Sunday, August 30, 2015

Oliver Sacks (1933 - 2015)

Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and writer, has died of cancer at 82.

Here's the New York Times obit. (A video about Sacks will automatically start playing when you click the link. I've removed links from this block quote, and added some links.)

Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and acclaimed author who explored some of the brain’s strangest pathways in best-selling case histories like “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” using his patients’ disorders as starting points for eloquent meditations on consciousness and the human condition, died Sunday at his home in New York City. . . .

Dr. Sacks announced in February, in an Op-Ed essay in The New York Times, that an earlier melanoma in his eye had spread to his liver and that he was in the late stages of terminal cancer.

As a medical doctor and a writer, Dr. Sacks achieved a level of popular renown rare among scientists. More than a million copies of his books are in print in the United States, his work was adapted for film and stage, and he received about 10,000 letters a year. (“I invariably reply to people under 10, over 90 or in prison,” he once said.)

Dr. Sacks variously described his books and essays as case histories, pathographies, clinical tales or “neurological novels.” His subjects included Madeleine J., a blind woman who perceived her hands only as useless “lumps of dough”; Jimmie G., a submarine radio operator whose amnesia stranded him for more than three decades in 1945; and Dr. P. — the man who mistook his wife for a hat — whose brain lost the ability to decipher what his eyes were seeing.

Describing his patients’ struggles and sometimes uncanny gifts, Dr. Sacks helped introduce syndromes like Tourette’s or Asperger’s to a general audience. But he illuminated their characters as much as their conditions; he humanized and demystified them. . . .

“I had always liked to see myself as a naturalist or explorer,” Dr. Sacks wrote in “A Leg to Stand On” (1984), about his own experiences recovering from muscle surgery. “I had explored many strange, neuropsychological lands — the furthest Arctics and Tropics of neurological disorder.”

His intellectual curiosity took him even further. On his website, Dr. Sacks maintained a partial list of topics he had written about. It included aging, amnesia, color, deafness, dreams, ferns, Freud, hallucinations, neural Darwinism, phantom limbs, photography, pre-Columbian history, swimming and twins. . . .

“I love to discover potential in people who aren’t thought to have any,” he told People magazine in 1986.

Other books included the best-selling “An Anthropologist on Mars” (1995), about autistic savants and other patients who managed to thrive with their disorders; “The Mind’s Eye” (2010), about the ways people compensate for brain injuries; and three books about specific neurological conditions: “Migraine” (1970), “The Island of the Colorblind” (1997) and “Seeing Voices” (1989), a look at language perception among the deaf. . . .

Dr. Sacks’s accounts of neurological oddities found a wide popular audience and were adapted for Hollywood, the theater, even opera. Robin Williams portrayed a Sacks-like doctor in the 1990 film version of “Awakenings,” and the novelist Richard Powers based a central character on him in his 2006 book, “The Echo Maker.” The 2011 movie “The Music Never Stopped” was adapted from “The Last Hippie,” one of the case studies collected in “An Anthropologist on Mars.” An opera based on “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” with music by Michael Nyman and a libretto by Christopher Rawlence, had its premiere in London in 1986 and was staged at Lincoln Center in New York in 1988. . . .

A skilled pianist, Dr. Sacks often wrote about the relationship between music and the mind, eventually devoting a whole book, “Musicophilia” (2007), to the subject. Dr. Sacks disagreed with the Harvard psychologist and author Steven Pinker’s view of music as “auditory cheesecake, an evolutionary accident piggybacking on language,” and pointed to its ability to reach dementia patients as evidence that music appreciation is hard-wired into the brain.

“I haven’t heard of a human being who isn’t musical, or who doesn’t respond to music one way or another,” he told an audience at Columbia University in 2006. “I think we are an essentially, profoundly musical species. And I don’t know whether — for all I know, language piggybacked on music.”

Referring to Nietzsche’s claim that listening to Bizet had made him a better philosopher, Dr. Sacks said, “I think Mozart makes me a better neurologist.” . . .

After several early flings, he wrote [in his 2015 memoir], he settled into a period of celibacy that lasted 35 years before he found love late in life. He is survived by his partner of eight years, the writer Bill Hayes. . . .

In 1989, interviewing him for “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” Joanna Simon asked Dr. Sacks how he would like to be remembered in 100 years.

