Politics & Policy

Trey Gowdy Is Retiring. What Does It Mean? Six Takeaways.

Today’s big Capitol Hill bombshell: the retirements of South Carolina’s Trey Gowdy and powerful Philadelphia Democrat Bob Brady, bringing the total number of House retirements into the 50s (two-thirds of them Republicans). What does it all mean? Here are six takeaways:

First, of course, House Republican retirements are both a cause and effect of declining odds of the GOP retaining control of the House, although seats such as Gowdy’s (and probably Brady’s on the Democratic side) are likely to stay safe. More open seats removes the advantages of incumbency and will spread thin Republican resources defending seats that may be held but with a lot more effort than usual, and incumbents without the stomach for a tough race are looking for the exits.

Second, term limits for committee chairs matter. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, Chair of the Appropriations Committee, retired Monday; Gowdy becomes the ninth of 21 committee chairs to step down from the House, many of them term-limited by internal caucus limits from continuing to run their committees even if Republicans keep control of the House. The days of chairmen who ruled their fiefdoms for decades are over (at least as long as Republicans are in charge), and it turns out that term limits for committee chairs are pretty effective at forcing steady turnover without the heavier-handed resort to banning voters from continuing to re-elect long-term Representatives.

Third, redistricting matters, too. A court threw out Pennsylvania’s congressional map last week, and retirements have been running particularly high in the Pennsylvania delegation (six so far out of 18 seats), as even safe (if scandal-plagued) veterans like Brady look at the challenges of running on a new map for 2018 that will then be replaced by another new map by 2022 – one that, in Pennsylvania’s case, is likely to have one fewer House seat to go around. Even Representatives who may think they can ride out the storm of 2018 may decide that reintroducing themselves to new voters in the next few years — or, for that matter, throwing their weight into behind-the-scenes redistricting fights to keep their districts from getting carved up — are more trouble than they are worth.

Fourth, being a Republican in Congress under Trump is just not much fun. Typically, the out-party gets to raise their profile with investigations and fights with the White House (few congressmen did this more aggressively under Obama than Gowdy), while the in-party gets to actually govern. But Republicans have struggled to settle on a legislative agenda that can pass anything through the Senate, and defending the Trump administration from various investigations and public relations disasters is wearying work. Republicans who don’t want to publicly cross Trump may still not want to have to defend him anymore, either. So a number of these retirements may be delayed reactions to Trump’s nomination and then surprise 2016 victory.

Fifth, everybody is focused on how all these retirements — over 50 in the House, four so far in the Senate, and 17 governors — will affect the balance of power between the parties. But they also represent a huge opportunity to test the balance of power within the parties, as we could see a blizzard of contested primaries just for open seats, even leaving aside challenges to incumbents. On the Republican side, that will test both the relative strength of the party establishment and the question of whether the Trump/Bannon populist wing has permanently supplanted the conservative/Tea Party wing as the main challenger to the establishment. On the Democratic side, the progressive-populist insurgency that backed Bernie Sanders will be chomping at the bit to flex its own muscles — as indeed, Brady was facing a primary challenge on his left. A year from now, we may know a lot more about who comes out on top of these battles.

Sixth, don’t cry yet for Gowdy, a former prosecutor who cited in his statement his desire to return to the judicial system. Judge Dennis Shedd of the Fourth Circuit — a federal appeals judge from South Carolina, appointed by George W. Bush — retired effective yesterday, and no nominee has yet been announced. Don’t be surprised if Gowdy is Trump’s pick to replace Shedd for a life-tenured position (and maybe an outside shot someday at the Supreme Court).

Politics & Policy

Donald Trump
Slashing at the Shadows of Trump

Trump’s publicly well-received speech (we hope the Obama first-person singular continues to give way to the Trump first-person plural) did not register with his enemies, mostly progressives but some Never Trumpers as well.

But what if Trump follows up on his speech by letting his successful policies speak for themselves, even as his critics are permanently stuck in the past obsessing on the shadows of Trump — oblivious to his record and brawling against a style and comportment that could be increasingly dissipating?

After watching the Democratic and celebrity boilerplate reaction to Trump’s speech, and the Kennedy response, a person from Mars might conclude that Trump was sober and judicious in reviewing a tangible record, while his critics were emotional and petulant while ignoring definable reality to focus on nebulous symbolism.

