Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Cruising the Web

Jay Cost makes a very astute argument
that we need to get Donald Trump out of our heads. He is such an oversize personality and he exults in dominating every day's news both with what he says and how others react that our attention on him detracts from more important topics.
But if we move outside his orbit for a moment, it’s easier to appreciate how we have become detached from reality. Elections are still scheduled for November 6, 2018 — McCabe’s dismissal notwithstanding. Maybe Trump interferes with Robert Mueller’s investigation; maybe he doesn’t. Maybe Mueller finds something big on Trump; maybe he doesn’t. Either way, the people will have multiple opportunities to register their views on Trump between now and January 20, 2021. And to judge from his job-approval rating at the moment, he is in deep trouble with the voters.

When we fret about how Trump has corrupted democracy, or the republic or whatever, we overlook how easily he has manipulated our civic discourse. That seems to me to be a much bigger problem. While we are all talking about Trump Trump Trump — whether you like him or hate him, want to #MAGA or #RESIST — we are shunting aside substantive issues that are more worthy of our attention.
We need to remember that there is a lot more to U.S. government than Donald Trump. It's just not healthy for our country to focus so much on one person, whether it's Trump or Obama or Clinton or whomever.
This, to me, is the real power of Donald Trump — and the real problem. He has reoriented politics around himself. To some degree, every president manages to do that; it’s in the nature of the bully pulpit. But opinions on the president are usually proxies for positions on larger issues that matter, such as taxes or social welfare spending. With Trump, it often comes down to what you think of the man himself. He is the center of gravity around which politics orbits in 2018.

This has a more subtly negative effect on democracy. Public opinion is supposed to be sovereign in a republic, but it can be a benevolent sovereign only after the people think, converse, and argue with one another on the issues that are important to the general welfare. If the people cannot deliberate on anything except Trump, they are not thinking about those issues. So public opinion on matters of substance remains inchoate or poorly formed, undermining the sovereignty that the Constitution grants the people.

In my view, this is a much bigger problem than McCabe, the Mueller probe, or whatever. With Trump living rent-free in everybody’s head, there is no room for us to think about anything else and for the people to influence the course of public policy in a beneficial way.
Policy discussions such as whether a steel tariff is a good idea or how we should orient ourselves toward Russia become about what Trump thinks about the ideas rather than whether they're good or bad proposals.

Eric Holder is claiming now that the administration he served liked the media. But, as Philip Wegmann writes, that's not the real story.
Holder was absolutely obsessed with a couple of journalists in particular, and a scandal related to his treatment of them will forever shape his legacy. Under Holder's leadership, the Department of Justice subpoenaed the work and home phone activity of Associated Press reporters. It also and labeled James Rosen of Fox News a “criminal co-conspirator” in a 2013 case in a bid to seize personal phone records and emails.

If the attorney general thought that the AP and Fox News would be flattered by all that attention, he was wrong. What Holder must have considered casual and friendly advances, everyone else saw as a serious assault on the First Amendment.

"Today we learned of the Justice Department’s unprecedented wholesale seizure of confidential telephone records from the Associated Press,” The Newspaper Association of America said, giving the final word in a statement. “These actions shock the American conscience and violate the critical freedom of the press protected by the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”
Holder is reportedly considering running for president in 2020. We'll see if the media will remember how Holder treated them when he was last in power.

Nima Sanandaji writes in honor of Imternational Women's Day and the efforts to advance women's careers. One surprising (for liberals) finding is the effect that reducing the welfare state might do a lot more than the more usual policy proposals. And the Nordic states are leading the way. These states have a long history of affording women more rights than the rest of Europe or the United States in the 19th century. However, women aren't reaching the top positions in management in Nordic countries as we might expect and the U.S. has a high percentage of women in management positions.
Comparing the Nordic countries with each other, a pattern emerges: Those with more extensive welfare-state policies have fewer women on top. Iceland, which has a moderately sized welfare state, has the most women managers. Second is Sweden, which has opened up welfare services such as education, health care, and elder care for private-sector competition. Denmark, which has the highest taxes and the biggest welfare state in the modern world, has the lowest share of women in managerial positions.

