Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Cruising the Web

Donald Trump spent another day distracting attention away from his cabinet picks and decisions for his new term by tweeting out silly stuff. Today it was his tweeting that flag burners should be stripped of their citizenship or jailed. Of course, the Supreme Court has made this impossible by ruling that flag burning is protected as freedom of speech. Just about everyone responded by reminding us that this can't be done and casting done. My first thought when I saw this was "Geez, here we go again with Trump tweeting out stupid stuff betraying his ignorance about the Constitution and how are system works." But then I thought remembered what a big deal this was back in the 1980s when the decision, Texas v. Johnson, was issued and how George H.W. Bush made it part of his 1988 presidential campaign. I still remember his visiting a flag factory to paint a contrast with Michael Dukakis. While I don't have all that high opinion of Trump's knowledge of how our system works, I do find it hard to believe that he was unaware of this issue or the attempts that have been made in the past to outlaw flag burning. Even Hillary Clinton got in on the act, along with Barbara Boxer back in 2005.
President-elect Donald Trump is coming under fire that there should be “consequences” for flag burners, but in 2005, Hillary Clinton backed a bill that would have criminalized burning the American flag.

While she was senator of New York, Clinton co-sponsored the Flag Protection Act of 2005, which would have outlawed “destroying or damaging a U.S. flag with the primary purpose and intent to incite or produce imminent violence or a breach of the peace.”
I don't remember anyone getting outraged about Clinton's attitude toward the First Amendment back then.

Even though antagonism toward flag-burning is very popular and it's hard to go wrong with a politician talking about respecting the flag, it still seems like such a non sequitur and a bad idea to distract attention from how he's putting together his new government. So I'm just about ready to buy James Taranto's theory of what Trump is doing with all his dumb tweets.
But why does he persist with the crazy tweets? Maybe he can’t help himself, but even that doesn’t preclude the possibility that there’s method to the madness.

For one thing, the outrage it draws provides opportunities to highlight Trump’s critics’ hypocrisy. Example: After the flag-burning tweet provoked vigorous defenses of the First Amendment, many people pointed out that then-Sen. Clinton was a lead sponsor of the Flag Protection Act of 2005. And of course her lukewarm endorsement of the Stein recount effort occasioned many reminders of how aghast Mrs. Clinton was when Trump refused to commit to accept the outcome of the election she was supposed to win.

For another, it confuses antagonistic journalists. It draws attention away from consequential stories that might be awkward or damaging to Trump, such as the potential conflicts of interest posed by his businesses....

From “we begin bombing in five minutes” to “the Cambridge police acted stupidly,” presidents have been bedeviled by “gaffes.” It’s possible Trump has come up with a way of neutralizing the risk—by making odd statements so often that they’ll eventually stop making news. In the best-case scenario he’ll help restore the balance of power in government by making fools of those who hang on the president’s every word.

And if nothing else, it’s entertaining. Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute—perhaps the most intensely anti-Trump person we encountered all year, which is saying a lot—tweeted this morning: “An ignoble confession: The next day’s news if Hillary had won would have been so depressing. Now, I can’t wait. Like watching a cliffhanger.”

Perhaps Trump is being crazy like a fox and is baiting his opponents into taking action to get great numbers of people siding with him in their moral outrage.
Will anti-Trump protesters be dumb enough to take the bait?

.....The big question in the coming days and weeks will be whether anti-Trump protesters have the self-control and self-awareness to realize that burning any American flags will play directly into Trump’s hands. As Charles pointed out, a ban on flag-burning is extremely popular, and most Americans instinctively detest the sight of the flag being burned. That’s the sort of provocation that raging anti-American mobs in foreign countries embrace. Of course, it’s likely that the most passionate – some would say unhinged – activists opposed to Trump are more interested in their own emotional catharsis than persuading the public about policy decisions.

Regardless of>ica,” because it will have the same effect on public opinion.
Noah Rothman thinks that Trump's tweets are simply "playing the public for fools.
Given the clumsy and unsophisticated messages he disseminates, it is easy to underestimate how elegantly Donald Trump wields his Twitter account. It is a populist cudgel with which he hectors his adversaries, validates his supporters, and presents himself to the nation as an accessible and relatable figure. Trump uses this asset to his advantage, albeit in ways that horrify Americans with a sense of civic decency....

