Monday, March 28, 2016

Cruising the Web

The NYT contrasts the John Kasich of today with the one who served as part of the Gingrich group that ran the House in the 1990s. Now he's running as the guy who just wants to give the electorate a big hug. He's above all the back-and-forth sniping that is such a part of the GOP race. But his colleagues in Ohio and from the 1990s just don't recognize the Kasich who is running today.
These days, Mr. Kasich presents himself as a soothing and unifying figure who can heal a broken country. The approach seems to be working, to a degree: A poll this week showed him catching up to Mr. Trump in Pennsylvania, and national surveys suggest he would make a stronger rival against a Democrat in the fall than the divisive Republican front-runner.

At the Ohio Statehouse, however, Mr. Kasich could be impetuous and unforgiving....

“Anyone who’s been around Governor Kasich knows that it depends on what kind of mood you catch him in,” Mr. Hottinger said.

Several of the governor’s allies and adversaries said they were watching the newly genial Mr. Kasich, as a presidential candidate, with bewilderment.

“I think a lot of people are kind of scratching their heads saying, ‘Where did this John Kasich come from?’ ” said Fred Strahorn, the Democratic minority leader in the Ohio House.
Perhaps he's become more mellow as he's gotten older. He also credits the strengthening of his religious faith. Perhaps, he's seen the light in more ways than one. Or he's just decided that, in a race with Donald Trump as the front-runner and Ted Cruz as the other guy, occupying the "soft and cuddly" spot might help him.

Right now the most reasonable state for Kasich to do well in is his neighboring state of Pennsylvania which votes on April 26. He could spend all his time there and, as polls indicate, he might have a very decent shot at coming in first there. However, Kasich is also working hard in Wisconsin, a winner-take-all-by-congressional-district state, where his efforts are going mostly to steal votes from Cruz and help Trump.
What is that about? Mr. Kasich doesn’t belong in Wisconsin, where he is a Trump-enabler, not a Trump-stopper. The Emerson poll says “It appears that Kasich is pulling votes from Cruz as Kasich supporters find Cruz more favorable than Trump, 36% to 27%.” If Mr. Kasich wants to keep his own chances open, it would be more logical for him to close shop in Wisconsin immediately and head east, where his own argument says he can be most effective stopping The Donald.
Since Kasich has little hope of winning delegates in Wisconsin and his only hope is a contested convention, it should be in his best interests to get out of Cruz's way instead of splitting the anti-Trump vote and making it more likely that Trump will get to 1,237. Kasich's actions seem to indicate that he doesn't understand this reality.
Pennsylvania is the biggest of five contests on April 26. It will be the big prime-time story of the night. To lose the popular vote in such a huge state would be another crushing defeat for that guy who always wins. Moreover, a Kasich win in the Keystone State would be especially important as an offset to Mr. Trump’s almost inevitable win a week earlier in the proportional contest at New York.

Realistically, if Mr. Kasich doesn’t win Pennsylvania, his campaign will be dead and his entire effort and reputation will be colored permanently with all the pejoratives currently being leveled – quixotic, vain, crazy, self-aggrandizing, etc. His campaign may succumb to these characterizations even beforehand if he isn’t seen as refocusing his efforts on the one contest where his odds are good.

At present, the Ohioan is attempting a triple bank shot from behind the eight ball. He is trying both to deny The Donald and the Texan and to undermine the case for Senator Cruz as the alternative to the New Yorker at an “open” convention — while advancing his own chances. It is an impossible shot.

Ross Douthat ponders
who exactly Ted Cruz is. Douthat's premise is that Cruz is a political opportunist who has adopted positions that he decided would be politically advantageous for him.
With Cruz, though, even the most fervent peroration always feels like a debater’s patter, an advocate’s brief — compelling enough on the merits, but more of a command performance than a window into deep conviction.

This doesn’t mean that Cruz’s conservatism isn’t sincere. But the fact that he seems so much like an actor hitting his marks fits with the story of how he became Mr. True Conservative Outsider in the first place. Basically, he spent years trying to make it in Washington on the insider’s track, and hit a wall because too many of the insiders didn’t like him — because his ambition was too naked, his climber’s zeal too palpable. So he deliberately switched factions, turning the establishment’s personal disdain into a political asset, and taking his Ivy League talents to the Tea Party instead.

Then once installed as a leader of the counterestablishment, he walked a line that looks, again, far more calculated than most conviction politicians. While his fellow Tea Party senators, from Paul to Rubio to Utah’s Mike Lee, built detailed policy portfolios that fit their interests and inclinations, Cruz never seemed to take a step on any contentious issue without gaming it out 17 moves ahead.

His push for the Obamacare shutdown, and the bill of goods he sold the party’s base, was a particularly remarkably exercise in self-serving political cynicism. But on many fronts — Edward Snowden, trade policy, immigration, the fate of Middle Eastern Christians — Cruz has proceeded with several fingers in the wind; every time the conservative mood has shifted even a little, he’s shifted quickly too.

