Folks who vote for a larger Welfare State should also discourage the teaching of evolution?

I’ve been enjoying The Great Trials of World History and the Lessons They Teach Us, by Douglas Linder, a professor at the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law.

One of the trials covered is the familiar Scopes Trial, in which ignorance is pitted against Science.

Professor Linder highlights that one of the reasons William Jennings Bryan was against the teaching of evolution in schools, however, is that he was an advocate for equality and was fighting against attempts to discourage unsuccessful Americans from breeding, e.g., in the Eugenics movement.

I wonder if Jennings Bryan would be perplexed by the situation today in which advocates for a larger Welfare State, which encourages maximum reproduction by the least successful Americans (by providing free housing, health care, food, and smartphones on condition that they have children), are simultaneously loud advocates in favor of teaching evolution in schools.

Readers: Why do people who advocate for maximizing the percentage of Americans who are descended from those who never worked also enjoy rooting out the handful of American Creationists and calling them stupid? Shouldn’t folks who advocate maximum fertility among those on Welfare want to downplay a biological theory that says children will closely resemble their parents?

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Amazon settles into low-tax New York City

“Amazon Announces New York and Virginia as HQ2 Picks” (nytimes):

Amazon could receive more than $2 billion in tax incentives across the two top locations, the company said in its announcement. Up to $1.2 billion of that will come from New York state’s Excelsior program, a discretionary tax credit. In Virginia, the company could receive up to $550 million in cash incentives from the state.

Plainly both New York and Virginia will be low-tax environments for Amazon (not for small competitors, though! The Tax Foundation ranks New York almost dead last in business tax climate; only California and New Jersey are more punishing places to have a company), but how exactly are the “tax incentives” ladled out?

Amazon will pay less in state income tax? In payroll taxes? In property taxes? A combination of these taxes? 

“The mystery tax breaks bringing Amazon to LIC; New York has an incentives package for Amazon, but taxpayers may never know what’s in it” talks about “tax credits,” but doesn’t say if these are credits against state income tax or local property tax or what.

[Separately, anyone planning to sue an Amazon employee for child support or alimony should probably wait for the lawsuit target to be transferred from Washington (capped child support and limited alimony) to New York ($100,000 per year in tax-free child support readily obtainable and far longer taxable alimony duration). New York enables child support profits to be collected through age 21, while Washington cuts them off at age 18. New York is also more favorable for plaintiffs seeking to obtain sole custody of a child (see TMZ for why it was smart for Katie Holmes to sue Tom Cruise in New York rather than in California). For plaintiffs suing the very highest Amazon earners, the Virginia location offers unlimited child support by formula, but a child stops yielding cash at age 18.]

I wonder if the Amazon New York location will end up presenting the nation’s largest contrast in leisure time. “Amazon’s New Neighbor: The Nation’s Largest Housing Project” (nytimes) says that 6,000 people who have no financial incentive to work (they may actually suffer reduced spending power by working due to the welfare system structure) will live right next to people that the same newspaper says are essentially slaves (see “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace; The company is conducting an experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers to get them to achieve its ever-expanding ambitions.”: “When you’re not able to give your absolute all, 80 hours a week, they see it as a major weakness,” she said.)

Readers: What do you think of New York residents paying the nation’s highest tax rates (tied with California?) so that Amazon can be in NYC but be taxed more like a business in Florida or Nevada?

Also, does this mean that the New York transportation system will melt down? How can it handle 25,000 more commutes per day via subway, Uber, private car, train, etc.? Every mode of transit in NYC (even walking in Midtown!) seems to be gridlocked and/or overburdened currently.

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Veterans Day Observed (F-35)

Today we observe Veterans Day.

In addition to remembering those who died in previous wars, let’s consider our arsenal for the next ones.

The F-35 was used in combat by the US for the first time in September (Reuters story on attacking a ground target in Afghanistan; maybe a drone could have done this?). Wikipedia says that taxpayers began funding this program in 1992 and that the plane first flew in 2000 (prototype) and 2006 (production version). So it was 26 years from the start of development to the first military use, longer than the interval between World War I and World War II.

