Ending the Monopolies the Right Way

If the Europeans actually follow through on what Mark Scott describes at Politico:

LONDON — Europe is taking aim at the lifeblood of firms like Google and Facebook — online ads that track people around the internet.

In the latest salvo, a group of EU lawmakers backed proposals this week to phase out so-called targeted advertising when Brussels unveils an overhaul of its digital rulebook in early December.

Such a move — if supported by the European Commission — would effectively stop a firm like Google from showing web users ads based on personal profiles as they roam around the internet. In short, cutting off a key source of revenue at the heart of Big Tech’s business model.

Silicon Valley can rest easy for now. The amendment in question was not binding, and a ban on targeted ads remains fairly remote. But the vote was a shot across the bow for tech companies and publishers who also rely on such ads at a time when regulators are turning up the heat on the online ad business.

It also raises a tricky question — not just for tech companies but for everyone who relies on free internet services provided to them (think, Google Search and Instagram posts) in exchange for personal data: If we put a stop to online ads, who will pay for the internet as we know it?

it will definitely be a step in the right direction. You may notice similarities between what they are doing and what I have proposed in the past. It has been my experience that the Europeans take privacy more seriously than Americans do.

My answer to the question is who needs “the internet as we know it”? The answer is middlemen like Google and Facebook. But that’s decreasingly necessary for individuals or companies who actually produce and sell things.

Breaking up the tech monopolies won’t have the effect that rendering them unprofitable will.

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Bidens’ Foreign Business Scandals

Here’s how I see the swirl of scandals around the Bidens’ foreign business dealings. The two contrasting views are:

  1. Who cares? Joe Biden isn’t Donald Trump. That’s all that’s important. Consequently, it must all be Russian disinformation or just plain lies.
  2. Joe Biden was selling his influence.

My view is that the national political establishments of both parties are hopelessly corrupt, it won’t change after the 2020 election, and it can’t be solved short of a “clean sweep” in which the incumbents of both parties are thrown out of office and that can’t happen because of the way the two parties have things rigged in favor of incumbents. It isn’t limited to just teasing other countries or businesses to get money out of them. That pursuit of money actually overrules the national interest and has for years.

That wasn’t as important when the U. S. economy was growing vibrantly and U. S. GDP was ten times China’s. Now it’s important. It’s undermining U. S. security, its economy, and its social framework.

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Trump’s Future Foreign Policy?

In the event that President Trump is re-elected and if he follows the pattern of previous presidents, he would be likely to concentrate on foreign policy even more than during his first term. In his Wall Street Journal column Walter Russell Mead considers what that might look like:

Mr. Trump’s second term would probably be driven by a quest for “deals,” transactional bargains with other leaders, even more so than in his first term. This could be disconcerting to those around him working to create the institutional basis for a long-term approach to the rise of China and security in the Indo-Pacific. For Mr. Trump, it is all leverage, and for the right deal he will make large and unconventional concessions. China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela: Mr. Trump’s policy is likely to be a quest for dramatic if not always substantive or enduring deals.

This has several consequences. It reinforces Mr. Trump’s relative indifference to human-rights-based diplomacy. It strengthens his preference for diplomacy between sovereign states as opposed to multilateral rule-making and intensifies his impatience with international institutions. It will lead him to continue to seek good personal relationships with even the most controversial and adversarial figures on the world stage.

A second term would be at least as chaotic as the first. This is not simply because the president is undisciplined and indifferent to process and bases his decisions on intuition more than analysis. For Mr. Trump, chaos is more than a choice or even a habit. It is a tool for keeping ultimate control in his own hands. That a presidential tweet can at any moment reverse a policy that aides have labored over for months infuriates, alienates and not infrequently humiliates his subordinates, but Mr. Trump stays in control. Keeping your associates and adversaries alike guessing is, in the president’s playbook, a tactic for success. Officials can always be replaced; power needs to be conserved.

I think that’s a pretty realistic analysis.