“I would like it to be thought that I had listened carefully to what patients and others have told me,” he said, “that I’ve tried to imagine what it was like for them, and that I tried to convey this.

“And, to use a biblical term,” he added, “bore witness.”

He also bore witness to his own dwindling life, writing reflective essays even in his last days. On Aug. 10, his assistant, [Kate] Edgar, who described herself as his “collaborator, friend, researcher and editor” as well, wrote in an email: “He is still writing with great clarity. We are pretty sure he will go with fountain pen in hand.”

Several days later, a valedictory essay titled “Sabbath” appeared in The Times. In it, Dr. Sacks considered the importance of the Sabbath in human culture and concluded:

“And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.”

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The New York Times misrepresents Justice Thomas's writing

The New York Times posts this seemingly damning story about Justice Clarence Thomas its homepage (via Orin Kerr):




The NYT article says:

Justice Clarence Thomas has not asked a question from the Supreme Court bench since 2006. His majority opinions tend to be brisk, efficient and dutiful.

Now, studies using linguistic software have discovered another Thomas trait: Those opinions contain language from briefs submitted to the court at unusually high rates.

The findings that the taciturn justice’s opinions appear to rely heavily on the words of others do not suggest misconduct — legal writing often tracks source materials — but they do illuminate his distinctive role on the court.
Liptak explains that Thomas's "distinctive role" is that his cases tend to be "dogs" — boring cases filled with technicalities. Liptak goes on:
Justice Thomas’s seven majority opinions in the last term were on average just 12 pages long and contained little but a summary of the facts and terse summaries of the relevant statutes and precedents. Since opinions are signed by justices but often drafted by law clerks, it may be that any borrowed language was the work of Justice Thomas’s clerks. . . .

[Some have] questioned the high levels of apparent cribbing from briefs in Supreme Court opinions, a phenomenon not limited to Justice Thomas.

“It seems like they’re using briefs as a template for how they’re going to put the opinion together,” said Adam Feldman, a lawyer and doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Southern California. “They’re taking at face value ways of framing opinions that are not their own.”

Mr. Feldman conducted an extensive analysis of overlapping language, using anti-plagiarism software to detect similar wording in briefs and opinions from 1946 to 2014. The study and related findings were based on almost 10,000 briefs and looked for passages of at least six words with an overlap of at least 80 percent.

Justice Thomas’s majority opinions had the highest rate of overlaps with language in parties’ briefs in the decade since Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined the court. . . .

Cribbing from briefs is commonplace among trial-court judges, though some appeals court judges frown on it.

“We have disapproved this practice because it disguises the judge’s reasons and portrays the court as an advocate’s tool, even when the judge adds some words of his own,” Judge Frank Easterbrook of the federal appeals court in Chicago wrote in 1990.
Unlike the Times article, Orin Kerr at Volokh Conspiracy shows us the actual findings from the article described in boldface above:
Thomas: 11.29%
Sotomayor: 11.04%
Ginsburg: 10.55%
Alito: 9.48%
Roberts: 9.20%
Scalia: 8.74%
Kennedy: 8.36%
Breyer: 7.56%
Kagan: 7.13%
Kerr points out:
The numbers seem at odds with Liptak’s claim. Yes, Thomas has the highest shared language percentage. But it’s bizarre to say that his numbers are “unusually high,” that Thomas “relies heavily” on outside language or that “many” of his words are “not his own.” All of the Justices share language from the briefs at roughly similar rates: about 7 to 11 words out of 100. And the difference between Thomas and Sotomayor is a rounding error. It’s only 2.5 words out of 1,000. In a typical majority opinion, that’s probably the difference between including a short parenthetical quote from a precedent and leaving it out.

Liptak relies on two additional studies. These two studies looked at three Terms from over a decade ago: 2002, 2003, and 2004. Only five of the current Justices were on the Court then, so we have no idea how the Chief, Alito, Sotomayor or Kagan might measure up. They show Justice Thomas sharing language with lower court opinions and amicus briefs slightly more than other Justices. But the differences strike me as pretty modest. . . .

Justice Thomas does seem to have shared language from amicus briefs slightly more than other Justices in 2002-04. But the differences are modest. Justice Thomas shared 4.4% of the language, and Justice Ginsburg shared 3.5%. That’s a difference, but it’s not a big one.
(See Kerr's post for more details.)

