Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Cruising the Web

How disappointing that Scott Walker has had to drop out. He's someone that I could have happily supported. But the skills that made him a successful governor and helped him win against overwhelming labor and Democratic attacks are not the same in the political arena. He just never seemed that sure of himself. I think it's admirable that he got out early and cast his exit as a call to other marginal candidates to get out so that opposition could coalesce around some candidate other than Donald Trump. I wish that could happen also.

Byron York writes that Walker's limitations are what hurt him.
There had always been talk that Walker, as a Midwestern governor, wasn't well versed, or even very versed at all, in foreign policy. That turned out to be true, and obvious to all when he cited his command of the Wisconsin National Guard as national security experience and argued that Ronald Reagan's 1981 firing of the air traffic controllers was "the most significant foreign policy decision of my lifetime."

Some supporters saw Walker's lack of foreign policy chops as a fixable problem. Indeed, he tried to fix it, gathering a group of experts to school him in international affairs. But for Walker, an even bigger problem was domestic policy. He just wasn't very up on some of the key policy and political issues that a president has to confront.

About a month after his Iowa breakthrough, Walker traveled to Palm Beach, Florida to address a donor-heavy crowd at a gathering sponsored by the conservative Club for Growth. He was asked his thoughts about the Export-Import Bank -- not a huge issue, but an important one to many fiscal conservatives -- and he didn't seem to have any. Walker was also asked about the standoff then going on in Congress over funding the Department of Homeland Security. His answer was long, meandering, and entirely unclear. He was asked about President Obama's executive action on immigration. Same story.

Walker was not a candidate prepared to deal with national policy in the context of a presidential campaign. In an interview, I asked him whether things had moved too quickly, whether the ground had shifted under his feet after the Iowa speech. His answer was instant: "Totally."

....It didn't work. As the campaign went on, Walker made error after error, all based in the fact that he wasn't well versed in national issues. When he took multiple positions on the question of birthright citizenship -- again, not the biggest issue in the world but the kind of thing that can pop up in a campaign -- it was clear he hadn't really thought about it very much.

The hard lesson for Walker is that campaigns expose a candidate's weaknesses and gaps in knowledge. While it is possible for candidates to improve as performers -- they do it all the time -- it is really hard for them to learn much new during the campaign. The action is simply too frantic, too non-stop for a candidate to really delve into anything.

What that means is a good candidate had better bring a pretty strong store of knowledge to a campaign. Walker brought a lot of knowledge about Wisconsin, but not a lot about presidential-level issues.....But for all this strengths at the state level, Walker just wasn't ready for a national run. And in the end, the presidential campaign did what presidential campaigns do: it ruthlessly exposed the weakness of the man at the top.
It's sad that his lack of policy chops killed his candidacy, but Donald Trump's mostly policy-free bluster keeps his balloon afloat. I hope that time will deal the same death-blow to Trump's campaign.

Kevin D. Williamson has a great point that he's waiting for candidates to address the looming federal debt program brought about because of the promises we've made on entitlements.
Here’s my question, which nobody ever really asks: “Given that a small number of federal expenditures — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, national security, and interest on the debt — typically constitute about 80 percent of all federal spending, and given that we are not going to cut non-defense discretionary spending to zero, there is no mathematically plausible way to balance the budget without: 1) cutting spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and/or national security; and/or 2) raising taxes. So, what’s it going to be: spending cuts in popular programs, higher taxes, or deficits forever? And before you give your answer, I’d like you all to know that standing behind each of you is a man with a Taser and instructions to use it on the first person whose answer relies on the Growth Fairy — lookin’ at you, Jeb — or the Waste, Fraud, and Abuse Fairy. Go.”
There have been some of the Republicans who have touched on the problem.
Chris Christie has proposed a fairly straightforward policy of means-testing Social Security — reducing benefits when a retired individual’s non–Social Security income surpasses $80,000 a year and zeroing it out at the $200,000-a-year mark. (Jeb Bush has pronounced himself open to means-testing, too.) That isn’t going to balance the budget — it isn’t even going to bring the entitlements ledger into balance — but it would be a meaningful, significant step in the right direction. A broad and deep program of entitlement reform would be a national game-changer, a radical improvement in the credibility of our public finances. Of course, the populist Right, which is in the end barely distinguishable from the populist Left, detests Social Security reform, because it is in reality another welfare-state interest group, one that has convinced itself that all that extravagant New Deal and Great Society statism would be just peachy if it weren’t for all the damned dirty foreigners.

