The Hastert case seems like a series of injustices

Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) received a 15-month sentence in Federal prison for sexual abuse of a young man.  No, it was for laundering excessive amounts of ill-gotten cash.  No, actually, it was merely for “illegally structuring” bank withdrawals to avoid breaching limits that would have required his bank to report the activity to the government.

Note that Hastert is guilty of “illegally structuring” withdrawals, not deposits.  There are laws governing reporting of deposits, to protect against money laundering and tax evasion, which arguably serve a legitimate public policy purpose.  But in this case, Hastert was dealing with his own money.  There was not necessarily anything illegal about what he was doing with the funds; it’s unclear whether he was a blackmail victim, and we don’t expect the Feds to investigate that.

It’s outrageous that there are laws on the books that impose conditions on withdrawing one’s own money, and perhaps even more outrageous that there are laws on the books that criminalize “structuring” withdrawals to avoid running afoul of the underlying laws that are ridiculous to begin with.

Moreover, Hastert must now register as a sex offender, even though he was not convicted of any sexually-based offense.  He presumably agreed to register, as well as to receive some sort of “sex offender treatment,” as part of a plea agreement, but it strikes us as inappropriate that the judge in the case proclaimed, “The defendant is a serial child molester.”

We will insert the compulsory “we don’t condone the sexual abuse of which Hastert is accused, and if he did it, he deserves to be punished.”  Regardless, we consider it a miscarriage of justice that the government can use the threat of long jail time under preposterous financial laws to coerce a defendant to admit conduct that they couldn’t prosecute because of statutes of limitations, and then, as a bonus, the judge can pontificate from the bench on matters not tried.

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Obama displays a certain lack of cynicism: White male sacrificial lamb for SCOTUS plays it safe

President Obama has nominated D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court.  We had figured that Obama could never nominate a white male, and would go all-in and nominate someone who shares his judicial philosophy—i.e., a leftist in the mode of Sonia Sotomayor.

That would accomplish two things:   (1) Put someone up that he truly would like to see on the Court, in the event that Republicans were to cave and move the nomination.  (2) Failing that, rile up the base, adding the charges of RACISM to the usual OBSTRUCTIONISM.

We figure that if President Obama felt that he had a high probability of getting someone confirmed, and/or was bracing for a fight, he would choose someone like D.C. Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan, who has the benefit of a somewhat stealth philosophy as well as a history of being approved by a recent Senate with unanimous Republican support.

Instead, we read the choice of Garland as a resignation on Obama’s part that he won’t get confirmed.  It’s a safe choice in that sense, as Garland will go back to his important job, and probably won’t risk having any dirt dug up.  We assume there isn’t any:  Garland has been a typical career-government liberal Circuit Judge for two decades, and the circus surrounding his nomination won’t change his life much, nor will it diminish his chances to be nominated by a future Democrat president (though he’s getting a bit old).  There’s little down-side to the president or to Garland.

(Of course, choosing someone as a sacrificial lamb displays a certain type of cynicism, but if he believed that he has no chance at confirmation, then Obama’s choice of Garland is less cynical than some possible alternatives.)

We can imagine Obama’s conversations with the likes of the NAACP, National Council of La Raza, and other leftist groups, to the effect of, I have decided that my nominee has no chance.  I won’t put up a minority as a token/martyr who would be harmed by the process.

We find it hard to imagine Obama being so magnanimous when faced with an opportunity to engage in racial rabble-rousing.  So we remain open to alternative explanations.

Maybe Obama is just lazy, phoning-in this nomination of an easy choice, as he has been doing with so much else toward the end of his term?

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Advice to Marco Rubio for positioning for a future presidential run

There will be plenty of postmortems dissecting how Marco Rubio went from Tea Party darling Senator-elect in 2010 to a humiliating flame-out in this year’s presidential election.

