Friday, April 28, 2017

Cruising the Web

Well, give Trump points for being frank, but reallY? Now he's saying that he thought being president would be easier than his life as a businessman and reality star.
He misses driving, feels as if he is in a cocoon, and is surprised how hard his new job is.

President Donald Trump on Thursday reflected on his first 100 days in office with a wistful look at his life before the White House.

"I loved my previous life. I had so many things going," Trump told Reuters in an interview. "This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier."
Geez, really? Had he paid attention at all in his adult life to what a president has to deal with? Had he noticed how partisanship has made it almost impossible to ever pass anything in Congress? Did he think that Congressional Democrats would be easier to deal with than banks and NBC? Did he notice what was going on around the world in the Middle East, North Korea or Russia? And he thought his prior life as a billionaire making a living off of selling his name would have been more work? I can't even...

Allahpundit looks
at the continuing demolition of Mike Flynn's reputation. Apparently, even though he was warned by the DIA that he had to inform them of earning any money from a foreign country, yet he didn't tell them about getting money from Russia Times. And is the Trump team trying to hide documents on this from Congress? This seems like a likely theory.
It’s not that he’s trying to suppress something embarrassing about Flynn (e.g., that he also neglected to inform the White House of his lobbying work), in other words, but that he’s trying to set a precedent early in his term that Congress shouldn’t expect to get executive-branch records on demand in its investigations. Maybe, though, the reason they’re sitting on the records is less principled and more political — namely, the records might show that the transition team did have an inkling that Flynn hadn’t properly disclosed his payments and they … went ahead and made him national security advisor anyway.
Maybe they knew that this stuff would come out eventually and wanted to hide the embarrassment.
They may have realized that the dirt would come out eventually, though, and that it would cause them a major headache when it did — why was the national security advisor hiding foreign money from the Pentagon? — so they started looking around immediately for other reasons to force his resignation. When the Kislyak matter arose, they seized the opportunity.

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Charles Krauthammer writes about the populist moment that some had argued was sweeping the west from the Brexit vote to Trump's victory to the candidacies of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France. He argues that people have overestimated the populist panic and are downplaying its supposed collapse as Wilders fell short and Le Pen will certainly lose in the runoff election.
In retrospect, the populist panic may have been overblown. Regarding Brexit, for example, the shock exaggerated its meaning. Because it was so unexpected, it became a sensation. But in the longer view, Britain has always been deeply ambivalent about Europe, going back at least to Henry VIII and his break with Rome. In the intervening 500 years, Britain has generally seen itself as less a part of Europe than an offshore island.

The true historical anomaly was Britain's EU membership with all the attendant transfer of sovereignty from Westminster to Brussels. Brexit was a rather brutal return to the extra-European norm, but the norm it is.

The other notable populist victory, the triumph of Trump, has also turned out to be less than meets the eye. He certainly ran as a populist and won as a populist but, a mere 100 days in, he is governing as a traditionalist.

The Obamacare replacement proposals are traditional small-government fixes. His tax reform is a follow-on to Reagan's from 1986. His Supreme Court pick is a straight-laced, constitutional conservative out of central casting. And his more notable executive orders read as a wish list of traditional business-oriented conservatism from regulatory reform to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

I happen to support all of these moves, but they don't qualify as insurrectionist populism. The one exception may be trade policy. As of now, however, it remains ad hoc and idiosyncratic. Trump has made gestures and threats to those cunning Mexicans, Chinese and now Canadians. But it's not yet clear if he is serious about, say, withdrawing from NAFTA or just engaging in a series of opening negotiating gambits.
But, if Europe is wiping its collective brow in relief at the receding of the populist threat, they should still be cognizant that the motivations for the threat still remain.
The news from France, where Macron is openly, indeed ostentatiously, pro-European (his campaign headquarters flies the EU flag) is that France is not quite prepared to give up on the great experiment. But the Europeanist elites had better not imagine this to be an enduring verdict. The populist revolt was a reaction to their reckless and anti-democratic push for even greater integration. The task today is to address the sources of Europe's economic stagnation and social alienation rather than blindly pursue the very drive that led to this precarious moment.

If the populist threat turns out to have frightened the existing powers out of their arrogant complacency, it should be deemed a success. But make no mistake: The French election wasn't a victory for the status quo. It was a reprieve. For now, the populist wave is not in retreat. It's on pause.

