Are Republicans Facing A Coming Demographic Disaster?

A recurring theme of progressive writers is that Republicans are facing a coming demographic disaster because whites are an inevitably shrinking part of the American electorate.  Sure Trump just eked out a victory by winning the white vote by a 21% margin.  But, according to numbers here from Pew, he lost Hispanics by 36 points and blacks by 80 points.  Those groups, particularly Hispanics, are growing as a percent of the electorate, while whites are shrinking.  Thus, it's only a matter of time until the demographic tide swamps the Republicans and brings the Democrats into permanent control.

For an example of a piece advancing this narrative, here is an article from the Washington Post by Chris Cillizza from this past April, title "The Coming Republican Demographic Disaster."  Cillizza quotes from David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report as follows:

In 1980, Ronald Reagan won 56 percent of all white voters and won election in a 44-state landslide. In 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney carried 59 percent of all white voters yet lost decisively. What happened? African Americans, Latinos, Asians and other non-whites — all overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning groups — rose from 12 percent of voters in 1980 to 28 percent in 2012.

Sounds bad for the Republicans, right?  Not so fast.  For a guy my age (65), what seems odd about this narrative is the lumping of all "whites" into one ethnic group for purposes of analyzing voting results.  When I was younger, Hispanics were a much smaller percentage of the electorate, and blacks somewhat smaller.  And yet somehow Democrats controlled both houses of Congress solidly from the time of my birth until the Republicans finally took the Senate for a few years while Reagan was President; and then the Democrats went back into full control of both houses until the 1994 election.  In those days, Democrats also controlled way more state legislatures and governorships than Republicans; today it's the reverse.

What are we missing?  What we're missing is that back in the 50s through 80s "whites" were not thought to be one monolithic voting bloc.  In ethnic terms, some whites were the descendants of those who had come earlier, sometimes known as the WASPs.  And then separately you had the recent immigrants and their immediate descendants -- the Irish, Italians, Eastern Europeans (Poles, Slavs), Greeks, Jews.  The latter groups were largely working class, and were the base of the Democratic Party at the time, before there were such large numbers of Hispanics.  

With Trump's election, what we have seen is the completion of the overwhelming movement of the "ethnic" whites over to the Republicans.  As many have noted over the past few weeks, such whites as are left in the Democratic Party are not the working class, but the elites.  Among these "elite" whites, there are plenty of Irish, Italians, etc., who have moved up over time; but definitely those groups are proportionally under-represented, while WASPs and, especially, Jews, are over-represented.  

My point is only that that there is no reason to believe that ethnic groups are fixed in their political loyalties.  The Republicans have in fact continually grown as a percent of the electorate in my lifetime, even as their previous ethnic base has shrunk, precisely by appealing to new ethnic groups that previously aligned with the Democrats.  There is no reason that this process cannot continue with new ethnic groups.  All of Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian Americans are likely to move up economically over time, and to gradually see their interest as more aligned with small government and entrepreneurial opportunity than with big government and handouts.

I see the coming race for political ascendancy between the major parties not in terms of relative sizes of ethnic groups with pre-determined voting patterns, but rather as a race between the growth of the state-dependent sector of society and the private sector.  Democrat elites want to grow the state-dependent sector because those who are dependent on the state tend to vote for the continuation of state handouts and growth of state programs, which means they vote for the Democratic Party.  Thus we see things like Obamacare, the huge Medicaid expansion, the takeover of the energy sector, and so forth.  Democrats seek to keep Hispanics, African Americans and Asian Americans, or as many of them as possible, in the state-dependent sector.  If they can do it, maybe the current ethnic voting patterns will continue and be perpetuated.  But if large numbers of these ethnic groups start to escape the state-dependent sector, and start to view themselves as the suckers who pay for everything and get nothing in return, then you will see the same thing happen with them as has just happened with the white working class.

Do you doubt that people in the state-dependent sector vote overwhelmingly for Democrats?  Take a look at the margin by which Hillary won the District of Columbia:  93/4, or an 89% margin.  That's whites, blacks, and all other ethnic groups.  Look at county-by-county maps of Maryland and Virginia, and you will find that both are solidly Republican states except for the DC suburbs (and, in the case of Maryland, Baltimore) where everybody or close to everybody lives off the government.  That is far the more important factor than ethnicity.              