The result would be analogous to the effects of a strong but completed chemotherapeutic regimen that sickened the host while treating successfully the malady. That is, while Trump’s critics are stuck still on his campaign and first-year invective, they are oblivious to the utility of the medicine on the host. But patients often stop damning the side effects of their beneficial therapy once it ends and the positive effect on their health becomes tangible.


Higher Education
What’s Wrong with the Peer-Review System

The peer-review system for deciding what scientific research gets published and what doesn’t used to work pretty well, but like so much in academia, is now in trouble.

In this Martin Center article, Duke University neuroscience professor John Staddon reflects on the changes.

For one thing, researchers now spend up to half of their time just writing grant proposals, the large majority of which are rejected.

For another, the career need to get papers published has led to a vast proliferation of journals, many of them bogus. Staddon writes:

A growing list of what I call “pop-up” journals has arisen to meet the need for publication. I get email invitations to publish in, or even to edit, such a journal almost once a week. Here is one, headed “Invitation to Join Editorial Board:”

I represent EnPress Publisher Editorial Office from USA. We have come across your recent article “Daniel T. Cerutti (1956–2010)” published in The Behavior Analyst. We feel that the topic of the article is very interesting. Therefore, we are delighted to invite you to publish your work in our journal, entitled Global Finance Review. We also hope that you can join our Editorial Board . . . 

The article that so piqued the respondent’s interest was an obituary for a much-loved younger colleague. His research had nothing whatever to do with finance. The invitation comes from a bot, not a human being.

Another, more serious problem, in Staddon’s opinion is that peer review tends to favor established views in science, at the expense of unconventional ones. He continues:

The tougher problem is that journal reviewers may reinforce a kind of scientific establishment. In a Times Higher Ed article titled “Scientific Peer Review: an Ineffective and Unworthy Institution” the authors comment:

[P]eer review is self-evidently useful in protecting established paradigms and disadvantaging challenges to entrenched scientific authority . . . by controlling access to publication in the most prestigious [peer review] journals helps to maintain the clearly recognised hierarchies of journals, of researchers, and of universities and research institutes.

Undoubtedly, advocates of an established paradigm have an edge in gaining access to a prestigious journal. Proponents of intelligent design will certainly encounter resistance if they try to publish in Evolution, for example. If most scientists believe “X” to be true, it will take a lot to convince them of “not-X”. This is inevitable, but perhaps the process has gone too far?”

A good illustration of the problem (although Staddon doesn’t mention it), is environmental science, where the entrenched view is that we face imminent disaster and must act. Researchers who don’t follow that line will have a very hard time getting published.

In a follow-up piece Friday, Staddon will go into ideas for reform.


No News in Republican and Democratic Views of Israel

A recent Pew opinion survey showing 79 percent sympathy for Israel over the Palestinians among Republicans versus 27 percent among Democrats has aroused a furor in pro-Israel circles. But this sort of ratio has been around through the 21st century with little change.

By way of proof, note the 13 opinion surveys I collected between 2002 and 2018 at a blog titled “Republicans and Democrats Look at the Arab-Israeli Conflict.” Arraying the surveys together (carefully done by my researcher, Delaney Yonchek), one finds that attitudes remaining consistent within specific bands. Favorable Republican attitudes to Israel range between 59 and 84 percent, averaging 73 percent. Favorable Democrats attitudes range between 24 and 64 percent, averaging 44 percent.

Yes, the 2018 Pew poll does show a wider gap than ever (52 percent) but Republican pro-Israel sentiments have been higher and Democratic pro-Israel views have been lower, so it’s well within the 16-year range.

In other words, there is no dramatic shift in outlooks. The pattern of far more positive Republican and less positive Democratic attitudes has been in place for many years. Nothing has happened of late to suggest this pattern will end. Obama and Trump have both done their part to confirm this trend.

It’s also worth a look at attitudes toward the Palestinians. Republican sympathy toward them is vanishingly small, from 1 to 16 percent, with an average of 8 percent. Democratic favor ranges from 9 to 27 percent, averaging 18 percent — not exactly a huge number.

Assuming the two parties have about the same number of supporters, ignoring Independents, and averaging their totals, one gets 59 percent of party members favorable to Israel and 13 percent favorable to the Palestinians, a 4.5 to 1 ratio. That in turn fits the average over the decades as established by the Gallup poll.