The five obvious reasons, in order of importance, we think, are:

1.  His leadership of the “Gang of Eight” amnesty scheme.

2.  His leadership of the “Gang of Eight” amnesty scheme.

3A.  His robotic persona in the debates.

3B.  His resemblance to Barack Obama in 2008:  a blank slate, with few accomplishments and no executive experience, who says the right things on the surface—allowing voters to project whatever specific viewpoints they wished upon him—and checks the diversity boxes.  (Notwithstanding (3A), Rubio’s rhetoric is, of course, more substantive than Obama’s.)

3C.  Later in the race, his association with the D.C. establishment.

 

Although we are glad that the primary campaign served its purpose of vetting candidate Rubio, we can’t help but feel a bit disappointed that he didn’t live up to his promise.  To take one example, his speech after President Obama announced his appeasement of Cuba in December 2014 was outstanding.

It is certainly plausible that he could come back.  At 44, he has decades of opportunity left in him.  How he uses the first of those decades will speak to his character and his seriousness to be a viable presidential candidate.

The best course of action for Rubio would be to run for governor of Florida in 2018, when Gov. Rick Scott (R) cannot run again due to term limits.  Rubio needs the executive credentials and gravitas that would come from such a stint.  Of course an electoral loss would derail him (though it didn’t in Richard Nixon’s case, though he had already accumulated a more substantive resume), but he needs to take the risk.

Another alternative would be to angle for a cabinet position—something far away from immigration—like Secretary of Education or Secretary of Transportation.  A university presidency would not be as beneficial, but if he governs like Mitch Daniels, then it could be a step in the right direction.

Of course he should repudiate his actions as part of the “Gang of Eight.”  We don’t think that this will be a major challenge, as President Trump will provide cover by, in concert with Congress, completely changing the way that the U.S. implements immigration policy.  (If Hillary Clinton wins, then no one as conservative as Marco Rubio is ever likely to be elected president again, so this whole discussion would be moot.)

A Fox News gig in the meantime would be OK.  We hope that he doesn’t sit out the political debate and then come riding back onto the scene out of nowhere.  We hope that he does not take the petulant step of resigning from the Senate early.  Though it would give the Republicans the benefit of incumbency following an appointment by Gov. Scott, such a move is not statesman-like.

What he especially should not do is to trod the familiar path of retired establishment politicians and take a high-paying, non-work job in a law or lobbying firm, investment bank, or private equity firm—and then present himself to us again in eight or twelve or sixteen years’ time with only that additional resume item.  Such an occupation would do nothing but reinforce his lack of executive credentials and his membership in the D.C. establishment.  Spending his prime years as a high-class Republican community organizer wouldn’t mitigate the perception of him as another Barack Obama.

No doubt Rubio, who has suffered financial challenges, wants to cash in—and we never begrudge someone that—but if he’s serious about mounting another presidential campaign, he’s going to have to find a way to do more than that.

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Trump chooses not to play the liberals’ grovelling game

The latest phony outrage surrounding Donald Trump’s campaign is his refusal to “disavow” statements of support from some group or other.  Good for him.

The left loves to play the game of denounce, apologize, and grovel.  The MSM attempts to define the bounds of legitimate debate, and never passes up an opportunity to manufacture outrage to serve its own ends.  It is unbecoming of the right to fall into this trap.

Donald Trump plays the no-apology game well.  Even if he believes that the Ku Klux Klan, or David Duke, or whoever, does not bring to the table a point of view that is legitimate in our political discourse, it does not necessarily follow that he must jump on the bandwagon to condemn them.  He gains nothing from it.  He understands that to apologize for something that he didn’t do only weakens him.  He never avowed the KKK in the first place, so he has nothing to disavow.

His honesty is also refreshing.  He “doesn’t want to tick off anybody that might vote for him.”  People will vote for him based on all kinds of motivations, which are irrelevant to Trump.  No obligation is created by accepting someone’s vote.

