Thursday, October 29, 2015

Cruising the Web

What a night for picture-in-picture on the TV. I was mildly interested in the GOP debate, but deeply interested in watching the Spurs play OKC. I know that most people care about the World Series, but basketball is my thing and the Spurs are usually on too late for me to watch. Politicians talking about the economy...just can't compare to seeing the Spurs and the Thunder with Kevin Durant back on the floor. And Kawhi Leonard and Russell Westbrook are so very fun to watch when they're on their games as they were last night. Oh, and then there are papers I had to grade. So, priorities, priorities.

Except, after leading most of the game, San Antonio threw away the game in the last minute. That is what is so frustrating about watching a basketball game from the beginning to end. A team can lead for four quarters and then it all comes apart. Of course, if it is your team that stages the comeback, it can be so exciting.

There is a reason why the most memorable moments from the debate last night were when Rubio, Cruz, and Christie blasted the stupid questions. The media usually ask questions from the left at these things, but CNBC's hosts were just extraordinarily insulting. I don't like Trump, but there is no reason to ask a question about him being a comic-book campaign. All that does is give the journalist a temporary thrill to be so insulting, but it doesn't do anything to help voters decide if they should support a candidate or not. And he actually made Trump seem like a sympathetic figure.

Calling Rubio a "young man in a hurry" and asking him if he was mature enough to be president was also condescending and useless for voters. Rubio demonstrated why debate performances have helped Rubio become the leading candidate of the non-politician candidates. He was able to refute the premise of the questions. Then when Jeb Bush made the mistake of attacking Rubio about Rubio's voting record, Rubio was so prepared and slammed him.

The question to Carson blaming him for what a medical company for putting him on its website as if that is Carson's fault was stupid. Why not ask Carson about economics.

And one of the worst demonstrations of bias was John Harwood asking Rubio about his tax plan using a mistaken analysis. When Rubio called him about Harwood having had to retract this same fact before, Harwood laughed it off. But Rubio was exactly right. Harwood actually had had to tweet a correction to his story just two weeks ago. Maybe, like Trump, Harwood doesn't write his own tweets, especially when they're acknowledging an error.

Sean Davis has more on Harwood's totally dishonest question.
The night’s biggest loser, aside from everyone who suffered through watching the debate debacle, was CNBC moderator John Harwood, who blatantly and aggressively lied about the tax plan proposed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Harwood accused Rubio of offering a tax plan that was heavily tilted towards the rich. When Rubio corrected him and said that no, lower-income taxpayers receive a higher percentage of the plan’s benefits than rich taxpayers, Harwood repeatedly argued with him and declared that Rubio’s plan was just a big, fat giveaway to the wealthy 1 percent. Proving that his agenda was to push progressive talking points, not to offer debate questions that might lead to insightful answers, John Harwood swore up and down on live television that the conservative Tax Foundation backed up his assertion about Rubio’s tax plan.

Guess what? Harwood got his facts wrong. Very wrong. Embarrassingly wrong. We know this because Harwood himself [had] admitted as much on Twitter earlier in October...We also know Harwood was full of it, because the head of the Tax Foundation was forced to publicly correct Harwood on Twitter during the debate. Here’s what Scott Hodge, the president of the Tax Foundation, said about the main beneficiaries of Marco Rubio’s tax plan:
Of course, if Harwood later admits that he got this wrong or even tweets an apology, it will get only a small fraction of the attention as his mendacious question got last night.

Here is a montage of how Harwood phrased his questions in such an insulting manner.

CNBC's Becky Quick asked a question of Trump about his criticism of Mark Zuckerberg and Trump denied it. Quick didn't seem to know at the time that she'd gotten that right from his website. Shouldn't moderators know where they got the attack point from. And shouldn't Trump know his own plan and, at least, have a notion of what is on his own website?

Chris Christie was exactly right to slam the question about fantasy football when there are so many more severe problems facing the country. That totally deflated Bush's prior response to the question that had been asked him about fantasy football.

And Ted Cruz had the moment of the night slamming the journalists' "cage-match" questions. I thought it was impressive that Cruz could remember each question that had been asked and be able to summarize how awful it was in a short little riff on how ridiculous they were.

Rubio followed that with the line of the night calling the media the Democrats' "ultimate super PAC." I hope future debate moderators stop thinking that their job is to set the candidates against each other. They are not to cross-examine the candidates interrupting their answers instead simply asking questions.