The Government Puts A Gigantic Lead Weight On The Scale Of This And Every Election

Trump's new big thing in the campaign is the claim that the election has been "rigged" against him.  The word "rigged" conjures up an image of election officials somehow stuffing ballot boxes or jiggering with electronic voting machines to produce a false count of votes cast.  Given our highly decentralized election system, largely run by state rather than federal officials, that scenario is rather improbable.  But just because the election is not "rigged" -- in the sense of the government definitively determining in advance the number of votes for each candidate -- does not mean that the government does not exercise huge influence to swing the election the way it wants the election to go.  A better analogy for this huge influence, rather than a direct "rigging" of the vote, would be the placing of a big weight on the favored side of the scale.  And this is not some minor thing like the proverbial "thumb on the scale"; it's more like the placing of a gigantic lead weight on the favored side of the scale.  

Of course, the favored side of the scale is the side that supports continuing and expanding all existing government programs and functions, plus adding new programs and functions; and on the disfavored side is found any candidate who might disrupt the status quo.  In the current election, that means that the forces of government want Hillary to win.

In a post on Monday at RealClearPolitics, George Will comments that even in the absence of actual "rigging," "Mr. Trump has a point if he would just make it more clearly."  As an example of concrete government action to favor one side of elections over the other, Will cites the IRS efforts in 2010, '12 and '14, as well as the current election, to delay and obstruct the formerly routine granting of tax-exempt status to conservative-side organizations. 

We know -- we don't surmise -- we know that the 2010, '12 and '14 elections were rigged by the most intrusive and potentially punitive institution of the federal government, the IRS. . . .  I have talked to lawyers in a position to know [and] they say it's still going on. The IRS is still intolerantly [sic - intolerably] delaying the granting of tax exempt[ions] to conservative advocacy groups to skew the persuasion of this campaign.       

Again, I would use the term "placed a gigantic lead weight on the scale" rather than "rigged."  Still, with this example (as opposed to the stuffed-ballot-box hypothetical) the point is clearly-established and valid.

Will's post is brief, and only gives the one example.  Are there others?  If you start giving the matter a little thought, and coming up with a list of examples, you really wonder how it is possible for any Republican to be competitive in any race ever.  Let me start:

  • Government benefits.  During the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney famously stated that he had little hope of winning the votes of some 47% of Americans because they either received some form of government benefits and/or paid no income taxes.  He was rightly criticized for the specifics of his statement -- the biggest single group of the 47% being Social Security beneficiaries, who in fact voted for Romney in large numbers.  But there was an underlying valid point, namely that receipt of payments from government programs makes the recipients substantially more likely to vote for candidates who favor the continuation and growth of those and other such programs.  According to Census data here covering 2011 (released in 2013 - they always have big lags), the figure had gone up another 2% to 49%.  It likely has crossed the 50% threshold today.  Further Census data here released in 2015 have some 21.3% of the population (over 52 million people) participating in the so-called "means tested" federal benefit programs -- food stamps, WIC, housing assistance, Medicaid, etc.  It's not that not a single one of those people will ever vote against the status quo; but do you think that this massive handout enterprise might swing the vote in a national election by, say, 5% or 10%?  It's hard to imagine that it does not.
  • Labor unions.  One group of organizations in this country has been granted the privilege by the government of taking for themselves money deducted without specific approval from millions of people's paychecks.  That group of organizations consists of labor unions.  A large percentage of the money so deducted -- some say it's the majority, although exact figures are impossible to come by -- goes to support favored candidates in political races.  Almost all of the money goes to Democrats.  Although union members theoretically have the right to prevent their involuntary dues from being used for political purposes, that right has proved almost impossible to enforce, under procedural rules coming from the unions themselves and from the government's NLRB.  Any union member who wants to try to enforce his theoretical right must conduct a lonely and self-funded battle through multiple obstructions and appeals.  An article from yesterday's Wall Street Journal puts the amount of money contributed by labor unions during the current election cycle (January 2015 to August 2016), to support Hillary Clinton and Democratic candidates for the Senate, at $108 million.  That's up 38% from the prior election cycle.  And labor unions also provide massive support for get-out-the-vote efforts, including such things as phone banks and driving people to the polls, again almost entirely funded with involuntarily-collected dues and spent on behalf of Democrats.  How much does this "union factor" swing the vote in national elections?  Three to five percent would be a good guesstimate.
  • Academia and non-profits.  Of all the identifiable interest groups in our country, the one most closely associated with near-unanimous support of the Democratic party and its candidates is academia.  Many surveys of professors put support for Democratic and progressive causes (i.e., growth of government) at well upwards of 90%.   Many professors also proselytize their students in favor of the progressive agenda.  The federal government (and also all state governments) massively fund and subsidize academia.  A 2015 report from Pew published in Inside Higher Education put total federal spending on higher education in 2013 at $76 billion; states spent some $73 billion the same year.  The federal number has increased substantially since.  Thus, between federal and state money, around 40% of all funding for this pure-Democrat higher education constituency comes from the taxpayers.  Has there ever been a single academic who lived off government grants advocating for elimination of his/her own grant?  How about a single academic who has advocated that the whole massive government grants-to-academia thing is a bad idea?  And after academia proper, add in a massive government-funded not-for-profit sector, largely devoted to so-called "anti-poverty" efforts that never remove a single person from poverty, and absorbing many tens of billions of federal dollars for itself annually -- and delivering the votes of its employees with near-unanimity to Democrats.  Altogether, another 2-3% swing?
  • Fake government statistics.  As repeatedly discussed on this website, all major government statistics on things like the economy and poverty are fraudulently conceived and reported so as to deceive the people into going along with increased government spending and growing programs supposedly intended to ameliorate falsely-depicted problems.  As examples, the GDP statistics adopt the ridiculous convention of counting all government spending on goods and services as a 100% addition to GDP.  Thus progressive politicians can pretend with apparent justification that completely wasteful added spending grows the economy, while any attempt to cut even the most wasteful spending can be falsely portrayed as shrinking the economy.  Similarly the government statisticians have adopted false conventions to keep the "poverty" rate preposterously high (and thus sell the public on more anti-poverty spending) by refusing to count as "income" nearly all government benefits, even many of those handed out as cash or near-cash like the EITC and food stamps.  Last month, as reported on this site in multiple posts including here, the Census Bureau revealed itself (as if we didn't already know) as being a part of Hillary's campaign when it released a new report announcing that the "poverty" rate had suddenly fallen by some 1.3% and 3.5 million people between 2014 and 2015.  The numbers were based on methodological changes and can only be viewed as fake in light of the anemic growth of GDP in the same period.  But essentially all of the media fell for it (even the Wall Street Journal!), and Hillary promptly followed with a personally-signed op-ed in the New York Times claiming that the new fake numbers proved that Obama's progressive policies were suddenly working.  Another percent or two?
  • The oppressive regulatory state.  The myth of government regulation is that the regulators are just fair, neutral experts with nothing in mind but the public interest, who will carefully watch over the economy to keep the evil, greedy capitalists in check.  Ridiculous!  In fact regulators are normally flawed human beings with personal agendas, who really care about only one thing, which is growing their own staff, budget and prerogatives.  Because the regulators can torture and ruin any entity under their jurisdiction, no such entity will cross its regulator on any matter of significance.  And the matter of greatest significance is the ongoing growth of the government.  So, in the hyper-regulatory world of Dodd-Frank, is there any such thing as a financial institution that will say a negative word in public about the government?  I sure haven't seen it.  Try it, and they have a hundred ways to make your life miserable -- declining permission for your next merger, or for your entry into a new line of business, or launching one, or two, or twenty new criminal investigations against you.  Same thing for a pharmaceutical company, which inevitably has ten or twenty items before the FDA for approval at any given time.  Cross them and your next drug approval could be held up for a decade.  When did one of those guys last utter a serious criticism of the government regime?  Another hundred examples could easily be cited.  Another percent or two?
  • Government employees effectively working as operatives of Hillary's campaign.  One of the unsigned editorials in today's Wall Street Journal, titled "Hillary's State Assist," is a real eye-opener.  The editorial quotes from documents released Monday by the FBI from its recently-concluded investigation of Hillary.  It seems that a group of "senior State department employees," referred to by the regular staff as the "Shadow Government," put "enormous pressure" on staff reviewing Hillary's emails for production to "not label anything as classified."  This, at a time when Hillary was claiming that she had never dealt with classified information on her private server.  Our taxpayer dollars at work! 

I have several more examples here that I could use, but I think the point has been made.  Meanwhile, can anybody provide a single example of the use of taxpayer funds in a way to support Republican candidates or the shrinkage of the government or the elimination of government programs?  OK, maybe somewhere in the vast enterprise, some free-market-oriented economist has gotten a grant of maybe a few hundred thousand dollars.  That, up against around $4 trillion of annual spending, all devoted in some way to the further growth of government and the support of candidates who favor that growth.  

Is the election "rigged"?  I wouldn't have used the term.  But the weight that the government puts on the scale is enormous, and in this election it's all behind Hillary.  Is it possible that the combined effect of all of these things is less than the margin currently separating the two candidates in the polls?  I can't imagine how it could be.