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Postmortem on Jeb Bush: Donald Trump was the perfect foil

James Kirkpatrick in the Unz Review, citing Peter Beinart in The Atlantic and Michael Warren in the Weekly Standard, makes that point that we raised back in September:  Donald Trump was the perfect foil to Jeb Bush, due to the contrast in their personalities and Trump’s masterstroke to raise the immigration issue.

We agree with him that the Republican establishment will likely learn nothing from this history.  Will their reflection consist of:  See, We Told You So.  Trump was wrong on temperament and wrong on the issues.  Now how do I get an invitation to the ceremony where President Clinton signs the Gang of Eight Law?  Or:  Well, we lost with our best shot.  Now let’s take to heart the concerns raised by the majority of Republicans who voted to nominate Trump and fight President Clinton on these issues.  (Yes, it’s a rhetorical question.)

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The five habits of the highly ineffectual Indian people

The Indian government just held its “Make in India” extravaganza, an effort from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to encourage foreigners to invest in its manufacturing sector.  If you’re considering doing so, despite the country’s notorious business climate, abysmal human capital, horrendous infrastructure, and fetid corruption, then you should beware another drawback:  India’s culture.  It’s ancient spirituality without the inspiration, Asian conformity without the discipline, Arab dishonesty without the guile, and British systematism without the order.

These attributes inflict the national character from individual to institutional.  Beware some of the worst:

 

5.  Calling you repeatedly

If an Indian wants to reach you on the phone—be it a business contact by mobile or the hotel front desk calling you for no real reason—he will let it ring over and over and over and over, until the phone system cuts him off or you roll over half asleep and yank the phone cord out of the wall in exasperation.

Then, he will call back immediately and repeat the process.  And continue to do so over and over and over and over.  I can’t tell you how many times I have retrieved my phone after being away and seen 14 missed calls in a row from the same number.  I call back and say, “I assume that this is a life-or-death matter?  Has my mother been kidnapped?”  The response is always something like,”I just sent e-mail with quotation.”

 

4.  Worshipping cows

The cow is not only the sacred symbol in India’s dominant religion, it is a political cudgel for Hindu nationalists.  Modi is trying to spread the ban on slaughtering cows nationwide, largely to whip up support among the peasant mobs.  (Perhaps he has matured as a politician:  as a state-level chief, his preferred method of rallying the base was to facilitate murderous pogroms against Muslims.)

Watching the cows wandering the streets—battling it out with the goats and sheep and dogs to dine on the trash heaps, sauntering down the sidewalk, or simply laying down in the middle of the road—is certainly one of the most fun aspects of traveling in the country.

That the cow is Indians’ earthly representation of the sublime says something about their national spirit.  (Ironically, India is the world’s leading exporter of beef, as well as indentured labor to the Middle East.)  Usually when a group of people chooses an animal as a symbol, it’s because of the animal’s majesty, cunning, or at least exoticism.  Think of the bald eagle, tiger, or elephant.  Cows, however, are a curious choice for reverence.  They are stupid, plodding, and ubiquitous.  (Perhaps that that is an apt metaphor for the Indian state.)

 

3.  Creating unnecessarily complex processes

Everything in India is needlessly complicated and laughably inefficient, from trivial consumer processes— typing your PIN and signing when using a credit card; having to swipe the key card and then press a button to enter my hotel room in Calcutta—to the indecipherable bureaucratic requirements to operate a business.  State borders in India come with customs control, checkpoints, and protectionist measures imposed on products.

It’s impossible for any visitor not to get caught up in the gauntlet.  Try signing up for a SIM card.  Or buying an Indian Railways ticket.  Or exchanging money; woe to you if you want to change rupees back to your home currency.  Or proceeding through the airport with carry-on luggage.

Many highway toll booths have two attendants, one sitting inside the booth, and another standing outside who takes the money from the driver and hands it to the guy in the booth.  Some elevators have two attendants, one for each bank of buttons.

