Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Cruising the Web

David Graham an interesting essay in The Atlantic about how President Obama's use of the phrase "the wrong side of history" dovetails with what historiographers call the whiggish view of history. That view originally referred to British historians who looked as all of English history leading up to the triumph of Parliamentarian government in the Glorious Revolution. The theory was that history moved in an upward sweep towards a better goal. And it matches up with Karl Marx's view of a historical dialectic leading to a perfect socialist triumph.
But the fallacy recurs occasionally, and Obama seems to have fallen into it. If history is on a trajectory toward perfection, it follows that there can be a right and a wrong side of history. Needless to say, no one wants to believe they are on the wrong side of history, not least a national leader. Because this whiggish view depends on the expectation of progress, liberal politicians are more susceptible to it than their conservative brethren. It corresponds with a Marxian view of human progress, and it seems to have arisen from the progressive press, according to Ben Yagoda’s research.
Graham points to some conservatives who adopted a similar approach looking at the West's victory in the Cold War.
Obama’s position represents a different sort of abdication, a chance to write off the hard work of politics—both enacting policies and trying to bring skeptics around to his position. If he’s on the right side of history, why bother? Everything’s coming his way anyway. One narrative of the Obama presidency is about a man who came to power promising to change the way Washington worked, and who—despite an impressive list of concrete achievements—found himself unable to meaningfully change the D.C. M.O. It turns out that bending the cost curve is easier than bending the arc of history. Frustrated in his ability to rework the system, Obama and his team seem to have chosen to withdraw on some issues, and trust to the passage of time; he has invoked “the right side of history” more often in his second term than in his first.
One complaint that many of us have with this "right-side-of-history" rhetoric is because it seems to assume that we need do little and history will eventually come out on the right side as if the bad guys never triumph. Anyone who has ever studied history knows that that is not true. History often moves in pendulum swings that don't lead, as Marx hypothesized, to an eventual desired end, but just to more tragedies demanding more from the rest of us.
Theologians have wrestled with the problem of evil for centuries: How can a benevolent God allow terrible things to happen? There may be no single, satisfying answer to that question, but there are many suggested resolutions. The whig interpretation of history is, like religion, a faith-based system of belief, but it’s much less equipped to deal with misfortune. Perhaps ISIS’s barbarism proves that they are on the wrong side of history—but what if, terrifyingly, it’s evidence that they are on the right side of history, and Western civilization is on the wrong? Luckily, there’s an easy way to sidestep the dilemma: relegating the whig interpretation to the dustbin of history. Now that would be progress.

Hillary really should learn some math. Now she's telling crowds that she " wouldn’t keep any school open that wasn’t doing a better-than-average job." Unless every school district is like Lake Wobegon, that means that, by definition, she wants to close 50% of all schools in the country. IShe seems to be a mathematical illiterate. And just where does she think that the president would get such power? And what do her pals in the NEA think about such a boast? Imagine if Rick Perry or George W. Bush had said something as mathematically dumb as that? like that? The illuminati elite would have been laughing for a decade. They're still feeling superior over Bush's pronunciation of "nuclear."

For all the contempt that conservatives have (rightly) aimed at the omnibus spending bill, there was one excellent provision in it. It maintained the limits on the risk corridor provisions on Obamacare.
t requires the law’s “risk corridor” program to remain budget neutral. This is far more dangerous to the “Affordable Care Act” than most observers realize.

