Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Alabama May Have Just Saved the GOP

Last night, the Republican Party got its first break in over a year.

The defeat of Roy Moore in Alabama may sting for a while, but it may just be the wakeup call that the GOP needed. To lose a Senate seat in one of the most conservative states in the South is quite an accomplishment. There will be plenty of blame and finger-pointing to go around, but ultimately the fault lies with Roy Moore himself, along with the people who elevated him to the nomination.

The candidate was obviously never properly vetted by Republicans, but if the Washington Post could find a handful of women from Moore’s past, why couldn’t his Republican primary adversaries? Perhaps Moore was considered untouchable in Alabama conservative circles for his high-profile resistance to the removal of the Ten Commandments monument and the implementation of same-sex marriage, but, in truth, these were examples of judicial activism that should not have been applauded by people who support the rule of law. There are ways to resist bad rulings, but Moore’s actions were not appropriate for his position.

Even beyond the obvious, there were signs of skeletons in Moore’s closet if Republicans had cared to look. In 2002, amid the Ten Commandments controversy, the Montgomery Advertiser hinted that Moore’s associates had stories to tell, but were biding their time.  “Some of those who worked with Moore roll their eyes when asked about him but keep their mouths shut,” Todd Kleffman wrote. “There are plenty of stories to tell, the longtime secretaries, parole officials and lawyers said, but not on the record and not now, while Moore sits atop the state court system and controls its purse strings.”

Part of the blame for Moore also lies with former Gov. Robert Bentley (R-Ala.), who appointed another weak candidate, Luther Strange, to fill the Senate seat of Jeff Sessions when he was tapped to become attorney general by Donald Trump. Strange was tainted by Bentley’s corruption as well as purported ties to the Republican establishment. Even though President Trump endorsed Strange, Moore attacked him by linking him to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). In a healthy party, ties to party leaders are a good thing, not a liability.

Steve Bannon and the anti-establishment wing of the Republican Party also share the blame. In recent years, the Republican establishment has been subject to its own derangement syndrome in which many members of the Republican base put party leaders on a level with Democrats. This intra-party feuding led directly to the nomination of both Donald Trump and Roy Moore in primaries where a main qualification for many Republican voters was that candidates should be from outside the Republican mainstream.

While both Trump and Moore were Republican outsiders, they were also outside the American mainstream. Donald Trump eked out a victory because enough voters in the right places saw him as less threatening than Hillary Clinton. In Moore’s case, his questionable record combined with the allegations of sexual misconduct and a bevy of embarrassing statements and ultimately turned much of his own party against him. Even President Trump, at a September rally for Strange, expressed doubts about Moore’s ability to win a general election.

The lesson that Republicans should learn from Roy Moore is that “at least he isn’t Hillary” only works when a candidate is running against Hillary. It doesn’t work when the opposition candidate is Doug Jones, a decent man with a good record, and the Republican candidate is a man who seemed to think fondly of the slavery era in a state where blacks make up more than a quarter of the population.

In the past few years, Republicans seem to have forgotten the Buckley Rule that conservative voters should nominate the most conservative candidate who can win. If conservative voters take this lesson to heart, they will nominate decent, sane, mainstream conservatives in the primaries that will be held in a few months. If they truly learn the lesson of Roy Moore, they will reject candidates from Steve Bannon’s crackpot wing of the party.

Roy Moore’s loss may have come at just the right time for the party. Many signs are pointing to a Democrat wave in 2018. It may already be too late to stop the Democrat landslide, but if Republicans look for candidates that appeal to voters outside the anti-establishment wing of the GOP they may be able to prevent a total wipeout and at least maintain control of the Senate.

In the short term, there will be anger against the Republicans who crossed party lines to vote for Doug Jones or who cast their ballots for a write-in candidate. If Republican voters don’t insist on good candidates, they will continue getting candidates who rely on the “at least he’s not [insert Democrat here” argument. Rather than betraying the Republican Party and traditional Republican principles, the Republicans who had the moral courage to rebel against a deeply flawed and embarrassing candidate may have actually saved the Republican Party.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Former Facebook Exec Says Social Media Is Ripping Society Apart

There are plenty of voices decrying the pernicious effects of social media on society, but when one of those voices is an architect of Facebook’s rise to near omnipresence, it draws a bit more attention. That was the case when Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive, spoke to a group of graduate students at the Stanford University School of Business last month.