More Dangerous Government-Backed "Consensus" Science: Salt

A regular theme here is how the government -- supposedly consisting of all-perfect experts who can use their expertise to run the people's lives -- regularly falls for scientific nonsense promoted by the loudest and most-insistent self-promoters (always living entirely on the government nickel).  See, e.g., climate, the "low-fat" diet, etc.  Of course, in every case the scientific nonsense translates into lots more power for some power-obsessed government bureaucracy.  

A particularly egregious example of the phenomenon is the campaign against dietary salt.  Back in 2013 I wrote two posts on this subject, the first (in May) titled "Junk Statistics And The Government's Campaign For More Power," and the second (in July) "The Endless Supply Of Fake Scares And Statistical Scams."  The particular thing that inspired those posts was that the Institute of Medicine -- which had long supported government initiatives to regulate salt in the diet -- had just come out with a report analyzing the literature on dietary salt, and had concluded that there was little evidence of harm at levels consumed by most Americans, and some substantial evidence that reducing salt much below these levels could well be harmful to many people.  The May 2013 post quoted from a New York Times article of that month reporting on the brand-new IOM study, title "No Benefits Seen in Sharp Limits on Salt in Diet."  Excerpt:

In a report that undercuts years of public health warnings, a prestigious group convened by the government says there is no good reason based on health outcomes for many Americans to drive their sodium consumption down to the very low levels recommended in national dietary guidelines. . . .  “As you go below the 2,300 mark, there is an absence of data in terms of benefit and there begin to be suggestions in subgroup populations about potential harms,” said Dr. Brian L. Strom, chairman of the committee and a professor of public health at the University of Pennsylvania. He explained that the possible harms included increased rates of heart attacks and an increased risk of death.    

And it hasn't gotten any better since then for the anti-salt campaign.  For example, the Washington Post wonkblog reported in April 2015 on the latest, in a post titled "Is the American diet too salty?  Scientists challenge the long-standing government warning."   

[U]nknown to many shoppers urged to buy foods that are “low sodium” and “low salt,” this longstanding warning has come under assault by scientists who say that typical American salt consumption is without risk. . . .  [A]ccording to studies published in recent years by pillars of the medical community, the low levels of salt recommended by the government might actually be dangerous.  “There is no longer any valid basis for the current salt guidelines,” said Andrew Mente, a professor at McMaster University in Ontario and one of the researchers involved in a major study published last year by the New England Journal of Medicine. “So why are we still scaring people about salt?”

So, Mr. Menton, your side appears to have won this one, so why are you still complaining?  The reason is that adverse data seems to have completely lost its ability to deter bureaucracies bent on increasing their power.  We're now three years into the era when everybody who follows the issue knows that salt in the diet at levels you find tasty is not harmful, and yet just this week we have two pieces of news on bureaucracies not only continuing, but ramping up the anti-salt jihad.  

First, the FDA.  Just this week the FDA has come out with a new thing called its "Draft Guidance" for "Voluntary Sodium Reduction Goals."   Do you like that "voluntary" part?  Good luck to a Kraft or a Goya if they try to say they decline to participate.  So why is the FDA doing this at this time? Here's their justification:

According to the 2010 Institute of Medicine (IOM) Report, “Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States” (Ref. 5), multiple public health efforts have attempted to reduce sodium intake over the past 40 years. However, these efforts, which mainly included education initiatives, have not been successful. The IOM noted this and concluded that without an overall reduction of the level of sodium in the food supply, consumers will not be able to reach intakes recommended by the Dietary Guidelines. 

Yes, it's based on a 2010 IOM report.  But what about the 2013 IOM report that found that the dietary sodium levels recommended by the Dietary Guidelines were borderline dangerous?  They somehow spin it as supporting their position, and completely ignore all the recent adverse research and data out there.  From a June 1 New York Times article reporting on the FDA initiative:  

David A. McCarron, a research associate in the Department of Nutrition at the University of California, Davis, said a number of studies had shown risks of too little salt.  “Going below 3,000 is dangerous — that’s what the data has shown,” said Professor McCarron, who has consulted for the food industry.

By the way, the government's guideline for salt is 2300 mg per day.  And by God we're going to make the food companies get us there, no matter how many people we kill along the way!

Also in the news, on May 26 a panel of the New York State Appellate Division, First Department (the district that covers Manhattan and the Bronx) has upheld the denial of a preliminary injunction sought by the National Restaurant Association against the New York City Department of Health to prevent it from enforcing new rules requiring that the amount of salt in each dish be specified on the menu.  You say that it's impossible even to know how much salt the cook may have shaken from his salt shaker onto your steak?  Too bad!  Hey, if the FDA can put through a bunch of anti-salt regulations, then so can we!

