Cheap power is progressive

According to a statistic I just made up, 97.3% of all technical “breakthroughs” trumpeted in press releases turn out to be either wrong or minor. Moreover, it’s well known that fusion is the energy source of the future, and always will be. When I was ten years old, economically relevant fusion power was thirty years away, and that number hasn’t changed in the half-century since.

Still, the folks at the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works aren’t very likely to be either fools or hoaxers, so when they say they’ve figured out how to make magnetic-confinement fusion practical and that they think they can have a prototype in five years and a production model in a decade, that’s worth paying attention to.

The gimmick, if it works, would have all the features that have made fusion such a dream: no greenhouse-gas emissions, no meltdown risk, no waste-disposal problem, no weapons-proliferation issue, and effectively unlimited fuel supply. Even better, they’re talking about 100-megawatt reactor that fits on a flatbed truck, not a 1000-megawatt behemoth like the current generation of fission reactors. That would make producing the devices a manufacturing problem rather than a construction project. (Even more so if you could retrofit a power plant now running on coal by simply substituting half a dozen of the new gadgets.)  With luck, this could put a big hole in fossil-fuel production and the environmental and political disasters it creates.

Of course the Lockheed Martin folks could turn out to be wrong about the physics (though that doesn’t seem especially likely), or (much more plausibly) one of the ancillary problems such as materials development could turn out to be insoluble or too expensive to be economically practical.

But the only reasonable reaction to this from someone not invested in Exxon or Koch Energy or Putinism is a (somewhat hesitant, because the idea is still more likely to fizzle than to work) “Yippeeeeee!!!!”

Therefore, I find it frustrating (and only wish I found it surprising) that ThinkProgress, run by people who consider themselves “progressives,” is rushing to pour cold water on the idea because the timeline can’t meet the arbitrary deadline someone in the global-warming PR business has dreamed up. (Really, of course, because cheap non-polluting energy would help reduce the relevance of a bunch of Green ideas about regulating this and subsidizing that, and because at some point after 1973 gloom and fear got to be the official emotions of the progressive movement, when by rights they belongs to conservatives.)

Since there’s no hope in Hell our current set of technical options, working under our current set of political and economic arrangements, are going to stop the rise of GHG levels by 2040, let alone 2020, bellyaching that a game-changing technology might come in a decade or so behind the current unattainable target is plain silly. If all we needed to deal with is a gap of a decade, or even two, there are geoengineering options that could be used to limit the damage in the meantime.

Every argument for subsidizing conservation and renewables applies with at least as much force to pouring money into this new version of magnetic-confinement fusion until it hits a brick wall, as it probably will. Since there’s no way a patent-holder could possibly internalize the social gain from making this work, the case for public funding is overwhelming. The social value of the discovery, if it can be perfected, couldn’t possibly be less than $10 trillion,  so spending $10B or so on even a 1% chance of success is an obviously positive-expected-value gamble.

Of course, if we have to triple energy prices in order to prevent a global-warming disaster – which might well prove to be the case – we should accept that, and the economic disruptions that would result, rather than accepting a 3-degree-Celsius rise in average surface temperature and the catastrophes that would result from that. But I’d rather not, thanks.

If cheap energy gets to be real again, that will be a tremendous boon to the planet, and especially to its poorest inhabitants. And if as a result we have to stop saying that 40,000-square-foot mansions are environmentally unsustainable, and have to go back to saying that they’re grotesque and vulgar, is that really such a steep price to pay?

A progressive movement that, in its heart, prefers scarcity is not one I really want to be part of, and it’s not one likely to command majority support.


More tinpot dictators in the schools

Some educators think the point of school is to get students to do their own thinking.   Others, not so much: the little Caesars in Bucks County seem to think their school is about sports and (for example) the school newspaper is there to gin up pep rallies so the high school players can do their job, which is to amuse ignorant white grownups.

Seriously, how messed up is this: students learn journalism by having their copy dictated by racist administrators?  Who obviously haven’t read a newspaper in twenty years?

More generally, there seem to be no limits to the degree that sports, especially football, can corrupt a community and degrade its culture (can you say Steubenville?) if the grownups go infantile; the good people of Sayreville seem to be more upset about missing a season of football than an epidemic of sexual assault (though in that case the school leadership is on the ball).

