Monday, August 03, 2015

Cruising the Web

I had a lovely short trip to Washington to visit my daughters. Every time I visit there, I'm struck at how different it is from 40 years ago when my husband and I were undergraduates at George Washington University. One big difference - there were only about two or three places around campus to get something to eat on a student's budget. Now the area there is really hopping. And students can use their dining card to eat at some of the surrounding restaurants. Back then, when we talked about "Freshman fifteen" it was about the weight we lost at school because the food was so awful and the salad bar was often the only edible offering. It certainly is different now.

Now I'm back and ready to start back with the school year Sigh.

By the way, I'd still appreciate it if readers would use the Amazon portal at the top left side of my page or the links through the page if you need to buy anything from Amazon. I use the commission that I earn to buy materials for my classes or to read more about the history subjects I teach. And I really do thank those of you who have used my page as your portal to Amazon and helped me out.

There has been a bit of a buzz about the possibility of Joe Biden getting into the race against Hillary. Josh Kraushaar wrote last week at how this is his moment to jump in given how vulnerable Hillary might be.
If Obama's former campaign strategists truly believe that a Democratic candidate only needs to mobilize and microtarget the base to win the presidency, who better to do that than Obama's unfailingly loyal No. 2? Biden, after all, pushed the president to come out for gay marriage against his best political instincts. He led the administration's uphill fight for gun control in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, heading its task force on the subject. He's helped with the administration's lobbying effort for its Iran deal, pitched wary Democrats on the benefits of fast-track trade, and stood by the president's side when he praised the Supreme Court's ruling upholding Obamacare subsidies.

And at a time when authenticity is a highly valued asset—for better or worse—Biden boasts the natural political skill set that Clinton clearly lacks. He's a happy warrior who enjoys campaigning and isn't constrained by talking points or rope lines. He's able to ham it up with union rank-and-file, while also giving a stem-winding speech blasting Republicans in Congress. His all-too-frequent malapropisms are endearing at a time when voters are cynical about scripted politicians.
Maureen Dowd had a moving column about Beau Biden's dying wish that his father get into the race. She paints a terribly sad scene at the dying man's bedside trying to get his father to promise to run. You can't help but be moved. No parent should have to bury a child and Joe Biden has had to do that too many times in his life.

But, as I read the column, I couldn't help but realize that the only way Dowd would know about this scene is if either Joe, his wife, or his other son, Hunter, told her about it. Bill Kristol wondered about the same thing.
But then stop for a minute. Ask this question: Who gave Maureen Down the details of the conversations between Joe Biden and his sons? The details are, after all, pretty ... detailed: There are direct quotations from Beau, Hunter, and Joe; a sentence capturing the thought process of Joe; a brief description of Beau's physical state. It's great reporting, and it's a story well-told; but we can ask, how did Maureen Dowd know this? Who was willing and able to give her this level of detail?

Surely not a political aide or associate. Surely not a normal family friend. Perhaps there's a very close family friend or two in whom Joe Biden (or Jill, or Hunter) would have confided these conversations—but surely such a friend wouldn't have spoken to Maureen Dowd without Joe Biden's okay.

So Joe Biden may have authorized a friend to speak to Maureen Dowd. Or Joe Biden may have spoken to her himself. Or perhaps Jill or Hunter Biden spoke with her. Who knows the details and circumstances? One can easily imagine, for example, one of the Bidens telling a sympathetic Dowd the story, off-the-record, of their beloved son and brother's last wishes—and then, a few weeks later perhaps, yielding to Dowd's request that she be able to report at least some of what she was told in print.

Let me be clear: I'm not criticizing either the Bidens or Dowd. I'm simply pointing out that when you think about who could be the source of Dowd's extraordinary account—you'd have to be crazy to think Joe Biden isn't awfully serious about running for president.

Michael Brendan Dougherty writes in The Week about "The Astonishing Weakness of Hillary Clinton."
Because the Republican field is startlingly unanimous in its positions, Clinton has the opportunity of running against a coherent platform, while picking out its weakest spokesperson on every individual issue. She can run against Trump on immigration, against Huckabee on social issues, against Walker on foreign policy.

