Thursday, May 10, 2018

Cruising the Web

The Republicans dodged a real bullet on Tuesday when Don Blankenship lost his doomed bid for the GOP nomination to oppose Joe Manchin to represent West Virginia in the Senate. Beyond the relief I felt that we weren't going to have another Roy Moore possibility in WV, I also appreciated the timeliness of the example for my A.P. Government students who are taking their A.P. exam tomorrow. While reviewing for the test, we talked a lot about the reasons for and consequences of having weak political parties. In talking about the weakness of parties in determining who the nominees will be for their party, I'd been giving Trump and Roy Moore as examples of what happens when party leaders lose control of the nomination process. But in reviewing the concept this week, we talked about Blankenship's candidacy as an example of a candidate who might win despite the party not wanting him. Jay Cost writes on this subject and how party primaries have taken the decision on who will be a nominee for federal office out of the hands of party leaders.
It’s easy to blame the voters of West Virginia for this mess. They should know better than to give a former convict a shot at the GOP nomination for the Senate. One might also blame the party elites in Washington, D.C., who should have worked more forcefully to prevent Blankenship from standing a chance in the first place.

Without discounting either of those causes, I want to shed light on the institutional aspect of this situation. Namely, the prevalence of party primaries has of late lent itself to the rise of unacceptable candidates who either cannot win the general election or do not reflect the views and values of the majority of self-identified partisans. The problem can in theory affect either party, but it seems to be causing more trouble for Republicans, who would do well to think seriously about whether they should continue to allow their nominees to be chosen through primary elections.
He goes into the history of primaries which are a 20th-century institution in response to corruption in the parties. The goal was to take the decision on nominations out of the hands of party leaders and put it in the hands of the people.
In theory, this switch was very sensible. The more democracy, the better . . . right? That was certainly the animating spirit of the Progressive era that spearheaded primaries. In practice, however, the process has proven deeply problematic, especially in recent years.

For starters, it forces the party to spend an inordinate amount of time and resources on what is really an intramural battle, the wounds from which may not mend in time for the general election against the real opposition.

Worse, voters have proven themselves ill-equipped for the challenge of sorting the wheat from the chaff during primaries. The main civic function of a party label is that it provides voters with information about what a candidate might do in office. Most voters, even if they do not pay much attention to politics, have a basic grasp of what the Democrats and the Republicans stand for. So, in a general election, they have the requisite information to make the choice that reflects their interests. But party labels are meaningless in primaries, so low-information voters sometimes respond to the candidate who spends the most money, says the most outrageous things, or has the highest profile, whether or not he is a good choice.

Moreover, turnout in primaries is abysmally low, which can give an advantage to ideological purists and extremists. Primary electorates amount to just a fraction of the voting-eligible population, so high-interest ideologues, though relatively small in number, can nominate a candidate who is either too extreme to win the general election, or who is ill-suited for the natural give-and-take that should attend actual governance.
Jay Cost goes on to recommend that Republican state parties institute a run-off plan for the top two candidates.
In the case of the West Virginia Republican primary, for instance, there is no runoff if a candidate wins less than half the vote. In a two-person race, this is not really a problem. But there are three major candidates vying for the GOP nomination in West Virginia, as well as a handful of minor candidates. Employing a “first past the post” rule in a multi-candidate field greatly increases the chances that the victor will win much less than half the vote — and may therefore not reflect the sentiment of the broader party. So Blankenship could win tomorrow even though a large majority of West Virginia Republicans think he is a bad choice.


Ramesh Ponnuru elaborated before the West Virigina election on why this is a good idea.
If there were some kind of run-off provision, Todd Akin would not have been the Republicans’ Senate nominee in 2012: Either of his rivals would have beaten him in a one-on-one race. That Republican would almost certainly have then won the seat.

In West Virginia, too, it seems likely that Morrisey or Jenkins would be able to beat Blankenship in a one-on-one race, or at least that the inability of people who don’t want Blankenship to pick one candidate has made it much more likely that he will win. (Facilitating that kind of co-ordination is one of the things party establishments used to be for, but I digress.)

