Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Cruising the Web

Could the GOP muscle Neil Gorsuch's nomination through the Senate without having to invoke the nuclear option even if there are not eight Democratic senators who would vote for cloture on debate? Sean Davis argues that Mitch McConnell could take advantage of a rule I'd never heard of - the two-speech rule. It's complicated but the gist of the matter is that there is a Senate rule that the majority could invoke that would allow each senator the opportunity to speak only two times on the same topic on the same legislative day. And the definition of a legislative day is very elastic and could be extended basically indefinitely. And for those who mi ght object to such a maneuver, it has been used in the past, most notably to break the filibuster launched (by Democrats, by the way) against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. If it was good enough then, it's clearly not some nefarious plot even if Republicans were to use it today. I happen to think that there will be eight Democratic senators who will not support a filibuster whether on philosophical grounds, enough respect for Gorsuch to not deny him a vote on the floor, or from fear of the 2018 election results for those running in red states.

By the way, Rule XIX, the rule Sean Davis is talking about, appeared last night when Elizabeth Warren was giving a speech to an empty floor badmouthing Senator Sessions. McConnell showed up and invoked the part of Rule XIX which says that a senator can't say bad things about another senator and, if she continues, to do so, she must take her seat and can't speak any more. The Senate then voted along party lines that Warren couldn't speak any more. Of course, this makes Warren even more popular among her base and she was immediately on the phone to Rachel Maddow to spin what happened as McConnell won't allow Coretta Scott King's words to be read on the Senate floor.

As Walter Shapir of Roll Call points out, the Democrats in the Senate don't really have any good options on Gorsuch's nomination. And whom should they blame? Given that they had a good opportunity to take back the Senate, Shapiro argues that the Democrats had some weak candidates.
Of course, the Democrats partly have their own 2016 candidates to blame. Both Russ Feingold in Wisconsin and Katie McGinty in Pennsylvania lost their states by larger margins than Hillary Clinton did. And Evan Bayh blew what was widely regarded as a slam-dunk race that would have helped give the Democrats a Senate majority. - See more at:
Shapiro goes on to look at the possible tactics the Democrats could use to block Gorsuch. And none of them would end up with defeat for Gorsuch or Trump's ability to get his nominee on the high court. And then they'll have to convince their base that it's not their fault.
Game this out almost any way you want, and it is hard to see anything better than a Pyrrhic victory for the Senate Democrats. For all the worries about normalizing Donald Trump, the Gorsuch fight would revolve around attacking the White House for appointing someone that a Republican president like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio might have chosen.

One of the hardest things in politics is for an out-of-power party to convince its most ardent supporters that its options on Capitol Hill are limited. It is why many conservatives still seethe over the failure of congressional Republicans to repeal Obamacare after the 2010 rebellion at the polls. Or, going back further, why liberals couldn’t understand the failure of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to end the Iraq War on taking the gavel in 2007.
Welcome to the world that Republicans have inhabited during the last eight years. They might have talked a big game when they were running for election, but it turns out that our system of government isn't set up for Congress to be able to force the president to do what they want.

The WSJ marvels that the Senate Democrats marshalled all their resources against Betsy DeVos.
hy would the entire party apparatus devote weeks of phone calls, emails and advocacy to defeating an education secretary? This isn’t Treasury or Defense. It’s not even a federal department that controls all that much education money, most of which is spent by states and local school districts. Why is Betsy DeVos the one nominee Democrats go all out to defeat?

The answer is the cold-blooded reality of union power and money. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers are, along with environmentalists, the most powerful forces in today’s Democratic Party. They elect Democrats, who provide them more jobs and money, which they spend to elect more Democrats, and so on. To keep this political machine going, they need to maintain their monopoly control over public education.

Mrs. DeVos isn’t a product of that monopoly system. Instead she looked at this system’s results—its student failures and lives doomed to underachievement—and has tried to change it by offering all parents the choice of charter schools and vouchers. Above all, she has exposed that unions and Democrats don’t really believe in their high-minded rhetoric about equal opportunity. They believe in lifetime tenure and getting paid.

This sorry politics means that no Democrat could dare support Mrs. DeVos, even if it meant a humiliating about-face like the one performed by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. As the mayor of Newark, Mr. Booker supported more school choice and he even sat on the board of an organization that would become the American Federation for Children (AFC), the school reform outfit chaired by Mrs. DeVos.

As recently as May 2016, Mr. Booker delivered an impassioned speech at the AFC’s annual policy summit in Washington. He boasted about how Newark had been named by the Brookings Institution “the number four city in the country for offering parents real school choice.”

