Friday, November 18, 2016

Cruising the Web

Donald Trump's wish to continue to have his children as advisers would lead to all sorts of conflicts of interest if they're still running his businesses. The ordinary solutions that presidents in the past have used of putting their money in a blind trust won't work to alleviate concerns for businesses branded with his name. It's not blind if he knows where the income comes from.The WSJ writes,
Mr. Trump retaining ownership of his businesses while in the White House is largely unprecedented in modern politics, though presidents are exempt from conflict-of-interest rules that apply to other administration members. Critics have voiced concerns not only that he could take government actions to benefit his companies, but that people could pay his companies money in an attempt to influence the president’s actions.

“This is as direct a conflict of interest as I’ve ever seen,” said Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a nonpartisan ethics advocacy group. He said Mr. Trump’s conflicts can’t be solved but “can be minimized,” and called for him to place his holdings into a proper blind trust with an independent executor and to sell off his foreign investments. On Thursday, more than a dozen ethics groups sent an open letter to Mr. Trump urging him to do the same.
Another problem is that he has so many deals in foreign countries.
Transferring management of the companies to his children wouldn’t allow Mr. Trump to escape another potential problem. If he retains his ownership in his business, his company’s dealings abroad risk violating a constitutional provision that federal officers cannot accept payments or gifts from foreign countries without the consent of Congress. Violations of the clause—which has largely not been litigated—could result in forfeiting the payments to the U.S. government.
I wonder if Trump was aware of this law and the potential problems his businesses would face because of it when he jumped in the race. If so, it's another indication that he never really conceived of actually winning.

His first idea was to put his holdings in a trust managed by his children. As anyone can tell, that is not a blind trust. He's going to face continual criticisms and problems because of this. Already, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner is facing similar problems with his real estate holdings as he serves as an adviser to Trump. The WSJ recommends the only solutions - sell off his businesses and put the proceeds in a true blind trust.
The political damage to a new Administration could be extensive. If Mr. Trump doesn’t liquidate, he will be accused of a pecuniary motive any time he takes a policy position. For example, the House and Senate are eager to consider tax reform—and one sticking point will be the treatment of real estate, which will be of great interest to the Trump family business. Ditto for repealing the Dodd-Frank financial law, interest rates and so much more.

The conflicts span the globe, including a loan from the Bank of China and likely dealings with sovereign-wealth funds. Along the way Mr. Trump could expose himself to charges, however unfair, that he is violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits public officials from accepting gifts or payment from foreign governments.

Mixing money and politics could undermine his pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington. If a backlash allows Democrats to retake the House in 2018, Mr. Trump and his business colleagues would field subpoenas from the House Oversight Committee. Ranking minority member Elijah Cummings this week expressed his enthusiasm for such a project, and answering daily questions about this can’t be how Mr. Trump wants to spend his political capital.

There is no question that a Trump business sale would be painful and perhaps costly. We also dislike the double standard of ethics rules that put special burdens on business folks who want to enter politics, even as public-interest lawyers can move in and out of government without a peep of protest. Unlike liberals, Republicans like to work in the private economy.

But this is the modern world of Washington. And remember that Hillary Clinton lost in part because the public didn’t want a President who mixed politics and personal gain at the State Department and Clinton Foundation. Millions of Americans have put their trust in Mr. Trump to succeed as President and improve their lives, not treat this as a four-year hiatus from his business. The presidential stakes are too high for Mr. Trump to let his family business become a daily political target.
I can't see Trump selling off his entire business. He's too proud of it and it also provides jobs for his children. Perhaps he should have looked into this more when he was running. And I don't know that such a liquidation would remove him from criticism. Any company that purchased his companies now would be accused of trying to influence the future president. Remember the uproar when Gingrich got a big book deal after the 1994 election from HarperCollins, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. The criticism was so intense that the company was trying to buy influence from the new Speaker of the House that Gingrich had to announce that he would forgo the $4.5 million advance. Of course, there wasn't a similar uproar as Bill Clinton traveled the globe giving speeches for any dictator that would pay him while his wife was Secretary of State. People on the right complained, but the Democrats and most of the media just closed their eyes.

Don't expect similar passivity when questions about a Trump conflict of interest arises. The media will be seeking out such connections.

And while seeking to blast the slightest appearance of corruption in the Trump administration, the media continue to blithely shrug away their own conflicts.
In truth, there has been no such thing as a “mainstream” press since 2008, when, in a manifestation of the country’s political polarization, much of the media enlisted in the Obama campaign. The presidents of CBS and NBC have siblings on Obama’s national security staff who helped orchestrate the catastrophe at Benghazi. Key members of the White House staff are married to prominent national reporters for ABC and CNN. The morning news at CNN is anchored by Chris Cuomo, son of former New York governor Mario Cuomo and brother of current New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who has considered a presidential run. George Stephanopoulos, the anchor for ABC’s Sunday morning show, is a former senior advisor to President Clinton and maintains a connection to the Clinton Foundation.
They tell us that it is perfectly possible for journalists to maintain a disinterested, neutral approach to reporting despite their own personal political ideologies or connections to politicians. But businessmen? No way. Pecuniary conflicts are, apparently, much more powerful than partisan ones.

