Friday, September 02, 2016

Cruising the Web

Ah, Harry Reid lets the cat out of the bag. Freed from having to run for reelection, he is telling us what the Democrats are really planning to do if they gain control of the Senate.
Senator Harry Reid says Democrats should move to curtail the filibuster if they win the White House and Senate in November only to run up against persistent use of the tactic by Republicans.

“Unless after this election there is a dramatic change to go back to the way it used to be, the Senate will have to evolve as it has in the past,” Mr. Reid told me, referring to a former tradition of rarely mounting filibusters. “But it will evolve with a majority vote determining stuff. It is going to happen.”
If the Republicans can't run on this, then they truly are as lame as their critics claim. With it looking likely that Hillary Clinton will win, do voters really want a Democratic majority in the Senate that can rubber stamp her wishes and ride even more roughshod over the minority than they did when Reid was last in power?

And then there is the typical Harry Reid hypocrisy of "Don't look at what I do; look at what I demonize the Republicans about doing."
“It’s an odd thing to say for a guy who is leading multiple filibusters at the moment,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and majority leader, about Mr. Reid’s view. “Why doesn’t he start next week by ending the Democrats’ filibusters of anti-Zika funding, of veterans funding, of funding for our troops in the field?”
Democrats should also remember that 2018 is going to be a tough year for them. If Clinton is elected, there may well be a backlash against her party in the midterms. That has been happening more and more in recent midterm elections: 2006. 2010, and 2014. And there are a lot of Democratic senators up in 2018 who won on the coattails of Barack Obama in 2012. Right now, the Democrats will have 23 seats up for reelection plus the two independents (Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine) who vote with them and the Republicans have only 8 seats. The Republicans should be able to make a run at Joe Donnelly's seat in Indiana, Jon Tester of Montana, maybe Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Maybe John Kasich will decide he'd like to be back in Washington and will take on Brown.

So the Democratic leadership has to be thinking that, if they got rid of the filibuster in 2017, it could come back to bite them in 2019. And I would bet that Clinton would face a tough reelection campaign in 2020 if she is elected this year. She's not popular now and is only leading because the Republican electorate lost its mind and nominated a former Democratic bombastic reality show star. If Trump loses this year, perhaps sanity might return for the nomination fight in 2020. And what are the chances that Hillary Clinton will become even less appealing as she returns to the White House? I would imagine that chances are high. And she'd be 73 then and we would have had another four years of Bill's fading charms. So Democrats could be facing the possibility of a Republican president elected in 2020 maybe accompanied by a Republican Senate. Then they would really regret getting rid of the filibuster.

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Apparently, South America has tried socialism, particularly its Chavismo variety, and found that they just don't like it. For the first part of this century, country by country had chosen socialist leaders.
The deceptive charm of socialism that had South America in its hold in the 2000s is not just vanishing in Brazil. At the turn of this century, leftist parties throughout the continent achieved majorities in parliamentary and presidential elections: Lula da Silva in Brazil, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Nestor and Cristina Kirchner in Argentina.

They had much in common right from the beginning: the promise of socially just policies through redistribution, the mutual triple enemy of capitalism-USA-oligarchy, a dose of nationalism and the cultivation of personality cults in familiar South American caudillo fashion.

The most extreme example is the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela against the so-called imperialism of the North. In 1998, Hugo Chavez was first of a series of leaders who saw himself as a movement. He referred to it as the socialism of the 21th century and with his charismatic personality, he proceeded to become an icon.
And now? Not so much.
When Hugo Chavez died on March 5, 2013, all twelve South American states - with the exception of Colombia and Paraguay - were ruled by socialists or social democrats. Now, three and half years later, after 18 years of socialism, the country is ruined. Child hunger has reached its highest level since the early 1980s and the political climate is marked by threats, spying and violence against dissidents.

Venezuela is an extreme example. At the same time, the mood in other South American countries has darkened as purchasing power is diminishing and people are looking for the culprit of the downturn. What peopled overlooked in euphoric times was the fact that many economies were based on the export of raw materials. In return, Latinos imported branded goods from the USA and cheap manufactured products from China. Finances dried up when the price of commodities fell and unfavorable exchange rates had the price of imported goods soaring.

Since the crash, leftist parties in South America have only managed to achieve narrow majorities at best. Of course many leaders try to brush off the blame for the crisis. But South Americans do not only blame the crisis on the promises made by leftist politicians. People are also disappointed because the champions of the average person are no less corrupt than the old elites.

