Friday, May 08, 2015

Cruising the Web

Gosh, the results from Britain's election are a major triumph for David Cameron and a real black eye for British polling which just a day before the election showed that, as 538 predicted, the Labour Party was gaining on Conservatives. Seeing David Cameron win a surprising majority instead of being forced to put together a coalition has led Nate Silver to worry that the world has a polling problem. In addition to missing Cameron's vicotry, Silver points to polls that missed the decisive rejection of the Scottish independence referendum, the Likud's victory in Israel, and the size of the GOP victories in the Senate in 2014. Harry Enten wonders if there is a "shy Tory" effect when voters are reluctant to tell pollsters they're voting for the Conservatives. There is a history of underestimating the Conservative vote totals. Polls also underestimated Obama's victory in 2012 by about 3 points so maybe it's just that polling is nowhere the accurate predictor that pollsters would like to pretend it is.
Perhaps it’s just been a run of bad luck. But there are lots of reasons to worry about the state of the polling industry. Voters are becoming harder to contact, especially on landline telephones. Online polls have become commonplace, but some eschew probability sampling, historically the bedrock of polling methodology. And in the U.S., some pollsters have been caught withholding results when they differ from other surveys, “herding” toward a false consensus about a race instead of behaving independently. There may be more difficult times ahead for the polling industry.
Oh, no! What will we do without poll results to obsess over before actual people vote? And what would Nate Silver do for his political projections? He'll have to limit himself to sports projections for which the data is much more accurate. How would political aficionados such as myself do before elections? It reminds me of the election - maybe it was 2002 - when the TV news shows decided that the exit polls were definitely wrong and weren't able to use them to predict the results on election night. So we were forced to wait until actual results were tabulated before we found out who won. There were no calls of results as the polls closed. It made watching the election results a lot more boring as news anchors vamped for hours waiting for real votes to be counted. But there was also something rather pure about it.

It will be interesting to see how the pollsters do when Britain votes on the EU referendum that Cameron has promised to hold if the Tories won the election. I suspect that we'll end up being "surprised" by how eager Britons are to withdraw from the EU.

And while David Cameron is no great shakes, it's fun to see how liberals in Britain are freaking out as demonstrated by one writer's portrayal in The Mirror of David Cameron as Freddy Krueger to go with their headline: "Be VERY afraid as the Nightmare on Downing Street is about to begin."

John McCain is stepping into Tom Coburn's steps by reporting on government waste. Here are the results from his first report.
The federal government is set to spend at least $294 billion of taxpayer money on hundreds of expired programs this year alone, according to a report released Thursday....

In 2014, the government spent $302 billion on federal programs no longer authorized to receive tax dollars. The $294 billion being spent this year stems from a report released by the Congressional Budget Office in January.

Matthew Continetti notes that Hillary Clinton has become a very severe liberal in the same way that Romney moved to the right to avoid losing the GOP nomination.
Hillary Clinton is moving so quickly to the left that it’s hard to keep up. Her aides are telling the New York Times she wants to “topple” the One Percent, she’s pledging solidarity with union bosses over lunch meetings at Mario Batali restaurants in Midtown, she supports a constitutional amendment to suppress political speech, she’s down with a right to same-sex marriage, she’s ambivalent over the Keystone Pipeline and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, she’s calling for an end to the “era of mass incarceration,” she wants to go “further” than President Obama’s illegal executive amnesty. It’s called pandering, but the press is too frazzled or sympathetic to call her on it. There’s desperation to Clinton’s moves, an almost panicked energy, to close the gap between her and her party’s base. If Elizabeth Warren called for full Communism, Clinton would be at the barricades the next day.

Warren’s the reason for the policy shuffle. Clinton is so terrified of losing the Democratic primary—again—that she’s willing to trade consistency for security against an insurgent from the left. But she may be trading electability too. The Democrats have an advantage in presidential elections, but last I checked the country hasn’t turned into a really big MSNBC greenroom. One day Clinton will have to defend her positions against a non-witch Republican, and she’ll have eight years of Obama to answer for as well. She doesn’t have the gall, the rakishness, or the aw-shucks charm that allowed her husband to slither out of such difficulties, and judging from Bill’s most recent interviews he’s losing his abilities too. Indeed, the politician Hillary Clinton reminds me most of lately isn’t her husband or Warren. It’s Mitt Romney.
I imagine that the GOP has a plethora of potential ads set to go comparing past Hillary statements with what she's saying now. They'll be able to play on growing public skepticism about Hillary's honesty by demonstrating that she'll say anything to win votes.
Clinton might as well be telling Republicans how to run against her. This week’s Wall Street Journal / NBC poll reported that her favorable and unfavorable ratings are now even, and contained the stunning finding that only 25 percent of voters find her “honest and straightforward.” If the Republicans can’t see the opening here to define Clinton for the public as dishonest, untrustworthy, tricky, and foul, then they don’t really deserve to win, which they might not anyway. Hillary may find it’s hard to convince someone she “cares about people like me” when there’s the possibility she’ll sell that someone out.