He described the school-choice cause this way: “We are the last generation, fighting the last big battle to make true on that—that a child born anywhere in America, from any parents, a child no matter what their race or religion or socio-economic status should have that pathway, should have that equal opportunity, and there is nothing more fundamental to that than education. That is the great liberation.”

Some liberator. On Tuesday Mr. Booker voted no on Mrs. DeVos.

His calculation is simple. Mr. Booker is angling to run for President in 2020, and to have any chance at the Democratic nomination he needs the unions’ blessing. He knows that a large chunk of both the party’s delegates and campaign funding comes from the teachers unions, and so he had to repent his school-choice apostasy.

The unions can’t even tolerate a debate on the subject lest their monopoly power be threatened. All that chatter about “the children” is so much moral humbug.

Mrs. DeVos is a wealthy woman who could do almost anything with her time and money. She has devoted it to philanthropy for the public good, in particular working to ensure that children born without her advantages can still have an equal shot at the American dream. She knows education should be about learning for children and not jobs for adults.

All you need to know about today’s Democratic Party is that this is precisely the reason the party went to such extraordinary lengths to destroy her. We trust she realizes that her best revenge will be to use every resource of her new job to press the campaign for charter schools and vouchers from coast to coast.

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James Kirchick writes to explain that "fake news" is not a problem unique to the right. The left has their own "fake news" problem. There have been quite a few hate-crime hoaxes since the election. You can read his column for a discussion of some of these stories of people alleging attacks by Trump supporters who attacked them for being Muslim or black or some other minority group whom Trump voters, apparently, decided to randomly attack or who have suffered due to Trump's policies.
At a time when liberal opponents of Trump and his populist counterparts across Europe worry about the proliferation of “fake news” and a “post-fact world”—entirely legitimate concerns—it is important for them to get their own house in order and recognize that the penchant for incendiary distortions and outright lying is not exclusive to the right. For the real damage of these false accusations is ultimately visited upon not the imaginary Trump supporter but the anti-Trump cause itself—as well as the habits of critical thinking that are more necessary than ever for citizens of our republic.

The tendency to hyperbolize about Trump is partly influenced by an identity-politics-driven myopia which can’t see the unprecedentedly threatened societal forest because it’s so obsessed with each and every single one of the supposedly endangered trees. In the days after the presidential election, I came across countless social media posts in which the author recited some variation of the following lament: “Trump’s victory will most hurt women, African-Americans, undocumented immigrants, LGBT people, etc.” the list of potential victim groups extending sometimes for an entire paragraph or more. It was as if the authors of these posts were completely oblivious to the joke about the apocryphal New York Times headline, “WORLD ENDS: BLACKS AND WOMEN HARDEST HIT.” The bizarre inclusion of “LGBT” in this litany of victimhood notwithstanding (Trump ran as the most pro-gay Republican presidential candidate in history and made a point of addressing transgender concerns), there is indeed good reason for women, African-Americans, and illegal immigrants to be fearful of a president who boasted about sexual assault, spent years peddling a racist conspiracy theory about the country’s first black president, and promised to deport 11 million people.

But Donald Trump is not going to bring back Jim Crow, nor is his election going to result in the decriminalization of domestic violence, as just occurred in Russia. The predictions of impending doom for America’s minority populations sound a bit parochial in light of the negative consequences bound to be felt by vulnerable peoples in other parts of the world as a result of Trump’s ascension. Maybe the years I spent living and traveling throughout Central and Eastern Europe have warped my view of these things, but my list of the Trump administration’s likely casualties would be topped by Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles, Ukrainians and all the other peoples fated to live in what used to be called the “captive nations” who will likely be sacrificed upon the altar of Trump’s grand bargain with Vladimir Putin.

