Thursday, October 08, 2015

Cruising the Web

Ed Morrissey ponders what the race would look like without Donald Trump. Trump thinks that the race would become boring and TV ratings would plummet. But that doesn't mean that the other GOP candidates would lose public support.
In the end, voters want elections to focus on their lives. They want to know about solutions to their issues, how their personal and local economies will improve with a particular candidate, and feel as though a candidate has an emotional connection to their situations. Especially in some of the key areas in which the GOP must compete to win the general election, voters want to see a pragmatic problem-solver. Donald Trump is an ideologue. Without him, the 2016 GOP race might be one that actually focuses on the things mainstream voters want to hear.

The bench in this cycle has too much talent to let that desire go unmet for long. A Trump exit might refocus the GOP on the need to win a broader range of voters by focusing on solutions-based governance and optimism about the nation's prospects. That might not be a ratings grabber for the cable news networks, but it would give the Republican Party a better chance to compete in November 2016.

Ilya Somin refutes the fantasies that Donald Trump was peddling about eminent domain being so good for those whose property is taken because they get "a fortune for that property. Those people can move two blocks away into a much nicer house."
that victims of eminent domain get compensated by the government. But Trump’s claim that they get “a fortune” and can then “go buy a house now that’s five times bigger, in a better location” is, in the vast majority of cases, simply false. If it were true, people would be happy to have their homes condemned. It also isn’t true that victims of takings can usually just “move two blocks away into a much nicer house.” Since World War II, urban renewal takings and other condemnations for private development have forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of people, most of whom were left far worse off than they were before.

In reality, owners of condemned property often don’t even get the “fair market value” that the government is required to pay them by law. And fair market value compensation (essentially, the price the property would bring if sold on the open market), itself often systematically undercompensates property owners, because it fails to account for the “subjective value” that many owners attach to their land. Homeowners, renters, and small business people often value their land above its market price because they benefit from the social ties, business connections, and other intangible advantages of living in a particular area. If they really did value the property at only its market price or less, they would likely have sold it long before Trump or some other developer lobbied the government to condemn it. For this reason, numerous economists and legal scholars across the political spectrum have argued that compensation for takings should be increased above market value. Some states have adopted this reform, but most so far have not.

Trump is also wrong to suggest that the use of eminent domain for private projects typically results in “massive development that’s going to employ thousands of people.” In reality, these projects are often pushed through on the basis of grossly inflated estimates of the economic benefits, which then fail to materialize. In the notorious condemnation project upheld by the Supreme Court in the famous case Kelo v. City of New London (2005), the only “development” on the condemned property so far consists of improvised shelters for the feral cats who have settled on the land. Trump himself is no stranger to inflated estimates of the benefits of takings. In 1994, he lobbied the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut to condemn five small businesses so he could build an office and entertainment complex that he absurdly claimed would turn Bridgeport into a “national tourist destination.” In the long run, one of the best ways to promote economic development is to respect property rights, a lesson cities such as Detroit have learned the hard way.
But it's not a surprise that Trump would support a policy that would help his own business. He's all about himself and seems to have no understanding of why people might be attached to their own property beyond just dollars and cents. Maybe if you're the son of a multi-millionaire, you don't grow up having personal attachments to the house you grew up in or where you raised your family, but a lot of people do and don't want to be kicked out of their home just because some company promises the government future profits and an increased tax base.

Jim Geraghty advances the hypothesis that Republicans have very good reasons to be so angry about this president's actions.
Mickey Kaus characterizes the approach as “gaslighting” -- giving your opponent a legitimate reason to get angry, then turning around and pointing to their anger as evidence they’re unhinged, obsessed, incapable of governing responsibly, et cetera.

President Obama made clear he refuses to be a lame duck; instead, the passage of the 2014 midterms only liberated him from worrying about what the public thinks.

