Does Scott Walker love America?

Rudy Giuliani, speaking at a Scott Walker fundraiser, with Walker present:

I do not believe – and I know this is a horrible thing to say – but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.

Now we get to see whether Scott Walker is a man or not.

The smart money is on “Not.”

Footnote This came the same day as the Tweeted comment of another right-wing heart-throb, Dinesh D’Souza, saying of the President “You can take the boy out of the ghetto … ”

No, it’s not reasonable to hold everyone in a political movement liable for the comments of everyone else in that movement. But there’s a pattern here. At some point, Republican office-holders and office-seekers have to either disown the racism that plays so well to the party base, or own it. 

More on the WA cannabis price collapse

I feel sorry for the farmers getting caught in the downdraft. More than that, I’m worried about the impact of cheap pot on problem use, and on illegal exports out of state.

But as a pure analyst, I’d just like to ask Beau Kilmer to take a bow. He calculated the cost of Dutch legal medical cannabis at approximately 1 Euro ($1.30) per gram. Now the reported wholesale price in Washington is $700-$800/lb. That works out to about $1.65 a gram.

Will wholesale prices rise as more retail stores are licensed? Maybe, for a while. But there’s every reason to think that next year’s crop will be bigger, and therefore cheaper, than this year’s. In the long run, the pre-tax price of a joint will be the pre-tax price of a cigarette or a teabag: pennies, not dollars.  That’s the policy problem we need to wrestle with now. It seems inevitable that cannabis will become legal. But will it do so in a more-public-health-friendly way, or a less-public-health-friendly way? Right now, the auspices aren’t favorable.

Good advice for Benyamin Netanyahu from David Ben-Gurion

“The State of Israel speaks only on behalf of its own citizens and in no way presumes to represent or speak in the name of Jews who are citizens of any other country.”

- David Ben-Gurion




Scott Walker and the life of the mind


Someone who spent almost four years in college but wound up a year short of the credits needed to graduate because he was more interested in student politics than in studying and dropped out with a 2.59 GPA (i.e., as a B-/C+ student) and who as a grown-up politician doesn’t count the search for truth as among the functions of a university, elects to “punt” when asked whether he believes in evolution by natural selection but later offers an incomprehensible mumble about the compatibility of science and faith.

Bonus surprise: this record of uninterrupted brilliance makes him a leading candidate for the Republican nomination for President.


Pot prices plunge in Washington State

The harvest is in, and ounces of 10%-THC cannabis are selling for $200 at commercial retail outlets in Washington. (Figure roughly 70 joints to the ounce, and at least 3 stoned hours per joint, so the cost of intoxication is roughly $1 per hour.) That price is fully competitive  with both the illicit market and the medical market.

This was utterly predictable, as I know because my RAND colleagues predicted it. So much for the argument that Washington’s taxes were too high.

What is also predictable is that prices will continue to drop, both in Washington State and in Colorado, unless the authorities start to limit production volume. $200/oz. would be a fairly reasonable price target; anything much lower than that risks a big increase in heavy use and underage use. (Of course there’s no way to keep the stuff from leaking from adults, who are allowed to purchase, to minors, who aren’t.)

Falling prices are also bad news for all the folks who thought they were going to get rich selling a newly legal product at the old, illegal prices. No such luck.




Born-on-third-base Dep’t

As often noted in this space, the journalistic reflex toward “balance” often leads to distortions of the truth: false equivalencies. For example, how often have you read or heard that a Bush v. Clinton race in 2106 would be a clash of “dynasties“?

On reflection, this is obvious nonsense. John Ellis Bush’s great-grandfather was the president of a steel company; his grandfather was a U.S. Senator; his father and brother were both Presidents. That’s dynastic power.

