Thursday, December 31, 2015

Be Prepared for Lines at Harford County Voting Booths in 2016!

How much do your elected officials hate and wish to inconvenience you?

from the Baltimore Sun
Harford County's Board of Elections is staying busy touring with the new equipment, which will first be used in the county for the upcoming presidential election.

The major change on Election Day will be a paper ballot, to be filled out by pen or pencil before being tabulated by machine. Early voters will have a slightly different process.

"Prior to 2004, that's how we did things. We used what was called an [Optech III-P] Eagle and it was the same type of machine. This is basically the same system in terms of that process," Dale Livingston, Harford's deputy director for elections, explained from the department's Forest Hill headquarters.

The new system was approved by the state last year, when legislators argued the election process needs a paper record, according to The Sun.

Harford County was originally considered for a pilot program of the system, which would have meant Aberdeen and Bel Air voters could have used it in their municipal elections in November. That plan did not happen, Livingston said.

After voters get their paper ballots, they will take it in a privacy sleeve to the booth and then bring the ballot to a tabulator that reads the votes and deposits them into a ballot box.

In early voting, voters will use a machine called ExpressVotes with a touch screen. They will get an activation card with an individual bar code to put into the machine and, when completed, the card will print out with all their choices. They will then carry it in a privacy sleeve to the tabulator, where the vote drops into a ballot box.

The system includes some other new, behind-the-scenes pieces, like a high-speed tabulation machine for absentee and provisional ballots that allows officials to process many dozens of ballots at once instead of one at a time.

The Board of Elections office is filled with rows of neat, black cabinets, each of which neatly holds everything each precinct needs.

Harford County Council members were wary of the fairness of the new system when election officials presented it during Tuesday's council meeting.

Councilman Jim McMahan said he is concerned that candidates with names earlier in the alphabet could have an advantage because, in early voting, voters must scroll through multiple pages of long lists of candidates.

McMahan wondered if anyone asked, "Why is this so stupid?" and called it "totally unacceptable."

Election director Kevin Keene said during the presentation that part of the reason is the technology uses the nearly-extinct COBOL computer programming language. He did not, however, know why the state made the system the way it did, including having separate systems for early voting and the general election.

Keene also said the system will not be faster than the existing system, so there could be more lines at polling sites.

The Board of Elections will be demonstrating the voting equipment throughout October and into November.

Upcoming demonstrations include: Havre de Grace Oktoberfest, from 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday; McFaul Activity Center, from 11 a.m. to noon Wednesday; Whiteford Library, from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday; the Democratic Central Committee meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 27; Norrisville Library, from 5 to 7 p.m. Oct. 27; and Joppatowne Library, from 4 to 6 p.m. Oct. 29.

The board also noted two new precinct locations: In Fallston, the 4-02/4-05 combo precinct at Youth's Benefit Elementary School will be split into one at Fallston United Methodist Church and one at Veronica Chenowith Activity Center. In Jarrettsville, Precinct 4-06 at the Jarrettsville Volunteer Fire Company hall is moving to the Jarrettsville Library.
On the new voting process part 1 and part 2

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Obama's "Magical" Economic Recovery

The Raw Total Number of Unemployed America's Goes UP Whilst the "Official" Unemployment Rate Goes DOWN!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Baltimore Riot Ideology, Redux

from City Journal
In the summer of 1966, Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach warned that there would be riots by angry, poor minority residents in “30 or 40” American cities if Congress didn’t pass President Lyndon Johnson’s Model Cities antipoverty legislation. In the late 1960s, New York mayor John Lindsay used the fear of such rioting to expand welfare rolls dramatically at a time when the black male unemployment rate was about 4 percent. And in the 1980s, Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry articulated an explicitly racial version of collective bargaining—a threat that, without ample federal funds, urban activists would unleash wave after wave of racial violence. “I know for a fact,” Barry explained, “that white people get scared of the [Black] Panthers, and they might give money to somebody a little more moderate.”

This brand of thinking, which I have called the riot ideology, influenced urban politics for a generation, from the 1960s through the 1980s. Perhaps its model city was Baltimore, which, in 1968, was consumed by race riots so intense that the Baltimore police, 500 Maryland state troopers, and 6,000 National Guardsmen were unable to quell them. The “insurrection” was halted only when nearly 5,000 federal troops requested by Maryland governor Spiro Agnew arrived.

In the years since 1968, Baltimore has proved remarkably adept at procuring state and federal funds and constructed revitalization projects such as the justly famed Camden Yards and a convention center. But Baltimore never really recovered from the riots, and the lawlessness never fully subsided. What began as a grand bargain to avert further racial violence after 1968 descended over the decades into a series of squalid shakedowns. Antipoverty programs that had once promised to repair social and family breakdown became by the 1990s self-justifying and self-perpetuating.

In the wake of the 2014 riots in Ferguson, Missouri, and the 2015 West Baltimore riots, a new riot ideology has taken hold, one similarly intoxicated with violence and willing to excuse it but with a different goal. The first version of the riot ideology assumed that not only cities but also whites could be reformed; the new version assumes that America is inherently racist beyond redemption and that the black inner city needs to segregate itself from the larger society (with the exception of federal welfare funds, which should continue to flow in). This new racial politics is not only coalescing around activists claiming to speak for urban blacks—represented publically by groups like Black Lives Matter—but is also expressed in the writings of best-selling author Ta-Nehisi Coates. And Baltimore is once again center stage.

The West Baltimore rioters of 2015 didn’t call for more LBJ-style antipoverty projects but for less policing. In a “keep off our turf” version of belligerent multiculturalism, the rioters see police as both to blame for black criminality and as an embodiment of bourgeois white values. The old riot ideology referred to mostly white urban police forces as occupying armies; the new version sees even Baltimore’s integrated police force, under the leadership of the city’s black mayor and (until recently) a black police chief, as an occupying army. Withdrawing the police from black neighborhoods is the only acceptable solution.

In his memoir The Beautiful Struggle, Coates described how his father, a former Black Panther and full-time conspiracy theorist, drove his son around West Baltimore “telling me again the story of the black folk’s slide to ruin. He would drive down North Avenue and survey the carry-outs, the wig shops, the liquor stores and note that not one was owned by anyone black.” Whites had “plundered” what belonged to blacks, his father explained, as they had done with once-great African kingdoms. Coates, who lived in fear of black street toughs as a teen, sees the police as a greater threat to black well-being than the drug “crews” and gangs roaming the streets of West Baltimore today. His vision, in part, is to free gang-ridden areas from the malign grip of white standards and aggressive policing. Coates has adopted his father’s view that “our condition, the worst of this country’s condition—poor, diseased, illiterate, crippled dumb—was not just a tumor to be burrowed out but proof that the whole body was a tumor, that America was not a victim of a great rot but the rot itself.” Not even a hurricane of violence, says the new riot ideology, justifies a vigorous police presence in black localities.

Baltimore, historian Joseph Arnold wrote, was a city with a Southern culture and a Northern economy “that retained nineteenth-century airs well into the twentieth.” Like the rural and slaveholding Eastern Shore of Maryland, Baltimore had been strongly Confederate in its sympathies, casting only 3 percent of its vote for Abraham Lincoln in 1860. The first deaths in the Civil War occurred in the Pratt Street Riot of 1861, when pro-Southern Baltimoreans attacked Northern troops moving toward Washington. Fort Sumter had been fired on a week earlier. For a century after the Civil War, the alliance of Baltimore, which imposed a harsh segregation regime in 1911, and the Eastern Shore, where antiblack sentiment had never relented, dominated Maryland politics. Well into the 1960s, Baltimore was a thoroughly segregated city.

The city’s dominant political figure post-1968 was the colorful William Donald Schaefer. A meld of old-style machine pol and new-style harvester of federal funds, Schaefer served as mayor from 1970 to 1987 and then as a two-term Maryland governor. Under Schaefer’s mayoral leadership—and with the help of Senators Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski—Baltimore became, in effect, a second Federal City, cadging a disproportionate share of federal subventions that produced numerous but invariably ineffectual antipoverty efforts. “Bureaucrats lived well off the anti-poverty programs,” explains Baltimore writer Van Smith, “without enhancing the lives of the poor.”

Schaefer knew his city intimately. He never tried to reform the culture of police corruption. His machine counted on characters like Irv Kovens, who sold furniture, sometimes on credit, to poor families. Kovens employed 35 collectors who visited those behind on their payments. Come election time, the collectors proved valuable as sources of political information and as canvassers for Schaefer. African-Americans got their cut of patronage via the school system, which was largely turned over to their oversight. While eventually coming around on segregation, Schaefer tolerated the views of some politicians from the city’s white districts who opposed civil rights because, he explained, “they never had any black people down there. They had an old-time prejudice.”