The same holds true for Brazil's Workers' Party, PT. Their decline began before the crisis was tangible in people's wallets. In the Menselao scandal, high-ranking party members were tried and sentenced to years of imprisonment for buying votes in parliament; the revelations irrevocably shook the people's faith in the ruling party. Dilma Rousseff herself had nothing to do with it, yet as a supervisory board member of Petrobras, she obviously had turned a blind eye to the mass filling of key positions by PT officials. Now, the partially state-held oil company has become the hub of the next historic corruption scandal in Brazil.

The fact that Rousseff has been ousted from office on obviously unproven allegations of having tinkered with the stated budget to achieve her reelection shows how strong her political opponents have become. The fact that the majority of now highly politicized Brazilians supports – or at least, tolerates – the impeachment shows that they have awakened from the socialist dream of a just world.
Ah, socialism. So appealing until it's actually tried. Perhaps Bernie Sanders and his young revolutionary supporters should take a much closer look at what has been happening in South America.

Daniel Griswold at the Mercatus Center explains
why ditching NAFTA is a very bad idea. If only Trump would listen, but he prefers to think he can solve problems with simplistic demagogic solutions. He's stuck in Perotville from the 1990s.
The trade agreement delivered its core promise of deeper North American economic integration. Since its passage, our two-way trade with Canada and Mexico has more than tripled, with trilateral trade flows within NAFTA topping $1 trillion in 2011. Canada and Mexico are now the No. 1 and No. 2 foreign markets, respectively, for U.S. goods and services, collectively buying 34 percent of total U.S. exports.

NAFTA delivered the level playing field politicians say they want. Before NAFTA, Mexico imposed tariffs on U.S. agricultural and manufactured goods that were significantly higher than U.S. tariffs on Mexican goods. NAFTA reduced all duties in all directions to zero. What could be more fair than that?

As a result, North American production and capital markets are highly integrated, making companies in all three partner countries more competitive in global markets. The auto sector is especially intertwined, going back to the U.S.-Canada auto pact of 1965. NAFTA is a major reason, despite other challenges, the North American economies have outperformed those of the European Union and Japan.

Critics of NAFTA make outlandish claims about its impact on American workers and industry. Trump asserts that the agreement has been “totally disastrous” for the United States. More than two decades ago, H. Ross Perot warned that passage of NAFTA would unleash “a giant sucking sound” of jobs and investment going south of the border. Critics were wrong then, and they’re wrong now.

NAFTA was never going to have a huge positive or negative effect on the United States, though most studies show a modest positive effect on the U.S. economy. When NAFTA took effect, our economy was more than 17 times larger than Mexico’s, our barriers were already low, and our two-way trade with Mexico was a mere 1.4 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product.

Manufacturing investment to Mexico did increase after NAFTA, but it remains a fraction of annual manufacturing investment in the U.S. domestic economy. In the five years after NAFTA’s passage, the U.S. economy added more than 500,000 manufacturing jobs. Real, inflation-adjusted manufacturing output is up 40 percent since NAFTA came into effect. The loss of manufacturing jobs since 2000 wasn’t because of NAFTA, but because of gains in productivity fueled by automation.

Every week we seem to be learning more atrocious news about the Iran deal. Now we're learning about the loopholes the administration agreed to in order to loosen up on the requirements for Iran.
we are learning again that what the Obama Administration says Iran can do under the agreement, and what Iran is allowed to do, are almost never the same.

The latest discrepancy was revealed Thursday in a report by David Albright and Andrea Stricker of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a think tank in Washington D.C. that specializes in nuclear issues. The agreement specifies that Iran is to limit its stockpile of reactor-grade, low-enriched uranium (LEU) to no more than 300 kilograms for 15 years. Tehran shipped more than 11 tons of LEU to Russia last year, and the Administration has trumpeted the Islamic Republic’s supposed compliance with the deal as a way of justifying wider sanctions relief.

But as Mr. Albright and Ms. Stricker note, Iran‘s “compliance” came about thanks to a series of secretive exemptions and loopholes that the Administration and the deal’s other signatories created for the mullahs sometime last year. Had those exemptions and loopholes not been created out of thin air, the authors report, “some of Iran’s nuclear facilities would not have been in compliance” with the deal.

Among the exemptions: Iran was allowed to keep more than 300 kilos of low-enriched uranium provided it was in various “waste forms.” The deal was also supposed to cap Iran’s production of heavy water at 130 tons, but another loophole now allows Iran to exceed that. In a third exemption, Iran was allowed to maintain 19 large radiation containment chambers, or hot cells, which are supposed to be used for producing medical isotopes but can be “misused for secret, mostly small-scale plutonium separation efforts.”

