Monday, February 29, 2016

An Early Tentative Vindication of the Iran Deal?

Women voters during Iran elections
In the bleakness of Middle East politics, the elections held in Iran this past weekend has brought a bit of good news. Iran is a place with established politics, even if those politics have not been to our liking since Jimmy Carter was president. But this past Saturday moderates seemed to gain the upper hand in Iran in an endorsement of the nuclear deal reached by Iran and the P5 + 1 (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, plus Germany). It provides a ray of hope. 

Thomas Erdbrink reports from Teheran for the NYT:
Nearly three years after Iran’s reform-minded president was elected, the most reactionary voices in Iranian politics are losing ground to moderates buoyed by the sweeping nuclear deal with big powers, including the United States. 
Though hard-liners still control the most powerful positions and institutions of the state, two national elections last week appeared to build on the slow but unmistakable evolution toward a more moderate political landscape — now and into the future.
Allies of President Hassan Rouhani made strong gains in parliamentary elections, controlling the entire 30-seat delegation representing the capital, Tehran, and carving out an influential minority bloc. At the same time, the two most radical clerics were ousted from the Assembly of Experts, a panel with the constitutional duty to select the nation’s next supreme leader, should that position become vacant.
The results also gave some weight to President Obama’s carefully couched hopes that the nuclear deal — which was heavily criticized by his American political adversaries — might introduce changes that could gradually bring Iran out of its confrontational posture with the West and, most pointedly, with the United States. 
The election’s final results, which have not yet been made public, are not about to fundamentally alter Iran’s domestic or foreign policy, at least in the short term. But they do give momentum to a turn away from the most confrontational politics of the last president — Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — amid an electorate eager for Iran to emerge from decades of isolation. ...
The result would seem to be an early vindication of President Obama's policy in pushing hard to conclude the Iran deal, and an early rebuke to Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Republican supporters who fought so frantically to sabotage the deal.

It's early days, but an indigenous politics that can move left and right and that has the potential to move the country towards more engagement with the West and gradually a more moderate foreign policy is a welcome sight in this region of the world.

A fun confluence of numbers: this Sunday was the 88th Academy Awards, there are 88 keys on a piano, and there are 88  members in Iran's Assembly of Experts which will choose a successor to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Ayatollah Khamenei has had health problems.

Chicken shit and the Progress of Man

Uhm, maybe we don't!
Michael Gazzaniga has spent a career studying split brain patients.  I've previously mentioned his book Who'se in Charge: Free Will and the Science of the Brain. Last week he had a short and entertaining version of his thesis in the New York Times's The Stone series. It's an interesting read. Take a look.

I want to focus on a question Gazzaniga raises for me: what is the connection between perceptions that our brain can articulate and perceptions (and feelings and emotions) that we cannot articulate? What is the connection between chicken salad and chicken shit?

Gazzaniga is describing a trip to a conference in Paris in 1981 where scholars met to peer at the long arc of human progress and ask "what kick-started the explosive technological progress we have witnessed recently." For a million years man was stuck in the stone age. Not much changed. Suddenly, 100,000 years ago, man developed language and stone tools became more and more sophisticated. This explosion in "technological" advancement--which has reached vertiginous speed since the industrial revolution--is not limited to physical things. Technological advancement has been manifested in social forces as well, like philosophical and religious beliefs, and social organizing principles like money.

Gazzaniga is interested in understanding the starring role our brains have played in this explosion of technological change. And he comes at this from having studied split brain patients: patients who have a severed corpus callossum.

With a severed corpus calossum the two halves of the brain cannot communicate with each other. Because our language processing happens entirely in the left hemisphere of the brain, information that is absorbed by the right hemisphere of split-brain patients cannot be shared with the left hemisphere. Information gathered by the right brain hemisphere will remain inarticulate. Is the patient "conscious" of the information absorbed by the right brain only? It raises the question "What does 'conscious' mean?"
The corpus callosum
Gazzaniga reminds us how our left brain has an interpretive function. It makes up stories about what it perceives in order to make sense of the world.  Gazzaniga's article alludes to three levels of interpretation: (1) there is the "interpreter" function (what did I just see?); (2) there is the "storyteller" function (how do I understand what I just saw?); and, finally, (3) there are the abstract fictions that allow large groups of people to understand and shape a shared world together--ideas like money, country, politics, and religion.

The "Interpreter:" Active in both hemispheres?

The interpretative function of our brains, suggests Gazzaniga, is active from processing simple perception, to forging our understanding of how we fit into the world, to facilitating technological revolutions (from advances in stone tools, to the airplane, to the organizing principles of money, country, politics, and religion).

1. Gazzaniga and his team flashed a picture of a chicken foot to a split brain patient's left brain (to the right eye only), and a winter scene to the patient's right brain (the left eye only). Because our language processing occurs in the left brain, the patient could readily identify and describe what the left brain perceived--a chicken foot. On the other hand, the patient's speaking left brain could not understand or explain what was shown to his right brain--the winter scene. Did the patient "know" he saw a winter scene, even though he could say nothing of it? Stay tuned...

2. When researchers asked the patient to perform the non-verbal task of simply pointing to an object he found most appropriate for what he had seen, he readily pointed to a chicken with his right hand (controlled by the left brain which had seen and was aware of the chicken foot) AND he pointed to a snow shovel with the left hand (controlled by the right brain). Although by all appearances to an outside observer, and to the speaking left brain of the patient, the patient was unaware of having seen a winter scene--he could nevertheless easily pick out the snow shovel as an appropriate object for what his right brain had in fact observed, the winter scene.

It seems clear, therefore, that the "interpreter" function is not limited to the left brain. It appears that the right brain was able to make a connection between the winter scene and "snow shovel." It would appear this must include a reasoning process along the following lines: "there was a winter scene; a winter scene involves lots of snow; snow needs shoveling; this snow shovel can be used for shoveling snow; therefore the snow shovel is appropriate for what I saw." The remarkable thing is that this reasoning happens entirely subconsciously.  But maybe that is not the correct term.  Gazzuniga says "the right brain does not speak!" It does seem like the patient's right brain was aware of (conscious of?) the winter scene even though it could not communicate this to the "speaking" left brain.

Are we conscious of what we cannot speak?

The dictionary defines "consciousness"  as "awareness of perception." Gazzaniga's split brain patient was able to correctly pick out the snow shovel as an appropriate object going with "winter scene," but when asked what did you see the patient seemingly was unaware of the winter scene. The right brain was aware of the winter scene and could reason about it, but the right brain cannot speak; the speaking left brain knew nothing about what the right brain was fully aware of but could not articulate or share.