Specifically, it thwarts the Obama administration’s plan to indiscriminately use taxpayer funds to revive Obamacare’s moribund insurance exchanges. These “marketplaces” are facing extinction because they have failed to hit their enrollment goals and the individuals who have signed up are far sicker, on average, than expected. Thus, insurers selling coverage through the exchanges are incurring unsustainable losses. Obamacare’s risk corridor program is a corporate redistribution scheme whereby the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would, in theory, use excess profits made by some insurers to cover losses incurred by others.
This is Marco Rubio's main achievement in the Senate as he led the effort to limit federal aid to bail out insurance companies. Despite Democratic hopes of removing that provision from this year's omnibus, it is still there.
The budget neutral language is also included in this year’s much-maligned omnibus bill, and it has led to apocalyptic predictions by a variety of commentators. Marc Thiessen at the Washington Post, for example, describes the Rubio provision thus: “a poison pill that is killing Obamacare from within.” This is not an exaggeration. The restriction on using general funds, as the Times piece goes on to point out, means that HHS can pay “only 13 percent of what insurance companies were expecting to receive this year.” Faced with this kind of “assistance” from the risk corridor program, most major insurers will abandon the exchanges.
Several major insurers are already talking about how they have lost so much money in Obamacare that they may have to get out.
So, even if its risk corridor restrictions were the only useful feature of the omnibus, one could argue that the damage done to Obamacare outweighs the bill’s admittedly numerous flaws. But it also delays implementation of the infamous HIT, medical device, and Cadillac taxes. Some conservatives claim that these delays will somehow make Obamacare’s future more secure, an odd argument coming from a group of people who have bitterly complained about these taxes for six years. In reality, it is “reform’s” supporters who should be worried about the implications of these delays in a post-Obama political environment. And they are.

The Hill reports, “Obamacare advocates are growing fearful that several key taxes frozen in Wednesday’s budget deal will never go into effect… they’re worried that the delay of these taxes, until after Obama leaves office, will ultimately lead to their demise.”
It turns out that it was much easier to weaken Obamacare from within than from a an all-out frontal assault. I don't know why Rubio hasn't made more of he accomplished this. What could be more popular among the Republican electorate than explaining how he used the legislative process to weaken Obamacare?

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President Obama contradicted himself
in his press conference where he stated his reasons for toppling Moammar Qaddafi. That same rationale would have applied to Assad in Syria.
In his final press conference of the year Friday, Obama defended his efforts to topple former Libyan autocrat Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 as part of an international coalition. Gaddafi was “a dictator who was threatening and was in a position to carry out the wholesale slaughter of large numbers of people,” he said. He added that the United States and allied nations worked “to avert a big humanitarian catastrophe that would not have been good for us.”

“Those who now argue, in retrospect, we should have left Gaddafi in there seem to forget that he had already lost legitimacy and control of his country, and we could have—instead of what we have in Libya now, we could have had another Syria in Libya now,” he said.

Unlike in Libya, Obama has declined to apply substantial pressure on the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad throughout four years of civil war, critics say. Despite declaring in 2011 that, “the time has come for President Assad to step aside,” Obama chose not to launch airstrikes against the Assad regime after it used chemical weapons in 2013, an apparent violation of a “red line” set by the president.

Additionally, the administration scrapped its train-and-equip program for Syrian rebels in October after acknowledging that it had been a failure and had only yielded a few battle-ready fighters.

As a result, analysts say Syria has become the locus of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in decades, with more than a quarter of a million people dead and millions of refugees fleeing to neighboring countries and Europe. Amid the chaos of the civil war, ISIS established a base of operations in the country and used Assad’s brutality as a recruiting tool to attract foreign fighters and disillusioned Sunni Muslims in the region.
So how does he explain the differing approaches to the two dictators? The White House declines to answer.

Doesn't it seem like we're seeing one of these stories almost every day?
Iranian hackers breached the control system of a dam near New York City in 2013 causing alarm in the White House about the security of America's infrastructure.

The 20ft-tall Bowman Avenue Dam is about 20 miles from New York and is used for flood control. Hackers gained access to it through a cellular modem, US officials told the Wall Street Journal.

Hackers did not take over operation of the dam and caused no disruption, but were able to discover how its computer systems worked and examine what defences were in place against a cyber attack.

The dam incident, which had not been previously disclosed, happened at a time when hackers linked to the Iranian government were also attacking US bank websites....

Nearly 300 hacking incidents at infrastructure sites in the US were reported to the department of homeland security in the last year. Intelligence analysts who discovered the attack on the Bowman Avenue Dam initially believed, mistakenly, that hackers were targeting a much larger structure, the Arthur R Bowman Dam in Oregon, which is 245ft tall, and they alerted the White House.

