Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Cruising the Web

Well, finally. Steve Bannon is out from Breitbart. He corrupted the media outlets founded by Andrew Breitbart and tainted the entire name. I recommend that they come up with a new name and change back their focus to what it used to be when Andrew was alive. Jonah Goldberg contemplates the fall of Bannon.
No personality in modern political history has so completely squandered an opportunity to be an influential force in American life, particularly in so short a period of time. Bannon may still think that the route to political success lies in heightening social tensions, polarizing American life, and declaring war on political institutions and politicians for sport, but it won’t matter. He is without troops, funders, or a platform now. And while I can almost feel sympathy for a man so thoroughly defenestrated by former friends and allies, that sympathy is tempered by the fact that he brought it all entirely on himself. I hope he finds peace in his well-deserved exile.

I think it's neat that the White House had the media in to watch the discussion on immigration in the White House. I wish they could do this for more issues. You can watch the video here. For political junkies, it was an intriguing look behind the curtains of negotiating. But each side had to be cognizant of the cameras and tone down any vituperative rhetoric. Some conservatives are worrying that Trump signaled that he was willing to accept a clean DACA bill in exchange for postponing other issues for discussing later. Trump has already signaled that he wants to sign a DACA bill so he's given up some leverage with that. Perhaps Trump thought that appearing before cameras discussing policy he could help refute the idea that he is the mental incompetent that Michael Wolff's book depicted him as. It certainly impressed analysts at CNN. Maybe his performance could shut down some of the silly 25th Amendment talk going around liberal circles. But, as Yuval Levin notes, Trump's performance was truly not that impressive.
The subject at issue in this meeting was one that President Trump knows better than most other subjects. He spoke about it relatively fluently, even if not always accurately, and he had a good sense of what the core questions were. I can assure you that if this meeting had been about health care, say, it would not have looked like that. And yet, even on an issue he knows pretty well, the president turns out to be exceptionally pliable.

He several times said one thing and then its opposite. He seemed open to comprehensive immigration reform while not really sharing the definition of the term held in common by everyone else in the room. At one point he seemed to agree with Senator Dianne Feinstein that a clean DACA bill would be a good idea, only to be pulled back by Rep. Kevin McCarthy who reminded him that “clean” would mean DACA without border protection measures.

This malleability on his part in turn defined everyone else’s behavior around Trump. Every single other person in that room was there to manipulate the president, and seemed to think they could. The sum total of their respect for him was zero. Whether by obsequiously singing his praises to his face or by telling him he had agreed to something or by asking him to opine grandly on the most innocuous possible formulation of their own position, each of the members of Congress who spoke to him was hoping the president would take their side because they assumed he had no side of his own. This now and then created the sense that maybe a breakthrough could really come. But as becomes evident by the end of this meeting, what this malleability actually means is that you never know where you stand and nothing the president says matters all that much.
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I can't see Oprah ever deciding to run for the presidency. Why give up her privacy, her business, a lot of her popularity for the ugliness that is a presidential campaign. I think she could win, but at this point, being president is a come down from being Oprah. This reminds a bit of the push to get Colin Powell to run in 1996 except he actually had some relevant experience. But it's a fun little boomlet to contemplate. And Ben Shapiro explains what it all means in the sense of today's politics as he contemplates a moment when we have a reality-show president and the most popular candidate can imagine is a Tv talk show hostess.
They demonstrate rather clearly that the American people have two very different ideas of what the president does: what they actually believe, and what they say they believe. When asked, most Americans will say they believe the presidency is about the policies presidents pursue: economic growth, military strength, and the rest. From this perspective, Oprah isn’t qualified to be president; neither was Trump, but we ought to ignore his Twitter foolishness and instead focus on his accomplishments. If we hold by this picture of the presidency, we ought to pretend that what the president does holds all the weight, and what he says holds nearly none.