It seems correct, therefore, that we can be "conscious" of things we cannot speak of. It seems we can be conscious of things that to all the world, and to our left brain "explainer" we appear to be unconscious of? What is the sum total of things we are aware of but cannot identify or say at any given time?  Now there is a big question. Therein may lay the explanation for a phenomenon like Donald Trump. The Atlantic  recently compiled a list of rationales why people say they support Donald Trump. These are examples of the left brains exercising its "explaining" function. But how many reasons motivate support for Donald Trump among these people that are invisible to their left brain "explainer?"

3. When the researchers asked the patient "Why did you point to the snow-shovel" the patient's speaking left brain made up a story on the spot. Notably, this story is at odds with what the researchers knew to be the true facts--the right brain was aware of the winter scene and had undergone its  "Winter scene--snow shovel" reasoning--but the left brain knew nothing of this. So the speaking left brain made up a story: "I picked the shovel because I saw a chicken foot, and a chicken foot goes with a chicken shed, and lots of chicken shit, .... AND YOU NEED A SHOVEL TO REMOVE ALL THAT CHICKEN SHIT!"

Chicken shit indeed!

Gazzaniga calls this the "explainer" function of our left brain. It tries to make sense of our immediate perceptions or actions. The "interpreter," says Gazzaniga, "is the system that builds our narrative and gives our many actions that pour out of us, frequently outside of the interpreter's awareness, a centrality, a story — our personal story." We all have this function, and we make up chicken shit like this ALL THE TIME. And therein lies the progress of man.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

David Brooks Should Stop Speaking Euphemistically About the Disaster that is the Modern GOP

The problem with politics today, says David Brooks, is we don't have enough of it. Politics is the art of recognizing diverse interests in society, respecting differences, and finding ways to compromise. The alternative is some form of tyranny or dictatorship. We have too many people who have lost sight of the virtue and necessity of compromise. Too many would be tyrants.

"Too many people" in this case is a euphemism for the Republican Party.  Brooks identifies a real and dangerous problem. He should stop using euphemisms. 

Politics is an activity in which you recognize the simultaneous existence of different groups, interests and opinions. You try to find some way to balance or reconcile or compromise those interests, or at least a majority of them. You follow a set of rules, enshrined in a constitution or in custom, to help you reach these compromises in a way everybody considers legitimate.... [Politics] involves an endless conversation in which we learn about other people and see things from their vantage point and try to balance their needs against our own....
Over the past generation we have seen the rise of a group of people who are against politics. These groups — best exemplified by the Tea Party but not exclusive to the right--want to elect people who have no political experience. They want “outsiders.” They delegitimize compromise and deal-making. They’re willing to trample the customs and rules that give legitimacy to legislative decision-making if it helps them gain power. 
Typical Brooks. When he says "best exemplified by the Tea Party but not exclusive to the right," the implication of that sentence is that it's a Tea Party problem, but also a problem of the left.  But this is wrong, wrong, wrong.  The anti-government, anti-compromise politics Brooks accurately describes was set in motion by Newt Gingrich and his "revolution." This revolution has been a revolution of the right.  The my-way-or-we'll-hold-the-budget-ceiling-hostage problem in Congress is a GOP problem. And, yes, the problem is much broader than the Tea Party. The problem is that the authoritarian anti-politics Brooks identifies has been adopted by the Republican leadership as its strategy for getting Republicans elected to the House and Senate for the past 30 years. Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Eric Cantor, John Boehner, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan, Trent Lott, Bill Frist, and Mitch McConnell, they all followed the same playbook. As Brooks suggests, the problem has gotten progressively worse. But it's the right that has been infected with this despotic anti-politics to the point of pathology. It is the right that has sabotaged the government's ability to respond to and meet the country's needs. The modern GOP is a disaster for the country.

"We'll shrink government 'til we can drown it in a bathtub" has given way to Donald Trump.

The problem has been exemplified by intransigent Republican opposition to badly needed healthcare reform. Not a single Republican voted for the legislation despite the fact that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was modeled on ideas developed by Republican think tanks and was adopted by Republicans before Obama (e.g. Romneycare in Massachusetts). The Republicans opted to obstruct this much needed health care legislation in order to deny President Obama any accomplishment, and they did this for partisan electoral advantage. The Republicans refused to accept the democratic outcome of this legislation as exemplified by 62 votes in the House of Representatives to repeal the health care law. Mitch McConnell infamously prioritized his desire to make Obama a "one term President" over the country's desperate needs to recover from the ongoing ravages of the lesser depression. Mitch MConnell and the GOP have put party over country.

(Watch the smirk and weep for our country)

The GOP's authoritarian anti-politics is exemplified by Republican candidates for President repudiating the rule of law; by their statements that the Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling should be considered invalid and ignored.

The GOP's anti-democratic authoritarianism is exemplified by their refusal to acknowledge Obama as the legitimate President of the United States. It is this sentiment that allowed a Republican back-bencher to shout out "you lie" during the Presidents address to a joint session of Congress in support of the health care legislation in 2009.  It is exemplified by Senate Republicans announcing immediately after Justice Scalia's death that they will not meet with, grant a hearing to, or approve any replacement for Scalia's empty chair on the court as long as Obama remains president.

Brooks continues:
Ultimately, they [the royal THEY again] don’t recognize other people. They suffer from a form of political narcissism, in which they don’t accept the legitimacy of other interests and opinions. They don’t recognize restraints. They want total victories for themselves and their doctrine.... [They] don’t accept that politics is a limited activity. They make soaring promises and raise ridiculous expectations. When those expectations are not met, voters grow cynical and, disgusted, turn even further in the direction of antipolitics.
The antipolitics people refuse compromise and so block the legislative process. The absence of accomplishment destroys public trust. The decline in trust makes deal-making harder. 
We’re now at a point where the Senate says it won’t even hold hearings on a presidential Supreme Court nominee, in clear defiance of custom and the Constitution. We’re now at a point in which politicians live in fear if they try to compromise and legislate. We’re now at a point in which normal political conversation has broken down. People feel unheard, which makes them shout even louder, which further destroys conversation.
.... Trump is the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means. Trump represents the path the founders rejected. There is a hint of violence undergirding his campaign.
This analysis by Brooks is good and right. It logically should make him declare full-throated support for the Democratic party in this election cycle, although he likely won't. Some people are sore about that. E.g. Sean Illig in Salon. Me, I just wish David Brooks would stop speaking in euphemisms when it comes to the disaster that is the modern Republican Party.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Hail, Ceasar! Hail Hollywood!

Hail, Ceasar!
Written, directed, edited and produced by Joel and Ethan Coen (with Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johannsen Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Channing Tatum)

In 1927 Warner Brothers studios released The Jazz Singer. the first feature length sound film. For 25 years thereafter the production of movies was dominated by five big movie studios: Warner Brothers, Leow's/MGM, Fox, RKO, and Paramount. These studios owned both the means of production and distribution. They had captive writers, actors, directors, film editors, and movie houses. Writers, actors, and directors worked together and produced film, after film, after film.  Talent was developed as property, as strategic business assets. The studios were wildly successful in part thanks to collusive agreements to fix prices. And they created many great movies along the way.