And selling out two decades of political centrism is exactly what Clinton has spent the last two weeks doing. The coming attack ads are obvious: clip reels of Hillary being on every side of every issue. If Clinton wins the nomination, as seems likely, and tries to “shake the Etch-a-Sketch,” she’ll still be dragging her primary baggage behind her: income inequality, climate change, immigration, and the criminal justice system are just not major concerns of the general public, which is more interested in jobs, wages, and national security. Clinton’s leftward drive is undermining her general election message—she’ll be too busy explaining, badly, all of her different positions, all of the latest foibles and accusations.
We're already hearing the audio of Hillary saying that she's "adamantly against illegal immigrants."

Republicans can learn from the defeat of a Michigan referendum this week to raise state sales and gas taxes to pay for road repairs.
It wasn't close — in fact, the proposed constitutional amendment didn't even crack 20 percent support.

But Michigan voters, who will be heavily courted in the 2016 election, did not just reject another tax increase. They also rejected an attempt by one small but well-moneyed set of businesses to plunder everyone else. In doing so, they showed how a message against crony capitalism can resonate with a Blue- or Purple-state electorate. The Republican candidates for president would be wise to take this lesson into account as they plan for next year.

Supporters of the tax hike raised more than $9 million and flooded the state with cash. As of the last pre-election report on May 1, they had outspent opponents by an astounding ratio of 42-to-1. Business interests – especially the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association – threw in millions in their bid to fatten the calf they hoped to consume through government road contracts....Supporters of the $2.1 billion tax increase spent at least $20.58 for each vote they received. Opponents spent somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 cents per vote.

And once again, money was not able to buy an election where public will was lacking. The pro-business, pro-tax-hike side was soundly defeated — not just beaten, but humiliated and repudiated as well. According to the Detroit Free Press, the 81 to 19 percent victory by the "no" side represents the most lopsided margin in the history of constitutional referenda in the Great Lakes State since its current constitution was adopted in 1963.

This referendum was a reminder that big business and big government are allies as often as they are adversaries. Many businesses depend on government for their livelihood. In this situation, the dependency was especially direct. Many business groups answered the call when Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, enlisted their aid on this proposal.

Although the ballot measure was expected to lose by election day, no one expected an 81 percent vote against it. It goes to show that conservative ideas about limited government and free markets — as opposed to pro-business government policy — has an enormous untapped audience, even in a state that hasn't voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988.

No, not every "no" voter from Tuesday will support a Republican or conservative candidate next year. But some significant number appreciate the nexus of government and business sufficiently that the right message could make them consider it.
Running against crony capitalism should be a no-brainer for any Republican candidate. Sadly, it isn't.

David French reports that the shooting in Garland would have been preventable if a Clinton-appointed judge hadn't ruled that one of the attackers, Elton Simpson, be released in 2011 despite being charged with lying to the FBI about his plans to travel to Somalia to join international terrorists. Despite statements that Simpson had made about joining jihad, the federal government failed to put on any witness to testify about the terrorist connections in Somalia so the judge released Simpson.
Yet the doubt Judge Murguia injects into the meaning of the words “fighting” and “battlefield” is hardly reasonable. Indeed, her own “findings of fact” are devoid of any use of the terms outside of references to ongoing combat. This extraordinarily charitable reading of explicitly martial words reeks of political correctness, of the desperate desire to provide an alternative meaning for clearly expressed jihadist intent. Judge Murguia is certainly correct that expressions of “abstract beliefs” are not unlawful, even when those beliefs are “noxious,” but this case contained evidence not just of “abstract beliefs” but statements like, “We gonna make it to the battlefield . . . It’s time to roll.”
The federal prosecution was inept' but the judge seemed to desire to let this guy go rather than pay attention to his clear statements of a desire to join jihad.

The IRS tried to argue in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals that they could discriminate on the basis of viewpoint for 270 days without any challenge. The judges were not amused.
“You don’t really mean that, right? Because the next couple words would be the IRS is free to discriminate on the basis of viewpoint, religion, race [for 270 days]. You don’t actually think that?” Judge Garland said. “Imagine the IRS announces today a policy that says as follows: No application by a Jewish group or an African-American group will be considered until one day short of the period under the statute . . . Is it your view that that cannot be challenged?”

