Thursday, March 15, 2018

Cruising the Web

There is a lot for Republicans to worry about in the House midterm elections and the results of special elections over the past year keep sending a red-alert warning. Just as Republicans benefited from Obama's unpopularity in 2010 and 2014, the Democrats are benefiting from enthusiastic opposition to Trump. As Nate Silver observes, the Democrats are riding an "enthusiasm gap" that could sweep Nancy Pelosi to the Speakership. Republicans just don't seem to feel the need to turn out in these elections. If the economy is supposed to be the magic bullet that will help Republicans, it didn't seem to help Rick Saccone in a Pennsylvania district that should has been doing well economically and should probably have liked Trump's moves toward a tariff on steel. But despite his exuberant campaign appearance for Saccone, Trump couldn't pull him across the finish line.

While whistling past the graveyard, Republicans can tell themselves that it helped that Conor Lamb ran as a centrist. If Democrats can wise up to run more candidates like Lamb in red districts, they can repeat their success in 2006. As David Marcus writes,
There is no question that in today’s Democratic Party, where Diane Feinstein is too conservative to be endorsed by the California Democratic Party, Lamb is about as close to being a Republican as a Democrat can get. We’re talking about a candidate who is a Catholic former Marine who supports fracking, opposes Nancy Pelosi and literally launched his campaign with an ad showing him firing an AR-15.

Democrats have to decide if this is the kind of face and policy approach they want going forward, or if they prefer candidates more like Hillary Clinton, who this past week waxed poetic about how she won all the forward thinking parts of America, while Trump won the places full of racists and backwards thinking. She was talking about places just like PA-18.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, no stranger to moderate Democratic politics put it this way, “Conor Lamb is a lesson to us as a party. Conor Lamb ran as a conservative Democrat, certainly a moderate. He’s a moderate on gun rights, he’s for background checks, but against an assault weapon ban. He’s pro-life, although he said he would vote to keep Planned Parenthood up and running. So he’s a true moderate, and he reflects the district.”
Republicans can just hope that the Democrats will hold cutthroat primaries and nominate candidates far to the left of someone like Conor Lamb. It's not a great sign when a party's best hope is that the other party screws things up. And all those candidates who benefited from Trump's win in 2016 are probably wishing he'd just get off Twitter and shut his mouth for the next eight months.


Jay Cost gives some statistics to show how midterm election results correlate with the president's approval ratings.
The pre-election Gallup poll in the 1994 midterms had Bill Clinton registering 45 percent approval, and Republicans won 230 House seats out of 435. The pre-election Gallup poll in the 2006 midterms had George W. Bush registering 39 percent approval, and Democrats won 233 seats. The pre-election Gallup poll in the 2010 midterms had Barack Obama at 44 percent approval, and Republicans won 242 seats. On the other hand, Bush was popular in 2002, and his party won a handful of House seats. Bill Clinton was popular in 1998, so his party won a handful of seats. But Obama was unpopular in 2014, so Democrats lost about a dozen seats.

Note that Bush in 2006 had a lower job approval rating than Clinton in 1994 or Obama in 2010, but Republicans did relatively better in terms of House seats held. That might have something to do with the distribution of white Republican voters, who — unlike minority Democrats — are not required by the 1982 Voting Rights Act amendments to be packed into minority-majority districts. On the other hand, it could be a fluke due to a small sample size.

Right now, the Gallup poll has Trump at just 39 percent approval, right where Bush was in 2006. Factor in better gerrymanders for Republicans now than in 2006, and its relatively efficient distribution of voters, and Republicans might be able to do a shade better than what these numbers suggest. But they might not. And remember: Democrats only need to get to 218 seats to control the House of Representatives. They don’t need 30 new seats; they need only 23.

History suggests that the thing that can save the Republican majority is an uptick in Trump’s job-approval numbers. Gallup has him at 39 percent right now, and the average of all polls puts him around 41 percent, or thereabouts. If he can push that number up to 45 percent, I’d say the GOP has a fighting chance at the majority.

But if he doesn’t, I would get used to saying “Speaker Nancy Pelosi” once again.
And Trump can ready himself for impeachment hearings.



Garry Kasparov has a powerful article
about Vladimir Putin and the farce that is the election that will take place on March 18. It is a farce to say that it is any sense a real election. Here's a tidbit that lets us know that Putin doesn't plan on going anywhere.
The domain name “putin2018.ru” was registered in 2010, during the Obama administration’s infamous “Reset” with Russia and its dreams of Dmitry Medvedev liberalization. Putin2024.ru, putin2030.ru, and putin36.ru have also been locked up, in case you were wondering.