Comparison: The B-29, the most technologically advanced plane that we had in World War II, was requested by the Air Corps in December 1939, first flew in 1942, and was used in combat in June 1944 (5.5 years after the start of the program).

Should we be happy with Donald Trump for not starting any new wars? Or unhappy with him for not disentangling us from places where we apparently can’t win (or even define “win”)? See “Who Is Winning the War in Afghanistan? Depends on Which One” (nytimes, August 18), for example.

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Aspiration for Democrats: a government voted into office by people who can’t find the Post Office

A California Democrat on Facebook posted a link to “College students say they can’t send in their absentee ballots because they don’t know where to buy stamps” (Business Insider) and added the following:

Post Office policy is to deliver your ballot whether it’s stamped or not – so don’t let your lack of a stamp stop you from voting.

He is well beyond college age so I’m not sure how many of these stamp-ignorant Millennials might be reached by his post.

My response:

It will be awesome to see these folks, who are unable to find a post office, denounce Trump voters as “stupid.”

Happy Election Day to everyone! My ballot here in Massachusetts is nearly all candidates running unopposed, but I would be interested to hear from readers in states where not everyone agrees on the One True Path.

[My Facebook feed today is filled with friends bragging that they voted, often complete with a photo of an “I voted” sticker as proof. Most of these folks live in states such as Massachusetts or California where the outcome of the election is not in doubt, but these folks often describe their actions in heroic terms and add some trash talk about how people in other countries don’t get to vote (where is that true?). My Facebook friends are living through (and heroically acting in) dramatic times:

It is not the Democratic Party on the ballot today, but democracy itself.

More than perhaps ever before, your vote matters a great deal

Probably more is at stake, then, than during the 1860 election in which Abraham Lincoln ran as an anti-slavery Republican?]

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Silicon Valley is the best reason to vote Republican next week?

As technology takes over American lives, literally in the case of Facebook, I wonder if voting Republican tomorrow isn’t the best way for Americans to #Resist total domination by their smug rich Silicon Valley overlords. The titans of Silicon Valley often seem to infer from their wealth that they have special insight into how a society should be organized and how non-wealthy, non-important people should conduct their lives (see Lean In for example, and “Guy with a ‘Whites Only’ sign in his conference room tells others not to discriminate”). Having created one of the nation’s highest tax states (#6 in percent of residents’ income devoted to state and local government) that operates perhaps the worst-performing school system (nytimes) in an environment of racial inequality (“California is the center of American racism?“), these folks feel confident in preaching proper government organization to the ignorant non-Silicon Valley masses. While presiding over enterprises whose employees overwhelmingly identify as white or Asian men, the CEOs prate in the media about how other companies should hire and promote employees who identify as non-white/non-Asian women. If they think not enough reporters are listening, they simply buy the media (see below).

Even on business subjects, these folks have essentially no useful experience to relate. If you’re manufacturing car parts or providing landscaping services or running a restaurant, how is it useful to hear from the CEO of a company that has had, essentially, a monopoly for 5-15 years? The regulated Bell System monopoly had its drawbacks, but at least Americans were spared from having to purchase and read books by its managers offering purported secrets of their success. Nobody who ran a business exposed to competition was forced to watch a Bell System executive being interviewed on TV with fawning questions about how he or she had made the company so profitable.

Anecdote at the lower end of the wealth spectrum: a (white) friend who studied at Stanford and lives in Berkeley traveled to Ohio to canvas African-Americans in Cleveland to encourage them to go to the polls and vote for Hillary (Trump ultimately won). The majority of people who opened their doors told him that they didn’t expect a Hillary presidency to make them better off than would a Trump presidency. He might have concluded from this that black Americans rationally evaluate their interests and vote accordingly. Instead he concluded that black Americans were dumber than he had anticipated.

The election of Donald Trump was helpful in deflating some of these sermonizing billionaires, but the Insufferability Index seems likely to rise if Democrats win a lot of mid-term seats. Could it be that the best reason to vote Republican, therefore, is to quiet down the Blowhards of the Bay for a couple of years? Trump makes them angry, but a hate-filled Silicon Valley Master of the Universe might be less annoying than a self-sastified one?

