It’s waaay too early to start handicapping the 2016 Presidential elections, but the 2014 mid-terms are not all that far off – and they don’t bode too well for the party that currently holds the White House and the Senate. This just in from the Washington Free Beacon: Shellacking II: The Sequel. Excerpt:
Less than a third of the country says America is headed in the right direction. The Democrats maintain the slimmest of leads—0.8 percent—on the congressional generic ballot, but Republicans are known to do better on Election Day ballots than on generic ones. The Real Clear Politics average of polls has Obama’s approval rating at about 44 percent. That’s where it was on Election Day 2010. Disapproval of Obamacare is also about where it was on Election Day 2010. That day saw the best performance by Republicans in a midterm election since 1946, and the best performance by Republicans in state legislative races since 1928.
Let’s be empirical. The Democrats, according to one political science model, have a one percent chance of recapturing the House in 2014. According to other models, the Republicans are either “slight favorites” or just plain favorites to control the Senate next year. (On Thursday, the New York Times forecast a 54 percent chance of a Republican Senate takeover.) The models can change, of course. That’s what models do. And models can be wrong—they often are, in fact. But, for the time being, the same models that our educated classes trumpeted during the 2012 election predict a happy day for Republicans on Nov. 4. And so I, in turn, am happy to base my analysis on them.
Mind you predictions are notoriously hard to make, especially when they’re about the future. Mid-terms tend to go badly for the party in power, but so far – and only so far – this mid-term looks like it’s shaping up to be a 1994-style debacle for the Democrats.
There’s one big difference, though, between 1994 and 2014. Bill Clinton was in the White House in 1994, and President Clinton was and is one of the canniest political operators of our time. He was capable and smart enough to realize that, when his first mid-term went so badly against him, a change of course was in order. He did change course, tacking back to his left-of-center, southern Democrat roots, and was largely successful for the rest of his two terms.
Not so for Barack Obama. Never in yr. obdt.’s lifetime has a President been so tone-deaf to the electorate; even after his 2010 shellacking he did not change course, but stayed true to his Hyde Park urban liberal roots – a longs way to the left of mainstream America.
However, there is hope for the Democrats: As the Beacon concludes:
Will the clouds still be out for the president on Election Day? After the experience of 2012 I am venturing no predictions. Some unexpected event will have to occur, something bizarre will have to happen, to bring the Democrats good fortune, to brighten the sky for Obama and for his party. Fortunately for him, there is a major, long-lived American institution that specializes in making life easier for liberals.
It’s called the Republican Party.
And boy, ain’t that the truth.
Is Skynet Inevitable? Excerpt:
In the latest Spike Jonze movie, Her, an operating system called Samantha evolves into an enchanting, self-directed intelligence with a will of her own. Samantha makes choices that do not harm humanity, though they do leave viewers feeling a bit sadder.
In his terrific new book, Our Final Invention, documentarian James Barrat argues that visions of an essentially benign artificial general intelligence (AGI) like Samantha amount to silly pipe dreams. Barrat believes artificial intelligence is coming, but he thinks it will be more like Skynet.
In the Terminator movies, Skynet is an automated defense system that becomes self-aware, decides that human beings are a danger to it, and seeks to destroy us with nuclear weapons and terminator robots. Barrat doesn’t just think that Skynet is likely. He thinks it’s practically inevitable.
Is it really inevitable?
At present we are in the midst of mankind’s third great cultural revolution. The Agricultural Revolution made it possible for people to produce more than they consumed; it made possible trade, a division of labor, the birth of villages, towns, cities.
Later, the Industrial Revolution gave us mass production, factories, consumer goods; it gave us railroads, automobiles, aircraft, travel, and leisure time. It gave us the first modern standard of living.
Now, we find ourselves in the Information Revolution, and it will be as world-changing as the first two – it already has been, even now, in its infancy. Who is to know what the next hundred years will bring?
Barrat concludes with no grand proposals for regulating or banning the development of artificial intelligence. Rather he offers his book as “a heartfelt invitation to join the most important conversation humanity can have.” His thoughtful case about the dangers of ASI gives even the most cheerful technological optimist much to think about.
Much to think about – but predictions are notoriously hard to make, especially when they’re about the future. AI may prove difficult to produce, and fickle when it’s realized – or it may be as predictable and reliable as the rising sun, and as gentle as the morning rain. We can’t know, and won’t – until it happens.
Has the once and former Mayor Bloomberg overextended his gun-banning efforts? Maybe so. Excerpt:
A mere 10 days after former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his new anti-gun coalition Everytown for Gun Safety in the New York Times, former Pennsylvania Gov. and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, one of the most prominent members of its advisory board, has resigned from the group.