Rand Paul is at heart a fiscal realist, one who insists that we must “cut spending in all areas,” though he has gone wobbly on military outlays. And if you read between the stump-speech lines with the right eyes, you can detect a healthy strain of realism in Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker, with the governors being predictably a bit more hardheaded than the senators. In contrast, Donald Trump is a disconnected fantasist; Mike Huckabee is a content-free populist; neither Ben Carson nor Carly Fiorina has said enough of substance on the subject to make much of a judgment, though Fiorina has some solid plans on spending a great deal of money we don’t have in order to build up the military; John Kasich had a good record on the issue in Congress but thus far in the presidential race refuses to talk about anything other than tax cuts; Jeb Bush is waiting on a bailout from the Growth Fairy.

It’s not that economic growth isn’t important; it’s that there is no magical incantation by which a president may bring it about. Barack Obama surely wishes that the economy were growing more quickly than it is, too, the last four quarters averaging an anemic 2.67 percent real growth; in the first quarter of 2014, the economy actually contracted, threatening a return to outright recession. Better economic policies should produce better growth, but that’s a crooked line, and the timeline is unpredictable.

I don’t expect the GOP contenders to campaign on pain, but I do expect them to sail close enough to the shores of reality that dry land is always within sight. Instead, the temptation is to proceed as though we can have massively expanded military spending, tax cuts, no unpopular entitlement reductions, and a balanced budget.
Perhaps the next debate on CNBC will delve into this. I'd like to hear their answers. And I'd like the Democrats to be asked the same question and see how they answer.

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This is truly funny. Democrats tell Politico what they think Hillary Clinton's greatest accomplishments were. Bill Burton gives her credit for killing Osama bin Laden. Yeah, she had a role in that. Harry Reid credits her with all of Obama's foreign policy accomplishments. Yeah, that's a short list. Chuck Schumer and Barbara Boxer give her credit for getting money for New York after 9/11. Because no NY politician would have fought for that aid. Dennis Kucinich admires her for holding together her husband's administration after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. Read through the list and see how persuaded you are.

John Podhoretz notes that governors such as Scott Walker and Rick Perry aren't doing so well as candidates, thus violating one of the supposed iron rules of politics that governors make the best candidates.
Things don’t look great for the remaining state executives either. John Kasich, the fascinating governor of Ohio, is pleasing the liberal media but seems determined to annoy the conservatives who make up the party’s base. Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, is still in the mix, but looks to be headed back to Baton Rouge sooner rather than later.

Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, did well in last week’s debate, but then and now has no visible path to the nomination — and the big-blustery-personality-guy space that should have been his alone has instead been filled by Donald Trump.

This was not the way anyone expected this to go. Perhaps the major reason Republicans were excited about their party’s prospects in the next election was precisely that the party’s gubernatorial bench had gotten so deep....

The conventional wisdom has said it was immensely difficult to make it to the White House from the Senate because of the demands placed on them in the “world’s greatest deliberative body.” Senators are forced annually to cast votes on controversial matters they invariably find difficult to defend later — either to their party faithful or to the general public.

It’s also the case that the complex and sometimes counterintuitive procedures of the Senate can lead to voting behavior that is almost literally impossible to explain to anyone without sounding like an idiot (as when John Kerry said — both accurately and ridiculously — that he had “voted for the $87 billion” in funding for the Iraq war “before I voted against it”).

Governors, by contrast, are executives with clear report cards they can show as part of their job interview. And they can also claim to be above and beyond the diseased partisan fray in Washington, as George W. Bush did successfully in 2000: “I have no stake in the bitter arguments of the past few years,” he said.