The White House has waved off the ISIS report by insisting it “did not and will not allow Iran to skirt” its commitments. The non-denial would be more credible if the Administration hadn’t last year agreed to a secretive process in which Iran was allowed to inspect its own nuclear-related military facilities.

It would also be more credible if Iran weren’t testing ballistic missiles thanks to another nuclear side-deal. That one was supposed to ban such tests for eight years but contained a semantic loophole that Iran claims makes it unenforceable. Iran was also supposed to be subject to a five-year embargo on the purchase of major conventional weapons. Yet only last week it chose to deploy its newly acquired S-300 air defense system—purchased from Russia thanks to another U.N. loophole—to defend the Fordow underground nuclear facility. The deal was supposed to have rendered Fordow harmless by turning it into a science and technology center.
So Obama negotiated secret deals with Iran and then didn't submit it to the Senate for ratification. We're left to find out though leaks what was actually in the deal.
Throughout all this the Administration has gone to unusual lengths to keep its side deals secret. The ISIS report notes that Congress was secretly informed of the exemptions in January, but there was never public disclosure. “Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at” has been a constant of U.S. diplomacy for nearly a century, but that’s another American principle lost with the Iran deal.

As for Iran, Mr. Albright and Ms. Stricker note that the secretive process by which Iran is gaining these exemptions “risks advantaging Iran by allowing it to try to systematically weaken” the agreement. Given the evidence presented in their report, the mullahs are well on their way.
What has become to checks and balances? Sometimes I don't know why I still teach my students this stuff. I feel as if I constantly have to say: this is the way the system is supposed to work and this is the way it is working now. Welcome to the real world of American government, kids.

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While Donald Trump has been all over the board on what his position may or may not be on immigration, let's not forget that Hillary has also bounced around on this issue. The RNC hasn't forgotten.
In 2008, the former secretary of state publicly opposed driver's licenses for those in the U.S. illegally. But that position also flip-flopped to her current stance in support of giving government documents to illegal immigrants.

During President Obama's first term, Clinton said Obamacare and other benefits should be given only to American citizens, not illegal immigrants. Staying on trend, Clinton switched sides in 2015 and said anyone in the country should be able to enroll in Obamacare.

Most recently, Clinton voiced support for Obama's deportation plan, which had included a small percentage of unaccompanied minors. Now Clinton is against it.
Both candidates have flipped and flopped in order to gain votes from their more activist wings of their parties. You can't trust either one of them.

Hillary gave a speech this week promising a tough crackdown on Russia for hacking into American servers. You can bet she's ticked off about the DNC hacks and hacks that might have gotten into her own server or that of her correspondents like Sidney Blumenthal.
Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that her administration would treat cyberattacks just like real, physical attacks, and promised the White House would respond to such provocations with the full force of the U.S. military.

"As president, I will make it clear that the United States will treat cyberattacks just like any other attack," she said during a speech before the American Legion in Cincinnati. "We will be ready with serious political, economic and military responses."

Her remarks came as she argued in favor of expanding the U.S. military's scope.

"We need to respond to evolving threats from states like Russia, China and North Korea," she said. "We'll invest in the next frontier of military engagement, protecting U.S. interests in outer space and cyberspace."
This is all well and good. I am sure that every American supports stronger cybersecurity provisions. We haven't done anything, as far as I know, in response to Russian and Chinese hacks that have happened over the past few years. I'd like to hear more about what she is talking about beyond the tough-sounding rhetoric. I just wonder what she means by a military response. I can't imagine what she is talking about there. We could find out...if she ever held a press conference.

The most recent news from the hacking of the Democrats is this advice that House Democrats received from Nancy Pelosi's personal computer.
Democratic House candidates should never say "all lives matter" under any circumstances, according to a highly confidential memo sent to staffers for the party's congressional campaign arm, which was leaked this week.

"This document should not be emailed or handed to anyone outside of the building," according to the November 2015 memo. "Please only give campaign staff these best practices in meetings or over the phone."

The document, intended to advise staffers on how to deal with the Black Lives Matter movement, was released Tuesday evening as part of a trove purportedly obtained from a personal computer belonging to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The information was posted on a WordPress blog operated by Guccifer 2.0, who has released a stream sensitive documents obtained from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

"Do not say 'all lives matter' nor mention 'black on black crime,'" the instructions state. "This response will garner additional media scrutiny and only anger BLM activists. This is the worst response."