The judges also asked why the government had buried the key precedent in a footnote in its brief. In Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl, the Supreme Court decided that the language of the Anti-Injunction Act did not preclude cases like Z Street’s. In a previous case before the D.C. Circuit, Judge Garland noted, the court also “rejected” the exact arguments the government was making, “so in a way we have already decided every issue before us today, against you.”

Poor Ms. McLaughlin was sent to argue the indefensible so the IRS can delay discovery until the waning days of the Obama Administration. “If I were you, I would go back and ask your superiors whether they want us to represent that the government’s position in this case is that the government is free to unconstitutionally discriminate against its citizens for 270 days,” said Judge Garland.

Ms. McLaughlin replied, “Well, I will take that back.” The Beltway media may be bored, but the IRS scandal is a long way from over.
But think of a government that sends forth its lawyers to argue that the IRS has such a power.

Kevin Williamson ponders where those arguing against income inequality will eventually end up if one follows the logic of their complaints.
Economic inequality is an attractive issue for progressives, because it provides a permanent state of emergency — problems such as absolute poverty are in fact tractable, as the United States and other countries have shown, while the not-unrelated problem of economic growth is, though slippery, something that a great many nations with very different cultural characteristics have addressed, mainly with policies that are anathema to progressives.

But economic inequality — the fact that people will experience radically different economic outcomes, not always for reasons that strike us as fair — is never going away. Indeed, as societies grow wealthier and more integrated into the global economy, economic inequality tends to increase, a fact of life in such different countries as the United States, Sweden, Singapore, and India.

The enduring nature of economic inequality may be a political blessing for progressives — it provides a perennial source of discontent — but it is a problem, too, for one very important but under-appreciated reason: The main sources of economic inequality are not matters of public policy. They are instead rooted in the individual — including in the physical facts of the individual — and in the family, both of which have traditionally been considered outside of the public sphere. In a liberal society, some things are not political questions, but the Left, with its authoritarian mottos — “The personal is the political,” “If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem,” etc. — is in its most fundamental assumptions the opposite of liberal: It is totalitarian.
Williamson goes on to look at several liberal policies such as their stances on education and affirmative action that strive to mandate an artificial equality. And just this week, as Williamson points out, an Australian philosopher with the wonderful name for a philosopher of Adam Swift, expressed his concern that some parents are giving their children an inexcusable advantage in life by reading to them at bedtime or sending them to private schools.
Swift in particular has been conflicted for some time over the curious situation that arises when a parent wants to do the best for her child but in the process makes the playing field for others even more lopsided.

‘I got interested in this question because I was interested in equality of opportunity,’ he says.

‘I had done some work on social mobility and the evidence is overwhelmingly that the reason why children born to different families have very different chances in life is because of what happens in those families.’

Once he got thinking, Swift could see that the issue stretches well beyond the fact that some families can afford private schooling, nannies, tutors, and houses in good suburbs. Functional family interactions—from going to the cricket to reading bedtime stories—form a largely unseen but palpable fault line between families. The consequence is a gap in social mobility and equality that can last for generations.

So, what to do?

According to Swift, from a purely instrumental position the answer is straightforward.

‘One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.’
Swift concludes that some elements of a loving family relationship such as the bedtime stories are okay, but that sending children to private schools should not. A little philosophy can be quite dangerous.

My AP Government students were taking a practice test for their AP exam next week. One of the questions gave a list of five beliefs and asked which one was not a characteristic of a liberal democracy. The answer was "achieving income equality." The other choices were items such as "holding regular, frequent, and competitive elections" or "having a lively and free press." Sadly, a lot of my students got this wrong or couldn't answer because they just were assuming that "achieving income equality" was something good and therefore a characteristic of a liberal democracy. When I pointed out that the only way to do that would be to take property from some and give it to others until everyone was equal rather like in Animal Farm, they began to understand how that violated Locke's theory of natural rights. But some were still not altogether sure that that was really a bad thing if everyone got to be equal again. The kicker is when I suggested that I take points from the averages of students with good grades and gave them to the students with less than stellar averages. That they objected to. Perhaps they'll be able to see that the grades they have worked so hard to achieve is equivalent to the material benefits that others have worked hard to achieve in their professions.