What if Trump loses? What is American foreign policy likely to look like under a Biden Administration? I think there would be a combination of a futile attempt at restoring the status quo ante, accompanied by sometimes conflicting pressures to formulate a strategy for dealing with a rising China, more concerns about human rights, and those pushing a “responsibility to protect”.

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The Fumigation Election

At the Washington Post, predicting a Trump defeat, NeverTrumper George Will characterizes the 2020 presidential election as a “fumigation election”:

In defeat, Trump probably will resemble another figure from American fiction — Ring Lardner’s “Alibi Ike,” the baseball player whose talent was for making excuses. Trump will probably say that if not for the pandemic, Americans would have voted their pocketbooks, which would have been bulging because of economic growth, and reelected him. Americans, however, are more complicated and civic-minded than one-dimensional economy voters. But about those pocketbooks:

The 4 percent growth Trump promised as a candidate and the 3 percent he promised as president became, pre-pandemic, 2.5 percent during his first three years, a negligible improvement over the 2.4 percent of the last three Barack Obama years. This growth was partly fueled by increased deficit spending (from 4.4 percent of gross domestic product to 6.3 percent, by the International Monetary Fund’s calculation). Bloomberg Businessweek reports, “In the first three and a half years of Trump’s presidency the U.S. Department of Labor approved 1,996 petitions [for Trade Adjustment Assistance] covering 184,888 jobs shifted overseas. During the equivalent period of President Barack Obama’s second term, 1,811 petitions were approved covering 172,336 workers.” And the Economist says:

“Recent research suggests that Mr. Trump’s tariffs destroyed more American manufacturing jobs than they created, by making imported parts more expensive and prompting other countries to retaliate by targeting American goods. Manufacturing employment barely grew in 2019. At the same time, tariffs are pushing up consumer prices by perhaps 0.5 percent, enough to reduce average real household income by nearly $1,300.”

Demographic arithmetic is also discouraging for Trump. There are more than 5 million fewer members of his core constituency — Whites without college degrees — than there were four years ago. And there are more than 13 million more minority and college-educated White eligible voters than in 2016.

In Ronald Reagan’s 1984 reelection, voters under 30 were a solidly Republican age cohort; 2020, for the fifth consecutive election, it will be the most Democratic. The Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein believes this year’s “generational backlash” against Trump presages for Republicans a dismal decade during which two large and diverse cohorts — millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) — become, together, the electorate’s largest bloc in an electorate that, says Brownstein, “is beginning its most profound generational transition since the early 1980s,” when baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) became the largest bloc. In 2016, Trump won just 36 percent of adults under 30; Obama averaged 63 percent in two elections. Furthermore, this will be the first presidential election in which the number of millennial and Generation Z eligible voters will outnumber eligible baby boomers. Generation Z is 49 percent people of color.

Economic and demographic statistics are not, however, the only ones pertinent to next Tuesday’s probable outcome. Novelist John Updike supplied another: “A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people’s patience.” This nation and its patience are exhausted.

I have no idea of what will happen in the election but from my perspective whomever occupies the Oval Office in February of next year there will still be a bad odor in the White House. It will either be Donald Trump, reinvigorated by his new election and freed from whatever restraints he felt previously or it will be Joe Biden, who can be expected to bring back the same people who were responsible for the lousy foreign policy of the past while under unrelenting pressure from the left of his own party on domestic policy.

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Juxtaposition

I think these two stories make a sad juxtaposition. The restrictions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 on businesses in Chicago are being tightened. From the Associated Press:

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Surging COVID-19 cases in Chicago prompted Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday to ban indoor dining and bar services and limit the number of people gathering in one place.

However, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says she isn’t sure Pritzker’s new restrictions are targeting the right people and worries that they will adversely affect the city’s economy.

The rules taking effect Friday will force diners and bar patrons outdoors and shut down service at 11 p.m. in the nation’s third-largest city. No more than 25 people may gather at one time, or fewer if that number would exceed 25% of room capacity.