In 1987, the city elected its first African-American mayor, Kurt Schmoke, a Baltimore-bred, Ivy League–educated former federal prosecutor who campaigned on continuing Schaefer’s crony-capitalist policies of “bringing business into government” via federal funding. Schmoke won 65 percent of the white vote against his Republican opponent. While the transition to an African-American mayor occurred without serious acrimony, city councilwoman and future mayor Sheila Dixon foreshadowed racial problems to come in 1991, when she lost her cool during a redistricting debate and waved a shoe at her white colleagues. “You’ve been running things for the last 20 years,” Dixon barked. “Now the shoe is on the other foot. See how you like it on the other foot.”

The pace and scale of subsidized governmental experimentation accelerated during the first eight of Schmoke’s 12 years in office. Trying to achieve an antipoverty breakthrough in the West Side neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester, Schmoke worked with the city’s leading developer, James Rouse, former president Jimmy Carter, and a group of private philanthropies. (Sandtown is where Freddie Gray, whose death in police custody set off the 2015 Baltimore riots, was born in 1990.) Rouse pushed for Sandtown’s transformation with new housing, employment programs, and prenatal care. “This is going to be the most important thing I do in my life,” said Rouse, a man of numerous achievements. But the city’s political and social pathologies swamped the developer’s efforts.

During the Schmoke era (1987–99), Baltimore repelled small businesses unable to cut deals with city hall. Baltimore imposed property taxes double those of surrounding areas, in part because it maintained a government workforce 50 percent larger than those of comparable-size cities. Baltimore’s murder rate was five times that of Boston. “Charm City” also suffered the highest rate of syphilis in the country—18 times the national average. Schmoke, who tried to hire Nation of Islam foot soldiers to patrol the city’s housing projects, decided that drugs were a public health problem, not a matter of criminal justice. Funded in part by billionaire investor George Soros—who would later bankroll key groups in the Black Lives Matter movement—a Schmoke administration initiative distributed clean needles to heroin addicts. Baltimore became the most addiction-ridden metro area in the country. President Bill Clinton’s drug-policy office described Baltimore as a city where “heroin is readily available with city dealers moving into suburbs and high schools; cocaine is plentiful in both crack and powder forms.” The city’s 60,000 drug addicts—nearly one in ten Baltimoreans—overwhelmed hospitals with cocaine-induced emergencies.

Schmoke’s exhortations far exceeded his achievements. During his three terms, Baltimore—endowed with multiple federal programs to incentivize business development—lost 56,000 jobs and became a city of transfer payments fueled by nonprofits and government. Schmoke produced perhaps the greatest gap between image and reality in any American city. For example, he had city cars and trucks painted with his campaign slogan—“The City That Reads”—but his cuts in library funding reduced opportunities to read. While the hyperactive Schaefer had proved spasmodically effective, Schmoke’s stylistic trademark was—speeches and slogans aside—passivity in the face of the city’s problems. “It’s out of our control” was his favorite refrain, and this attitude reverberated through city government. Calls to city agencies were commonly answered—after many attempts—with a snarling, “Yeah?”

Without major accomplishments to run on, Schmoke sought a third term in 1995 on a Black Power platform. Schaefer was by then Maryland’s governor, and Schmoke mocked the $100 million convention center being built in downtown Baltimore as “cosmetic.” Schmoke was right, but his own record offered no constructive alternative—middle-class blacks and whites continued to flee for the safety and lower taxes of the suburbs. Schmoke touted his close ties with the Clinton administration, whose Department of Housing and Urban Development provided growing support for the city’s failed social programs, including a $100 million empowerment-zone grant intended to spur job creation. The jobs didn’t come, but both the empowerment zone and the Rouse-led Sandtown-Winchester Development Corporation have been favorite stops for touring HUD officials. Twenty years later, Sandtown still lacks the ordinary amenities and local shopping associated with minimally functioning neighborhoods.
In the wake of the 1968 riots, Baltimore was Maryland’s most heavily populated jurisdiction. But having shrunk from 906,000 residents in the early 1970s to 656,000 today, the city has fallen behind Baltimore County (which no longer includes the City of Baltimore) and the suburban counties of Washington, D.C. Administratively, the city has increasingly dissolved into the state. One in every four city budget dollars comes from Maryland, and Annapolis officials play a central role in administering several city agencies. The state now controls formerly city-run institutions such as Baltimore-Washington International airport, the community colleges, the jails, and most of the public school system. The city’s two sports stadiums, Oriole Park at Camden Yards and PSINet Stadium, are run by the Maryland Stadium Authority.

The 1990s urban revival associated with mayors Rudolph Giuliani in New York, Stephen Goldsmith in Indianapolis, John Norquist in Milwaukee, and Richard M. Daley in Chicago bypassed Baltimore. While crime began dropping in other cities in that decade, and particularly in New York, B’lmer, as natives sometimes pronounce it, suffered through nine straight years of more than 300 murders. Schmoke left the city with a demoralized police force, riven by racial suspicions that produced a flight of veteran cops to surrounding jurisdictions. The city lost more than 120,000 residents during the 1990s; tens of thousands of homes were simply abandoned, and parts of the city seemed degraded beyond hope of repair.

These desperate circumstances led a number of black leaders (including the father of future mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake) to back a white city councilman, virtually unknown outside his home territory in Northeast Baltimore, to succeed Schmoke as mayor. When 36-year-old Martin O’Malley, a former state prosecutor, announced his candidacy in June 1999, he didn’t even make the front page of the Baltimore Sun. O’Malley had built his council reputation by calling for tougher crime-fighting strategies. He promised that making the streets safer would “attract jobs, improve schools and halt the exodus of 1,000 city residents a month,” the Sun observed. He faced long odds—eight black candidates were already running in the Democratic primary. “The only thing he has going for him is he’s white,” said one key campaign consultant dismissively.

Felony convictions disqualified some of O’Malley’s African-American mayoral opponents, but city council president Lawrence Bell had strong public-sector union support, and former city council member Carl Stokes eloquently opposed the tax breaks handed out to downtown hotels. Yet even Bell had been recently sued for failing to pay his personal debts, and his car had been repossessed, while Stokes gave an unconvincing explanation for why his driver’s license had been suspended and then lied about whether he had graduated from college. While his rivals foundered, O’Malley began city council meetings with a roll call of recent murder victims. At the candidate’s first public forum, “O’Malley silenced the hall with a passionate pledge to end the exodus of city residents by wiping out open-air drug markets,” the Sun reported. Striking at Schmoke’s legacy, O’Malley declared that Baltimore would never lure new companies to enterprise zones until it secured drug-free zones. “People are tired of the crime—tired,” said one middle-aged black woman who plunked for O’Malley.

Elected with a cross-racial coalition, O’Malley initially brought energy and optimism to the executive office. While Schmoke had insisted that New York’s policing success was “nonsense” and “a license to hunt minorities,” O’Malley brought in Ed Norris from Giuliani’s NYPD as police commissioner and directed the police to crack down on quality-of-life offenses. Norris introduced a version of Gotham’s highly successful CompStat system for tracking crime. Further, O’Malley tried to apply CompStat techniques to a range of city services. For a time, his innovative CitiStat, which applied rapid data-gathering and analysis to all city agencies, brought a degree of transparency and accountability to B’lmer’s sleepy, self-serving bureaucracy.

National magazines lauded O’Malley as an up-and-coming star in the Democratic Party, and the telegenic mayor won a featured speaking slot at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. But despite O’Malley’s efforts, the city remained in dire shape. Its industrial-age infrastructure continued to crumble. More than 100,000 of Baltimore’s schoolchildren were functionally illiterate, in part because the schools were, in effect, “owned” by the teachers’ union, led by African-Americans who, in the words of Schaefer biographer C. Fraser Smith, viewed them “as their inviolate pool of patronage.” O’Malley struggled mightily but, at best, made only a dent in the city’s rampant crime. Commissioner Norris tried to professionalize the city’s police culture, but O’Malley resented the plaudits that came his way, and Norris was shown the door after two years. Even O’Malley’s limited anticrime measures produced a backlash. He cut back on quality-of-life arrests in his second term, when he began eyeing a run for governor.

O’Malley’s reforms ended with his administration. He was succeeded by Sheila Dixon, the city council president and onetime shoe-waver. She campaigned against quality-of-life policing, by then undercut by an ACLU lawsuit. Dixon seemed more interested in revenge than results. Elected with a record-low 28 percent turnout in the Democratic primary, she had to resign three years into her term, after being convicted of petty embezzlement and perjury. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who succeeded Dixon first as city council president and then as mayor, continued the campaign against active policing. By the time the city erupted in the Freddie Gray riots, Baltimore had already returned to the pathological slough from which O’Malley had only partially rescued it. The tragedy of West Baltimore was that its churchgoing pockets of rectitude found themselves caught between criminal crews, on the one hand, and corrupt cops, on the other.

