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Dracula on Gratitude

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I enjoyed the Dracula mini-series on Netflix–it’s smart, stylish and a fresh take. Also, at just three episodes, it’s satisfying without requiring a huge time investment.

Dracula has some pointed commentary on contemporary mores, including economics. After sleeping for a hundred years he finds himself in an ordinary home and speaks to the owner, Kathleen:

D: You’re clearly very wealthy.

K: Wealthy?

D: Yes. Well, look at all this stuff. All this food. The moving picture box. And that thing outside, Bob calls it um, a car. And this treasure trove is your house!

K: It’s a dump.

D: Kathleen, I’ve been a nobleman for 400 years. I’ve lived in castes and palaces among the richest people of any age. Never….never! Have I stood in greater luxury than surrounds me now. This is a chamber of marvels. There isn’t a king, or queen or emperor that I have ever known or eaten who would step into this room and ever agree to leave it again.

I knew the future would bring wonders. I did not know it would make them ordinary.

The post Dracula on Gratitude appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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StatsGuru
2 days ago
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"I knew the future would bring wonders. I did not know it would make them ordinary."

I am amazed every day by what we can do. I realized recently that GPS makes me a better driver, because it allows me to see the future and prepare for the coming traffic. And that is just a tiny thing I now take for granted.

Hardball Questions For The Next Debate (2020)

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[Previously: Hardball Questions (2016), More Hardball Questions (2016). I stole parts of the Buttigieg question from Twitter, but don’t remember enough details to give credit, sorry]

Mr. Biden: Your son Hunter Biden was on the board of directors of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, during your vice-presidential term. The Ukrainian government was investigating Burisma for misdeeds, and Hunter was allegedly one of the targets of the investigation. President Trump alleges that you used your clout as VP to shut down the investigation into Hunter, which if true would constitute an impeachable abuse of power.

My question for you is: if your son had been a daughter, would you have named her Gatherer?

Mr. Bloomberg: You’ve been criticized as puritanical and self-righteous for some of your more restrictive policies, like a ban on large sodas. You seem to lean into the accusation, stating in a 2014 interview that:

I am telling you, if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.

Let’s not focus on what this says about your humility, or about your religious beliefs. I want to focus on a different issue.

Despite spending $100 million in the first month of your presidential campaign, you are currently placed fifth – behind two socialists, a confused old man, and the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. In, let’s not forget, an increasingly shaky effort to prevent President Donald J. Trump from winning a second term.

So my question for you is: what makes you so sure you’re not in Hell already?

Mayor Buttigieg: You are a gay Navy veteran. Your last name is “Buttigieg”. You are mayor of “South Bend”. And you first achieved prominence on the national stage for a New York Times editorial about your travels in the Horn of Africa, which includes the country of “Djibouti”.

My question is: is your campaign just the setup for a gay porno? Do you really think viewers want this much backstory?

Senator Warren: Despite your many years of service to the nation, media attention has focused on your claim to be descended from Native Americans. You told your former employer Harvard that you were of Native descent. Republicans accused you of trying to unfairly exploit affirmative action, but an investigation showed you did not benefit from any affirmative action at the time, leaving it unclear why you would do this.

More recently, you took a genetic test to establish your Native background. The test showed you did have a Native ancestor 6-12 generations back, but supporters were left baffled as to why you would take it or expect anyone to care. Conservatives used to the test to reignite the scandal around your Harvard employment, and progressives condemned you for promoting a view of race based on biology rather than culture or self-identification. The general consensus, again, was that you got no benefit from the test and it was unclear why you would do this.

The development of one of the algorithms that uses genetic information to determine racial background was called the “Warren Project” after its lead geneticist Jim Warren. Warren founded FamilyTreeDNA, a direct-to-consumer genetic testing company that continues to be a leader in genetic testing for ancestry, with about $16 million in revenue each year. This is relevant because Jim Warren is your ex-husband and the father of your children, who presumably stand to inherit a significant part of the FamilyTreeDNA fortune.

So my question for you is: is your campaign is just a publicity stunt to raise interest in genetic testing?

Senator Sanders: You are most famous for the 2016 incident where a bird landed on your podium mid-rally. Supporters have reasonably connected this to the ancient Roman practice of augury, where leaders were chosen by the number of bird-related omens surrounding them.