I’d say Israel stands in good stead in the United States. Yes, it could undergo a collapse of support such as happened in Europe in the aftermath of the Venice Declaration of 1980, but so long as conservative support remains consistent, this remains a distant prospect.

Politics & Policy

Donald Trump
Trump Honors North Korean Defector in Powerful State of the Union Moment

During last night’s State of the Union address, President Trump highlighted the inspiring stories of several individuals, one of whom was a man who defected from North Korea, Ji Seong-ho.

As a boy, Ji was run over by train as he tried to collect coal for his struggling family. He endured multiple amputations, and his siblings ate dirt so that he could have their allotment of food as he recovered.

Later, after a brief trip to China, Ji was tortured by North Korean authorities wanting to know if he had met any Christians. “He had,” Trump said, “and he resolved, after that, to be free.” Ji traveled thousands of miles on crutches, across China and southeast Asia, to freedom. Ji now lives in Seoul, where he works to rescue other defectors.

“Today, he has a new leg,” the president added. “But Seong-ho, I understand you still keep those old crutches, as a reminder of how far you’ve come.”

As everyone in the chamber stood to applaud, Ji launched himself to his feet and hoisted his crutches over his head like a trophy. Here is a video of the powerful moment, via CNN:

Politics & Policy

Can Trump Turn Both Ways on a Dime?

Alexandra notes that, per CBS, Trump’s speech last night seems to have been a hit:

A full 97 percent of Republicans approved of the speech, as did 72 percent of independents and 43 percent of Democrats. The positive rating from independents is a good indication that Trump’s address succeeded in striking a bipartisan, unifying tone. Sixty-five percent of viewers said the speech made them feel proud . . .

This, I think, is remarkable. Since he became president, Trump’s approval numbers have been poor, and his opponents have been energized. Moreover, the one major piece of legislation he’s signed — an overhaul of the tax system — has polled terribly. Despite all this, the president didn’t seem to have too far to travel last night in order to achieve good notices. Given the ongoing Russia investigation; the sharp criticism he receives — both warranted and unwarranted; and his peculiar penchant for blowing himself up over trivialities, I’d have expected to see these sorts of numbers only after a long series of uninterrupted good steps. Instead, he seemed capable of turning on a dime. Is that normal? One wonders what sort of sustained rehab Nancy Pelosi would have to undergo before almost half of the Republican party approved of a major speech.

Perhaps this was a fluke. But if it was not, there are obvious implications here — including for 2020. One is that the majority of the American public does not seem to have written Trump off as an irredeemable mistake, or to have stopped listening to the content of his appeals. Another — and it’s related to the first — is that voters seems to be engaging in at least some compartmentalization. For a while now, it has been correctly observed that whatever good Trump does himself on a Monday, he’ll have undone by Wednesday afternoon. But could it also be true that whatever bad he did on the Wednesday can itself be undone by the Friday? Is he an Etch-a-Sketch? 

Politics & Policy

Donald Trump
CBS Poll: Three-Quarters of Viewers Approve of Trump’s State of the Union Address

A CBS News poll found that three-quarters of Americans who watched President Trump’s State of the Union yesterday approved of the address. Eight out of ten viewers said they felt the speech was trying to unite rather than divide the country.

A full 97 percent of Republicans approved of the speech, as did 72 percent of independents and 43 percent of Democrats. The positive rating from independents is a good indication that Trump’s address succeeded in striking a bipartisan, unifying tone.

Sixty-five percent of viewers said the speech made them feel proud, and another 35 percent said they felt safer, while just 14 percent felt scared and 21 percent felt angry.

Interestingly, 72 percent of respondents said they favor the immigration proposals Trump made in his speech, the section of his remarks that were most policy-specific.

A greater share of Republicans watched the speech last night (42 percent) compared to the 25 percent of viewers who identified as Democrats and 33 percent who called themselves independents.

Politics & Policy

Trump and the State of the Union

From my most recent NRO article, about President Trump after his strong State of the Union address: “The Democrats, having set out to impeach Donald Trump and having almost destroyed the Clintons instead, must be almost ready for a modicum of cooperation, as the government-shutdown farce indicated. The media will cool out, and the world will see America more clearly. Chaos is receding rather than rising. Neither side will send the other to prison and neither should aspire to do that.”