But these days, no one who works in politics is above the fray, which is why the three leading contenders for the GOP nomination in the early going are Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, none of whom has ever served in public office.

To be an outsider, at the present moment, you really need to come from the outside. The presidency is becoming an entry-level job. God help us.

Sean Higgins writes of Donald Trump and "Daveism," the idea that one ordinary man, the Kevin Klein character in the movie "Dave," can come in and simply fix all of the problems in Washington.
Daveism goes beyond that, though, by arguing that if we threw the bums out, things wouldn't just get better, they could be fixed entirely. Daveism holds that our political problems are all actually simple, except that those in control refuse to fix them out of cowardice, self-interest or the malign influence of special interests, you name it. All we have to do to change this state of affairs is to elect the right person or persons — ideally someone rich with common sense and unpolluted by knowledge of Washington....

The film's premise is that Dave can solve the nation's biggest problems not because he is a political genius or especially persuasive but because he is a decent guy not beholden to anyone and with no apparent ideology of his own other than an earnest desire to do the right thing.

Though it is generally described as an upbeat, light-hearted satire, the message at the heart of the film is a deeply cynical one: The reason why things are messed up in Washington is because the politicians do not really care enough to fix them.

No one would confuse the proudly obnoxious Donald Trump with the sweet-natured protagonist in "Dave," but Trump's message hits those same general themes. Your leaders have let you down. They have promised to fix things and they have not. I will and I can because I am not afraid to do it and don't have any allegiance to any organization that would prevent me, including my own political party or my fellow billionaires....

He appeals to the Republican rank and files' frustrations with their own leadership and the lack of progress on the conservative agenda. The fact that the GOP establishment and conservative institutions like the National Review oppose him merely proves his outsider status.

In this, he is aided, albeit unintentionally, by the activist Right. Ever since the GOP revolution of the 1990s sputtered out, and especially since President Obama took office, conservative activists have been eager to turn on their own for betraying the movement. Talk radio and websites regularly claim the establishment is eager to sell the right out. People like Eric Cantor, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, once conservative heroes, have been subject to attempts from the Right to oust them. In Cantor's case, they succeeded.

What does Trump do but take this anti-establishment fervor to its logical conclusion by lumping in his conservative naysayers with the Republican establishment? If so many of the Right's supposed allies are really quislings, why not the rest? Why not the ones standing in the way of the one guy, Trump, who can fix things?...The problem with Daveism is that it is fundamentally naive. Politics, especially little "d" democratic politics, are complicated and messy. Yes, there are special interests that pull the debate one way or the other, sometimes for rank, self-serving reasons. But one person's rank, self-serving reason is another person's enlightened self-interest. People will forever disagree over which is which.

Is a trade bill good or bad if it hurts one industry but helps another? Is a regulation that helps the environment but puts some businesses into bankruptcy worth it? What is the "correct" immigration policy and who gets to decide? Our political problems are difficult and divisive because they are. ... well, difficult and divisive.

Of course, nobody wants to hear that. And candidates who convincingly say they can make things better win political campaigns, whether they can follow through on that promise or not.

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Carl Cannon is also pondering the hubris of novice politicians thinking that they can start at the top.
I wish that Ben Carson, whom it’s impossible not to like, was running for the Senate. He’d be a standout.

I thought of this while watching Carson at his lectern last Wednesday. The backdrop at the picturesque Simi Valley library was worthy of Frank Capra—or Reagan image-maker Mike Deaver. Framing the camera shots behind the candidates was Air Force One, Reagan’s plane, now resting in the Reagan museum. Does Ben Carson fancy that he could actually fly that Boeing 707? Not ride in it: pilot the plane himself. Do Fiorina and Trump?

Or would any of the three political novices allow, say, Chris Christie or Jeb Bush, to perform brain surgery on them? The answer is: of course not. So why is politics the only profession in which it’s logical to start at the very top? Would Ben Carson advise an aspiring physician to skip medical school because he doesn’t like the way the nation’s health care system is run?