An executive-order amnesty, enacting an Iran deal opposed by a bipartisan majority of the Senate, even renaming Mount McKinley -- Obama’s charging ahead with everything that was too controversial before Obama’s reelection campaign or the midterm elections. Two years after negotiating the end of 18 percent of the Bush tax cuts -- about $624 billion -- Obama proposed $320 billion in new tax hikes. The White House later indicated the president was “very interested” in exploring the option of raising taxes through executive action.

Free community college? Hey, it’s never going to become law, so why not propose it and make Republicans look mean for not enacting it? Goofing around with a selfie stick? Go right ahead. Chewing gum at an international summit? Hey, what are they going to do, impeach him?

In this atmosphere, it’s no wonder Republicans are furious. A midterm election victory that was supposed to constrain President Obama’s ability to enact his agenda has only emboldened and liberated him.

Most Republican presidential candidates find themselves caught between their anger at the president’s constant provocations and blatant disregard for the Constitution’s separation of powers and the limited number of acceptable ways to show that anger. The insanely imbalanced media landscape ensures that almost any expression of Democratic anger is portrayed as justified (or ignored if it’s too obviously outrageous) while almost any Republican expression of anger is portrayed as irrational, deep-seated hatred.

If Hillary Clinton compares Republicans to “terrorist groups” or suggests they want to round up people and put them in “boxcars,” it’s a one-day controversy at most.

Meanwhile, if Joe Wilson yells out “you lie” when the president lies during an address to Congress, it’s the only thing anyone remembers about him. When Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito mouthed “not true” in response to President Obama’s attack on the decision at the State of the Union Address, the New York Times lamented Alito “broke with decorum.” (Mischaracterizing the Citizens United decision and denouncing the court justices sitting in the front row breaks from decorum, too.)

If anything, President Obama’s denunciation of his opposition is only getting fiercer and more incendiary. Thursday night, as the country recoiled from a horrific shooting at an Oregon community college, President Obama rushed to the cameras to contend that those who opposed with his preferred gun-control laws bore some of the responsibility.

“This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America,” Obama said. “We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.”

Imagine if President Bush’s first address after the 9/11 attacks denounced President Clinton and his supporters for not taking al-Qaeda seriously for the previous years, and that the rise of al-Qaeda was a “political choice” and that the deaths were a result of “our inaction.” (links in original)

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So Hillary totally flipped her position on the Pacific trade agreement. Is this the sort of authenticity that fools Democratic voters?
This is supposed to be the year when voters want authenticity in a candidate, but Hillary Clinton seems determined to test that proposition. On Wednesday President Obama’s former Secretary of State came out against her former boss’s Pacific trade agreement only two days after it was completed.

Mrs. Clinton was asked on PBS’s NewsHour whether the trade deal is “something you could support?”

Her reply: “What I know about it, as of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it. And there is one other element I want to make, because I think it’s important. Trade agreements don’t happen in a vacuum, and in order for us to have a competitive economy in the global marketplace, there are things we need to do here at home that help raise wages. And the Republicans have blocked everything President Obama tried to do on that front. So for the larger issues, and then what I know, and again, I don’t have the text, we don’t yet have all the details, I don’t believe it’s going to meet the high bar I have set.”

So she hasn’t seen the agreement’s text, and can’t speak to the details, but she’s against the deal because Republicans who haven’t held the White House in seven years haven’t raised wages.

Mrs. Clinton previously called the Pacific pact the “gold standard in trade agreements,” and as recently as her memoir in 2014 she praised it as “important for American workers who would benefit from competing on a more level playing field.” At State she took a leading role in promoting the pact and in January 2013 said that “I think the Trans-Pacific Partnership is one way that could really enhance our relationship” with Japan. She supported Nafta and she backed the trade deal with South Korea, but now she’s had a change of heart—or should we say soul.

Perhaps Mrs. Clinton is anticipating Joe Biden getting into the race and wants to carve out space to his populist left. But she really must think voters are dunces.