[This advice is purely for readers. My own ballot here in Massachusetts is dominated by Democrats running unopposed. There are essentially no options for incorrect voting.]

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Massachusetts ballot questions

This year we voters in the Land of Righteousness (i.e., Massachusetts) get to decide…

Question 3: whether the government should continue to be able to imprison people for up to 1 year and/or fine them up to $50,000 for failing to keep up with proper thinking regarding transgender bathroom and locker room access. (boston.com)

Question 1: whether the government should set the maximum number of patients a nurse can take care of (varies by type of facility, e.g., 3 patients/nurse in “step-down” and 1 patient per nurse for ICU; see boston.com)

Question 2: creates a commission to study ways to work around the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. Decries the “corporate takeover of the First Amendment”

Can we infer from the above that citizens are more or less happy with everything else that goes on in our state?

Question 3 is the most interesting one. The current law is from 2016 and provides for correct bathroom thinking. Anyone who identifies as a woman can use a women’s locker room, for example. Folks in Massachusetts pride themselves on not being racist, sexist, and stupid, like the Trump supporters in other states. And yet tens of thousands of seemingly righteous Massachusetts voters signed a petition to put a “restore hatred and improper thinking” question on the ballot.

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Coastal elites decide on fair wages for blue collar Americans in the interior

From a coastal elite venture capitalist friend on Facebook:

When these 5,000+ migrants inevitably arrive at the US / Mexico border and begin to force their way across, what if we rallied 10,000 Americans who value refugees to stand peacefully at the border between them and whichever armed military division Trump brings out to stop them, as an act of civil disobedience?

His virtuous friends cheer him on:

Count me in if you organize people/dates/locations. Or if you need a $$ contribution to help make it work.

I highly recommend supporting Al Otro Lado. They helped with previous refugee caravans and do exactly this work fighting for the right to seek asylum. They particularly fight border patrol at the Tijuana crossing refusing to let people even present themselves for asylum. … Basically, the administration is trying to eliminate asylum entirely.

I’ll go

I gave my standard reply

The good news for these able-bodied ambulatory folks is that they are entitled to free housing, free food, free health care, and a free smartphone as soon as they arrive (“The Contracting States shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in their territory the same treatment with respect to public relief and assistance as is accorded to their nationals” — Article 23 of the UN Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees). But how is it fair to those who are too sick, too old, or too disabled to make the trip? If we are truly good-hearted, shouldn’t we put an Airbus A380 on the Honduras/Boston route to bring in 1,000 elderly wheelchair-bound refugees daily? Surely folks in Massachusetts will do a better job caring for these unfortunate souls than will the cold-hearted Trump voters of Texas.

The elite post-gooder (not really a “do-gooder” since he hasn’t done anything to help the migrants yet):

in my opinion it’s only their human right to be able to enter when someone here does have housing or work to offer them.

Me:

Your notion of rights of refuge conditional on “work to offer them” is at odds with the UN convention to which the U.S. is a signatory. There is no requirement for a refugee to work, any more than there is a requirement for a native-born American to work. And if you want to make this conditional on housing, then you would accept no immigrants at all. The U.S. needs 7.2 million more apartments and houses just for the lower-income residents who are already here. See https://nlihc.org/press/releases/9493

Him:

there’s tremendous demand for labor and plenty of housing availability if you just look beyond major metro areas. Why else do you think they all want to come here? No one really becomes happy by living on welfare or in shelters for long. People generally want pride of providing for themselves. And this is where there are plentiful jobs, especially if we get rid of the misguided minimum wage laws.

I pointed out that, regardless of wanting “pride of providing for themselves,” roughly 73 percent of immigrants from the countries that are contributing to the current caravan actually were collecting welfare in 2012 (source). Also that there does not seem to be a tremendous demand for unskilled since states raising minimum wage results in a reduced number of employed low-skill workers (2015 economic study).