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More and more observers are questioning Marco Rubio's campaign and his apparent decision to not try to win any of the first states outright. He doesn;t have the manpower or campaign in place in either Iowa or New Hampshire to give hope to his supporters. He wasn't able to hire any local Iowan to run his campaign there so he's dependent on outsiders. His campaign brags about using both the regular and social media to reach people instead of the more traditional plans. He's sinking in the polls and the contest that many thought would come down to one between Cruz and Rubio now seems to have been won by Cruz who is running a much smarter campaign.

Meanwhile, Nate Cohn puts forth a theory of how Rubio could lose all the early states (which now seems likely) and still win the nomination. Such an event would require that the other candidates in his lane: Christie, Bush, and Kasich to fade away. Then Rubio would need to appear to be the one viable candidate against Hillary in the general election compared to Trump and Cruz. He would need, also, for neither Cruz nor Trump to have done so well that they wrapped up the entire thing before March. Then, if Rubio can hold on until March 8 when the terrain is more favorable to him. Cohn reminds us that Bill Clinton in 1992 had only won three of the first 14 contests before Super Tuesday's collection of southern primaries that helped Clinton clean up in that election. And Rubio does seem to be going all in to win in Nevada where he has connections to the Mormon community and ties because he lived there as a kid. However, the Cruz campaign is also working hard in Nevada even though they got a later start. It's a caucus state where organization will play an important role. It doesn't have the history of people turning out for the caucuses as Iowa does.

Rubio's pathway may be helped by the peculiar rules governing delegate allocation in the GOP race. The more conservative states award their delegates proportionately, while the more moderate states use winner-take-all rules to award their delegates. If Rubio can hold on until those states and be in the position to be the sole hope of those who don't like Cruz and Trump, he may be able to start piling up delegates to match those earned by Cruz and Trump.
The truth is that there are numerous variables — some of which seem arbitrary — that could determine the GOP’s nominee. And one of those variables could be the fact that winning a moderate state counts for more than winning a conservative one.

This conundrum arguably hits Cruz harder than anyone else. First, of course, there is the fact that he has invested heavily in the SEC primary, and that his evangelical appeal presumably is strongest in these states. Interestingly, though, it’s not clear that Donald Trump is really that harmed by this phenomenon. This is not to say that Trump can’t win some SEC states, but it is to say that he could potentially have a good shot at some of the winner-take-all states, too (we tend to think of Trump as conservative, but the truth is that he gets a lot of support among secular, moderate and liberal Republicans).

There are a ton of variables to consider. Keep this in mind the next time a national poll shows somebody surging.
Ironically, Rubio could be best served by Trump staying relatively viable so that he would split the haul of delegates in the earlier states with Cruz. Then Rubio could hope that he would win the blue states. As Matt Lewis and 538 note states that haven't voted for a Republican presidential candidate in years might be the states that will choose the nominee. If the base is now angry at the thought of the man they consider the establishment favorite, imagine how they'd feel if he rides blue states to the nomination.

David Lauter argues in the LA Times that perhaps Trump's poll numbers actually underestimate the level of his support. He refers to a study that randomly divided GOP voters into groups that would receive telephone surveys, online surveys, or automated phone surveys. There seems to be somewhat of a reverse Bradley effect going on. The results seem to indicate that Trump does better when college-educated voters don't talk to an actual human being than when they're filling out an anonymous online survey. This difference might be narrowing as his poll numbers stay high thus removing some of the imagined stigma of supporting Trump. So those who have been drawing comfort by pointing to the difference between Trump's numbers in online polls and those conducted with person-to-person conduct by assuming that the latter are more accurate, it could be just the reverse.

Andrew Malcolm examines how changes in how the public interact with the media is changing politics. More and more people are not even watching TV so TV ads won't reach them. Political campaigns now have to adjust with ads that are designed for mobile phones since that is how many people access the internet.

