they approach, the children inflict an overwhelming panic.
KIRK: Bones, what about the crew outside the children’s presence?
McCOY: I’m getting growing reports of ever worsening anxiety, but nothing like the terror the crew feels in the children’s presence.
KIRK: Yes. I’ve felt that terror myself. I can understand why the scientists on Triacus were ready to kill themselves to escape it. Mr. Giotto, give your phaser to Spock. Then lock away every phaser, poison, and everything else the crew could use to commit suicide.
GIOTTO: Aye, aye, sir. (Leaves).
SPOCK: Captain, this can only be a temporary measure. The fear is spreading beyond the children’s presence. Eventually it will become equally severe throughout the ship.
KIRK: Spock you’re a Vulcan. Can you institute a mind meld to allow us to resist this?
SPOCK: With 430 separate individuals?
KIRK: Enough to start repairs would be a good start.
SPOCK: Such a meld could never be more than a temporary measure. And it will be weakened the more people it attempts to include.
McCOY: You’re forgetting something else, Jim. Spock is half human.
SPOCK: For once I am forced to agree with the doctor. I have felt the early stages of the terror the rest of the crew is experiencing. As Vulcan I can resist it, but eventually my human half will succumb. I see only one logical option.
KIRK: What’s that.
SPOCK: This children, Jim. This alien force is exercising its power through them. If the children are destroyed the force will lose its power.

[End of Act 3].

[Act 4. Same scene as before].

McCOY: Spock, you can’t be serious! These are children!
SPOCK: Nonetheless, they pose an intolerable threat, to the lives of the crew, the people of Marcus XII, and countless worlds beyond.
KIRK: That’s what I don’t understand. None of this makes any sense. The directional controls are sabotages so the Enterprise can only fly between Triacus and Marcus XII. Right now the children need the crew to pilot the ship. I suppose 500 children might be able to pilot the ship under control of the energy being I saw, but they could hardly make repairs. The only place we could go is back to Triacus.
SPOCK: (Brings up an image of the mysterious device from the cave on screen). I believe this may contain the answer. After an extended computer analysis of the device in the cave, I believe this part is a highly sophisticated transporter device. This part appears to be a containment device. Contained within it are life form readings, but pure energy, no material form.
KIRK: Disassembled beings in the transporter beam. Stored indefinitely.
SPOCK: So it would appear.
KIRK: Spock! That last survivor who escaped into the cave wasn’t the last survivor. He escaped the losing battle and activated their transporter device. That’s why all resistance ceased.
SPOCK: Indeed.
KIRK: Then the legend was true. The Gorgan were – are – stored in the containment field, waiting to be restored to matter. But why didn’t they make the scientists do that?
SCOTTY: Not possible! It would take an incredible quantity of applied phlebotinum to restore so many beings to matter, especially after being contained all those years.
KIRK: That would explain why they wanted to go to a phlebotinum mining colony.
McCOY: Could that be the catalyst the marauders were awaiting? Phelbotinum?
SPOCK: It seems unlikely. Phlebotinum would be useless without someone to operate the controls to restore them?
KIRK: Spock, what’s that part of the device over there?
SPOCK: Uncertain, Captain, but it appears to be some sort of device for projecting telepathic powers.
SCOTTY: These Gorgan have no power in the world of matter. They can only drive this ship by controlling other people.
KIRK: And they seem to be projecting their power through the children. Spock! The legend says that the Gorgan always kept children with them. Is it possible that they weren’t being held hostage? That they were actually being used to project their telepathic powers to control subject worlds?
SPOCK: It would seem likely. Especially since as soon as the children in the legend escaped, the Gorgan lost their power over their conquered people
KIRK: And the catalyst they awaited was – children! But how complete is the control? The legend says that the children were able to revolt.
McCOY: When I’ve examined the children, they don’t appear to be under alien control, certainly not in the way the crew is. More like they were manipulated into turning against their parents and later against us by the adults’ irritable, erratic behavior. And I have to admit, this anxiety hasn’t made us into model parent substitutes.
KIRK: Bones, it that’s true, then the Gorgan has managed to turn these children against their parents by reminding them of behavior he himself was creating. But what about Tommy?
McCOY: I’ve never seen this Gorgan of yours. Tommy seemed to be the one instigating it.
SPOCK: It would appear that Tommy is at a most dangerous age – old enough to be controlled by the Gorgan, but too young to fight it.
KIRK: Gorgan can’t control children, but projects power through them to control adults. Without the children, their power would be gone.
SPOCK: (Raising the phaser). Indeed.
KIRK: (Toys with tapes on the table). If only there was some way to reach them, show them what is going on. (Suddenly inspired). Spock! Have your phaser ready. Meld with me. I need enough stability to confront them.
McCOY: Jim, what are you doing?
KIRK: I’m going to make one last effort to get through to the children. And if it doesn’t work, Spock is going to have to kill them.


