Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Cruising the Web

I've been thinking for a while what a shame it is that Woodrow Wilson started the tradition of giving the State of the Union in person instead of sending up a written document. There is all this pomp and circumstance and attention for a president to basically give a campaign speech. And the tradition of a president giving one when he's been in office only a few weeks is ridiculous. He's not reporting on the state of the union but just giving a laundry list of promises. And that is what Trump did last night. He made a lot of promises without many specifics - just what he's been doing since he came on the scene. But at least his demeanor was more presidential. He does much better when he's reading the prompter instead of riffing on whatever comes into his head. It was a pleasure not to hear his blasts at the media. Though I had to laugh at Trump telling us that "the time for trivial fights is behind us." Yeah, how long will that last - from either side?

I think that Drucker's observation on how Trump's affect last night might help him with independents is correct.
"Overall his bearing and his focus on the economy and security will put him in the sweet spot of the electoral mandate he got in November," Republican strategist Brad Todd said.

Trump's speech was unique to him in its conventionality, both in tone and delivery. And that is likely to help him with voters who find his agenda appealing but have been looking for more presidential behavior out of the commander in chief.
Of course, all the good he wins from one big speech can be cancelled out by his next Twitter rant.
With Trump, it could all change on Wednesday with a fresh tweet or jab at his political opponents or the press. And immense challenges remain for Trump, who is promising more than he can possibly deliver.

But Democrats could find Trump more difficult to combat if he sticks to the script. And even if he doesn't, the tweets and barbs could be less of a distraction if they disappear under the umbrella of strong speeches to the nation like the one he gave Tuesday night.

As far as policy I wish he'd lay off all his pushing of protective tariffs. His language on ending regulations and tax reform are good. But his promises on not touching entitlements yet promising a new entitlement for paid family leave. Doesn't he realize that that is a new regulation on business that rather cancels out his promises on economic growth based on unleashing American business through deregulation can be cancelled out if he adds a new requirement on them? Though it was rather funny that the Democratic women who, I thought, had a visually successful symbolism wearing white to try to connect to suffragettes, couldn't even stand up for a policy for families that they actually support.

Robert Costa captured the peculiar aspects of this speech.

I do like that he spoke of education reform and put it in the context of a civil right to minorities. Those are the ones who would benefit from school choice.
President Trump, I hope you’re enjoying this. Savor this. Listen to those rave reviews flowing in on social media and on the news networks. See what happens when you tone it down, just a little! See what happens when you listen to the outside advice, stick to the prepared remarks (mostly), let professional speechwriters figure out how to make the rhetoric hit the right notes and when to soar, and what happens when you use a teleprompter.

Lord knows how long this Decaffeinated Trump will last, but for a little longer than an hour, he came across as impassioned but not irate, determined but respectful, eager to unify instead of constantly lashing out at every criticism.

But the man so often criticized as a narcissist really escaped his past image when he finally shifted the spotlight and paid tribute to those extraordinary individuals that all Americans must honor.

Jim Geraghty writes about what I was thinking.

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Germany's green energy policies are costing the country in several ways. They've gone all in on wind and solar power and subsequently are suffering power blackouts. So now they have to depend on other fuels - coal, gas, and nuclear - to keep the country going.
Germany was forced to recommission coal power plants to simply keep the lights on. The country’s green energy plans calls for the shut down of 30 such power plants by 2019.

Green energy approaches failed to meet Germany’s stated energy goals, even after spending over $1.1 trillion. The country’s “Energiewende” plan to boost wind and solar production to fight global warming hasn’t significantly reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and may have actually caused them to go up.

As a result of green energy’s rampant unreliability, Germany plans to cap the total amount of wind energy at 40 to 45 percent of national capacity, according to a report published by the German newspaper Berliner Zeitung. Germany will get rid of 6,000 megawatts of wind power capacity by 2019.