At one luxury hotel in Hyderabad, there is a metal detector at the gate facing the street, which beeps when you pass through it, though it is not manned.  Then you go through one of those turnstiles like in the subway, with the horizontal slats at one point in the circle to prevent you from going the other direction.  Except that it is not locked:  you must go through the same process in reverse upon exiting.  You then go through another metal detector and hand wand at the door to the building.  I asked what the purpose of the first check was, and was met with only a quizzical look.

At a shop in Cochin, it took four employees to sell me a bottle of hair spray.  I requested the item behind the counter from one individual, paid a cashier and received a receipt, presented the receipt to a different person to receive the item, and had to pass a checker who stamped it on the way out.

Every time I see a woman hunched over sweeping the ground with an eighteen-inch-long “broom” made of twigs thatched together, I am tempted to ask why she doesn’t affix a stick to it so that she can stand up straight while sweeping, thereby increasing productivity and reducing strain considerably.  But I am sure that she wouldn’t understand the question.

At a casino in Goa, they let you use the free-play chips at the roulette table, but only to bet on red or even, not black or odd.  (The odds for these bets are all the same.)  I found this hilarious, and asked what the rationale was, but of course no one could answer.

 

2.  Dealing poorly with ambiguity

Customer service is generally hapless in India, a symptom of an educational system that focuses on rote learning as opposed to problem solving and, perhaps, endemic low productivity due to the size and quality of the labor pool.  If you get in a taxi in India and tell the driver your destination, he will start driving.  He may or may not have any idea of your destination, but he won’t say that.  Often you can tell by his facial expression (or the fact that he is going completely the wrong way) that he doesn’t know.  You may say, “I think you have to turn left here,” and he may or may not comply.  You may ask, “Are you sure you know the way?” and he won’t reply.

He will keep driving aimlessly, until the car runs out of gas, unless you force a solution to the problem.  “Call the place we’re going and ask them for directions.”  “Pull over and ask this other taxi driver.”  “Refer to the map I gave you.”

My driver in Madras simply pulled over to the side of the road, clueless what to do in the course of searching in vain for an hour for my hotel, and said “We here.”  Uh, no, we’re not.  I remembered a five-star western chain hotel a few miles back, and directed him to go there and ask someone there the way.  This eventually worked.

At a bar in Hyderabad, there was a 1,500 rupee cover charge that came with a 1,000 rupee drink coupon.  When I got the bill for 1,135 rupees, I handed the bartender 200 rupees, and he stood silently for 30 seconds, looking back and forth down at the cash in his hands and then up at my face, over and over again, like a computer program hung up in an endless loop, until I reminded him about the coupon—the same coupon that I had handed to him and he had taken from me two minutes earlier when I placed my order.

 

1.  The head bob

This is the ubiquitous Indian expression of. . . something or other.  It’s sort of a quick horizontal nod of the head, a few passes in each direction, accompanied by eye contact.  Presumably it is analogous to a nod in America, i.e., an accession, either an affirmative answer to a specific question or a general signal of concurrence—and can also perhaps indicate a sarcastic pseudo-agreement, like “Yeah, sure, whatever.”  Or it can serve as a basic friendly yet amorphous acknowledgement of your presence, like a dog wagging its tail.  Or it can seem to mean “Fuck you.”

But one also frequently encounters the head bob in response to a question that is not yes-or-no.  It could be an answer to “What time does the bus arrive?” or “Why do you keep asking for my goddamn passport again and again and will you please give it back to me one more time?”

 

By all means, visit India.  Enjoy the fantastic food, gorgeous scenery, and ancient architecture.  Relish the squalor and utter mayhem that characterize everyday life.  But, for cow’s sake, do not stake your fortune on the place!

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Trump didn’t build his career by negotiation from a position of weakness

National Review Online‘s Ramesh Ponnuru is out in front with some establishment wishful thinking:  Donald Trump can choose John Kasich as his running mate to “help Trump get the nomination, and be his running mate for the service?”