By 1939 there were more movie houses in the United States (15,000) than banks. The studios released 365 films that year and moviegoers spent $80,000,000 in tickets per week!  See L.A. Times.  That year included such films as The Wizard of Oz (with Judy Garland) Gunga Din  (with Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), Wuthering Heights (with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon), Goodbye, Mr. Chips (with Robert Donat),  Dark Victory (with Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart and the dashing newcomer Ronald Reagan), Love Affair (a smash box office hit with Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer,  The Little Princess (with Shirley Temple), The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers,  Stanley and Livingstone (with Spencer Tracy),  and Only Angels Have Wings  (with Cary Grant and Jean Arthur).

Only Angels have Wings was directed by Howard Hawkes, a patrician director from wealthy background. He is considered one of the greatest directors that most people have not heard of.  His Wiki entry boasts that he has influenced many great film directors, including Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, John Carpenter, and Quentin Terantino. His work is admired by Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Truffault, and--it appears--the Coen brothers. Watch for it.

Hail Ceasar follows the adventures and existential challenges of Eddie Mannix, the namesake of a real-life Hollywood "fixer." The film is set near the end of this Hollywood studio system era, in 1951 during the Second Red Scare. The House Un-American Activities Committee was in full swing and was paying particular attention to Hollywood. In this charged atmosphere Mannix has the challenging job of protecting the reputation of the studio's stars and keeping their failings out of the tabloids. During the course of this film, which covers just two days, Mannix has to deal with a series of emergencies, including the out-of-wedlock pregnancy of a starlet, a director's rejection of a young actor that the studio wants to develop, the disappearance of the leading star during the filming of that year's blockbuster, a biblical epic (Hail, Ceasar!), handling the delivery of ransom money, and the exorcism of a star's crazy ideas that threaten to interfere with moviemaking.

It's enough to drive a normal man to drink or, in this case, to religion. Lester Mannix is good at his job, and a good Catholic.  He finds himself in confession more often than the priest thinks healthy. He is the head of a stereotypical 1950's family, which he neglects a little too much. Lockheed wants to hire him away to use his fixer talents for the development of jet planes and nuclear bombs. The pay on offer is good. Maddix has a big decision to make but his wife is clueless about what he does and is of no help in making life's big decisions. Maddix has just himself, his God, and ultimately the movies to turn to.

The straight storyline of this film is overlaid to entertaining and often hilarious effect with the plots and scenes of a number of the movies under production by the studio, the fictional "Capitol Studios," and with some big ideas that are all jumbled together and sprinkled throughout the film. What is the value of movies and movie making? Is it just a tool to confirm the status quo? Are films just an opiate for the masses? What is the nature of God? What is the relative merit of making movies or atomic bombs? What is the purpose of work? What is happiness? What is the merit of capitalism versus communism? What does it mean that Hollywood teaches us history while making up the facts? [Really, Tiberius Julius Ceasar was nowhere near Mount Calvary and no Ceasar had a Christian epiphany until Constantine in 312 A.D]

For a glorious 106 minutes we get to revel in classic Hollywood: the musicals, the dialogue set pieces, film noir, biblical epics, mermaids with synchronized swimming, and some great philosophical questions along the way... all in a comedy as only the Coen brothers can do comedy.  The Coen brothers, who are pretty close to a classic Hollywood film studio unto themselves have paid a great and earnest tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the result is very funny.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Electoral College and the Disaster of a Three way Race

U.S. Electoral College--538 Electors; 270 needed to win

Under the United States constitution we don't elect presidents by popular vote. For example, George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore in 2000, but he nevertheless won the presidency.  That is because Bush won the electoral college vote, thanks to some hanging chads in Florida, an assist from strong-arm on the ground politics, and perhaps the Supreme Court. 

The Electoral College

The electoral college is a compromise between having the president elected by Congress and having the president elected by popular vote. 
U.S. Constitution, Article II 
Section 1. The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall ... be elected, as follows: 
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.... The Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.

Twelfth Amendment. The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President.... The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted; 
The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. 
But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice.... 
Any credible third party candidate would split the vote. Ross Perot, the last serious third party candidate received 19% of the vote in 1992. But because his votes were relatively evenly distributed around the country, this was not sufficient for Perot to win any electoral votes.  Bill Clinton won the electoral college over George H.W. Bush with 43% of the popular vote.

Potential for Third Party Candidates

This year there is the potential for a genuine third party candidate who might win some electoral college votes. Michael Bloomberg, the billionarire ex-mayor of New York, is contemplating a run. His potential run is viewed favorably by the Tech industry. 

Early on the GOP worried about Trump running as a third party candidate if he did not win the GOP nomination. Now, if Donald Trump winds up winning the Republican nomination against the will of the Republican establishment, it seems conceivable that the Republican establishment might run Bush or Rubio or Kasich as an independent. [I've heard no suggestion to this effect and such speculation seems premature, but still....] 

A strong independent run from Bloomberg, and/or an establishment Republican running against a Trump GOP nominee, might well garner sufficient Electoral College votes to deprive both the Democratic nominee and the Republican nominee of an Electoral College majority. 

What Then? 

If the Electoral College vote does not result in a majority for a candidate the election is thrown to the House of Representatives. The House would choose among the top three candidates (receiving votes in the Electoral College), but it would do so by state. One vote for each state. 

Determining the vote for each state would prove interesting. The Congressional representation from each state would come into play, as well as the party representation in the state governments. 

Here is Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, who thinks a strong independent presidential candidate would be a nightmare
For an independent candidate, at best, it would mean three candidates splitting the popular vote, probably roughly a third apiece, with the independent edging out the others with perhaps 35 percent. ... An independent might well secure some electoral votes, but in such a race, no candidate would come close to the majority of 270 required, under the Constitution, for victory.

What then? The Constitution says that if no candidate gets a majority of electoral votes, the election moves to the House of Representatives, among the top three electoral vote-getters. There is a twist: House members do not vote individually but by state, a majority of which are required to select the president. Currently, 33 states have House delegations that are majority-Republican; three are evenly split; and Democrats control 14. ....

The states themselves would have to caucus individually to determine how their votes would be cast. Members might vote for the winner of the popular vote, or the winner of the vote in their own districts, or the winner of the vote in their states, or based on partisan loyalty. Multiple ballots could be required. But the odds would be great that, in the end, the House would choose the candidate whose party controlled the most delegations.