The country’s trendy and ineffective energy policy already forced payments to wind farms in the amount of $548 million last year to switch off, which prevented additional damage to the electric grid, according to a survey of power companies by the German newspaper Wirtschaftswoche.

Due to the inherent unreliable performance of wind power and political opposition to nuclear power plants, Germany has been forced to return to coal to generate electricity. Coal now provides 44 percent of Germany’s power, This shift caused Germany’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to actually rise by 28 million tons each year following the policy shift.

All of Germany’s subsidies and support for green energy have sharply increased power prices, with the average German paying 39 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity. The average American only spends 10.4 cents per kilowatt-hour by comparison.
It's a shame that there such irrational fear of nuclear energy which could provide both clean and plentiful energy.
Called a molten-salt reactor, the technology was conceived during the Cold War and forgoes solid nuclear fuel for a liquid one, which it can "burn" with far greater efficiency than any power technology in existence. It also generates a small fraction of the radioactive waste compared to today's commercial reactors, which all rely on solid fuel.

And, in theory, molten-salt reactors can never melt down.

"It's reliable, it's clean, it basically does everything fossil fuel does today," Kirk Sorensen, the chief technology officer of nuclear-energy startup Flibe Energy, told Business Insider...

"And it does a whole bunch of things it doesn't do today, like make energy without emitting carbon," he added, though the same could be said of any nuclear reactor.

What's more, feeding a molten-salt reactor a radioactive waste from mining, called thorium (which is three to four times more abundant than uranium), can "breed" as much nuclear fuel as it burns up.

Manhattan Project scientist Alvin Weinberg calculated in 1959 that if we could somehow harvest all the thorium in the Earth's crust and use it in this way, we could power civilization for tens of billions of years....

Ounce per ounce, uranium provides roughly 16,000 times more energy than coal and creates millions of times less pollution.

The argument to support growth in nuclear energy is so clear to James Hansen, a seasoned climatologist and outspoken environmentalist, that he passionately advocates for the use and development of the technology.

"To solve the climate problem, policy must be based on facts and not on prejudice. The climate system cares about greenhouse gas emissions — not about whether energy comes from renewable power or abundant nuclear power," Hansen and three other well-known scientists — Ken Caldeira, Kerry Emanuel, and Tom Wigley — wrote in an editorial for The Guardian in 2015.

"Nuclear energy can power whole civilisations, and produce waste streams that are trivial compared to the waste produced by fossil fuel combustion," they wrote. "Nuclear will make the difference between the world missing crucial climate targets or achieving them."

Climate science aside, the economics of nuclear energy are enough of a draw to make the technology worthwhile.

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JOnah Goldberg observes that we are living in a "remarkably stupid time." Today's bit of evidence is that journalists at the online site Quartz have studied the crucial question of how voice-recognition gadget will respond to sexually-tinged and abusive comments from their owners. Seriously. Here is what Quartz decided was worth studying.
People often comment on the sexism inherent in these subservient bots’ female voices, but few have considered the real-life implications of the devices’ lackluster responses to sexual harassment. By letting users verbally abuse these assistants without ramifications, their parent companies are allowing certain behavioral stereotypes to be perpetuated. Everyone has an ethical imperative to help prevent abuse, but companies producing digital female servants warrant extra scrutiny, especially if they can unintentionally reinforce their abusers’ actions as normal or acceptable.
In order to substantiate claims about these bots’ responses to sexual harassment and the ethical implications of their pre-programmed responses, Quartz gathered comprehensive data on their programming by systematically testing how each reacts to harassment. The message is clear: Instead of fighting back against abuse, each bot helps entrench sexist tropes through their passivity.
So they made sexual advances to gadgets and then gathered data on how Siri, Alexa, Google Home, and Cortana responded. And you know what, a lot of times, the gadgets didn't understand or ignored the comments. Sometimes, they even responded positively. They are clearly being kept down by the man! And their passivity in accepting sexual abuse from Quartz writers is a sign at how the patriarchy is a sexist capitalist plot. Women have been kept down for centuries and now it's continuing with our "digital servants" who have been programmed to accept sexual stereotypes and harassment. You have to read their "study" to believe it. Who knew that there were all sorts of guys out there who think it's a hoot to call Siri and Alexa sexist names to see how they'll respond. Yes, we do live in tremendously stupid times. The next thing is for researchers to get a government grant to study this important issue in more depth.