But it's an opportunity that she has so far passed over. Perhaps she doesn't want to get bogged down in actual policy details, always unpopular with an electorate that grows fat on cliché but retches at details.

Still, it means that the entirety of Clinton's campaign has alternated between distancing herself from the legacy of her family name, and stonewalling reporters investigating one scandal or another. In the first category, she has repudiated the tough-on-crime policies of her husband. She has strongly embraced gay marriage even though her previous support for traditional marriage was, according to Clinton, rooted in timeless religious principles. She has joined the new gender politics, despite her own history of slut-shaming her husband's mistresses. Calling Bill's pump-and-dump paramours "trailer trash" and "narcissistic loony tunes" is understandable in my own view, but considered impolitic today.

Hillary Clinton has never won a competitive election. This can't be repeated enough. She beat Republican Rep. Rick Lazio for her Senate seat in 2000. And she defeated a mayor from Yonkers in 2006. In her first competitive race, the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, she began as a heavy favorite and she lost.
So what is different now? Well, she's been Secretary of State, but I don't think bragging about her support of armed intervention in Libya and traveling more than previous secretaries of state is going to impress that many voters.

Meanwhile, Mark Halperin writes that Bernie Sanders is more of a threat to Hillary than people realize. He reminds us that no-hope candidates can still pull the nominee to the extreme. There are other ways he could harm her candidacy even without winning.
2. Exposing her biggest weaknesses

Even some of Clinton’s staunchest backers will tell you that she comes off to many voters as personally inauthentic and politically calculating, lacking a genuine, heartfelt message. Even some of Sanders’ biggest detractors will tell you that he is exactly the opposite. Sanders has become such a prodigious performer on the stump and in TV interviews in part because he gives Democrats an unvarnished and passionate view of his ideas, his soul, and himself. Recently, at a major gathering of Iowa Democratic activists, almost every Clinton supporter I talked to expressed admiration for Sanders’ authenticity and policy agenda, and many said that if they followed their heart, they would vote for the underdog. If Clinton's main four-point agenda sounds like it is the product of extensive research by her polling and focus-group teams, well, that is because it is. A lot of voters grasp that calculation intuitively, and find it a turnoff. Clinton’s perceived lack of personal and political sincerity may not cost her the nomination, but it won’t help her image with general-election voters already skeptical about her character and relatability.
He can also extend the entire Democratic race. And remember, the more people see of Hillary, the less they like her. Having her on people's screens for over a year is not going to make people grow more fond of her.

Why, if Iran is going to be able to export their oil, do we still have a ban on exporting our own crude oil?
The ban is a relic from the Nixon era when oil prices spiked and OPEC began. America’s unconventional oil boom has changed everything. U.S. crude production bottomed in 2008 at about seven million barrels per day and is now more than 11 million. The Energy Information Administration estimates that U.S. output could hit 18 million barrels a day by 2040. Crude inventories are at an 80-year high, and imports declined nearly 30% between 2005 and 2013.

The export ban is, paradoxically, one of the biggest threats to this U.S. production boom. The decline in oil prices over the past year has forced U.S. producers to slash investment and cancel projects. The U.S. rig count has dropped 50% since last autumn, and the industry has cut more than 125,000 jobs. Lifting the ban would offer new markets for U.S. oil and mean fewer layoffs.

Ken Goldstein writes about polling at Bloomberg and he makes a couple of very good points about the problems using national poll results to determine which candidates will be on the stage for the early debates. He uses a recent Fox News Poll as an example. It ws conducted jointly by a Republicand Democratic firm and they used both landline and cell phones. They asked questions to determine how likely respondents were to come out to vote in a primary or caucus.
This screening question yielded 389 registered voters (or 38 percent of registered voters in the country) who said they were likely to vote or caucus in the battle for the Republican nomination. Among this group, the survey found Donald Trump ahead of the field by 3 percentage points over Scott Walker. More importantly, in the contest to be invited to the debate in Cleveland, John Kasich and Rick Santorum tied for 10th with each capturing 2 percent, besting Carly Fiorina and Rick Perry, both of whom polled at 1 percent, and just behind Chris Christie with 3 percent.