Whatever the outcome — an independent ultimately elected president but without a single lawmaker with any attachment to him or her; or a partisan, probably a Republican, chosen primarily because of the partisan tilt of gerrymandered districts — it would not be healthy for the country. A president elected this way would limp into office lacking legitimacy via a process ripe for logrolling and corrupt bargaining. (Read the history of the 1824 election, for example.)

There are reasons to despair over the trajectory of our presidential election process, and of our political process more generally. That trajectory would not be positively altered by a prominent independent candidate parachuting into the 2016 presidential race or being force-fed into the fall debates.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Just City and Plato's Metaphysics

Jo Walton
The Just City
Tor Books (2015)
368 pp.

At Crooked Timber they have concluded a symposium on Jo Walton's novel of ideas, The Just City.  

So much to read, so little time. Most mortals won't find the time to read Plato's Republic, followed by Jo Walton's book, followed by the very fascinating series of posts about the book by a group of scholars at CT. Yet, even though we don't find the time to read all of these works, we do live and breathe Platonic ideas: we know Plato like we know water comes out when we turn on the tap. It means we can productively browse through some of the reflections of these scholars even if we just glance at one or two of them. These pieces are like a sip of cold water from an eternal spring of truth on a hot day.

This morning I read Ada Palmer's essay Plato vs. Metaphysics, or How Very Hard it is to Unlearn Freud.  I can't do it justice, but here's a teaser.

The plan for the "just city" sketched by Plato in book V of his Republic has some odd ideas about social relations. Modern students instinctively react to some of these ideas as "evil, impossible, tyrannical, nonsensical, cruel, absurd, dysfunctional, and doomed." Or, in short, stupid. So Palmer reads Walton's novel of ideas in light of her students' reactions to The Republic, and she comments on three areas: (1) historicity (the fact that Plato's ideas look very different from the world of ancient Greece than they do in our post-Enlightenment world), (2) women (the fact that our feminist conceptions of women's equality leads modern readers astray about some of Plato's ideas), and (3) metaphysics (the fact that Plato's ideas about the just city and its treatment of women can only be understood through the lens of Plato's metaphysics). And she draws some interesting conclusions.

1. Historicity: 
[My students'] reaction ... always makes a wave of awe wash over me at the absolute victory of Enlightenment concept of equality. [They]...genuinely and reflexively think of equality and self-determination as the human default. People. Are. Equal. And. Free. (is the thought process), and if Plato’s “ideal” city imposes assigned jobs and class differences, those impositions are tyrannical. This gut reaction completely misses the fact that Plato’s city, which extends equal education to all and then assigns tasks and ranks based on exams and personal disposition, is radically more free than the reality Plato lived in.... Viewed from the point of view of 3 centuries BC ... Plato’s Republic offers mind-blowing levels of equality and self-determination....
[Students] who write ... papers accusing Plato of “totalitarianism” are perfectly aware that the pre-modern world was full of rigid class systems, feudalism, and slavery. They ... know that Plato lived in a culture with far less self-determination than his Republic, but there are different levels of knowing a fact. You can know perfectly well that the water is off in your apartment for plumbing repairs, but, after unthinkingly turning the tap on five occasions, you still find yourself turning it a sixth time, because instinct hasn’t caught up with intellectual knowledge. The tap makes water come out—we know that on a more basic level than we know that repairs will last from 8AM to noon.... 
2. Women:

The key thing about Plato on women is that he thought the souls of women and men were equal. Both men and women could be philosopher kings. Both women and men should be educated equally. After Plato it was a long time before anyone said any such thing again.

But there are also some nutty eugenic musings in Book V of The Repulic including a marriage festival where the "braver and better" are chosen to mate and guardians are appointed to make decisions, and lotteries are rigged against the weak.  Students are typically outraged, says Palmer.
The Just City expands Plato’s progressive-but-bizarre ideas about gender and sexuality, in a way which makes it possible to see them clearly, and to look at what might succeed, and what might fail. ...  We see how the attempt to eliminate families and permanent pair-bonding affects both men and women, similarly and differently. We get a good, long chance to chew on Plato’s plan. And see it explode in everyone’s face.
But outrage is a confused and unhelpful response. Much better to trace the ideas and... inevitably... this leads to the metaphysics.

3. Metaphysics:

By looking at what goes wrong in Plato's Republic, and by having philosophically trained characters discussing why it goes wrong, says Palmer, Walton's novel demonstrates that the ideas in the Republic  are not only not stupid, but not necessarily "wrong." The true statement, says Palmer, is "Plato’s Republic will succeed if and only if Plato was correct about metaphysics.”

So what was this metaphysics? 

It has something to do with an "endpoint to excellence." In Plato's Republic excellence has an endpoint. 
[I]n Plato’s universe ... there is an endpoint to excellence, i.e. there is a thing—The Good (conflated with God in later adaptations)—which is the source of everything, and is the absolute unmixed maximum of all good attributes. This Good is not an anthropomorphic, person-like thing, more of a brilliant metaphysical sun, or a spring constantly overflowing, except that instead of pouring out water it pours out goodness, virtue, knowledge, and existence itself. Everything else is generated by the Good, and all action (especially intellectual action) is moved by the Good. 
Gaining excellence is approaching this Good, getting closer to it, reflecting it better (like a mirror), and becoming filled with it, so the flawed, imperfect and empty parts of yourself become more complete, like a cloth full of holes becoming more and more repaired. Decision-making in this universe means looking at two different options and deciding which seems to point more toward the Good; error comes from making a mistake in that judgment call. Learning in this universe means learning to see the Good more and more clearly, and making fewer bad calls. Choices, in this universe, have a right and a wrong answer, the same way that trying to get to a fixed destination has turns which are correct (getting you closer to the destination) .... Big questions in this universe, including questions like “What is Justice?” and “What is the best form of government?” have one correct answer: the Good contains that answer, it’s there, you just have to get to it. This means the Masters of the Republic constantly agree on everything, and will never experience doubt or dissent. 
Did you miss the jump? Knowledge is peering at the Good (remember our Allegory of the Cave), and the Good contains the correct answer to all problems. People see that answer more and less clearly but it is one thing. ....
In The Just City  the characters reach the contrary conclusion that there is no endpoint to excellence. That, it turns out, makes all the difference. Instead of representing an optimistic statement about the value of continual striving and the possibility of infinite improvement, this conclusion makes everything come undone.

Take a look at this wonderful series of posts, and see for yourself if you shouldn't put The Just City on your reading list. HERE is Brad DeLong's shout out.

You can follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles

Sunday, February 14, 2016


Last Sunday was a glorious winter day in Northern California and the Tule Elk grazed peacefully on the Tomales peninsula, soaking up the warmth of the sun undisturbed by wind or fog.  With enough refraction we could have seen to Japan, looking west, or to New York, looking east.
Bobbi Nikles, Tomales Bay, and Tule Elk

As we walked with our friends and tour guides Dinah and Noah I heard Noah's immigration story. Like me, he arrived in North America as a 12 year old. I landed in Prince George, British Columbia from Switzerland, he (or rather his family) arrived in Los Angeles from Romania, via Ecuador and Peru.