Jim Geraghty reports on a study by Lanae Erickson Hatalsky and Jim Kessler for the Third Way think tank on demographics and the 2016 election. Democrats have been hoping that demographics will be destiny and lead to the "Permanent Democratic Majority" that John Judis predicted back in 2002. Not so fast.
First, America’s demographic change is not evenly dispersed among states and voting districts nationwide. Second, over time voters are becoming less loyal to either party. And third, most voters, including the minorities that were supposed to fuel the ascendant Democratic coalition, do not self-identify as liberals.

....A big party requires a big tent, which means inviting and running candidates who don’t line up with the party’s orthodoxy on a lot of issues. This is not what progressive Democrats want to hear, and they will no doubt greet the Third Way study with scorn. It’s rather revealing that Hatalsky and Kessler even have to convince the party it has a problem and its current struggles are not a bizarre historical accident.

“From the 2009 high water mark for the Party, Democrats have lost 20 percent of their Senate seats, 25 percent of their House seats, 45 percent of their governors, 53 percent of their state legislative houses, and now the White House,” they write. “Republicans hold the governors’ mansions and both houses of the state legislature in 25 states, while Democrats control all levers of power in just five. . . . In fact, Republicans are now just one state legislature short of being able to call a constitutional convention to consider amendments to our founding document.” If this continues past 2020, the ramifications for redistricting will obviously be enormous.

Then again, Republicans may conclude that the current district lines look pretty good as they are. Right now, the Democrats’ favorite minority demographics simply don’t live in the House districts the party needs to retake the lower chamber

Ah, those environmentalists!
Environmentalist activists left behind enough trash and debris at the Dakota Access Pipeline campsites to fill hundreds of dumpsters, government officials said Tuesday.

Army Corps of Engineers officials say about 240 dumpsters towed out of the anti-DAPL opponent’s main campsite. Each of the dumpsters is chocked full of debris of old food stores, tents, building materials and abandoned personal belongings.

Officials estimate they’ll need another 240 loads or so to clean out the remaining section of the ramshackle campsites, most of which dot the parameter of the highly publicized and discussed DAPL route.

Chris Edwards of Cato points out
how much money those on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) spend on junk food instead of the nutritious choices the program states as their mission.
SNAP, or food stamp, benefits totaled $67 billion in 2016. Food stamps can be used to buy just about any edible item in grocery stores other than alcohol, vitamins, and hot food. But exactly what is being purchased by the program’s 44 million recipients has been mainly shrouded in secrecy—until now.

A November study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture finally shed light on food stamp purchases. The study examined detailed data for SNAP and non-SNAP shoppers for one large food retailer over a one-year period.

The study found that SNAP shoppers bought slightly more junk food than non-SNAP shoppers. For example, 9.25 percent of total purchases by SNAP shoppers were for “sweetened beverages” such as cola, which compared to 7.1 percent for non-SNAP shoppers. At the same time, SNAP shoppers spent relatively less on nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables.

For SNAP shoppers, “sweetened beverages,” “prepared desserts,” “salty snacks,” “candy,” and “sugar” accounted for 22.6 percent of purchases. These junk food items thus accounted for $15 billion of SNAP purchases in 2016, if the study is representative of all SNAP purchases.

SNAP is a bloated program, and cutting out junk food would be one way to reduce costs. The program was created to tackle hunger, but Harvard University’s Robert Paarlberg noted that on a typical day less than 1 percent of households now face “very low food security.” That low figure contrasts with the 17 percent of U.S. households that currently receive food stamps.