So, while it’s hard not to observe that a grand total of six poll respondents—that’s six actual human beings—separate the ninth-place candidate from the 13th, let’s look at the survey’s assumptions about the size of the Republican electorate.

From the Census Bureau’s Voter Supplement to the Current Population Study, we know that there are 150 million registered voters in the country. So, the 1,019 respondents to the Fox survey correspond to the opinions of 150 million Americans. Accordingly, 38 percent of registered voters (those who were asked their GOP nominee preference) means that these 389 respondents represent the preference of just over 57.2 million voters. Is that a plausible estimate of the number of people who will take part in the 2016 Republican nominating contest?

Well, actually, no. In 2012, 19 million Republicans took part in the nominating contest. In a more competitive race with a wider GOP field in 2008, 21 million took part in the nominating contest....

Put another way, the Fox News-survey, and most other surveys of Republican primary preferences are using samples that represent target populations that are nearly equal to the total number of votes that Mitt Romney received in the general election in 2012, about three times as large as recent primary electorates and almost twice as large as the record-shattering Democratic primary electorate in 2008. While there are lots of candidates and some enthusiasm on the GOP side, it is not likely to approach 60 million, as the Fox and other recent polls assume.

Even if GOP turnout more than doubles from 2012 and exceeds Democratic turnout in 2008, the attitudes of 20 million non-primary participants are being included in these polls. If their attitudes differ from the other 40 million, then the polls are not an accurate representation of who is winning—and certainly not an accurate representation of who is in 11th place, is such a thing is even possible.

Typically, polls don’t have a huge causal influence on the direction of the race. In other words, polls predict elections, they are not the election. But with the responsibility of determining who is going to be in the first Fox News debate the polls will have a clear causal effect on who is in the debate and who is out, and, thus on the possible direction of the race. Too, the polls supply media oxygen, never so crucial as this year, with Trump consuming so much of it.
I appreciate that the party and the networks have a difficult decision before them about how to accommodate 17 candidates. I think I'd prefer to see it broken into three or four separate hour-long debates and have the candidates for each forum chosen randomly rather than a cattle call of ten candidates chosen by such a faulty polling system.

The problems with polling is one of the very first topics that I deal with in my A.P. Government and Politics class. I'll be covering polling in about 10 days and this will be a great little introduction to the kids of why they should be skeptical of all the polls flooding poltical coverage right now.

Goldstein also pointed out why polls of Iowa or New Hampshire voters that show Trump ahead have a similar problem of mismeasuring the potential GOP turnout.
In Iowa, for example, Marist pollsters interviewed 1,042 residents, of whom 919 reported that they were registered voters. The proportion of registered voters in the sample is absolutely in line with the nearly 90 percent of adult Iowans who are registered to vote (among the highest percentages in the country). From that sample of 919 registered voters, Marist pollsters qualified 342 respondents as the potential Republican electorate, defined as “all voters who prefer to participate in the Republican presidential caucus and registered Republicans without a caucus preference.” These are the people who are questioned as to who they support in the GOP caucuses.

These results mean that NBC and Marist are assuming a caucus turnout that is 37.2 percent of registered voters (342 divided by 919). According to the most recent figures from the Iowa secretary of state, there are 2,069,592 registered voters in the Hawkeye State. Multiplying that number by 37.2 percent yields a population of 769,888. The NBC/Marist poll release is careful to note that this is a potential electorate—but it represents a turnout that is 650,000 people greater than the largest turnout ever for the Iowa GOP caucuses and 600,000 more than the very highest estimates I've heard from political operatives on the likely size of the 2016 caucuses.
Polls of New Hampshire have a similar problem.
Still, the population interviewed in the recent NBC/Marist polls encompasses a much broader number of people than are actually likely to caucus in Iowa or vote in the Republican primary in New Hampshire. If the nominee preferences of this larger pool of potential voters are different than the voters who actually show up, the polls could be painting an inaccurate picture of who is ahead and who is behind.

The poll paints an interesting picture of where the race stands with all possible Republican voters. What it's not, necessarily, is an accurate picture of who's actually ahead and behind in the crucial early states.
Of course, we don't know which way the errors might flow. Trump might be even more ahead or some other candidate might be. We just don't know. But what is clear is that their polls aren't measuring who is going to turn out on caucus or primary nights in Iowa and New Hampshire.

