Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Cruising the Web

Byron York details 14 lessons that the Republicans should have learned from the debacle of their attempt to repeal Obamacare. There's some wisdom here that Trump and the House leaders should learn. For example:
5) 'The Art of the Deal' doesn't work with ideologically-driven politicians. The pundits mentioned Trump's most famous book thousands of times during the Obamacare negotiations. But in dealing with the doctrinaire conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus, Trump was facing differently-motivated partners than in the deal-making recounted in his 1987 book. If the president wants to succeed in Washington, he'll have to learn how to deal with people who aren't in it just for the money.

6) Nancy Pelosi was right. The former Speaker and current House Minority Leader said Trump made a "rookie's error" in bringing the Obamacare measure to a finale too quickly. Before that, Washington insiders snickered when the president said in late February that "Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated." Of course, everybody knew it was complicated. After all, in 2009-2010 it took Democrats more than a year to pass Obamacare, and they had a huge majority in the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Trump, the newcomer to Washington, thought it could be done quickly with less firepower on Capitol Hill.

7) Trump and the House Republicans have different priorities and agendas. The reason Trump won Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ohio is that voters there did not view him as a doctrinaire Republican. So the first legislative effort Trump made was entirely dependent on doctrinaire House Republicans, who for seven years haven't been able to agree among themselves on replacing Obamacare. In doing so, Trump aligned himself with the most unpopular parts of the Republican brand....

14) It's still early. The Obamacare screwup is a major failure. But it's an early failure. It won't kill the Trump presidency — provided Trump racks up some big accomplishments in his first year. Trump has plenty of time to recover. But if he doesn't do well, then the Obamacare mess will be seen as a harbinger of failures to come.

The WSJ notes that checks and balances are working and all those who thought that Donald Trump was going to be an American version of Benito Mussolini were quite mistaken.
So much for all that. The real story of the Trump Presidency so far is that the normal checks and balances of the American system are working almost to a fault. The courts have blocked Mr. Trump’s immigration order, albeit with some faulty legal reasoning. Congress has rejected the House health-care bill, his first big legislative priority.

The FBI and the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Mr. Trump’s Attorney General has recused himself from the FBI probe, and the President’s nominee for deputy AG is held up in a Republican Senate.

The permanent bureaucracy is leaking like a tent in a monsoon, and Mr. Trump is getting the worst press of any President since the final days of Richard Nixon. Mr. Trump may rage against the press, but the Alien and Sedition Acts aren’t coming back. Rest assured that if Mr. Trump’s Internal Revenue Service ever does to liberal groups what President Obama’s did to the tea party, the media will provide nonstop coverage.

The greater likelihood has always been that, as a rookie politician, Mr. Trump would be too weak and ineffective, not too strong. He lacks a solid party base, and the inertial forces of government resist any change that means lost power. His Presidency is young, and perhaps Mr. Trump will still find his bearings and make some progress on his reform agenda.

We can’t say the same about the lost credibility of the many worthies who sold American institutions short while predicting fascist doom. They were always more partisan than principled. As for those quaking Yale and Dartmouth professors, their students should demand a tuition refund.

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Here's a good argument why we should cut off any aid that we give the Palestinian Authority.
The effort highlights a scandal hiding in plain sight: PA officials tell foreign audiences that they oppose terrorism, yet they pay generous rewards to Palestinians who carry out bombings, stabbings and other attacks against innocents in Israel. These payments are codified in Palestinian law, which dictates that the deadlier an attack, the richer the reward. Payments equaled $315 million last year, or 8% of the PA budget.

Beneficiaries include the family of Bashar Masalha, who last year stabbed 11 people near Tel Aviv and killed 28-year-old Taylor Force, a U.S. Army veteran visiting Israel on a break from business school. Police killed Masalha, but his relatives now receive monthly payments equal to several times the average Palestinian wage. With special offices and more than 500 civil servants dedicated to disbursing these funds, the PA’s message is clear: Terrorism pays.

The U.S. has effectively endorsed this message by sending billions of dollars to the PA while overlooking its pay-for-slay policy. But now the Taylor Force Act promises to cut more than $200 million in annual economic aid to the PA unless it stops paying terrorists. “We’re not going to invest in a group of people that have laws like this. It’s just not a good investment,” says Sen. Lindsey Graham, a co-sponsor.
For too long we've sent money to the PA because we think that they're the lesser evil for the Palestinians. That's no longer a sufficient reason to subsidize their support for terrorism.
These are real concerns, but the PA and its defenders have a long history of threatening collapse to avoid reform. This is one reason 81-year-old PA President Mahmoud Abbas is in the 13th year of a four-year term, still rewarding terrorism. It’s also why Israeli security veterans increasingly support action against the PA.

