Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Cruising the Web

Allahpundit links to Fareed Zakaria's report this weekend that "two Obama officials told me he would have ordered a Syria strike just like the one Trump ordered." Zakaria's thesis is that Trump was just enforcing the policies that Obama had put in place with the deal that Russia organized with Syria to get rid of Assad's chemical weapons. Allahpundit comments,
Interesting hypothetical. Obama rattled his saber after a much bigger chemical attack in 2013, eased off when he realized the public was broadly against airstrikes, then accepted an eleventh-hour disarmament deal from Putin that let him wriggle out of his “red line” predicament. How would O have reacted to horrible proof in Idlib two weeks ago that that deal was a sham? At some point, in theory, even Obama would have had to slap Assad in order to preserve whatever shreds remained of American credibility on WMD deterrence. But after he backed down in 2013, at a moment when intervention in Syria didn’t pose any risk of conflict with Russia and had a greater chance of affecting the course of the war, what compelling reason is there to believe he would have acted militarily now? Zakaria’s Obama sources may be doing little more than wishcasting, irked that their guy was so passive on Syria for so many years and eager to claim with 20/20 hindsight that he would have been just as aggressive as Trump under the circumstances.
Allahpundit then turns the whole situation around and poses a thought-provoking hypothetical.
How would the right have reacted to Obama, or President Hillary, ordering precisely the same strike that Trump did? Many, I think, would have been consistent, reacting the same way they did to Trump’s attack — hardcore interventionists in the McCain/Graham mold would have cheered, alt-righters would have booed. But the vast, mushy middle of the GOP probably would have been led by their partisan instincts, smacking Obama either for intervening in the first place or, more likely, for ordering a strike that amounted to little more than a wrist slap:

....It’s not hard to imagine a variation of that analysis being applied to a hypothetical Obama strike. Attacking one airfield, and failing to even knock out of commission, would have been flagged as proof of Obama’s wimpiness and essential disinterest in the Syria war, doing the bare minimum in “red line” enforcement in order to save face. There were, it seems, sound tactical reasons for not bombing the runways themselves (since the craters could easily be filled in within a day or two, it would have been a waste of munitions), but conservatives would have laughed at O for that for days, treating it as a metaphor for his sustained inability to do what’s needed to actually halt Assad’s atrocities. Still, there’s a key difference between Obama ordering this airstrike and Trump ordering it. Obama had already proved over the course of his second term that he was willing to do only so much to punish Assad; even if he had greenlit the same strike Trump did, Assad would have known that O’s long reluctance to get more deeply involved in Syria meant that he was unlikely to face further reprisals. There’s no similar assurance with Trump, who greenlit this strike within the first hundred days of his presidency, suggesting that there may indeed be more to come if the regime uses chemical weapons again. The whole point was to send the message that there’s a new sheriff in town, which makes the comments by those Obama officials to Zakaria even more ironic. Obama had long ago sent his own “message” to Assad through his passivity. One airstrike wouldn’t have undone that.

Kevin Williamson writes
that there is certainly enough to criticize Donald Trump for, but his opponents make the mistake of focusing on and get distracted by minor stuff. He compares it to the Republicans being distracted by Clinton's sex scandals or Obama's vacation and golf outings. And now Democrats are falling into the same trap.
Some of these stupid criticisms were made in a similarly stupid fashion by similarly stupid people for similarly stupid reasons when George W. Bush was president.

A lot of those stories went something like: “Heavens, it costs $x for the Obamas to spent six days at Martha’s Vineyard!” But that $x is generally misleading, inasmuch as it costs tons of money to keep Air Force One staffed and prepped and ready to fly irrespective of whether the president actually is traveling in it, and we pay those Secret Service (the name of that agency is odious) agents irrespective of whether the president is in the White House or Hawaii. It isn’t lobster tails and upgrades at the Ritz that really drive the cost of presidential travel expenditures: It is the presidency itself.

The presidential entourage is bloated and monarchical, and it is an affront to our republican traditions. But “even if his household entourage does resemble the Ringling Bros. Circus as reimagined by Imelda Marcos when it moves about from Kailua Beach to Blue Heron Farm,” the cost of operating the presidential household is small beans in the context of federal spending. It just doesn’t matter — it is boob bait for Bubba.