Then there’s what Americans really think the president does. They think he talks. They think he speaks. They think he acts as a figurehead on the prow of state, thrusting a certain picture of American character into the world. In this world, what the president says matters far more than what he does. After all, legislative priorities change and executive policy morphs, but character is forever.
That's a pretty sad, but true observation. That's one reason why Obama could remain popular as president even when his policies were unpopular. People liked the way he communicated. And, as Shapiro points out, this is not a good thing for Trump.
That’s why Trump’s Twitter antics damage him, and it’s why Oprah’s delivery of an overblown speech in front of her cronies in Los Angeles could launch her. The image of America is bound, in Americans’ mind, with the image of the presidency....

And that means that what Trump says matters. He needs to behave credibly, no matter what policy he’s pushing. Policy simply isn’t enough. If it were, Oprah wouldn’t be anywhere near the conversation, and Trump wouldn’t be anywhere near the White House....

And here we have a sense of the weaknesses of this reality-television presidency. In a normal meeting among policymakers, the kind of conversation we saw would get down to some brass tacks after a bit, and the ideas thrown around would begin to be transformed into specifics. But with a president who is only performing, that moment never came, and at the end of an hour’s discussion, the president reminded everyone that none of it mattered.

As Kevin Williamson points out, Republicans aren't going to be able to criticize Oprah as being inexperienced given whom they nominated for the presidency. But she would make a good candidate to go against Trump - really, she's the quintessential Democratic candidate.
At the same time, she more than embodies the virtues attributed to President Trump: She’s a real billionaire, a self-made one at that, a woman who started with nothing and became wildly successful with bupkis to go on but her own grit and shrewdness. President Trump loves to talk about ratings. You want ratings? Oprah has ratings.

The Democrats would do worse — a great deal worse — if they decide they need a celebrity: Sean Penn, Ashley Judd, Jerry Springer. (In the case of Jerry Springer, they did do worse: He was the mayor of Cincinnati.) And Oprah would have some potential celebrity contenders of some substance: Mark Cuban for one, Mark Zuckerberg for another.

But the Democrats don’t really need a celebrity. They have a great talent for making celebrities out of ordinary politicians, converting a clan of low-rent grifters and halfwits such as the Kennedys into an ersatz royal family and making the lightly accomplished Barack Obama into a kind of rock-star messiah for the Davos set. The Democrats have a more fruitful relationship with celebrity because, unlike most Republicans, they understand the transactional nature of the celebrity-politician relationship. Movie stars get into political activism for the same reason they sometimes take six months off to do serious theater: They want to feel smart, maybe even a little profound, and, more important, they want to be perceived as that, as intellectually serious. Democratic politicians connect with celebrities because they want to be seen as cool. Smart and cool is a very powerful combination for public-relations purposes, and it’s not what you get when you pair up Mike Pence with the Duck Dynasty guys. Republicans have a poor handle on the uses of glamour.
Well, there is also the fact that modern Hollywood celebrities tend to be liberal so they're not going to ally themselves with Republicans. We're long past the glamourous members of Hollywood who loved visiting Ronald Reagan's White House.
But presidential politics in the post-party era — or, more precisely, in the era of strong partisanship and weak parties, in Julia Azari’s useful formulation — is quickly devolving into pure tribalism, a form of cultural totem-jockeying. And that means that old-fashioned things such as public-policy analysis, party platforms, and even ideology are growing ever more attenuated. The question isn’t whether you belong to the free-trade party or to the anti-trade party — I defy you to say convincingly which is which — but whether you are a Bernie person or a Cruz person, whether you are Team Oprah or Team Trump.

And if it comes down to Oprah vs. Trump, Republicans should keep a wary eye on the ratings.
Armageddon continues.
Americans for Tax Reform looks at other utilities companies that are lowering rates in response to the tax bill.
Baltimore Gas & Electric – the utility is passing on $82 million worth of tax savings, resulting in lower gas and electric bills for customers.
IN addition, Pacific Power, Pepco, Rocky Mountain Power, Commonwealth Edison Company will pass along tax savings to customers. If Republicans can't make something of all these companies passing along savings to lower utilities costs to their customers. It might just be a few dollars a month for some of these companies, but when is the last time, customers saw a rate cut?