(Tommy is in the Captain’s chair, grinning. Kirk comes in and throws him out).
KIRK: The Enterprise will never reach Marcos Twelve.
TOMMY: The crew will take us. The crew believes. We are going to Marcos! We are going to follow our friend!
KIRK: Your friend? Where is your friend? Where is that stowaway? Why does he hide?
MARY: He will come if we call him.
TOMMY: But we won’t. We don’t need him. We’re not afraid of you.
KIRK: Good. I’m glad you’re not afraid of me. (Takes his seat) But your leader is afraid. What’s he afraid of?
MARY: He’s not afraid of anybody.
TOMMY: He’s not afraid of anything.
KIRK: He’s afraid to be seen.
TOMMY: He is our friend.
KIRK: Then let him show himself. Bring him out! Let him prove to me that he is my friend and I’ll follow him to Marcos Twelve and to the ends of the universe!
(Spock enters the bridge.)
KIRK: Mister Spock, playback the chant the children sang to summon up the Gorgan.
ALL [OC]: Hail, hail, fire and snow. Call the angel, we will go. Far away, for to see, friendly Angel come to me. Hail, hail, fire and snow. Call the angel, we will go. (The other children enter the bridge.)
KIRK: Good! I see the others can sense his presence. The time has come to see the world as it is. Come on.
(Gorgan appears.)
GORGAN: Who has summoned me?
KIRK: I did, Gorgan. I intend to unmask you to your followers here.  Children, I have pictures of some of you on Triacus. I’d like to show them to you. Would you like to see them? Mister Spock, the pictures.
GORGAN: I forbid it.
SPOCK: Why should you fear it?
GORGAN: I fear nothing.
KIRK: So we were told. Mister Spock, the pictures. The children are waiting.
(Film of the children playing with their parents appears on Spock’s overhead monitor. They smile as they watch themselves having fun).
TOMMY: Don’t let him fool you. Remember what they were like. Nothing but rules, don’t do this, don’t do that. Never had time for us.
GORGAN: Remember how they yelled at you for no reason. Chased you away. Lashed out at you.
KIRK: Your parents were like that because he made them like that. Remember before you came to Triacus, before you met the Gorgan? This is what your parents were really like, people who loves and protected you. People who you had fun with.
(More scenes of them playing and having fun together. The children smile at the memory. Even Tommy is melting. Then they see their parents lying dead, and the smiles are gone.)
GORGAN: They would not help transport us. They were against us. They had to be eliminated.
SPOCK: Tommy’s father would have destroyed you, but he recognized you too late.
GORGAN: You are also too late. The kind ones always are.
KIRK: Not always, Gorgan. Not this time. You can’t hide from them. They see you as we see you. They know what you are. Even the children learn.
GORGAN: You are my future generals. Together we can raise armies of followers. Go to your posts! The first great victories are upon us. You will see. We have millions of friends on Marcos Twelve. We shall exterminate all who oppose us! Our purity of purpose cannot be contaminated by those who disagree, who will not co-operate, who do not understand. They must be annihilated.
(But now the children are crying.)
KIRK: Don’t be afraid. Look at him. Without you children, he’s nothing. The evil remains within him.
(Gorgan becomes ugly.)
GORGAN: I command you! I command you! To your posts! Carry out your duties, or I will destroy you! You will be swept aside to make way for the strong.
KIRK: Look how ugly he really is. Look at him and don’t be afraid.
GORGAN: Death. Death to you all. Death to you all. Death to you all. Death to you all.
(Gorgan fades. The others recover from their panic).
KIRK: It’s all right.
MCCOY: They’re crying, Jim. I don’t know how it happened, but it’s good to see.
KIRK: It’s all right, Mary. It’s all right. It’s all right, isn’t it, Doctor?
MCCOY: Yes. It’s all right. We can help them now.
SULU: Marcos Twelve dead ahead, sir.
KIRK: Reverse course, Mister Sulu.
SULU: Aye, sir.
(McCoy leads the children off the bridge.)
SULU: Course reversed, Captain.
KIRK: Set course for Starbase Four, Mister Sulu. Once we’ve dropped the children off, we can go back to Triacus and lay this legend to rest once and for all.
SULU: Yes, sir.