This is infuriating.
An estimated 346 employees in the Department of Veterans Affairs do no actual work for taxpayers. Instead, they spend all of their time doing work on behalf of their union while drawing a federal salary, a practice known as "official time."

That's according to a report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office. But exactly what those VA workers are doing and why so many are doing it is not clear. The VA doesn't track that, and the GAO report offers no clue.
Why are we paying for union workers when the VA has demonstrating that they can't do the job that they exist to do?

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Tyler Cowen writes in Bloomberg to argue that the country can afford Trump's tax cut proposals. He points out the parallels between Trump's plans and the usual recommendations from Keynesians.
This argument for a corporate tax cut -- “let’s borrow more now while rates are relatively low” -- is remarkably like the argument that Keynesians have been using for more government infrastructure spending for years. The main difference is that here the spending would be done by private corporations rather than the federal government. You may or may not believe the private expenditures will be more socially valuable than the government expenditures, but if you think we can afford one kind of stimulus we probably can afford the other. And as I said, the private rate of return on investment probably is higher than the government’s borrowing rate, even if you think that government spending would yield higher returns yet.

To put it bluntly, I am suspicious of ideological motives when anyone says we can afford a big dose of government stimulus but we cannot afford a corresponding private stimulus. The more consistent view is that we probably need more investment on both fronts, and thus cuts in the corporate tax rate are a welcome start, at least if we put aside the pessimistic scenario mentioned above. It’s still legitimate to consider whether a plan should include more government stimulus (Trump himself would probably agree, though Congress may not), but that’s a very different point from claiming the U.S. cannot afford a corporate tax cut. In addition, you also might think that some other taxes should go up, such as consumption taxes, but even if true it does not mean the corporate rate cut is unaffordable.

This is the the epitome
of the student culture of doing protests on the cheap.
A group of Yale University graduate students announced Tuesday evening that they would be undertaking a hunger strike to pressure the administration into granting them better union benefits. The strike is taking place in front of University President Peter Salovey’s home.

As it turns out, the hunger strike might not put anyone's health in peril. According to a pamphlet posted on Twitter by a former Yale student, the hunger strike is "symbolic" and protesters can leave and get food when they can no longer go on.
Yeah, a symbolic hunger strike is not a hunger strike. The responses on Twitter are quite funny. If those students want to know about real courage is when someone powerless uses a hunger strikes, I recommend Natan Sharansky's memoirs of his time in the Soviet gulag, Fear No Evil, and how he used hunger strikes to assert his human rights. I recently read his book and was awestruck at what he endured and the courage he showed in such hopeless circumstances. For those who have suffered true oppression, hunger strikes are not symbolic.


Matthew Continetti takes a pause
from all the analysis of Trump's first 100 days to looking at what the Democrats have accomplished in their first 100 days of the Trump era. As he points out, Trump's setbacks have either been his own fault or problems within the Republican coalition in Congress.
Chuck Schumer slow-walked Trump's nominations as best he could. In fact his obstruction was unprecedented. But the cabinet is filling up, the national security team in place. On the Supreme Court, Schumer miscalculated royally. He forced an end to the filibuster for judicial appointments, yet lost anyway. If another appointment opens this summer, and the Republicans hold together, the Democrats will have zero ability to prevent the Court from moving right. No matter what he says in public, Schumer can't possibly think that a success.

The prevalent anti-Trump sentiment obscures the party's institutional degradation. Democratic voters despise the president—he enjoys the approval of barely more than 10 percent of them—and this anger and vitriol manifests itself in our media and culture. So Rachel Maddow and Stephen Colbert enjoy a ratings boom, the women's march attracts a massive crowd, the New York Times sells more subscriptions, and Bill Nye leads a rainy-day "march for science." The desire to ostentatiously "resist" Trump leads to better-than-expected results for Democratic candidates in congressional special elections. But the candidates don't win—or at least they haven't yet.

Democrats feel betrayed. The Electoral College betrayed them by making Trump president. Hillary Clinton betrayed them by running an uninspiring campaign. James Comey betrayed them by reopening the investigation into Clinton's server 11 days before the election. Facebook betrayed them by circulating fake news. This sense of resentment isn't so different than the sort Democrats attribute to Trump supporters: irritation at a loss of status, vexation at changed circumstances. The despondence of a liberal is alleviated when he sees throngs of protesters, hears Samantha Bee, scrolls through Louise Mensch's tweets.