The document described BLM as a "radical movement" seeking "to be part of the conversation," but warned that BLM activists "don't want their movement co-opted by the Democrat Party."
House candidates are advised to "lead from behind." Democrats sure know how to do that, don't they?

So, you hear that, BLM activists. The Democrats are willing to cater to your demands simply for political reasons. You have won the war on rhetoric. But the BLM activists are not appeased.
“We are disappointed at the DCCC’s placating response to our demand to value all Black life. Black communities deserve to be heard, not handled. People are dying,” the organization said, in response to the leaked document.
Outside of such activists, I don't know how well it plays for the Democrats to demonstrate how cowed they are by BLM. I would bet that the great majority of voters are not appalled at the idea that "all lives matter."

No wonder Hillary is suddenly concerned about cybersecurity.

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For some reason, US News decided to examine what would happen if either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump were to die before the election.
The presidential election could be delayed or scrapped altogether if conspiracy theories become predictive and a candidate dies or drops out before Nov. 8. The perhaps equally startling alternative, if there's enough time: Small groups of people hand-picking a replacement pursuant to obscure party rules.

The scenarios have been seriously considered by few outside of the legal community and likely are too morbid for polite discussion in politically mixed company. But prominent law professors have pondered the effects and possible ways to address a late-date vacancy.

"There's nothing in the Constitution which requires a popular election for the electors serving in the Electoral College," says John Nagle, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, meaning the body that officially elects presidents could convene without the general public voting.

"It's up to each state legislature to decide how they want to choose the state's electors," Nagle says. "It may be a situation in which the fact that we have an Electoral College, rather than direct voting for presidential candidates, may prove to be helpful."

Both major parties do have rules for presidential ticket replacements, however, and Congress has the power to change the election date under Article II of the Constitution, which allows federal lawmakers to set dates for the selection of presidential electors and when those electors will vote.
This sounds like the sort of question my students would ask me in order to get the class going off on a more interesting tangent than whatever I had planned for the day. It's all sort of intriguing in the spirit of a faculty lounge conversation, but it sure would be a mess, especially if Congress decided to defer to unknown electors to choose the winner.

Jeff Greenfield has actually imagined a similar scenario with the president-elect dying before the Electoral College were to vote. He wrote a very fun novel, The People's Choice, 20 years ago. Suddenly, the nation's eyes are focused on a bunch of obscure electors and the political jockeying to win their support. I highly recommend it. It was tremendous fun for political junkies of any party. You might get some ideas to toss around for this year's election.

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Such a strange story.
The towering portrait of noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass arrived at Fisk University to great fanfare.

A gift from W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the university's most famous graduates, the near life-size painting was cause for unfettered celebration when he made the donation in 1959. In a letter to Du Bois, then-President Stephen J. Wright was effusive in his thanks.

"It is certainly a magnificent portrait and I feel that we must unveil it with some kind of appropriate ceremony," Wright wrote in a Dec. 28, 1959 letter. "We are very grateful to you for this priceless gift."

But now, more than 50 years later, the prized portrait is gone.

Fisk's newest leaders say they are not sure what became of the decades-old gift. After a Tennessean inquiry, along with historic documents tracing the painting's journey from Du Bois' home in Brooklyn to Nashville, officials at Fisk said they are mounting an intense investigation to find the portrait.
How do you lose a historic portrait that your university unveiled to great fanfare?

Apparently, this is the first time that Fisk has faced controversy over donated artwork.
The potential of a long-lost Douglass portrait comes at an awkward time for Fisk, as leaders there are trying to ensure alumni and community members that they are good stewards of the university's sprawling and storied art collection.

Controversy rippled at Fisk earlier this summer when news broke that leaders there had subtly sold two valuable pieces of donated art in 2010. Critics blasted the move, saying that Fisk was wrong to cash in on donated artwork that was intended to be displayed on campus.

It's a criticism Fisk has weathered before.

Also in 2010, Fisk was enmeshed in an extensive legal battle to sell off its prized Alfred Stieglitz Collection, which was donated to the university by Georgia O'Keeffe in 1949. The university eventually agreed to a multimillion-dollar deal to share the collection with a museum in Arkansas.

The new revelation that another piece of donated art has disappeared without documentation will surely lead to another wave of bad press.

But an expert on university museums said problems like this are not unique to Fisk. Universities often find holes in their art collections, sometimes many years after the work went missing.
Fisk is claiming incompetence rather than theft if that's any comfort. Whatever the explanation, it's a real shame to have a notable portrait of Frederick Douglass with its connections to W.E.B. Du Bois go missing.