Kerr concludes:
I don’t see how these studies support the Times’s presentation of Justice Thomas as an outlier.

Even if these small differences are indicators of something, I’m not sure what that thing is. Are marginally higher numbers numbers supposed to show that Justice Thomas is taking his ideas from elsewhere more than the other Justices? Or are they supposed to show that Justice Thomas likes to include more or longer quotations from precedents and from the lower court opinion, perhaps giving the reader slightly more doctrinal context than do other Justices? As far as I can tell, the studies that look for word overlap don’t distinguish between these very different possibilities.
Yep. The Times article is embarrassingly skewed.

If the one with the highest amount of overlap with the briefs or lower-court opinions were Ginsburg or Sotomayor, the New York Times would tell us it's a sign of her great humility in drawing on the wisdom of others instead of arrogantly trying to remake the law.

Friday, August 28, 2015

"Billie Jean" versions

Winterplay:




Aloe Blacc:




The Civil Wars:




Michael Jackson:

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Finally, a sane Republican!

"Donald Trump says he’s OK with raising taxes on himself."

Do the most successful politicians have high or low voices?

Scientific American reports:

In two recently published studies, researchers looked at how the pitch of a candidate’s voice affected their chances in an election. The first study found that in the 2012 U.S. House elections candidates with lower voices were more likely than a higher-pitched opponent to win. With one exception: when running against a female opponent, candidates with higher voices were more popular, especially if they were men. . . .

In the second study, researchers wanted to know why a deep voice was a potent political tool. They recorded men and women speaking the sentence “I urge you to vote for me this November.” They then altered the recordings to create higher and lower pitched versions of each sentence.

More than 800 volunteers listened to the audio. Their preference for lower-pitched voices correlated with their preconception that these individuals were older, stronger and more competent.

The researchers note that a preference for leaders with deeper voices may be the result of so-called “cavemen instincts.” A deep voice is associated with high testosterone, physical strength and aggression. And way back when, those qualities were probably attractive in a leader. High-pitched voices also are thought to convey negative emotions, such as stress and fear.
If Hillary Clinton or another woman is the Democratic nominee, this is good news for Marco Rubio. If Joe Biden or another man is the Democratic nominee, this is good news for Jeb Bush.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

12 articles of faith about the criminal justice system

And 26 proposal for reform (PDF), by Judge Alex Kozinski.

(I haven't read the whole article yet, so I don't necessarily endorse any of these.)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Rachel Maddow explains why Donald Trump's strategy is "genius"

Maddow said on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon:

It's actually genius. I don't think he's a dumb guy. I don't think he's playing a dumb game here. . . .

If he was going to say at [the first] debate, "No, no, no — I'll never run as an independent — I'll only run as a Republican," he loses all his leverage. Then he just is one of the other Republicans.

But if he says, "No, you guys be nice to me; otherwise, I'm going to jump in as an independent," thereby guaranteeing that Hillary Clinton will be the next president, what does that mean? That means if he doesn't do that, the Republicans owe him forever. And if he does do that, Hillary Clinton becomes president, and she owes him forever! Nice!

So, . . . he will never have more power than he does right now. Because either way this goes, whether he runs as an independent or he doesn’t, half of the country’s political infrastructure is going to owe him for the rest of their lives. That is the art of the deal!



I got this from Mediaite, which seriously misquotes Maddow as saying either the Republican or Democratic party will "own him" (instead of "owe him"), which would suggest almost the opposite of what she really said.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Bob Johnston, who produced Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Simon & Garfunkel, has died at 83.

Rolling Stone reports:

Bob Johnston, a staff producer at Columbia Records who worked on legendary LPs like Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, Johnny Cash's At Folsom Prison and Simon & Garfunkel's Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, passed away Friday at a Nashville hospice. He was 83.

A friend of Johnston's confirmed the producer's death to the Austin Chronicle, saying, "For several days before, swinging, swaying, and waving around his hands, telling stories out loud, entertaining and consuming all those that saw and heard him. Once he was confined to [a] bed and connected to machines, hospice only gave him a few days to live. He was on morphine to help any pain he was experiencing. Bob's wife told me he pass[ed] away peacefully. The grand master waved his magical wand for the last time, then disappeared off into the night." . . .