The aforementioned false accounts of actual and threatened violence against minorities are all examples of confirmation bias in which well-meaning, liberal anti-Trump journalists report on something that they want to be true or that is emotionally true for them but is factually false. This phenomenon is little different from when Trump and his supporters make false claims about things they want to be true or that are emotionally true for them, like the claim that “thousands” of Muslims celebrated the Sept. 11 attacks somewhere in the tristate area or that Mexican immigrants are raping and killing their way across America at an unprecedented clip. One unintended but important consequence of the anti-Trump opposition’s false stories is that they help legitimize the false stories on the other side, which is actually in power, thus making this tendency on the left particularly stupid and dangerous.
And these dog-whistle comments from the left are working. I hear regularly from my high school students their fears about which civil liberties will be taken away from them by Trump. Kirchik refers to the accusation that Mike Pence supports "conversion therapy" for gays, an accusation that Carl M. Cannon researched and found that the evidence for this goes back to a 2000 entry on a congressional website he ran saying that, as Kirchik summarizes,
anti-HIV/AIDS “resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” which could just as much mean a safe-sex-promoting, sex-positive group like Gay Men’s Health Crisis as it could the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, the homophobic “fake news” equivalent of a professional psychiatric organization. Yet the accusation that Mike Pence supports such harmful practices has now become an accepted truth, particularly among liberal gays, most likely because they never read beyond the deceptive and sensationalistic headlines of articles slapdashedly shared by their outraged friends on Facebook. A New York Times piece last year that attempted to clear up the matter just obfuscated it even further by quoting a lesbian activist who claimed that the language on Pence’s 17-year-old campaign website was “a dog whistle.” If so, it must have been beyond ultrasonic, as not even the most perceptive of homophobes could have concluded that Pence was expressing support for conversion therapy. If the proliferation of “fake news” derives from declining trust in established news institutions, here is one prominent example of why that lack of trust is not entirely unwarranted.
Cannon's report had concluded about this supposed evidence,
So there’s your “conversion therapy” angle. It’s thin gruel, especially because in the context of the times and the Ryan White Act, a more obvious reading of the statement is that Pence’s campaign literature called for spending federal money encouraging “safe sex,” not changing sexual orientation.
Perhaps Pence was supportive of conversion therapy, but this sentence on a 2000 website doesn't give conclusive proof and isn't enough on which to rest that accusation. But once the accusation is out there, it spreads and is treated as fact.

Given that this attack on Pence is now accepted truth on the left (and has been quoted to me by my students explaining why they think Pence is so awful), we can see how "fake news" spreads its tentacles through the populace due to both what people and the left and right are writing. And we're all the losers because we can't determine which news we hear should be trusted.
Now that Trump is in the White House, much of the media feels uninhibited in their campaign to destroy him, seeing the unprecedented nature of his presidency as license to get away with anything. Take Jonathan Weisman, deputy Washington editor of The New York Times. Since he was targeted by pro-Trump, anti-Semitic Twitter trolls last summer, Weisman—a man who is supposed to at least feign objectivity—has completely dropped any pretense of political independence. His own Twitter feed—like the feeds of a growing number of Times reporters—is a constant stream of anti-Trump invective indistinguishable from committed anti-Trump pundits like myself.

Why do I hold myself and Jonathan Weisman to such wildly differing standards? Because my job is to opine and provoke. His job is to accurately report on events, so that I know that the things I am reacting to are real, rather than the products of angry mass hallucinations or partisan messaging campaigns. By publicly refusing to do his job, he makes my job (and all our jobs as engaged citizens) much harder because I can’t reasonably trust that what I read in The New York Times is factual or based on good sourcing. Who in their right mind inside the Trump administration would talk to The New York Times, except to mislead the paper’s reporters and editors, by spinning them up or sending them off on wild goose chases that serve the administration’s own aims? How can I trust that what I read in the paper’s news columns isn’t hopelessly distorted by the angry bias evident in the social-media feeds of the paper’s editors and reporters? Much of the reporting on the Trump administration thus far seems to be so poorly sourced, riddled with caricature and negative wishful thinking as to be actively misleading, for all intents and purposes “fake news.” The beneficiary of the resulting confusion and hysteria is not The New York Times or its readers. It’s Donald Trump.

Another negative consequence of the left’s sloppiness in attacking Trump is that it unwittingly encourages an obnoxious tendency on the right to abandon criticism of the president’s glaring deficiencies for the more comfortable and familiar terrain of bashing leftists. For instance, using the word “hacking” to describe Russia’s role in the election lazily amalgamates the proven theft of Democratic party emails and their dissemination through Wikileaks with the totally unproven claim that Moscow somehow fiddled with the vote tabulations. And so rather than conduct some much-needed soul searching as to why the Russians preferred their candidate to his Democratic opponent, many Republicans choose to refute a false charge instead of confronting the correct one. Likewise, promoting the salacious dossier on Trump compiled by a former MI6 officer as if it were gospel truth allows the president to conflate its extraordinary—and entirely unproven—claims with the likely more accurate conclusions, reached by American intelligence agency heads “with high confidence,” that Russian President Vladimir Putin himself “ordered an influence campaign” in the election to help Trump.