National Journal wonders if Jeb Bush could win Florida if he just gains a few percentage more points from the African American vote compared to what we've seen for GOP presidential candidates in recent elections. Perhaps, but if Hillary is the candidate for the Democrats, will she benefit from being the wife of the first black president? Or would Jeb be hurt by a comparable number of conservative voters staying home like they did for both McCain and Romney?

So why would Mitch McConnell schedule the cloture vote for blocking taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood at the same time for the New Hampshire Union Leader candidate forum when there are four GOP senators running for president and it's going to be very tough to get the 60 votes for cloture? The scheduling seems quite fishy. Does McConnell seek to play into conservative criticisms of him?

One honest New York City student tells the New York Post how her school graduated her even though she should have flunked her government class and gone to summer school.
In my last semester at Bryant HS, I had Government for first period, which starts at 8 a.m.

I had a lot of trouble getting up in the morning. I didn’t really go at all. I think I showed up about five times in the first marking period. In the second marking period, my attendance was also poor. I got a 55 for both, an “F.”

My teacher saw me in the hall and pulled me aside. She told me, “In the third marking period, if you come in every day and do all your work, I will pass you.”

I showed up about 10 days maximum the third marking period. It was only about a month long, because of senior activities. I did the makeup worksheets she gave me, but I never turned them in since my teacher was out at the end. We had a substitute.

I was absent for the final exam on Thursday, and absent for the makeup final on Friday.
But somehow the school just passed her. I wonder if the teacher was even informed that the school had decided to pass Melissa. Imagine how many students this happens and the student isn't forthright enough to go public. I also bet that, if the school had known she would go to the press, they wouldn't have passed her. (Link via Jazz Shaw who is thinking about why colleges like my alma mater, George Washington University, would do away with the SAT/ACT requirement for applicants.

Jim Geraghty ponders images from the Ayotollah Khamenei's Twitter feed of President Obama with a gun to his head as a threat if the U.S. did anything to try to knock out Iran's military if they backtrack on the nuclear deal.
For example, we’ve been told for seven years that most criticism of President Obama is beyond the pale of acceptable discourse, that it is rooted in hatred, and that it is representative of a malevolent intolerance deep in the hearts of his critics. And then the Iranian leader tweets out this:

And everybody who supports the President’s Iran deal acts like it’s no big deal.

Screw you, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei. I don’t even like Obama, and that image offends me, because he’s the American president. But everybody who claims to support the president averts their eyes.

Now, I would argue that the Supreme Leader of Iran sending out this image is an indicator of bad faith. They’re not behaving as if they want to earn our trust, earn our respect, or assure us not to see them as a major threat. They continue to chant “death to America”, even after the alleged deal:

In an address at a Tehran mosque punctuated by chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”, the hardliner said the deal was only about nuclear issues, pledging: “We won’t let foreigners interfere with our affairs.”

....“Whether the deal is approved or disapproved, we will never stop supporting our friends in the region and the people of Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon. Even after this deal our policy toward the arrogant U.S. will not change,” he said.

Someone will inevitably argue, “this sort of rhetoric is just for domestic political consumption.” Except the Tweet is in English, and sent out on the international medium of Twitter. They want us to see this. They want us to know this is what they think.

(By the way, why does the average Iranian get this sort of incendiary rhetoric to placate his anger and pride, but there’s no rhetoric from our officials, to the families of the Americans unjustly imprisoned by Iran, or the families killed by past Iranian aggression and sponsorship of terrorists, or Iran’s assistance to anti-American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the families of the U.S. soldiers killed by Iranian-sponsored terror attack on Khobar Towers?)

To be an MSNBC-watching loyal Obama supporter, you have to still be fuming about signs at Tea Party rallies that appear to threaten the president, but not the least bit upset about this sort of image from Iran. A rodeo clown wearing an Obama mask is some sort of national outrage and symbol of racial hatred, but it’s not a big deal for Iran to hang President Obama in effigy.
Yup, it's a very topsy-turvy world that the President's supporters inhabit.

John Hinderaker has compiled some of the funniest memes to have arisen ridiculing the worldwide upset over the demise of Cecil the Lion.