Johnston also . . . produced Leonard Cohen's Songs From a Room and 1971's Songs of Love and Hate, and helmed albums by the Byrds, Jimmy Cliff, Pete Seeger and Marty Robbins. Johnston was also behind the board for Willie Nelson's infamous IRS tapes.

In 2011, Johnston talked about his successful hands-off approach to working with the artists and how he never told them what songs to include or not include on their albums.

"How could I? 'I don't like that song, Paul. Let's get rid of 'Parsley Sage' and do another one. It's too fuckin' slow.' Fuck that! I told Dylan and Cohen and Cash and Simon and everybody else, 'You don't have a contract with me. I got a contract with CBS. You can tell me to hit the fuckin' door. You don't have to call CBS. Just tell me to get the fuck out of here, and I'll be gone," Johnston said. "None of 'em ever messed with the sound, except Paul Simon, a little bit. But everybody else, it was what I did. I was better than everybody else. And everybody else, you compare my work. Blonde on Blonde was voted the best album in rock history. And you compare all the work with what I did and compare the other people's records. I sold a billion fuckin' albums, worldwide."

Car passengers: never put your feet on the dashboard

After a 22-year-old woman fell asleep on a long car trip with her feet on the dashboard, the car crashed, and the airbag caused her knees to hit her head, causing brain damage. Her mom comments:

“I got back a different daughter. I lost a sweet 22-year-old who worked full-time and put herself through university. She was on a great path. I got a 13-year-old with anger issues.”

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Bill Maher on Donald Trump

Maher says (click the link for video):

This says so much about the electorate. Even the evangelicals want to be called on their shit. They are desperate to have somebody lead them — somebody to say: "You know what? I just don't bend to your bullshit." And Donald Trump — I gotta say, I don't agree with him on a lot — but I kind of get him. We've kind of been doing the same thing.
That's a pretty insightful summary of why Trump has been appealing to so many Americans. But I think they're missing something.

Trump seems to love nothing more than to position himself in opposition to the mainstream.

Everyone knows you're supposed to say McCain's a war hero — so Trump says: No, he's not, he was just captured.

Everyone knows you're supposed to say illegal immigrants are good people who are trying to make a better life for their family — so Trump says: No, Mexico isn't sending its best people, Mexico is sending criminals.

If you consistently do the opposite of what everyone else is doing, you can't be accused of being a conformist, but in a way, you're equally suggestible; you just bend in the opposite direction.

Monday, August 10, 2015

How the Uber vs. de Blasio fight can be explained by public choice theory

Liya Palagashvili writes:

The recent showdown between ride-sharing service Uber and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio provides a vibrant illustration of what we economists call “public choice”—basically, the study of politics through the lens of economic theory. Mayor de Blasio attempted to limit ride-sharing drivers, but Uber exposed this proposal, unleashing thousands of New Yorkers onto city council. After a weeklong public debate, de Blasio dropped the proposal. . . .

In the public choice framework, politicians are in the profession of maximizing votes, staying in office, and increasing campaign contributions. As a result, elected officials often face a tradeoff between satisfying public wants and catering to special interest groups, which donate to campaigns and lobby to politicians in order to advance their own goals. . . .

Ideally, de Blasio, who has received more than $500,000 in campaign contributions from the taxi industry, wanted to sweep his Uber cap proposal under the rug. Uber is quite popular in New York City and de Blasio may have wanted to cater to the special interest of the taxi companies without stirring backlash from his constituents. If de Blasio truly cared about road congestion (which became the public justification for the cap) and thought it was popular to demonize Uber, he could have been vocal about this position upfront. It looks good for a politician to trumpet favored positions—such as vilifying Wal-Mart and Wall Street, both of which de Blasio has criticized.

By going public with the proposal, Uber forced de Blasio to factor in the cost of catering to special interest groups. Uber’s strategy was a classic example of placing public pressure on politicians. This was why de Blasio had to provide a public justification for his proposal. He even wrote an op-ed that read much like a debate strategy of throwing mediocre arguments against the wall and hoping some of it will stick.

So, New Yorkers, who love their Uber and detest their nonexistent taxicabs on a rainy day, blasted this issue with a typical Big Apple uproar. Now what? De Blasio knows that ultimately the public elects him. And it’s too risky for his goal of staying in office to satisfy his special interest constituents. So he raised the white flag and downloaded the Uber app.