Him:

I don’t understand your last point at all. Of course increasing the minimum wage drops employment levels, that’s basic economics. I personally want to see a repeal or at least a major rollback of minimum wage laws, less welfare, and more immigration which will keep wages low, and therefore further decrease the cost of locally produced goods and services and make their local consumers better off. I also generally want to see lower wages in the US and higher wages in places like Honduras. That would make the world better in my opinion and would ultimately reduce the need for caravans. More open borders is consistent with more free markets, in addition to being more just. I do however see the short term dilemma this philosophy poses for democracy. The ultimate answer is less power in the nation, more at the very local level, and also more at the world level, but this is a very long term ambition.

So the Bostonian’s plan for helping Hondurans requires only that the 50+ million Americans currently on welfare (Census 2015) make a huge financial sacrifice and also that blue collar workers in the Midwest accept reduced wages.

It is tough to understand why a blue collar Midwestern might be skeptical of the coastal elite’s commitment to his or her interests…

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The modernity of the Bolshevik Revolution

One interesting aspect of Understanding Russia: A Cultural History (course by Lynne Ann Hartnett, a professor at Villanova) is how modern and familiar the ideas of the Bolsheviks are. After the October Revolution, for example, Prof. Hartnett talks about women gaining the rights to on-demand abortion and on-demand divorce (what today is called “unilateral” or “no-fault” divorce). The rate of abortion quickly grew to exceed the rate of live births. The divorce rate in the Soviet Union became the highest in Europe. Unlike in the U.S., no-fault divorce did not come with the need to hire a lawyer and litigate in a courtroom (see Real World Divorce). The wife could go to City Hall, fill out a form, and her now-ex-husband would be informed of the divorce via mail (“postcard divorce”). [Unlike in the U.S., though, there was no possibility of an alimony revenue stream following a no-fault divorce; women in the early Soviet system were considered capable of working to support themselves and if they wanted extra spending power from a man’s income they had to get it through a voluntary arrangement.]

The professor also cites paid maternity leave and state-run day care as early Soviet programs.

Radical thinkers today like to talk about reconceiving state-run education as a lifelong process rather than merely K-12. The Soviets were there 100 years ago! Prof. Hartnett talks about how lifelong education was an explicit goal and the Soviets quickly organized programs for both peasants and factory workers.

I wonder what percent of the positions taken by a modern American politician might have been anticipated 100 years ago by the Bolsheviks. It would be an interesting exercise to line up what our current leaders say and promise to what the Bolsheviks were saying and promising.

Separately, the lecture series adds a data point to how present-day academics think about capitalism and the market. Prof. Hartnett does not seem to be a fan of Marxism-Leninism due to its reliance on violence to keep the population in line. However, when talking about pre-revolutionary Russia, with its 7 percent annual economic growth (like China today), she describes factory workers as “underpaid.” There does not seem to be any evidence of collusion among employers and state intervention in the economy was minimal compared to modern welfare states. Thus, it seems likely that the workers were earning a market wage. Due to the ample supply of labor this might have resulted in “low paid” workers, but to the modern American academic “low paid” seems necessarily to imply “underpaid” (unfairly low wage).

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Why would North Dakotans want to re-elect Heidi Heitkamp?

Heidi Heitkamp, a senator from North Dakota, reached me on Facebook with a sponsored listing (i.e., an ad):

I’m in the fight of my life right now … We have another $12,500 to raise, but luckily, a group of fired-up donors has offered to match all gifts, but only until midnight. Time’s running out, and whether or not we hit this goal before midnight could determine senate control. Please, will you give now and get every dollar DOUBLED?

Maybe there is a way on Facebook to target ads to “Coastal Elites” and I was mistakenly flagged as “elite” while correctly identified as living in Massachusetts?

Suppose that raising money from folks in Massachusetts is successful. Why would voters in North Dakota want to be represented by someone who has to answer to East Coast funders? Is the regional nature of U.S. politics breaking down?

[Heitkamp voted to keep the convicted-by-Facebook rapist Brett Kavanaugh on the appeals court:

She also credited the “heartfelt, credible and persuasive testimony” given by Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party during high school.