Jay Cost looks at how Cruz and Rubio might act as president based on their time in the Senate.
If we assume that both Cruz and Rubio would behave as president as they did in the Senate, this gives Republicans a basis for comparison. The upside to Rubio is that he clearly knows how to work with Congress and has the potential to move the legislature in a conservative direction. Indeed, he was a policy entrepreneur on the Obamacare insurer bailout, pushing Congress to do something it might not otherwise have done. The downside of this approach is that he might get rolled, either by go-along-to-get-along Republicans or, worse, by liberal Democrats. Something like this seems to have happened with the Rubio-Schumer deal on immigration reform: Rubio miscalculated and put his name on a bill that was too liberal for most of his Republican colleagues.

With Cruz, the upside is that most of the country, Republicans included, hates Congress, and a president who takes an adversarial approach to the legislature might be just what the doctor ordered. On the campaign trail, Cruz has argued that the two parties behave like a cartel within the legislature. This is true. If one looks behind the heated partisan rhetoric, one sees broad bipartisan agreement on what may be called interest-group liberalism: the use of big government to pay off the pressure groups that work the system most aggressively. The best hope for cleaning out the rot is a president who is committed to such reform, and Cruz might be able to embarrass Congress into mending its ways.

The downside is that Congress is a stubborn, recalcitrant institution. This is especially true of the Senate, whose members are noted for their unbounded self-regard. Cruz might be right to castigate them, but will his former colleagues be willing to work with him on reform if he continues to denounce them? If they are not willing, a Cruz presidency might amount to four years of gridlock and a continuation of the ugly internecine battles that have beset the GOP during the Obama years.

Ideally, conservatives should hope for a blend of these qualities. The perfect candidate would be gracious and charitable to his colleagues, like Rubio, but firm in his commitment to reform, like Cruz. Alas, the real world disappoints us.

On the other hand, it is rarely as bad as we fear it might be. And conservatives should count themselves lucky this cycle. The establishment types, the go-along-to-get-along Republicans who have dominated the party's nomination for most of its history, are not at the top of the heap this time. Instead, we have the prospect of a genuine break from the past.

Nominating Trump would be unadulterated folly, but Cruz and Rubio are viable candidates who deserve careful consideration. They bring real strengths to the table and would signal a notable change in the party's approach to governance.

The folks at 538 have a discussion on whether Rubio is underrated or overrated or rated just right.

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Ken White has a good recommendation for our political debates, particularly our debates over gun policy.
First, we could stop culture-bundling. We culture-bundle when we use one political issue as shorthand for a big group of cultural and social values. Our unproductive talk about guns is rife with this. Gun control advocates don't just attack support for guns; they attack conservative, Republican, rural and religious values. Second Amendment advocates don't just attack gun control advocates; they attack liberal, Democratic, urban and secular values. The gun control argument gets portrayed as the struggle against Bible-thumping, gay-bashing, NASCAR-watching hicks, and the gun rights argument gets portrayed as a struggle against godless, elitist, kale-chewing socialists.

That's great for rallying the base, I guess, but that's about all. When you culture-bundle guns, your opponents don't hear “I'm concerned about this limitation on rights” or “I think this restriction is constitutional and necessary.” They hear “I hate your flyover-country daddy who taught you to shoot in the woods behind the house when you were 12” and “Your gay friends' getting married would ruin America and must be stopped.” That's unlikely to create consensus.
He also recommends that people learn enough to use accurate firearms terminology.
Confused gun control advocates may suggest a ban on “semiautomatic weapons,” believing that means automatic rifles, when it actually refers to nearly every modern weapon other than bolt-action rifles and shotguns. Such linguistic flimsiness drives the perception that mainstream gun control advocates want to take away all guns.
Finally, he recommends that people listen when others talk about rights.
We don't know where rights come from, we don't know or care from whom they protect us, we don't know how to analyze proposed restrictions on them, and brick by brick we've built a fear-based culture that scorns them in the face of both real and imagined risks. We've become a nation of civic illiterates, mystified by the relationship between individuals and the government.
You know, a lot of what he recommends would be eased with good history and civics courses. It almost makes me feel that my job is worthwhile.