Overall, Rubio and Cruz had the best nights. Trump seemed to disappear. When he's not attacking his GOP rivals, he fades away. Kasich seemed irritable and I can't remember anything the others said except Mike Huckabee talking about the government as a blimp. And Bush had an awful night. After his attempt to attack Rubio and his getting slapped back, he just faded away like Trump. That was exactly not what he needed to do. And as far as I could tell, Carson didn't have a memorable moment except in his response to the question about why he served on COSTCO's board since they have gay-friendly policies. He was able to explain that it is possible for him to believe in traditional marriage and still think that gays are guaranteed equal protection of the laws.

We didn't learn much about the candidates' economic policies, which CNBC had advertised as the focus of the debate. When the most memorable moments of the debate are when the candidates slammed the questions, it's not a good night for CNBC. But it did help both Rubio and Cruz because bashing the media is never a problem for Republican audiences. And those are the clips that will be played again and again. Not the answers about anyone's tax plans.

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We're starting to see more calls from conservative writers calling on Jeb Bush to drop out. Jonathan V. Last explained why Bush is doing so poorly.
The Bush hit on Rubio was obviously premeditated, so it wasn’t gaffe or a mistake. It was a revealing measure of his political talent and judgment. Let’s count the ways in which it was strategically ill-conceived and tactically incompetent:

1) He attacked Rubio not from a position of strength, but of weakness. “I’m a constituent and you’re not doing your job for me” is the personal complaint of a whiner. He looked like a disgruntled employee, not a leader.

2) He attacked Rubio on grounds of procedure and not substance. However important they might be, no one actually cares about voting absentee rates—the same way they don’t care about filibuster rules or the nuclear option. To think that this was the angle to blow up Rubio is insane.

3) As I said, Bush’s attack was almost certainly a pre-meditated set piece. Yet he didn’t have the political sense to see that Rubio was in a very good frame coming off of an answer where he beat the snot out of the moderators. Bush had no ability to read the scene and understand that it would have been better in that moment not to take the shot. He had a plan, so he robotically stuck to it.

4) On top of all of that, Bush didn’t understand that Rubio’s biggest concern at this point is being slotted as a tool of the establishment. Getting attacked by the establishment guy is the best luck Rubio could wish for. The only thing Bush accomplished is helping Rubio cross over, which will lift him in the polls, which will increase the donor pressure on Bush to drop out.

In sum: Bush’s attack on Rubio was both a tactical and strategic failure. His campaign is cooked.
It's not going to help Jeb any that his most memorable moment of the night was being schooled by Rubio.

Guy Benson agrees that Rubio and then Cruz had the best nights. Christie also does well in these settings.
He was poised. He was on-message. He was winsome. And he was granular in his policy knowledge. Another candidate whose star shone brightly was Ted Cruz. His early barrage against CNBC's coverage, listing every objectionable question that had already been asked, was perfection. He channeled every conservative sitting at home and shamed the moderators to their faces. Cruz was also strong on entitlement reform, smooth on job creation, and disciplined in introducing and hyping his new tax plan.

Chris Christie also turned in a strong performance, emphasizing necessary truth-telling on entitlements, routinely circling back to the broken promises and failures of big government, and producing this incredulous soundbyte on the unseriousness of the debate. An instant classic:
But Christie isn't going to catch up to the others.

Rubio also did well when he transitioned from his attack on the media as a super PAC for the Democrats to outlining exactly how Hillary had lied to the American people and families of victims and how that came out at the hearing that the media praised her for her performance. That's one of Rubio's strengths - he can take a question and turn it to launching into the argument he wants to make.

I think it hurts Trump that the main conversation after the debate is not about him, but about how Rubio and Cruz had breakout moments by attacking the CNBC moderators.

R. J. Lehmann has an interesting study looking at the New York Times and how it refers to Ben Carson and whether they use his title of "Dr." His examination reveals that the paper uses the title substantially fewer times than they refer to Jill Biden as Dr. Jill Biden using the title since she has a doctor of education degree. And, of course, Lynne Cheney, also the wife of a vice president with a PhD. was never given the title Dr. in the New York Times. Apparently, a doctorate earned by a Democrat's spouse is more meaningful than one earned by a Republican's. Newspaper have stylebook rules to take care of such things. But the NYT doesn't seem to be consistent in how they apply their rules. They would be doing better to have a rule such as the Wall Street Journal has to not use the title when they're talking about a doctor in a context other than a medical one.
When a medical doctor goes into politics, should he or she still be called Dr.?

As one of The Wall Street Journal’s copy-style editors, I know that readers sometimes wonder about this, and they write us.

First, some background: This issue arises because the Journal is among the relative few media outlets that uses an honorific at all before a person’s name on second reference (Mr., Miss, Dr., etc). In fact, we use Dr. even for those with Ph.D.s, if the individual desires it.