The erroneousness of many allegations against Donald Trump, and the reckless abandon with which people make them, are symptomatic of the left’s broader failure to acknowledge that their actions and behavior are in any way responsible for his rise. Their obliviousness is of a piece with their shock that a president who studiously avoided uttering the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” for eight years would be succeeded by a president who can’t say anything but. This country is entering a dark period, which makes it all the more important to engage in serious intellectual combat. The truth about Trump is awful enough that it needs no embellishment.
I'm not saying that Trump supporters haven't spread their own versions of fake news, just that they're not the only ones guilty of that. And with mainstream media now being part of the problem, no wonder people are just relying on their social media feeds as their sources of information. Ant that is truly unfortunate.

And speaking of "fake news," we've heard over and over again that "fake news" affected the election results. However, John Sexton links to a report in The Economist on a study done by professors at NYT and Stanford analyzing the role of fake news stories and the election.
The authors collected a database of fake news stories shared before the election and surveyed 1,200 Americans about them. These fake stories seemed very much slanted in favour of Mr Trump. In the three months before the election, Americans shared pro-Trump fake news stories 30m times on Facebook—almost four times more than false news favouring his opponent, Hillary Clinton. It seems that seeing was believing. Half of the people surveyed who viewed a fabricated headline believed it, compared to 10% of those who had not....

Their analysis has something of a sausage factory about it—the outputs are more appealing than the inputs. The lack of difference between recall rates of the “real” fake news and the “fake” fake news is worrying, as it suggests that respondents were guessing for all of their answers. On the other hand, it could reflect the fact that their placebo, “fake” fake headlines were too plausible, in which case their correction would significantly underestimate exposure to fake news. Whichever is true, their main finding, that fake news would need to be overwhelmingly more powerful than television ads to have changed the election result, holds up. False headlines might have contributed to the election outcome, but the evidence here does not suggest that it was pivotal.

All this is not to say that people should not worry about a slow descent into a post-truth world. Although it seems unlikely that fake news had a similar effect on vote-switching to television ads (14% of those surveyed in the study reported that social media was their “most important” news source) the corrosive effects of disinformation on public trust in institutions should not be dismissed. Just as bad, it can reinforce an already polarised political landscape. The economists found that Republicans are 300-700% more likely than Democrats to believe false pro-Trump headlines, while Democrats are 50-100% more likely to lap up pro-Clinton ones.
The authors of the study conclude,
In summary, our data suggest that social media were not the most important source of election news, and even the most widely circulated fake news stories were seen by only a small fraction of Americans. For fake news to have changed the outcome of the election, a single fake news story would need to have convinced about 0.7 percent of Clinton voters and non-voters who saw it to shift their votes to Trump, a persuasion rate equivalent to seeing 36 television campaign ads.
I wonder what the results would be now if they tried to compute what people believe about anti-Trump or anti-GOP headlines compared to anti-Democrats headlines and how much people believe today.

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Melania Trump wins a victory over a blogger who published a defamatory article about her. However, she is also suing the Daily Mail for a story it published saying that she had been a paid escort. There is no evidence of this being true and she's now sued in New York State. She has a strong case that the story was false and irresponsible. However, she also is alleging the harm that this story did to her. Timothy Carney points to the distasteful argument that she is making.
The harm the first lady alleges is eye-catching.

The first lady's "brand has lost significant value," the suit alleges, "and major business opportunities that were otherwise available to her have been lost and/or substantially impacted."

Specifically, the article allegedly harmed her "licensing, marketing and endorsement opportunities," costing her "multiple millions of dollars."
Carney quotes from her brief about her commercial brand and how she, as "one of the most photographed women in the world" may launch products "among other things, apparel, accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, hair care, skin care and fragrance." So the Melania is pondering how she can launch products monetizing her role as First Lady. Carney writes,
this paragraph clearly implies Trump hopes or hoped to launch a line of clothes and beauty products, while first lady or while wife of the GOP nominee for president. Further, this alleged business plan didn't merely coincide with her husband's presidency, but it seems to have relied in large part on the fame and constant media presence of being married to the president of the United States.

Given the way lawyers work, maybe this business plan never existed. Maybe Trump's attorneys are using terms like "had … the opportunity," in a very vague way in order to maximize the supposed harm of the alleged libel. But the White House hasn't pushed back on this suit or responded to media queries. So the simplest conclusion is that she plans or planned to run this business.

This is almost exactly what people see as the problem with Washington. This lies near the heart of the swamp that voters in Middle America wanted drained.

When a politician can go and spend four, eight, or 20 years in "public service" and emerge wealthier than he or she entered, that reeks. When the well-connected use their proximity to power to enrich themselves, that's a rigged system. Across the country, Trump voters were furious when I told them that six of America's seven wealthiest counties are within commuting distance of the U.S. Capitol.