Sports fans will remember a pro football player named Ed “Too Tall” Jones, a star defensive lineman on the Dallas Cowboys for two stints: from 1974 through 1978 and again from 1980 through 1989. The hiatus came when Jones decided he wanted to be heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

Casual sports fans didn’t find it that far-fetched. At 6-foot-9 and 265 pounds of chiseled muscle, Jones looked like Adonis. He was a great athlete who’d played basketball in high school and boxed some as a teenage amateur. He was also smart and tough. But here’s the thing: Prize fighting is its own profession, with a long apprenticeship, to use a word that came up in the Reagan library debate. The people who succeed pay their dues and work at their craft for years.

In collusion with CBS Sports, boxing promoters found six palookas for Ed Jones to fight. He defeated them all, five by knockout, but the quality of the competition fooled no one. In the end, it didn’t mislead Too Tall, either. He returned to the Dallas Cowboys, finishing out a career that lasted long enough to play on teams quarterbacked by two legends: Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. Speaking of Staubach, he was so popular in his adopted home state of Texas that Republicans tried to get him to run for the Senate.

Staubach was in the midst of his second career—third, if you count the U.S. Navy—running a Dallas real estate firm he eventually sold for $613 million. With all that money, not to mention a Heisman Trophy and Super Bowl MVP award, Roger is a man even Donald Trump would concede is no “loser.” One reason is that he didn’t go into politics.

Jennifer Staubach Gates, one of his Roger’s four daughters, caught the bug, however. She won a seat on the Dallas City Council in 2013, and easily won re-election again this year. That’s how you succeed in politics. Call her The Apprentice.
Ben Carson demonstrated a bit of what happens to an amateur in politics. He got caught up up in the gotcha media game of being asked a no-win question about whether he'd ever support a Muslim for president. Instead of refusing to answer such an irrelevant question when there is no Muslim running now, he jumped right in.
“I do not believe Sharia is consistent with the Constitution of this country,” Carson said, referencing the Islamic law derived from the Koran and traditions of Islam. “Muslims feel that their religion is very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official, and that’s inconsistent with our principles and our Constitution.”

Carson said that the only exception he’d make would be if the Muslim running for office “publicly rejected all the tenets of Sharia and lived a life consistent with that.”

Doesn't Ben Carson believe that his religion is a part of his public life? He often talks about the influence of religion in his decisions. However, Carson's objection to a supporter of sharia law is legitimate, but he could have expressed it more fully. Perhaps, if he'd had more time he would have come up with a better answer as Bobby Jindal did.
“This is a dumb game that the press is playing. It is an absurd hypothetical question. But let’s indulge the media for a moment and play their gotcha game.

“If you can find me a Muslim candidate who is a Republican, who will fight hard to protect religious liberty, who will respect the Judeo-Christian heritage of America, who will be committed to destroying ISIS and radical Islam, who will condemn cultures that treat women as second class citizens and who will place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution, then yes, I will be happy to consider voting for him or her.

“If you can’t, I’ll settle for voting for a Christian Governor from Louisiana.”
Allahpundit adds in,
The left has its own version of this. They openly mock devoutly Christian Republican candidates as theocrats in the making, but question Obama’s faith and they’ll slap you with insistences that O himself is a man as devout in his Christian belief as any wingnut. If they really believed that, they’d fear an Obama theocracy too. But they don’t believe it. They’re comfortable with O because, they think, he doesn’t take his faith particularly seriously. Carson and Jindal are arguing the same way about Muslim candidates. Reassure that that candidate is about as Islamic as Obama is Christian and they’re okay with him....

Update: Here’s a bonus exit question for you. If Democrats are so open to voting for a Muslim candidate, why did Team Hillary think it was worth quietly circulating “Obama is a Muslim” rumors during the 2008 Democratic primaries? Weird that they’d think that might hurt him, no?
I feel like I've spent my adult life cringing for and defending Republican politicians who express themselves poorly. I fear that, with Ben Carson, this would happen over and over. We don't need days spent talking about Muslims and what they believe. We have too many other problems facing this country to be caught up in a hypothetical question about no actual Muslim politician.