No one should be surprised.
“When I signed on as an adviser to Everytown,” Ridge said, “I looked forward to a thoughtful and provocative discussion about the toll gun violence takes on Americans. After consultation with Everytown, I have decided that I am uncomfortable with their expected electoral work.”
It’s an early embarrassment for Bloomberg’s latest effort to buy the Second Amendment back from the Constitution, but one that is sure to be repeated over the coming months — if Everytown even lasts that long.
First of all – thinking people should take issue with Gov. Ridge’s use of the idiotic term “gun violence.” Guns can not commit violence; they are not motive agents. As inanimate objects, firearms are capable of being neither good nor bad; they can only be tools. People can be good or bad, and it’s important to note that Mayor Bloomberg and his ilk favor acts of legislation that will only affect good people – and which bad people will ignore.
That, True Believers, is the ultimate fallacy of gun control legislation. Laws only affect the law-abiding – and the savage hypocrisy of fools like Bloomberg, themselves surrounded by layers of armed guards, is that they would deprive the peaceable and law-abiding citizens of the country of their best and most effective means of self-defense.
Bloomberg may be losing influence, but what he really deserves is derision, for his thoughtless and foolish stance on this issue.
Happy Mittwoch, True Believers!
An interesting bit on the ongoing disintegration of the Golden State from Reason: Toyota Says Sayonara (Sort Of) to the Golden State. Excerpt:
Texas Gov. Rick Perry is probably looking a bit smugger than usual, if that’s at all possible. In the latest commerce-war news between Texas and California—a battle which California appears to be losing badly—Toyota has announced it’s moving its headquarters from the Golden State to the Lone Star State.
As a result, 3,000 jobs will be transferred (from) California to Texas. Not everybody will be going, though. According to the Associated Press, 2,300 jobs will remain in California after the move. But before we mock high-tax, high-regulation California for getting another kick in the moneybasket, let’s see how Perry lured Toyota there:
Perry, who made two visits to California to lure employers to his state, said Texas offered Toyota $40 million in incentives from the taxpayer-funded Texas Enterprise Fund. The Republican governor said Toyota is expected to invest $300 million in the new headquarters.
Some folks would call what Governor Perry is doing corporate welfare – Mr. Perry probably calls it canny politics. Both sides would have a legitimate point. But what does Toyota think?
Toyota, obviously, thinks there are good reasons for relocating a portion of their American enterprise to Texas. They aren’t alone. Texas has a reputation for being as friendly to business as California is hostile. We have no way of knowing if Toyota may have made the move if Texas hadn’t sweetened the pot, but Texas did, and Toyota did – and there we are.
The fact is, all of the several states engage in similar acts of
bribery enticement when major corporations are considering a move. It’s just that Texas, for a variety of reasons, seems to be more successful than most other states of late. True Believers everywhere are invited to investigate and contemplate the possible reasons for themselves.
All of these names are well-earned, as pointed out by Michael Walsh in yesterday’s PJMedia article Chicago, the Shame of a Nation. Excerpt:
It should come as a surprise to just about nobody that Chicago is the most corrupt big city in America, and long has been. The setting for the godfather of all gangster movies – Scarface, the Shame of a Nation, starring Paul Muni as a thinly disguised Al Capone, directed by Howard Hawks — Chicago has flaunted its outlaw status in the country’s face for nearly a century. And continues to do so, now that one of its own occupies the White House.
Consider this news item, which got no play in the national media beyond the Windy City, whose newspapers have long understood the criminal nature of their municipal government — even if, in the grand tradition of Jake Lingle, they occasionally act as incubators for members of the party. It seems that the former city comptroller, Amer Ahmad — a convicted criminal nonetheless hired by mayor Rahm Emanuel to oversee the city’s finances– is now on the lam; hardly a surprise coming from adherents of the criminal organization masquerading as a political party.
A colleague of mine who spent much of his life in Chicago often repeats a truism about Illinois politics, one that posits Illinois Governors serve two terms: One as Governor, one in prison. Chicago is the corrupt epicenter of a corrupt state, and it’s hardly recent; the stink of corruption in that city goes back at least to the early Twentieth century.
To be fair, Chicago isn’t alone in corruption. Generations of corrupt and incompetent government has doomed Detroit, once the cornerstone of American industry. Philadelphia has seen repeated instances of election fraud, and California – the whole state, it seems – is headed down that same path.
What is it about government that attracts the venal, the corrupt, the liars, conmen and fools among us?