But auguries can be hard to interpret. For example, during the founding of Rome, Romulus and Remus agreed to use augury to determine which of them should lead the new city. The two of them went out and watched for ominous birds. First, Remus saw six vultures, which he interpreted as strong evidence that he should lead. But then Romulus saw twelve vultures. The two argued, with Remus’ claim resting on having seen vultures first, and Romulus’ claim resting on the theory that more vultures = more leadership. One thing led to another, Romulus killed Remus, and Rome ended up building the greatest empire in history. This firmly established the principle that even if one person sees birds first, another person who sees more birds may still be the rightful leader, if he sees enough of them.

So my question for you is: it’s been four years. How many birds would have to land on Donald Trump before you admit he would make a better president than you?

Mr. Yang: You’ve sparked interest with your proposal of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), a no-strings-attached $1000/month transfer to every US citizen. Experts say it’s totally infeasible, but “UBI forever!” certainly makes for a stirring rallying cry.

On the other hand are people who complain your proposal isn’t a real UBI. UBI needs to be enough to live on, but $1000/month wouldn’t even get people all the way to the federal poverty line. In more expensive regions like coasts and cities, it would be even worse. “UBI forever!” might be a good rallying cry, but “UBI (below a real UBI) forever!” is a little less rousing. Then again, US states make their mottos sound portentious by converting them to Latin; maybe that would work for you too.

So do you think a good slogan for your campaign would be “Semper ubi sub ubi”?

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StatsGuru
22 days ago
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The gatherer question is outstanding.
DuskStar
21 days ago
IMO they're all hilarious

[Josh Blackman] Impeachment Based on Improper Motives

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The House Judiciary Committee released a report titled "Constitutional grounds for presidential impeachment." The report conceives of two ways that an "impeachable abuse of power" could constitute "high Crimes and Misdemeanors." First, "the exercise of official power in a way that, on its very face, grossly exceeds the President's constitutional authority or violates legal limits on that authority." Second, where "the exercise of official power to obtain an improper personal benefit, while ignoring or injuring the national interest." That is, where the official "engag[es] in potentially permissible acts but for forbidden reasons (e.g., with the corrupt motive of obtaining a personal political benefit)."

The latter concept describes the legal theories behind many prominent challenges to President Trump's exercises of authority. In case after case, both sides agreed that the President has the authority to take some action, but this President could not take those actions because of an improper motive: the travel ban, the citizenship question on the census, the DACA rescission, etc. Now, this well-worn argument will likely serve as the basis for an article of impeachment: the President can ask foreign governments to investigate possible corruption, but this President cannot make such a request because doing so could harm his political rival.

I've questioned whether this sort of framework is appropriate for the courts, but I do not have the same reservations for the impeachment process. Members of the House can certainly question the President's motives when deciding whether to approve articles of impeachment. And Senators likewise can consider presidential intent when deciding whether to acquit or convict. Indeed, this type of argument makes some sense to many constituents: why should the President be able to take public actions that privately benefit him.

My focus, as always, concerns the precedent this proceeding will establish. Yes, I am far less concerned about what happens to President Trump then I am concerned about what happens to the next President, whoever he or she will be.

Impeachment premised on some express violation of law will always be controversial. But at least proponents can point to some clear standard that justifies removal. Bribery has elements. Treason has elements. Violation of a statute (like obstruction of justice) has elements. Even impeachment based on the refusal to comply with congressional subpoena is premised on a discrete act. Every White House can know ex ante that failing to respond to a subpoena could give rise to impeachment. Presidents have some notice of what is expected of them, and can accordingly mount a defense during the trial.

However, impeachment for an "abuse of power" based solely on "corrupt" intent gives Presidents no notice, whatsoever, of what is expected of them. There is a nearly infinite range of conduct that can fall within this category. The House report explains, "[t]here are at least as many ways to abuse power as there are powers vested in the President." Virtually anything the President does can give rise to impeachment if a majority of Congress thinks he had an improper intent.

The decision not to include an article based on bribery because it has "technical statutory requirements" evidences how malleable these proceedings are. The House didn't want to risk making the charges too precise to satisfy an enumerated standard, so they reverted to an unenumerated standard.

This choice echoes an important debate from the Constitutional Convention. On September 8, 1787–nine days before the conclusion of the convention–George Mason offered a proposal to expand the list of impeachable offenses. He would have added "maladministration," in addition to treason and bribery. Mason reasoned:

Why is the provision restrained to Treason & bribery only? Treason as defined in the Constitution will not reach many great and dangerous offences. Hastings is not guilty of Treason. Attempts to subvert the Constitution may not be Treason as above defined. As bills of attainder which have saved the British Constitution are forbidden, it is the more necessary to extend: the power of impeachments. He movd. to add after "bribery" "or maladministration."