Whether you agree or disagree, your comments are, as always, most welcome.

Politics & Policy

Joe Kennedy III and America’s Long Overdue Reckoning About His Family

From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Joe Kennedy III and America’s Long Overdue Reckoning About His Family

There’s a wide chasm between how Democrats perceive the Kennedys and the actual truth, and it’s not petty to keep pointing out that gap. There’s a stack of evidence showing that a lot of the Kennedys were horrible, selfish, abusive people who were somehow stage-managed and airbrushed into secular saints. The list of scandals runs generations, from lobotomizing Rosemary Kennedy, to JFK making Jackie get electroshock treatments, to the multiple allegations against William Kennedy Smith, to Patrick Kennedy driving under the influence. And of course, Chappaquiddick.

By Kennedy standards, Congressman Joe Kennedy III is an accomplished 37-year-old: Stanford and Harvard Law, two years in the Peace Corps, several years as an assistant district attorney. Defying his family stereotype, he doesn’t drink. But let’s not kid ourselves; if his name was Joe Smith and his family wasn’t an icon in American politics, he would have had a much tougher time winning a Democratic Congressional primary in Massachusetts at age 32.

That’s why there’s a good reason to cringe when Joe Kennedy III, grandson of Bobby Kennedy and great-nephew of John F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy, stands before the nation giving the Democratic response to the State of the Union Address and laments “a system forcefully rigged towards those at the top.”

Last night, the congressman contended, “The [administration’s] record is a rebuke to our highest American ideal, the belief that we are all worthy, that we are all equal, that we all count, in the eyes of our law and our leaders, our God and our government.”

The Kennedy family spent the better part of two generations fighting for equality in the eyes of the law for everyone not named Kennedy. As a review of the forthcoming film Chappaquiddick declared, “The fact that the Kennedy family — the original postwar dynasty of the one percent — possessed, and exerted, the influence to squash the case is the essence of what Chappaquiddick means. The Kennedys lived outside the law.”

Let us also acknowledge that when someone from a clan that has been touted as “America’s Royal Family” since at least 1962 sings the praises for equality… it rings hollow.

Joe Kennedy III may be an absolute gentleman with women and I hope he is. But when he salutes America’s women for “bravely saying, ‘me too,’” some of us can only think of John F. Kennedy bedding 19-year-old White House interns and Ted Kennedy making a “waitress sandwich” with Chris Dodd. For a long time, the Kennedy men embodied everything that #MeToo opposes. Some people may object to this point, declaring it unfair to hold past generations’ sins against the Congressman. Of course, if his name was Smith or Jones, would he be giving the response to the State of the Union? Last night Democrats wanted to cash in on the benefits of the family legacy without acknowledging the dark side of that legacy.

Politics & Policy

Trump Ignores Biotech Gorilla in Room

As far as I was concerned, the SOTU speech was a huge success–as far as it went. But I am worried that the president and his administration continue to ignore  the distinct promise and dire threat humanity faces from onrushing biotechnological research. Consider:

  • Scientists have invented a gene editing technique known as CRISPR that allows the easy genetic alteration of any cell or life form on the planet. This technology could be used to prevent horrible human diseases such as Huntington’s or genetically engineer our progeny down the generations. It could help create more sustainable crops or, in the hands of terrorists, unleash an altered viral pandemic against which we would have no immunity. CRISPR is the most powerful technology since we learned to split the atom.

  • Scientists are busily learning how to clone human life. A recent experiment resulted in the birth of two healthy monkey clones. Humans may not be far behind. At stake is whether human beings will be created asexually to be destroyed in research or born as a means of custom ordered procreation.

  • Biotechnologists are experimenting with creating “three-parent” children.

  • Scientists are learning how to create synthetic life with no relationship to Creation or evolution. 

  • Scientists are developing artificial wombs that could be used to save fetuses from miscarriage or gestate cloned fetuses for experimentation or organ harvesting. Researchers have awfully conducted research on living human fetuses before with government funding. We need to make sure that such actions never happen again.

And yet, there is very little indication from the administration that it is even thinking about these portentous issues, much less readying itself to focus the world’s concentrated attention on how to best pursue polices aimed at promoting a biotech century that is both beneficent and benign.

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