Essentially, the rise of the welfare state has been a double-edged sword for women’s advancement. On the one hand, it has created jobs in women-dominated fields such as health care and education, and aided the labor-market entry of women by offering day care and other family-related services. On the other, the attendant high taxes have reduced the economic incentive for both parents to work full-time, and have also made it difficult for families to purchase services that alleviate household work (such as cleaning). Parental-leave policies have given women an incentive to take long breaks from working. And state monopolies in female-dominated sectors such as health care and education have limited women’s career choices.

The result of all this? The United States, often viewed as being far behind the Nordic countries when it comes to gender equality, actually has a higher share of women in top business positions. The true lesson, that a large welfare state actually can impede women’s progress, is seldom if ever reported. Perhaps it is time to change that.
This sounds like the sort of result that politicians will ignore because it contradicts their preferred nostrums.

You might have heard of the idiot member of the District of Columbia City Council who posted a video on his Facebook page blaming Jewish bankers for the bad weather that has been afflicting the city.
Council member Trayon White Sr. apologized for the comments he made in a since-deleted video on his official Facebook page posted Friday morning as snow fell over the capital.

“Man it just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man. Y’all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation,” White can be heard saying in the video, the Washington Post reported.

“And D.C. keeps talking about, ‘We a resilient city,’” he continues. “And that’s a model based off the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities, man. Be careful.”
After this story went viral, he decided to apologize.
On Sunday night, White posted a note on Twitter apologizing “to the Jewish community and anyone I have offended.”

“The Jewish community have been allies with me in my journey to help people. I did not intend to be Anti-Semitic, and I see I should not have said that after learning from my colleagues,” the note reads.

White — a Democrat who won the Ward 8 seat in November 2016 — also said he’d reached out to his “friends” at the organization Jews United for Justice.

“They are helping me to understand the history of comments made against Jews and I am committed to figuring out ways continue to be allies with them and others,” he wrote.

The organization acknowledged speaking with White, writing that they “look forward to working with him toward deeper understanding of anti-Semitism and toward our collective liberation.”

Fellow lawmaker Brianne Nadeau, who is Jewish, said she believes White’s apology is sincere.

“I believe he is being truthful when he says he didn’t realize what his statement implied,” she wrote in a statement on Facebook.
Oh, please. How does a guy not know that those comments are offensive and insulting to Jews. And how exactly does he think a banking family who has been out of the headlines for decades actually control the weather? This guy is obviously a foolish jerk. But what is rather remarkable is that he felt comfortable talking like this and didn't realize what a storm that his words would provoke. What swamps must he inhabit that this is just normal commentary?

So does it seem any coincidence that Al Sharpton, a guy with his own anti-Semitic history is working with Black Lives Matter and other African-American groups to organize a protest in support of Louis Farrakhan?
Several black activist groups are holding a protest on Monday in defense of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, a notorious anti-Semite and racist revealed to have close ties to prominent Democratic politicians and activists.

Black Lives Matter, the New Black Panther Party and the National Action Network are among the groups spearheading the protest, the organizers said in a press release.

The groups are protesting a House resolution, introduced by Republican Indiana Rep. Todd Rokita, that formally condemns Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism. The activists instead want lawmakers to pass a resolution condemning President Donald Trump....

“We cannot allow a politically hypocritical political situation to exist whereas an openly racist president, Donald Trump is given a free pass and to spew racist venom and racist policies by a confederate based GOP; and then they have the gall to issue an official legislative condemnation of a private citizen and Black leader who is dearly beloved by the masses,” said Black Lawyers for Justice president Malik Zulu Shabazz, one of the protest organizers.

Shabazz, a former leader of the New Black Panthers, has a long history of anti-Semitism and once shouted at a protest: “Kill every goddamn Zionist in Israel! Goddamn little babies, goddamn old ladies! Blow up Zionist supermarkets!” That’s according to the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights organization which has tracked Shabazz’s anti-Semitism for years. The press release lists Shabazz as the point of contact for the protest. He did not return an email seeking comment.
Of course, these groups and leaders find nothing wrong with Farrakhan's anti-Semitism. Like that D.C. Council member, they must be marinating in such ugliness that they don't even see anything wrong with it.

Just flip the script. What if it were Republican politicians who hung out with David Duke or other white supremacists who regularly spouted racist remarks. Would it be acceptable to have those groups mobilizing in support of those members of Congress while attacking anyone who dared to criticize those members of Congress for their associations with such racists. Donald Trump was rightly criticized for his failure to condemn white supremacists who supported him. That was appalling. Now we're seeing similar behavior on the other side of the aisle and the condemnations should be just as vociferous.