But why did Governor Cuomo and Comptroller Stringer side with Uber? First, it’s a popular position to hold, and few politicians want to miss an opportunity to rally around a fashionable flag. But more importantly, taxicab companies have no interest in providing campaign contributions to Governor Cuomo because the taxi medallion system is a local issue, not a state issue. This means that the mayor and New York City Council have discretion over important aspects of the taxi industry such as the number of taxi medallions and the barriers to entry for new competitors.

As a result, Governor Cuomo isn’t tied to the special interest of taxicab companies. But Stringer’s opposition to de Blasio is interesting as it stirs some speculation that Stringer may intend to run against de Blasio in the near future. In the game of politics, it makes sense for Stringer to side with Uber to boost his popularity.

What can we learn from this Uber fight and public choice economics? We need to have a more practical understanding of politics rather than indulging in a romantic notion that all policies intend to help residents or consumers. We often get bad policies because of self-interested exchanges between politicians and special interest groups. We shouldn’t fall head over heels every time politicians tell us they support a particular policy in order to “help the people.” Sometimes that’s just a fa├žade for what is going on behind closed doors.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Live-blogging the first major Republican debate of the 2016 presidential race

I'll be live-blogging the debate here. Keep reloading for more updates.

Any quotes in this post will be written down on the fly, so they might not be verbatim, but I'll try to make them reasonably accurate.

[You can watch the whole thing here.]

[Here's a transcript of the debate — except with Jeb Bush's answer about belonging to an organization that funded Planned Parenthood mysteriously removed!]

[I missed about the first 8 minutes, so I went back and non-live-blogged it, with time stamps as if I had been watching live:]

9:03 — After introducing the candidates, the moderators in Cleveland remark that John Kasich, the Governor of Ohio, has a "home-field advantage."

9:04 — Brett Baier starts with a "hand-raising question": Is anyone unwilling to pledge support for the eventual Republican nominee, and not to run as an independent? Donald Trump is the only one who raises his hand, and he's loudly booed. Baier comes back: "That would virtually hand the presidency to the Democratic nominee." Rand Paul says: "This is what's wrong. He buys and sells politicians of all stripes. . . . He's already hedging his bets because he's used to buying politicians."

9:06 — Megyn Kelly asks Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon with no political experience, about his past errors in talking about world affairs. Carson says: "The thing that is probably most important is having a brain, and being able to figure things out, and learn things very rapidly." America didn't become a "great nation" by being "filled with politicians."

9:08 — Marco Rubio tries to tamp down concerns about his inexperience by saying the election "cannot be a resume competition . . . because if this election is a resume competition, then Hillary Clinton's going to be president, because she's been in government longer than anyone on this stage tonight."

[Here's where I started actually live-blogging:]

9:09 — Rubio: "If I'm the nominee, how is Hillary Clinton going to attack me for not understanding people living paycheck to paycheck? I grew up living paycheck to paycheck! How is she going to lecture me about student loans? I owed $100,000 just 4 years ago!"

9:10 — Jeb Bush: "They call me Veto Corleone, because I vetoed 2500 separate line items in the budget." [I went back and corrected the number of line items.]

9:11 — Megyn Kelly asks Trump about how he calls women names like "fat pigs." Trump: "Only Rosie O'Donnell." Trump segues into saying the country has a "big problem" with "being politically correct." He doesn't have time for "total political correctness." Trump adds that he's been very nice to Megyn Kelly — "although I could probably not be based on the way you've treated me."

9:16 — Megyn Kelly asks Scott Walker if he'd really let a woman die rather than have an abortion, which he's suggested is his position. Walker doesn't directly answer the question, but bears down on his pro-life credentials.

9:18 — Mike Huckabee says he'd invoke the constitutional rights — equal protection and due process — of fetuses. We need to stop "ripping off their body parts and selling off their parts like they were a Buick."

9:20 — Megyn Kelly asks John Kasich why Republican voters should trust him after he accepted Obamacare's Medicaid funding. Kasich focuses on his program for prison inmates to treat their addictions and reenter society. Then he adds a flurry of facts about how he's actually shrunk government.

