Paul Krugman Doesn’t Get the Message

I hate to say bad things about Paul Krugman, because it was his books back in the 1990s that got me interested in economics, but he sure can be a condescending ass sometimes, as illustrated by his recent opinion piece about whether it makes sense for Democrats who are unhappy with Clinton to vote for Johnson:

Does it make sense to vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president? Sure, as long as you believe two things. First, you have to believe that it makes no difference at all whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump moves into the White House — because one of them will.

Krugman is leaving out an important precondition: You have to believe that your vote can sway the election. Literally speaking, that’s almost never the case. In order for your vote to make an actual difference in the outcome, you’d not only have to be the deciding vote in your state, but also your state flipping would have to flip the electoral college. The chances of both of those things happening are so unlikely that you shouldn’t waste any time thinking about it.

(Your vote has other effects, which I’ll get to later.)

Second, you have to believe that America will be better off in the long run if we eliminate environmental regulation, abolish the income tax, do away with public schools, and dismantle Social Security and Medicare — which is what the Libertarian platform calls for.

First of all, this is disingenuous. The Libertarian party platform has historically been written as an absolutist statement of doctrinaire libertarian theory, unlike, say, the Democratic party platform, which is a lengthy list of promises to every identifiable interest group. In either case, you’re not electing a party, you’re electing a person, and their personal positions on the issues are far more important than their respective party platforms.

Gary Johnson is a moderate libertarian. He isn’t going to try to do everything in the Libertarian platform, if for no other reason than that he knows Congress will fight him. For example, although Johnson does want to eliminate the income tax, he wants to replace it with a consumption tax, which is a variation on European-style VAT taxes. A vote for Johnson isn’t a vote for the Libertarian party platform.

Second, Krugman is cherry-picking the items from the libertarian platform that he thinks his readers will hate the most. You’ll notice he didn’t mention that the Libertarian platform is very pro-choice, pro-free-speech, and pro-trade.

Third, like most people who criticize Libertarians for some of their extreme positions, Krugman is ignoring the crazy positions of the major party candidates — such as Hillary Clinton’s disturbing policies on things like trade, labor, free speech, immigration, industrial policy, crime, and war — probably because he is used to them and considers them unremarkable.

To elaborate on one glaring example, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both support the War on Drugs, which I consider to be a monstrous enterprise that has wrecked hundreds of thousands of lives and has provided the justification for an encroaching police state that is eroding our Constitutional protections and robbing Americans of their privacy and their freedom. I think Trump is an unusually bad candidate, but in a normal election year, with Democrats and Republicans both supporting the awful War on Drugs, I really don’t much care which of them wins. They both suck.

Now, maybe you don’t care. Maybe you consider center-left policies just as bad as hard-right policies. And maybe you have somehow managed to reconcile that disdain with tolerance for libertarian free-market mania. If so, by all means vote for Mr. Johnson.

But don’t vote for a minor-party candidate to make a statement. Nobody cares.

Really? Because Krugman sure seems to care, at least enough to write this piece. In fact, there’s been a surge of Johnson-bashing from the left over the past few weeks. It sounds to me like the Democratic machine is getting at least some of the message.

The reason your vote matters is because if the candidates know you are part of a group that has an interest in certain issues, they just might adjust their positions on those issues to get your vote. (Clinton did that quite blatantly to attract Bernie Sanders supporters.) And even if Clinton doesn’t lean libertarian for this election, the Johnson voters should attract candidates in future elections who want to get their votes.

This is a variation on the “a vote for Johnson is a vote for Trump” trope. (Republicans have a trope that is exactly the same except it ends in “Clinton.”) By voting for Johnson instead of Clinton, Krugman is saying, Johnson voters are handing a victory to a candidate they’ll like even less than Clinton.

You know what, Krugman? Fuck that shit. If you want people to vote for your candidate, you should have picked a better candidate. But you chose Clinton, and now you’re trying to blame someone else for the problem you caused. Gary Johnson wouldn’t be polling a fifth of what he’s polling now if your candidate wasn’t a warmongering technocrat and the other side wasn’t running a raging narcissistic sociopath. Gary Johnson, and people voting for Gary Johnson, are not the problem here. The problem is that your candidate sucks, and you can’t blame that on the Libertarian party platform.