His parents were born in Romania into Jewish families from Bucharest. There his father completed his medical studies to become a doctor shortly before the outbreak of World War II.  "How did they make it through the war?" I asked. I was thinking of the "Eastern Front" and the fact that of the 70 million killed in World War II, 30 million died on the Eastern Front. Well, it turns out that except for heavy bombing late in the war, Bucharest was not in the main killing zone. Significantly Romania refused to turn over its Jews living in the center to the Nazi program of extermination, even as it committed horrible pogroms of Jews and Roma along its periphery, in the city of Iasi, and the northeastern regions of Moldova and Bessarabia.

Romania at War: Swinging in the Wind with the Strong

Since the late 19th century "Romania had been a relatively democratic constitutional monarchy with a pro-Western outlook." Wiki. The country fought with France and Britain in World War I and was rewarded with added territory ("Greater Romania").  During the interwar period, Romania was an important exporter of raw materials: grains, corn, oil and timber. Its oil exports to Europe were second only to the USSR. Overall, Romania was the sixth largest exporter of oil in the world. Germany and Britain invested heavily during the interwar period in the build-up of the Romanian oil industry. By 1938 Germany was Romania's most important trading partner.

Nevertheless, on the eve of World War II, Britain and France were the official guarantors of Romania's territorial integrity. Hence at the outbreak of war in 1939 Romania's King Carol II adopted a neutral stance. But the country also had strong fascist elements and when the fortunes of France and Britain faltered early in the war, the government of Romania turned to Germany for protection. Unbeknownst to King Carol, however, the Nazi's had already agreed to cede portions of Romania to the Soviets in their non-agression agreement--the Molotov Ribbentrop Pact of August 23, 1939.

In June 1940 the Soviet Union delivered an ultimatum to Romania to give up Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia [Moldova], two areas that had been acquired by Romania in the wake of World War I. In August 1940, the Nazis further awarded a portion of Transylvania  to Hungary pursuant to the Second Vienna Award, and in September, under further pressure from Germany, southern Dobruja was ceded to Bulgaria.

In the wake of these territorial losses in June-September 1940, the pro-German anti-Bolshevik general and prime minister Ion Antunesco staged a coup and brought into government the far right, fascist Iron Guard. As part of the deal with the army, the constitution was suspended, government dissolved, and the Iron Guard was the only party represented in government. King Carol II and his mistress were sent to exile--leaving his 18 year old handsome son Michael to serve as King. In October 1940 German troops began to enter Romania, soon numbering 500,000, and on November 23, 1940 Romania formally joined the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, Japan).

The Iron Guard swiftly passed oppressive anti-semitic and anti-minority legislation. Anti-Semitism has had a long history in Romania. On January 20, 1941 it attempted a coup against Antonescu. This coincided with a pogrom against the Jewish minority in Bucharest. The coup failed.  Within four days Antonescu prevailed against the Iron Guard, removed them from government and assumed sole dictatorial power.

Ion Antonescu
On 22 June 1941 Romania joined the German invasion of the Soviet Union. They supplied equipment oil and troops for Operation Barbarossa. Here is Robert Kaplan in a recent article in Foreign Policy Magazine:
Antonescu contributed 585,000 Romanian troops to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union from June to October 1941. At Stalingrad, in late 1942 and early 1943, Romanian troops fought alongside the Germans and against the Soviets with a particular ferocity. Romania, rich in natural resources and lying on the southern path of the invasion route of Operation Barbarossa, supplied Hitler’s war machine with critical stores of oil from the Ploiesti fields as well as other raw materials. Antonescu met with Hitler no less than 10 times, mainly in Austria and East Prussia, between the fall of 1940 and the summer of 1944, from soon after the Romanian dictator assumed power until a few weeks before his overthrow in a coup. As Deletant notes, “far from being overawed by the Fuhrer,” Antonescu often contradicted him to his face — perhaps the only person ever allowed to do so — speaking his mind fully about Romania’s territorial interests for hours on end, so that Hitler came to respect him from the beginning of their relationship.
Hitler's respect provided some latitude to Antonescu to protect the Jews in Bucharest.
The survival rate of the Jewish population under [Antonescu's] direct civil, administrative, and military control — within the legal borders of Romania, that is — “was greater than that of any other Axis ally, protectorate or occupied area aside from Finland,” writes independent scholar and Romania specialist Larry L. Watts in a monograph. If you were a Jew within Antonescu’s Romania proper, you were more likely to survive World War II than if you had been living virtually anywhere else in Axis-occupied Europe. But, on the other hand, if you were a Jew in the areas that Antonescu’s troops recaptured from the Soviet Union, there were few places worse.
Kaplan gave a shout out to three books of note about this period:  British academic Dennis Deletant’s Hitler’s Forgotten Ally: Ion Antonescu and His Regime, Romania 1940-1944, published in 2006 by Palgrave Macmillan; Radu Ioanid’s The Holocaust in Romania: The Destruction of Jews and Gypsies Under the Antonescu Regime, 1940-1944, published in 2000 by Ivan R. Dee; and Vladimir Solonari’s Purifying the Nation: Population Exchange and Ethnic Cleansing in Nazi-Allied Romania, published in 2010 by the Woodrow Wilson Center Press.

After the German defeat at Stalingrad in January 1943, and the Soviet Union's steady advances against German forces, a Soviet invasion of Romania was imminent by late summer 1944. On August 23, 1944 King Michael joined pro-Allied politicians, a number of army officers, and armed communist militias in a coup against Antonescu. On September 1, 1944 the King ordered a ceasefire, announced an acceptance of the armistice offered by Britain, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and declared war on Germany. It was too late, of course. The Soviet Union captured and imprisoned about 130,000 Romanian soldiers... many of whom perished in prison camps... and occupied the country.

Post War

With the end of the war Romania's flirtations and connections with France, Britain, Germany, and --linguistically and culturally--with Italy, came to an abrupt end. Whereas Antonescu had declared "When it's a question of action against the Slavs, you can always count on Romania" on the eve of Operation Barbarossa--for the next 44 years Romania would be under the thumb of the Slavs. 

Romanian is a Romance language island adrift in a sea of Slavs.  It is an eastern romance language, based on latin. The language derives back to the Roman Empire (province of Dacia--"the noblest and most just of the Tracian tribes," said Herodotus) and is very similar to Italian. Romanians watch and understand Italian television. 


In March 1945 King Michael was forced to appoint a pro-Soviet government and two years later, on December 30, 1947, he was forced to abdicate at gun point, surrounded by a pro-Soviet unit of the armed forces. The next day the communist government announced the permanent abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a communist People's Republic.