Hillary Rodham’s grandparents were coal miners in Wales. Her father graduated from Penn State with a degree in Physical Education. He then rose from being a fabric salesman to running his own textile company, but there’s no evidence that her family connections helped her career at any point. Wellesley, Yale Law, House Judiciary Committee staff (working on the Nixon impeachment): pretty much a standard meritocratic career track until she married a Yale Law classmate (also without any hereditary juice) named Bill Clinton, and joined him in Arkansas. No one ever doubted that “the Clintons” were a political partnership, not just a politician and his wife.

So it’s absurd to treat Jeb and Hillary as equivalent beneficiaries of privileged head starts.  More than that, in Jeb’s case it’s hard to see what he’s done other than being born a Bush that would qualify him to seek the Presidency.

Below is a note from a professional observer of Florida politics, who for career reasons prefers not to be named. Note also what he doesn’t say: that in the decade since leaving office, J.E.B., who accomplished nothing of note before becoming governor and nothing of note as governor, hasn’t accomplished anything of note since except earning a bunch of money.


Take away the Bush name and is there any reason why Jeb stands above John Kasich, or several others?

And how exactly did he get to be governor of one of the largest states? If you look at all the major party gubernatorial nominees in Florida in the past 40 years, almost all had significant electoral success. Governor is not usually an entry level position. The least among the politicians had 10 or more years in the legislature. Martinez was the Mayor of Tampa. Lawton Chiles had been a three term U.S. Senator. Skip Bafalis was a Member of Congress. Charlie Crist was the Atty Gen etc. There were only three who had never been elected: Jack Eckerd, who was an Undersecretary in the Ford Admin, and had grown his family drugstore business into a huge chain and could massively self-finance, Rick Scott, who also is a self-made zillionaire who could self-finance and Bill McBride, who was at least the managing partner of one of the biggest law firms in the country and who beat Janet Reno to get the nomination.

Jeb has been cut in on various business deals, but he can’t compare with Scott, Eckerd or even McBride for private sector achievement. His only governmental credential for being governor is spending a year and a half as Bob Martinez’s state secretary of Commerce. It’s a post he was probably under-qualified for when he got it in his early 30s, but it hasn’t exactly been the stepping stone to glory for many others. And what happened when Jeb got the Gubernatorial nomination in 1994, the best GOP year in ages? He LOST. It was close, but have any other defeated gubernatorial nominees in recent Florida history gotten another shot four years later? Without having won any other office in the intervening period or ever before? Of course not.

Look, he’s a reasonably intelligent, tall, white Christian, heterosexual man. He’s not an alcoholic like his older brother, but not as gregarious either. So he was dealt a pretty good genetic hand. Probably if Barbara and George left him on the doorstep of some childless dentist’s family in Midland he would have done all right in life. He wouldn’t have gone to Andover, but he might have gone to UT and been some kind of banker or insurance executive living in a nice subdivision somewhere in Texas. But is there any reason at all to believe he would be close to where he is today?

There were people who saw Clinton and Obama as comers from very young. Even John Edwards was a minor celebrity trial lawyer and had obvious gifts, snake-oil salesman that he was. But Jeb? Please.

Why *can’t* I simmer a kid in its mother’s milk?

It’s well known that Jewish law forbids simmering a kid in its mother’s milk. That’s the textual basis of what became in Rabbinic times the sweeping rules requiring the complete separation of milk and meat.

What’s less clear is:

(1) Why anyone would want to simmer a kid in its mother’s milk; and

(2) Why anyone should care.

It’s especially puzzling because the rule forms part of the second list of the Ten Commandments (given in Ex. 34: 14-28). The text says that the second list – given after Moses had broken the original tablets in outrage over the Golden Calf incident – is the same as the first list (Ex. 20:2-14.) Both are referred to as the Ten Words ( דְּבָרִים , devarim). But that isn’t the case. Here’s the later, less familiar list:

1. Thou shalt bow down to no other god; for the LORD, whose name is Jealous*, is a jealous God; lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go astray after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and they call thee, and thou eat of their sacrifice; and thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go astray after their gods, and make thy sons go astray after their gods.

2. Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.