“Pressuring the PA to end its ‘murder for hire’ policy is accompanied by political and security risks, but moral rectitude often entails facing dangers,” former Israeli army chief Moshe Ya’alon and military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin wrote this month. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman recently designated the Palestinian National Fund, which disburses the PA’s blood money, as a terrorist organization.

This doesn't augur well for Chuck Schumer's call for filibustering the Gorsuch nomination.
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democratic Judiciary Committee member, said he does not intend to filibuster Judge Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court bid.

Leahy told VTDigger he has no intention of supporting Gorsuch, but indicated he may not share Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's desire to filibuster the judge.

"I am not inclined to filibuster, even though I'm not inclined to vote for him," Leahy told VTDigger.
If Leahy isn't supporting the filibuster, it doesn't sound like it's going to happen. After all, Leahy doesn't have to worry about reelection. He was just reelected in 2016 with 60% of the vote unlike those wavering Senate Democrats in red states up in 2018.

And arguments among Democrats in favor of filibustering are probably not helped by moderate Republicans such as John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and Lisa Murkowski letting it be known that, if the Democrats filibuster Gorsuch, they'll vote for nuking the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.

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In addition to CNN wondering of Trump is afraid of going down stairs, the Washington Post is now worried that Trump doesn't have a pet in the White House. They remind us of presidents and their pets. The implication is that there is something wrong with Trump because he doesn't have a dog. Trump blames his travel schedule for nto having a dog, but the Post reminds us that Trump often insults people by comparing them to dogs.
But his travel schedule might not be the only factor. Trump doesn’t appear to hold the highest regard for man’s best friend. In fact, one of his go-to insults is comparing someone to a dog: Ted Cruz was “choking like a dog.” Marco Rubio was “sweating like a dog.” David Gregory, Bill Maher, Glenn Beck, Chuck Todd, Mark Cuban — all of them, Trump declared in various tweets and speeches, had been or should be fired “like a dog.”
Obviously, his dogless state should now be added to all his other sins.

Politico reports on how the Democratic party's private polling as well as public polling missed out on polling rural voters.
John Hagner, a partner at Clarity Campaign Labs, a D.C.-based Democratic analytics firm, said 2016 taught the party a hard lesson about polling in the Trump era.

“The folks who would talk to a stranger about politics just aren’t representative of people who wouldn’t,” he said.

The first evidence of the party’s polling blind spot surfaced in a governor’s race, the 2015 contest in Kentucky. Both public and private polls going into the election showed Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Matt Bevin running neck-and-neck — Conway had a 3-point lead in the final RealClearPolitics average — but Bevin won by a comfortable, 9-point margin.

Like some of the more Democratic states where Trump upset Clinton last year, Kentucky has a large rural and a large working-class white population (often there is considerable overlap in the groups). Whites make up 88 percent of Kentucky’s population, and fewer than a quarter of Kentucky residents over age 25 have a college degree.

Demographic trends confirm that these voters have been moving toward Republicans, but they don’t provide an easy answer for why pollsters have struggled to capture them in surveys.

Hagner sees some similarities between Bevin and Trump — both businessmen who initially positioned themselves as insurgent candidates within the GOP. In both cases, there were signs of what’s known as "social-desirability bias," the idea that voters won’t admit for whom they intend to vote because they think others will look unfavorably on their choice.

“With both Bevin and Trump, every newspaper endorsed against them,” Hagner said. “The right answer, in air quotes, was, ‘I’m not going to vote for them.’ … There’s a small group of people who knew that, at some level, they didn’t want their support for Trump to be scrutinized.”

Pollsters are still analyzing whether a “shy Trump voter” effect may have been decisive in some states. Like the public polls, Democrats struggled to measure the presidential race in private polls in a number of Upper Midwest states with large numbers of working-class white voters.

Clinton’s campaign mostly ignored Michigan and Wisconsin — where public and private surveys showed Clinton consistently ahead — until the final days of the race and was edged narrowly on Election Day by Trump. And the campaign invested heavily in Iowa and Ohio — two traditional battlegrounds where she trailed — only to lose both by larger margins than expected.

“We projected Clinton to lose Ohio by 200,000 votes,” said Hagner, “and she lost by 450,000.”

Democrats’ polling problems might not only be voters hiding their intentions from pollsters — some voters may have been hiding altogether.

That bias against responding covers a number of different elements, including geography. One top Democratic strategist who requested anonymity to discuss candidly what went wrong with the 2016 polls pointed to difficulty in reaching voters in more rural districts because of spotty cellphone service.