This is the story of how a couple of smart guys got the best of Donald Trump. Trump trademarked Reagan's slogan of "Make America Great Again" right after Obama won the election in 2012. Trump likes to pretend that the phrase is original with him, but it actually came out of Reagan's 1980 campaign. However, when he trademarked the phrase, he forgot to claim the rights to use the slogan on T-shirts and hats.
In what may be seen as a bit of what goes around comes around, Meri Bares and Bobby Estell of California took note of Trump’s oversight. They filed application number 86716074 on Aug. 5 of this year to trademark the use of “Make America Great Again” not just on hats and T-shirts, but also on everything from sweatshirts to socks and swimsuits, from backpacks to change purses to wallets, even “dog apparel.”

Two days later, Estell, who goes by Bobby Bones, tweeted:

“hey @realDonaldTrump, if you donate 100k to @stjude, I will give you your clothing trademrk back. thanks!—Bobby”

St. Jude being St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Estell posted a follow-up tweet later on Aug. 7:

“Hey @realDonaldTrump. I don’t even want this trademark. Let’s get this thing done. I want no money. Just for @StJude”

On Oct. 27, Trump issued a check for an undisclosed amount—reportedly the full $100,000—to the hospital.

“Transfer of Trademark,” read an accompanying notation on the check.

On Nov. 11, a U.S. Trademark examiner made the transfer official. Trump continued to sell Make America Great Again hats ($25 regular, $30 camouflage) and sweatshirts ($50) and even a Trump Presidential Dog Raglan sweater ($15).
This story also indicates that Trump might have been thinking back in November 2012 that he would like to run for president for 2016 and he had the slogan ready to go.

Kevin Williamson notes a theme among liberals this year - their desire to do away with rights and take the totalitarian route to achieve what they want.
For those of you keeping track, the Democrats and their allies on the left have now: voted in the Senate to repeal the First Amendment, proposed imprisoning people for holding the wrong views on global warming, sought to prohibit the showing of a film critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton, proposed banning politically unpopular academic research, demanded that funding politically unpopular organizations and causes be made a crime and that the RICO organized-crime statute be used as a weapon against targeted political groups. They have filed felony charges against a Republican governor for vetoing a piece of legislation, engaged in naked political persecutions of members of Congress, and used the IRS and the ATF as weapons against political critics.

On the college campuses, they shout down unpopular ideas or simply forbid nonconforming views from being heard there in the first place. They have declared academic freedom an “outdated concept” and have gone the full Orwell, declaring that freedom is oppressive and that they should not be expected to tolerate ideas that they do not share. They are demanding mandatory ideological indoctrination sessions for nonconforming students. They have violently assaulted students studying in libraries and assaulted student journalists documenting their activities. They have staged dozens of phony hate crimes and sexual assaults as a pretext for persecuting unpopular organizations and people.

What they cannot achieve by legislation or litigation, they seek to achieve by simple violence, left-wing activists having smashed, looted, and burned portions of Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, where Koreans and other Asian minorities were specifically targeted. As on college campuses, they have made a point of assaulting journalists documenting their violence. They have rioted in Philadelphia and in other cities....

They have sought to use the FCC to revoke the broadcast licenses of Rupert Murdoch and other political hate totems, and have long dreamt of using federal regulation to shut down conservative talk radio. They have gone to the Supreme Court to argue that they should be empowered to ban books, films, magazines, and newspapers when they desire to do so for political reasons. They are energetic suppressors of free speech.

It is possible to have a robust, energetic political discourse within the parameters of American liberalism, which cherishes freedom of speech and of inquiry, which distinguishes between public and private spheres, which relies upon the rule of law and the Bill of Rights while placing limits on the reach of the state. But if you reject that, as our so-called liberals have, then you cannot have genuine political discourse, or genuine democracy. When he was asked about having fabricated a story about Mitt Romney’s not paying taxes, Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid made a straight-up might-makes-right argument: “Romney didn’t win, did he?” You cannot have much of an argument without some level of honesty, which is a problem for a country that probably is going to be subjected to yet another Clinton campaign. You cannot have much of an argument without freedom of speech, and you cannot have democracy if political activism is criminalized. The Democrats are seeking to restrict speech, and they already have criminalized politics: Ask Rick Perry about that, or Tom Delay.