Major portions of the economy were turned over to so called SovRom companies which exploited Romanian industries for Soviet purposes.  Affected industries included oil, gas, iron ore, uranium mining, banking, insurance, wood processing, transportation, shipbuilding, and film. One egregious example is Sovromcuart, which used Romanian prison labor to mine uranium ore for the Soviet nuclear weapons program.  After most of 15,000 workers died from radiation poisoning, the company turned to local farm labor who did not know what they were mining.  17,288 tons of uranium ore were delivered to the Soviets between 1952 and 1960. 

By 1960 the Romanian communist party gained a measure of independence from Moscow, but power was consolidated under the hardline dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who was party general secretary 1965-1989. 
After a brief period of relatively moderate rule, Ceaușescu's regime became increasingly brutal and repressive. By some accounts, his rule was the most rigidly Stalinist in the Soviet bloc.  He maintained controls over speech and the media that were very strict even by Soviet-bloc standards, and internal dissent was not tolerated. His secret police, the Securitate, was one of the most ubiquitous and brutal secret police forces in the world. In 1982, with the goal of paying off Romania's large foreign debt, Ceaușescu ordered the export of much of the country’s agricultural and industrial production. The resulting extreme shortages of food, fuel, energy, medicines, and other basic necessities drastically lowered living standards and intensified unrest. Ceaușescu's regime was also marked by an extensive and ubiquitous cult of personality, nationalism, a continuing deterioration in foreign relations even with the Soviet Union, and nepotism.
Romanians may have been spared the worst of the ravages of the Eastern Front in World War II, but their 20th century was no picnic. 

Rejoining Europe

The Romanian communist party disappeared without a trace almost overnight on December 22, 1989. Ceausescu lost control of a rally in Bucharest, revolt spread to all urban centers, large portions of the army turned against the regime. Ceausescu and his wife fled in a helicopter but were captured. On order of the new interim government, the National Salvation Front, the Ceausescus were tried on Christmas Day for charges including the illegal gathering of wealth and genocide. The proceeding lasted an hour at the end of which they were taken out to the courtyard and shot. 

On December 27, 1989 the NSF declared the end of one party rule in Romania. Elections were held in 1990 and 1992... a new constitution was drafted and adopted by popular referendum. 

In 2007 Romania joined the European Union along with its neighbor to the south, Bulgaria. As of January 2014 Romanians are free to work in any EU country without the requirement for a 
work permit. However, Romania's entry to the Schengen Area (common outside border--which also includes some non-EU countries, e.g. Switzerland) has recently been withdrawn. Notably Germany, the Netherlands, and Finland have contended that both Romania and Bulgaria have serious corruption issues that should make them ineligible to join the borderless Schengen area. 

The future of the entire European project, of course, lies in the balance. But with its resources, rich agricultural lands, abundant water, temperate climate, the long term prospects for Romania should be bright. Romania still suffers from a poor education system, and its economy is still recovering from the communist era. Here is the World Factbook's (CIA) Assessment: 
Romania... began the transition from Communism in 1989 with a largely obsolete industrial base and a pattern of output unsuited to the country's needs. Romania's macroeconomic gains have only recently started to spur creation of a middle class and to address Romania's widespread poverty. Corruption and red tape continue to permeate the business environment. 
In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, Romania signed on to a $26 billion emergency assistance package from the IMF, the EU, and other international lenders, but GDP contracted until 2011. In March 2011, Romania and the IMF/EU/World Bank signed a 24-month precautionary stand-by agreement, worth $6.6 billion, to promote fiscal discipline, encourage progress on structural reforms, and strengthen financial sector stability. In September 2013, Romanian authorities and the IMF/EU agreed to a follow-on stand-by agreement, worth $5.4 billion, to continue with reforms, but this agreement expired in September 2015, and no funds were drawn. Progress on structural reforms has been uneven, and the economy still is vulnerable to external shocks. 
Economic growth rebounded in 2013-15, driven by strong industrial exports and excellent agricultural harvests, and the current account deficit was reduced substantially. Industry outperformed other sectors of the economy in 2015. Exports remained the engine of economic growth, led by trade with the EU, which accounts for roughly 70% of Romania trade. 
In 2015, the Government of Romania succeeded in meeting its annual target for the budget deficit, the external deficit remained low, and inflation - -0.8% - was the lowest since 1989, allowing a gradual loosening of the monetary policy throughout the year. 
An ageing population, weak domestic demand, tax evasion, and insufficient health-care represent the economy's top vulnerabilities.
International agribusinesses are buying up assets in Romania, which is creating tensions and opportunities.  There is a land rush underway with large Agribusinesses consolidating land in Romania. And integration with Europe is moving apace. My Swiss cousin is thinking about purchasing property in the Southern Carpathian Mountains and reproducing his place in Switzerland for himself and his new love, a lovely young Romanian woman.

It looks beautiful, unspoiled, and full of promise.

View of So. Carpathian Mts, Romania/Schenk

Romania... a place to keep your eye on. 

Romania today

Saturday, February 13, 2016

David Brooks Lives in a Superbowl Commercial Fantasy Land

David Brooks published an annoying article in the New York Times yesterday in which he suggests that Bernie Sanders and his millennial supporters are un-American non-patriots intent on squelching innovation, destroying colleges, taking away freedoms, and fundamentally altering the American economy and culture. 

This article is so glib. Let me count the ways:

1. Brooks claims that the U.S. has more entrepreneurial creativity than Europe. That’s a pretty broad sweeping statement. An examination of this, say starting with the invention of the printing press, would take in a fair amount of history where the U.S. was not even competing. Is he talking about the 20th century? Where does he think all those Manhattan project scientists came from? Was Europe less entrepreneurial in the 20th century than the U.S.? Brooks is shouting rah rah America. Yes, “We’ll make America Great Again.” Go Trump.

2. The U.S. has always favored higher living standards for consumers, says Brooks. What does this mean? Which consumers does he have in mind? Is he speaking of the broad bottom 60 percent, or the top 1%? How do you measure this “higher living standard?” Does he mean lower product costs? Does he mean products are more expensive in Europe because of higher taxes? If true, and he makes no pretense of saying anything about this, I suppose one would have to look at the total trade offs before one could conclude America’s consumers have a “higher living standard.” He's dog whistling to Republican mindsets.

3. There is a bipartisan consensus that we should stick to “our form of capitalism” and “our style of welfare state,” he says. Does Brooks really think there is consensus between R’s and D’s on this? Between Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan regarding “our form of capitalism’ and “our style of welfare state?” Really?