This isn’t a foolproof way to avoid bad candidates: Moore won a run-off in Alabama. But I think it would help.
I agree. This is something the RNC might want to get on board with for future elections.


Ane perhaps Blankenship's loss will be a warning to political observers to cast a very skeptical eye when internal polls are released publicly. Before Election Day, there were two internal polls released showing Blankenship surging into the lead. Harry Enten writes,
We didn't know how the "internal" polling was going to be biased in West Virginia because we didn't know who conducted the internal polls or who sponsored them. Whoever was pushing these polls could have had motives other than getting the result right. They had little on the line because their names would not be uttered publicly, even if the results were off.
This meant the results could have been biased in some other way to make them less than accurate. The pollsters might have used special models of the electorate that didn't match their actual thoughts of what the electorate would look like. The pollsters might have chosen one-night samples out of multiple nights that were the best for Blankenship. Maybe they wanted to scare voters into turning out for their candidate who was not Blankenship. Maybe they wanted President Donald Trump to issue a statement against Blankenship. We just have no idea.


It is so irritating to have the Obama folks out there blaming Trump for killing the Iran deal and warning us that the rest of the world will no longer trust the United States when we make an agreement. As David French writes, it was Obama's own fault that the deal has collapsed. The deal was not America's word, but merely Obama's promise. That is not how our system works.
Honestly, of all the critiques of Trump’s decision, this is the least credible. President Obama had a chance to make a true “American” promise by submitting the Iran deal as a treaty. But he knew that America wouldn’t make that deal. He knew that most of the Senate (including a number of Democrats) were opposed to the deal. Thus, as Andrew McCarthy notes, the Iran deal “did not represent America’s word, it represented Obama’s word.” Under the American system, one president’s pledge does not bind the next president. There is a constitutional process for securing enduring international obligations.

Moreover, this constitutional process is wise. Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution gives the president the power to make treaties, “provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.” This means it’s difficult to secure a true American promise in the absence of strong American consensus. America’s international partners and rivals can read and understand our Constitution. They know every time they enter into a “deal” absent this ratification that they are accepting a measure of risk.

It’s astonishing how much of the Obama foreign and domestic legacy depended on the Democrats allegedly enjoying a hammerlock on the presidency. The “coalition of the ascendant” would guarantee control of the executive branch, and control of the executive branch would lock into place Obama’s executive actions. It’s no coincidence that the portion of the Obama legacy that most endures — Obamacare — also happens to be the portion that was passed not just by statute, but most of it through a filibuster-proof majority.

In other words, if a president wants to preserve his policies, he should follow constitutional processes.

Finally, I sincerely doubt that if the next Democratic president ends a Trump-era foreign policy that these same people will lament America’s broken “word.” Instead, they’ll hail the new direction — just as most conservatives are today. Donald Trump didn’t break an American promise. He corrected an American mistake.
Here is a reminder of how Obama employed his "pen and phone" methodology to go it alone on policy-making. He just ignored the reality that a new president could come in and reverse those policies. Funny how that works.


The hypocrisy of the Democrats (and John McCain) in opposing the Gina Haspel CIA nomination is rather breathtaking. They're blaming her for the enhanced interrogation program, but she wasn't in charge of it. In fact, Obama's CIA head John Brennan had a more senior role in the CIA while enhanced interrogation was going on, but the Democrats and McCain didn't mind that back then, as Senator Tom Cotton pointed out.
Cotton brought up Brennan's history as a way of pointing out hypocrisy among Democrats during Haspel's confirmation hearing. Shortly before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, Brennan became deputy executive director of the CIA, which Haspel described as the No. 4 position in the agency.

Cotton then reeled off a list of current members of the committee who voted to confirm Brennan in 2013, including Democratic Sens. Mark Warner (Va.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Martin Heinrich (N.M.), and Joe Manchin (W. Va.), as well as Independent Sen. Angus King (Maine), who caucuses with the Democrats.

Cotton's point appeared to be Democrats supported Brennan in 2013 and knew about his tenure during the Bush administration, while Haspel was being held more responsible for those interrogation methods despite being further down the totem pole.