Well, here is one effort by liberals to enforce their view that has, for the moment, suffered a major setback.
A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the provision used to strike down the Washington Redskins trademark is unconstitutional.

The full Federal Circuit Court of Appeals issued the ruling in a separate case filed by Simon Tam, a man who has been trying for years to get his band name, “The Slants,” trademarked.

He says the band of Asian-Americans aims to take back Asian stereotypes.

While the Federal Circuit agrees with the Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board that the name is disparaging, the majority opinion finds that the legal provision allowing the government to reject trademarks that are disparaging to a substantial composite of the group referenced violates the First Amendment.

The court finds that the restriction is an impermissible government influence on freedom of speech....

This reverses a 1981 decision by the Federal Circuit that found that rejecting a trademark did not block any freedom of expression. That decision was cited by the judge who, earlier this year, upheld the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s rejection of the Redskins’ trademark.

The Washington football team’s appeal is proceeding in a different appeals court, so that court would not necessarily be bound by the federal circuit’s decision.

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John Hawkins gives us a list of how to tell if you're a liberal. For example,
1) ….Your newspaper calls people “bigoted” for being worried about bringing Syrian refugees to America, but you won’t run pictures of Muhammad because you’re afraid Muslims might kill you for it.

2) ….You think every man accused of sexual assault is guilty until proven innocent except Bill Clinton....

6) ….You claim to constantly hear Republican “dog whistles” that 99% of the population misses; yet you’d deny you’re racist for insisting that black Americans aren’t competent enough to get an ID to vote.

7) …You think there’s a possibility that Obama might be able to have a productive conversation with radical Islamists who want to kill us, but dialogue with the NRA is impossible....

12) ….You believe you’re a caring and compassionate person because you advocate giving other people’s money away to people you hope will vote for candidates you like.

13) ….You believe that anyone who dislikes Barack Obama must hate him because he’s a minority, but your hatred of Ted Cruz and Clarence Thomas is perfectly justifiable.

Do you want to see something that will make you smile? Wwatch the landing of the Elon Musk SpaceX rocket back from space. They've just proved that a private investor can do what so many thought only government can do. I have a former student who now works for SpaceX and when I talk with him about how much he loves his job, I'm exhilarated for what might be to come.

The Daily Beast has an article collecting quotes from American journalists expressing their admiration for Hitler in the early 1930s as they downplayed reports of his repression and anti-Semitic attacks.
Remarkably, even five years later—after five years of anti-Jewish violence, German militarization, and the annexation of Austria—some in the Western press still tried to present Hitler’s human side. In November 1938, the same month that the Kristallnacht pogrom devastated German Jewry, the British magazine Homes & Gardens ran a fawning three-page photo spread on Hitler’s “bright, airy chalet” in the Bavarian Alps. “The F├╝hrer has a passion about cut flowers in his home, as well as for music,” it reported. Sometimes “the Squire himself [Hitler] will stroll through the woods into hamlets” nearby, where he “gives a ‘Fun Fair’ to the local children.”

Not long before that puff piece, The New York Times published a dispatch from one of its Berlin correspondents in which he could barely conceal his admiration of Hitler’s “mountain retreat.” The home “is simple in its appointments and commands a magnificent highland panorama…. Herr Hitler in principle detests the big cities, where ‘the houses are thick and the sewers annoy the air.’ He craves moderate altitudes and highland breezes.”
This insouciance about Hitler's attacks on Jews mirrored that of the FDR administration. The approach of many in the media in the 1930s parallels a similar willingness to ignore the atrocities Stalin was perpetrating in the Soviet Union. Remember that the NYT's Walter Duranty got the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Soviet regime while downplaying the reports of the forced famine in Ukraine. It seems that Hitler had his own apologists in the western media.

This is a fascinating slideshow laying out all the stuff that soldiers have carried into battle from the 11th century to today.