3.  The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, at the time appointed in the month Abib, for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.

4.  All that openeth the womb is Mine; and of all thy cattle thou shalt sanctify the males, the firstlings of ox and sheep. And the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break its neck. All the first-born of thy sons thou shalt redeem. None shall appear before Me empty.

5. Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest; in plowing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.

6.  And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, even of the first-fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the turn of the year.

7.  Three times in the year shall all thy males appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel.  For I will cast out nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders; neither shall any man covet thy land, when thou goest up to appear before the LORD thy God three times in the year.

8. Thou shalt not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.

9. The choicest first-fruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God.

10. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.

So the rule about the kid isn’t just on the list of ten, it’s the climax of the list. Admittedly, it’s a pretty miscellaneous set of rules, much less coherent – to a modern eye – than the more familiar Ten Commandments. There’s not much on it that looks like a general ethical precept, as opposed to cultic practice. But how does making a Stroganoff get up there with idolatry on the list of no-nos?

When we discussed this passage at the Hirshleifer-Rosett UCLA Faculty Tanakh Study Group (I’m no longer the note-taker, but I still attend when I can), Paula Powers Coe, a folklorist of awesome learning, had the answer.

It turns out that a kid simmered in its mother’s milk was the sacrifice offered to Ishtar.

So the last item on the list gets back to the first: not adopting the religious practices of the neighbors. Thou shalt not attend the National Prayer Breakfast!

* Apparently “jealous” isn’t accurate; the word קַנָּא has to do with accounting, and “persnickety” or “detail-oriented” would be a better translation.



Et tu, Foxman? Then fall, Bibi!

Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League tells Bibi he needs to cancel the the speech.

As JFK said when the Wall Street Journal went after Nixon, “That’s like L’Osservatore Romano criticizing the Pope.”

Foxman’s ADL doesn’t lean nearly as Republican as most of the “official” Jewish organizations in the U.S., but if there was any previous occasion when you could see daylight between ADL’s position and the official Israeli government position, I must have missed it. This gives any Jewish Democrat in Congress who wants to stay home nearly perfect cover.

Now the question for Obama is whether to help Bibi climb down reasonably gracefully, or instead to leave him twisting slowly, slowly in the wind. I’d be inclined to let him twist, but of course the President is a far nicer guy than I ever thought about being.

Goldberg’s *schanda*

Blood, we are told, is thicker than water. But factional loyalty can be thicker still.

You’d think that someone named “Jonah Goldberg” wouldn’t have any doubts about the moral status of the Crusaders – who, on their way through Europe to the Holy Land, paused from time to time to slaughter the local Jews, and who, when they finally took and sacked Jerusalem, killed the Jews along with the Muslims – or of the Inquisition, which regarded torture and burning at the stake as good ways of inculcating Christian piety, especially among Christians of Jewish ancestry. Indeed, you’d think that any decent human being would be clear on those points. But apparently the actual Jonah Goldberg prefers being a loyal member of the Red team to being either a decent human being or a self-respecting Jew. If Barack Obama criticizes the Crusades and the Inquisition, Goldberg instinctively rushes in to support them.

Goldberg quotes what is now the standard wingnut position that the Crusades were “defensive.” (Tell that to the inhabitants of Constantinople, sacked in the Fourth Crusade.) And he somehow has it figured out that the Inquisition was all about due process, or something. But here’s the cream of the jest:

Christianity, even in its most terrible days, even under the most corrupt popes, even during the most unjustifiable wars, was indisputably a force for the improvement of man.

“Indisputably a force for the improvement of man.” Really? During the genocidal crusade against the Albigensians? When Ferdinand the Catholic and Isabella the Butcher expelled all the Moslems and Jews from Spain? As Charles V and Philip II tried to extirpate Protestantism in the Low Countries by extirpating the population? In the Thirty Years’ War? When the Spanish and the Portuguese enslaved Central and South America? During Calvin’s theocratic dictatorship in Geneva, which burned Michael Servetus at the stake? While Cotton Mather and his crew were hunting witches and flogging Quakers? As the Klan carried out its lynchings by the light of burning crosses, after raising money in Southern Baptist churches? Today, with the Lord’s Resistance Army terrorizing Central Africa? “The improvement of man”? Seriously?