Now, we’re getting the same thing about Trump. It costs $x for him to keep moving about from Trump Tower to the White House to Mar a Lago. Some have tried to make hay out of the fact that some $500,000 in Trump campaign funds (not tax dollars, contrary to some claims) has been paid out to Trump-affiliated companies. This is deeply silly criticism: If there is a campaign event at a Trump hotel or another property, then of course the campaign has to pay for it: If it does not, then the Trump Organization almost certainly is making an illegal political donation to the Trump campaign. Trump did not write the rules.

(They’d probably be a hell of a lot worse if he had.)

The income-tax documents are turning into the Obama birth certificate of the Trump administration. (Sometimes, poetic justice takes the form of rank stupidity.) I think Trump ought to release his tax returns, just as I think Obama should have released his college transcripts and such. I want to know if Obama ever took Economics 101 and whether he passed it, just as I am curious about Trump’s personal finances. I’m a curious man.

But, for Pete’s sake, of all the things to hate on about President Donald Trump and his administration, the Democrats are really going to focus on tee times and presidential travel and whether he claimed some Clinton-style tax deductions for gently used underwear? You would think that it would be impossible for a political party led by Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to actually underperform intellectual expectations — that’s like an earthworm losing at limbo — but the Democrats seem to be intent on doing so.

(Autocorrect renames the gentleman from New York “Chuck Schemer,” which is perfect.)

There are many pieces of evidence in the case against Trump. The fact that he prefers the climate in Palm Beach is not one of them.

Carl M. Cannon offers some good advice to everyone - just don't make any comparisons of anyone to Hitler. Sean Spicer is not the only one who should learn from this rule. He points out that John Kerry and Chris Matthews also made Hitler comparisons with Assad.
The more basic problem with Hitler comparisons is that they are invariably partisan and usually absurd. No serious player in American political history can reasonably be compared with Hitler — or Stalin or Mussolini. Yet it keeps happening, whether it’s in Saratoga Springs high school curriculum, a Democratic congressman from Virginia tweeting about Trump’s “brown shirts” coming to get people, or Hollywood A-lister Ashley Judd equating Trump voters to Nazis in a foul-mouthed rant on the National Mall the day after Trump’s inauguration.

For his part, the president compared the U.S. intelligence services to “Nazi Germany” days before taking the oath of office. If it’s true, as veteran journalist Michael Kinsley wrote, that the first person to use such language has lost the argument before it begins, then both Trump and his critics are losers. “It’s ridiculous to compare any living person to Hitler or Mussolini,” Kinsley wrote. Yet even while seemingly in the realm of reason, odd impulses arise: Kinsley’s op-ed, published in The Washington Post, was titled “Donald Trump Is Actually a Fascist” — as if the modifier “actually” somehow absolved the author or the newspaper. Meanwhile, The New Republic weighed in with “Yes, Donald Trump is a fascist,” as though prefacing the argument with the word “yes” makes it valid.

And yet, at a time of disquieting discord in American politics, it is hardly out of bounds to discuss whether the conditions in our voting booths, halls of government, and streets bear a semblance to the post-World War I upheaval in Europe that led to the rise of the Axis powers and the ensuing Second World War and the genocide we know as the Holocaust. It is a fact that the fascist governments that took root in Italy and Spain and Germany featured charismatic and dangerous leaders who — at least initially — advanced at the ballot box. It is also a matter of record that in Germany the conversation wasn’t limited to political commentary and campaigns: It included pitched battles in the streets between rightists and leftists who preferred slogans and violence to reasoned argument.

But for leftists — and even thoughtful liberals — who view “The Art of the Deal” as some sort of subliminal version of “Mein Kampf,” these comparisons don’t always work to their advantage. Did Trump voters routinely shout down Hillary Clinton or go to her events and engage her supporters physically — or was it the other way around? And notwithstanding their claim to be “anti-fascists,” which side uses threats to deny the rights of minorities (in this case, conservatives) to speak and be heard and mingle freely?