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The Democrats certainly have a different take on getting rid of the Senate filibuster on Supreme Court nominations now that they lost the White House.
When Democrats thought they had a lock on the White House and the Senate, retiring Senate minority leader Harry Reid made one thing abundantly clear: If necessary, Democrats would get rid of the Senate's 60-vote hurdle to confirm a Supreme Court justice—just as they had done for other judicial and executive branch appointments in 2013.
In fact the noxious Harry Reid even told the NYT that he in favor of getting rid of the filibuster for legislation as well as the Supreme Court nominations. But the Democrats, in the minority in the Senate, have a strange new respect for the Supreme Court.
But now that Republicans control the White House and Congress, Schumer is arguing it's important to keep the 60-vote requirement for Supreme Court nominees. "We did not change the rules for [the] Supreme Court because we thought on something as important as this there should be some degree of bipartisan agreement," Schumer said at a Wednesday press conference, trotting out an argument he never made while Harry Reid was threatening to abolish the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.
Democrats feel emboldened to filibuster a conservative nominee since they feel that they got hosed with how the Republicans treated Merrick Garland. But Republicans could emulate the Democrats and nuke the filibuster. Republicans talked a good game about how much they respected the filibuster and felt that it was crucial to keep it. McConnell hinted last week that he didn't want to get rid of the filibuster. We'll see if they feel differently now that a Republican president will be the one making the nomination.

Josh Jordan has fun with Slate's changing position on the Electoral College. Back in 2012, they were defending it. Now it's "an instrument of white supremacy--and sexism.

— Josh Jordan (@NumbersMuncher) November 17, 2016

Kimberley Strassel reports on how the Democrats, knowing what they do on why they lost at all levels in the election, have decided that the solution is to double down on all its policy positions.
What Democrats should realize, because everyone else does, is that voters rejected both their policies (which have undermined middle- and low-income families) and their governance (which has fueled rage at a power-hungry federal government). Hillary Clinton proposed more of the same. Coal workers said no. Blue-collar union workers said no. Suburban moms said no. Small businessmen, drowning under Dodd-Frank and ObamaCare, said no.

Instead Democrats think last week was an accident. Mrs. Clinton tells donors that she only lost because of FBI Director Jim Comey.Barack Obama faults Hillary’s tactics—she didn’t spend enough time in the right states. Michael Dukakis says Democrats only lost because of the Electoral College. Rachel Maddow blames third-party candidates.

All this denial has cleared the field for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the leading voice now calling on the party to recognize it has erred and needs change. She is telling the masses, however, that Democrats lost because they didn’t go big enough. They didn’t spend enough. Didn’t regulate enough. Didn’t socialize health care enough. Her prescription: Double down....

Both [Senators Warren and Sanders] intend to rally the furies of the progressive movement to oppose any Republican reform. Even Mr. Schumer’s polite outreach to Mr. Trump provoked a progressive meltdown, with screams that Senate Democrats are already “selling out.” This might be why Mr. Schumer, in penance, threw his support behind Mr. Ellison to lead the party.
They just aren't interested in providing the people who didn't vote for them in 2016 a reason to vote for them in 2018. Their only hope is that the general rule that the party in the White House loses seats in midterm elections will come into play again and sweep them into control of Congress. Perhaps. But it would be nice if they gave voters a reason to support them.

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Steven Hayward, who wrote an excellent biography of Reagan's presidency, The Age of Reagan, reminds us of how the media covered the Reagan transition in 1980. Instead of the headlines being that the transition is in disarray as it is now for Trump, the storyline the media took was that Reagan was out of the loop on his own transition because he spent a lot of the time at home or on his ranch while Ed Meese ran the transition. So perhaps we should wait more than a week before declaring Trump's transition to be a failure.

Jay Cost analyzes the collapse of the Obama coalition.
Obama's coalition fell apart because he failed utterly to maintain it during his tenure.

For eight years, we have heard stories about Obama's "coalition of the ascendant." Single women, millennials, Latinos and Asians, gays and lesbians, and so on, drove Obama to a fantastic electoral victory in 2008 and would power the Democrats for a generation—or more—to come.

While these blocs were integral to Obama's triumph in 2008, there were other, more humdrum factions as well—the typical ones that every Democratic politician, be he as cool as Obama or as boring as John Kerry, has to win over. The suburban women of Florida's I-4 corridor. The blue-collar workers in Dubuque and Erie. The African Americans in Detroit and Milwaukee, who are always counted on to deliver an enormous haul for the party. These voters are not the stuff of highfalutin' think pieces for liberal magazines, but they were nevertheless an essential part of Obama's victory.