“We can’t ignore what is happening around us, because without action, this could look worse than anything we saw in the spring,” Pritzker said, referring to the start of the pandemic, when health care resources were pushed to the limit because of the overwhelming number of COVID-19 cases.

In the other story a pair of sisters on Chicago’s West Side stabbed a security guard 27 times when he asked them to wear facemasks and use hand sanitizer. From Fox:

After a Chicago security guard asked two shoppers to put on coronavirus masks in his store, they allegedly punched him, pulled his hair and stabbed him more than two dozen times.

The suspects, a pair of sisters, allegedly pounced on the 32-year-old victim at Snipes on the city’s west side Sunday, after he asked them to wear masks and use hand sanitizer.

Gov. Pritzker has had unchecked dictatorial power since February. I believe that a responsible press would ask him a question. Since your recent mandates are due to an increase in cases, what have you done wrong?

I think the world has gone mad.

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The Greater Scandal

Matt Taibbi is worried that the corruption of the media is actually the worst scandal of the present:

The flow of information in the United States has become so politicized – bottlenecked by an increasingly brazen union of corporate press and tech platforms – that it’s become impossible for American audiences to see news about certain topics absent thickets of propagandistic contextualizing. Try to look up anything about Burisma, Joe Biden, or Hunter Biden in English, however, and you’re likely to be shown a pile of “fact-checks” and explainers ahead of the raw information:[…]

Other true information has been scrubbed or de-ranked, either by platforms or by a confederation of press outlets whose loyalty to the Democratic Party far now overshadows its obligations to inform.

But Fox does the same thing!

Obviously, Fox is not much better, in terms of its willingness to report negative information about Trump and Republicans, but Fox doesn’t have the reach that this emerging partnership between mass media, law enforcement, and tech platforms does. That group’s reaction to the New York Post story is formalizing a decision to abandon the media’s old true/untrue standard for a different test that involves other, more politicized questions, like provenance and editorial intent.

Republicans started complaining about the partisanship and corruption of the media during the Obama Administration and, apparently, they were right. It all just went on steroids when Trump was elected.

My views on all this are pretty simple. If we’re going to have partisan media as the UK does, we should have libel laws like the UK’s. Simple as that.

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Some Other Country

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Scott Gottlieb calls for mandates to wear facemasks:

Masks would help. As a practical matter, it’s easier to wear a mask in the winter than the summer. A mandate can be expressly limited to the next two months. The inconvenience would allow the country to preserve health-care capacity and keep more schools and businesses open. Studies show widespread use of masks can reduce spread. But even if masks are only incrementally helpful, they are among the least economically costly and burdensome options for reducing spread.

This is the part of the op-ed that caught my attention:

There’s a presumption that a mask mandate would have to be backed up with fines and set off scuffles with law enforcement. Not necessarily. States should be able to choose how to enforce a mandate, but the goal should be to make masks a social and cultural norm, not a political statement. There are lots of things we do because there is a community expectation of civil behaviors: No shoes, no service. Clean up after your dog. Many of these are even codified in city ordinances.

I believe he must be thinking about some other country. I walk my dog multiple times a day, always on a lead and I have never in the 20+ years I’ve been walking my dogs left one of my dog’s stacks on the ground. Not only that so far this year I must have picked up more than 100 lb. of other dogs’ poop from my neighbors’ lawns, left there by owners who are not as observant as I. Chicago has ordinances, punishable by substantial fines, against off-lead dogs and requiring you to pick up after your dog.
Nonetheless, every damned day I come across multiple off-lead dogs and stacks of dog poop that someone has left behind. The reality is that the only way that “no shoes, no service” is heeded is if, when you’re not wearing shoes, you aren’t served. This is an entire country just full of people who don’t believe that the laws apply to them. 41 million speeding tickets are issued every year. 1.5 million people are arrested for drunk driving a year. Everyone knows those are just the tip of the iceberg. They’ll believe they should comply with unenforced mandates if they’re troublesome to them? They don’t comply with the laws that are at least partially enforced if they get in the way of what they want to do.