Among all the government crusades and jihads, the anti-salt campaign has to be about the most pointless.  Your body tells you when you need more salt, and if you're not getting enough from your industrial salad dressing and canned soup, it's likely that you will suddenly find yourself with a craving for potato chips or a ham.  But meanwhile a bunch of bureaucrats get to feel really self-important about flexing their power.  The result will show up in your cost of food, but you'll never be able to attach any specific amount as the incremental cost imposed by the regulators.  Meanwhile the amount of your dietary salt intake will remain the same. 


Supreme Court Justice Comes Out For "Forced Labor"

Something called the American Law Institute held its annual meeting this past week in Washington.  Haven't heard of them?  That's why they're dangerous.  The ALI is a group largely consisting of legal academics (watch out!) that purports to put out various model codes, and also to summarize the common law of things like contracts and torts in big multivolume works called "Restatements," all for the supposed edification of legislatures and judges.  But being the bunch of lefty academics that they are, these guys can't resist any opportunity to try to sneak the latest campus fad into the law.  This year that took the form of an attempt to put a so-called "affirmative consent" rule as to sexual conduct into the ALI's model penal code.  It would have been big news if the proposal had passed, but on Tuesday it actually got voted down.  In case you think that the ALI may actually have been overcome by good sense, don't forget that this proposal is very likely to be back next year, and again the year after, and so on.

But even as what had looked to be the big piece of news out of the conference fizzled, along came Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to shake things up.  In a Q&A session, as reported in the National Law Journal here, ALI director and recent-past NYU Law Dean Richard Revesz asked Sotomayor what should be done about the "dearth of legal services for low-income individuals."  Here is how the NLJ reported her response:

“I believe in forced labor” when it comes to improving access to justice for the poor, she said during an appearance at the American Law Institute’s annual meeting in Washington. “If I had my way, I would make pro bono service a requirement.” . . .  [P]rofessional and ethical duties require [pro bono service], Sotomayor insisted. “It has to become part of their being,” she said.

You probably know that most of the Supreme Court Justices don't get out and do a lot of public speaking, and now you can see why.  It only took Ms. Sotomayor a couple of sentences to give you a thoroughly revealing picture of how the mind of the left-wing jurist works.  Let's analyze. 

Start with Dean Revesz's question about the "dearth" of legal services for the poor.  The existence of a desperate shortage of legal services for the poor is a total article of faith among the great and the good of the legal profession -- for example, among the leaders of organizations like the American Bar Association and the New York City Bar.  But is there really such a "dearth"?  It should not escape our notice that, according to the leaders of the legal profession, in spending scarce public funds to assist the poor, the government's highest priority should be to spend the money -- not on the poor themselves, but -- on lawyers!  There's more than a little reason for skepticism.

Well, what is the evidence (if any) of this huge shortage?  Look around a little and you will find that the most cited "studies" supporting the proposition of a terrible shortage of legal services for the poor are two reports put out by the federal Legal Services Corporation, in 2005 and 2009, the second co-sponsored by none other than the ABA.  Yes, the LSC is the federal agency that collects money from Congress and dispenses it to grantees to provide legal services to the poor.  In other words, these two "reports" from LSC are nothing more than the usual federal agency self-servingly seeking more money for itself.  Only in the most high-minded terms, of course (we need to provide "equal access to justice" and end the "justice gap"!).  And the methodology?  They went around the country asking their own people how much "unmet need" was out there.

Perhaps we should ask the relevant question:  If the idea is that legal services are to be provided to the poor at no charge to the recipient in a socialist "to each according to his needs" model, is there any chance that there will ever be no "unmet need"?  Of course not.  This is really the same as asking when there will be enough food to go around in Venezuela.  Demand for free stuff always exceeds the supply, and government efforts to meet the demand with other people's money always fall short.  That's the essence of socialism.

But of course Justice Sotomayor did not push back on the premise of the question.  Questioning the necessity of unlimited free legal services for the poor is just not something that is done in the polite circles where she circulates, including the ALI.   And then, with the premise accepted, it takes Sotomayor all of the blink of an eye to go right past "we need more of the infinite free government money" and get to "forced labor" as the answer.  If the lawyers aren't providing voluntarily and for free all the services that anyone without resources might want, then they must be forced to do it.  Hey, it's only fair!