Makes him feel better. But his party is in tatters, reduced to 16 governors, 30 state legislative chambers, a historically low number of state legislative seats, 193 members of the House, 46 senators. The Democrats are leaderless, rudderless, held together only by opposition to Trump. The most popular figure on the left refuses to call himself a Democrat while sitting alongside the newly elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee. That chairman, dirty-talking Tom Perez, represents a professional, technocratic class that supports Wall Street and globalization as long as there is room for multiculturalism and social liberalism. That is a different strategy from both the 50-state approach of Howard Dean, Rahm Emanuel, and Schumer that brought Democrats control of Congress in 2006, and the anti-Wall Street, protectionist, single-payer left of Bernie Sanders. Perez fights with Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi over whether there is room for pro-lifers in the party—Perez thinks not. Pelosi enjoys the distinction of being an American political figure less popular than Donald Trump.

What is the Democratic agenda? What does the party have to offer besides disunity, obstruction, incoherence, obsession, and obliviousness? They haven't rallied behind a plan to fix Obamacare or an alternative to the president's tax proposal. They seem dead set against enforcement of immigration laws, they seem opposed to any restrictions on abortion, they seem as eager as ever to regulate firearms and carbon dioxide. It's hard to detect a consensus beyond that. Banks, trade, health care, taxes, free speech, foreign intervention—these issues are undecided, up for grabs.

For eight years President Obama supplied the Democratic message, provided the Democrats answers to public questions. Now Obama himself is under fire for agreeing to deliver a $400,000 speech to Cantor Fitzgerald. He is already a figure of the past: His hair gray, his legacy under siege, his time spent lounging on Richard Branson's yacht or listening desultorily to Chicago undergrads. The energy is with Bernie, with the identity-politics movements, with the paramilitary "antifa" bands, and each one of these overlapping sects are outside the party establishment Obama represents.
It may well be that opposing Trump will be enough to help the Democrats to recover dominance within states and Congress. But the indications are not at all clear that that will be enough.

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I'm not one of those conservatives gloating over ESPN's financial troubles. I spend most of my time watching TV watching sports so I have a vested interested in their continued success. I think some conservatives put too much emphasis on ESPN getting bitten in the behind for their shift to the left by inserting politics into too much of their sports programming. That may turn off quite a few viewers - after all the demographics of the Republican coalition has a big overlap with the demographics of people who watch sports a lot. Why alienate those viewers? Sean Davis has a good analysis of why ESPN is failing. And most of it revolves around mistakes ESPN made by overpaying for broadcast rights for NFL and NBA games.
In accounting terms, the network committed to high long-term fixed costs (broadcast rights) in exchange for declining variable revenues (cable subscription fees and advertising dollars). You don’t have to be a mathematician to see the problems with this formula for success. Even if ESPN is making decent money right now, the music is eventually going to stop, people are going to stop dancing, and somebody’s going to be stuck without a chair....

Rising fixed costs and risky, declining revenues are the root of all of ESPN’s problems. Overpriced broadcast rights are certainly the biggest piece in that financial puzzle, but they’re not the only one. Salaries are also a pretty heavy fixed cost, and one the network decided to slash. Will that decision improve the financial picture, at least on the costs side? Maybe. But ESPN could fire every single person on staff and still not make the numbers work. When your ship is sinking, tossing a few deck chairs over the side isn’t going to accomplish much.
Unfortunately for ESPN, they made those mistakes while viewers are moving away from TV in general and paying for cable in particular. Disney has bundled its cable channels and forced cable companies to carry those networks.
That’s because Disney, ESPN’s parent, uses the popularity of ESPN’s live sports programming to force cable companies into carrying and paying for a large swath of less popular Disney-owned networks. The message? If you want ESPN, then you’re not only going to pay Disney for it, you’re also going to pay for A&E and Lifetime and Lifetime Movie Network and History and Freeform and Disney Junior and Disney XD and Vice. It doesn’t matter if you don’t plan to watch a second of any of those networks: if you want to watch college football for three months in the fall, you’re going to pay for the unrelated also-ran networks whether you like it or not.

ESPN knows people will pay for cable just to get ESPN, hence its near-extortion of cable companies into carrying myriad other Disney-owned channels. Given this fact, how can ESPN claim that cord-cutting has nothing to do with ESPN? If people are plugging the cord in just to get ESPN, then you can pretty much guarantee ESPN is very much a part of the cord-cutting conversation. ESPN can’t have it both ways.