It wasn't just the Russians who were targeting Clinton's email server.
Hillary Clinton's private email server, which stored some 55,000 pages of emails from her time as secretary of state, was the subject of attempted cyberattacks originating in China, South Korea and Germany after she left office in early 2013, according to a congressional document obtained by The Associated Press.

While the attempts were apparently blocked by a "threat monitoring" product that Clinton's employees connected to her network in October 2013, there was a period of more than three months from June to October 2013 when that protection had not been installed, according to a letter from Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. That means her server was possibly vulnerable to cyberattacks during that time.
So how did all these hackers know about her server when our own government seemed oblivious?

Finally, some good news for Israel.
After Israel complained for years that it was surrounded by oil-rich states but didn’t have a drop within its own borders, it appears there’s a big-time turnaround with the announcement Wednesday that massive oil reserves have been located in the Golan Heights,close to the country’s border with Syria.

Afek Oil and Gas, an Israeli subsidiary of the U.S. company Genie Energy, confirmed the find in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 TVbut conceded that until the oil is actually extracted, they won’t be sure of the actual amounts and quality of the oil that has been discovered.

“We are talking about a strata which is 350 meters thick and what is important is the thickness and the porosity,” the company’s chief geologist, Yuval Bartov, explained. “On average in the world, strata are 20-30 meters thick, so this is ten times as large as that, so we are talking about significant quantities. The important thing is to know the oil is in the rock and that's what we now know.”

“There is enormous excitement,” Bartov said. “It's a fantastic feeling. We came here thinking maybe yes or maybe no, and now things are really happening.”

According to a September 2014 Times of Israel report on the Golan exploration, Genie Energy is chaired by Howard Jonas and counts among its more notable investors the “former US Vice President Dick Cheney, Michael Steinhardt, Jacob Rothschild, and Rupert Murdoch.”

Experts say actually extracting meaningful quantities of oil from the deposits is likely some time away. Some have suggested that while the find could be very significant, the announcement might have as much to do with the share price of the exploration company as the actual certainty that oil will be produced at the site.

The other key consideration in the development of the potential oil feed is its close proximity to the vicious fighting taking place just over the border in neighboring Syria, where ISIS and other jihadi organizations had been battling the Syrian forces of President Assad and his Iran-backed allies Lebanon-based Hezbollah even before Russia’ recent entry into the regional conflict.

Most recent rocket strikes into Israel’s Golan territory have generally been declared stray fire by the Israel Defense Forces, but regional experts point out that the potential costs and challenges of protecting future oil fields so close to the war zone, as well as the large target it would provide for enemy fire, could prove challenging should the project indeed come to fruition and provide the Jewish state –where a reported 270,000 barrels of oil are consumed daily - with its own source of ‘black gold’.

A license to drill in the area was initially issued in April 2013 within an area of nearly 98,000 acres -approximately a third of the Golan itself - but a series of appeals to the Israeli courts by organizations such as the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel and Greenpeace, put all development of the site on hold until a December 2014 ruling gave the green light for drilling.
As typical for the region, any good news is tempered by the though of how it might precipitate more violent attacks.

Is this any surprise to anyone about an Obama administration official?
A State Department official closely involved in the Obama administration’s Iran push has been promoting publications from anti-Semitic conspiracy sites and other radical websites that demonize American Jewish groups and Israel, according to sources and documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Alan Eyre, the State Department’s Persian-language spokesman and a member of the negotiating delegation that struck a nuclear deal with Iran earlier this year, has in recent months disseminated articles that linked American-Jewish skeptics of the deal to shadowy financial networks, sought to soften the image of Iranian terrorists with American blood on their hands, and linked deal criticism to a vast “neoconservative worldview.”

Eyre described the one article, penned by the anti-Israel conspiracy theorist Stephen Walt, as having an “interesting thesis.”

Insiders who spoke to the Free Beacon about Eyre’s private postings pointed to a pattern of partisanship and called it a sign that key officials at the State Department are biased against the state of Israel. Such criticism has dogged the team Obama since the early days of the administration.