4. “There has always been a broad consensus that a continent-size nation like ours had to be diverse and decentralized, with a vibrant charitable sector and a great variety of spending patterns and lifestyles.” Well, no. There has been a marked lack of consensus on this going back to Jefferson and Hamilton. Federalism vs. state’s rights. Slavery vs. not slavery. School integration vs. Jim Crow. Living wage and health care and free education and voting rights vs. where Rubio and Cruz--and apparently Brooks--want to take us.

5. "American values have always been biased toward individualism, achievement and flexibility,” says Brooks. Certainly, that is how we like to think of ourselves. Brooks must be thinking of Superbowl commercials. There is not much meaningful content in this statement that would say anything about Hillary vs. Bernie. In the real world of America we have environmental regulations, consumer product regulations, bank regulations, social security, and medi-care. And good for us.

6. America nurtures Bell Labs, Wallmart, Google and Apple, crows Brooks. As opposed to Europe, which does what? Give me a break. Bell Labs was started with an award from the French Government and was supported for decades by a monopoly supported by the U.S. government. Walmart started as a dime store business in the 50’s and became the worlds largest retailer on the back of the bar code invented thanks to some graduate student hanging around Drexel Institute of Technology, and on the back of Chinese manufacturing, and on the back of global finance and supply chains. Bar codes are pretty great—but the fact that it was invented in America rather than in Europe has nothing to do (that I can see) with rugged individualism in America vs. Brooks’s imagined stultifying socialism in Denmark. Nor do I see anything particularly American about Walmart or Apple these days.

7. “It’s amazing,” marvels Brooks, "that a large part of the millennial population generation has rejected this consensus.” What is Brooks suggestion here? That they are traitors to the American way? The consensus that he says is being rejected here exists nowhere but in the Republican mind... and in Superbowl commercials.

8. Sanders “fundamentally wants to reshape the American economic system and thus reshape American culture and values,” says Brooks. How so? Sanders is saying there is something unfair about the top 10% of income earners receiving 50% of all income and heading higher. Of course the top income earners also pay most of the taxes (top 10% pay 53% of all federal taxes). See also Pew report Here. But, of course, wealth (property and financial assets) is even more heavily skewed—with the top 3% holding 50 percent of wealth. This inequality of income has risen dramatically since the 70’s. Is it un-American to put these issues front and center for discussion? Is it un-American to want to do something about this as Sanders and “a large part of the millennial population" is ready to do? No, David Brooks, it’s not.

9. Brooks warns that Sanders wants to “radically increase the amount of money going to the Washington establishment,” and he cites the Wall Street Journal for the proposition that if Congress enacted everything Sanders would like it would cost $18 trillion over 10 years. Well, even if we follow this silly fantasy that Congress would enact everything Sanders has suggested in his campaign to date, and that it would cost $18 trillion over 10 years…. that is not the same as giving $18 trillion to the Washington establishment; no more than taxes for social security gives money to the “Washington establishment.” Taxes for social security gives money to old people.

10. Brooks drones on in this alarmist vein: “Sanders would take away the ability of the middle class to make choices about their own lives!” Huh? How would finding ways to raise the income of middle class Americans at the expense of the top few percent reduce choices available to the middle class? Brooks doesn’t bother to make an argument. Because higher taxes, he says. Because no Tesla, he says.

11. Free college is bad says Brooks. It would reduce the quality of education (??), it would cause students to hang around college longer (awful, just awful I tell you!), it would grant government more “control” over colleges, it would threaten expensive private colleges. There is nothing more American, implies Brooks, than for profit Universities. Not so much. Does he really mean to suggest the University of California system is “better” now that it charges $40,000 for graduate programs, now that it is forced to cater to foreign students to bring in money, now that it relies on football programs to build prestige to facilitate private fundraising? Does he think the UC system was a worse institution in the 1970’s when it was nearly free? The man has completely lost me.

12. “Sanders would create a centralized and streamlined” medical system, says Brooks. Oh the horror! He must not have heard that in Europe they spend half (as a percentage of GDP) of what we spend in America, or that life expectancy is higher in Europe. 

What makes the man drone on so? He cites no study or evidence. David Brooks is living in a Super-bowl commercial fairyland.

Friday, February 5, 2016

No "Hillarycare" Did not Solve Our Healthcare Woes: Why do you Ask?

In the debate last night, Hillary Clinton gave the impression that Obamacare (she embraced it as "Hillarycare") took care of most of the problem. All that remains is some tweaking to improve it. 

Bernie Sanders pointed out we still have millions of uninsured persons, and we spend far more than Europeans and Canadians for poorer results. So healthcare must remain a very top priority.

According to this Kaiser website the number of uninsured is 32 million (2015). Obamacare brought coverage to millions, but the job is far from done. 

Sanders also reminds us that we spend much more per capita than Europeans. The chart below (OECD Health Data 2010) suggests Clinton's complacency is misplaced. 

This OECD data from 2010 suggest average life expectancy in U.S. is 78 years.  And we achieved this with a per person expenditure of ~$7,800/year or about 2.4 trillion. That was back in 2010.  By 2014, our health care spending rose to $3.8 trillion.  That is 21% of our GDP spent on healthcare.

By comparison Great Britain spends just 9.6% of GDP on healthcare--Less than half what we do.  And life expectancy in Britain is 2 years greater than in the U.S.

The U.S. is a huge outlier: we are horribly inefficient with our health care delivery.  How to fix this remains a matter of great urgency for our society and economy.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Hillary Clinton is Emblematic of an "Honorarium Problem" in Politics

"We came out of the White House not only dead broke but in debt" Hillary Clinton told Diane Sawyer.  Sixteen years later the Clintons are reputed to be worth $111 million. Much of that wealth has come from speaking fees with "honorariums" of up to $675,000. Hundreds of speeches. By both Clintons. Pretty soon you're talking about real money.

In the video above Anderson Cooper asks Hillary Clinton about $675,000 Goldman Sachs paid her for three speeches after she resigned her position as Secretary of State (February 2013) and before she announced her run for the presidency (April 12,  2015).
"Honorarium":  a payment for a service (as making a speech) on which custom or propriety forbids a price to be set. 
In the world where I come from honorariums are tokens of appreciation, they are not real money meant to compensate or to secure influence and loyalty. But in the case of politicians who hold powerful offices, or are likely to hold powerful offices in the future, honorariums are not token: they are so large that they are bound to influence. And there is not much propriety.