But when we talk about a doctor in a political context, we don’t use the Dr. title.

Why? Our stylebook says: “For those in politics, avoid using Dr. (as well as Rev. and Gen.) when the honorific has little or nothing to do with the political roles of the individuals involved.” For example, the book says, our style is: “Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a physician, has run for president twice.”
Perhaps the NYT could study their own stylebook and try to be consistent.

Melissa Harris-Perry who warned us yesterday that we shouldn't use the term "hard worker" because it reminds us of slaves and single mothers, apparently, uses the phrase quite frequently. Erik Wemple did the investigation. I guess it's only a problem if a Republican is the one calling someone a "hard worker."
Some clarification on just when guests on Harris-Perry’s show may reference hard workers appears to be in order, given the vague parameters laid out by the host. Yesterday this blog contacted MSNBC in search of an interview with Harris-Perry but was rebuffed. No comment.

Until we get further word, we’ll have to trust the record: When folks who share Harris-Perry’s ideology reference hard work, they’re fine. When a guy who doesn’t share Harris-Perry’s ideology references a top Republican’s hard work, he’s not so fine. “I think she saw me as the conservative on the panel and she let me have it,” Aguilar told this blog.

John Fund examines the role of Donald Trump's father in Trump's business history.
Trump became president of his father’s real-estate organization in 1974. His share of his father’s empire as one of five siblings was $40 million. As the National Journal has pointed out, If someone were to invest $40 million in a S&P 500 index in 1974, reinvest all dividends, and have to pay capital gains he’d wind up with about $3.4 billion in 2015. Trump claims to be worth over $10 billion but has admitted in a 2007 deposition he frequently exaggerates his wealth. Bloomberg currently puts it at $2.9 billion, while Forbes puts it at $4 billion. So Trump’s actual wealth probably is about as much as he would have accumulated if he had taken his dad’s money and put it into an index fund.

Trump’s father Fred relied on machine politicians in Brooklyn and Queens to grease the skids for many of his government-financed projects, which may explain his son’s frequent references to making elected officials do whatever he wants them to do. He has often bragged about his ability to “convince” public officials to give him tax abatements and generous subsidies. Not to mention his extensive use of eminent domain to clear out troublesome tenants to make way for his projects.

Trump’s family wealth has often propped him up in times of trouble. As Timothy O’Brien of the New York Times reported in a 2005 look at Trump’s net worth, Trump asked for a $10 million loan against his inheritance to bolster his position when he almost went out of business in the early 1990s. His siblings, who had a stake in the pool of money that would be inherited, grudgingly agreed. A year later, he asked for $20 million more. Trump claims O’Brien’s account is bogus. What isn’t disputed is that after Trump was dropped from the Fortune 400 in 1990 when his casino and other properties were in trouble, his father stepped in. Fred Trump bought $3.5 million in Trump Castle Casino Resort chips, which he never put on any gaming tables. Later, the maneuver was determined to be illegal and the Trump casino had to pay a fine.

Donald Trump has had his share of business success, and employs many people at good wages. But he is no miracle worker, and his methods in accumulating wealth often reek of crony capitalism.

“It takes brains to make millions,” was the slogan of Donald Trump’s 1989 board game. “It takes Trump to make billions.” But as we will see, just how many billions Trump has made and just how he used his brains to make them are still a legitimate question.

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Ken Silverstein has a detailed report about the Clinton Foundation's "shady accounting."
[T]he foundation portrays itself as do-gooder nonprofit organization but a cursory look reveals questionable and incomplete disclosures of its activities and accounts, as well as incredible misspending of donor money, virtually since its inception....

However, the problems appear set to catch up with the foundation (now formally known as the Bill, Hillary, & Chelsea Clinton Foundation), which has until November 16 to amend more than ten years’ worth of state, federal and foreign filings. According to Charles Ortel, a financial whistleblower, it will be difficult if not impossible for the foundation to amend its financial returns without acknowledging accounting fraud and admitting that it generated substantial private gain for directors, insiders and Clinton cronies, all of which is against the law under an IRS rule called inurement.

While inurement may sound obscure to the layman, it’s an ancient legal principle and the IRS is very clear that it is verboten. If you are familiar with it, it becomes immediately clear that Bill Clinton – and arguably Hillary and daughter Chelsea as family members and fellow Clinton Foundation trustees – could have big problems come November 16....

“It’s illegal to set up a foundation whose primary purpose is to create financial gain,” said Ortel – who helped expose massive financial fraud by GE, GM and AIG,... “That’s bright line illegal.” (Ortel wrote an article at earlier which showed how “associates of Bill and Hillary Clinton may have attempted to monetize their participation in Clinton family philanthropic activities.”)