Alan Dershowitz contrasts
the treatment of Jewish refugees from Arab countries to how Palestinians have been treated by Arab countries.
The Arab exodus from Israel in 1948 was the direct result of a genocidal war declared against the newly established Jewish state by all of its Arab neighbors, including the Arabs of Israel. If they had accepted the U.N. peace plan — two states for two people — there would be no Palestinian refugees. In the course of Israel's fierce battle for its survival — a battle in which it lost 1 percent of its population, including many Holocaust survivors and civilians — approximately 700,000 local Arabs were displaced. Many left voluntarily, having been promised a glorious return after the inevitable Arab victory. Others were forced out. Some of these Arabs could trace their homes in what became Israel hundreds of years back. Others were relatively recent arrivals from Arab countries such as Syria, Egypt, and Jordan.

Approximately the same number of Jews were displaced from their Arab homelands during this period. Nearly all of them could trace their heritage back thousands of years, well before the Muslims and Arabs became the dominant population. Like the Palestinian Arabs, some left voluntarily, but many had no realistic choice. The similarities are striking, but so are the differences.

The most significant difference is between how Israel dealt with the Jews who were displaced and how the Arab and Muslim world dealt with the Palestinians who had been displaced by a war they started.

Israel integrated its brothers and sisters from the Arab and Muslim world. The Arab world put its Palestinian brothers and sisters in refugee camps, treating them as political pawns and festering sores in its persistent war against the Jewish state.

It has now been 70 years since this exchange of populations occurred. It is time to end the deadly charade of calling the displaced Palestinians "refugees." Almost none of the nearly five million Arabs who now seek to claim the mantle of "Palestinian refugee" were ever actually in Israel. They are the descendants, some quite distant, of those who were actually displaced in 1948. The number of surviving Arabs who were personally forced out of Israel by the war started by their brethren is probably no more a few thousand, probably less. Perhaps they should be compensated, but not by Israel. The compensation should come from Arab countries that illegally seized the assets of their erstwhile Jewish residents whom they forced to leave. These few thousand Palestinians have no greater moral, historic or legal claim than the surviving Jewish individuals who were displaced during the same time period seven decades ago.

In life as in law there are statutes of limitations that recognize that history changes the status quo. The time has come, indeed it is long overdue, for the world to stop treating these Palestinians as refugees. That status ended decades ago. The Jews who came to Israel from Morocco many years ago are no longer refugees. Neither are the relatives of the Palestinians who have lived outside of Israel for nearly three-quarters of a century.
The surrounding Arab countries have refused to absorb Palestinians into their countries. They would prefer to keep them as a downtrodden excuse for hating Israel and distracting people's attention away from the conditions in their own countries. Remember this history whenever you see people talking about how terrible the Jews are for the supposedly terrible treatment of Palestinians. And remember also how Israeli Arabs have full rights and can elect members of the Knesset. They live better and with more liberties than many Arabs in Arab-run countries.

Tim Worstall ponders the question: "How Saudi Arabia came to have (way) too many royals."
Think of, in this manner at least, Saudi Arabia as being the personal creation of the first monarch, Ibn Saud. Similarly, many medieval European states were the creation of personal loyalty to the ruler, not to anything like a sense of nationality or country as we think of them today. That state will be monarchical, of course, but also feudal in many senses. The children of that monarch will have great economic power over the new country.
However, in Saudi Arabia, the numbers are geometrically increased because a ruler wasn't limited to a single wife.
Ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia, was born in 1875. He had some 100 children through a varied count of marriages and concubines, 45 of whom were sons. Almost all of the sons had Islam’s allowed multiple marriages, and by the time we get to today’s great grandchildren of Ibn Saud we’re talking of many thousands of princelings – 9,000 at one count. Each of whom has, so it is said, an allowance from the state and so on. As such, being a member of that family confers economic privilege, and not being in the family has a few disadvantages.

That’s a problem in two ways. Who actually rules is now a matter of argument within that rather large number of people. And who should gain economic privilege, well, that needs to be limited in order to alleviate the burden upon the economy in general.
Yet another benefit of monogamy.