The same pattern has prevailed in the presidential campaign, in his complicated relationship to Trump — obsequious at first, cynically imitative on issues where Trump’s demagogy has worked, and finally self-righteous and dudgeon-filled now that the name-calling and scandal-mongering have been turned against his reputation and his family.
I don't disagree with any of this. It's why I didn't support Cruz in the beginning. But if he's the Republicans' best chance for stopping Trump, I'm fully behind him. And I do find it amusing that politicians in DC hated Cruz because he was too nakedly ambitious. As if they've never seen that before in a politician.

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Michael McConnell, one of the leading experts on the freedom of religion in the country, explains via Eugene Volokh how the federal government has openly admitted how utterly worthless the government's arguments are against the Little Sisters of the Poor and the other religious groups arguing in the case Zubik v. Burwell.
One of the most telling moments of oral argument came during General Verrilli’s final two minutes, when Justice Alito highlighted a key government concession—that because some of the petitioners, including the Little Sisters, have a self-insured church plan, the government actually lacks authority under ERISA to make their third-party administrator provide contraceptive coverage. “In that situation,” Justice Alito asked, “will the Little Sisters still be subject to fines for failing to comply?” General Verrilli’s response was astonishing: “No, we don’t think so.” In other words, the government said it has no plans to actually enforce the mandate against the Little Sisters—and, by extension, any of the roughly 500 other religious organizations that have self-insured church plans. And even if the government coerced these organizations to sign its form, this would not make contraceptives flow.

This raises an obvious question: If the government has no plan to enforce the mandate against the Little Sisters, why has it been resisting their case for the last three years? Apparently, the government knows it would be senseless to fine the Little Sisters $70 million per year when the forced compliance would not make contraception coverage available anyway. Why did it wait until oral argument in the Supreme Court to make this crucial concession?

At a bare minimum, the concession establishes a complete lack of a compelling interest, or any interest at all, in forcing the petitioners with self-insured church plans to sign a form that will have no legal effect. More broadly, if Congress did not vest the agencies with authority to make the mandate work as to roughly 500 religious organizations, how compelling could its interest be with respect to the others?
McConnell concludes,
It is probably too much to hope that the Court will reach anything close to unanimity in a case with the symbolic and cultural valence of this one, but as soon as we get into the weeds of regulatory detail, it becomes obvious that there is no real conflict here. Not a single woman needs to be denied access to contraceptives through a seamless process – and the Little Sisters of the Poor can be left alone to carry on their good works without being required to be the government’s handmaiden for the provision of contraceptives. At a time of rising divisiveness and polarization, it would be greatly calming if the Court could unite in this case to protect the rights of many with absolutely no injury to anyone else, or to the public good.
What I find amazing is that the federal government felt so strongly about imposing the contraceptive mandate on these organizations even though there are plenty of employers that they gave waivers to on the mandate or to allow their employees to access contraceptive plans through government exchanges that they pursued this all the way to the Supreme Court where they acknowledged that they had no ability or intention to penalize the organizations for not obeying the mandate.

Meanwhile, Jonathan H. Adler explains why it is an "erroneous argument" to say that the Senate has a "constitutional duty" to consider a Supreme Court nominee. He points to a letter in the Boston Globe frnm Seth Barrett Tillman who is a lecturer on American law in Ireland, responding to the Deans of Harvard and Pepperdine Law schools, Marth Minow and Deanell Tacha, who had made that very argument in the Globe. Tillman's letter quotes from the Clinton Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel about the three stages of a presidential nomination.
“The Constitution thus calls for three steps before a presidential appointment is complete: first, the President’s submission of a nomination to the Senate; second, the Senate’s advice and consent; third, the President’s appointment of the officer, evidenced by the signing of the commission. All three of these steps are discretionary.”
As Adler adds, things were certainly different when the shoe was a different partisan foot.
When there was a Republican president, Senate Democrats were happy to note that there is no constitutional duty to consider judicial nominees.
Senator Robert Byrd and Senator Joe Biden were adamant that there was no Constitutional requirement requiring an up or down vote on a presidential nominee. Of course, Biden is now lying about what his position was back in the golden oldie days when he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. As Ed Whalen explains, Biden's twisting of what he said back in 1992 is totally dishonest.
Biden is flat-out lying when he claims that the “unequivocal bottom line” of his 1992 Senate floor speech, with respect to any vacancy that might arise that year, was that “if the president consults and cooperates with the Senate, or moderates his selections, then his nominees may enjoy my support” and that “I made it absolutely clear that I would go forward with the confirmation … process as chairman, even a few months before [the] presidential election if the nominee were chosen with the advice and not merely the consent of the Senate.”
As Whelan demonstrates, that is not what he said in 1992 and his position was quite clear that he was discussing should happen if there were to be a vacancy in the summer of 1992.
“President [George H.W.] Bush should consider following the practice of a majority of his predecessors and not—and not—name a nominee until after the November election is completed.” And, Biden immediately continues, if Bush instead “presses an election-year nomination, the Senate Judiciary Committee should seriously consider not scheduling hearings on the nomination until after the political campaign season is over.”
Biden then had gone on to talk about what should happen with future nominations "in the next administration." Today Biden is trying to pretend that what he said about future nominations was actually about if there should be a nomination that year.
So when Biden now claims, in a carefully prepared speech, that this statement about nominations “in the next administration” somehow presented his “unequivocal bottom line” about how he would approach a nomination made to a vacancy arising in the 1992 election year, he is making an outrageous lie. Shame on any reporters who let him get away with it.
Sadly, he is allowed to get away with such dishonesty because the press is either to lazy to check out the original speech or they just want to facilitate the Democrats shutting down a Republican argument.