Ortel, a former managing director of Dillon, Read & Co, said that under New York law tax authorities don’t have to show criminal intent to get convictions against foundation officials, they need only show that the foundation filed materially misleading financial information and kept fundraising nonetheless. "The essence of what a charity does is take your money and show you how they spend it,” he told me. “The Clinton Foundation takes your money and obscures how they spend it.” (Note that the Clinton Foundation only started disclosing its donors in 2008, in response to years of pressure.)

....Ortel is hardly alone in raising questions about the Clinton Foundation’s accounting practices. Earlier this year, the watchdog group Charity Navigator put the Clinton Foundation on its “watch list” of dubious non-profit groups and politely described its business practices as “atypical.” A New York Post story about the development noted that in 2013 the family’s foundation “took in more than $140 million in grants and pledges in…but spent just $9 million on direct aid.”
The allegations against the Foundation are lengthy and complex. Of course, if the media ignore the entire story it won't make any difference.

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I remember when liberals cared about human rights abroad. But now, if it's Iran, they are silent.
Iran is on track to execute more than 1,000 people in 2015, according to a scathing report from a United Nations analyst studying the rogue nation's actions.

Calling it an "unprecedented assault on the right to life in Iran," Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed described a surge in executions over the past year. He said Iran hanged nearly 700 people since January.

Shaheed said that within the past two weeks, the Islamic Republic violated international law by hanging two juvenile offenders. He added, "there are dozens more waiting a similar fate on death row." Shaheed said most people who face death are nonviolent drug offenders.

Human rights groups have long criticized Iran for flaunting international laws in its treatment of locals and foreign journalists. Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter and dual U.S.-Iranian citizen, has been detained in Iran for 14 months and was recently convicted on charges that include espionage. He reportedly faces up to 20 years in prison.

The U.S. government, the Post and rights groups have criticized Iran's handling of the case and called for his release. Shaheed said most journalists face severe punishments simply for reporting or airing out their views. He said some in Iran face death sentences for posting other news articles on social media.

At the end of last year, at least 30 journalists were held in Iranian prisons, including Rezaian, according the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Others have been detained since, and in August state media accused a senior Wall Street Journal reporter who once served as a correspondent in Iran of conspiring against the government. The Journal called the claims "completely false, outlandish and irresponsible."
I remember the concerns that so many shared in the 1960s and 1970s for prisoners of conscience in the Soviet Union and how their stories were featured regularly in the media. But there seems to be very little agitation over Iran's inhumane policies. And it's nice that the UN is reporting on Iran's violations of human rights, but just last year Iran got seats on some important UN committees on human rights such as the Commission on the Status of Women and on another UN committee that oversees NGOs. And Iran's record didn't stop the UN members from high-fiving each other over the toothless deal on nuclear arms with Iran. Katie Pavlich writes,
When the White House was trying to sell the Iranian nuclear deal to the American people earlier this year, Press Secretary Josh Earnest and President Obama repeatedly argued that Iran's bad behaviors could not be solved or linked to the deal, regardless of the regime's funding of terrorism against the United States and Israel, imprisonment of Americans on bogus charges, or extreme levels of execution for "crimes" committed inside the country.... These are the same tyrants the Obama administration has just handed a nuclear deal that is beneficial not to the civilized world, but to empowering the barbarity inside Iran.

Glenn Reynolds posts about the Obama administration's record on Iraq. He revisits the bragging that they were doing in 2010 about what a major success for the President. He reminds us of what the situation was in Iraq when Obama took office and the decisions he made that have contributed to the situation we're seeing now as well in Syria and Libya.
Yes, I keep repeating this stuff. Because it bears repeating. In Iraq, Obama took a war that we had won at a considerable expense in lives and treasure, and threw it away for the callowest of political reasons. In Syria and Libya, he involved us in wars of choice without Congressional authorization, and proceeded to hand victories to the Islamists. Obama’s policy here has been a debacle of the first order, and the press wants to talk about Bush as a way of protecting him. Whenever you see anyone in the media bringing up 2003, you will know that they are serving as palace guard, not as press.

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Is the fact that Ben Carson doesn't believe in Darwnin's theory of evolution disqualifying for any position, even Surgeon General? Jeff Jacoby makes the argument that it shouldn't matter. I hadn't known that C. Everett Koop was skeptical of Darwinism. Maybe it would matter if he were nominated for Secretary of Education, but I don't see why it should matter for Surgeon General. And on my list of concerns about Carson for president has many entries, but his thoughts on evolution don't make the list.

Donald Trump is going through the five stages of grief over his poll numbers.