Sandtown itself, though emblematic of Great Society–inspired efforts at urban reform, made a somewhat atypical urban slum. To the west and south is Gwynn’s Falls Park; to the north are Hanlon and Druid Hills Parks and, slightly to the east, Green Mount Cemetery. West Baltimore also includes Baltimore Community College and the historically black Coppin State University. Surrounded by greenery, showered with federal, state, and local money, Sandtown nevertheless became an endogenous transmitter of poverty and violence. After a half-century of federal efforts, and despite the traditional Christian preaching of its ministers, West Baltimore remains largely bereft—peopled, in the words of New Jersey pastor Buster Soares, by numerous caterpillars who will never molt into butterflies without a transformation of values.
The riot ideology of the 1960s had been about cadging federal funds under threat of violence; the riot ideology of 2015 is about the smoldering resentment that led the underclass and its media and political enablers to argue that racist cops produced depraved urban behavior. David Simon, the idiot-savant creator of HBO’s award-winning The Wire, which glamorized Baltimore’s black drug “crews,” blamed the legacy of O’Malley’s quality-of-life policing for the riots. Simon described Baltimore police officers as “an army of occupation.” He unintentionally had a point. The police, despite their vices, impose a modicum of conventional values on a polity where the culture of gangsta rap projects the illusion of a revolutionary alternative to “bourgeois white values.” An MSNBC host plausibly compared inner-city Baltimore with the Gaza Strip, where the failure of repeated self-destructive assaults on Israel hasn’t diminished the illusion that the Jewish state is but a passing phenomenon of settler-colonialism.

After the Ferguson riots of 2014, disdain on the street for Baltimore’s integrated but often less than professional police department became combustible, and Gray’s death lit the powder keg. Economically marginal residents—in a city home to Johns Hopkins University and financial firms Legg Mason and T. Rowe Price—perpetrated Baltimore’s spring 2015 riots, which destroyed 200 businesses and injured 98 cops. The trouble began at the James Rouse–constructed Mondawmin Mall. Students, angry at the way they were “disrespected” and inspired by the sci-fi movie The Purge, which described a day of seemingly emancipatory anarchy, gathered outside the mall’s transportation hub. Flyers called for the Crips, the Bloods, the Black Guerrilla Family, and the Nation of Islam to unite and join the action. Students cornered by cops reportedly began taunting police, who had gone on alert after receiving what the department called “credible information” that a coalition of gangs wanted to “take out” law-enforcement officers. Rioting ensued.

Reporters took little notice of these gang elements, since the liberal media operated on the principle of “implied suffering”—that is, people acting badly is de facto proof that they have been mistreated. The persistence of poverty in West Baltimore supposedly demonstrated pervasive white racism and black powerlessness. Yet the same Black Guerrilla Family was powerful enough to have run the Baltimore City Detention Center until Maryland governor Larry Hogan shut it down.

As the violence unfolded, Mayor Rawlings-Blake told police to stand down. “I’ve made it very clear that I work with the police and instructed them to do everything that they could to make sure that the protesters were able to exercise their right to free speech,” she explained. “It’s a very delicate balancing act, because while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.” And, she said, “we worked very hard to keep that balance and to put ourselves in the best position to deescalate, and that’s what you saw.”

Baltimore is a city of many Freddie Grays. The 25-year-old Sandtown resident, a petty drug dealer who had been arrested 18 times, might have seemed like a flawed martyr. His death appeared to be the result of police negligence—he wasn’t fastened into a seat belt for the 45-minute ride to the police station and suffered a severe spinal-cord injury—rather than intentional malice. But in a city where one in ten residents is a drug addict, and in a state where ex-felons can vote, Gray represented a significant constituency. Showing, she said, that “no one is above the law,” state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby brought murder charges against the police less than two weeks after Gray’s death. “To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America: I heard your call for ‘No justice, no peace,’ ” she said. “Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man.”

Mosby’s husband, a city councilman representing West Baltimore who has mayoral ambitions, gently described his rioting constituents as engaged in “a cry for help.” The rioting and looting had “nothing to do with West Baltimore or this particular corner in Baltimore,” Nick Mosby told a reporter. But Leland Vittert of Fox News stood with Mosby outside a West Baltimore liquor store as it was being looted, and the councilman refused to criticize the thieves. Looting, Mosby said, is “young folks of the community showing decades-old anger, frustration, for a system that’s failed them. I mean, it’s bigger than Freddie Gray. This is about the social economics of poor urban America.” It’s also about drugs and the unprecedented mass theft of opiates by many of the city’s gangs. According to the Associated Press, federal drug-enforcement agents said that Baltimore gangs targeted 32 of the city’s pharmacies during the riot, stealing roughly 300,000 doses of opiates such as oxycodone. “The ones doing the violence,” said a 55-year-old West Baltimore woman, were “eating Percocet like candy and they’re not thinking about consequences.”

“Justice for Freddie Gray” produced a withdrawal of law and order. The “army of occupation” retreated, murders surged, and thugs roamed the streets largely unhindered. The protest culture of the sixties ruled the day but without the hope once engendered, albeit mistakenly, by the incidents of that era. Great Society–inspired social programs failed to reduce poverty but succeeded in creating self-serving political machines that blame white conspiracies for the degradation of West Baltimore and other urban areas.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake called in Al Sharpton and fired police chief Anthony Batts, who had tried to upgrade the police department but became the fall guy for the mayor’s failings. Baltimore today is demarcated by white enclaves and by those African-American areas defined by the gangsta rap culture where, in a parody of the segregated South, honor is all and disrespect requires the “satisfaction” of personally delivered revenge. But while the streets have been ceded to thugs in those neighborhoods, it’s not politically acceptable in Baltimore to describe rioters in such terms. At the height of the protests, when the mayor announced that the National Guard would be deployed and a citywide curfew imposed, she also referred to the rioters as “thugs.” She was then forced to apologize for her candor, reclassifying the miscreants as “misguided young people.”

For Ta-Nehisi Coates, the crews and the gangsta rappers singing about the need to “Fuck the Police” are preferable to the cops. The cops, complains Coates, “lord over” young black men with “the moral authority of a protection racket.” There is a touch of truth in this. But, Coates goes on, the problem with the police “is not that they are fascist pigs but that our country is ruled by majoritarian pigs.” The solution, he implies, is a black population released from the ideals of the American dream and from the “false morality” of white Americans. For Coates, blacks can only be freed from racism after whites have been emancipated from capitalism.

A man, a city, a movement, and a moment have met: West Baltimore has, for the time being, been liberated from American morality. Let’s judge Coates’s vision on how that plays out.

Check Your Privilege!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Year Reality Came Home to Roost in Liberalism's Coop

from the New York Times
IN the twenty-five years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the architecture of liberal modernity has looked relatively stable. Not flawless or wonderful or ideal, to be sure; not free of discontents and decadence. But it’s been hard to imagine the basic liberal democratic capitalist order cracking up, let alone envision what might take its place.

Through the dot-com bust, 9/11, the Iraq war, and the financial crisis, it was striking how consensus held, how elites kept circulating, how quickly populist movements collapsed or were co-opted, how Washington and Brussels consolidated power even when their projects failed. No new ideological movement, whether radical or reactionary, emerged to offer the alternative to liberalism that fascism and Marxism and throne-and-altar traditionalism once supplied. And no external adversary, whether Putinist or Islamist or Chinese, seemed to offer a better way than ours.

Here in the dying days of 2015, though, something seems to have shifted. For the first time in a generation, the theme of this year was the liberal order’s vulnerability, not its resilience. 2015 was a memento mori moment for our institutions — a year of cracks in the system, of crumbling firewalls, of reminders that all orders pass away.

This was especially true in Europe, where for generations the parties of the center have maintained a successful quarantine against movements that threatened their dream of continental integration — be they far-right or far-left, nationalist or separatist.

On the Eurozone’s periphery, in Greece and Hungary and now in Poland, that quarantine is dead. But in 2015 it began to weaken in the European core. Elections in Great Britain empowered Scottish Nationalists, handed the Labour Party back to crypto-Marxists, and raised the odds that the United Kingdom could depart the European Union or dissolve. Elections in France kept Marine Le Pen’s National Front out of power — but by a narrower margin than ever before. Elections in Spain empowered both the populist left and Catalan separatists. And in Sweden, that blessed end-of-history paradise, the most popular political party was suddenly the Sweden Democrats, whose roots are in homegrown fascism.

Europe’s extremes gained, in part, because in 2015 the center was unusually feckless. Angela Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s borders to a million Middle Eastern refugees earned her the praise of her globalist peers. But it also pushed a fast-forward button on long-term trends threatening the liberal project in Europe — the challenge of Islam, the pressure of migration from Africa, the danger of backlash in countries with little experience of mass assimilation.

In the process, Merkel handed ammunition to the argument, expressed in artistic form in Michel Houellebecq’s novel “Submission,” that late-modern liberalism might have a certain tendency toward suicide. And she did so at a moment when both the Islamic State and Vladimir Putin’s Russia were supplying evidence that the liberal project can be at least temporarily defied.