Help Donald Trump how?  With his 5% of the delegates?  With a stirring endorsement, referring to his mailman father?  Trump has not succeeded thus far in the election—nor in becoming a billionaire in business—by negotiating from a position of weakness (e.g., like Jeb Bush in choosing a spouse), which is what picking Kasich in a gambit to pick up his votes would amount to.

A Trump choice of the already-vanquished Chris Christie would be a stronger signal, because he would not be trading any delegates, bur rather choosing someone for his perceived fit on the issues or general-election electability.

We think it’s more likely that Trump will double-down on his advertised appeal by picking another outsider.  If we wins a wide victory in the primaries, why wouldn’t he stay the course?  (Alex Pappas at The Daily Caller has some good ideas.)  Ben Carson is conceivable (though we hope not, as, like Sarah Palin before him, a baffling lack of knowledge, and apparent lack of curiosity, about world affairs would not bode well for his fitness to be commander-in-chief).

We could see Trump choosing Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz in the event that he enters the convention with a plurality but not a majority of delegates, to prevent the two of them from teaming up to deny him the nomination, which would be likely.  We hope that he would find a way to make it Cruz to maintain credibility on immigration and anti-establishment positioning.

The New York Times‘ Ross Douthat raises a scenario that is somewhat more plausible on the surface:  that Marco Rubio could employ a similar tactic and pick Kasich.  Rush Limbaugh says that this possibility is the only reason why Kasich is staying in the face.  Of course, the same point about Kasich’s lack of electoral value in the primaries holds; it seems implausible that Kasich’s delegates could tip the balance in a race between Rubio, Cruz, and Trump, or that his endorsement at some point before all of the primaries are complete would sway voters significantly.

The big problem with a Rubio-Kasich ticket would be the massive “screw you” that it would convey to the anti-establishment voters who will have given Trump and Cruz a lot of votes.  It would be saying, “frustrated voters, we heard you loudly and clearly, just like we always do.”  A lot of them would stay home in November.

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Open letter to Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter: Help President Trump choose a Supreme Court nominee

Though conservatives have, with good reason, feared the prospect of Donald Trump’s judicial appointments should be become President, the death of Justice Antonin Scalia has brought this issue to the forefront.

We can rationalize a cautious optimism.  Donald Trump has not spent a lifetime pondering Constitutional issues, as Ted Cruz (and probably even Jeb Bush) have, so we hope that a President Trump would mitigate his weakness in this area by deferring to the conservative movement, especially opinion leaders like Hannity and Coulter (we suppose that Mark Levin is now off of this list) who have praised Trump.

Recall the furor by which the right successfully scuppered President George W. Bush’s attempted nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court in 2005.  President Trump, smart leader that he is, would delegate to avoid such a train-wreck.  Attorney General Ted Cruz would be the point person, assisted by White House Counsel John Yoo, in choosing candidates for federal judgeships.

We request you, conservative luminaries who will have influence with the Trump Administration, to guide him on this issue on which you are so focused and right-minded and on which he will welcome your insight.

 

 

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NR: Trump’s 29% plurality of college-educated NH voters is a “hard ceiling”; 28% non-plurality of non-college-educated voters in IA is beginning of a majority

We’re trying to reconcile these two statements in an otherwise informative piece summarizing exit poll results by Tim Alberta in National Review Online.

That adds up to 62 percent of college-educated GOP voters voting against Trump [in New Hampshire] — and the overall opposition is roughly two-thirds when factoring in smaller chunks also won by Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson.

He continues to excel with non-college-educated Republicans: He won 28 percent of them in Iowa . . . and 41 percent in New Hampshire. These numbers, on top of public polling, show Trump is best positioned to win pluralities (and eventually majorities) of that crucial demographic moving forward

Although Alberta presents these results in the context of a finding that Trump won every single significant demographic in New Hampshire, it betrays a bias, endemic of late in NR, that holds that the only possible supporters of Trump are “struggling, underemployed” “working-class whites,” “people who have struggled. . . decrying the grasping indifference of a cosseted elite.”