School team nicknames have many strange conventions, especially the taste for war and predation. A game isn’t a war, or a fight!  I always liked MIT’s choice of a beaver (your cougars or whatever may occasionally have a beaver for lunch, but they will end up working for them after graduation).  More mysterious to me is all the Trojans; why would you name your teams after history’s most famous losers?

Florida State (and Tallahassee) have plenty to work on about football and bad behavior by players. But the school took care to get the Seminole Nation to OK their team name.  I think that’s OK, especially as the Seminole are local to the institution, and Seminole is not a derogatory word.  As to Neshaminny, while the logo itself doesn’t have the particularly vile quality of the Cleveland pro baseball team’s, the idea that it has some aroma of local pride only demonstrates that the district’s curriculum doesn’t have much of a unit on Native Americans. He’s wearing the headdress of people who live a thousand miles away, a ludicrous inconvenience for eastern forest people trying to get around in trees and brush.

Oh well, seen one Indian, seen ‘em all, and there’s a game Friday night.

How UKIP Differs from the Tea Party

Americans who have heard of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) often assume that its members are roughly analogous to those of the U.S. Tea Party, i.e., disaffected conservatives who want the right-most party to move even further right. Some excellent political journalism has shown this is not correct, and a remarkable election result this past week underscores the point.

The setting was Heywood and Middleton, a Mancunian constituency in which Labour politicians have literally never lost a parliamentary election. I was acquainted with the late Jim Dobbin, who used to represent this pocket district, and he was with respect neither a scintillating orator nor entirely in step with many of his constituents on some social issues. But still, he was Labour, so like his predecessors he too always won, and by large margins.

Given this context, it is remarkable indeed that Jim’s Labour Party replacement almost lost the by-election to a UKIP candidate. In the 4 years since the last parliamentary election, UKIP increased its vote-share by a stunning 15-fold. If UKIP were truly just a party of disaffected Tories, this simply could not have happened in a Labour stronghold.

Ian Warren of Election Data blog did some revealing shoeleather reporting and data crunching regarding how UKIP did so well. He posted this photo of a UKIP voting neighborhood (that’s an “estate”, i.e., public housing) and pointed out that its not exactly the dwelling place of the horse and hound set.


Now take a moment to consider whether you think UKIP are just a problem for the Conservatives. Because this doesn’t look like a Conservative area to me. And consider that in May of this year UKIP took 42.3% of the vote here…..on these streets. Because at some stage somebody in Labour high command is going to need to explain to me how on earth they find themselves in a position where their bedrock supporters, the believers in ‘good old religion’ as I heard John McTernan call them last week, have simply stopped believing.

His whole analysis is worth reading. It reinforces my sense that the 2015 UK election is “everyone’s to lose”, by which I mean that, given the fracturing of old alliances and perspectives in the UK, there is an excellent chance that regardless of who wins, the majority of people who went to the polls are going to feel alienated from the new government from day one.

Athletics at Berkeley update

In late spring, big-time sports at Berkeley hit bottom on several dimensions, but things may be turning around. In the last few anni horribili,  the Intercollegiate Athletics program saddled the campus with about $400m in debt to rebuild the stadium and construct an accessory building that is about a third conditioning space for athletes, a third party venue for boosters and possibly players, and a third coaching offices.  A scheme to play the spread between tax-exempt bond interest rates and market returns on endowment, plus selling premium seats on long contracts (the ESP program), to retire this debt is in some trouble (ESP sales are steadily declining year by year).  At the same time, we were humiliated by the worst graduation rates in the country (football) and in the conference (men’s basketball) along with on-field performance in those money sports (1-11 in FB, 7th in the conference in MBB) that, let us say, does not sell tickets or open donor wallets.

We sent our athletic director packing (she wound up at Penn State…the world is a strange place in many ways) and the football team is no longer an embarrassment, 4-1 so far even though we did not beat the point spread in last week’s squeaker. More interesting, a task force stood up by the chancellor last winter has come out with a report, focused on “the academic performance of student athletes and the overall quality of their campus experience”,  that he has pretty much accepted.  It has a lot of good stuff in it and deserves a careful read.