Yes, ISIS probably won’t endure, and Putin’s ambitions exceed his grasp. But by pulling volunteers from Western countries and inspiring terrorists from Paris to San Bernardino, the would-be caliphate has provided a new template for revolts against modernity. And by playing power politics in his near abroad and the Middle East, Putin has helped make the Pax Americana look more fragile than at any point since 1989.

Meanwhile, in the American heart of that neoliberal imperium, were it not for Donald Trump the big political story of the year would be the emergence of a new New Left — visible in the continued potency of Black Lives Matter, the turmoil on college campuses, and the appeal of an avowed socialism on the Democratic Party’s campaign trail.

Except that Trump is the big story, and deservedly. His mix of reality-TV shamelessness, European-style nationalism and boastful authoritarianism might be a genuinely new thing in U.S. politics. And the fact that so many disaffected voters find it attractive is a revelation, an objective correlative to polls showing declining faith in democracy, and a window, perhaps, into a more illiberal politics to come.

Now: Trump will not be the Republican nominee (yes, really). Bernie Sanders won’t beat Hillary. Far-left antics at Amherst and Oberlin and Claremont McKenna and Yale are not as significant as elite college graduates like to think.

In Europe, Jeremy Corbyn probably won’t be Britain’s next prime minister, Marine Le Pen probably won’t be France’s next president, Sweden probably isn’t about to turn fascist, the E.U. probably isn’t about to break apart. Houellebecq’s vision of an Islamified Europe, like ISIS’s vision of a new Islamic empire or Putin’s Stalinist nostalgia, is more a resonant fantasy than a plausible atlas of the future.

It’s still wise to bet on the current order, in other words, and against its enemies and rivals and would-be saboteurs.

But after liberalism’s year of living dangerously, for the first time in a long time it might make sense to hedge that bet.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas, Maryland!

The Liberal Fall-Back Plan: "If at First You Don't Get What You Want, Just Scream "Racism!"

from the Baltimore Sun
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Wednesday said she supports the federal complaint filed by a coalition of civil rights groups against the Hogan administration, contending that its killing of Baltimore's Red Line light rail project discriminates against African-Americans.

"This is not a personal attack at Governor Hogan. I’m not trying to politicize this issue," Rawlings-Blake told reporters at City Hall. "There is a clear need for a public transportation system that works for the city of Baltimore. For years, the state has attempted and failed to meet their obligation here. We can see there is a gap between the need and what is provided. ... I’ve yet to see anything from the state that effectively closes those gaps."

In a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation, the coalition, which is led by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, argued that canceling the project was one in a series of racially discriminatory transportation decisions Maryland has made over many decades.

"The cancellation of the Red Line, rather than being a cost-saving measure, was simply a naked transfer of resources from the project corridor's primarily African-American population to other rural and suburban parts of the state," the complaint says.

The east-west rail line would have extended 14 miles between Woodlawn and Bayview.

The complaint, which is backed by the ACLU of Maryland, asks the U.S. Department of Transportation to launch an investigation into Gov. Larry Hogan's decision in June to block construction of the $2.9 billion transit project.

A Hogan spokesman has called the complaint's assertions "nothing more than a press release."

"The Red Line didn't move forward because it was poorly designed and simply unaffordable, with at least a billion-dollar tunnel running through the heart of the city," spokesman Doug Mayer said. He added that the is "fully committed to improving transportation in Baltimore," pointing in part to the governor's plan to spend $135 million on a bus route overhaul.

In announcing the death of the Red Line in June, Hogan's Twitter account sent out a map of Maryland did not include Baltimore, and made it look as if the city was underwater as part of the Chesapeake Bay. Hogan's staff later deleted the image and said it was not representative of the governor's support of the city.

Rawlings-Blake made reference to the map in her comments Wednesday.

"The state has an obligation to provide for public transportation needs for the entire state," she said. "Although they eliminated us from their transportation map, Baltimore City is a part of the state of Maryland. They have to fulfill that obligation."
"Raciallizing" the issue isn't "politicizing" the issue, Madame Mayor? Who knew?

What an Honest Leftist Thinks About Guns in America...

Refreshing, Isn't it?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Donald Trump's 190,000,000 YouTube Supporters

53,000,000 Hits

103,000,000 Hits - All it needs is visuals!

36,000,000 Hits

Donald Trump's Largely Un-Noticed Under the Radar Social Media Campaign...

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Permitted 2016 High Priority RINO Quarry...

Voted FOR the 2016 Omnibus Spending Package and up for Re-election to the U.S. Senate:
Ayotte (R-NH)
Kirk (R-IL)
McCain (R-AZ)
Murkowski (R-AK)
Thune (R-SD)
.....meanwhile, in the House...

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Bad Joke that is Congress...

Less than five days after it was introduced, the Senate passed the 144-page, two-year budget deal that suspends the debt limit until March 2017 and raises spending caps.

The Senate passed the budget deal, 64-35, just after 3 a.m. on Friday. Thirty-five Republican senators opposed the deal, though it was not enough to stop the bill from heading to President Obama’s desk.

The bill was approved after a 1 a.m. procedural vote which passed, 63-35, and allowed the budget plan to proceed.

The budget deal, the result of weeks of closed-door negotiations between McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, former House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, passed the House of Representatives Wednesday night.

The president is expected to sign the two-year budget agreement, called the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, within the next few days.

Though the deal passed by the House and Senate with support from members of both parties, the fiscal plan was protested by conservative senators who opposed both the substance of the deal and the manner in which it was negotiated.

Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jeff Sessions of Alabama—the current and former chairmen of the Senate Steering Committee, respectively—sent a letter to their GOP colleagues calling on them to oppose the deal. In their message, Lee and Sessions criticized the deal for being “crafted in secret without the involvement of the vast majority of our conference.”

Additionally, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., threatened to filibuster the legislation in what many believed would be an overnight protest. Paul, however, spoke on the Senate floor for just 18 minutes.

The Kentucky senator did appear on the Senate floor later in the night and criticized the deal for giving Obama unlimited borrowing authority.

“Both sides of the aisle have what I would call sacred cows. On the right, they have the sacred cow of military contracts. …The left wants more welfare,” he said, adding, “Should we give Congress more money? Hell no.”

Conservative senators went head-to-head with Republican leadership before the vote.

“The budget deal before the Senate today is not just a horrible piece of legislation that is undeserving of this chamber’s support. It also represents the last gasping breath of a disgraced, bipartisan Beltway establishment on the verge of collapse,” Lee said on the Senate floor. “The bill is a product of an unfair, dysfunctional and fundamentally undemocratic process, a process that is virtually indistinguishable from what we promised the American people a GOP-controlled Congress would bring to an end.”

McConnell, though, stressed that the agreement satisfied the list of demands Republicans had during negotiations with Democrats.

“This agreement isn’t perfect. I share some concerns other colleagues have raised. But here’s the bottom line: this is a fully offset agreement that rejects tax hikes, secures long-term savings through entitlement reforms and provides increased support for our military, all this at a time when we confront threats in multiple theaters,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “Each of these was a Republican goal heading into negotiations. Each of these items was achieved in the agreement before us.”

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 lifts spending caps by $80 billion—$50 billion in 2016 and $30 billion in 2017—with the increases split evenly between defense and nondefense spending.

It also suspends the debt limit until March 2017, and shifts $150 billion from the Social Security Trust Fund to the Disability Insurance Trust Fund

The budget deal was viewed by Boehner, who resigned from his post earlier this month, as a way to “clean the barn” for his successor, the newly elected Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
The House on Friday overwhelmingly approved a $1.1 trillion spending package that includes the first major change approved by Congress to ObamaCare and keeps the government open through September 2016.

Lawmakers backed the package following a furious effort by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and their leadership teams to corral votes in both parties.

In the end, there was no drama in the 316-113 vote.

Ryan won 150 GOP votes, a majority of his conference that represents a big victory for the new Speaker. Ninety-five Republicans voted against the measure.

Only 18 Democrats voted against the spending bill, while 166 supported it.

The Despot's Heel is Still On Our Shore....

from the Baltimore Sun
Maryland's rarely sung state song may be in for some tinkering. A state advisory group is calling for changes to "Maryland, My Maryland" because it takes the Confederate side in the Civil War and bashes "Northern scum."

Sung to the same tune as the Christmas carol "O Tannenbaum," the state anthem — performed mainly at the Preakness and some other official events — has irked or embarrassed many over the years because of its pro-Southern sentiments. This week, an eight-member panel of historians, musical scholars and a poet urged lawmakers to replace most or all of the lyrics, or even select an entirely different song.

"No one's looking to ban the [current] state song," said Timothy D. Baker, state archivist and chairman of the group. Instead, he explained, the group suggested coming up with some musical expression that would be "reflective of all Marylanders."

The proposal to change the state song follows debates in Maryland and elsewhere over removing Confederate flags, statues and other lingering symbols of the pro-slavery South in the wake of the shooting of black worshippers by a white man in Charleston, S.C.