Hillary has a new defense for accusations that she broke federal law with her private server to conduct official State Department business.
Clinton burst into laughter.

She kept up the giggling when asked about the chance that hackers from Russia or China broke into her server to glean national-security secrets. And then gave the lawyerly answer, “There’s no evidence of that.”

Well, not yet — the FBI’s only started looking for it, years after the breach might’ve occurred.

Anyway, Clinton went on: “This is, you know, this is overheated rhetoric, baseless charges trying to somehow, you know, gain a footing in the debate and in the primary. And it really doesn’t deserve any comment.”

Baseless charges? Yeah, the FBI makes it a habit to investigate those.
Facts already on the public record prove Clinton had top-secret info on that server. Two former CIA chiefs have faced prosecution for putting classified information on their home computers.
Somehow, laughing and bragging that there is no evidence of a crime does not sound very convincing.

Here's a question: "Why do refugees matter only after the Christians are dead?" There have been refugees coming out of the Middle East for a year now. Why is the world suddenly waking up to this crisis?
They offered a legal argument for accepting children fleeing the violence and called for individuals to start planning for refugees. They were not completely ignored. A few readers contacted me about details, and I helped connect a few doers with ideas. More personally, one of my church rectors provided some source verification and encouraged me to write more on the topic. When he invited the former bishop of Pakistan to speak to our congregation on living with terrorism, I wrote that up, too.

The terrible news was known in some Christian circles. That’s why the Arabic “N” started appearing in social media avatars. Like the Nazis marked Jewish property with a Star of David, ISIS marked Christian property with an N for Nazarene, a common slander for Christians, followers of Jesus of Nazareth.

I certainly wasn’t the only one writing. Just at The Federalist about six weeks after my “Don’t Close Your Eyes” piece, Mollie Hemingway published “Can We Finally Start Talking about Global Persecution of Christians?“ No, apparently not. In the spring, “60 Minutes” tried to make waves with a show about the Christian exodus from the region. It showed a grandfatherly bishop in tears over the destruction of buildings and irreplaceable texts that had survived so many other destruction attempts. Still, the public was quiet.

Among my set I mostly heard a passing “that’s so sad,” or a bunch of “my, aren’t you willing to tackle the controversial topics in public.” For 13 months, few normal folks seemed to care enough to act.

But now, we have a hashtag! That mark of modern activism. #Refugeeswelcome is notable because, unlike the other ones—think #heforshe, #bringbackourgirls, or any of the variations of #livesmatter—it does not solely instruct other people to do something. The “welcome” carries the implication that the tweeter might actually do something herself. Even so, that is a thin difference.

Most of the newly concerned do not appear to have given much consideration to nuance. Have they thought about why the Gulf States are not accepting refugees? Peggy Noonan noted the disconnect on this issue between the elite and common folk. On top of that gap, Americans have geography. A continent and an ocean lie between us and reality.

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Robert Rector explains how the United States does better with our social-welfare system than Europe does. The problem is that most analyses count only government expenditures.
Tomorrow, the U.S. Census Bureau will release its annual poverty report. Conventional wisdom holds that the U.S. has a small social-welfare system and far more poverty, compared with other affluent nations. But noted liberal scholars Irwin Garfinkel, Lee Rainwater, and Timothy Smeeding challenge such simplistic ideas in their book Wealth and Welfare States: Is America a Laggard or Leader?

Garfinkel and his colleagues examine social-welfare spending and poverty in rich nations. They define social welfare as having five components: health-care spending; education spending; cash retirement benefits; other government cash transfers such as unemployment insurance and the earned-income tax credit (EITC); and non-cash aid such as food stamps and public housing.

The authors find that in the U.S., social-welfare spending differs from that in other affluent countries because it draws heavily on both public and private resources. By contrast, in Europe, government controls most of the resources and benefits. For example, in the U.S., government health-care spending is targeted to elderly and low-income persons; the American middle and working classes rely primarily on employer-provided health insurance. The U.S. government health-care system is, therefore, more redistributive than the systems of most other developed nations.