Continue Reading…

Weekend Film Recommendation: Grip of the Strangler

haunted_strangler_poster_02Following Johann’s recommendation of Manhunter last week, I keep our RBC Halloween month tradition alive by focusing in the coming weeks on horror films. When Jean Kent died late last year, I decided to watch one of her films that I had never seen, and came away happy that I did. In one of her many roles as a naughty British lass, Kent is a chanteuse/madam threatened by a serial killer apparently risen from the grave in this week’s film recommendation: Grip of the Strangler (aka The Haunted Strangler).

This 1958 film has a wonderful backstory involving Boris Karloff. Alex and Richard Gordon grew up loving Karloff in the classic Universal horror films made before the war. When the Gordons were young adults, Karloff’s cinema stardom had faded but he was still working on the London stage. The two fanboys approached their idol, and ever the gentlemen, Karloff treated them kindly. When the great man was 70, the Gordons had the chance they had always dreamed of to produce a movie for him.

kentThe plot is spooky and engaging, mixing elements of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jack the Ripper and even Frankenstein. You can also see the beginnings of a return to sexual explicitness in British cinema here, particularly in the scenes in Kent’s bawdyhouse (the champagne spill scene with pinup model Vera Day has to be seen to be disbelieved). But those elements work well in the story, which concerns a moralistic late-Victorian Era social reformer (Karloff) who believes a strangler of attractive women is still at large in the streets of London. He’s a hothouse flower of a man who faints when he sees abuse of prisoners, is terrified of rats and is extremely ill at ease interacting with a woman of Kent’s sensually confident ilk. Yet he is also unaccountably obsessed with the strangler’s brutal sex crimes.

It’s not a big budget film, but you largely wouldn’t know it. Director Robert Day started his career as a cinematographer and clearly learned how to use shadows, fog and lighting to keep the audience from noticing any economies in set design and art direction. The professionalism of the cast helps a good deal too. There are some actors who can’t seem to do a B-movie without somehow conveying to their fans “wink wink, I’m phoning in my part just so you know I’m above all this”. But such self-indulgence was unheard of in this era of British film and the result is a much better movie.

Kent is clearly at home in her showy part, even though it is unfortunately smaller than it could have been. Karloff is nothing less than brilliant, conveying the admixture of desire and repression, rage and sadness present in his character.

This is not a widely-known film outside of the horror film buff community. But it has captured some important supporters, most notably The Criterion Collection, who have made a pristine print available for you to enjoy.

p.s. Interested in a different sort of film? Check out this list of prior RBC recommendations.

p.p.s. SPOILER ALERT: Karloff’s physical transformation is even more impressive when you learn that he did it without makeup!

The Only Interesting Thing About Meet the Press

Kevin Drum’s piece altered me to the fact that Jon Stewart was considered to be the next host of Meet the Press. I googled on “Meet the Press Jon Stewart” and found that Kevin’s was one of a tidal wave of pieces weighing in on this earthshattering revelation. The New York Times, Washington Post and US News and World Report were just a small set of the outlets that analyzed this Cuban Missile Crisis-Level near miss that might have destroyed our country forever. The Stewartgate coverage of course followed a good twelve months of virtually every political journalist in the country writing about how then-MTP host David Gregory was in trouble, and who would replace him, and would this person plunge the nation into peril or redeem its lost greatness (Lest you think that the recent spate of Meet the Press-related coverage was just because of Jon Stewart’s media profile, check out the non-Stewart-related MTP coverage at, to name only a few, New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Huffington Post and FoxNews). God, the suspense of having our species’ future hinging on who — Dear Lord tell us, who? — would take the throne as Meet the Press host and thereby do something apparently quite important.

Or not. Seeing all these articles actually made me throw up a little in my mouth because I cannot take another round of journalists treating anything and everything that happens on MTP as more than remotely newsworthy. There are contests to name the most undercovered stories of the year in journalism. The goings-on at Meet the Press deserve the prize for the most overcovered story for several years running.

In the days when Lawrence Spivak walked the earth, Meet the Press developed an innovative concept in television: Have political journalists talk to each other and to politicians about the political events of the day. Since that time, this format has been copied to the point that one could literally watch such shows 24 hours a day every day if one were that masochistic. By Sunday everything momentous and everything trivial in the week’s politics has been chewed over 100 times already, and seeing the soggy orts remasticated on MTP et al. is the television version of experiencing “harsh interrogation methods”.