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Here's a fascinating study by Cornell professors Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci to analyze whether the speech that Charles Murray was going to give at Middlebury but was prevented by ostreperous student protests. Williams and Ceci gave the transcript of the speech to 70 college professors without telling them the author of the speech and asked them to rate it on a scale between 1 - 9 with 1 being very liberal, 5 being middle of the road and 9 being very conservative. The results were intriguing.
American college professors are overwhelmingly liberal. Still, the 57 professors who responded to our request gave Mr. Murray’s talk an average score of 5.05, or “middle of the road.” Some professors said that they judged the speech to be liberal or left-leaning because it addressed issues like poverty and incarceration, or because it discussed social change in terms of economic forces rather than morality. Others suggested that they detected a hint of discontent with the fact that Donald Trump was elected president. No one raised concerns that the material was contentious, dangerous or otherwise worthy of censure.
They also picked 70 different college professors and did the same thing, but identified the author of the speech as Charles Murray.
The 44 who responded gave it an average rating of 5.77. That score is significantly more conservative, statistically speaking, than the rating given by the professors unaware of the author’s identity (suggesting that knowing Mr. Murray was the author colored the evaluation of the content). Even still, 5.77 is not too far from “middle of the road.”
So that was the speech that the Middlebury students had such a violent reaction to allowing him to give on campus. They would prefer to prejudge him rather than hear his speech for themselves. Or maybe they had heard about his 1994 book "The Bell Curve" and were reacting to what they had heard about that even though they had actually read it. In fact, the protesters were proud that they hadn't read it.
The Bell Curve” has generated an enormous literature of scholarly response and rebuttal, a process that is still underway. Many scholars have deemed the book’s most provocative argument — that differences in average I.Q. scores among races may have genetic as well as environmental causes — to be flawed and racist. Some have judged it to be judicious and reasoned, if still controversial. But its academic critics have nonetheless treated it not as hate speech to be censored but as a data-based argument with which they must engage in order to disagree.

This is not how the Middlebury protesters treated Mr. Murray’s talk, and that is an intellectual disappointment. It is incumbent on each of us, in the spirit of free inquiry, to make a decision for ourselves — after actually reading a book or listening to a speaker — about how the views in question hold up to critical scrutiny. It is also incumbent upon colleges to offer protesters meaningful opportunities to share alternative views.

Not everyone deserves to get to speak at a college campus. But those like Mr. Murray who use reasoned, evidence-based approaches to investigate matters of scholarly concern shouldn’t be forcibly silenced after they have been invited to do so.
The ones who should be truly humbled and ashamed are the professors who encouraged and even led the protests against Murray's speech. They were some of the people bragging about never having read his work and they then allowed their prejudices to inspire students to reject his ability to speak. THey should have to answer for their actions and perhaps respond to the results from this study. But they never will. Being a progressive means never having to say you're sorry.

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John Tierney writes
to argue that Walmart by itself does more to help the poor than many welfare programs. And, of course, Mayor de Blasio of New York City wants to block Walmart from opening stores within the city.
Walmart’s benefits are obvious to shoppers and to economists like Jason Furman, who served in the Clinton administration and was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Obama. In a paper, “Walmart: A Progressive Success Story,” Furman cited estimates that Walmart, by driving down prices, saved the typical American family more than $2,300 annually. That was about the same amount that a family on food stamps then received from the federal government.
How could any progressive with a conscience oppose an organization that confers such benefits? How could de Blasio and the city council effectively take money out of the pockets of the poorest families in New York? Because—though they would deny it—they care a lot more about pleasing powerful labor interests, especially the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which helped lead the long fight to keep Walmart out of the five boroughs.

Labor activists have been spreading horror stories for more than a decade about Walmart’s purported mistreatment of workers, yet somehow they haven’t dissuaded thousands of people in other cities from lining up for jobs whenever a Walmart opens. Often there are five or ten applicants for each job. As the economist Richard Vedder has noted, the pay at Walmart is comparable with that of other large retailers.
Some argue that Walmart exerts downward pressure on retail wages, but even if that’s true—and it’s debatable —the effect is tiny compared with the savings at the cash register. According to Furman, Walmart lowered American retail workers’ pay by less than $5 billion while saving shoppers more than $250 billion with lower prices on food, clothing, and household staples.
Just as with de Blasio's opposition to charter schools, he has demonstrated once again that he'd rather line up with unions than with the citizens of his city.

The Democrats have come to welcome Bernie Sanders, who isn't even nominally a Democrat, as a leader of their party. Some party leaders feel as if his candidacy hurt Hillary Clinton's run for the presidency.
The DNC has sought to harness energy from Sanders and unite the party after last year’s divisions.