9:23 — Chris Wallace asks Bush about his past statement that illegal immigration is "an act of love." Bush says he still agrees: "They have no other options." Predictably, he pivots to talking about the need to secure the border and crack down on "sanctuary cities."

9:25 — Wallace asks Trump to "share your proof" of his assertion that Mexico is sending criminals to the US. "We need to build a wall, and it needs to be built quickly. And I don't mind having a big, beautiful door in that wall for people to immigrate legally." He doesn't give any proof, but repeats that "they send the bad people over."

9:30 — Kasich admits: "Donald Trump is hitting a nerve in this country. They're fed up with what's happening in this country. For people who just want to tune him out, they're making a mistake. . . . Mr. Trump is touching a nerve because people want to see a wall being built."

9:32 — Rubio notes that most people crossing the Mexican border aren't Mexican. "This is the most generous country in the world when it comes to immigration. We feel like despite our generosity, we're being taken advantage of." This seems like a smartly moderate way to frame the issue.

9:34 — Walker says what everyone has been saying: we need to secure the border, not allow amnesty, and promote legal immigration.

9:35 — Ted Cruz claims that most of the other candidates on the stage have "supported amnesty."

9:38 — Rand Paul: "I want to collect more records from terrorists but less records from innocent Americans." Chris Christie retorts: "That's a completely ridiculous answer. How are you going to know the difference?" Paul interrupts him: "You fundamentally don't understand the Bill of Rights!" Christie comes back that Paul likes to give speeches on the floor of the Senate to be able to put them on the internet to raise money for his campaign, while putting American lives at risk.

9:40 — Ted Cruz says President Obama won't even say the words "radical Islamic terrorist." Obama is "an apologist" for terrorism.

9:42 — Megyn Kelly asks how Bush can say "your brother's war was a mistake." He bears down: "Knowing what we know now, . . . it was a mistake. I wouldn't have gone in." He pivots to criticizing Obama for "abandon[ing] Iraq" and allowing ISIL to flourish.

9:44 — Megyn Kelly asks Ben Carson about waterboarding. "Well, thank you, Megyn, I wasn't sure I would get to talk again." To answer the question, he says: "I wouldn't necessarily broadcast what I'm going to do." He focuses on using the military's "tremendous intellect to win wars." Subtext: Don't worry about Carson's lack of political experience — he's really smart and would know how to delegate to smart experts.

9:46 — Trump is asked about some of his liberal views. He emphasizes that he was the only one on the stage to oppose the Iraq war from the beginning. Then he actually praises "single-payer health care," at least as it exists in other countries. Trump suggests that single-payer might have worked at one point in this country, but says that now he wants to reform the system in other ways. Paul: "I think you're on the wrong side of this if you're arguing for single-payer." Trump: "I think you misheard me. You're having a hard time with that."

9:49 — Trump is asked what he got from his donations to Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton. What he got from Clinton: "She came to my wedding."

9:50 — Brett Baier notes that Republicans keep promising to shrink government, but government keeps growing, even under Republican leaders.

9:52 — Carson would have "a proportional tax system" based on "tithing."

9:55 — A dull back-and-forth between Bush and Rubio about Common Core.

9:59 — Chris Wallace points out that Hillary Clinton is probably going to be the Democratic nominee, and he asks Kasich how he'll respond to her predictable attacks — that the Republican nominee wants to take the country backward. Kasich: "Economic growth is the key to everything. But once we have economic growth, it is important to reach out to people in the shadows — people who don't think they ever get a fair shake. And that includes minorities." (Our internet connection cut out at this point, so I didn't catch his whole answer.)

10:03 — Wallace asks Bush how he'll accomplish his plan of 4% economic growth and 19 million new jobs, which would be triple the number of new jobs under his dad and his brother combined. As with most of Bush's performance tonight, his answer seems solid and fact-filled but isn't particularly memorable.

10:05 — Walker: "Hillary Clinton thinks Washington creates jobs. I think most Americans understand that people create jobs."

10:08 — Huckabee absurdly declares that no one is on Social Security because they decided when they were young that they wanted to "entrust some of their money to the government."