The same strategist added that many of these voters also may choose not to participate in polls “because they don’t like the establishment and they don’t want to take a survey.”

The yawning education gap among white voters’ preferences — Trump clobbered Clinton among white voters without a college degree, while the two ran neck-and-neck among those with a degree — means that nonresponse bias may have been determinative, said Democratic pollster Nick Gourevitch, a partner at Global Strategy Group. And it may have been going on for some time.

“I think it’s very plausible that for years pollsters have been over-representing educated voters, and that it only came back to bite us recently because it was a key driver in vote preferences this time,” Gourevitch said.

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T. Beckett Adams
dissects a NYT story that blames Trump for a decline in international applications to American colleges and universities. The Times mischaracterized the data and then throw in a couple of quotes to blame the drop on worries about Trump. As Adams points out, the trend is not really a trend when you have statistical results like this.
39% of responding institutions reported a decline in international applications, 35% reported an increase, and 26% reported no change in applicant numbers.
"When you place the 39 percent reporting a decrease alongside the 26 percent reporting no significant change within the context of 7 percent overall growth per year over the last 7-8 years and an overall 40% increase over the last decade, this is news," Gottlieb told the Examiner.
I'm just wondering when the students are sending in their applications. Maybe it's different for international students, but I know that many of my students faced deadlines of November 1 or earlier. That was even before the election when no one was envisioning a Trump presidency. Most had all their applications done by the time they came back from winter break - before Trump had been sworn in. So I just wonder how much Trump's presidency could influence these decisions. Maybe people just were happy to bash Trump and blame him for a trend that isn't much of a trend.

Jeff Dunetz reminds us of how both John Podesta and the Clinton Foundation, while Hillary was Secretary of State, made lots of money from Putin's Russia. Funny how the Democrats never complained about this deal.
In April 2015 the NY Times disclosed a deal which enabled Russia to own about 20% of the uranium production capacity of the United States for a $2.35 million donation to the Clinton Family Foundation. According to the report a Canadian based company Uranium One, owned the uranium assets was being purchased by Russian state atomic energy agency Rosatom— a deal which had to be approved by various U.S. agencies including the State Department. Canadian records show that while the State Department was mulling of the deal, the family foundation of Chairman of Uranium One made four donations totaling $2.35 million to the Clinton Family Foundation.

On the same topic, Victor Davis Hanson reminds us of the history of Obama and Hillary's cozying up to Putin.
In March 2012, in a meeting with President Dimitri Medvedev of Russia, President Barack Obama thought his microphone was either off or could not pick up the eerie assurances that he gave the Russian president:

“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved, but it’s important for him [Vladimir Putin] to give me space.”

Medvedev answered: “Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you . . . ”

Obama agreed and elaborated, “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”

Medvedev finished the hot-mic conversation with, “I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir, and I stand with you.”

A fair interpretation of this stealthy conversation would run as follows:

Barack Obama naturally wanted to continue a fourth year of his reset and outreach to Vladimir Putin, the same way that he was reaching out to other former American enemies such as the Iranians and the Cubans. Yet Obama was uneasy that his opponent, Mitt Romney, might attack him during his reelection campaign as an appeaser of Putin. Thus, to preempt any such attack, Obama might be forced to appear less flexible (offer less “space”) toward Putin than he otherwise would be in a non-election year. In other words, he couldn’t publicly assure Putin that he would be “flexible” about implementing missile defense in Eastern Europe (“all these issues”) until after he was reelected.

An apprehensive Obama, in his hot-mic moment, was signaling that after his anticipated victory, he would revert to his earlier reset with Putin. And most significantly, Obama wished Putin to appreciate in advance the motives for Obama’s campaign-year behavior. Or he at least hoped that Putin would not embarrass him by making international moves that would reflect poorly on Obama’s reset policy.

Furthermore, Obama did not want his implicit quid pro quo proposal to become part of the public record. Had it been public, it might have been interpreted as a message to Putin that he should empathize with Obama’s plight — and that he should interfere with the American election by behaving in a way that would empower Obama’s candidacy rather than detract from it.