I was thinking of Vonnegut's 'Harrison Bergeron," and that was what was on Williamson's mind in his essay, "Inching toward 'Harrison Bergeron.'"
The end result of that intellectual corruption was considered by Kurt Vonnegut in his famous story “Harrison Bergeron” (which was made into a pretty good film, 2081), in which the fearsome Handicapper General imposes burdens on the strong, the intelligent, the beautiful, and other beneficiaries of unfair personal endowments in the name of fighting inequality. But where we are headed is in some ways worse than that: We may quietly and grudgingly accept that certain things such as raw intellectual ability are as much a biological reality as height or eye color, but we seek to evade the consequences of that reality in the retreat to other virtues, such as being hard-working, deferring immediate gratification for larger long-term benefits, etc. At the same time, we are learning that these purported virtues do not manifest out of the ether, that many aspects of our personalities are as hard-wired as g and lactose tolerance. Yes, we may overcome the defects of our character, but if we are driven by inequality, then the fact that there is something to overcome is an instance of unfairness in and of itself.

We do not have a Handicapper General; we have a tax code, which is in some part intended to perform a similar function, though in reality its complexity and its burdens are simply another source of unfair advantage for the elites. Our philosophy and our politics have not yet caught up with our other realities, and, if your tendencies are progressive, you do not want them to catch up, really, because their catching up would put you in a very difficult position: Either embrace the openly totalitarian proposition that there is no aspect of human life — including bedtime stories — that is beyond the reach of politics, or accept the sources of the inequality that you purport to be committed to eradicating.

Which is to say: Progressives can abandon the inequality crusade, they can abandon such vestigial liberalism as clings to them, or they can abandon reality.

Mario Loyola contrasts what the NYT said in their editorial about hate speech towards Muslims to how that same point could have been made towards those who direct hate speech towards those whose views of gay marriage they don't approve. It's an interesting contrast.

Rich Lowry is seeing similar contrasts.
How dare Pamela Geller get targeted by terrorists bent on committing mass murder.

That’s been the reaction of a portion of the opinion elite to news that Geller’s “draw Muhammad” contest in Garland, Texas, was (unsuccessfully) assaulted by two heavily armed Muslim men in an attack the Islamic State took responsibility for.

The Washington Post ran an article on Geller headlined, “Event organizer offers no apology after thwarted attack in Texas.”
News that the Post has yet to break about other terrorist targets: “Malala Yousafzai refuses to admit fault for seeking an education”; “Coptic Christians won’t concede error for worshiping wrong God”; “Unrepentant Shiites continue to disagree with Sunnis.”
Yes, these are more sympathetic cases, but it is no more legitimate to shoot someone for drawing Muhammad, than it is to shoot a girl for going to school, or a Copt or a Shia for his or her faith. Expecting apologies from these victims would be almost as perverse as expecting one from Pamela Geller.

Respectable opinion can’t bear the idea that she has become a symbol of free speech, which once upon a time was — and still is, when convenient — one of the highest values of the media and the left.

If Geller were a groundbreaking pornographer like the loathsome Larry Flynt, someone would already be planning a celebratory biopic of her life. If she were a gadfly sticking it to a major Western religion rather than to Islam, she might be considered more socially acceptable.

Instead, her provocations are deemed almost as shameful as the intentions of the men who wanted to kill her and her cohorts.
He goes on to give example after example of those in the media who spent more time criticizing Pamela Geller than her would-be assassin's. He reminds us that we see criticism and ridicule of every major religion out there, but it is only Islam that these media critics want to protect because of the violence it might provoke.
For better or worse, we live in a society in which nothing is sacred. If we are to accept the assassin’s veto, the only exception (for now) will be depictions of Muhammad, which would be perverse. A free society can’t let the parameters of its speech be set by murderous extremists.

Give her this: Pamela Geller understands that, whereas her scolds don’t. Some of them can’t even tell the difference between her and her would-be killers.

Jim Geraghty has a thoughtful question after listening to Dr. Ben Carson's and Mike Huckabee's announcements that they're running for president essentially to change the American culture.
The thing is, if you genuinely believe the biggest problems in America today are cultural, and not economic or political . . . should you really be running for president? Sure, the president of the United States is indisputably a pretty important cultural figure, and President Obama has been a ubiquitous, insufferably overexposed popular culture figure. But the job isn’t primarily cultural, is it?
And do we really want a president who thinks it is his responsibility to change the American culture and that that is somehow a presidential responsibility? I sure don't. We don't like it when liberals try to move the culture; why should we want a political leader from our side of the aisle to attempt the same thing.

538 analyzes whether there could be another Ken Jennings who makes a run of over 70 victories at Jeopardy and concludes that it just isn't going to happen. Good. Some records, particularly those held by such a nice guy, should stay pure.