Apparently – according to The Conversation – the discovery of habitable planets may not bode well for mankind. Excerpt:
Last week, scientists announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, a planet 492 light years away in the Cygnus constellation. Kepler-186f is special because it marks the first planet almost exactly the same size as Earth orbiting in the “habitable zone” – the distance from a star in which we might expect liquid water, and perhaps life.
What did not make the news, however, is that this discovery also slightly increases how much credence we give to the possibility of near-term human extinction. This is because of a concept known as the Great Filter.
The Great Filter is an argument that attempts to resolve the Fermi Paradox: why have we not found aliens, despite the existence of hundreds of billions of solar systems in our galactic neighbourhood in which life might evolve? As the namesake physicist Enrico Fermi noted, it seems rather extraordinary that not a single extraterrestrial signal or engineering project has been detected (UFO conspiracy theorists notwithstanding).
This apparent absence of thriving extraterrestrial civilisations suggests that at least one of the steps from humble planet to interstellar civilisation is exceedingly unlikely. The absence could be caused because either intelligent life is extremely rare or intelligent life has a tendency to go extinct. This bottleneck for the emergence of alien civilisations from any one of the many billions of planets is referred to as the Great Filter.
The tenor of this article is pessimistic – the main thrust being that intelligent life has a near-inavoidable tendency to self-destruction, which is why no near neighbors have yet paid us a call.
But, given the vastness just of our own galaxy, that doesn’t necessarily make sense. Our own Milky Way contains somewhere between 100 and 400 billion stars. If one in ten of those stars has planets, that’s somewhere between ten and forty billion solar systems – if one in a thousand of those systems has a habitable world, that’s somewhere between a ten and forty million habitable worlds.
That’s a lot of real estate, True Believers. Most of it hundred or thousands of light years away.
And we’re worried about the destructive tendencies of all intelligent life because, out of all that vastness, we haven’t picked up a radio signal in the paltry few decades we’ve been listening? That’s far from enough to be convincing. And, besides, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Although, personally, and just for now, I’d be pleased with some evidence of intelligent life in Washington.
Vladimir Putin continues to kick up his heels in Eastern Europe, and the United States’ reaction continues to be feckless and ineffectual. First of today’s commentaries on that subject comes from the Wall Street Journal‘s James Taranto: Russian Republican? Excerpt:
“Accusing Russia of failing to live up to its commitments, President Barack Obama warned Moscow on Thursday that the United States has another round of economic sanctions ‘teed up’–even as he acknowledged those penalties may do little to influence Vladimir Putin’s handling of the crisis in Ukraine,” the Associated Press reports from Tokyo.
“Teed up”? What was it that somebody said about Putin playing chess while Obama plays golf?
Obama’s comments in Tokyo call to mind a story in Sunday’s New York Times by Peter Baker, which carried the curious headline “In Cold War Echo, Obama Strategy Writes Off Putin”:
Mr. Obama has concluded that even if there is a resolution to the current standoff over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, he will never have a constructive relationship with Mr. Putin, aides said. As a result, Mr. Obama will spend his final two and a half years in office trying to minimize the disruption Mr. Putin can cause, preserve whatever marginal cooperation can be saved and otherwise ignore the master of the Kremlin in favor of other foreign policy areas where progress remains possible.
Only a short generation ago we thought the Cold War was over. Mr. Putin, who we should bear in mind is a former KGB Colonel, seems determined to either re-ignite that Cold War or to establish a new Russian Empire – either that or a new Soviet Union.
Meanwhile, as Mr. Taranto pithily points out, the laughably inexperienced President Obama continues to play golf while Putin is playing chess – and, if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor, Putin is playing for all the marbles.
More on that point, this time from Reason.com: Russia Threatens Invasion Unless Ukraine Stops Stopping Separatists. Excerpt:
Russia launched new military exercises along the Ukrainian border as part of yesterday’s threat that Kremlin forces would invade Ukraine if the nation continues its “anti-terrorist operation” against pro-Russian separatists.
Showing that Russia means business, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu today mobilized artillery, tanks, and fighter jets. Without a hint of irony, he justified the move by condemning the Ukrainian government’s action against the insurgents who are suspected of being Russian-backed. “The forces are clearly unequal. If this military machine is not stopped today, it will lead to a large number of dead and wounded.”
Let’s face it – if Ukraine and Russia come to blows, it won’t end well for Ukraine. The Russian Army is only a pale shadow of the WW2 Red Army colossus, but it’s more than enough to roll up the Ukrainian forces like the cheapest of carpets. And aside from some ineffectual sanctions, what will the U.S. and western Europe do?
That’s right. Nothing.
Interesting times, True Believers. Interesting times.