Using one's fame to sell high heels isn't as corrupting as using one's former elected office to sell access, but it still presents conflicts of interest. Lyndon Johnson's wife ran a radio station which enriched her and Lyndon while he was in office. The opportunities for corruption here were plentiful, from advertisers seeking access to Johnson to regulators granting the station special privileges.

Many of the same conflicts that exist for President Trump and his hotel business would exist for the first lady launching a clothing line.
Sounds like she and her husband have more in common than one might have imagined.

Her representatives are now denying that she has any intention of trying to benefit from her position as First Lady. If so, she needs to talk to her lawyers about what they put in her lawsuit since the wording of their suit certainly left that impression.

When Democrats accuse Neil Gorsuch of being "out of the mainstream," here is a fact to ponder.
According to an analysis by Jeff Harris at Kirkland & Ellis, Judge Gorsuch has written some 800 opinions since joining the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006. Only 1.75% (14 opinions) drew dissents from his colleagues. That makes 98% of his opinions unanimous even on a circuit where seven of the 12 active judges were appointed by Democratic Presidents and five by Republicans. Add the senior judges, who hear fewer cases, and the circuit has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

Judge Gorsuch is known on the Tenth Circuit as a strong writer and consensus builder, and the pattern extends to his participation in opinions by other judges. Judge Gorsuch has heard roughly 2,700 cases and dissented in only 35—1.3%.

Not many of his cases have ended up at the Supreme Court, but when they have his analysis has been routinely upheld by the Justices. Of at least eight cases considered by Mr. Gorsuch that were appealed to the Supreme Court, the Justices upheld his result in seven. In four of those the decisions were unanimous.

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Ah, liberals - they're determined to be angry unless everything possible is politicized. And now some liberal and journalists are ticked off that Lady Gaga didn't make her half-time performance a political attack on Trump or America or whatever. Ben Shapiro writes,
this drove some on the left out of their mind.

Here’s Mikael Wood of The Los Angeles Times: “Lady Gaga misses her Super Bowl moment to say something profound.” Wood complained, “the 30-year-old singer offered up a disappointing 12-minute medley that lacked any edge or tension….You wish she’d taken in more of what was going on offstage.”

Here’s Chris Richards at The Washington Post: “Lady Gaga calls herself a rebel, but at the Super Bowl she played it safe.” Complimenting Beyonce’s ridiculous pro-Black Panthers routine at the Supre Bowl last year, Richards wrote, “With a forceful elegance, BeyoncĂ© had set a precedent for what could be done on this stage — musically and politically. By comparison, Gaga whiffed.”

Here’s Piet Levy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Gaga's overwrought performance overshadowed a potentially meaningful moment.”

The word “safe” appears in reviews from Variety, The New York Daily News (Gaga “landed flat”), Newsday, and a bevy of other outlets.

For today’s media, it’s a sin to merely perform the hits for which you’re known. If you’re given a large stage, you must immediately begin spouting protest lines from the Women’s March, or you’re a sell-out, no matter how many events you did with Hillary Clinton.

You will be forced to take a position, to shout about politics, to destroy your audience goodwill by insulting at least half of them.

Lady Gaga didn't.

So here’s a phrase I never thought I’d write: thanks, Lady Gaga. Most Americans who were watching the Super Bowl wanted a break from the partisan rancor that now consumes most of our event-driven lives. You provided that break. That’s a statement in and of itself in a time when everybody needs to calm down and take a deep breath. (Links in the original)

Nate Silver refutes the idea
that the Patriots victory in the Super Bowl is like the election.
If your social media feeds are like mine, they contained a blurry mix of politics and sports on Sunday night. So as the Atlanta Falcons collapsed, there were a lot of people (myself included!) comparing them to Hillary Clinton and the victorious New England Patriots to Donald Trump. But Super Bowl Sunday and election night weren’t really very much alike. On one of them, something highly unlikely occurred — and the other was pretty much par for the course.

The truly unlikely event was the Patriots’ epic comeback. According to ESPN’s win probability model, their chances bottomed out at 0.2 percent in the third quarter, when they trailed 28-3. By contrast, Trump’s chances were 29 percent on election morning, according to FiveThirtyEight’s polls-only model. Those are really different forecasts; if you trust the models, Trump’s Election Day victory was more than 100 times likelier than Tom Brady’s comeback.
He then goes into a lot of stat-speak to demonstrate how extremely unlikely it was that the Patriots would come back and the Falcons fold whereas Trump's Electoral College victory was not that unlikely given the problems with polling individual states.