I'm willing to stipulate that the Republicans are being hypocritical and their attitude would be totally different if this were a vacancy that had occurred in 2008. They'd be screaming to the heavens that the Democrats in the Senate had no business blocking a Bush nomination. Sometimes, I think the politicians believe their own hypocrisy.

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Ah, socialism. What a success!
Venezuela is facing an electricity shortage so severe that President Nicolas Maduro extended the national Easter holiday by decree to decrease demand for it. The government is effectively shutting down the country for five days with the hopes of staving off an impending infrastructural collapse. That’s right: The country with the largest proven oil reserves in the world is facing an energy crisis.

In spite of enjoying a decade-long oil bonanza, the government failed to invest in the maintenance of existing infrastructure, let alone in its expansion....

The problem: Venezuela is in the midst of a devastating drought, and it lacks alternative means of producing energy. The grid is already stretched thin, and it can’t afford to lose Guri’s production.

The government’s response has been to throw money at the problem, grind the country to a halt with the hopes that it works, and in the meantime pray for rain. Venezuelans have been forced to light candles and live their lives accounting for potential outages.

Yet Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution is no stranger to energy shortages. In 2010, Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, was forced to declare a national “electricity emergency” after similar conditions threatened to paralyze the country.

Chávez implemented rationing measures like rolling blackouts, industrial production reductions, and steep fines for overconsumption. Since then, “despite pumping more than $3.8 billion into the sector since 2010 to put 40 new plants on stream, lack of transparency, mismanagement and corruption continue to hobble regular access to electricity.”

If one is looking to understand the effects of 21st-century socialism, look no farther than its birthplace. It depends on oil exports for its income and on rain to keep the lights on.

The serial interventionism of a corrupt government has turned Venezuela into the regional basket case par excellence, but its failure to act in matters like these has proven equally damaging to the Venezuelan people.

So who uses the death of his close associates to get some publicity for himself? You guessed it...Donald Trump.

Obama's CIA director, John Brennan, has admitted that ISIS was "decimated" under George W. Bush and has grown by about 4,400 per cent while Obama has been president.
[ISIS] was, you know, pretty much decimated when US forces were there in Iraq. It had maybe 700-or-so adherents left. And then it grew quite a bit in the last several years, when it split then from al-Qaida in Syria, and set up its own organization.
But in September 2014, a CIA analysis found that:
[ISIS] can muster between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria … This new total reflects an increase in members because of stronger recruitment since June following battlefield successes and the declaration of a caliphate, greater battlefield activity, and additional intelligence.

This means that, by the CIA’s own estimate, ISIS has grown on President Obama’s watch from just 700 fighters to between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters.

That is an increase of between 2,700 and 4,400 %.

Moreover, Brennan tacitly acknowledged that the Obama administration had underestimated the ISIS threat. At CSIS, Brennan declared that:
Not content to limiting its killing fields to Iraqi and Syrian lands, and to setting up local franchises in other countries of the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, ISIL has developed an external operations agenda that is now implementing … with lethal effect.
That now obvious assessment directly contradicts the assessment of ISIS’ intent and capabilities delivered by Obama administration officials just one year ago.
Such a success the Obama foreign policy has been.

And so it continues...
Federal prosecutors investigating the possible mishandling of classified materials on Hillary Clinton’s private email server have begun the process of setting up formal interviews with some of her longtime and closest aides, according to two people familiar with the probe, an indication that the inquiry is moving into its final phases.

Those interviews and the final review of the case, however, could still take many weeks, all but guaranteeing that the investigation will continue to dog Clinton’s presidential campaign through most, if not all, of the remaining presidential primaries.

No dates have been set for questioning the advisors, but a federal prosecutor in recent weeks has called their lawyers to alert them that he would soon be doing so, the sources said. Prosecutors also are expected to seek an interview with Clinton herself, though the timing remains unclear.

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