Under the subheading “College-Educated Republicans Know Who They’re Against. But Who Are They For?,” Alberta refers to the first-place 29% of the vote in this group that Trump received in Hew Hampshire (and a bit less in Iowa) as a “hard ceiling,” but yet the 28% of the non-college-educated vote that he received in New Hampshire (and a bit more in Iowa) is a floor:  Trump is “best positioned to win pluralities (and eventually majorities) of that crucial demographic moving forward.”

Huh?  Of course the non-college-educated vote is greater in absolute numbers (though not among New Hampshire Republican primary voters last week), and hence more important, than the college-educated vote, but treating Trump’s results among these groups so differently at this point reflects nothing more than the author’s own bias about who could possibly be a Trump supporter.

Math is hard:  in a race with more than half a dozen candidates, in which one gets a solid plurality of all demographic groups, it is pretty illogical that those pluralities would fail to increase to majorities if the number of candidates were to get down to two.

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Imagine if the races were reversed: Cleveland Cavaliers fire successful white coach, citing need for black former player to “refine the habits and culture”

The NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, under first-year head coach Dave Blatt, won the Eastern Conference title last season (losing to the Golden State Warriors in the finals).  They entered the season as the betting favorites to win in all this year, and have hardly disappointed in amassing a 30-11 record halfway through the season, the best in the East.

None of this stopped Cleveland from firing Blatt yesterday, reports ESPN, and replacing him with former player and assistant coach Tyronn Lue.  No coach had ever been fired during the season with a better record.

Sports Illustrated answers the first question on everyone’s mind:  “Already there are credible reports insisting that James was not directly consulted in the decision to fire Blatt”—note the intriguing use of the word “directly,” also mentioned in the same verbiage in the ESPN article—in an article headlined “LeBron James’s imprint on Cavaliers evident in firing of David Blatt,” referring to the Cavs’ superstar and face of the league.

It seems that Cavaliers’ general manager David Griffin doth protest a lot:  “I didn’t talk to any of the players before this decision” and “LeBron doesn’t run this organization.”  And the media was also quick to pick up the spin.  “A team source told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin that Blatt’s firing means ‘everyone is in the crosshairs right now.'”  ESPN published various sympathetic pieces about the firing.

Even with the absurd turnover in the NBA coaching ranks, this seems surprising on its face.  There were vague rumblings about Blatt’s cultural fit (this was his first NBA job after spending most of his playing and coaching career in Israel, though he was born in Boston and graduated from Princeton):

“What I see is that we need to build a collective spirit, a strength of spirit, a collective will,” Griffin said. “Elite teams always have that, and you see it everywhere. To be truly elite, we have to buy into a set of values and principles that we believe in. That becomes our identity.”

“I am more than confident that [Lue] has the pulse of our team and that he can generate the buy-in required to start to refine the habits and culture that we’ve yet to build,” Griffin told ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.”

Perhaps the money quote:  “James fondness for Lue and his desire to be coached by a former player were well-known throughout Cleveland’s organization. . .”

We don’t pretend to be qualified to understand the dynamics involved in basketball coaching.  Like any business, leadership and the culture created by management are no doubt as important or more important than employees’ sheer talent.

But this episode strikes us as a bit ugly.  We have one question.  If a team of white players, say in Major League Baseball, were grumbling that their short-tenured, winning black coach was unable to relate to them, or unable to bring out their best “collective spirit” or “principles” or “identity” or “habits and culture” or “buy-in,” and they needed a white former player with no head-coaching experience to instill these values, wouldn’t the likes of ESPN and Sports Illustrated be screaming racism!?  The media is already saturated with complaints that black coaches don’t get a fair chance due to, of course, management’s racism that overrides their desire to win.  They would likely call the bit about needing a “former player” a dog whistle alluding to all of the racist narrative about black coaches’ inability to lead.

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