Let me make my views very clear. I wear a facemask. I maintain social distancing. I have cut way back on the number of times I go to the store (normally I’m a daily shopper). I do these things because a) I think that in combination in particular they’re, as Dr. Gottlieb puts it, “incrementally helpful” and b) to encourage other people to do the same. I think that every mandate and every law should, at the very least, have a good faith level of enforcement. Otherwise the sheer multiplicity of laws and mandates and the lack of enforcement generally erodes the rules of law. If you’re not going to enforce the law, don’t have it.

And, for goodness sake, don’t overstate the effectiveness of these measures. That does nothing but create unrealistic expectations.

Would it also help if our elected leaders were better role models? Sure but I don’t expect them to. They’re arrogant schmucks.

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The Slippery Slope

The editors of the Washington Post have engaged in their own speculations about the next four years under a hypothetical second Trump term:

What are the sources of U.S. prosperity — of our ability to generate and enjoy more than 15 percent of the global economy with just over 4 percent of the world’s population? They include a predictable rule of law; a professional civil service; a position as global leader that lets us help set the rules and have the U.S. dollar accepted as the only true international currency; and high, if not world-leading, standards of health care and education.

Also key has been a broadly shared commitment to fairness and equal opportunity, even if we argue ferociously about how to translate that commitment into policy. We have prospered, while other developed nations have begun to stagnate, by attracting talented, entrepreneurial and ambitious immigrants from all over the world. Our commitment to freedom has allowed immigrants and native-born alike to contribute to the fullest extent of their abilities.

I agree with some of their assessments of the sources of our prosperity and disagree about others. I think it’s the first time I have ever read the claim that the source of U. S. prosperity was the DMV. I understand how that crept into their list—it’s clearly a reaction to Trump’s announcement about civil service reform. That’s the risk of public employees aligning themselves predominantly with one of the political parties. The other party will come to see them as adversaries. While I think that substantial civil service reform is long overdue and non-appointed individuals working for State, the various intelligence agencies, Justice, and the IRS are clearly out of hand, I’m not convinced that the direction in which Mr. Trump wants to reform the civil service will not create more new problems than it solves. The real problem, as usual, is the Congress which is eager to delegate its authority to bureaucrats, the executive, just about anybody.

While rule of law issues have accelerated under the Trump Administration, they have been a growing problem for decades. Rule by executive order is inconsistent with the rule of law. That, too, is a problem for which Congress bears most of the blame.

I agree that fairness and equal opportunity are among the factors that have contributed to American prosperity but I’m less convinced that the common practice among large tech and staffing companies of bringing in junior employees from abroad to supplant domestic employees and paying them lower wages than domestic employees, which is much of what passes for legal immigration nowadays, is either fair or equal.

They continue:

He craves the approval of autocrats who wish our country ill while abandoning and insulting allies; the latter will not stand by and take his abuse for four more years, while the former will exploit his credulity. Already the United States finds itself humiliatingly isolated on key issues, like relations with Iran. As Mr. Trump fulfills long-held ambitions to undermine alliances with Europe, Japan and South Korea, the United States will be further enfeebled; China, increasingly dominant; the world, ever less stable.

I fully acknowledge that I don’t understand President Trump’s thinking at all and that is particularly true in foreign policy. So far he is all hat and no cattle. Or not very many cattle, anyway. Being the president for four years and not starting a new war is not nothing. It has been beyond the grasp of presidents for the last 40 years. My own criticisms of our foreign policy is that we have given a lot while our negotiating partners have mostly given lip service and that we have been overly reliant on military force. The source of our power in the world is our economic strength. Any president who takes his focus off that will undermine our strength and authority.