“I feel tremendous guilt,” Palihapitiya, currently the CEO of Social Capital and owner of the Golden State Warriors, said. “I think we all knew in the back of our minds — even though we feigned this whole line that there probably aren’t any really bad unintended consequences — I think in the back deep, deep recesses of our minds, we kind of knew something bad could happen, but I think the way we defined it was not like this.”

“It literally is at a point now,” he continued, “where I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. That is truly where we are.”

Palihapitiya explained how online popularity is a vicious circle, prompting more and more outlandish and extreme behavior to keep the “likes” coming. “The short-term dopamine driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works,” he said. “No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth.”

“We curate our lives around the perceived sense of perfection,” he added, “because we get rewarded in these short-term signals. Hearts, likes, thumbs up, and we conflate that with value, and we conflate it with truth. And instead, what it really is, is fake, brittle popularity.”

“It is eroding the core foundations of how people behave,” Palihapitiya said.

To anyone on Facebook or Twitter who has ever watched their post go viral, this sounds familiar. The feeling of validation that comes from a popular post is psychologically comforting, but also addictive. You want to keep the affirmation coming. That requires more viral posts

The easy way to get your posts noticed above all the background noise of the internet is to be extreme. The truth of the parental wisdom that some children misbehave because any attention is better than being ignored is proven everyday online.

“I don’t have a good solution,” he said. “My solution is I just don’t use these tools anymore.” He also said that he does not allow his children to use social media.

“You don’t realize it, but you are being programmed,” Palihapitiya said. “It was unintentional, but now you have to decide how much you’re willing to give up.”

While social media is not inherently evil, it is engineered to keep users coming back so that companies like Facebook and Twitter can generate more revenue from advertising and other services. The ultimate solution is for people to discipline themselves to limit their consumption of social media sites. For some, that might mean deleting the apps from your phone to keep yourself from compulsively checking your notifications every few minutes. Others might find it necessary to delete their accounts altogether.

The world can live without knowing our political opinions or what we had for dinner. We can live without knowing all the little details of other people’s lives as well. We have one life to live. We should make the most of it. Each of us must decide whether we want a real life or virtual one.

“If you feed the beast,” Palihapitiya said “that beast will destroy you.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Scarborough On Bannon: 'A Southern Man Don't Need Him Around Anyhow'

Know your audience and your subject is basic advice for any public speaker. Violating that rule led to an embarrassing gaffe for Steve Bannon as he stumped for Roy Moore in Midland City, Ala yesterday. During his speech, Bannon decided to riff on Trump critic, Joe Scarborough, with embarrassing results. A tweet by Jonathan Allen of NBC News tells what happened next.

Before attacking Scarborough, Bannon should have doublechecked where the MSNBC host went to school. What are the odds that a talk show host that Bannon decided to vilify in Alabama was a graduate of the University of Alabama? In the case of Joe Scarborough, the odds were 100 percent to Bannon’s dismay.

Scarborough quickly responded with a series of tweets, beginning with a simple school slogan.

A second tweet mocked Bannon’s brag about attending Georgetown and Harvard. Ivy League schools are not well respected by Southern voters. The resentment of carpetbagging Yankees is deeply ingrained in Alabama as well as many other parts of the South. Attending Harvard won’t necessarily hurt your reputation, but bragging about it certainly will.

Scarborough delivered a body blow by paying homage to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classic Southern anthem, “Sweet Home Alabama.”  The song was written in 1974 as a response to Neil Young’s “Southern Man” and includes a line that describes just how much importance Southerners attach to Yankee opinions about their culture. While Bannon, a native Virginian, isn’t technically a Yankee by birth, he is closely associated with New York these days.

In a final tweet, Scarborough drove home the point that Bannon, the pseudopopulist, is in reality a New York banker who worked for Goldman Sachs. The investment banking firm has long been a bogeyman for many on the right. While many politicians, from Ted Cruz to Hillary Clinton, were criticized for ties to Goldman Sachs, Donald Trump and Steve Bannon’s ties to the company have received little attention. Scarborough’s use of the colloquialism, “reckon,” just twists the knife.