Nevertheless, for those of my readers who prefer Johnson to Clinton, but who would hate to inadvertently hand Trump the presidency, there’s a simple solution: Plan to vote for Johnson, and if you get called in a poll, be sure to tell them you’re voting for Johnson.

Then, just before election day, check the poll results for your state to see how Clinton, Trump, and Johnson are doing. If Clinton is losing to Trump, and the Johnson vote is large enough that Clinton would win if she got his votes, then switch your vote to Clinton at the last minute to defeat Trump.

On the other hand, if Clinton is winning, or if Trump is winning by so much that the Johnson vote won’t make a difference, then you might as well go ahead and vote for Gary Johnson. You won’t do any harm, you’ll feel better about your vote, and you’ll send a message to future politicians that you’re out there and that they can win your vote by adopting positions that appeal to your interests.

Clinton Did It, but What Would Trump Do?

Here’s a sentiment I’ve seen from some Donald Trump supporters, especially those who get to Trump by way of Bernie Sanders and hate Clinton enough to vote for Trump:

(In case it doesn’t show, it’s a picture of a dumb-looking guy saying “I’m voting for the candidate who got people killed, covered [up] sexual assaults and threatened national security…because the other one said mean things.” The person who tweeted it responds “Sums up Clinton supporters really well.”)

In many situations, that’s a reasonable thing to say, but I don’t believe we’re living through one of those situations.

If this was a matter of criminal justice, for example, that would be a good point: Criminal culpability depends on known bad acts in the past, not on predictions of bad acts in the future. But this is not about criminal justice, it’s about the future of the country. We can’t change what the candidates did in the past, but we can control what they do in the future, so our ultimate concern should be what the candidates will do, not what they have done. Put another way, the Presidency is not a reward we give to the candidate whose past we most admire, it’s a job we give to the candidate who we think will do best in the future.

Of course, a person’s past behavior is a pretty good predictor of their future behavior, so Hillary Clinton’s past certainly does inform us of her likely future, and voters should definitely take her past behavior into account.

But it’s important to understand how that past behavior is shaped by opportunity.

I’ve owned house cats for a couple of decades, and I’ve been scratched by them quite a few times over the years. On the other hand, I’ve never been injured by a tiger. Does this mean that I would be safer if I replaced my house cats with tigers?

Obviously not. The difference is opportunity. My cats aren’t very likely to injure me during any given encounter, but because I encounter them thousands of times a year, they still do some damage. On the other hand, I’ve never in my life encountered a tiger that wasn’t kept safely in a zoo, so even though tigers are much more dangerous than house cats, they haven’t ever harmed me because they’ve never had the opportunity.

No one has given Donald Trump the opportunity to do the things that Clinton has done. No one has given him that much power. He’s never harmed national security because he’s never had responsibility for national security. He’s never gotten anyone killed because he never held a position where people’s lives were on the line.

That makes it harder to predict what Trump would do if he won the Presidency, but we can still make some pretty good guesses. For one thing, we can look at the things he says.

If that’s not convincing, we can also look at the kinds of things Trump has actually done with relatively limited power he has:

  • Trump has arranged for his businesses to receive millions of dollars of taxpayer money.
  • When Donald Trump’s deceased brother Fred’s surviving family contested Trump’s father’s will for all but disinheriting them, Donald Trump cut off the health insurance coverage that was paying for their infant’s medical treatment.
  • Trump hired illegal Polish immigrants to work on one of his developments without bothering to supply them with basic safety equipment like hard hats.
  • Trump University scammed working class people into borrowing and spending way too much money for an education in business that never materialized.
  • Trump tried to use eminent domain to force an elderly widow out of her home so he could build a casino parking lot.
  • Trump has done business with the mob.
  • Trump has bankrupted several businesses.
  • Trump has discriminated against black would-be renters of his properties.
  • Trunp hired Roy Cohn — one of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s attack dogs during the red scare — as his lawyer.
  • Trump businesses routinely refuse to make full final payments on bills they owe.
  • When Roger Ailes resigned following allegations of sexual harassment, Trump hired him immediately.
  • Trump runs a charity that is much, much more of a fraud than the Clinton Foundation.
  • The link in that last item also describes Trump’s bribery of a public official.