The ill feelings also came from leaked emails that revealed DNC staffers had sought to tilt the scales during the primary against Sanders and in Clinton’s favor. Those revelations angered Sanders’s supporters, who have continued to press for changes to the DNC.

Sanders backed Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) in this year’s DNC chairmanship contest, but he’s shown a willingness to work with Perez going forward.

The two men will hit the road in April for a unity tour dubbed “Come Together and Fight Back.” They will appear at rallies in seven states over six days.

Even those who staunchly supported Sanders in the presidential race acknowledge the awkwardness of Sanders’s decision to remain an Independent after the primary.

“I do think it’s strange. I was rather surprised that he went back to being an Independent but I don’t think it matters,” said Bill Press, an early supporter of Sanders who served as a surrogate for the candidate during the primary. “People like his ideas. Bernie is Bernie. Whether he has an I or a D after his name ... nobody cares.”

Press, who writes a regular column for The Hill, said Sanders received support from a wide swath of Democrats and plans to use his newfound celebrity to push causes vital to Democrats. He’ll also be a force in helping to elect Democrats in Congress as well as in gubernatorial and state legislature elections.
Sanders might help the party in House and Senate elections in some states, but elsewhere, moving the party to the left to line up with Sanders' preferred policies is not going to help the Democrats win back the votes and positions they have lost since Obama was first elected.
As far as I can tell, the matter was not raised or noted by the mainstream media during the 2016 presidential campaign. I didn’t mention it either, but would have had I remembered it.

If there were evidence of Donald Trump communing with the dead, even if twenty years ago or more, the mainstream media very likely would have been aired the story. It would have been touted as evidence of Trump’s weirdness.

Clinton’s seance, which her defenders call a “psychological exercise,” is evidence of her weirdness. According to Woodward, Hillary’s ghost writer, the aforementioned Feinman Todd, told him she found the seance, which she witnessed, troubling. She must have, or else it’s unlikely she would have violated her contractual obligation of confidentiality by disclosing the seance — a violation that probably explains why Clinton did not credit her with having contributed to It Takes a Village, which she ghost wrote.

The mainstream media portrayed the 2016 election as a contest between an unstable egomaniac and a tested, even-keeled leader. I take no position here on whether the two candidates fit these descriptions in 2016.

But the fact that the pressure Hillary Clinton experienced as First Lady (not President) caused her to commune with the dead is strong evidence that she was badly rattled during her husband’s presidency. This has some bearing on her present ability to handle intense pressure, and surely would have been viewed as such if Trump had done the communing.

Yet, the mainstream media declined to bring Hillary’s seance to the voters’ attention last year.

Daniel Pipes is taking his chil
d on college tours and is struck by the focus of some of the tours.
Various indications snuck through of college being a place to park young people to party for four years. During two tours, the library was introduced as a place with varying levels of quietude, depending on floor, but with no single mention of the book collection. One building was described as having “a Dunkin’ Donuts and some classrooms.” On another tour, the guide discussed at some length the virtues of Dunkin’ Donuts versus Starbucks. A tour guide let us know that, being a business major, she’s unsure if Macbeth was written by Shakespeare. Most eyebrow raising was the tour guide telling us that the Stations of the Cross are being set up on campus “because it’s now Passover.”
If you're doing the college tour thing and planning for your child spending the next seven months working on college applications, I heartily recommend Andrew Ferguson's hilarious book, Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid into College. He delves into such topics as writing the college essay, the SAT, college admissions' officers, and what parents go through as their child tries to decide which college to attend. I think every parent with a high schooler applying to college should read Ferguson's book.

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Paul Mirengoff
links to a Washington Post story outlining a dispute between Bob Woodward and Barbara Feinman Todd, the woman who was the ghost writer for Hillary Clinton's book, It Takes a Village. The dispute centers around whether Woodward violated a confidence that she had told him off the record or whether she's mischaracterizing the conversation she held with him. Mirengoff was struck by the reminder of the anecdote at issue - that Hillary Clinton, as First Lady, had presided over a sort of seance to talk to Eleanor Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi. Like Mirengoff, I'd forgotten that story. Mirengoff writes,

Sports Illustrated has an interesting article imagining what might have happened if some hypothetical moves in the sports media had happened differently.