Am I the only one who finds it a little odd that someone who is supposedly on the front lines of protecting the rights of the citizenry found in the U.S. Constitution would see no problem in advocating for "forced labor" (her term)?  Granted, since the abolition of slavery after the Civil War, not a lot of cases come up under the 13th Amendment ("Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude . . . shall exist within the United States . . . ."); still, the terms of that Amendment are rather clear and definitive.  (Ilya Somin of George Mason Law School has a lengthy post here on the details of the jurisprudence under the 13th Amendment.  For example, there was the military draft -- but you did get paid if you were drafted and served.)  But I would have little doubt that a Breyer or a Ginsburg or a Kagan would see eye to eye with Sotomayor on this one.    

Make no mistake, the world of legal "pro bono" as currently practiced is very much a project of the progressive left, in which they would like all potential dissenters to be forced to participate.  There is much legitimate pro bono work.  For example, defense of people charged with crimes, and with their freedoms at stake, is an area where nearly all would agree that the indigent should have free representation.  But in fact almost all representation of the indigent in criminal matters is done by lawyers paid by the government.  The large majority of what goes under the banner of "pro bono" is about other things, mostly civil.  A very very large proportion consists of chasing the government itself for various handouts and entitlements that, it turns out, may not be so easy to collect on.  Another big area of pro bono at my old law firm was representing tenants in rent-regulated buildings against landlords seeking to evict them.  The underlying philosophy is that the best way to "help" the poor is to navigate them through the legal labyrinth so that they can get more benefits, entitlements, and handouts.  In the big picture, this is the way the government keeps the poor poor.   Does this cause really justify forced labor?    

"Money In Politics," Hillary, And The McDonnell Prosecution

Among the phony prosecutions pursued by the feds recent years, one of the flimsiest has to be the prosecution of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell.  Of course, he was convicted; and his conviction was affirmed by the Fourth Circuit.  His appeal reached the Supreme Court last week.  The smart money is betting on reversal.

Out on the campaign trail, we have Bernie and Hillary telling the world that if elected they will appoint Supreme Court justices to get the Citizens United case reversed, and then advocate for legislation to criminalize most if not all private "money in politics."  But meanwhile in the McDonnell prosecution we have a great illustration of how this strategy would not only not solve the alleged problem, but would make things far worse.  Granted, the facts of the McDonnell case are not pretty.  On the other hand, the more you get into those facts, the harder it is to figure out how, as long as we have privately funded political campaigns, every single politician in the country will not be equally subject to conviction under the same theory.  So from Bernie and Hillary we get the only remaining answer -- that only money from the government itself can remain in politics.  But wait a minute:  money coming from the government is far and away the most corrupt money of all, always and everywhere used to advocate for the growth in size and power of government and to oppose all attempts to rein the government in.  The disease may be bad, but the cure is far worse.

For the most favorable view of the facts of the McDonnell case from the government’s side, check out its brief here.  While he was governor of Virginia, McDonnell and his wife “solicited and secretly accepted more than $175,000 in money and luxury goods” from a businessman who wanted the state-controlled University of Virginia to conduct clinical tests on his company’s product.  In return, McDonnell allegedly talked up the product to various university officials, invited the businessman to a reception where university officials would be present, arranged meetings between some officials and the businessman, and followed up as to why nothing was happening with the businessman’s proposals.  But in the end the university declined to conduct the trials.

 McDonnell was convicted under 18 U.S.C. Section 201.  That section makes it a federal crime for a “public official” to “corruptly demand[ ], seek[ ], receive[ ], accept[ ], or agree[ ] to receive or accept anything of value . . . in return for . . .  being influenced in the performance of any official act.”  McDonnell’s lawyers rightly point out on appeal that the government cannot name the “official act” that McDonnell agreed to or did perform in return for the gifts.  Is setting up a meeting or talking up a product an “official act” that a politician cannot legally perform on behalf of anyone who has made a contribution to his campaigns? 

At scotusblog, Lyle Denniston has a report on the Supreme Court argument last Wednesday.  If the drift of the justices' questions proves a good predictor of the outcome, as it almost always does these days, McDonnell is very likely to get a reversal.  Justices from both sides of the political divide (Roberts, Breyer, Kennedy, Kagan) actively picked the conviction apart during the questioning.  Much of the questioning centered around what is the “limiting principle” that would make it such that not every elected official who arranges a meeting on behalf of a campaign contributor is guilty of a federal felony.  Seems that the Deputy Solicitor General who argued on behalf of the government didn't have a good answer to that one.