Kevin Williamson hits the target about how ridiculous the mass outrage over the shooting Cecil has been.
American public discourse is a mile wide and an inch deep, and it operates almost exclusively in generalities, the broader the better. For the moment, the conversation, such as it is, is dominated by the infantile cry: “Lions nice! Hunters bad!” We might take this moment to remind ourselves that Zimbabwe is a psychotic state with failed institutions and that the Mugabe style is, unhappily, not restricted to Mugabe or to Zimbabwe. We might consider that there are ethical and unethical modes of big-game hunting, and we might, if we were so inclined, meditate on the fact that hunters have for generations played a critical role in the conservation of wildlife and habitat. If we were feeling philosophical, we might even think for a moment about the fact that those who would ban hunting out of awe for nature and the natural order in fact pervert that order by denying man’s unique role in it, and wonder whether a man who has never killed his own breakfast, even if it’s only a perch, can really understand that.

Instead, we’re treated to the spectacle of Twitter mobs composed of people who have never thought about the condition of lions, or the condition of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, emoting with great satisfaction for a minute and a half until they move on to the next thing. Pretty lion, mean dentist. Mean, mean dentist.

But Cecile Richards’s butchery, those dishes full of tiny hands and feet and hearts and brains, the blasé negotiations about price, “I want a Lamborghini” and all the rest of that? Oh, there’s context, don’t you know.
Ian Tuttle is struck by how much outrage we're supposed to be feeling all the time.
It cannot go unremarked, though, that this latest episode follows April’s cyber-siege of the O’Connors of Walkerton, Ind., targeted for (hypothetically) objecting to catering a same-sex wedding out of their pizza shop, and June’s hysteria over Confederate symbols. What can account for the spitting rage of, say, Yelp “reviewer” Bob H. of Beaverton, Ore., who warned Palmer today, “Keep your eyes open—someone is going to beat the living s**t out of you. I am just jealous it will not be myself!”?...

It’s no longer enough to care just about what we read in our local newspaper — about the daily business of our own locality. We’re now called upon to care about Christians in Iraq and political prisoners in Iran and starvation in North Korea. Did you know that Robert Mugabe, the dictatorial president of Zimbabwe, celebrated his 91st birthday in February by dining on baby elephant? Shouldn’t we all be outraged by that, too?

A psychic siege is taking place.

It’s not difficult to see that our inclination to mobbishness is, at least in part, a reaction to being psychically overwhelmed by issues that are too complex, and too many, to sort through. Instead, we retreat, aiming to seize upon occasions for easy moral outrage. In the midst of so many troubles about which Sharon Osbourne, let alone the average Yelp reviewer, can do so little, social media is the perfect medium for theatrical, self-affirming expressions of moral superiority. The shrinking of the world has, in fact, shown us just how big it is. What can you do? Well, you can get mad.

There are no solutions to this problem, but it might be mitigated. In an earlier time, the excesses of a Walter Palmer would have been the interest of Zimbabwean authorities, perhaps a few American policemen, and whatever private sporting organizations he belonged to. The “daily business” of London lawyers, Dutch cat owners, and electronica producers in Dubai — all of whom have demanded that Palmer himself be hunted down — would have been considerably more provincial. Without neglecting crucial matters of national or international concern, an effort to refocus on the provincial could do much good. What does it matter to a citizen of Buffalo, N.Y., or Plainview, Tex., that a Minnesota man killed a lion halfway around the world? Nothing. But it matters a great deal if your Buffalo neighborhood is succumbing to blight, or if your child’s Plainview public school is lousy. And, of course, about those problems a person can do something. This is “daily business” to which one can actually attend.

The problem, of course, is that you cannot credibly posture on Twitter about a dangerous intersection nearby. Rage is easy; responsibility isn’t. Most people would rather roar about lions.

If the biggest stress in teachers' lives is not having enough time to go to the bathroom, then their jobs are not all that terrible.

Buzz Aldrin demonstrates the minutiae with which our government is permeated as he posts the voucher form he had to fill out for going to the moon.

See how well you can do on guessing if a quote is from Donald Trump or Mr. Burns of The Simpsons. I must confess that I never watched The Simpsons much so I was terrible at this.