The panel formed after Del. Peter A. Hammen, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, asked Baker in July to come up with ideas for replacing the state song. Del. Karen Lewis Young, a Frederick Democrat, has put in a bill to make the change.

The song was penned in 1861 by a Baltimore native, James Ryder Randall, in reaction to the riots in Baltimore when Union troops passing through the city were attacked by a pro-Confederate crowd. It begins by decrying "the despot's heel" being planted on Maryland's shore and calls for avenging "the patriotic gore" of those killed by the federal troops.

"That song has always been objectionable," said Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham Sr., a longtime civil rights advocate and former chairman of the Baltimore NAACP. "I think America now is at last opening their eyes and ears to what we've had to put up with for a while."

It was officially designated the state song in 1939. But few know all the words, because only one or two of its nine verses tend to get sung.

"Nobody has sung the entire song for generations," Baker said. "Nobody knows what the verses are."

Previous attempts to get the legislature to change or replace the state song have failed. This move also could face resistance. One likely opponent is Gov. Larry Hogan, who despite having supported removing the Confederate flag from state license plates has objected to altering the state flag and song. Hogan, a Republican, called it "political correctness run amok."

A spokesman said Thursday Hogan's views have not changed.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a Democrat, is open to changing the song, according to his chief of staff, Alexandra Hughes, as long as the objectionable verses can be replaced with "historically accurate language."

The panel suggested several alternatives. Under one, all but the third verse of the original lyrics would be swapped out for an 1894 poem, also titled "Maryland, My Maryland," by John T. White. The new words could still be sung to the current tune.

Another option would be to adopt another song altogether, including possibly "The Star-Spangled Banner."

"You know, Maryland really has a legitimate claim to the national anthem," Baker said. "It was [about] an event that happened in our state, written by a Marylander."

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Neoliberal Nightmare

from the Huffington Post
The great American middle class has become an anxious class -- and it's in revolt.

Before I explain how that revolt is playing out, you need to understand the sources of the anxiety.

Start with the fact that the middle class is shrinking, according to a new Pew survey.

The odds of falling into poverty are frighteningly high, especially for the majority without college degrees.

Two-thirds of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Most could lose their jobs at any time.

Many are part of a burgeoning "on-demand" workforce -- employed as needed, paid whatever they can get whenever they can get it.

Yet if they don't keep up with rent or mortgage payments, or can't pay for groceries or utilities, they'll lose their footing.

The stress is taking a toll. For the first time in history, the lifespans of middle-class whites are dropping.

According to research by the recent Nobel-prize winning economist, Angus Deaton, and his co-researcher Anne Case, middle-aged white men and women in the United States have been dying earlier.

They're poisoning themselves with drugs and alcohol, or committing suicide.

The odds of being gunned down in America by a jihadist are far smaller than the odds of such self-inflicted deaths, but the recent tragedy in San Bernadino only heightens an overwhelming sense of arbitrariness and fragility.

The anxious class feels vulnerable to forces over which they have no control. Terrible things happen for no reason.

Yet government can't be counted on to protect them.

Safety nets are full of holes. Most people who lose their jobs don't even qualify for unemployment insurance.

Government won't protect their jobs from being outsourced to Asia or being taken by a worker here illegally.

Government can't even protect them from evil people with guns or bombs. Which is why the anxious class is arming itself, buying guns at a record rate.

They view government as not so much incompetent as not giving a damn. It's working for the big guys and fat cats -- the crony capitalists who bankroll candidates and get special favors in return.

When I visited so-called "red" states this fall, I kept hearing angry complaints that government is run by Wall Street bankers who get bailed out after wreaking havoc on the economy, corporate titans who get cheap labor, and billionaires who get tax loopholes.

Last year two highly-respected political scientists, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, took a close look at 1,799 policy decisions Congress made over the course of over twenty years, and who influenced those decisions.

Their conclusion: "The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy."

It was only a matter of time before the anxious class would revolt.

They'd support a strongman who'd promise to protect them from all the chaos.

Who'd save jobs from being shipped abroad, slam Wall Street, stick it to China, get rid of people here illegally, and block terrorists from getting into America.

A strongman who'd make America great again -- which really means make average working people safe again.

It was a pipe dream, of course -- a conjurer's trick. No single person can do this. The world is far too complex. You can't build a wall along the Mexican border. You can't keep out all Muslims. You can't stop corporations from outsourcing abroad.

Nor should you even try.

Besides, we live in a messy democracy, not a dictatorship.

Still, they think maybe he's smart enough and tough enough to pull it off. He's rich. He tells it like it is.

He makes every issue a test of personal strength. He calls himself strong and his adversaries weak.

So what if he's crude and rude? Maybe that's what it takes to protect average people in this cruelly precarious world.

For years I've heard the rumbles of the anxious class. I've listened to their growing anger -- in union halls and bars, in coal mines and beauty parlors, on the Main Streets and byways of the washed-out backwaters of America.

I've heard their complaints and cynicism, their conspiracy theories and their outrage.

Most are good people, not bigots or racists. They work hard and they have a strong sense of fairness.

But their world has been slowly coming apart. And they're scared and fed up.

Now someone comes along who's even more of a bully than those who for years have bullied them economically, politically, and even violently.

The attraction is understandable, even though misguided.

If not Donald Trump, then it will be someone else posing as a strongman. If not this election cycle, it will be the next one.

The revolt of the anxious class has just begun.
Robert B. Reich, "Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few"

Monday, December 14, 2015

Jihadi's Come to Harford County

from the Baltimore Sun
An Edgewood man pledged allegiance to the self-proclaimed Islamic State and received thousands of dollars from overseas that he believed was funding from the terror group to carry out an attack, federal prosecutors said Monday.

Mohamed Elshinawy, 30, was arrested on charges of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and other offenses, federal prosecutors said. He was scheduled to have an initial court hearing Monday afternoon.

"When confronted by the FBI, he lied in order to conceal his support for ISIL and the steps he took to provide material support to the deadly foreign terrorist organization," Assistant Attorney General John P. Carlin said in a statement.

"He will now be held accountable for these crimes."

The criminal complaint filed against Elshinawy lays out extensive communications the FBI says he had with contacts overseas and alleges he received at least $8,700 he believed was support for terrorism. Federal authorities have brought charges against dozens of people they say are ISIL supporters, but terrorism analysts said the allegation that Elshinawy received funding from the group is new.

Michael Greenberger, the director of the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security, said the charges are another example of ISIL's reach from its bases in the Middle East and their hope to cause mayhem in the United States.

"It appears they have enough money to be able to set out a lot of lures, hoping that one lure will catch somebody who's willing to engage in dangerous activity," Greenberger said.

A couple who investigators believe were inspired by ISIL killed 14 people in a shooting rampage this month at a government facility in San Bernardino, Calif. The group, which controls territory in Syria and Iraq, has claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed scores in Paris, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt.

Elshinawy is the first person to charged by federal prosecutors in Maryland for his alleged ties to the group. He was arrested on Friday, prosecutors said.

No one answered the door Monday afternoon at his address, a townhouse in the 300 block of McCann St. in a neighborhood called Harford Commons, which has several blocks of identical, green-and-white one-story homes. A neighbor said she had seen FBI agents in the area but assumed it was to do with drug dealing rather than a terrorism case.

Agents first interviewed Elshinawy in July, after learning about a suspicious $1000 wire transfer he received from Egypt, according to the criminal complaint.

Elshinawy originally said that the money was from his mother before changing his story and admitting that he had been in contact with a childhood friend who had been arrested in Egypt on terror charges, an FBI agent wrote in the complaint. The friend had fled to Syria but Elshinawy said the friend put him in touch with an ISIL operative in Egypt who sent he money, the FBI says.

Elshinawy said the operative did not give him any guidance on how to carry out an attack but cited the May shooting at Prophet Mohammed cartoon contest in Garland, Texas as an example, according to the FBI.

Elshinawy said he was actually conning the ISIL operative — including concocting a plot to make it look as though he sold printers on eBay to provide cover for Paypal transfers — and did not plan to do anything.

"Rather, he claimed he saw an opportunity to make money and take it from 'thieves,' and felt that the FBI should reward him for what he had done," the agent wrote.

As they probed further, the investigators wrote that they concluded that wasn't true and that Elshinawy had pledged allegiance to ISIL on social media, had discussed making an explosive device and traveling to live in ISIL controlled territory, and had concealed how much money he had actually received.

It's not clear from the court document what connection the Egyptian contact — who is not identified in the court papers — had with ISIL. Seamus Hughes, who studies ISIL at George Washington University, said the lack of a clear plot suggests the person was not a core member of the terrorist group.

U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said the case shows how terrorists exploit technology to find recruits and attempt to communicate in secret.

"Federal agents and prosecutors are working tirelessly and using every available lawful tool to disrupt their evil schemes," he said.