Eyre regularly briefed U.S. officials at the negotiating table and was responsible for proofreading draft texts of the recent Iranian nuclear agreement.

While Eyre has a public Facebook page officially sponsored by the State Department, screenshots taken from his private personal account obtained by the Free Beacon include content that insiders described as concerning.

In one Feb. 13 posting, when Iran talks were at a critical stage, Eyre disseminated a link to an article praising Iranian Quds Force Chief Ghassem Suleimani, who is directly responsible for the deaths of Americans abroad.

Fox News reports on the claims of a whistleblower who claims that the Obama administration deliberately downplayed facts about terrorism in the Middle East in Obama's first administration in order to paint a rosier picture of how things were going with Obama's policies.

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This is really amazing - Gallup isn't going to poll the primaries and maybe won't poll the general election. I guess they figure that they can't fix the problems that led them to blow the 2012 election so they're just giving up. INstead they'll poll about issues and ask for opinions of the candidates instead of horserace questions. I'm not sure who cares about such questions. But given all the problems figuring out the proper sample at this point, at least they're being honest in admitting they don't know what they're doing or how to fix it. I still half suspect that the polls this time around are going to turn out to have been pretty useless in predicting actual votes since no one can truly estimate who is going to turn out this time to vote. But that won't stop us from poring over each new poll trying to divine what is going on.

Of course, relying on polls becomes even more problematic when the GOP relies on polls to decide who gets into the prime-time debate and who has to debate at the kids' table.
For Republican presidential candidates this year, making it into the primetime debates rather than the undercard events for lower-polling aspirants has been the difference between success or failure. Just ask John Kasich, whose campaign was materially helped by his inclusion in the first debate in Cleveland, or Rick Perry, who was fatally damaged by not making the cut. Even the possibility of a demotion helped end Scott Walker's once-promising and well-funded (at the super PAC level, at least) candidacy.

Republicans needed some way of sorting a field of sixteen or seventeen candidates in a way that would allow for a reasonable exchange of ideas. But the low-polling contenders who complain that the networks' standards seem a bit arbitrary, especially since they are based on national polls rather than surveys of the states that will actually award the delegates, have a point.

Polls that may be getting less accurate are being asked to do more to help winnow the field and influence the process. Even insofar as these polls are right, they are just snapshots in time. The results this early out are subject to change. Just ask Presidents Giuliani, Bachmann and Cain. In Donald Trump, we now have a candidate whose strong performance in the polls is a core part of his campaign stump speech.

Eugene Volokh writes on how there is zero correlation between state-level homicide rates and state gun laws.
Now of course this doesn’t prove that gun laws have no effect on total homicide rates. Correlation, especially between just two variables, doesn’t show causation.

Perhaps there are other confounding factors (such as demographics, economics, and so on). Perhaps even controlling for those factors, there will be other missing factors that are hard to control for — for instance, maybe as the crime rate increases, calls for gun controls increase, so high crime causes more gun restrictions, or maybe calls for more freedom to defend oneself increase, so high crime causes fewer gun restrictions (e.g., liberalized concealed-carry licensing rules). And of course when small changes in the model yield substantial changes in results (e.g., if you calculate the state gun scores differently, the results will likely be different), you know how little you should credit the output. Figuring out the actual effect of government actions, whether gun laws, changed policing rules, drug laws, or anything else, is devilishly difficult.

But since people have been talking about simple two-variable correlations between gun laws and crime, I thought it would be helpful to note this correlation — or, rather, absence of correlation.
Well, why would they give up an argument even if there is no basis in fact?

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James Taranto has a lot of fun ridiculing a Matt Yglesias essay at Vox celebrating Hillary's personal biography of skirting the law because that means she would be a strong dictator of a president willing to ignore a Republican Congress to accomplish liberal goals.
Yglesias imagines that as president, Mrs. Clinton would be a kind of benevolent dictator—in his words, “an iron fist.” With Republicans likely to retain their congressional majorities, “she’ll push executive power in somewhat unorthodox ways in pursuit of an agenda conservatives hate.” (He worries, though, that her foreign policy may be uncongenial to liberals.)