They abandoned his successor last week. Not altogether, of course—but enough to serve the Democrats a shocking defeat.
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There had been warning signs from virtually the start of Obama's tenure.
Even though Obama's party suffered defeat after defeat since his inauguration in 2009, Obama just blithely pretended as none of those setbacks happened. He doubled down on his chosen policy actions.
When he lost his filibuster-proof Senate majority in 2010, he passed an unfinished version of Obamacare through the budget reconciliation process. When he and House speaker John Boehner were on the cusp of striking a grand bargain on taxes and entitlements in the summer of 2011, he insisted on additional tax hikes at the last minute, skunking the deal. When he won a narrow victory in 2012, he called for extensive gun control legislation, framing the debate in Manichean terms that alienated those Midwestern voters who had the gall to support him and the NRA simultaneously. When the Democrats lost the Senate in 2014, he enacted immigration reform through executive fiat and brokered a highly unpopular deal with Iran.
Cost concludes with this slashing insult: "He is not the 21st century's Ronald Reagan; he is its Woodrow Wilson."

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Hillary's popular vote majority is due to California. They went for her in higher percentages than other states.
But a closer look at the election returns show that Hillary's lead in the popular vote is entirely due to her oversized margin of victory in uber-liberal California.

First, let's look at the country as a whole.

So far, Trump has won the popular vote in 29 states, to Clinton's 20 states. (As of this writing, Michigan is still up in the air, although Trump currently leads in the vote count.) In other words, Trump carried 45% more states than Clinton.

Since winning state elections is what counts in the United States when running for president, Trump clearly outperformed Clinton. (Trump has 25% more electoral votes than Clinton.)

What's more, Trump's margin of victory in the states he won was, on average, higher than Clinton's.

Of the state's Trump won, he got 56.2% of the vote, on average. Of the states Clinton won, she got only 53.5% of the vote.

David Harsanyi points out that "Americans are remarkably tolerant people." The FBI's 2015 hate crime statistics which they released this week were trumpeted in the media as showing that hate crimes against Muslims had been surging. But the statistics don't really bear out such a conclusion.
Notwithstanding all its warts, the FBI’s hate crime report actually offers us a useful reminder: despite the presence of a number of idiotic and violent fellow humans — a plague on all cultures and races, regrettably —Americans are generally tolerant of others in the ways that matter most. When we consider the depth and sprawl of our diversity, it’s pretty clear we are unique to history. Look at any place in the world. When races, faiths, or ethnicities converge there is almost always strife and violence.

I wonder if the average American thinks about his country in that way anymore. I wonder if the average American understands how rare bias-motivated crimes are in his country. Since 9/11 we’ve been warned about an impending violent backlash against Muslims. Yet even with a number of horrific terrorist acts perpetrated by home-grown Islamists, it still hasn’t happened. Of all hate crimes, 19.7 percent were reported as religious bias. Among that group, 51.3 percent were reported as anti-Semitic and 22.2 percent were anti-Muslim. (Also, 17.7 percent were committed against one of the Christian faiths, which the FBI divides into multiple categories.)

This parody from Reason of SNL's skit last Saturday with Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton playing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is simply hilarious.
Here are the lyrics.
I heard the news and i was sad
A crazy man who’ll power grab
He'll probably bomb countries unapproved, yeah
The debt will double - Won't abate

He'll build up the surveillance state
I guess it won't be all that different, ooh yeah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

He might be so awful, So unhinged
Defense Secretaries leave and then
Imply his White House knows not what to do yeah

He'll wage a war on whistle-blows
there may be unexpected gropes
He’d be that nightmare
They call “deja vu” yeah

Hallelujah
Hellelujah

He might take the data from our phones
Have citizens killed by flying drones
Mock the disabled oh no we'll be through yeah
So if you're mad and on the streets
Concerned about this overreach
Well where’ve you been
It isn’t all that new, yeah

But Hallelujah
Hallelujah (H/T The Federalist)
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The National Republican Campaign Committee has an endorsement to make in the Democrats' leadership race.
With Nancy Pelosi facing a challenge within her own party after House Democrats’ disastrous election results, the NRCC would like to offer its full support to the embattled former Speaker of the House.

Under Nancy Pelosi’s leadership, House Democrats squandered their majority by forcing through unpopular legislation like Obamacare, of which Pelosi famously told us, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” After her party’s devastating 63 seat loss in the ensuing 2010 election, Pelosi miraculously maintained her spot as Democratic leader, which, predictably, led to the largest Republican majority since the 1920s.

Former Speaker Pelosi has also established herself as the world’s worst election prognosticator. Since her relegation to the minority, Pelosi has repeatedly assured reporters, cycle after cycle, that a Democrat majority is right around the corner, only to be soundly defeated each time.

“No single person deserves more credit for House Republicans’ historic majority than Nancy Pelosi,” said NRCC Communications Director Katie Martin. “Under Nancy Pelosi’s leadership, House Democrats have become completely irrelevant, and there is no better way to ensure that remains the case than by keeping her as Minority Leader. The NRCC offers its full support to Nancy Pelosi as she attempts to fend off this challenge to her failed leadership from within the ranks of her own party.”
Well played, NRCC, well played.

Here is an interesting profile of Texas Supreme Court judge Don Willett who is one of the people on Trump's list of possible 21 nominees to the Supreme Court. I've been following him on Twitter for a while and he comes across as the nicest guy with a fun sense of humor.  Wouldn't it be fun to have a tweeting justice?