While the case shows some similarities with others where authorities allege people have been radicalized by reading online propaganda, Hughes said the allegations also show how personal connections — like the childhood friend — can lead someone down a path to extremism.

"Real world relationships matter," said Hughes, a former counterterrorism official. "You're more likely to be engaged in this ideology if your friends, or your brother, or your sister are also interested."

The FBI said that after he was interviewed in July, Elshinawy took steps to make it look like he cut off communication with his childhood friend. But as they probed his electronic communications, investigators said they traced a web of email accounts, cell phone numbers and social media platforms that Elshinawy had used to discuss terrorism.

Writing in Arabic, Elshinawy told the friend on Feb. 17 that he had pledged allegiance to ISIL, the FBI said, and in April told him he had many targets in mind.

"Elshinawy also told his childhood friend that he was indebted to him for showing him the way to martyrdom, and that the childhood friend should continue to fight," the FBI agent wrote.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Van Hollen Embraces the Urgency to "Do Something..."

from the Baltimore Sun
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Democratic candidate for Senate, is pressing Republican Gov. Larry Hogan to use his executive power to stop people on the FBI's terrorist watch list from obtaining guns.

Echoing an issue Democrats have been pressing in Washington, Van Hollen wrote in his letter that "Tea Party obstructionism and the NRA" have blocked efforts to pass federal legislation. Instead, Van Hollen wrote, Hogan should "explore every possible state action to prevent dangerous individuals from purchasing guns in Maryland."

Van Hollen, a former state lawmaker who is running against Rep. Donna F. Edwards for the seat that will be left vacant by Sen. Barbara Mikulski in 2017, did not indicate whether he had also sent the letter to the state's Democratic legislative leaders.

Democrats have been pressing Republicans on the issue nationally since several GOP candidates for president have refused to endorse the idea.

Van Hollen and Edwards have both sought to tout their record promoting gun control in their high-profile Senate campaign.

Hogan dismissed Van Hollen's letter as "politics" and "silly."

"It's not an issue in Maryland," he said. "No one on any watch list has ever received a gun."

Maryland already performs comprehensive gun background checks that flag applicants on the federal no-fly list, Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said. The Maryland State Police, who execute those checks, then contact the FBI to discuss the reasons someone is on the list.

To date, Mayer said, no one on the list has been approved to buy a firearm.

Still, the issue is likely to come up during the legislative session in Annapolis next year. A group of four lawmakers, all Democrats, have begun drafting a bill that would expressly prohibit people on FBI watch list from getting a concealed carry permit.

"If we wouldn't let them board a plane at BWI, why would we let them purchase a gun in our state?" said state Sen. Jamie Raskin of Montgomery County, who is also running for congress.

"We obviously can't stop every gun massacre in America but we can at least stop suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms in our own community. I know Congress is deadlocked on it, but that makes it essential for us to act in Maryland as soon as we get back to Annapolis," he said.

State Sen. Jim Rosapepe, of Prince George's County, and Dels. David Moon and Luke Clippinger are drafting the bill with Raskin. Moon is from Montgomery County; Clippinger is from Baltimore.

"If law enforcement officials believe someone is enough of a threat to be on a terrorism watch list, that person should not be allowed to buy the guns that can be used to turn that threat into a tragedy," said Clippinger, who works as a prosecutor. "That's just common sense."

Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley said the department's licensing division has never come across a gun buyer who was on the federal watch list, but that it would show up during the background check.

"If that occurs, our policy is to immediately place a hold on the purchase application and contact the FBI and DHS (Department of Homeland Security). We have no intention of knowingly permitting a potential terrorist to purchase a firearm."

The bill would make that policy law, its sponsors said.

Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy said this week he will sign an executive order prohibiting people on terrorism watch lists from buying firearms. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is now running for the GOP presidential nomination, signed a similar law in 2013.
I think that the Left and Right should compromise on this issue, and ban firearm sales to Democrats!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Stamp Out the H8!

America's Worst Political Consultant on Donald Trump

from the WSJ
Trump Is the Democrats’ Dream Nominee
He could win the primaries but would get creamed in the presidential election.

Dec. 9, 2015 6:48 p.m. ET

Donald Trump’s call on Monday for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” is unlikely to blow up his campaign. No matter how outrageous his statement seems to most Americans, his supporters apparently eat up stuff like that.

Forty-six percent of Mr. Trump’s backers say that their minds are made up and won’t change before the primaries, according to a Dec. 2 Quinnipiac poll. Only 33% of Ted Cruz’s supporters, and 23% of Marco Rubio’s, say that they are sure of their choice.

Apparently no matter what Mr. Trump does, he continues to poll generally in the mid- to high-20s, with an occasional survey putting him in the 30s. In mid-August he dipped to 22% in the Real Clear Politics average, but he hasn’t fallen below that mark since. This high floor, however, is matched by a low ceiling.

His antics—calling his GOP competitors “losers” and “clowns,” insulting Sen. John McCain for having been captured in Vietnam, mocking a reporter with a disability, crudely attacking Fox News’s Megyn Kelly—have made it difficult for him to grow his base. Almost as many Republicans (26%) told Quinnipiac that they will “definitely not support” him in the primaries as said they back him (27%).

The picture for the general election is even bleaker. The Donald’s favorability rating in the Quinnipiac survey was the worst of the 12 Democratic and Republican candidates tested: 35% favorable to 57% unfavorable. That was lower even than Mrs. Clinton’s 44% to 51%. Dig into the demographic breakdowns and Mr. Trump’s numbers look abysmal. Sixty percent of independents dislike him, along with 69% of voters aged 18-34, 84% of Latinos and 87% of blacks.

He and Mrs. Clinton were the only two of six candidates to be upside down on Quinnipiac’s question about honesty. The pair were nearly tied: 35% found the real estate mogul trustworthy and 59% did not; 36% trusted the former secretary of state and 60% didn’t. A Nov. 22 Fox News poll showed similar results. Mr. Trump was seen as honest and trustworthy by 41% of voters, and not by 55%. Mrs. Clinton’s numbers were marginally worse, at 38% honest, and 58% not.

But Mrs. Clinton beat Mr. Trump in the Quinnipiac poll on three important characteristics: By 67% to 32%, voters thought she has “the right kind of experience to be president.” His numbers were almost the reverse: 34% to 63%.

When Quinnipiac asked whether each candidate “cares about the needs and problems of people like you,” 46% said Mrs. Clinton does, and 51% said she doesn’t. If that sounds bad, take a look at Mr. Trump’s figures: 36% said he cares about people like them, and 59% said he doesn’t. Among Hispanics his numbers were 14% to 83%, and among blacks 9% to 88%.

When asked if each candidate “shares your values,” 42% of voters said Mrs. Clinton does, and 55% that she doesn’t. This might be problematic for the likely Democratic nominee, depending on who winds up as her Republican opponent. But, again, Mr. Trump’s numbers were worse. Only 35% said he shares their values, and 61% said he doesn’t.

All these numbers combine to make Mr. Trump the weakest Republican tested by Quinnipiac in head-to-head matchups against Mrs. Clinton, to whom he loses 41% to 47%. Among young voters, he loses by 20 points, 32% to 52%. He receives only 13% of Hispanic votes—less than half of what Mitt Romney did in 2012—to Mrs. Clinton’s 76%.

The Donald doesn’t compensate by beating Mr. Romney’s nearly 20-point margin among whites: He leads Mrs. Clinton among whites by only 12 points, 50% to 38%. So although Mr. Trump’s antics may not drive away his current supporters, they make him unlikely to win the White House.

Yet if the Republican field remains large and splintered through mid-March, Mr. Trump could become the Republican nominee by winning states with 25% to 30% of the vote. Then Democrats would attack Mr. Trump, a target-rich candidate, with an endless stream of ads.

Perhaps they would open with his immortal line from the Cleveland debate—that he had “taken advantage of the laws of this country” in having his companies declare bankruptcy four times. This footage might be followed by compelling testimony from contractors, small-business people and bondholders whom he stiffed. America has never elected a president with that kind of a dubious business record.

Donald Trump would be the dream opponent for the Democratic Party. We’ll see in the next four months whether that matters to Republicans.
Mr. Rove helped organize the political-action committee American Crossroads and is the author of “The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the 1896 Election Still Matters,” just out from Simon & Schuster. He also blew hundreds of millions pushing unelectable establishment candidates and RINOs.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The "Narrative" is Never Wrong....

Naval lookouts in the last century were advised not to stare directly at dim objects in the dark because the human eye's night vision receptors were clustered away from the center of the retina. If they looked to one side they would more clearly see what was in the center of the field of view. By analogy, the best way to examine events in America might be to look off indirectly -- at the elections in Venezuela perhaps -- in order to see dead ahead more clearly.