“She truly is the perfect leader for America’s moment of permanent constitutional crisis,” he exults: “a person who cares more about results than process, who cares more about winning the battle than being well-liked, and a person who believes in asking what she can get away with rather than what would look best.”

“One of my longtime rules in politics is that all procedural arguments are insincere, including this one,” as Michael Barone has observed. Those who came of political age in the 1970s and 1980s have at times found it disorienting to see liberals champion executive power at Congress’s expense. Back then, they argued the opposite. But of course then they controlled Congress, while Republican presidents were the norm. They flipped when that did—but then so did conservatives, in the opposite direction. And liberal arguments for a strong executive don’t seem novel at all to anyone who’s studied the Progressive and New Deal eras.

Anyway, Yglesias can’t be accused of hypocrisy. He’s quite clear that it is the left-wing ideological ends that justify Mrs. Clinton’s questionable means. If two years from now he is inveighing against President Rubio’s outrageous power grabs, that will be entirely consistent with his fantasies about Mrs. Clinton.

Yet Yglesias’s argument is dubious even on its own terms. Consider the objectives of those past norm-busting behaviors he lauds: The cattle-futures scam was for her personal enrichment. The 2000 Senate race and 2008 gaming of the nomination process were for her personal ambition. The illicit email server was, by her own account, for her personal “convenience.” Other motives have been suggested—to evade public-records laws, to conceal corrupt dealings between the State Department and the Clinton Foundation—none of which are ideological.

The only example whose objective was ideological was her nepotistic role as chairman of “a policymaking committee in her husband’s White House.” That would be the Task Force on National Health Care Reform, which put forward an ambitious plan. It died in a Democrat-controlled Congress. That is, the effort ended in failure—as, one hardly need mention, did her 2008 nomination campaign.

It’s possible that somebody else would have succeeded in the health-reform effort. It’s probable that New York would have sent a liberal Democrat to the Senate had Mrs. Clinton forgone the race. It’s a fact that a liberal Democrat went to the White House in 2009 (although Yglesias faults President Obama for being too respectful of political norms until recently). On the whole, one could argue that Mrs. Clinton’s efforts have done more to retard than to advance the liberal project.

As for the email decision, Mrs. Clinton herself has repeatedly acknowledged—in what the media erroneously term her “apologies”—that it backfired badly. To say that the consequences for her have been anything but convenient is an understatement. If her purpose was concealment, the result has been more exposure—not to mention the possibility of criminal exposure. If the reports are accurate, she didn’t even succeed in deleting those 30,000 or so “personal” emails to the point of unrecoverability.

If you are the sort who longs to be ruled by a dictator, wouldn’t you at least want it to be a competent dictator?

In addition—and we say this with the caveat that the following observation may be vulnerable to Barone’s dictum—there are costs to violating political norms even when it seems expedient to do so. To take an example from early in Obama’s presidency, the Democrats’ aberrant exertions on behalf of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act produced a legislative victory but not a political one.

Past expansions of the welfare state—Social Security, Medicare, even Medicaid—were passed with popular and bipartisan support and have proved politically resilient even against marginal reforms. ObamaCare could easily fall apart once Obama is out of office. As we noted last week, Mrs. Clinton is already calling for repeal of a key provision, the so-called Cadillac tax on employer-provided benefits.

The yearning for a strongman in the White House is part of the left’s crisis of authority, about which we wrote in a May 2013 column. (As an aside, a parallel observation may be made about the right and its flirtation with Donald Trump.) Authority in a constitutional republic requires not only political power but legitimacy, which rests upon those political norms Yglesias so eagerly traduces. And the liberal project of expanding the scope of government is especially threatened by the undermining of the government’s legitimacy.
I still am enough of a naive civics teacher to be horrified that intelligent people are actually discussing the benefits of an authoritarian president.

