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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Bitcoin and Venezuela

Instapundit already linked to this, but I found the article very interesting as it finds the intersection of two very, very different topics - a country (Venezuela) destroyed by inept government and the cryptocurrency Bitcoin where the currency is possibly making lives better for at least some people in Venezuela because it can be traded and kept securely at very low cost.

Bitcoin's (legitimate) use has been limited so far because the U.S. dollar is a reasonably stable currency to use even in unstable regimes. But as the U.S. (slowly) follows Venezuela's footsteps into banana republicdom (I had a banana for breakfast again!), there may not be a stable unit of account supported by any country. In which case Bitcoin might save us all by enabling efficient trade in the chaos since it doesn't rely on any government or other bureaucracy and can provide a very stable unit of account.

I hope you enjoy the article!

Monday, November 28, 2016

A New Game

Even though we have all voted, the election continues and it's actually a long and easily contestable path from here to having a President Trump in the White House. To me, the latest maneuvers look like brilliant moves in chess and the political future of the country looks very uncertain.

Jill Stein filed a recount petition in Wisconsin a mere 90 minutes before the filing deadline:
An election recount will take place soon in Wisconsin, after former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein filed a petition Friday with the state’s Election Commission, the first of three states where she has promised to contest the election result.
The move from Stein, who raised millions since her Wednesday announcement that she would seek recounts of Donald Trump’s apparent election victories in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, came just 90 minutes before Wisconsin’s 5 p.m. Friday deadline to file a petition.
She raised millions for the Green Party and that in itself is quite clever. Well played, Ms. Stein!
As of Friday evening, Stein’s campaign reported taking in over $5.25 million in recount-related donations — the most by a third-party candidate in history.
But the more brilliant move is the "90 minutes before" part. From what I can tell at this point, Wisconsin will very likely NOT be able to complete the recount before the December 13th deadline:
Wisconsin will almost certainly miss that deadline, since the last recount took more than a month. And that recount was for a state Supreme Court contest where only 1.5 million votes were cast.
If Wisconsin misses the December 19 deadline, the electoral votes may not be counted. 
Stein is going to ask for a hand recount, which will slow the process even further.
Stein is also petitioning for a recount in Michigan and Pennsylvania. With suitable delays, these states may also miss the December 13th deadline, and if so, in combination with Wisconsin, that alone would deprive Trump of enough electors to directly become President. But even if one or more of the states finishes the recount and convenes a meeting for their electors to cast their ballots according to the recounted vote (which, assuming no shenanigans, will still go for Trump), it may enable enough defecting electors (if any, but I'd be surprised if there aren't any at all) to also deprive Trump of the 270 electoral votes he needs.

In the 2000 Florida recount, the US Supreme Court intervened at the last minute (December 12, 2000):
Because it is evident that any recount seeking to meet the Dec. 12 date will be unconstitutional ... we reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida ordering the recount to proceed ... It is obvious that the recount cannot be conducted in compliance with the requirements of equal protection and due process without substantial additional work.
People who are more politically aware than me will have to clarify, but this seemed to me to tell Florida to wrap it up by the deadline (which was the same day as the Court's intervention) and do the best they could by said deadline.

The current Supreme Court could do something similar. However, as you probably remember, at the moment there are only 8 justices and any attempt to decide something could easily be split 4-4 with the Supreme Court doing nothing at all.