And alert to journalists: Almost no one other than you watches Meet the Press anymore. The many stories making a big deal about which of the Sunday morning shows is ranked first are analogous to making a big deal over who has the best batting average in Professional Baseball’s Double AA minor league system. Hit shows in the United States draw 10-20 million viewers per broadcast; you can be first among the not-so-vaunted Sunday morning talk show competition with less than 3 million viewers tuning in, counting all the people who are dozing off in the nursing home’s common room.

The only thing interesting about Meet the Press is that so many smart journalists think it’s interesting to anyone other than journalists. Please folks, find something more important to write about, like the war, the economy or what you did on your summer vacation.

“They have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing”

One of the difficult moments in a research career comes when you’ve made an unjustified attack on work you only partly understand (and desperately want not to understand) and get your hand slapped by the people you accused of being “accomplices” to a con job.

When you’ve demonstrably mis-stated the question, gotten the intellectual history completely wrong, missed most of the policy history, ignored almost all of the empirical evidence, and misquoted key implementation details of the idea you’re attacking, prudence generally counsels backing off.

Alas, as Talleyrand said of the restored Bourbons, some researchers learn nothing (about the world) and forget nothing (about their prejudices).

Of course, those are merely general remarks. As an interested party, it would be out of place for me to comment on this rejoinder to this (admirably restrained) critique of this attack on the idea of swift-certain-fair sanctioning systems (mislabeled “HOPE”) from advocates of the competing assess-and-treat paradigm, incorporating the Risk-Needs-Responsivity assessment process. So I will outsource the commentary to the colleague who alerted me that  the journal Federal Probation had finally published all three items. He summarizes the rejoinder:

The HOPE research is OK so far as it goes (we can’t find any fault with the conduct of the Hawaii Randomized Controlled Trial [RCT]), but it has limited external validity, and there is other research suggesting that threats have limited capacity to influence behavior. And here is a long list of bad things that will probably happen if HOPE is widely adopted.

Meanwhile, we know that RNR works, because we know that it works.

RCTs? We ain’t got no RCTs.  We don’t need no RCTs. We don’t have to show you any stinkin’ RCTs.

I will note, as a mere matter of objectively checkable fact, that the rejoinder addresses none of the substantive points in the critique; rather than either acknowledging or challenging the evidence and analysis that make nonsense of the claims in the original article, the rejoinder merely restates those claims at a higher pitch.  And it ignores the suggestion in the critique tht  the difference of opinion might be adjudicated by doing an experiment, with one group of offenders assigned to RNR and the other to SCF.  That might suggest – to someone with a suspicious mind – that the authors share my view about how that experiment would come out.

As Upton Sinclair remarked, it is remarkably hard to get someone to understand a point when his (or her) paycheck (or academic reputation) depends on not understanding it.

The (Drug Control) Empire Strikes Back

By and large, I’m not a fan of the work of the (self-appointed) Global Commission on Drug Policy. The Commission’s latest report draws strong conclusions:

Ultimately the most effective way to reduce the extensive harms of the global drug prohibition regime and advance the goals of public health and safety is to get drugs under control through responsible legal regulation.

Unfortunately, those strong conclusions aren’t backed with strong evidence or strong argument. Calling your drug laws “regulations” or “taxes” rather than “prohibitions” doesn’t make them any easier to enforce. The claim that it’s possible to “get drugs under control through responsible legal regulation” has, for now, to be filed under “Interesting, If True.” Experiments with legal supply of “cannabis, coca leaf, and certain novel psychoactive substances” are a good idea, but of course most of the action in the “war on drugs” is in cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine; the drugs we would most like to legalize in terms of reducing the costs of prohibition would be among the hardest to legalize successfully in terms of public health. (We always have the bad example of  alcohol – which causes more violence, more health damage, and more addiction than all the illicit drugs combined – staring down at us.)

That said, the frustration with current drug policies that motivates the Global Commission is entirely justified. Changing the goals and means of the current international drug control regime in the direction of less violence and less incarceration is harder and more complex than denouncing the drug war in abstract terms, and less dramatic than legalization, but it’s necessary and important work, and someone who reads the Commission’s reports but doubts the existence of a regulatory utopia might be motivated to engage in that work.