Why we should be even more impressed that prison inmates defeated Harvard's debate team.
To prepare for the competition, the inmates, members of Bard’s Prison Initiative, were forced to acquire knowledge the old-fashioned way: Without access to the Internet, according to the Wall Street Journal. In 2015, can you seriously imagine preparing for anything — purchasing a movie ticket, looking up directions or researching basically anything — without going online?

Complicating their challenge, the Journal noted, was the fact that research requests for books and articles had to be approved by the prison administration, something that could take weeks.

Consider that for a moment: Weeks, not minutes or even days — and all while attempting to map out a research strategy that hinged upon institutional approval. If debate is equal parts rhetorical flourish and strategy, it’s worth asking whether circumstance forced the prisoners to devise an approach — in which limited resources demanded sharper focus and more rigorous planning — that resulted in superior lines of argumentation.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry speculates at The Week how Ben Carson could actually win the presidency. His advice to Carson is to tone down the crazy, adjust his tax plan, and play up his biography.
Firstly, obviously, Carson's race scrambles the cards in frankly unknowable ways. The big question mark of Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy is whether an old rich white person can hold together Obama's "rainbow coalition" of minorities and downwardly-mobile Americans (with a splash of HENRYs) — an African-American GOP candidate obviously makes that an even trickier situation. Maybe African-American voters will just perceive Ben Carson as the same old Republican package in a new box, especially if Carson's rhetoric on race stays just as conservative, and still pull for the Democratic candidate in such overwhelming numbers. Maybe.

But as writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates have pointed out, there are lots of African-Americans who actually agree with conservative talking points about welfare and black culture and fatherlessness; they vote for the Democratic Party because they perceive the GOP as structurally opposed to their interests, even though they might agree with it more on the merits. What's more, Ben Carson was extremely popular in the African-American community for decades on account of his life story, before he became a Tea Party darling. A Republican candidate doesn't need a majority of African-American votes to make the Electoral College unwinnable for the Democratic candidate, just a large-enough minority. It's not at all crazy to imagine that Carson might pull it off.

Secondly, imagine if Ben Carson had a smart political and image consultant, and imagine if Ben Carson really wanted to run a disciplined presidential campaign that aimed to win, rather than promote his books.

Carson might get a new tax plan and defend it with something like, "I still believe my original tax plan is the best tax plan, and I think it's important to get the conversation moving, but I also realize that I need to get a tax plan that can pass Congress."

More importantly, Carson would understand that presidential campaigns are won with narrative as much as substance, and that even though his substance is out of the mainstream, his narrative is absolute gold. His personal story is, of course, enormously impressive. His religiosity — as long as he doesn't wear it on his sleeve too much or make easily demonizable statements — is an asset. And, as has been noted, the anti-establishmentarian mood extends well beyond the GOP itself, and the contrast between a non-politician and Hillary Clinton, the ultimate insider, who hasn't driven a car since 1996, is easily drawn. If Carson makes the campaign about his own narrative, allying his personal story with the broader one of "we the people" wresting power away from the political elite and the K Street-Wall Street nexus, that is a compelling pitch indeed.

In that case, to circle back to Carson's most out-of-the-mainstream views, he has an easy response to Clinton's predictable lines of attack ("He's too out of the mainstream"; "He's just a puppet of the same old extremist Republicans"); he can simply laugh them off as yet another facet of the same-old Washington politics that he's running to replace. Would that defeat all the attacks? Of course not. Might it blunt them enough to give him an Electoral College squeaker? Possibly!

Political analysts have noted that one of the key factors in Barack Obama's 2012 victory was his "grand bet" to spend inordinate amounts of money in the summer, before the traditional spending splurge in the fall, attacking Mitt Romney as a rapacious, heartless businessman, and thereby defining him in the mind of voters. Carson might pursue the opposite "grand bet": spending inordinate money early to define himself on the basis of his narrative, a narrative conspicuously more attractive than Clinton's narrative of constant lying and shenanigans and careerism.