So what then? It seems that the House of Representatives would likely decide the Presidency and the Senate would decide the Vice-Presidency. The House and Senate are majority Republican but they don't particularly like Trump. Here's one scenario:
Still if all 3 states fail to make a timely recount and fail to appoint their slate of Trump-Pence electors…then the presidential race will be thrown into the House where each State has one vote. Under Article II and the Twelfth Amendment, Trump has to carry a majority of state delegations (26 of 50). There is a separate quorum requirement: 2/3 of the States (34 of 50) must have one or more members present. Trump can probably meet this bar: 32 of the state delegations in the 115th Congress will have Republican majorities (albeit some are narrow majorities), and 11 other state delegations have 1 or more Republican members. So the Republicans should be able to reach a quorum of 34 States with one or more members present.  
However, if all three 3 states fail to make a timely recount and fail to appoint their slate of Trump-Pence electors…then the vice presidential race will be thrown into the Senate. Under Article II and the Twelfth Amendment, Pence will need a majority of the “whole number” of senators. The Republicans have such a majority. But the Twelfth Amendment also has a quorum requirement: “two-thirds of the whole number of Senators.” [2/3 is 67 of 100 senators, assuming all elected Senators are alive and sworn during the proceedings to select a Vice President.] The Republicans cannot meet this bar, at least not absent Democratic participation. By absenting themselves, the Democrats can block the narrow Senate Republican majority from selecting Pence.
But even the above scenario is not the most chaotic possibility:
Worst or best case situation…depending on your point of view…the Senate fails to elect a Vice President and the House fails to elect a President. How could the latter happen? Paul Ryan will be in the chair. Ryan might delay the vote or he might allow the vote to be delayed by dilatory opposition motions. If something like that should happen, and if no President and no Vice President are elected by the House and by the Senate, respectively, then the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 kicks in…and the acting presidency will fall to…the Speaker of the House (if he chooses to take it), and if the Speaker fails to take it, then to the Senate President Pro Tempore (“SPPT”) (if he chooses to take it), and if they fail to take it, then to cabinet members. By this time, most (perhaps, all) of President Obama’s cabinet will have already resigned, and so the acting presidency might fall to someone not holding a highly significant cabinet post.
There is now a significant academic literature suggesting that it is unconstitutional for the acting presidency to fall to House and Senate officers, such as the Speaker or SPPT. (I note that I do not share this view which is now commonplace in academia.) Based on this view, should the Speaker or SPPT (as opposed to Donald J. Trump) succeed to the (acting) presidency, it is likely that an outgoing Obama-era cabinet member would sue to displace (as in “replace”) the Speaker or SPPT who is acting as President. 
So in other words, the next President of the United States might be a janitor (Secretary of Cleaning Services) currently serving in Obama's cabinet. There might be a wee bit of a fight over that! Quite chaotic, no?

In other news, I'm eating more bananas lately... :-)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Shocked by Those Shocked by Trump Win

It looks to me like New York Times readers were especially surprised by Trump's win. It seems that the paper really hadn't prepared them for the possibility. Of course, that's because the Times itself was caught completely off-guard. Many internal and external criticisms have followed. Here's an excerpt of an internal one by Liz Spayd, the Times Public Editor:
The red state America campaign coverage that rang the loudest in news coverage grew out of Trump rallies, and it often amplified the voices of the most hateful. One especially compelling video produced with footage collected over months on the campaign trail, captured the ugly vitriol like few others. That’s important coverage. But it and pieces like it drowned out the kind of agenda-free, deep narratives that could have taken Times readers deeper into the lives and values of the people who just elected the next president.
Funny she mentions "agenda" and "narratives." Because Michael Cieply, an editor who worked for the Times up until July wrote:
[At the Times] by and large, talented reporters scrambled to match stories with what internally was often called “the narrative.” We were occasionally asked to map a narrative for our various beats a year in advance, square the plan with editors, then generate stories that fit the pre-designated line. [...] senior reporter who would play solitaire on his computer in the mornings, waiting for his editors to come through with marching orders. ... 
I listened to a visiting National staff reporter tell a contact, more or less: “My editor needs someone to say such-and-such, could you say that?” 
The bigger shock came on being told, at least twice, by Times editors who were describing the paper’s daily Page One meeting: “We set the agenda for the country in that room.”
To summarize, they come up with a narrative, then find stories to fit it. That's journalism? This is the venerable Grey Lady, the paper of record? Really?

When I first read this via a link from Instapundit, I thought it was satire or a hoax or something. After all, if the Times was really doing their reporting backwards by coming up with the narrative first, we would have heard about it long ago, wouldn't we? Isn't that a rather important detail? Wouldn't some Times journalist or Times ex-journalist happen to mention that, perhaps inadvertently, to the world?

It might still be a hoax, but right now it doesn't look like it to me. Many other clearly legitimate media organizations have now quoted this story. If it was a hoax, I think someone would've pointed it out by now.

But what's further bewildering me is that the other organizations' attitudes seem to be something like, "yeah, sure, no surprise that's what the Times does, and really, no biggie." Okay, well, good to know it's no biggie, because otherwise I might've been outraged. No, wait! I am kinda outraged! The Times is trying to tell the country what to think. And they're succeeding for much of their readership. A readership that is fortunately dwindling. A readership that is absolutely baffled about the Trump phenomenon, mostly thanks to the Times (and the rest of the Main Stream Media).

I've been skeptical of the Times for a long time. Now I'm gonna have trouble believing anything I read in that paper.