Naturally, the international drug control empire is going to fight back. Yuri Fedotov, one of its Grand Pooh-Bahs as Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (serving, one might note, as the representative of a government with an especially stupid, vicious, and unsuccessful set of drug policies), says of the Commission report that “It’s very hard to reconcile these recommendations with the major provisions of drug-control conventions.” That, of course, is true.

But what Fedotov doesn’t say, and which is also true, is that it’s very hard to reconcile the premises of the drug-control conventions with observable reality. The Single Convention was written in 1961, before anyone knew about neurotransmitters and receptors. Why should we allow the outdated concepts embodied in that treaty and its successors – treating drugs with abuse potential as evil rather than risky, and assuming that the answer to illicit markets is always more and more law enforcement - to continue to dominate our thinking?

It’s too bad that many of the folks who are willing to say that the existing international drug control regime is based on fantasy insist on pushing the equal and opposite fantasy that there’s a magic wand called “regulation” that we could wave at the problem to bring it under control. But the first step in fixing something is noticing that it’s broken and the Global Commission has at least taken that first step. UNODC and its sister agency INCB, and their allies around the world, are still – if you’ll pardon the use of a technical term – in denial.





Crime, De-Incarceration and the Economy

The estimable Zusha Elinson has a solid piece out at WSJ on the very happy news that California’s violent crime rate has dropped to a level not seen since 1967. Further, after rising slightly in 2012, the property crime rate resumed the downward course it has been on for some years. As Zusha notes, this fall in crime has occurred while de-incarceration has been underway:

The state-prison population has dropped by about 25,000 since 2011, when California embarked on a policy of “realignment,” which has moved some nonviolent offenders to counties.

The shift has resulted in thousands of people on the street who in the past would have been behind bars. To be sure, the county-jail population has grown by about 10,000. But some counties have been forced to release offenders because of overcrowding, while others are choosing rehabilitation programs over incarceration. In 2013, researchers found that 18,000 offenders who would have been in either prison or jail in years past weren’t serving time behind bars.

The article quotes Magnus Lofstrom explaining the 2013 drop as an effect of county rehabilitation programs and “an improving economy”. The former explanation is credible. The latter explanation is invoked almost daily to explain why incarceration can go down without crime going up in response, so it’s important to emphasize that — as counter-intuitive as it may sound — there is no evidence that a bad economy causes an increase in crime. To quote our own Mark Kleiman:

The Roaring Twenties were a high-crime period; the Great Depression was mostly peaceful. The economically stagnant Eisenhower era had crime rates at historic lows; the Kennedy-Johnson boom in economic growth accompanied an explosion in crime rates. The Great Crime Decline didn’t pause for the recession of 2000-2001.

The decline of crime and incarceration in tandem is thus not a special circumstance produced by an improving economy. Rather, it’s an entirely expected outcome of releasing people who didn’t need to be behind bars and instead providing supervision and rehabilitation services for them in the community.

Presidente Marina?

As the resident Brazil “expert” (i.e., I’ve been there and wed a national) I feel I should bring you at least a straightforward update.

Brazil votes tomorrow in the first round of a general election. Where no candidate reaches an absolute majority, the races go to a runoff in 3 weeks’ time. The political landscape is fragmented, so there is never a clear majority party in the Parliament. Unlike France, Brazil has no Prime Minister. The President appoints ministers (not subject to confirmation), but must negotiate to pass every budget and law. Brazil is federal, and state governors have substantial power. I don’t pretend to grasp the whole picture. Like most outsiders, I’m mainly interested in who occupies the powerful presidency.

The latest poll is consistent with earlier ones. WSJ:

Ms. Rousseff got the most support in the survey by the Sensus polling company for ISTO É magazine, at 37.3% in the first round. Ms. Silva got 22.5% and Mr. Neves got 20.6%, a technical tie given the poll’s 2.2 percentage-point margin of error.