James Madison disagreed. He said, "So vague a term will be equivalent to a tenure during pleasure of the Senate." Masons's proposal was rejected.

I see little difference between "maladministration" and the allegations here: President Trump engaged in an "abuse of power" based on a "corrupt" intent, where there is no clearly identified offense. Such a capacious standard fails to accord with any notions of fairness for the accused, and risks transforming impeachment into an inescapable feature of our political order.

Jonathan Turley's much-derided, and quite misunderstood testimony, ably captured this concern. He wrote:

In this age of rage, many are appealing for us to simply put the law aside and "just do it" like this is some impulse-buy Nike sneaker. You can certainly do that. You can declare the definitions of crimes alleged are immaterial and this is an exercise of politics, not law. However, the legal definitions and standards that I have addressed in my testimony are the very thing dividing rage from reason. Listening to these calls to dispense with such legal niceties, brings to mind a famous scene with Sir Thomas More in "A Man For All Seasons." In a critical exchange, More is accused by his son-in-law William Roper of putting the law before morality and that More would "give the Devil the benefit of law!" When More asks if Roper would instead "cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?," Roper proudly declares "Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!" More responds by saying "And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!"

Both sides in this controversy have demonized the other to justify any measure in defense much like Roper. Perhaps that is the saddest part of all of this. We have forgotten the common article of faith that binds each of us to each other in our Constitution. However, before we cut down the trees so carefully planted by the Framers, I hope you consider what you will do when the wind blows again . . . perhaps for a Democratic president. Where will you stand then "the laws all being flat?"

The analogy to A Man for All Seasons is apt. For many people, Trump is the embodiment of the devil. Evil incarnate. And resisting him, at all costs, has preoccupied much of the last three years of our polity. Impeaching the President for an "abuse of power" premised on a "corrupt" intent will serve that present purposes. It will make some people feel like they've served a bigger historical purpose, and stopped a corrupt, tyrannical president. But this process–already a foregone conclusion at this point–will trigger consequences far worse during the next battle over improper motives. And at that point, alas, "the laws [will be] flat." We should "give the Devil benefit of law, for [our] own safety's sake."

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LONG-AWAITED LES NESSMAN, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PROJECT FINALLY GREEN-LIT: New Jersey homeowners say aggr…

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LONG-AWAITED LES NESSMAN, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PROJECT FINALLY GREEN-LIT: New Jersey homeowners say aggressive turkeys are terrorizing community.

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StatsGuru
79 days ago
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This happens in Boston as well.

How can California be left in the dark?

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That is the title of my latest Bloomberg column, the inspiration for which came from an Alex T. tweet.  Here is one passage:

Economists themselves have been of no great help. My Twitter feed includes plenty of the world’s greatest (or at least best-known) economists. They love to debate Elizabeth Warren’s plan for a wealth tax, an idea that probably isn’t going to happen (just ask Mitch McConnell or, for that matter, any moderate Democratic senator). When it comes to designing a better incentive model for California power utilities — a concrete problem for which economics is remarkably well-suited — there has been close to complete silence.

Economists are just reflecting a more general failing in American political debate. The old saying that all politics is local has been turned on its head: All issues are now national in scope and partisan in nature. People are less interested in the day-to-day mechanics of actual governance, including at the state and local level. The comeuppance for those ideological obsessions is now upon us.

I wonder how much worse things will have to get before they become better.

The post How can California be left in the dark? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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StatsGuru
91 days ago
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They turned off the juice to prevent wild fires. That didn't work. Maybe they should leave the power on, since their plan failed.
freeAgent
90 days ago
But if they hadn't turned off the power, maybe there would be more fires and we would all be dead right now. We should thank them for saving our lives!
StatsGuru
90 days ago
But if there were more fires, there would be more CO2 in the air, causing more global warming, and killing us all again!

Quotation of the Day…

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(Don Boudreaux)

… is from page 14 of George Will’s 2019 book, The Conservative Sensibility:

The empirical case for limited government is that although human beings have something in common – human nature – they are different in capacities and aspirations. From this it follows, not logically but practically, that government cannot hope to provide happiness to all. The most it can reasonably expect to provide are the conditions under which happiness, as each defines it, can be pursued.

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