Brennan, a sharp critic of the Trump administration, has said Haspel deserves the job, calling her a "very competent professional" who carried out her responsibilities consistent with the agency's legal authorities at the time.
But Haspel was nominated by Trump and the Democrats are desperate for some sort of stop to his nominations. Also some of the same women like Kamala Harris who told us that women voters should vote their anatomy in supporting Hillary Clinton now will hypocritically vote against the first woman to head the CIA.


And don't buy their excuses about who knew what when about enhanced interrogation? Because, as Matthew Continetti reminds us, Nancy Pelosi knew about the program before Gina Haspel did and Pelosi did nothing.
It is one thing to pronounce judgment on Haspel and her agency after the laws have been changed and practices investigated. It is another to imagine how one would have acted in her shoes, working to prevent another mass casualty attack in a confusing, turbulent, and dangerous moment.

Ask Nancy Pelosi. She was one of the first Americans outside the Agency to learn of the enhanced interrogation program. Did she resign in protest? Leak to the media? Loudly condemn the practice upon learning of it?

She did none of these things. According to the New York Times, interrogations began in March 2002. Pelosi was one of four members of Congress briefed on the procedures that September. The congressmen, reported the Washington Post, were "given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk," including waterboarding. No one raised objections. "Instead," the Post continues, "at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said." The next year, when she was read into the program, Democrat Jane Harman wrote a letter protesting interrogations. No such correspondence came from Pelosi.

In fact, Pelosi knew about enhanced interrogation before Gina Haspel did. At her confirmation hearing, Haspel told Susan Collins that she did not learn of the program "until about a year into its existence." That was months after Congress had been informed. "I was told that interrogation experts had designed the program, that the highest legal authority in the United States had approved it, and that the president of the United States had approved it as well as trusted leadership at the Central Intelligence Agency," Haspel said.

Haspel was an employee of the president of the United States. But Nancy Pelosi was in a position to make moral judgments. She had no obligation or responsibility to George W. Bush. She could have raised a ruckus if she wanted to—it's not like she was worried she might ruin her friendship with the president.

So why should Gina Haspel—a long-time, highly capable, well regarded civil servant who would be the first female director of central intelligence and enjoys the support of both Republican and Democratic national security officials—pay for her involvement in a program to which Nancy Pelosi voiced no objection until it became politically convenient?
The Democrats are playing politics with national security as they oppose Haspel. Whom do they think Trump could nominate that would be more qualified?


Gee, why is it so difficult for Rudy Giuliani to say what Trump and Michael Cohen did regarding Stormy Daniels? This isn't so difficult. Just ask your new client, Donald Trump.
Rudy sounds like he’s been charged with unraveling one of the great mysteries of our time, when it’s all resolvable with about two questions: “Mr. President, when did you find out about the payment to Stormy Daniels? When did you pay Cohen back?” This is about a five-minute conversation.

Rudy is not limited by his ability to gather facts, but by the president’s willingness to be forthright. Although it would be painful — to the first lady, above all — Trump would be well-served to play it straight. He could make a vague confession about past conduct he’s not proud of; say that Cohen paid off Daniels to avoid embarrassment, with added motivation as the election approached (what Giuliani has been trying to say); and amend his campaign’s Federal Election Commission filing in an excess of caution.

It’s never ideal to admit to a possible violation of the law, even a technical one. But campaign-finance violations are rarely prosecuted, and current Justice Department guidance says that a sitting president can’t be indicted. This means that it is most important for Trump to win in the court of public opinion, and having a believable, consistent account is much better than basing a defense on a flat-out denial that no one believes, almost certainly not even Rudy or Trump’s other advocates.

Compared to the other allegations against Trump — collusion with the Russians, obstruction of justice — a decade-old affair is not a matter of great public import. But Bill Clinton showed how a president can parlay prideful denials, overconfidence in his ability to talk his way out of anything and personal embarrassment into a legal and constitutional conflagration. And, eventually, he had to tell the truth anyway.

Rudy Giuliani has had a rocky debut in his new role, but the ultimate problem here isn’t the counselor, but the client.
If you can't trust your client, just hang it up.