None of the many other candidates are significant. Dilma Rousseff has a comfortable lead but not an an absolute majority, so there will be a runoff. Marina Silva’s non-significant lead over Aecio Neves in this one poll follows a long series of polls giving her a statistically significant one, so I expect Nate Silver or Sam Wang would make her clear favourite for second place. I’ll update on Monday with the results. [Update: full names added]

All recent hypothetical polls for the runoff give Dilma a comfortable win over either rival, by 6 points over Marina and 9 over Aecio (footnote). (Let’s switch to first names as Brazilians do.) Still, three weeks is a long time in politics. Marina may not endorse Aecio – conservatives are even worse that socialists on the environment. But Aecio would have strong reasons to endorse Marina, who has promised an orthodox economic policy, including independence of the central bank. This has laid her open to demagogic attacks from Dilma that Marina would be abandoning Brazil’s poor, from which she, unlike Dilma, actually sprang. Cutting the incessant meddling by incompetent and/or corrupt bureaucrats in the economy – think of Olivares or the Permit Raj more than Colbert – would probably help the poor, though it would hit the unionized workers in protected industries that form the core base of Lula’s and Dilma’s PT party.


Marina Silva

Whom should we root for? The main interest the rest of the world has in Brazil is the conservation of the Amazon forest as the world’s green lung, and therefore an end to deforestation, preferably its reversal. Silva would quite plainly be far better on this, the issue on which she quit Lula’s government. For Brazilians, her platform is somewhat better than Dilma’s, against which you have to set her managerial inexperience and a lone-wolf style that has led her regularly to quarrel with allies. Her success in governing would depend on a wise choice of aides, as she lacks the personal skills in backroom dealings that more conventional politicians acquire early. On corruption, she is also far superior. Brazilians may have doubts on her competence, but respect her integrity.

Brazilian politics is pretty sleazy. A spoils system in the civil service, lacking a Sir Humphrey / énarque tradition of professional independence; ineffective regulation of political finance; rules on public contracts that are so complex that they are routinely bypassed; and great inequality that makes all politicians unavowably dependent on the rich few, keep it so. On top of this, Lula’s and Dilma’s PT has been in power too long and developed Chavezian tendencies of embedding itself so deeply in public institutions that the distinction between state and party is blurring. It is definitely time for a change.

The corruption issue may still be a live one. A major scandal has just emerged over the diversion of funds into political payoffs from the giant state oil company Petrobras. Its mismanagement was already a matter of record. The scale is alleged to be greater than the mensalão scandal of Lula’s first term, in which MPs were bribed to allow his legislation through. (Well, Lincoln did it too, in a greater cause.)

If the Petrobras scandal develops, and if Aecio endorses her, Marina Silva just may have a chance of becoming the first leader of a major country elected primarily to defend the environment.

Brazilian parents show an exuberant freedom in the naming of their children, as you can see from any football team. Aecio commemorates the late Roman general and statesman Flavius Aetius, who (as I’m sure you remember) defeated Attila the Hun near Châlons in 451 AD, by one account without any regular Roman legionaries at all. I haven’t come across Brazilians called Stilicho, Narses or Belisarius, other warlords from the same era. Striker, defender and midfield playmaker, perhaps.

* * * * *

Update 1 Sunday
Three polls published on Saturday show Aecio with a lead over Marina, at least one statistically significant. So it sadly looks as if it’s back to business-in-politics as usual. Aecio has no chance against Dilma in the runoff. The count results may be delayed.

Update 2 Monday 6 October

Well, well. Results (99% in): Dilma 41.6%, Aecio 33.5%, Marina 21.3%, 8 others 3.5%. So much for “experts” like me in distant armchairs.

Marina’s support really did crash in the last week; she went back to near her score in 2010, 19.3%. Why? Much of her polled support must have been very shallow, and tipped back to Aecio once she showed some weaknesses and he some strength. The swings still show remarkable volatility, which I (nursing burnt fingers) will not try to explain. It’s not necessarily a sign of immaturity in the electorate; the behaviour also makes sense as sophisticated tactical voting.

Dilma’s support also fell substantially, though by less. She got 5.3% less than in the first round in 2010, half her margin on victory in the second. There may be a turnout effect – her poll lead was so comfortable that supporters could have felt safe not to show up. However, voting is in principle compulsory and many other offices were at stake. Aecio’s team will reasonably see the swing as a sign that his and Marina’s attacks on corruption and mismanagement are drawing blood. He has moved from no-hoper to underdog in the runoff.

One of Marina’s mistakes was a flip-flop on gay marriage. Dearie me. Since Julius Caesar ran for consul and John Wilkes for MP for Middlesex, it’s been the rule that you must stick by your platform, even if it claims that 2 + 2 = 5. Obama must have realized early on that his no-mandate position in health care was a crock, but he kept it until elected.