This is especially true because the political receptors of many pundits are getting jaded. Peter Wehner at Commentary, for example, is almost shellshocked by the president's repetitiveness. Wehner is tired of listening to the same old, same old and has nearly tuned out. "If you want to witness an adamantine mind at work, you could do a whole lot worse than observe the 44th president of the United States. Barack Obama is the most rigidly ideological president of my lifetime, a man who has a nearly blind adherence to a particular ideology (progressivism). It’s a disturbing, if at times a psychologically fascinating, thing to witness."

Wehner knows the stock responses to every terrorist attack: nothing to do with Islam; "don't do stupid shit"; "don't be racist." Or that all-purpose retort to every demand for power: "you didn't build that." Why talk to a man with a mind as closed as Obama's, Wehner's article asks.

You talk in order to maintain the illusion a conversation is still possible. The voters in Venezuela, after 17 years of voting Chavismo into power, believe they can vote Maduro out of office. The opposition may now have 113 seats in a 167-member assembly, a two thirds majority. Maduro gone, right? Well not necessarily. As the Chavista president reminded the voters: voting out socialism is no ordinary matter. Whatever you do, you can't stop the revolution.

Maduro's arguments are another way of asserting what we hear from time to time. When the "gains" of a messianic system become too great to reverse, they become too important to ever be given back. Other projects of equal weight, like the formation of the European Union, are of such importance that they adhere to the principle of "vote until you get it right." For example, Ireland and Denmark were put through two referendums until they accepted the desired result. In the things that really matter, the moral arc of history -- not uninformed public opinion -- gets the last word.

Nowhere is this more true than of Islamism. As Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan so memorably put it: democracy is like a bus. “Once I get to my stop, I’m getting off." If Maduro is riding on the Bolivarian express, Erdogan is on the Caliphate Special. You can't stop the music. Nobody can stop the music.

In reality we don't have a conversation, we have a monologue.

Having looked indirectly at peripheral objects like Venezuela, the EU or Turkey, it may now be possible to see Barack Obama's speech on the San Bernardino terror attack more clearly. For here the adamantine mind of the president is on full display. His superficial message is the same reassuring theme as always, along FDR's lines of "the only thing to fear is fear itself." Terrorism is not "between America and Islam." Just give him more power and rest easy at home.
Muslim-Americans are our friends and our neighbors. Our co-workers. Our sports heroes. And, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country. We have to remember that. ...

It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It's our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim-Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL.
Yet having coated his remarks with that syntactic sugar, Obama gets down to a very grim business. And what a contrast it is. He ticks off a program at cruel variance with the outward message. What we need to do to stay alive, he says, is control guns, clamp down on social media, review the visa-waiver program. The fine print of the speech is such a negation of the soaring rhetoric that it might as well be from another speech.

A moment's consideration of the speech makes it apparent that "the only thing to fear is not fear itself." The main thing to fear is falsification. The administration is deathly afraid of admitting it got it wrong from the beginning. Or worse yet, admitting where it was going all along. That would ruin its aura of benevolent omniscience. Hope and Change in conflict with Islamism can neither be explained nor managed within the framework of the Narrative. The result is two messages in the speech: the pablum of the Narrative overlaid with the creeping fascism of the details.

But here again one needs to look away to see things clearly. It's not just Obama who is putting the fist in the velvet glove. Across the Atlantic, France's state of emergency could be extended indefinitely. Europe is creating a central border force with authority to override any national sovereignty. If we're surrounded by "friends and neighbors" then we better leave the neighborhood.

Bit by bit the world is both shutting down and boarding up. For the first time in history, online sales to each in his atomized individual home outpaced sales from stores. "Friends and neighbors" no longer seek excitement in crowds, they hide and arm up, Obama's assurances notwithstanding.

Opinions are only spoken in code -- ask Loretta Lynch why. In a bizarre, almost surreal process we are told there are no enemies to fear even as we are warned to lower our voices lest we provoke that which does not officially exist -- yet of which we are afraid.

The administration's attempts to square the circle are almost ludicrous. In a classic opening paragraph disculpating Obama from his inaccurate Thanksgiving prediction of safety just days before the San Bernardino attack, the New York Times invoked presidential ignorance as the excuse for error.
The day before Thanksgiving, President Obama reassured Americans there was “no specific and credible intelligence indicating a plot on the homeland.” Seven days later came an explosion of gunfire and the deadliest terrorist attack in America since Sept. 11, 2001.

What may be most disturbing is not that Mr. Obama was wrong, but that apparently he was right. By all accounts so far, the government had no concrete intelligence warning of the assault on Wednesday that killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif.
It's as frank an admission of failure as ever graced the pages of the Gray Lady. The article quotes sources who say that only by curbing the Fourth, Second and First Amendments can the administration make up for the shortcomings of the FBI, CIA and NSA. "Unable to curb the availability of guns at home or extremist propaganda from overseas, the authorities may have to rely more on encouraging Americans to watch one another and report suspicions. Federal and local governments already have programs urging friends, families and neighbors to identify people targeted for recruitment."

Pavlik Morozov, meet Barack Obama. The only question is, who does little Pavlik monitor: ISIS or the NRA?

It's quite a price to pay for a bill to fend off a danger which doesn't exist, but it is only the first of many down payments that will be made to maintain the false illusions of the adamantine mind.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

I'm from the Government, and I'm Here to Help!

Public Trust in Government

from the Baltimore Sun
Republicans think the federal government should do less. Democrats think it should do more. But both agree it should be doing a lot better, according to a new poll.

By strong majorities, Americans of both parties believe that the federal government does a poor or only fair job of running its programs, according to the survey by the Pew Research Center. Only one in five rates its performance excellent or good.

The study's name, "Beyond Distrust: How Americans View Their Government," accurately sums up voters' broad views of the federal government's performance. But the survey also shows there are areas in which the government enjoys broad support.

And as low as the public rates the performance of some federal agencies, not even the Internal Revenue Service scores as low as Congress. Just 29 percent of Americans view the performance of their federal lawmakers favorably, and the numbers are lower among Republicans, even though the GOP controls both houses.

Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, called the Pew survey the "gold standard" in terms of its research.

He also called the results "pretty stark."

"The public believes in government action, but in many ways doesn't believe it's getting what it wants out of government,' he said. "To lose the public confidence is frankly a real challenge to our democracy."

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, called the survey's finding that just 19 percent of Americans trust the federal government "disconcerting."

"Constant gridlock in Congress, polarized and partisan politics, and the inability to compromise are all contributing factors," Reardon said. "The government shutdowns of the past and continued threats of shutdowns also color this bleak view of government."

The public gives the federal government high marks for responding to natural disasters, setting standards for the workplace, and ensuring safe food and medicine. More than 70 percent say it does a good job in those areas.

While Democrats are marginally more positive about how the government handles those functions, the differences with Republicans are insignificant.

"In the time of a political silly season, there's still a consensus that many of the government functions are important to Republicans and Democrats alike," Stier said.

The overall numbers are still strong for keeping the country safe from terrorism, with 72 percent rating the federal government's performance here well. But there the gap between Democrats and Republicans is 25 percentage points. (The survey was taken before the attacks in Paris.)

The government gets its lowest marks — 68 percent negative — for managing the immigration system and for helping people out of poverty, a category in which 61 percent say it's doing a poor job. On immigration, the gap on performance is particularly wide, with only 15 percent of Republicans saying the government is doing a good job.

On poverty, the partisan gap is not so much on performance but on whether the federal government should play a major role at all. The survey showed that 72 percent of Democrats say yes; 36 percent of Republicans agree.

The only question on which there was a wider divide on the role of government was ensuring access to health care. Eighty-three percent of Democrats saw a major federal role; 34 percent from the GOP concurred.

There was mildly positive news for workers at three Maryland-based agencies.

The Social Security Administration, the National Security Agency, and Food and Drug Administration had positive rankings of 51 percent to 55 percent and unfavorable rankings in the 30s.

None achieved the stellar approval levels of the U.S. Postal Service, the National Park Service, the Centers for Disease Control or NASA, each of which had favorability percentages of 70 percent or above.

Predictably, the IRS received one of the lowest ratings among executive agencies, with only 42 percent viewing it favorably. Among Republicans, only 24 percent viewed the tax-collecting agency favorably — a 34-point gap with the Democrats.

Reardon, whose union represents IRS workers, said the agency collects 93 percent of the revenue that supports the activities of more popular agencies.

"The IRS makes it possible for Americans to enjoy their national parks, to have a strong national defense, to ensure that our borders are protected and that our food and medicines are safe," he said.

The only agency viewed less favorably than the IRS is the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has plunged from a 68 percent approval level to 39 percent amid revelations about delays in health care services to veterans.

The dissatisfaction is bipartisan, with Democrats only slightly less unfavorable to the agency than Republicans.

Marilyn Park, legislative representative for the American Federation of Government Employees, said the VA and other agencies have been struggling to provide good customer service because Congress has denied them needed resources.