Gosh, I hope Nancy Pelosi never retires! How nice of her to go on camera and tell us that, if the Democrats take the House, they plan to repeal the GOP tax cuts.Ed Morrissey adds,
level
Pelosi then goes on and on about how the tax bill was passed “in the dark of night and the speed of light,” which is amusing when it comes from the woman who coined the phrase, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” Her explanation of how the tax cut bill defies the tradition of comity and consensus similarly elides Pelosi’s role in imposing the ObamaCare bill through brute partisan force. And even putting aside the historical hilarity, Pelosi also manages to ignore the weeks and months of “Kill the bill, don’t kill us!” hysteria from Democrats that preceded the eventual passage of the tax bill.
Does the woman have no self awareness? Or does she just assume that the media will never challenge her and the GOP won't capitalize on what she says?


Kenny Xu, a college junior at Davidson, makes a very good point about the whole ridiculous cultural appropriation discussion about a high schooler wearing a Chinese-style dress to her prom. He points out how much China outright steals from other cultures.
Chinese manufacturers are shipping thousands of fake iPhones to more than 30 fake Apple stores in the city of Shenzhen alone. These phones are designed to look just like the Apple original, capitalizing on the American brand to sell look-a-likes to the emerging Chinese middle-class.

The market for fake iPhones had once been so strong that in 2009 it comprised 20 percent of all Chinese smartphones. The Chinese government has been perfectly content to let their factories appropriate and imitate our technology until it no longer becomes useful to them. For example, just as China apologizes for letting its companies run amok with Apple brands and technology, its factories are now being accused of stealing our wind turbine trade secrets. It’s almost as if they know we’re in on the joke.

I write this because of a debate stirred over many corners and fathoms of the Internet about a Utah girl who wore a “traditional” Chinese dress called a Qipao. The Qipao is actually a Western-Chinese hybrid dress, which, of course, only adds to the absurdity of the fact that even though the Chinese first appropriated Western fashion to design this dress, it is now being attacked as Western cultural appropriation of Chinese fashion. How dare a Westerner attempt to wear a cultural garment that the Chinese stylized from the West! And, as it turns out, dresses aren’t the only thing the Chinese have “stylized” from the West.

For one, Chinese hackers, rippers, and burners have been taking our digital cultural products almost 20 years running. In 2011, illegally pirating Hollywood movies raked in $6 billion for the Chinese economy. By comparison, China generates close to $1.5 billion in box-office receipts every year. A 2012 report pegged illegal music downloads as comprising 99 percent of total music downloads in China.

Talk about exploiting other people’s cultural products for “consumerism,” as one Twitter personality described the use of the Qipao prom dress. We love to look upon China as a pristine land of straw umbrella-hats and cute rice paddies. The reality is that China is voracious, shameless, and extremely skilled at turning our cultural exports into their profit — and then acting like they don’t know any better.
But see, cultural appropriation only counts when white people do it.


David Frum adds in a bit of rationality
to the whole silly discussion.
At Oberlin in 2015, a Vietnamese student shamed the dining hall into ceasing to serve its version of Banh Mi sandwiches.*
Instead of a crispy baguette with grilled pork, pate, pickled vegetables and fresh herbs, the sandwich used ciabatta bread, pulled pork and coleslaw. “It was ridiculous …. How could they just throw out something completely different and label it as another country’s traditional food?”
The references to “baguette” and “pâté” in a food product of a former French colony might have tipped off the angry Oberlin student that the banh mi is not quite as traditional a Vietnamese food as she imagined. When this exotic remake of a classic pate en baguette was first sold in the streets of Hanoi, the vendors called it “banh tay”: literally "Western-style bread.”

A Canadian university cancelled its yoga classes as culturally appropriating—notwithstanding that most of the strenuous moves taught in a modern class actually originate in Danish gymnastics and British army calisthenics, which were in turn appropriated by Indian entrepreneurs seeking to update yoga from a meditative to an active practice for the body-conscious modern age.

The cultural appropriation police answer the yoga and banh mi objections with a familiar counter-argument: it’s about power. It’s fine for colonized Indians to incorporate European fitness regimes into their yoga; wrong for Canadians of European origin to incorporate yoga into their fitness regimes.