Trump may not have done some of the bad things Hillary did, but he seems to lie, cheat, and steal at every opportunity. Let’s not give him any opportunities to do even worse.

A Bad Remedy For Bad Climate Speech, Again

A few months ago I complained that New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and other state Attorneys General appeared to be starting a campaign to intimidate climate skeptics and/or deniers under the guise of investigating ExxonMobil.

Now comes news of a counterattack: Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) has issued congressional subpoenas for Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, along with nine climate activist groups, requesting all relevant communications between the groups and the attorneys general in order to investigate a possible conspiracy “to act under color of law to persuade attorneys general to use their prosecutorial powers to stifle scientific discourse, to intimidate private entities and individuals, and deprive them of their First Amendment rights and freedoms.”

I have two responses to this development:



(2) This is really very wrong.

I have no actual sympathy for AGs Schneiderman and Healey. They are government employees, public servants subject to oversight and review. They started this, and for their attempts to stifle free speech they deserve to be gang-subpoenaed by congress, repeatedly.

The climate activist groups, on the other hand, are citizens exercising their free speech rights to discuss matters of public importance and — to the extent that they communicated with various attorneys general — petition the government. They don’t have to explain themselves to anyone.

As I said before, this is not how science is supposed to work. That’s not how debate over public policy is supposed to work.

What if Donald Trump is a Sociopath?

What if Donald Trump is a sociopath?

It’s obvious to me that Donald Trump is a very dangerous person who should not under any circumstances be given power over other people. It’s also obvious that his supporters don’t see him that way. It’s tempting to dismiss them as intolerant bigots — and he certainly has some of those among his fans — but I think there’s a more benign explanation. I think a lot of people (including the bigots) are being conned by a world-class sociopath.

There’s an argument that it’s inappropriate to speculate about the mental disorders of public figures like Trump. After all, I’m not a psychiatrist. And even a professional psychiatrist would be prohibited by the American Psychiatric Association’s Goldwater Rule from offering an opinion on the mental health of a public figure unless they had conducted an examination and been given permission to issue a statement.

I don’t think that applies here, because I’m not practicing psychiatry. Nothing I say here will affect Trump’s mental healthcare. I’m not violating psychiatric ethics by speculating about his sociopathy any more than I would be practicing medicine without a license if I saw an injured football player on television and speculated that he pulled a hamstring.

Furthermore, sociopathy is unusual among mental disorders in that it’s not the people who have it that suffer from it, but rather everyone else around them. The reason we talk about sociopathy is so we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from them. And that necessarily means learning to recognize sociopaths in the wild.

So I admit I can’t offer a definitive diagnosis that Donald Trump is a sociopath, but if he is a sociopath, here are a few things worth thinking about:

If Donald Trump is a sociopath, then he has no empathy for other people. Their suffering doesn’t produce an emotional response in him. A sociopath might see a pedestrian hit by a car and go over to take a look. Standing there, staring at the broken body writhing in pain, he wouldn’t necessarily find it upsetting, and it might not occur to him to offer first aid or call for an ambulance. When Trump responded to Khizr Kahn’s criticisms, it never occurred to him to acknowledge the loss Kahn had suffered when his son, an American soldier, was killed in combat. When Trump was confronted about this, he countered that he too made sacrifices in building his business empire.

If Donald Trump is a sociopath, then his lack of empathy would mean he effectively has no conscience. Unable to feel empathy for other people’s suffering, he would have no reason to avoid a course of action that makes others suffer. In fact, whether or not other people suffer wouldn’t even enter into his thinking. A sociopathic manager might keep his employees working long hours away from their families to meet a deadline before the holidays and then fire them all without a thought because he doesn’t need them any more. Trump dismisses concerns about his multiple bankruptcies by pointing out that business ventures go bankrupt all the time, but it never occurs to him to express concern for all the people who lost money by trusting him to pay his bills.