“She had nothing to gain and everything to lose,” Heitkamp said. “When I listened to Dr. Ford testify, I heard the voices of women I have known throughout my life who have similar stories of sexual assault and abuse.”

So I responded to the sponsored listing with

Will you celebrate your victory by flying to French Polynesia with Christine Blasey Ford as your experienced guide? (maybe you can help Dr. Ford with her fear of flying in case the new B787 with fainting couch is not ready?)

This was not well-received by the Heitkamp faithful:

Brenda Torres Your are a moron hope you have a female in your family that get assaulted and is not believed let’s see how you feel about that idiot!! Making fun of a sexual assault victim typical male pig protecting a rapist!

So the person with a traditionally female name (Brenda might be a “woman”) who is passionate about ensuring that survivors are believed wants to see more women assaulted, so long as those women have the misfortune to be related to “a male pig.” Where is the solidarity among the sisterhood? (assuming that “Brenda” actually does identify as a sister)]

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How did Christine Blasey Ford make it back and forth to Hawaii?

One of the obstacles to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testifying before the Senate yesterday was an inability to suffer the “confinement” of being in an airliner (see “Why won’t Claire McCaskill pick up Christine Blasey Ford in her Pilatus PC-12?”). She needed a few extra days to make the trip from California by car.

“Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford moved 3,000 miles to reinvent her life. It wasn’t far enough.” (Washington Post):

To many, Kavanaugh was a respected jurist. To her, he was the teenager who had attacked her when they were in high school.

Ford had already moved 3,000 miles away from the affluent Maryland suburbs where she says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a house party — a charge he would emphatically deny. Suddenly, living in California didn’t seem far enough. Maybe another hemisphere would be. She went online to research other democracies where her family might settle, including New Zealand.

“She was like, ‘I can’t deal with this. If he becomes the nominee, then I’m moving to another country. I cannot live in this country if he’s in the Supreme Court,’ ” her husband said. “She wanted out.”

To avoid 4.5-hours of confinement from SFO to IAD, she had planned to spend five days in a car, which was why she wouldn’t be available to testify on Monday, but she was planning on the transpacific flight to New Zealand? And then to fly for far longer than 4.5 hours any time she needed to go somewhere from NZ?

How about when the University of Southern California student who could not handle commercial airline travel was looking for a place to get some practical training?

When she moved to Hawaii for a one-year internship to complete her PhD — taking a cheap studio apartment within board-carrying distance of Sans Souci Beach — the conversion seemed complete.

She rejected all of the programs within the 49 states to which she could travel by land and selected one on the most isolated population center on Planet Earth? Could it be that she traveled back and forth to Hawaii as a passenger on a freighter? Came back for Thanksgiving with the parents in Maryland via the Panama Canal?

[Separately, though I find it interesting that so many Americans think that they can know the “truth” about a 36-year-old event that occurred in private (maybe with some help from the same FBI team who investigated (and cleared) Tamerlan Tsarnaev), I was never a supporter of Judge Kavanaugh for any job. His August 15, 1998 letter filled with moral indignation about Bill Clinton “having sex with a 22-year-old intern” was a deal-killer for me right from the start. I never thought that investigating the sexual opportunities that were available to a president was a good use of taxpayer funds (it wouldn’t have made sense even as a political ploy; success in getting Bill Clinton impeached would have ensured a victory for Al Gore, running as an incumbent, in 2000). And moral indignation seems like hypocrisy to me when it comes from people who didn’t have those opportunities. I periodically see posts on Facebook from a guy who used his position as a professor to obtain sex from a variety of comely undergraduates. Now he is outraged about Trump. But if you’d given this guy a personal Boeing 757, billions in cash, and a vast Manhattan apartment, it is quite possible that he would have tapped into a much larger array of women than Donald Trump ever did. Anyone other than a movie star or sports hero who criticizes Bill Clinton is pretty much in the same category as this Facebook blowhard. Of the people who were mentioned as possible nominess, Amy Coney Barrett is my personal favorite (see “Amy Coney Barrett nomination would stop working parents from demanding more help?“), though, since I’m not a senator, I haven’t educated myself on her record as a judge.]

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