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Well, anyone with any sense of politics could have predicted this.
Republicans are scaling back their ambitions to overhaul safety-net programs and dismantle the Affordable Care Act following President Donald Trump’s weekend retreat with GOP leaders, due to concerns they can’t muster enough support ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

Instead, Republican lawmakers are likely to embrace a slimmed-down agenda focused on the basics, including funding the government, raising the government debt limit and striking a deal on immigration, according to GOP lawmakers and aides.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) last year mentioned ambitious plans to tackle government assistance programs, including food stamps and other programs tied to income, that he says discourage recipients from working. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has warned in recent days that he has little interest in pursuing a partisan overhaul in a chamber where Republicans hold a narrow 51-49 majority.
Yeah, trying to ward off a possible wave election is not the time to try to tackle reforming welfare or trying one more time to repeal Obamacare.

A lot of people got very riled up at the announcement from the Justice Department that Jeff Sessions will no longer follow the Obama administration decision not to prosecute marijuana crimes from states that have legalized marijuana. Several politicians went grandstanding in announcing their opposition to the announcement. However, as Glenn Reynolds writes, there is a simple, constitutional option to combat Sessions' change of policy.
But if you want to leave marijuana decisions up to the states, there’s an easy way to do that: Repeal the federal marijuana law. Legislate, which is supposed to be the job of ... legislators. Like Gardner, Sanders or Lieu.

There’s even a bill in front of Congress to do just that, HR 975, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., in 2017. It has bipartisan sponsorship, divided roughly evenly between Republicans and Democrats.

So why are Gardner, et al. attacking Sessions instead of speaking out in favor of new legislation?

Well, for one thing, it’s easy. Passing bills is work, denouncing Sessions requires only a press release — or in this case, a few tweets.

It’s also safer. Congress has been surprisingly willing to let the executive branch take over its lawmaking functions through regulatory measures, executive orders and “prosecutorial discretion.” That’s because then the executive branch takes the blame, while members of Congress don’t have to take a stand....

And it’s for that reason that, even though I favor marijuana legalization, I approve of what Sessions has done. He’s basically told Congress that if they don’t like the marijuana laws that are on the books, they need to get off their butts and change them. As an executive official, he’s telling the legislative branch that he’s going to respect the constitutional separation of powers, which means that if the law is changed it will have to be changed by the lawmakers.
I applaud any movement to turn more decisions back from the executive branch to the legislative branch. Trump did that with his announcement on DACA - people could scream in opposition, but the solution is clear - have Congress pass a bill instead of leaving it up to an executive action. Force members of Congress to actually do their jobs instead of just posture and grandstand.

Economics strikes again.
Restaurant busboys, in line to earn a little more dough this year as minimum wage hikes hit across the country, are instead losing their jobs as chains look to cut costs.

One chain axing jobs is Red Robin, which hopes to save about $8 million this year by eliminating busboys at each of its 570 restaurants, the company said Monday.

Red Robin restaurants are located mostly in Western states, where the minimum wage has risen more quickly.

The Colorado-based chain already eliminated so-called expediters — who plate the food in the kitchen — and realized a cost savings of nearly $10 million last year, it said.

“We need to do that to address the labor increases we’ve seen,” Red Robin’s Chief Financial Officer Guy Constant told attendees at the ICR retail conference held here.
I know that there are a lot on the left who don't think that employers will change their business practices in response to hikes in the minimum wage. But having to pay higher salaries is, of course, means that employers have to find savings elsewhere.

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Here are members of my quiz bowl team, Raleigh Charter High School, competing on a local TV game show for high schoolers.

Here is a neat look at how smart dolphins are. If they only had opposable thumbs!