If Donald Trump is a sociopath, then his lack of a conscience leads to what might be called a very pragmatic view of ethics: It doesn’t matter what’s right or wrong, it doesn’t even matter if he gets caught. All that matters is whether he can get ahead by doing it. Trump businesses routinely refuse to make full final payments on bills they owe. If they know the unpaid amount isn’t large enough to be worth a long lawsuit, and if they know they won’t need that contractor again in the future, then as far as they’re concerned, there’s no point in paying the bill. This is classic sociopath thinking.

If Donald Trump is a sociopath, then he divides people into two simple categories: People he needs something from, and people who don’t matter. And once he gets what he needs from someone, they stop mattering. The transition can be shockingly abrupt. A sociopath pursuing sexual conquest will lavish attention on a woman, charming her for hours or days until he gets her into bed…and then dump her immediately after sex because he got what he wanted. This is why many of us expect Trump to pivot away from the extreme right — he got their primary vote and he’s done with that, so now he’s ready to move on to the next group he needs to manipulate.

If Donald Trump is a sociopath, then he will engage in one-on-one manipulation of the people he needs something from, with no need to be consistent. A sociopath will tell his wife he loves only her, and then he’ll tell his girlfriend he’s planning to leave his wife. A sociopathic manager will tell a subordinate that he’ll recommend them for his job when he moves up…and then he’ll tell all his other subordinates the exact same thing.

Trump obviously can’t manipulate voters one-on-one, but he does flip-flop on issues all the time, depending on who he’s talking to and what he thinks they’d like to hear. As I write this, after more than a year of promising mass deportations of illegal immigrants, Trump told a group of Hispanic advisors that he might not do that after all, and now he’s wavering all over the place on the issue (and meeting with the Mexican president today). Trump has been courting the white supremacist vote, but I think they’re just another group he’s manipulating, to be abandoned without hesitation if he no longer needs them.

If Donald Trump is a sociopath, then all that matters to him is saying whatever will get him what he wants. Notions of truth or consistency are irrelevant to sociopaths. They tell unending streams of lies. There is some evidence that the speech centers in the brains of people with sociopathic personalities are organized a bit differently than those of normal people, allowing them to decouple speech from logic and memory. The technical term for speaking without regard for truth is bullshitting, and Trump seems to do it a lot.

If Donald Trump is a sociopath, then any appearance of caring for other people is just an elaborate act. Sociopaths don’t feel empathy, but they can learn from watching how other people behave. They can express concern when something bad happens, and they can even cry real tears. But when faced with a novel situation for which they haven’t learned the normal response, their hollow emotional interior gives them no guidance, and they might do something that reveals them for what they are. I know a sociopathic business owner who, within minutes of the planes striking the towers on 9/11, told all his employees to start researching which insurance companies were going to lose money so he could short their stock.

(As I was writing this, news came out that African American basketball player Dwyane Wade’s cousin was shot and killed in Chicago, and rather than express condolences for this tragedy, Trump tried to use it to promote his candidacy by tweeting “Dwyane Wade’s cousin was just shot and killed walking her baby in Chicago. Just what I have been saying. African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!“)

If Donald Trump is a sociopath, then all his one-on-one manipulation will result in everyone hearing a different set of lies, and to keep his lies working, he’s going to try to keep people from comparing notes. In ordinary settings, sociopaths try to break up relationships around them, to discourage people from talking to each other. A sociopathic manager who doesn’t want subordinates comparing stories might tell each of them that the others are jealous of their success and trying to sabotage their career. Trump can’t keep people from talking about his highly public political campaign, but a desire to keep people from comparing notes would explain why Trump is so angry with the press all the time: They tell people what he’s been saying, often at a time when he’s switch to saying the opposite.