Trump regularly primes the nation to engage in comfortably familiar fits of emotional pique over settled arguments (the constitutionality of flag burning has long been reconciled, but the practice is wildly unpopular). All the while, Trump manages to evade broader scrutiny over his complex conflicts of interest, none of which he seems all that eager to resolve and some which could put the country on a collision course toward a constitutional crisis....

These are scandals in the making, and scandals have a way of snowballing. Scandals related to personal corruption can make an administration toxic. They steal away friends, stiffen the resolve of adversaries, and make compromise impossible, even for members of the same party. The longer Donald Trump can keep the public’s focus off of that which matters and on frivolous, fabricated controversies, the longer he can postpone an inevitable clash with Congress. In this, Trump’s greatest assets are a public that demands nothing too complicated from the arbiters of political discourse and a media culture that is all too eager to oblige.

Or maybe people are just giving Trump too much credit and his Twitter is just an expression of his id and really has no more meaning or method than that.

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Jim Geraghty has a great rant
about the Ohio State University killer and his blaming his actions on how people treat Muslims.
But what comes through most is this whining sense of victimhood, that he’s forced to commit these atrocious, barbaric attacks on innocent people out of a righteous sense of self-defense to protect his feelings.

“I am sick and tired of seeing my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters being killed and tortured EVERYWHERE. Seeing my fellow Muslims being tortured, raped and killed in Burma led to a boiling point.”

See, Muslims aren’t being killed and tortured everywhere. It would be nice if someone close to him had told him that, and if fewer people helped fuel that rage-inducing falsehood. If he ever bothered to read a book or the news about places like Syria and Iraq, he would have learned that Muslims are mostly being killed and tortured by fellow Muslims. Who does he think are the majority of ISIS victims? Who does he think are blowing up mosques from Iraq to Yemen? Who does he think blew up those Muslims in the hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, or the Syrian refugee camp in Jordan,or set off the car bombs in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan, or the minivan filled with explosives in central Baghdad? It’s not Westerners! You don’t see American communities churning out waves and waves of gleeful suicide bombers!

Burma? Burma? If you’re so mad about that, buy a plane ticket and go on a rampage over there. What, you think the students at OSU secretly control the levers of power in Naypyidaw? (That’s the Myanmar capital, and don’t feel bad, I had to look it up, too.)

He’s convinced he and his fellow members of his faith are victims of an aggressive, malevolent West.

He believes this while attending class at Ohio State University. Nobody’s oppressing him. No one’s imprisoning him without charges, trial, or appeal. Nobody’s trying to kill him. No one’s closing his mosque, or banning his faith. He’s got a better life with more opportunities, freedom, and material abundance than probably 90-some percent of his fellow Muslims around the world. And he still thinks he’s a victim of a malevolent America, and that everyone around him is a legitimate target for retribution....

Is this guy a jihadist? Sure. Even worse, he’s a whiny Millennial jihadist, who thinks that everything in life is so uniquely unfair to him, and that he’s unjustly victimized everywhere he goes. In an interview with the campus newspaper this summer, he said, “If people look at me, a Muslim praying, I don’t know what they’re going to think, what’s going to happen. But I don’t blame them, it’s the media that put the picture in their heads.”

What, the unfair picture that any pious Muslim could be sympathetic to terrorists, a ticking time bomb, and full of murderous rage against everyone around him? Yeah, you sure showed us, pal! Allow me to float the theory that some people around this guy warily treated him like he was a nascent jihadist because he acted like a nascent jihadist.

Jay Cost looks at what Obama has wrought for his party.
When President Obama took office in 2009, Democrats claimed 257 House seats, 60 Senate seats (after Arlen Specter switched sides), 28 governorships, and total control of 27 state legislatures. Many pundits figured that the Republican party was turning into nothing more than a regional coalition, with little strength outside the South.
Since then there has been quite a list of losses many of which can be basically laid at Obama's door. From off-year elections in 2009 through the Republicans regaining the House in 2010. Obama got reelected but with fewer votes than he did in 2008, making him the only incumbent president to accomplish that feat. Then came the losses for the Democrats in 2014 giving control of the Senate to the Republicans. And 2016 was a surprising debacle for the party.
To be sure, it is typical for the party of the president to shed offices during his tenure. Generally speaking, voters tend to utilize the opposing party as a way to check the president—and over the course of eight years this can amount to a fairly substantial shift in power. Dwight Eisenhower, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, for instance, all entered the White House with their party in total control of Congress but left with the opposition in total control. Even under Ronald Reagan, who was enormously popular for most of his tenure, the GOP lost the Senate in 1986.