The main food-related health problem for low-income households today is not hunger, but obesity. CDC data show that people with low incomes are more obese than people with high incomes, on average. In general, low-income Americans are suffering not from too little food, but from too much of the wrong kinds of food.

Ending SNAP’s junk food subsidies would likely cut demand for the program and reduce taxpayer costs. If policymakers decided that food stamps could only be used for items such as fruits and vegetables, fewer people would use the program, which would be a good thing.

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Some journalists think that, since Trump's election, their profession is undergoing a renaissance. In their view, they are more necessary than ever to push back against the lies routinely coming out of the Trump administration. They are fighting back against the Dark Empire that is Trump's rule. Varad Mehta is not impressed. He notes that the word renaissance implies that the profession is reawakening. But there is no recognition of the differences in degree between Trump's obnoxious behavior to the media and what Obama actually did.
Trump’s tirades against the press — including his unconscionable tweet that “the FAKE NEWS media . . . is the enemy of the American people” — may be hurtful. Yet so far his attacks have been rhetorical. Barack Obama actually prosecuted whistleblowers and leakers and investigated reporters, prosecuting nine cases, compared with three by all previous administrations combined. But as more than one wag noted on Twitter, not a single journalist contemplated boycotting the WHCD even though the president was bringing the force of the law to bear against fellow reporters.

Worse still for the media’s reputation is that in their rush to get back to work, reporters have turned in one slipshod, incompetent effort after another. Coverage of Trump’s first month in office has been rife with misrepresentations and errors. Becket Adams of the Washington Examiner has kept a running count of stories that have been botched since the inauguration. It stands at 38 as of this writing. That is a remarkable number of stories to get wrong in the space of a month. “Whether through bias, sloppiness, or sheer panic, newsrooms have dropped their standards since President Trump was sworn in as 45th president of the United States,” Adams concludes.

Such failures should be an invitation to introspection, not celebration. Yet reporters, goaded by Trump’s fulminations and by their own sense of purpose and self-worth, have turned themselves, by their own admission, into an opposition party.
If journalists served as the opposition party no matter who was in the White House, I would be supporting them full heartedly. However, they were a cheering section for Obama and quickly brushed any scandal that occurred during his administration under their journalistic rugs to the degree that they provided no pushback to the braggadocio from the Obamanians that their idol presided over a scandal-free eight years. Please.
The way to convince someone you’re doing your job is to do it. Show, don’t tell. The proof will be in the reading and the viewing. Journalists would be well advised to heed the admonition of the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza: “We aren’t the story.” By doing that, the media can restore their reputation and live up to those hoary — but nonetheless valid — clichés about the importance of a free press to democracy. Great journalism speaks for itself. It requires no advocacy.

It’s not being back on the job that counts; it’s doing the job well. So far, the job the media are doing best is that of publicizing themselves. The media’s spurious efflorescence should not deceive us; the institution remains as flawed as it always was. These flaws are now even more glaring because the attempt to rectify them has served to remind us of their existence. To overcome them, the media will first have to overcome itself. The Obama years tarnished the press. From the evidence of his successor’s first month in office, the Trump era will do the same.

This is an interesting recounting by several former cabinet officials on what it was like to be the designated survivor for a president's address to a joint session of Congress.

The big leftist hope in France's presidential election has perhaps been too corrupt, even for the French.
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François Fillon vowed to fight on as a candidate in France’s presidential election despite being told he would be placed under formal investigation over allegedly arranging fictitious jobs for his wife....

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Mr Fillon, who won his Republican party’s primary contest last year, was the early frontrunner in the presidential race before the embezzlement allegations appeared in Le Canard Enchaîné, the satirical weekly, in January.

Last week, state prosecutors said they were handing over responsibility for the case to investigative magistrates to open a formal investigation.

Since the allegations first surfaced, the 62-year-old former prime minister has fallen in the polls from frontrunner to third place, behind Emmanuel Macron, the 39-year-old centrist candidate.