Jim Geraghty has some good questions
for those who are so outraged at the firing of Andrew McCabe. He points out that McCabe, due to his wife's connections to Terry McAulliffe should have recused himself from the Hillary Clinton investigation.
McCabe defenders may argue that any other FBI official would have reached the same conclusions about the Clinton investigation that McCabe did. But if that really is the case, that just strengthens the argument that someone else should have handled it. Why invite speculation and second-guessing by having McCabe make those decisions?

McCabe states in interviews that President Trump taunted him repeatedly about his wife’s defeat in the state senate race. That, no doubt, is a jerky and obnoxious thing to do. But the rules for the FBI aren’t different when they’re dealing with an obnoxious jerk.

Similarly, according to many accounts, Carter Page is a bit of a weirdo with some strongly pro-Russia views. But that doesn’t mean the FBI gets to gloss over the partisan motivations of its sources in a footnote of an application to the FISA court.

If you allow the FBI to cut corners or tread into gray areas when investigating political figures you don’t like, at some point, they’re going to cut corners or tread into gray areas when investigating political figures you do like.

Separately, for those still irate over McCabe’s firing, and loss of some (but not most) of his retirement benefits . . . what should be the consequence for an FBI deputy director lying to federal investigators?
Should someone in a high position in the FBI who lies to investigators suffer no penalty when others accused of the same crime are threatened with prison?

David French remarks
on how topsy-turvy politics are today. Both sides reverse themselves on a dime depending on whether the story redounds to the credit or discredit of their side. And Trump's endless tweets attacking McCabe and Mueller don't help anyone.
Ahh yes, there’s nothing like a Trump tweet to reassure America that the process of terminating one of America’s most senior law-enforcement officers was completely fair, nonpartisan, and professional.

Oh, and keep in mind that all this sanctimony — all this fury — was unleashed online without the public, politicians, or pundits having seen the testimony that allegedly caused McCabe’s termination. No one knew the actual evidence, yet their rage and certainty were undiminished.

But that’s pretty much par for the course. Remember, we’ve just exited a news cycle where the public, pundits, and politicians opined authoritatively about the legality and credibility of FISA applications they hadn’t read. Instead of waiting for comprehensive reports or reviewing source documents, they sallied forth into online battle relying mainly on two shoddily written, hopelessly partisan memos from a terribly compromised House committee.

At this point American political hypocrisy is boundless. The same people who would parse and condemn Barack Obama’s public statements about ongoing investigations now urge us to ignore Trump’s tweets. Meaningless venting, they say. Conversely, the same people who told us that Obama’s public pronouncements had no impact on the good professionals at the FBI and IRS now tell us that Trump’s tirades are proof positive of political influence on the DOJ.

And Friday-night news dumps? Well, they’re suspicious only if we don’t like the news.

By the way, it seems that McCabe hasn't actually lost his pension.
However, McCabe has not been stripped of his pension at all. In fact, that is impossible to do to a federal employee after five years of employment.

The 21-year career FBI official lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in early retirement benefits, including the privilege to retire at 50 rather than between 57 and age 62, a luxury virtually unheard of in the private sector. His yearly payments would reach around $60,000 if he qualified for the early retirement program.
Forbes reports on the details,
In fact, McCabe is all of 49 years old, likely 50 by the time readers see this, and what he lost out on was, as CNN much more calmly recounts, the ability to take his benefits at age 50, rather than somewhere between age 57 and age 62, and he lost his eligibility to a special top-up in benefit formula. These are, admittedly, tangible financial losses, but it is grossly misleading that various news outlets are giving the general public the impression that he has lost his pension entirely.

But the existence of these special perks, benefits that we in the private sector can barely comprehend in the year 2018, points to a fundamental disconnect between the private and public sector. Why shouldn't someone whose benefits consist of 401(k) account accruals believe that government pensions work so differently as to punish someone arbitrarily by removing their benefits? Add to this the fact that retirement at age 50 is well-nigh incomprehensible for the average working American, except perhaps in the case of high-risk, health-sapping occupations, which surely likewise added to the impression that actual pensions, rather than generous ancillary provisions, were being lost.

Yes, the rationale for these generous pension benefits is that these civil servants accept significantly lower salaries than they would be able to earn in the private sector. But this exchange of "low salaries now, rich retirement benefits later" is a matter of "robbing Peter to pay Paul" that isn't wise in the long term, either.