Elderly middle-class Americans are also more likely to have private pensions than are Europeans. Middle-class parents in the U.S. pay for much of the cost of their children’s post-secondary education; in Europe, the government pays. Overall, in Europe, the upper middle class is heavily dependent on government benefits; in the U.S., it relies much more on its own resources.

But even setting aside the private sector, the U.S. still has a very large social-welfare system. In fact, among affluent nations, the U.S. has the third-highest level of per capita government social-welfare spending. This is striking given that government spending in the U.S. is more tightly targeted to benefit the poor and elderly.

When private-sector contributions to retirement, health care, and education are added to the count, social-welfare spending in the U.S. dwarfs that of other nations. In fact, social-welfare spending per capita in the U.S. rises to nearly twice the European average.
Read the rest. It is a different way of looking at social welfare.

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Neal Freeman looks at Donald Trump's business record since that is the main credential on which Trump is running.
Trump enjoyed success that he judged to be “fantastic” and made enough money to make him, again in his judgment, “really, really rich.” But then — imagine this — Donald got full of himself and expanded aggressively into areas where he was, let us say, part of the low-information crowd. Hotels, casinos, airlines. Things didn’t go quite as well in that phase. He got sued repeatedly and the bankruptcies began to pile up, at least four of them.

Bankruptcy is never fun. It ensnarls, generally speaking, three groups of people. The first group is the people who cobbled the deal together. For the most part, they put up only token money and, from the get-go, extract fees from the deal. Their risk is thus reputational: They survive financially, but may have trouble floating their next deal.

The second group is the vendors. They are the people who provide services to the dealmaker, everybody from the people who move the dirt and pour the concrete to the people who wax the floors and push the lunch carts. Think of them as the little people. They get stiffed.

The third group is the investors, the people who put no-kidding money into the deal, either as debt or as equity. Excepting the odd Asian or Arab pigeon, real-estate investors tend to be part of the high-information crowd. They know what’s going on, they don’t like it, they litigate fiercely over exit terms, and they take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Trump never stands still. In the next phase of his career, he either adopted a new business model or perhaps had one thrust upon him. He moved much less dirt while doing much more promotional work. He was no longer building buildings. He was building a brand. He put his name on development projects in which other people were making the deal, much in the way that, say, Mickey Mouse puts his name on a tourist attraction.

In the most recent phase of his career, Donald Trump has edged even further away from the real-estate business and, with typical gusto, has jumped into the business of being . . . Donald Trump. He has hawked Trump chocolates (no question, the best in the world). And Trump cologne (you should have your own series of leggy wives). And Trump dress shirts and cufflinks (c’mon, the least you can do is look rich). And Trump steaks (fantastic, and they’re huge). And Trump bottled water (fabulous, makes Perrier taste like horse water). It goes without saying, but perhaps it shouldn’t, that all of these products are made by somebody other than Donald Trump. He has become omnipresent in the marketing world, in some markets eclipsing the Mouse himself, and well on his way to becoming — what? — the Kim Kardashian of business?

Which leads us to the lingering question about Donald Trump’s fabled business career. Is he a Kim Kardashian–type success, a businessperson who earns an enormous income for being Kim Kardashian? Or is he more a Steve Jobs–type success, a man who has earned enormous wealth by providing a valuable product to the free marketplace? To put it more directly: Did Trump build assets of lasting value, the hallmark of a successful businessperson, or does he earn a big living for being famous — the hallmark of a celebrity?

The question for the credential inspector is this: Has Donald Trump added anything to his family’s wealth?

I don’t know the answer. Along with everybody else, I have the goo problem. But I know that Donald Trump likes to make deals. So how about this, Mr. Trump? If you open your books, I will hire a reputable accounting firm to determine, in constant dollars, a) Fred’s net worth the day he died and b) your net worth today. If we find that b) is greater than a), I and my associates will donate $100,000 to your favorite charity (excepting only Planned Parenthood, which I could not bring myself to support). Or if we find that a) is greater than b), you will donate $100,000 to my favorite charity, which I designate hereby as the National Review Institute.

Do we have a deal?