In the end, if Donald Trump is a sociopath, he will leave a trail of destruction behind him. His manipulations will make him the center of attention in anything he gets involved in. Some people will be conned into doing his bidding, and others will waste time and resources fighting against him. Either way, he will make everything about him. His presence will be a whirling maelstrom that cannot be ignored, and he will grind down every person, institution, or social structure he encounters.

Just look at how much time we spend talking about what Donald Trump is saying. This election could have been about so many things — healthcare, taxes, gun control, cyber security, police reform, foreign policy — but instead we waste time talking about Trump and how to respond to him. (E.g. I’m writing this rather than something else.) Trump has been involved in thousands of lawsuits. He has dumped two wives, bankrupted four of his own companies, and hurt a lot of investors and small business owners that made the mistake of getting involved with him. He destroyed the United States Football League, and he seems to be destroying the Republican party.

Donald Trump is a sociopath, and we need to stop him from becoming President before he destroys a lot more.

More About Life In the New Home

My wife and I like our new home a lot, but after 25 years of living together in a condo, a ranch house takes some getting used to. It’s big. Not that anyone would mistake it for a mansion, but compared to how we’ve been living, it’s really big.

The cats are loving all the space. When we first brought them home, they were nervous but curious. They’d go exploring all these places they had never seen before, but every few minutes they’d come back to visit us to make sure we were still there, and then they’d go exploring again. Now they’ve settled into routines. Ivy the Norwegian Forest Cat likes to spend the day in my wife’s craft room, sitting on the chair by the window, soaking up the morning sun and watching the neighborhood. At night, she settles onto a cat condo in the middle of the living room. Beezle the Ragdoll is a little less predictable, although if he’s not sleeping on the bed it’s usually because he’s following us around to see what we’re up to.

The WiFi isn’t working well in the new space. It’s great here in my office, right next to the router, but it gets a little spotty in the living room, and is very difficult to get in the family room or the garage. It’s also surprisingly weak when I’m sitting in my car in the driveway, which is weird considering that’s in direct line of sight of my office window. I’m going to try mounting the Wi-Fi router high up on the wall to get better coverage, but I don’t expect much of an improvement. I think I’ll either have to move it to a more central location or find the old router from the condo and install it as a second access point on the other side of the house.

Our old kitchen had a lot of space, but it was mostly dining room. The working kitchen area was small and efficient. This one has about twice the cabinet room and three times the counter space. I’m still not sure how to organize it. It’s also a lot farther to carry stuff between the refrigerator, stove, and sink.

Because the floors are mostly hardwood or laminate, we decided to get a Roomba vacuum robot to clean the place. I was skeptical, because I’d always heard that Roombas weren’t very smart and didn’t work well cleaning more than a few hundred square feet, but my wife had done her research: This is one of the new ones that does mapping, so it can find its way around, and when its battery gets low it can return to its base to recharge and then pick up where it left off, because it can remember which parts of the house it’s already cleaned.

That’s not to say it’s problem-free: With two big fluffy cats, its bin is filled with cat hair every day. It also has a few problems getting around. Sometimes it flips up a throw rug and then gets stuck on top, and three times now it’s managed to bump one of the doors closed and get itself trapped in a room. One time it somehow found a gap between a piece of furniture and a wall that was just large enough for it to get into, but it couldn’t figure out how to get back out.

And then there was the time the charging cable to my phone disappeared. It had been pulled out of the charger, and we eventually found it under the bed. We think probably the Roomba snagged it during a cleaning pass, but we can’t rule out the possibility that one of the cats got tangled in it. It wasn’t us, so it has to be either the cats or the robot.

I think it probably says something about our lifestyle that “Cats or robot?” is a thing that comes up.

A Verdict of Innocence?

Over at Fault Lines, Andrew Fleischman has a post about the idea of letting a jury determine actual innocence. It’s an interesting post — worth a read — but when I read the headline I thought of something a bit different.