10:10 — Wallace asks Trump about his statement: "I used the laws of this country to my advantage." Trump repeats: "I have used the laws of this country . . . to do a great job for my company." He admits that he did this four times by declaring bankruptcy. "I have a great, great company . . . and I am very proud of the job I did . . . and frankly, so has everybody else in my position." Wallace bears down by focusing on how lenders complained that they lost billions in the most recent bankruptcy of one of Trump's companies. Trump zeroes in on that reference to lenders: "These lenders, they're not little babies, these are not the nice, sweet people you think they are, Chris. They're killers. You know, you're living in a world of the make believe, Chris."

10:14 — Rubio, who hasn't gotten to talk for a while, reels off a lot of standard conservative positions: reduce taxes on small businesses, reduce business regulations, repeal and replace Obamacare, repeal and replace Dodd-Frank. Rubio has been giving a fine performance but doesn't seem to be doing anything to really stand out tonight.

10:16 — Walker would repeal the Iran deal on day 1, then put even more crippling sanctions in place. I'd say the same thing of Walker that I just said of Rubio.

10:17 — Paul on the Iran deal: "You should negotiate from a position of strength. President Obama gave away too much too early. . . . I would have never released the sanctions until there was evidence of compliance."

10:18 — Huckabee says Obama's approach to Iran, instead of "trust but verify," is "trust but vilify — trust our enemies, and vilify anyone who disagrees with him."

10:23 — Kelly asks Bush about the fact until late 2014, Bush sat on the board of the Bloomberg Foundation, which donated to Planned Parenthood. Bush denies knowing what the foundation was doing, then says: "My record as a pro-life governor is not in dispute."

10:25 — Kelly asks Rubio about his support for exceptions to abortion bans for rape or incest. Rubio has a deer-in-the-headlights look, and says he's "not sure" that's an accurate representation of his position. [ADDED: Politico says Rubio voted for a bill with those exceptions.]

10:26 — Kelly asks Trump about his past statement that he was pro-choice. She asks the elephant-in-the-room question: "When did you become a Republican?" "I've evolved on many issues. And you know who else evolved on many issues is Ronald Reagan."

10:28 — Trump responds to Bush's past attacks on his tone: "We don't have time for tone. We have to go out and get the job done."

10:31 — Paul: "I don't want my marriage or my guns registered in Washington."

10:32 — Walker is asked about racial bias in policing. "It's about training . . . particularly when it comes to use of force." There need to be "consequences" for the "few" who engage in misconduct. Walker is the only candidate who's asked about that issue. It's as if Fox News didn't really want to have a discussion about it but wanted to prevent people from saying they didn't talk about it.

10:38 — Trump: "If Iran was a stock, you folks should go out and buy it, because it will quadruple."

10:40 — Baier asks Carson about Obama's infamous "red line" comment about Syria. Would Carson have taken military action against Syria? Carson avoids answering the question. "I would shore up our military first."

10:41 — Walker: "It's sad that the Russian and Chinese governments know more about Hillary Clinton's email server than the US Congress."

10:42 – Huckabee is asked about transgender people in the military. "The military is not a social experiment. The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things."

10:45 — Paul is asked why he used to want to cut foreign aid to Israel, then changed his mind. "We shouldn't send money to countries that hate us. Israel isn't one of those." But "we cannot give away money we don't have."

10:55 — Carson, asked about race relations: "When I take people to the operating room, I'm operating on what makes them who they are. Their skin doesn't make them who they are, and their hair doesn't make them who they are."

Notice: before the debate, everyone was worried that Trump was going to ignore the rules and talk over everyone. But he didn't. That was the dog that didn't bark.

11:00 — Cruz's closing statement: "My father fled Cuba, and I will fight to defend freedom because my family knows what it's like to lose it."

11:01 — Carson: "I'm the only candidate to take out half a brain, although if you've been to Washington, you might think someone else beat me to it."

11:02 — Walker brags that he's been called "aggressively normal."

11:03 — Bush complains that "we're not protecting and preserving our entitlement system." So he's positioning himself as the clearly moderate, establishment candidate.

11:04 — Trump predictably uses his closing statement to attack America's status quo: "We can't do anything right!"