If you think that McDonnell's conduct really must be illegal somehow, consider this about President Obama from one of the amicus briefs filed on behalf of McDonnell (by the American Center for Law and Justice):

During President Obama’s reelection campaign, in 2012, Hoffman [founder of LinkedIn] and Pincus [founder of Zynga] each gave a million dollars to Priorities USA, the Democratic Super PAC. Since then, they have had the opportunity to spend time with Obama. In a private forty-five-minute meeting in the Oval Office in 2012, Pincus gave the President a presentation on what he calls “the product-management approach to government.” Obama telephones him now and then, sometimes at home, and Pincus and his wife have been Obama’s dinner guests.  In June, Hoffman helped organize the guest list for a dinner party for Obama in San Francisco, and he has had conversations with Obama at several meetings and dinners at the White House. 

Legal or illegal?  As a clue, it is not a sufficient answer to say "Obama controls the prosecutors, and therefore he will never be prosecuted for this."

Meanwhile back in New York, official corruption is all over the news.  U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, fresh off convictions of the two most powerful legislators in our state (Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos), has active investigations going of campaign fundraising practices of both Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.  Bharara, of course, has been paying no attention whatsoever to the statutory requirement of some "official act" in return for the alleged pay-off.  The Skelos conviction, in particular, is on very weak ground.  The most important piece of Skelos's alleged crime was leaning on his friends in the government of Nassau County to approve a contract with a company that agreed to employ his son.  But Skelos himself had no official position with Nassau County, and no say in the approval of the contract.

In the New York Post yesterday, Nicole Gelinas asks if we are "tired of New York's pay-to-play politics," and laments that the Supreme Court may be "about to make it harder to secure corruption convictions."   Are New York's politics really more corrupt than those of any other state?  Sure they are, but in my view it's not because our politicians are any more corrupt, or really any different from the politicians anywhere else.  Nor is it because corruption convictions are too hard to obtain.  The difference in New York is that we have adopted full-blown progressivism; and therefore our government is bigger and more intrusive than that of any other state, and engages in massive state capital allocation, all in the effort supposedly to create perfect justice and fairness between and among all people, and to remove all downside risk from human life.  We merciless persecute our most successful businesses (banks, oil and gas) and periodically subject them to prosecutorial shakedowns, while doling out special permits and billion dollar handouts to loser businesses that only exist at the sufferance of politicians (casinos, solar, taxi medallions).  As a result, literally everyone in New York who has enough money to contribute noticeably to a political campaign has some "business before the state," and some interest in some state decision of some kind.  Cuomo takes money from people who want to ban fracking, or want approval of casinos, or want subsidies for solar panel factories; de Blasio takes money from the teachers' unions on the eve of a multi-billion-dollar contract settlement, or from people who want to ban horse-drawn carriages from Central Park, or from taxi medallion owners.  Are any of these "bribes"?  How do you tell?

So what's the answer?  We can have the Hillary/Bernie answer, where we do away with the First Amendment, nobody is allowed to push back against the growth of the government, and the only "money in politics" is government money.  Then the only voice we will be allowed to hear is the voice of government agencies seeking to expand their own budgets and power: the billion dollar government advertising campaigns to expand Obamacare; the EPA taxpayer-funded social media astroturf campaigns to generate hundreds of thousands of fake letters supposedly supporting EPA regulatory initiatives; the massive government promotion of expansion of food stamp dependency; the government fake "food insecurity" surveys fraudulently designed to sell the American people on the idea that millions are hungry; the government "anti-poverty" programs specifically structured to keep poverty high so that the public can be sold on yet more "anti-poverty" spending; the phony GDP accounting that fraudulently pretends that the most wasteful government spending is a 100% addition to GDP rather than a subtraction; etc., etc., etc. 

Or we can reduce (although not eliminate) "pay-to-play culture" and corruption in politics by shrinking the footprint of government.   

More On The Epidemic Of Orthodoxy Enforcement In The World Of "Science"

Back in December I wrote a post highlighting a rather extraordinary email by the head of the National Association of Scholars, Peter Wood, opposing the election of Martha McNutt to head the National Academy of Sciences.  McNutt has most recently been Editor in Chief of Science magazine, one of the premier peer-reviewed journals that give voice to budding scientists by publishing their work.   But, as Wood documented in his email, McNutt has repeatedly used her perch at the helm of Science, not to advance scientific knowledge through the scientific method as generally understood, but rather repeatedly to squelch challenges to entrenched orthodoxy in multiple areas, all in the service of careers, funding, and regulatory regimes that had come under threat from evidence adverse to the prevailing favored scientific hypotheses.  Wood gave three examples of areas where McNutt has made it her business to be sure that adverse evidence and counter-hypotheses cannot get a hearing: (1) the so-called linear no-threshhold dose-response model, which is the basis for much of the regulation of radiation and nuclear energy, and which is subject to substantial research that would appear to invalidate it; (2) the epidemiology of fine particulate air pollution, which is the basis of many costly EPA regulations (including the so-called Clean Power Plan, currently in the works), and where there have been credible allegations of misconduct by researchers on whom EPA relies; and, of course, (3) the so-called consensus model of climate change, where McNutt assures that Science will not publish anything questioning it in any way.