"I think public servants are trying to do more with less as resources for government services shrink," Park said.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Costs for the Not-So Affordable-Health-Care-Act Begin Hitting the Books

WASHINGTON — Health spending in the United States last year topped $3 trillion — an average of $9,500 a person — as five years of exceptionally slow growth gave way to the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid and private insurance coverage, and as prescription drug prices resumed their sharp climbs, the government said Wednesday.

Health spending grew faster than the economy in 2014, and the federal share of health spending grew even faster, as major provisions of the Affordable Care Act took effect.

Total spending on health care increased 5.3 percent last year, the biggest jump since 2007, and accounted for 17.5 percent of the nation’s economic output, up from 17.3 percent in 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services said in its annual report on spending trends. By contrast, health spending grew 2.9 percent in 2013, the lowest rate of increase since the federal government began tracking it in 1960.

The spending report comes as the Obama administration is already on the defensive over rising premiums and deductibles on insurance policies sold through the health law’s exchanges. Last month, UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation’s largest health insurance companies, significantly lowered its profit estimates and blamed the federal health care law.

Obama administration officials said Wednesday that the rise in health spending last year did not undermine their conviction that the Affordable Care Act had been a boon for the nation.

“Millions of uninsured Americans gained health care coverage in 2014,” said Andrew M. Slavitt, the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “And still the rate of growth remains below the level in most years prior to the coverage expansion, while out-of-pocket costs grew at the fifth-lowest level on record.”

But the new report will fuel Affordable Care Act opponents in Congress, who hope to pass legislation this week repealing President Obama’s signature domestic achievement. Slowing growth in health spending had been a crucial selling point for supporters of the law.

Anne B. Martin, an economist who was the principal author of the report, said that the growth of health spending last year was in line with projections by her office. The last recession, which began in December 2007 and continued until mid-2009, slowed health spending, as many people lost income and job-based coverage.

Retail spending on prescription drugs increased sharply last year, rising 12.2 percent to $297.7 billion, the administration said in its report, published in the journal Health Affairs.

“This rapid increase, which was the highest rate since 2002, was in part due to the introduction of new drug treatments for hepatitis C, as well as of those used to treat cancer and multiple sclerosis,” the administration said. The new treatments for hepatitis C, which are highly effective, accounted for $11.3 billion in new spending.

The numbers on retail drug spending do not include drugs administered at hospitals and doctors’ offices, where patients receive many high-cost specialty drugs. Spending at those sites is embedded in other categories of spending and is not separately reported.

Many people with hepatitis receive care through Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income people. “Medicaid prescription drug expenditures grew 24.3 percent in 2014, up from growth of 4.2 percent in 2013, as a result of increased enrollment and spending for drugs that treat hepatitis C,” the administration reported.

Senate investigators said Tuesday that the makers of a breakthrough hepatitis drug, Sovaldi, had put profits ahead of patients in setting the initial price at $1,000 a pill, or $84,000 for a standard course of treatment.

Medicare prescription drug spending increased 16.9 percent last year, primarily because of the use of expensive new specialty drugs, including those for hepatitis, the report said.

Richard G. Frank, an assistant secretary of health and human services, predicted that “faster growth in spending due to rising coverage will be temporary, and will fade in the coming years.”

The report said the number of uninsured people fell by 8.7 million, or nearly 20 percent, to 35.5 million in 2014. As a result, it said, the share of the total population with insurance increased to 88.8 percent, the highest since 1987.

The federal government, which generally paid the full cost of Medicaid for newly eligible beneficiaries and which subsidized private insurance for many other people, accounted for well over half of the increase in national health spending last year.

Over all, federal health spending increased 11.7 percent, to nearly $844 billion in 2014, compared with an increase of 3.5 percent in 2013, the report said.

In addition, it said, “Medicaid spending by the federal government increased 18.4 percent in 2014,” to $305 billion, compared with an increase of 6.1 percent in 2013.

Private health insurance spending grew 4.4 percent and reached $991 billion in 2014, accounting for one-third of national health spending.

Total Medicaid spending by federal, state and local government agencies reached $495.8 billion last year, an increase of 11 percent over the prior year, reflecting the fastest rate of growth since 2001. Enrollment in Medicaid increased by 13.2 percent, to 65.9 million people — the fastest rate of growth since 1991.

But spending per Medicaid beneficiary declined 2 percent, to $7,520, as “the newly insured tended to be lower-cost individuals,” the administration said.

“Total Medicare spending reached $618.7 billion in 2014 and accounted for 20 percent of total health expenditures,” the report said. “After growing 3 percent in 2013, Medicare spending grew 5.5 percent in 2014. This was the fastest rate of growth since 2009 and was primarily attributable to faster growth in spending for prescription drugs” and doctors’ services, among other factors.

Medicare spending averaged $11,700 per beneficiary last year, representing an increase of 2.4 percent. By contrast, spending per beneficiary was virtually flat in 2012 and 2013.

None Dare Call It "Terrorism"

from today's LA Times, headlined "San Bernardino shooting live updates: Three scenes still being scoured by investigators":

What we know
Around 11 a.m. on Wednesday, two assailants opened fire in San Bernardino at a party in the Inland Regional Center, police said.

Fourteen people were killed and 17 wounded. The motive is unknown.

Police said there was "some degree of planning." The shooters were heavily armed and had tactical attire.

After an afternoon car chase, two armed suspects were killed by police: Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik.

A third person was detained but might not be connected to the shooting.

Authorities are searching a home in nearby Redlands.

Anyone who suspects a relative was killed or injured can call a family assistance hotline at (800) 637-6653.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Is Turkey a Reliable Ally in the Middle East?

from RT
Russia has ‘more proof’ ISIS oil routed through Turkey, Erdogan says he’ll resign if it’s true

Russia has received additional intelligence confirming that oil from deposits controlled by Islamic State is moved through Turkey on an industrial scale, said Vladimir Putin. President Recep Erdogan said he will resign if this is confirmed.

Moscow has grounds to suspect that Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 on November 24 to secure illegal oil deliveries from Syria to Turkey, Putin said on the sidelines of the climate change summit in Paris on Monday.

“At the moment we have received additional information confirming that that oil from the deposits controlled by Islamic State militants enters Turkish territory on industrial scale,” he said.

“We have every reason to believe that the decision to down our plane was guided by a desire to ensure security of this oil’s delivery routes to ports where they are shipped in tankers,” Putin said.

Speaking in Paris on Monday, President Recep Erdogan said that he will leave office if there is proof of Turkey’s cooperation with IS.

“We are not that dishonest as to buy oil from terrorists. If it is proven that we have, in fact, done so, I will leave office. If there is any evidence, let them present it, we’ll consider [it],” he said, as quoted by TASS.

The countries from which Turkey buys oil are “well known,” said Erdogan.

He called on Russia to comment on the US’ recent black-listing of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the World Chess Federation President, accusing him of “materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of the Government of Syria.” Erdogan alleged Ilyumzhinov had been dealing with Islamic State oil.

Terrorists have been abusing the visa-free regime between Russia and Turkey to move freely, the Russian leader said adding that Ankara failed to address the issue after Russia raised it.

“We have been asking [Ankara] for a long time to pay attention” to the threat posed by some terrorists active in separate regions of Russia, including the northern Caucuses, that have been “emerging on Turkish territory,” Putin said.

Moscow has asked Ankara to “stop this practice,” he added, but pointed out that “we have traced some located on the territory of the Turkish Republic and living in regions guarded by special security services and police that have used the visa-free regime to return to our territory, where we continue to fight them,” he added.

Answering a question as to whether Moscow wants to form a broad based anti-terrorist coalition, Putin said Russia has always supported this initiative, “but this cannot be done while someone continues to use several terrorist organizations to reach their immediate goals.”

Putin admitted that he was personally saddened by the deterioration of relations with Turkey. He explained that “problems do exist and they emerged a long time ago and we have been trying to resolve them in dialogue with our Turkish partners.”

Putin said he has heard Ankara’s claims that it was not Erdogan who made the decision to down the Russian jet. However, he stressed that for Russia “it doesn’t really matter” which official made the decision.

“As a result of this criminal campaign our two soldiers died – a crew commander and a marine, who was part of the rescue team of the [Su-24] crew,” he said, adding that Turkey’s actions had been “a huge mistake.”

Russo-Turkish relations have deteriorated in the wake of the downing of Russia’s Su-24 by Turkish jets over Syria on November 24. Russia imposed a package of economic sanctions against Turkey last Thursday, which included banning several Turkish organizations and the import of certain goods, as well as cancelling the visa-free regime for Turkish citizens travelling to Russia starting next year.

Speaking on the sidelines of the summit, Erdogan said that Ankara will act “patiently, not emotionally” before imposing any counter-measures.

Meanwhile, ahead of the summit, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stated that Ankara will not apologize “for doing our duty.”

Putin and Erdogan were hoped to meet at the environmental summit taking place in Paris, but Putin said that no meeting was held on Monday.