Of course Christianity has sometimes been a force for good. So has Islam. I have no idea how you’d calculate the net gain or loss; what’s the counterfactual? But Goldberg’s insistence on whitewashing Christian crimes and exaggerating Muslim ones is hard to swallow.

My father used to say of people like Goldberg “they ought to sew the bastard’s foreskin back on.” Perhaps the old man, for all his undoubted wisdom, sometimes took just things a bit too far. But now that Goldberg proudly wears his goyische kopf, he might, just as a gesture toward honesty, adopt an appropriately goyische name.

How about “Jason Ormont”?

Update It’s not quite as weird when a medievalist who teaches at a Jesuit university and has published in First Things defends the Crusades and the Inquisition, but if Thomas F. Madden is right that those were part of “mainstream” Christianity, that simply reinforces President Obama’s point that all religions have within them the seeds of evil, simply because they are human institutions. (I think the technical term is “original sin.”)

Of course a believing Christian should want to say that torture and slaughter are a perversion of his faith rather than an expression of its essence, just as a tolerant liberal should want to say that about similar actions undertaken in the name of other religions. And equally of course, since institutions don’t actually have “essences,” there’s no truth of the matter. Every faith, like every other institution, has resources for both good and evil, and insisting that the good bits are genuine and the bad bits spurious is a legitimate rhetorical tactic rather than an empirically testable proposition.

The real bigots – Goldberg, for example – want to claim that the evil parts of Christianity are incidental while the evil parts of Islam are essential. Madden seems instead to be denying that the evil parts of Christianity – or at least the Crusades and the Inquisition: he doesn’t mention the atrocities listed above – are actually evil. I’ll take Obama’s approach over theirs. As Noah Smith (@noahpinion)  Tweeted, “No one expects a defense of the Spanish Inquisition.” It’s a little bit shocking that one of America’s two great political parties now thinks it proper to provide such a defense.

Second update More Noah Smith:

National Review’s chief weapon is surprise. Surprise, and fear. Fear and surprise. And ruthless efficiency. Their *three* weapons are…

Makes you long for the day when torture – at least in civilized countries -was far enough in the past to be a punchline, rather than a contested issue. I recall an old New Yorker cartoon: a man is being racked, and one torturer says to the other, “Remember, now! Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey.” It was funny, back then.

Pen pals

The RBC, via its connections with its sister agency the NSA, has obtained a copy of an extremely important diplomatic document from an alternative reality. Full text follows. Comment would be superfluous.

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

I was greatly distressed to read this morning that your Government – the Government of a beloved and trusted ally – considers that it was misled about the arrangements for your proposed address to the Congress. It is, of course, inconceivable that Speaker Boehner intended to deceive Ambassador Dermer, but if the Ambassador somehow received the impression that the invitation had the approval of the Executive Branch he was mistaken.

It is the policy of the United States Government to refrain from anything that might be perceived as interference in the democratic political processes of friendly nations, and the timing of the proposed speech, compared to the timing of the upcoming elections, would clearly violate that rule.

Nonetheless, the Speaker’s invitation accurately reflects the importance all Americans give to our relationship with Israel. Should the Speaker choose to extend a similar invitation to you (or your successor) after the elections, I would strongly support that invitation.

To avoid any such misunderstanding in the future, might I suggest that your officials each out to our Ambassador in Tel Aviv, or alternatively that your Embassy in Washington reach out to our Secretary of State?

Of course there is no predicting the future, but on the question that most concerns us both – finding a diplomatic solution to the problems posed by the Iranian nuclear program – I have high hopes that I will be able to share good news with you very soon.

Very truly yours,

Barack H. Obama