What makes Obama unique is the magnitude of his party's defeat. When he entered office, he and his party had broad control of the government. When he leaves office in two months, the opposition will have broad control of the government. That is quite extraordinary. In fact, during the postwar era, no two-term president has lost more U.S. House seats and state legislative seats than Obama.
While Obama is personally popular, his policies aren't. And he's contributed to the public losing faith in the liberal solution to policy problems.
Obama seems to have given big government a bad name. When he was elected in 2008, the exit poll found that 51 percent of Americans thought the government should do more, compared with 43 percent who thought it should do less. But in 2016, after eight years of Obama, the exit poll found that 45 percent thought the government should do more, compared with 50 percent who thought it should do less.

While people still like Obama, they haven't much cared for his policies—and time and again they have taken their frustrations out on his fellow partisans. Those hardy Democrats who have managed to survive the party's annihilation during the Obama years may think twice before asking him to jump into the political fray after he retires.
Of course, the Republicans shouldn't get too gleeful. They've yet to see how the public will respond to their policy initiatives especially after the Democrats get through demagoguing and demonizing such proposals. While Obama turned out not to be all that successful as a spokesman for his own policies, I can't see Trump as a great salesman for any policy proposal. He never seemed fluent with the conservative positions that he was supposedly supporting during the campaign. Perhaps he'll do better if he's in on the policy design from the get go, but I have serious doubts.

President Obama has his own explanation for what has gone wrong for his party - it's Fox News' fault plus his own focus on international affairs.
In this election, [white working class voters] turned out in huge numbers for Trump. And I think that part of it has to do with our inability, our failure, to reach those voters effectively. Part of it is Fox News in every bar and restaurant in big chunks of the country, but part of it is also Democrats not working at a grassroots level, being in there, showing up, making arguments. That part of the critique of the Democratic Party is accurate. We spend a lot of time focused on international policy and national policy and less time being on the ground. And when we’re on the ground, we do well.
Well, except for all those Democrats who have lost their jobs during the Age of Obama.

And then there are the powers that Obama has stretched out and now will hand over to Trump.
In all the outrage about the unhinged things Donald Trump keeps tweeting and saying, there’s been almost zero criticism at the fact that Obama will be partly responsible for the extraordinary scope of powers Trump inherits. The Obama administration has not only done nothing to curtail the slew of extreme national security and war powers that Trump is about to acquire since the election – the White House is actively expanding them.

One of the most undercovered aspects of Obama’s legacy has been how he has waged war, unilaterally expanding the original 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks almost beyond recognition. It’s currently being used to legally justify the administration’s war on Isis in about a half dozen countries (that we know of), despite Isis not being in existence at the time AUMF was passed. It’s also being used to authorize action against a host of other groups, though who they are is classified.

Now, the Obama administration has warped the AUMF even further. As the New York Times reported on Monday, the White House is claiming it can use the 2001 law to go after al-Shabaab in Somalia, another group that didn’t exist in 2001, which the Times openly states in its lead paragraph “will strengthen President-elect Donald J Trump’s authority” to wage war when he enters office.

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It's nice to see Oklahoma continuing the tradition of sending a senator to Washington who is serious about cutting wasteful spending. Senator Tom Coburn was one of my favorite senators with his common-sense approach to the role of the federal government. And now Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma is continuing Coburn's tradition of issuing an compendium, the Wastebook, listing silly government spending.
If Shakespeare is performed without the bard’s immortal words, is it really Shakespeare?
The National Endowment for the Arts has committed $10,000 of taxpayers’ money to test that question — one of dozens of projects to make the wasteful spending list of Sen. James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican who’s continuing the tradition of former Sen. Tom Coburn’s annual Wastebook.
The National Science Foundation again comes in for an outsized share of criticism for its research spending, including a $1.8 million grant to a university that spent some of the money on embroidered Snuggies, the robe-style blankets that are a staple of As-Seen-On-TV trinket advertising.
It's not just silly grants that Lankford is highlighting. There are more serious items on the list.
Mr. Lankford’s compilation of bogus spending ranged from questionable spending to agency mismanagement to broader policy decisions that, the senator said, showed just how far off track the government has gone.
One of those is the administration’s decision to ship Iran some $1.7 billion in payments tied to the Islamic Republic’s release of American hostages. Also facing scrutiny was the Obama administration’s call to spend $750 million to boost Central America, as a way of trying to stop the surge of illegal immigrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

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