Putin will continue in power as if by birthright, and calling this an election soils the meaning of a word that should be treasured. Yet the media of the free world persist in referring to “elections” in dictatorships like Putin’s Russia because they have no vocabulary to call it anything else—a predicament undemocratic regimes exploit very well. Even calling Putin a “president” is at best inaccurate and abominable propaganda at worst. A president is “the elected head of a republican state” according to my dictionary, while Putin isn’t elected and Russia isn’t a republic. He may have been a president when he first came to power in 2000, that I will grant. But since 2012, when he returned to the presidency, unconstitutionally, after allowing Medvedev to warm the chair for four years while ceding none of his power, there has been no doubt at all that Putin should simply be called a dictator.
And don't believe polls that purport to show how popular Putin is. Polls in dictatorships are no measure of what people really think.
erms like “polls” and “popularity” as applied to politicians in the free world have very different meanings in authoritarian regimes. I’m fond of asking in response to questions about Putin’s “popularity” if a restaurant is popular if it’s the only one in town and every other restaurant was burned to the ground.

This is not to say that a dictator or his policies cannot have popular support. The problem is defining what support means after 18 years of a personality cult and 24/7 propaganda that portrays Putin as a demigod protecting Russia from deadly enemies without and within. A year of fake news trolling and half-baked social media memes had half of America and its vaunted media running in circles in 2016. Imagine what it does to a population when that’s all there is, every hour, every day, for nearly two decades.
Putin's own actions tell us that he knows that he's really not that popular.
If he and his policies were truly popular, in the real sense of the word, he wouldn’t need to spend so much time and effort dominating the media, eliminating rivals, and rigging elections large and small. Persecuting bloggers and arresting a single protester standing in the town square with an anti-Putin sign does not strike me as the behavior of a ruler who believes in his own popularity.

As for polling, when an anonymous caller reaches a Russian at home to ask his opinion of the man who controls every aspect of the Russian police state, it would take great courage to report anything less than enthusiastic support. It is a testament to the bravery of many of my countrymen that Putin does not yet receive the 99 percent approval scores that Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi enjoyed up until the minute they no longer had the power of life and death over their own citizens.


Now that Britain has determined that Russia is responsible for the assassination attempt using a nerve agent to kill one of its former spies on British soil, it's clear that Putin is just thumbing his nose at Britain and the rest of the west. WHy use such a weapon when they could have killed the guy with something less dramatic? Putin wants to send a message that he's willing to murder with impunity and he'll do it in our capital cities. And he's been doing it for a while. As Buzzfeed reported last summer, Putin has been ordering assassinations and getting away with it for years.
The Russian government passed new laws giving its agents a licence to kill enemies of the state abroad in 2006, the same year two assassins from the FSB, Russia’s spy agency, flew to London to poison the defector and one-time KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive polonium. Last year, a British public inquiry found that Vladimir Putin had likely approved that assassination in an act of nuclear terrorism in the British capital that was impossible for the government to ignore. But high-ranking intelligence sources said other less glaringly obvious assassinations have gone unpunished.

Russian assassins have been able to kill in Britain with impunity over the past decade, 17 current and former British and American intelligence officials told BuzzFeed News. The reasons for Britain’s reticence, they said, include fear of retaliation, police incompetence, and a desire to preserve the billions of pounds of Russian money that pour into British banks and properties each year. As a result, Russia is making what one source called increasingly “bold moves” in the UK without fear of reprisals.
And May bears some of the responsibility for the weak British reactions to these murders with the actions she took or chose not to take when she was home secretary.
May personally intervened to delay the public inquiry into Litvinenko’s death, citing the need to protect “international relations” with Russia. And in the Perepilichnyy case, her government has withheld sensitive evidence from the inquest on “national security” grounds.

The core reason British authorities have turned a blind eye, a current senior national security adviser to the British government told BuzzFeed News, is fear. Ministers, he said, were not prepared to take the “political risk of dealing firmly and effectively in whatever way with the activities of the Russian state and Russian-organised crime in the UK” because the Kremlin could inflict massive harm on Britain by unleashing cyberattacks, destabilising the economy, or mobilising elements of Britain’s large Russian population to “cause disruption”. Deep law enforcement funding cuts mean “our capabilities are very weak”, he said. It was also impossible to rule out the risk of “general war with Russia” in the current climate, he said, and “if it were to happen it would happen very, very rapidly, and we would be entirely unprepared”. As a result, he concluded, ministers “desperately don’t want to antagonise the Russians” and senior figures in government had told him bluntly that there was “no political appetite to deal with the Russian Federation”.
While Jeremy Corbyn has been riding high in the face of May's seemingly inept leadership, his response to the Russians' use of a chemical weapon to try to kill someone on British soil betrays how much of his heart still belongs to Moscow. His comments have been shameful. As the Daily Mail points out, Corbyn's comments are strikingly similar to what Russian diplomats have been saying in response to the British allegations.
Here we reveal the remarkable similarities and ask the question: Did the Labour leader take his cues from Moscow?