Criminal defense attorneys complain about the difficulty of getting a jury to understand the degree of proof necessary for a criminal conviction. They often feel that the jury is setting the bar for a Guilty verdict at something less than “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

My thought (and I know it’ snot original) is that maybe the problem is that we only give the jury two choices: Guilty and Not Guilty. It would be natural for them to regard these as equal choices and lean toward a Guilty verdict if they thought that was more likely, which is a problem because “more likely” is a much less strict standard than reasonable doubt.

Perhaps we could obtain a small improvement in criminal justice by offering the jury a few more choices to pick from, such as Guilty, Not Guilty, and Actually Innocence, with only Guilty counting as a conviction. Or maybe we could offer an array of choices in a familiar form:

Please rate your opinion of the defendant’s guilt on the following scale:

5 – Guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

4 – More likely guilty than innocent.

3 – Unable to tell.

2 – More likely innocent than guilty.

1 – Innocent beyond a reasonable doubt.

The defendant would only be convicted if all members of the jury picked #5. I suspect prosecutors wouldn’t like a procedure like this, although as long as the court imposes an “all fives or no fives” requirement, it would be the exact same standard of proof.

I know I’m not the first one to think of this. In fact, some criminal defense lawyers like to explain the different levels of proof to the jury so they understand just how strict the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard usually is. Basically, they’re trying to get the jurors to think about the reasonable doubt standard as the highest in a stepped series of levels of proof. So why not make it explicit?

I don’t know if it makes sense to give the other levels any legal significance — e.g. a verdict of “innocent beyond a reasonable doubt” blocking plaintiffs in a civil suit from claiming otherwise. That might be using the verdict for more than it actually establishes.

Anyway, posting here has been light lately, so I just thought I’d throw that out there.

in Legal

The Bouquet Of My New Suburban Life

I’m still recovering from my move to the new house. It turns out that packing all your stuff into boxes and then trying to reassemble it back into a working life is really time-consuming. I keep running into problems like wanting to put a piece of furniture together, which would be a lot easier with the right tools, which are all in boxes, and I’d like to unpack the tools back into my tool chest so I don’t lose them, but I locked the doors on the tool chest so it would be easier to move, and now I can’t find the keys.

Everything is like that, plus there’s all the stuff I have to figure out about the new house. What do all the light switches do? Where are the hose bibs? How much hose do I need? How does the gas fireplace work? Which way do we turn the keys in all the locks? When is the garbage picked up? And what are all the different cans for?

I only just got my home computer up and running a couple of days ago, and I still haven’t hooked up the speakers. I’ve got my electric shaver, but I can’t find the charger. I had to buy dishwasher soap, even though I know I’ve got enough for hundreds of loads in one of these boxes…

Then there’s last night’s introduction to another aspect of suburban life.

We got home after dark, and since the next day was garbage day, I walked around the side of the house to get the cans to roll them down the driveway to the street. As I passed the little fence that hides them, I heard a noise and looked over. Some kind of small animal was scrambling in the dark.

I couldn’t quite make out what it was, but I could tell right away that it wasn’t moving like a cat or a dog. As I pulled my flashlight from my pocket to get a better look, I remember thinking that it was moving a bit like a squirrel, but it was too big. Maybe a possum? No, I could see the fur was too long and scraggly…and then I flicked the light on.

Of course it was a skunk. A panicky skunk.


It didn’t nail me dead on, but there was definitely a clingy odor on me and my clothes. I seem to have been able to wash most of it away, but every now and then I think I catch a whiff…

Sigh. Welcome to life in the suburbs, I guess.

Oh well, maybe the coyotes will kill the skunks.

Going Dark

I’m going dark in an hour or so. In preparation for the big move tomorrow, I’m about to shut down and pack up the home computers and tear down our internet connection. Shortly after posting this message, for the first time in over 15 years, my wife and I will no longer have broadband internet access.

Except for an iPad and both our iPhones with LTE, along with the Kindle Fire and Lenovo ThinkPad we have tethered to them, of course, which should last us until we can use the WiFi I setup in the new home. Because we’re not savages.

But other than that, totally dark.

See you on the other side…