While Steve Bannon’s case of foot-in-mouth disease won’t make or break Roy Moore, it is characteristic of the unforced errors and poor vetting that plague Bannon-backed candidates. Roy Moore’s background was replete with red flags that he would be a poor candidate in the general election. In Arizona, Bannon supports Kelli Ward, a state legislator widely mocked for her association with conspiracy theories. Paul Nehlen, another Bannon protégé who lost in a landslide to Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), was recently seen on Twitter telling John Podhoretz to “eat a bullet.” Stay classy, Nehlen.

Bannon’s Alabama gaffe is just one more example of poor research and planning by the Breitbart publisher and former White House strategist. Bannon’s picks, while often popular in GOP circles, are often poison at the ballot box in general elections. If Republicans follow Bannon, the party is likely to find itself on the way to electoral oblivion.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, December 11, 2017

Alabama Sen. Shelby Rejects Roy Moore As Another Embarrassing Statement Surfaces

The weekend before the closely-watched Alabama senatorial election, another scandal emerged for Republican Roy Moore. An audio clip surfaced from an appearance by Moore on a conspiracy-related internet talk show in which Moore agreed with the hosts that voiding all constitutional amendments after the 10th “would eliminate many problems.”

Moore’s comments came on a 2011 episode of the “Aroostook Watchmen,” a right-wing internet talk show based in Maine. On an audio recording obtained by CNN, Moore responded to a statement from one of the hosts advocating an amendment that would void every amendment that was not part of the original Bill of Rights.

“That would eliminate many problems,” Moore replied. “You know people don't understand how some of these amendments have completely tried to wreck the form of government that our forefathers intended.”

Moore specifically cited the 17th Amendment, which changed the process for electing senators. Originally, senators were selected by state legislatures, but the amendment made it so that senators were chosen directly by the people of the state. Following the host’s lead, Moore also criticized the 14th Amendment, which was passed after the Civil War and includes the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses.

“The danger in the 14th Amendment, which was to restrict, it has been a restriction on the states using the first Ten Amendments by and through the 14th Amendment,” Moore said. “To restrict the states from doing something that the federal government was restricted from doing and allowing the federal government to do something which the first Ten Amendments prevented them from doing. If you understand the incorporation doctrine used by the courts and what it meant. You'd understand what I'm talking about.”

“For example, the right to keep and bear arms, the First Amendment, freedom of press, liberty,” Moore continued, “Those various freedoms and restrictions have been imposed on the states through the 14th Amendment. And yet the federal government is violating just about every one of them saying that -- they don't, they don't -- are not restrained by them.”

There is a total of 27 amendments to the Constitution. Some other important amendments that come after the 10th included the abolition of slavery (13th), guaranteeing the right to vote regardless of race (15th), extending the right to vote to women (19th), and the prohibition of poll taxes (24th).

Moore did not specifically advocate a return to slavery, but he was previously criticized for another quote in the Los Angeles Times from September 2017 in which he seemed to downplay the institution.  An audience member asked Moore when he thought America was last great. Moore answered, “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another.... Our families were strong, our country had a direction.”

While the clip did not specifically mention the 19th Amendment, Roy Moore did co-author a legal textbook that argues that women should not elected to public office.

In a response to CNN, the Moore campaign denied that the candidate ever supported the repeal of 16 amendments. “Once again, the media is taking a discussion about the overall framework for the separation of powers as laid out in the constitution to twist Roy Moore's position on specific issues,” a spokesman said in an email. “Roy Moore does not now nor has he ever favored limiting an individual's right to vote, and as a judge, he was noted for his fairness and for being a champion of civil rights.”

“Judge Moore has expressed concern, as many other conservatives have, that the historical trend since the ratification of the Bill of Rights has been for federal empowerment over state empowerment,” the campaign spokesman said.

In the same episode of “Aroostook Watchmen,” Moore seems to embrace several conspiracy theories as well. Moore implied that Barack Obama was not a citizen and expressed support for “new hearings into what really happened on 9/11.” Moore has long questioned the validity of Obama’s birth certificate including a statement in December 2016.