1. Ambassador Alexander Shulgin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague on Tuesday: 'We suggest that Britain immediately avail itself of the procedures provided for by paragraph 2 of Article 9 of the Chemical Weapons Convention.'

Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons yesterday: 'Has the Prime Minister taken the necessary steps under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to make a formal request for evidence from the Russian government under article 9.2.'

....

3. Ambassador Shulgin: 'Our British colleagues should recall that Russia and the United Kingdom are members of the OPCW which is one of the most successful and effective disarmament and non-proliferation mechanisms. We call upon them to abandon the language of ultimatums and threats and return to the legal framework of the chemical convention.'

Mr Corbyn: 'Our response as a country must be guided by the rule of law, support for international agreements… So when it comes to the use of chemical weapons on British soil, it is essential that the government works with the UN to strengthen its chemical weapons monitoring system and involves the office of the prohibition of chemical weapons (OPCW).'
Sounds as if Corbyn got his talking points directly from the Russians. He is even getting criticism from members of his own party who don't see anything positive in defending Russia over this.
A string of Labour backbenchers, including Yvette Cooper, Ben Bradshaw and Hilary Benn, then intervened to offer their backing to May, in what appeared to be pointed responses to Corbyn’s stance.

Cooper, the chair of the home affairs select committee, was greeted with loud cheers when she said Russian state involvement, as the UK government has concluded, “should be met with unequivocal condemnation”.

May thanked Cooper and, in another remark aimed at Corbyn, said: “I know it is representative of many of her friends on the backbenches opposite.”

Bradshaw, a former cabinet minister, said: “Can I assure the prime minister that most of us on these benches fully support the measures that she has announced, and indeed some of us think they could have come a bit sooner.”

Another Labour MP, Chris Bryant, said he completely supported everything the prime minister had said and that Putin’s Russia was “keeping his people poor and kills its political opponents”.

Sammy Wilson of the Democratic Unionist party described Corbyn’s cautious stance as “appeasement”.
If Corbyn isn't going to stand with Britain when Russia is using chemical weapons on British soil, does the Labour Party even want him as the face of their party?


Jim Geraghty notes that the Washington Post is trying to defend Elizabeth Warren's refusal to take a DNA test to determine once and for all if she truly has Native American ancestry. The Post figures that such a test might not show if she has any Native American ancestry.
A person inherits on average 50 percent of his or her DNA from a parent, 25 percent from a grandparent, 12.5 percent from a great-grandparent, and so on. Along the way, much material gets left out. The further down the line the generations go, the more likely it is that a genetic line will not show up — meaning that a bona fide Native American ancestor could well be absent from Warren’s results....

Although the presence of Native American ancestry in a DNA test would be informative, its absence would not rule it out, said Ann Turner, a genetic genealogist and the co-author of “Trace Your Roots with DNA.”

[Why proving Native American ancestry is particularly hard]

“If the Native American ancestry is more than a few generations back, it might not be detectable,” she said. “Also, many people who self-identified as Native American a few generations back were already admixed, making it even less likely to be detected.”
As Geraghty points out, this defense of Warren ignores what Warren has claimed in the past. She hasn't claimed that she has traces of Native American ancestry but that "she herself was Native American," as the Boston Globe reported.
Warren also listed herself as a minority in a legal directory published by the Association of American Law Schools from 1986 to 1995. She’s never provided a clear answer on why she stopped self-identifying.

She was also listed as a Native American in federal forms filed by the law schools at Harvard University and University of Pennsylvania where she worked.

And in 1996, as Harvard Law School was being criticized for lacking diversity, a spokesman for the law school told the Harvard Crimson that Warren was Native American.
Geraghty adds,
Are we as a society comfortable with someone claiming membership in a particular group — with no DNA connection? How different is a claim of heritage with no proof from the case of Rachel Dolezal, the woman who claimed to be African American but who was, by every discernable piece of evidence, white?

If a Republican senator claimed a connection to a minority group with no discernable proof of that connection, would the coverage be the same? Wouldn’t there be some pretty loud accusations of “cultural appropriation”?


Gee, this won't do United Airlines' reputation any good. Not only did they kill a dog, but it appears that 75% of the pets who died on airlines died on United planes.