To get an idea just how far McNutt has moved from science to policy advocacy, take a look at the op-ed she published in Science back in July 2015.  Hey, if you're Editor in Chief, you have no problem getting your stuff published -- even if it is completely out of your own field, and even if the subject is explicitly political rather than scientific.  Excerpt:

The time for debate has ended. Action is urgently needed. The Paris-based International Energy Agency recently announced that current commitments to cut CO2 emissions [known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)] from the world’s nations are insufficient to avoid warming the entire planet by an average of more than 2°C above the preindustrial level. To set more aggressive targets, developed nations need to reduce their per-capita fossil fuel emissions even further, and by doing so, create roadmaps for developing nations to leapfrog technologies by installing low-CO2–emitting energy infrastructure rather than coal-fired power plants as they expand their energy capacity.

There is no other candidate challenging McNutt to head the NAS.  So come July, barring some huge unforeseen events, she'll have the position.

But there's another premier science journal, called Nature.  How about them?  The answer is that they have sunk just as low.  The most recent issue has an article by Stephan Lewandowsky and Dorothy Bishop, titled "Research Integrity: Don't Let Transparency Damage Science."  L&B explicitly advocate that it's OK for people calling themselves scientists to refuse to share data and methods with people they don't like or trust.  Indeed, according to L&B, lots of people seeking access to scientists' data and methods are not acting in good faith, but rather are engaged in "harassment."  And by the way, of course the people that "scientists" don't like or trust are inevitably the ones who challenge the orthodox hypotheses.  A few excerpts from L&B:

Many organized attacks call for more data, often with the aim of finding an analysis method that makes undesirable results go away. . . .      Even when data availability is described in papers, tension may still arise if researchers do not trust the good faith of those requesting data, and if they suspect that requestors will cherry-pick data to discredit reasonable conclusions. . . .  [S]ocial media and online comments also offer an easy way to inject biased, incorrect or misleading information.

There's plenty more.  The basic idea is to give cover to any researcher to restrict the sharing of data and methods to only friends who can be trusted not to undermine favored policy prescriptions and the ongoing flow of government money.  In case it's not obvious, by the way, Lewandowsky is principally known as an orthodoxy-enforcer in the climate change area.

The blogosphere over the past several days has plenty of appropriate reaction to this drivel from Lewandowsky and Nature.  Judith Curry has a long post at her Climate, Etc. blog, titled "Violating the norms and ethos of science."    Her thoughts on how so-called scientists could go so far astray as to think it's OK to refuse to share data and methods:

Careerism leads a scientist not to want to have their research be challenged or audited, for fear of damage to their reputation that is shallowly based on such things as publication numbers, funding, memberships on prestigious boards, press releases and citation numbers (rather than an interest in learning and making meaningful contributions that advance science).  Policy advocates/activists do not want to see their science challenged (or the science of their political allies), for fear that the challenge will diminish their policy and political objectives.  Challenges from someone on the ‘other side’ of the policy/political debate are regarded as especially objectionable, since their motives are ‘different’.  As a result, we are seeing an epidemic of ‘activism that abuses science as a weapon.’       

Perhaps the most interesting part of Curry's post is a link she provides to another guy named Paul Mathews, who has managed to make a record of a number of comments that appeared on the Nature site and then were deleted, supposedly for violating Nature's policies in some respect.  For example, there was this comment from a guy named Brad Keyes:

The above article is a heinously antiscientific attempt to make excuses
for obscurantism, deletionism and Phil Jonesism (“Why should I make my
data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong
with it?”) Dear Lewandowsky and collaborator (whose name I’ve forgotten),
do yourselves a favor and wake up to the fact that THE MIDDLE AGES ARE
OVER. You can either be priests or scientists. Not both.

Plenty more such deleted comments can be found at Curry's post, or by following her links.

The unbelievably sad truth is that the leading science journals and government science agencies (like NAS) today are far more in the business of orthodoxy enforcement than science.  The journals have literally no excuse why they do not require on-line archiving of all data as a condition to publication.  But they don't.  We are left to rely on the internet and interested volunteers to continue the lonely search for truth.  Surprisingly, they're doing a remarkably good job.