The Moore campaign told CNN that he “believes that Islamic terrorists were responsible for the 9/11 attacks, [has] made rebuilding the military one of his key campaign purposes, and is the only Senate candidate with experience serving in a combat zone.”

The combination of Moore’s past and his embarrassing behavior have led many Republicans to reject their party’s candidate. On Sunday, Alabama’s senior Senator, Republican Richard Shelby, revealed that he did not vote for Roy Moore.

“I'd rather see the Republican win, but I'd rather see a Republican write-in,” Shelby said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I couldn't vote for Roy Moore. I didn't vote for Roy Moore.”

Shelby did not say who he voted for, but Lee Busby, a retired Marine, entered the race as a conservative write-in candidate in November. There is speculation that Shelby may have voted for Col. Busby.

Originally published on The Resurgent

South Texas Snow

It isn’t every day that Houston wakes up to a blanket of snow covering the ground, but that was the surprise that greeted many South Texas residents this morning.

A winter storm covered the Texas prairie with the white stuff from San Antonio to Houston last night, surprising many residents this morning. No significant accumulation was expected in the Houston area as late as yesterday. Even though there were flurries last night, few Houstonians expected to wake and see the ground covered with white.

Houston snow is rare, but not unheard of. Houston’s ABC affiliate, KTRK, noted that snow has been recorded in the city 35 times since 1895. The last measurable snowfall was in December 2009. Snow is more common in northern areas of Texas such as Dallas and Amarillo than Houston, which is at approximately the latitude as Jacksonville, Fl.

A rare South Texas blizzard, called a “blue norther,” may have actually changed the course of Texas history. In 1836, Santa Ana’s army encountered such a blizzard on the way to San Antonio. Several of the poorly equipped Mexican soldiers died in the storm. Moving animals and wagons through the frozen mud exhausted others and sapped morale and delayed the arrival of the Mexican army at the Alamo.

This year’s snow is more enjoyable for Texans. From the hill country to the Gulf coast, children are engaging in snowball fights, eating snow ice cream and trying to scrape enough snow together to build a small snowman. Without equipment to remove snow and ice or salt roads, many schools are closed even for the light dusting. Residents, both young and old, are giddy about the once-in-a-decade event.

The snow in Houston caps off a year of highs and lows for the city. 2017 began with a Super Bowl. The end of the summer saw Hurricane Harvey bring disastrous flooding to the area. In October, the Astros thrilled the city with its first World Series title. Now, as the year draws to a close, the rare snowstorm seems magical.

Most of the snow will be gone by lunchtime as temperatures climb to high near 50, but in the meantime, Houstonians of all ages will revel in it.

“It’s beautiful,” said nine-year-old Sarah. “It’s a winter wonderland.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, December 8, 2017

Al Franken's Senate Is Rated As A Tossup

As Minnesota begins to prepare for a special election to fill the Senate seat of the soon-to-be-resigning Al Franken, there seems to be at least a slight hope that Republicans might wrest control from the Democrats. In blue Minnesota, a Republican pickup would be a long shot, but it isn’t out of the question.

When Franken resigns, the first step in the process will be for Gov. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) to appoint a temporary successor. A permanent replacement will be picked in a special election in November 2018. Dayton has not announced who will replace Franken, but whoever he chooses will have the advantage of incumbency in the special election. However, as Luther Strange (R-Ala.) learned the hard way, appointed incumbents are not assured of victory in special elections.

Shortly after Franken’s intention became known, the Cook Political Report moved the Minnesota Senate race into the tossup category. Jennifer Duffy points to Franken’s 312-vote margin in 2008 as well as Hillary Clinton’s half-percent victory over Donald Trump in 2016 as evidence that a Republican could be competitive in a statewide race in Minnesota.

The FiveThirtyEight blog agrees, noting that the state of Minnesota gives Democrats only a slight advantage while the generic congressional ballot currently has Democrats leading Republicans by eight points. The formula shows a generic Democrat leading in the Minnesota race by about nine points. In comparison, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who recently eluded jail on corruption charges thanks to a mistrial, is forecast to win his reelection by about 20 points in a deep blue state using the same formula.