But the trouble with that argument is that—like culture—power also ebbs and flows. Customs we may think of as immemorially inherent in one culture very often originated in that culture’s own history of empire and domination. The Han Chinese learned to drink tea for pleasure from peoples to their south. The green flag of Islam was adapted from the pre-Islamic religions of Iran. The great west African kingdom of Benin acquired the metal for some of its famous bronze artworks by selling thousands of people as slaves to Portuguese traders.
Everyone's doing it, so just calm down. Frum goes on to give a history of the style dress that the Utah teenager wore to the prom. It's rather interesting and even more of an indication of how ludicrous it was to cyberbully her for what she wore.
If it’s wrong for one culture to borrow from another, then it was wrong to invent the cheongsam in the first place—because not only did the garment’s shape originate outside China, but so, too, did the garment’s purposes. It was precisely because they appreciated that they were importing Western ideas about women that the inventors of the cheongsam adapted a Western shape. They took something foreign and made it something domestic, in a pattern that has repeated itself in endless variations since the Neolithic period.

The policemen of cultural appropriation do not think that way. They have a morality tale to tell, one of Western victimization of non-Western peoples—a victimization so extreme that it is triggered by a Western girl’s purchase of a Chinese dress designed precisely so that Chinese girls could live more like Western girls.

In order to tell that story, the policemen of cultural appropriation must crush and deform much of the truth of cultural history—and in the process demean and infantilize the people they supposedly champion.


Rich Lowry correctly dismisses a few journalistic cliches about Trump. One that irritates me is saying that we're in a "constitutional crisis." Please. We're not facing a president who is refusing to do something the Supreme Court ruled or who is ruling without Congress or ordering troops into the states to enforce his rule. He's controversial and scandalous and distasteful, but there is no indication that he's violated the Constitution.
The term gets used so often, you’d almost think it means something. It doesn’t. It’s just a way for people to sound portentous.
Exactly. I'm not even sure that firing Mueller or Rosenstein would constitute a constitutional crisis. Secession would qualify. Refusing to integrate schools after the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board would qualify. I'm not sure that the Chief Executive firing members of the Executive Branch would qualify. It would be stupid and politically perilous, but not unconstitutional.



It's hilarious when a joke I made to my husband privately turns out to actually not be a joke. When we were talking about the Eric Schneiderman scandal, I joked that the BDSM community will be mad that he's giving them a bad name. And sure enough, so they are!
Members of the national BDSM and "Kink" movements are concerned that former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who used his penchant for violent sex as an excuse for having allegedly beaten, slapped, and choked some of his sexual partners without their consent, is giving them a bad name.

Speaking to the Daily Mail, members of the community, including a handful of dominatrices, told the news outlet that they were "outraged that Eric Schneiderman, in resigning as New York's attorney general, depicted his alleged violence toward several women as 'role-playing and other consensual sexual activity.'"
On the other hand, Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer probably sent him thank-you notes for ensuring that they're no longer the sleaziest New York politicians to be caught in a sex scandal. Of course, actually beating and choking women is a whole lot more appalling than engaging a prostitute or sending out pictures of one's anatomy, even when it's to minors.


Here's a reminder
that Schneiderman's corruption was not only moral, but also political. He let the Clinton Foundation slide by legal requirements for filing donations.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman gave the Clinton Foundation a pass on identifying foreign donors in its charitable filings — making it impossible to know if it got any special favors while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, according to a report Tuesday.

Scripps News found that the foundation and its subsidiary, the Clinton Health Access Initiative, took in $225 million in government donations between 2010 and 2014.

New York’s charity law clearly states: “Organizations that received a contribution or grant from a government agency during the reporting period shall include the name of each agency from which contributions were received and the amount of each contribution.”

But both the foundation and the CHAI failed to do that, and Schneiderman, a member of Clinton’s “leadership council” in New York and a fierce critic of Donald Trump, did nothing about it.

Other charities complied, including the George W. Bush foundation, which reported receiving $5 million from Saudi Arabia and $500,000 from Kuwait.


Congratulations to the school where I teach which was ranked by US News as second in the state and 64th in the country.