In the present hysterical climate, substitute the name Trump for Obama, and we would be hearing Democratic demands for impeachment on grounds that Trump was caught secretly whispering to the Russians about compromising vital national-security issues in a quid pro quo meant to affect the outcome of the 2012 election.
Republicans complained about the message that Obama was sending with his "hot mic" moment, but Democrats didn't give a hoot. What was all that "reset button" about? Hillary was signaling that she and Obama wouldn't be like that brute George W. Bush who had reacted too harshly over Putin's aggression in Georgia. They certainly wouldn't put in missile defense platforms in Eastern Europe. Obama chided Romney for having a Cold War mindset. And that wasn't all that characterized Obama's flexibility toward Russia.
The Obama administration invited Russia into the Middle East for the first time in nearly a half-century to help Obama back off from his own redline threats to attack Syria if evidence of WMD usage appeared. Moreover, after the Crimea and eastern Ukraine aggressions, the perception in most of the Western world was that the U.S. was not sufficiently tough with Putin, largely because of its commitment to a prior (though failed) outreach.
So, Hanson asked why did Obama end this reset with Russia?
The estrangement certainly did not coincide entirely with Putin’s aggressions on Russia’s borders. Nor were Democrats inordinately angry with Putin when he bombed non-al-Qaeda Syrian resistance fighters.

Rather, Democrats’ split with Putin grew from the perception that hackers had easily entered the porous e-mail account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign guru John Podesta and released his messages to WikiLeaks. This led to general embarrassment for Hillary and the Democrats — and they floated the theory that WikiLeaks and Julian Assange were taking orders from Putin or at least operating with the encouragement of the Kremlin’s intelligence services.

After the WikiLeaks mess, the image of Putin was reset again, and now he was said to have ordered the hacking because he hated Hillary Clinton and indeed the Obama administration in general.

That was a bizarre indictment. If Putin were really a conniving realist, he would have much preferred Hillary in the 2016 election — given his success in manipulating the Obama-era reset.

Unlike Trump, Clinton would probably have kept the radical Obama defense cuts and perpetuated the restrictions on domestic energy development that were helping Russia. She probably would have likewise continued Obama’s therapeutic approach to foreign policy.

From Russia’s point of view, considering their strategic and economic interests, a pliable Obama 2.0 would have been far better than Trump, with his pro-oil-and-gas domestic agenda, his promised defense buildup, and his unpredictable Jacksonian promises to help friends and hurt enemies.
So the Democrats only decided that they didn't like Russia and Putin when Russia acted through WikiLeaks to embarrass their party. No sign of geopolitical aggression was enough to make them oppose Putin. And now they have embraced that opposition to Putin because they can use it to try to delegitimize Trump.
Then, in the post-election shock and transition, the Russian-interference storyline was repackaged as an excuse for the poorly conducted Clinton campaign that had blown a supposedly big lead and sure victory. “The Russians did it” was preferable to blaming Hillary for not visiting Wisconsin once.

Finally, Trump’s Russian connection served as a useful tool to delegitimize an abhorrent incoming Trump administration. And the delegitimizing was made easier by Obama’s eleventh-hour order, days before his departure, to expand the list of federal officials who would have access to sensitive intelligence and surveillance transcripts.

But all such accusations of Trump-Russian complicity, based on admitted leaks from intelligence agencies, required some sort of hard evidence: leaked transcripts of Trump officials clearly outlining shared strategies with the Russians, hard proof of Russian electronic tampering in key swing states, doctored e-mails planted in the Podesta WikiLeaks trove, travel records of Trump people in clandestine meetings with Russian counterparts, or bank records showing cash payoffs.

Yet a hostile media, in collusion with intelligence-agency leakers, has so far provided no such proof. John Podesta had as much invested in Russian profiteering as did former Trump aides. Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation had as many financial dealings with pro-Russian interests as did Trump people. The ubiquitous Russian ambassador had met as many Democratic grandees as he had Trump associates

The lack so far of hard proof gradually created a boomerang effect. Attention turned away from what “unnamed sources” had alleged to the question of how unnamed sources had gathered surveillance of the Trump people in the first place — as evidenced by media reports of General Flynn’s conversations, of Trump’s private talks with foreign leaders, and of allegations of electronic contact between Russian and Trump Tower computers.

In other words, the media and their sources had gambled that congressional overseers, law enforcement, and the public would all overlook surveillance that may have been illegal or only partly legal, and they would also overlook the clearly illegal leaking of such classified information on a candidate and a president-elect — if it all resulted in a scandal of the magnitude of the Pentagon Papers or Watergate.

So far such a scandal has not emerged. But Trump’s opponents continue to push the Russian narrative not because it is believable but because it exhausts and obfuscates likely illegal surveillance and leaking.
Trump helped set up this whole circle of suspicion by his praise of Putin and refusal to criticize anything about Putin's actions, even his having opposing politicians and journalists murdered. And Trump showed especially poor judgment in the sorts of people he welcomed into his inner circle like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone. He deserves criticism. But the Democrats don't come to the issue with clean hands and their pretense of opposition to Putin doesn't match up with their actions of the past eight years.