The biggest unknown variable is who the candidates will be. Two likely Republican contenders are Tim Pawlenty, a popular former governor who ran for president in 2012, and Norm Coleman, who lost his senatorial seat to Franken in 2008 in what many believe was a stolen election. There are at least a half-dozen other Republicans and as many Democrats who may toss their hats in the ring as well.

No matter who the Republican candidate is, 2018 is shaping up to be a difficult year for Republicans, especially in states that lean Democrat. Many early signs, from fundraising data to President Trump’s approval rating, point to a possible Democrat wave building for the midterm elections next year.

Nevertheless, Franken’s resignation will make things a little bit harder for the Democrats. Minnesota’s open seat brings the total of Senate seats that Democrats must defend to 24. Four of those, including Minnesota, are currently rated as tossups by Cook. The loss of any of these seats would make Democrat hopes of winning control of the Senate very unlikely. Events and candidates may mean that Minnesota isn’t a tossup long, but, for the moment, the Gopher State provides a glimmer of hope for the GOP.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Democrats Seize The Moral High Ground

Republicans have a tendency toward shooting themselves in the foot and this week was no exception. With their abrupt about-face on accused sexual harassers John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), the Democrats have captured the moral high on the issue of sexual misbehavior.

For a while it seemed as though both parties would look equally hypocritical on the issue of sexual misdeeds. For weeks, the lists of officials in both parties who were credibly named by numerous accusers grew longer and longer while partisans promptly excused their allies and condemned their enemies.

That changed this week when the Democratic Party suddenly turned first against Conyers and then against Franken. Conyers announced his retirement on Wednesday. Franken’s resignation came on Thursday after 32 Democratic senators called on him to resign.

The Democrat reversal could not have come at a more inopportune time for Republicans. After tepid support for Roy Moore for several weeks, President Trump endorsed Moore on Monday with a charge to the accused child molester to “Go get 'em, Roy!” The same day Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who had previously called on Moore to drop out of the race, said, “ It'll be up to the people of Alabama to make this decision” and dismissed the possibility that the Senate would refuse to seat Moore if we wins. The Republican National Committee, which had previously severed ties with Moore suddenly made a contribution of $170,000 to Moore’s financially strapped campaign.

Perhaps the Democrats were waiting on the Republicans to go all-in on Moore to offer up Conyers and Franken as sacrificial lambs. Perhaps the timing was coincidental due to new revelations about Conyers and Franken. In any case, the events of the week could not have been better timed for Democrats.

Moore, who has said that he didn’t “generally” date teenage girls when he was in his 30s, seems to retain a slight lead in polling for the Alabama Senate race. This in spite of contradictory statements about the sexual assault allegations and whether he dated his wife while she was still married to her first husband as well as other scandals such as financial improprieties at his charity and his advancement of conspiracy theories.  

It was a classic bait and switch. Republicans took the bait and supported Roy Moore and the Democrats promptly switched to a hardline on sexual misconduct. The result will be that for the remainder of the Alabama campaign, and though the 2018 elections if Moore wins, Democrats will batter Republicans about the head with charges that the party, which claims to be the party of Christian principles and family values, fully supported a candidate who is credibly accused of being a sexual predator of teenage girls.

What’s worse is that the Democrats will be absolutely right. In the 2018 elections, Republicans will already be defending a do-nothing Congress and an erratic and unpopular president. Now, they must justify their support for Roy Moore as well.

The GOP has faced a similar conundrum in the past. In 1991, David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, won the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Louisiana. In an election that presaged this decade’s races to the bottom, Duke’s opponent was Edwin Edwards, a Democrat who had been tried twice on charges of mail fraud, obstruction of justice, and bribery. Edwards was so disliked by Louisiana Republicans that the outgoing governor, Buddy Roemer, coined the slogan, “Anyone but Edwards.”

That year, unlike recent history, Republicans did not embrace a flawed candidate, claiming that the opposition was worse. Instead, Republicans did the unthinkable. Pushing their partisan tendencies aside, the Louisiana GOP endorsed Democrat Edwards under the slogan, “Vote for the crook. It’s important.”

The question for today’s Republicans is, “What is important?” 

Originally published on The Resurgent