They conclude:

Finally: Mr. Trump has proven himself, in the covid-19 catastrophe, incapable of leading in crisis. What if the next virus is far more deadly — which health experts say is entirely possible? What if the next emergency involves a risk of nuclear war, given Mr. Trump’s abject failure to rein in the nuclear programs of Iran or North Korea? Can anyone trust him to manage such a challenge, atop an administration from which he has hounded almost all knowledgeable and experienced officials?

As we’ve written before, we believe former vice president Joe Biden well-suited to be president. You, undecided voter, may be less sure; maybe you disagree with some of the policies he espouses — that’s fine. We would simply ask you to weigh your concerns about the unknowns of a Biden presidency against the certain dangers of a second Trump term. On the one hand, a tax, a minimum wage, an energy policy you might not like; on the other, the demise of U.S. democracy, prosperity and global leadership. It shouldn’t be a hard call.

Update

There are lots of other things that are inconsistent with the rule of law. In that list I would include letting corporations grow so big and powerful that they are above the law, crafting policies specifically to help individual corporations or individuals, enforcing laws selectively and most of all politically, declining to enforce the law at all and judicial or prosecutorial discretion. The list goes on.

And to the list of factors behind American prosperity I would add a sound currency, something which both Mssrs. Trump and Biden appear to be nonchalant.

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Cardinal Gregory

I would be remiss in not mentioning that Pope Francis has named Archbishop Wilton Gregory, presently leading the archdiocese containing DC, a cardinal of the Church. From ABC 7 Chicago:

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Sunday named 13 new cardinals, including Washington D.C. Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who would become the first Black U.S. prelate to earn the coveted red hat.

Gregory was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago on May 9, 1973.

In a surprise announcement from his studio window to faithful standing below in St. Peter’s Square, Francis said the churchmen would be elevated to a cardinal’s rank in a ceremony on Nov. 28.

Gregory was picked by Francis to lead the prestigious diocese in the U.S. capital last year. He served three times as the head of the U.S. Conference of Bishops.

“By naming Archbishop Wilton Gregory as a Cardinal, Pope Francis is sending a powerful message of hope and inclusion to the Church in the United States,” Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles said. Gomez is also the current president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “As a former president of our national bishops’ conference, Archbishop Gregory displayed generous and principled leadership. The naming of the first African American cardinal from the United States gives us an opportunity to pause and offer thanks for the many gifts African American Catholics have given the Church. Please join me in praying for the continued ministry of Archbishop Gregory.”

I am acquainted with now Cardinal Gregory from his early days as a priest. Unmentioned in the articles I’ve read is the important role he played in framing the Archidiocese of Chicago’s policy on sexual abuse by priests, tougher than that of a lot of other dioceses.

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Marge Champion, 1919-2020

Marge Champion has died at 101. It’s hard to over-estimate her influence as a model, dancer, actress, and choreographer in the theater, movies, and television which began in the 1930s and continued all the way to her final Broadway performance in 2001. Here she is, dancing in the 1951 Technicolor musical Show Boat with her then husband, Gower:

As you can see she was an incredibly strong and graceful dancer.

Here’s her obit in Variety in which you will probabaly learn some things of which you were unaware:

Marge Champion, a dancer and actor who served as the real-life model for Disney’s 1937 animated classic “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” died on Wednesday in Los Angeles, according to The New York Times. She was 101.

Champion and her husband, Gower Champion, also had great success as dance partners and choreographers for Broadway musicals, films and television shows. Champion won an Emmy award in 1975 for choreographing the television movie “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom.”

Marge and Gower Champion most notably danced together in multiple MGM musicals, including the 1951 remake of “Show Boat” starring Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson and Ava Gardner.

In addition to “Snow White,” Champion’s elegant dance moves served as the inspiration for the Blue Fairy in “Pinocchio” and the tutu-wearing hippo ballerinas in the “Dance of the Hours” number in “Fantasia.”

Every time you watch Disney’s Snow White, Pinocchio, or Fantasia you’re seeing Marge Champion.

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