Nicholas Kristof says:

I thought Trump was a loser in the Republican debate (though it's also true he got particularly tough questions) and lost stature. I thought Jeb Bush did okay. I thought two people did better than expected. One is John Kasich, who had two of the freshest answers of the evening, about poverty and about same-sex marriage. I doubt Kasich will be the nominee, but since he's from the swing state of Ohio he's a strong contender for running mate. Then I thought Marco Rubio also did well, speaking smoothly and articulately. The other candidates I thought mostly seemed to shrink on the stage. Actually, the people I was most impressed with were the questioners--bravo to them for asking tough, smart, provocative questions.
Here's a fact check of the debate.

Alex Knepper's take:
Winners: Kasich, Rubio, Christie, Trump, Paul

Losers: Jeb!, Walker, Carson, Huckabee, Cruz

Kasich was energetic, thoughtful, and also intriguing, since he still feels 'fresh,' as the last candidate to announce. I could see him drawing support away from the underwhelming and boring Jeb!, who at one point seemed like he actually lost his train of thought.

But no one was more boring than Walker, who mostly just blended in. Christie was the one who brought the fireworks -- but he also showed a willingness to distinguish himself from the others by promising to tackle entitlement reform. That could have been part of a winning message had he not imploded last year!

Paul actually got the better of the exchange with Christie over the NSA, much as it pains me to say. Paul did well for himself because he, too, distinguished himself from the others -- he owned his heterodox foreign policy stances proudly. Carson, on the other hand, looked amateurish not only on foreign policy but on policy generally. He really had no business being on that stage.

Neither did Trump, but he answered his questions about as well as he could have while still being true to his personality. He didn't shine, but he didn't say or do anything that would alienate his current supporters. If he did anything obviously wrong, it was that he too often seemed like he was yelling. Sure, he evaded his questions, but so did everyone, at some point. This was Trump's first time in the ring with successful national politicians and he held his own.

Rubio delivered solid answers to most of his questions, but did himself a disservice when he decided to fully own his Huckabee-style social conservatism, ranting about "murdering babies" and the "barbarism" of our age. Cruz was surprisingly restrained and felt increasingly irrelevant as the debate went on -- which is a good way to describe his campaign generally, so far.

Surviving the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima 70 years ago

"There were the shadowy forms of people, some of whom looked like walking ghosts. Others moved as though in pain, like scarecrows, their arms held out from their bodies with forearms and hands dangling. These people puzzled me until I suddenly realized that they had been burned and were holding their arms out to prevent the painful friction of raw surfaces rubbing together."

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Is Donald Trump a serious candidate?

Some might say he isn't serious because he doesn't have any experience working in government. But I doubt many conservative Republicans would subscribe to that view. And I'm not hearing anyone say that Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina aren't serious candidates.

Corie W. Stephens seems to think she's found the smoking gun that shows Trump isn't serious. She says:

Perfectly showcasing the depth of his candidacy is DonaldJTrump.com, his official campaign website. It contains no issues page, but helpfully informs you that “Mr. Trump has over 7 million followers on social media.”

One can read about how much expensive property he owns and learn all about his foray into reality TV. You’re out of luck however, if you’re curious about how he would handle diplomatic relations with Iran or reform our nation’s healthcare system.
But wait a second . . .

As far as I can tell, Jeb Bush's website "contains no issues page."

And Scott Walker's website also "contains no issues page."

After looking around those websites, I'm not seeing any clue as to how those candidates "would handle diplomatic relations with Iran or reform our nation’s healthcare system."

[ADDED: The same is true of John Kasich's website.]

The websites of Trump and Bush and Walker all look like they could have been designed by the same person. They all have a bio of the candidate with vague references to their political ideologies but no concrete plans. Those websites all feature "news" stories and social-media links instead of "issue" statements. So are the three Republican candidates who've been doing the best in the polls all unserious about vying for the presidency?

I can think of two better explanations. Either (a) they plan to add an "issues" section later in the campaign, after their positions have had more time to jell, or (b) they've decided that a continually updated "news" format is a more dynamic, effective way to engage potential supporters than a static list of policy statements.

Personally, I don't think that's the best approach. I prefer Marco Rubio's website, with its clear "issues" section.

But should we really write off a whole campaign for taking the Bush/Walker/Trump approach, in the very early stages of the race? I don't think so.

UPDATE: Walker doesn't even know his website is missing policy proposals.

UPDATE: Trump now has a "positions" section on his website. It only has 1 issue. But that's more than Bush, Walker, or Kasich have on their websites.