How Many Racists Does It Take To Change A Presidency

I might as well start with some humor, one that's apropos to the vast number of people who are very upset after this election.
Question: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? 
Answer: None. The light bulb has to want to change!
One of the reasons given why Trump won the election is that racists propelled him to victory. So I was curious about just how many racists there are in the United States and tried a variety of google searches including "how many racists in america." The results are surprisingly unspecific and I'm finding them uninterpretable (so far).

I've been pulled down lots of dead ends in trying to quantify this. For example, I learned that about half of Hispanics in the U.S. (52%) say they have experienced discrimination or have been treated unfairly because of their race or ethnicity. Sounds really bad, right? But then, 43 percent of Americans told researchers that discrimination against whites has become as large a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minority groups. While those two things aren't necessarily contradictory, it seems that either everybody's discriminating against everybody else, or lotsa folks are making mountains outta molehills.

And then discrimination and racism are different things. As I try to get my daughters into good colleges I find that in the name of racial diversity, some spots are reserved for others of different races. Since I think that's a load of BS and since blue-eyed, blonde, Senator Elizabeth Warren got away with claiming native american ancestry, I've told my daughter to just check the "African-American" box on the applications (I figure we're at least 1 part in a trillion black), but unfortunately, she's uncomfortable doing that (maybe I would be too). But the folks reserving spots aren't necessarily racist, just discriminatory. And unfortunately for me, discriminatory against my family.

And then there are degrees of racism. Is it racist to be attracted for mating purposes to only people of your own race or is it merely discriminatory? I claim that it's mild racism and that indeed, since that applies to me, I'm mildly racist. But statistically, given that most married people in the United States are married to someone of the same race, that would basically mean that nearly everyone is mildly racist. In which case, yes, most people who voted for Trump are (mildly) racist. But so are most of those that voted for Clinton!

I went on to consider people who are clearly extremely racist: those belonging to white supremacy groups. For that, at least, one can get a hard number - people who belong to such a group. Percentage-wise, there aren't all that many:
Levin estimated fewer than 50,000 people are members of white supremacist groups...
That's slightly more than one in ten-thousand people and really not enough to have affected the election outcome. That's a lower bound, of course, but it's one of the few hard numbers I could find on the topic.

The last bit of evidence I found intriguing is the number of predominantly white counties that voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016. In other words, white folks who, when they had the chance to vote for a black person, did so. I find it hard to interpret that voting pattern as racist against blacks. And it seems that these particular voters were extremely important in putting Trump over the top.

In conclusion, I think it's really hard to find hard evidence that Trump won because of racism. Perhaps he did, especially depending on how you define racism, but I think that, at best, the focus on racism detracts from other factors that are likely more important.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Most Telling Statistic

Now that I'm (mostly) over my surprise that Trump won, the most telling statistic to me is this: Clinton won 93% of the vote in Washinton, DC (to Trump's 4%). 93%! 93% of those living in the heart of the elite's power voted for Clinton, thereby clearly and unequivocally identifying this election as being one that pitted the elites versus the commoners, special interests against the masses, the powerful against the powerless, and yes, the refined against the deplorables.

Even more importantly, it was a contest between those that actually have to do things versus those that live off and lord it over the doers:
America is a nation of many economies, but those that produce real, tangible things — food, fiber, energy and manufactured goods — went overwhelmingly for Trump.
The elite have unabashedly and purposefully made things harder for the workers and business owners that actually do and make things and Trump was the only one who even considered addressing the growing frustration and anger of those folks. As far as I can tell, Hillary never reached out to them, instead not only ignoring them but deeming them deplorables, mostly beneath her notice and certainly unworthy of her respect.

I personally was unable to bring myself to vote for either candidate, but fortunately the results in California were so certain (for Hillary) that I knew my vote wouldn't possibly matter. To me, Clinton was a known awful and Trump was an unknown ... well, just mostly unknown. Oh sure, he's crude, rude, and lewd, and flawed like every human, but I don't much care about that. In fact, that part is almost refreshing to me. It's what he'll do as President that's pretty much unknown, at least to me.

I guess we'll find out.

I'm Back

A week or two ago I was finding the whole political thing so annoying that I decided to crawl into a (metaphorical) cave and ignore all news and social media until after the election. It's now after the election so I'M BACK!!!

First, I have to congratulate President-elect Clinton on her ... Wait! ... What? ... Trump won? ... Wow. Something must've happened while I was in my cave. Maybe I should look into that.

But anyway, I'll now catch up on all the great guys comments and get back to posting.