Is a ton of cord-cutting happening regardless of what ESPN’s doing? Absolutely. Is the network a mere blameless bystander in the cord-cutting? Not at all. If ESPN wants to claim responsibility for bringing people into the cable fold, then it must also take responsibility when a diehard sports fan finally decides that ESPN’s just not worth the cost of cable anymore.
Then there is the decision to make more of ESPN's programming more like sports talk radio instead of showing actual sports. I think of it as the Stephen A. Smith problem. I can't even stand the 30 second ads featuring him. I don't want to tune in to watch him scream his opinions at someone. I don't mind the shows like PTI or The Jump when it's a much more civil conversation. By I can understand shy people don't want to tune in to watch waht they can listen to on the radio.
Passively listening to a radio show while you’re at work or in your car and unable to watch a live game is a very different thing than wanting to watch some game highlights during the whopping 30 minutes of free time you have to do nothing at home each night. The two aren’t perfect substitutes for each other, yet ESPN’s programming decisions suggest the network thinks talking heads are as big a draw as actual athletes competing on the field. And all this after spending $8 billion to get the rights to air those competitions?

It’s madness. ESPN went from the worldwide leader in sports to yet another expensive network of dumb people yelling dumb things at other dumb people, all the while forgetting that the most popular entertainment form of people yelling about sports stuff for several hours a day — sports talk radio — is free.
The cherry on top was the politicization of their programming.
The industry insider I spoke to said the focus on politics was a symptom, rather than a root cause, of all these current issues. According to this insider, ESPN executives saw the writing on the wall — higher costs, subscriber losses, lower ratings — and decided that it needed a bigger content pie to attract more content consumers. Sports is too small, so why not try for a real mass audience by broadening the network’s focus to include news and politics? If X number of people like sports, and Y number of people like politics, then surely combining sports and politics will lead to a much bigger audience, thereby solving the company’s financial dilemma.

This view, of course, ignores how people consume political news. The diehards who love political news don’t turn on the TV or open the laptop and navigate to sites with zero bias that just play it straight. Why? Because those kinds of political news and commentary providers don’t exist. Because that’s not what political junkies want. Liberals want news from liberals, and conservatives want news from conservatives. The Balkanization of political news and commentary didn’t happen by accident. People in this business know you have to pick a side. That works in political news. It doesn’t work if you have a bipartisan mass media audience.

Instead of expanding its pie by combining two types of mass media content, ESPN ended up communicating to half its audience that it didn’t respect them. How? By committing itself entirely not to political news, but to unceasing left-wing political commentary.
Yes, all that is true and it's annoying, but I suspect that the other three reasons are much bigger parts of ESPN's decline. And it's not clear that their firings this week are going to reverse those problems. As Davis points out, the people they fired were mostly sports reporters.
The most interesting aspect of the mass layoffs on Wednesday isn’t that they happened, it’s who the network targeted. Not the high-priced carnival barkers and the know-nothing loudmouths doing their best to make Rachel Maddow proud. Nope. ESPN targeted sports reporters. In an effort to cut some fat from its bottom line, ESPN exchanged a scalpel for a chainsaw, skipped the fat entirely, and went straight to cutting out muscle.

If ESPN wants to once again be the worldwide leader in sports, it should refocus on covering sports, which used to be a refuge from politics and the news. America is politicized enough already, and if its citizens want political news, several cable outlets do political news far better than ESPN ever could. Instead of doing sports and politics poorly, perhaps the network could return to the thing that it used to do better than everyone else in the world: cover live sports.
Sports fans and athletes should be cheering for ESPN to recover. If the sports network doesn't have the big bucks to pay for broadcast rights, the sports leagues won't have the money to pay their big stars. How will it affect your favorite team if more and more teams don't have the money to pay to keep their stars together? I feel for the people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own. I hope they find new jobs, but the whole business of reporting is a tough one these days. And I hope that ESPN figures out its problems and can make a comeback.

Ah, at least one French voter had a better choice than facing the country this week.
According to French site Le Parisien, with their presidential election underway, the people of France took to the ballot box and sent in a vote for Kawhi over the other candidates in the field such as Francois Fillon or Emmanuel Macron.
Though I'm not sure why that voter didn't pick Tony Parker who is actually French and who was vintage last night for the Spurs.