Consider the relationship between Hillary and Corning, Inc., a New York glass company when she was the junior senator from New York. Here's Jonathan Allen at Vox (updated 5/16/15):
[When] Hillary Clinton ran for reelection to the Senate on her way to seeking the presidency for the first time, the New York Times reported on her unusually close relationship with Corning, Inc., an upstate glass titan. Clinton advanced the company's interests, racking up a big assist by getting China to ease a trade barrier. And the firm's mostly Republican executives opened up their wallets for her campaign. During Clinton's tenure as secretary of state, Corning lobbied the department on a variety of trade issues, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The company has donated between $100,000 and $250,000 to her family's foundation. And last July, when it was clear that Clinton would again seek the presidency in 2016, Corning coughed up a $225,500 honorarium for Clinton to speak.....Together, Hillary and Bill Clinton cleared $25 million on the lecture circuit over the last 16 months, according to a Hillary Clinton's personal financial disclosure required of presidential candidates. .... [Will] they [be] able to listen to all of the various interests without being unduly influenced by any of them[?] There's a reason government officials can't accept gifts: They tend to have a corrupting effect. 
Chris Cillizza correctly notes in the Washington Times this morning that Clinton seems annoyed by Anderson Cooper's question in the video above, and he shakes his head:
[S]ure, $675,000 is a lot of money to take for speeches but she is a former first lady, senator and secretary of state. It's not out of the ballpark that someone with that résumé would be compensated at such high levels. That's what Clinton truly believes. And she's not good — as she made plain with her answer last night — at hiding her disdain/ skepticism when questioned about it. But, politics is all about playing up your strengths and taking attention away from your weaknesses. The amount of money Hillary and Bill Clinton made from speech-giving — more than $25 million in 16 months — is a weakness. Period. It undercuts the idea that she is a committed fighter for wage equality or a voice of the 99 percent trying to level the playing field with the one percent. In short: Clinton needs to find a WAY better answer to questions about her speaking fees than "that's what they offered." And soon.
This is not just about the Clintons, of course. Ben Carson was paid $4.1 million in speaking fees in advance of his presidential campaign. Jeb Bush "left the governorship of Florida in 2007 with a declared net worth of less than $1.3 million, which he’s multiplied nearly 16-fold on the back of his prestigious last name, extensive network, and executive experience," says Forbes. Similarly, Mike Huckabee "leveraged a failed 2008 presidential bid into a highly successful media career that included a TV show and appearances on Fox News, radio gigs, books and speeches. He’s now worth $9 million." It's the system, as Bernie Sanders points out.

The Clintons are obviously very good at playing the system: $111-million-of-personal-wealth-in-15-years worth of good at playing the system. There are good arguments to be made that this should disqualify a person from seeking higher office. It's emblematic of the problem of money in politics.

Others are paid high speaking fees. A sum of $200,000 per speech seems to be within the ballpark of the going rate for big stars speaking to large assemblies. And ex-presidents and secretaries of state are certainly big stars. We don't compensate our politicians very well. They are supremely talented people who forego the opportunity to pursue business or more lucrative professions in order to serve the public, so why should we begrudge them high speaking fees after they have completed their service? No reason--and good for them--I say. But not while they are in office, and not if they want to run for office in future.

Politicians are addicted to money and to raising money. Our democratic system is corrupted by money. And some of that money makes its way into the personal bank accounts of politicians in the form of "honorariums." The first step to overcome any addiction, of course, is to admit that we have a problem.  Based on her response to Anderson Cooper, in her heart of hearts Hillary Clinton is not ready to admit that she has a problem or that the system has a problem.

It's the issue Bernie Sanders is running on....

You can follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Road to the Republican Convention

The GOP Convention will be held
July 18-21, 2016 in the Quicken Arena
in Cleveland, OH

The Republican convention will be held on July 18-21, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  There will be a total of 2,472 delegates in attendance (560 base at large, 1,305 relating to the congressional districts, 168 for the party, and 439 bonus). Twenty-seven delegates were distributed at the Iowa caucuses (one percent of the total).

Here is the tally after Iowa:

  • Cruz:         51,666 (27.65%)  7 delegates
  • Trump:      45,427 (24.31%)  7 delegates
  • Rubio:       43,165 (23.10%)  6 delegates
  • Carson:     17,395 (9.31%)     3 delegates
  • Paul:          8,481  (4.5%)       1 delegate
  • Bush:         5,238  (2.8%)       1 delegate
  • Fiorina:      3,485  (1.86%)     1 delegate
  • Kasich:      3,474  (1.86%)     1 delegate
  • Christie:     3,284   (1.76%)
  • Santorum:  1,783  (9.95%)

Cruz and Trump both were awarded seven delegates, Rubio six, Carson three, and Paul, Bush, Fiorina, and Kasich one each.

Carson got about a third as many votes (17,395) as Cruz (51,666).

Here is the primary schedule by state for both parties. Note that in some states Republicans and Democrats will hold their caucuses on different dates:

February 9: 
  • New Hampshire primary
February 20: 
  • Nevada caucuses (D) 
  • South Carolina primary (R)
February 23: 
  • Nevada caucuses (R)
February 27: 
  • South Carolina primary (D)
March 1: 
  • Alabama primary 
  • Alaska caucuses (R) 
  • Arkansas primary 
  • Colorado caucuses (D) 
  • Georgia primary 
  • Massachusetts primary,
  • Minnesota caucuses
  • Oklahoma primary
  • Tennessee primary, 
  • Texas primary 
  • Vermont primary 
  • Virginia primary,
  • Wyoming caucuses (R)
March 5: 
  • Kansas caucuses 
  • Kentucky caucuses (R) 
  • Louisiana primary
  • Maine caucuses (R)
  • Nebraska caucuses (D)
March 6: 
  • Maine caucuses (D), 
  • Puerto Rico primary
March 8: 
  • Hawaii caucuses (R) 
  • Idaho primary (R)
  • Michigan primary
  • Mississippi primary
March 15: 
  • Florida primary
  • Illinois primary 
  • Missouri primary
  • North Carolina primary 
  • North Marianas Island caucuses (R)
  • Ohio primary
March 19: 
  • U.S. Virgin Islands caucuses (R)
March 22: 
  • Arizona primary 
  • Idaho caucuses (D)
  • Utah caucuses
March 26: 
  • Alaska caucuses (D) 
  • Hawaii caucuses (D)
  • Washington caucuses (D)
April 5: 
  • Wisconsin primary
April 9: 
  • Wyoming caucuses (D)
April 19: 
  • New York primary
April 26: 
  • Connecticut primary
  • Delaware primary 
  • Maryland primary
  • Pennsylvania primary
  • Rhode Island primary
May 3: 
  • Indiana primary
May 10: 
  • Nebraska primary (R) 
  • West Virginia primary
May 17: 
  • Kentucky primary (D) 
  • Oregon primary
May 24: 
  • Washington primary (R)
June 4: 
  • U.S. Virgin Islands caucuses (D)
June 7: 
  • California primary
  • Montana primary
  • New Jersey primary 
  • New Mexico primary 
  • North Dakota caucuses (D) 
  • South Dakota primary

June 14: 
  • District of Columbia primary
July 18-21:  Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.
Cleveland, OH