Friday, July 21, 2017

Cruising the Web

Gosh, did the media really need to spend a day focused on O.J. Simpson's parole hearing? Haven't we devoted enough space in our brains with him?

With all the issues and problems facing the Trump administration, the President thought it would be a good idea to give an interview to the NYT criticizing Jeff Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Trump can't stop himself from his stream-of-consciousness airing of his grievances no matter what the impact. Does he think that trashing Sessions will help Trump get done any of the things that he wants to get done? Jim Geraghty expresses how crazy all this is.
It goes without saying that not a single adviser to President Trump would urge him to publicly criticize his own attorney general like this, and they would probably tell him that there’s no benefit to expressing this kind of frustration publicly. Sessions can’t undo the recusal decision, there’s no indication that Sessions thinks he made a mistake in that decision, and this can only lead to two things: more whispers that Sessions’ days are numbered as attorney general because the president doesn’t have faith in his judgment — as longtime Trump associate Roger Stone is telling reporters now — or Sessions deciding he’s had enough of it and resigning.

Sessions’ departure would set up another headache for an administration that’s already full of them, and just add to the narrative that the Trump White House simply cannot govern. It’s worth thinking back to all of the political capital expended to get Sessions confirmed back in February. Replacing Sessions could prove more difficult than the White House expects; if Trump is going to publicly rip his attorney general over every decision he doesn’t like, who in their right mind would want the job?

Oh, and if the “failing” New York Times is always full of “fake news,” why is President Trump giving them an exclusive interview that lasts 50 minutes?

If he is going to criticize Sessions for anything it should be for Sessions' support for civil asset-forfeiture by which police can confiscate a person's property after that person is charged with a crime and not even convicted.
The process is called “civil asset forfeiture,” and here’s how it works. To borrow from real-life fact patterns from other cases, imagine that you’re driving through an unfamiliar town in my borrowed truck. You’ve got out-of-state license plates, you’re a little bit lost and confused, and you’re carrying an unusual amount of cash. You’re driving to pick up a couch you’ve purchased on Craigslist, but you think you put the wrong address in your phone.

The neighborhood is a little seedy, you’re driving slowly, and soon you see the blue lights behind you. According to the sheriff’s deputy, you’ve been driving “suspiciously” in a “known open-air drug market.” The deputy conducts a search and finds your cash. He’s unimpressed with your explanation, and within a few minutes, a police dog “alerts” that there are trace amounts of cocaine on your money. You’re incredulous. You’ve never even seen cocaine much less snorted it or paid for it. You have no idea that large amounts of currency in common circulation contain traces of coke.

The officer next informs you that he’s got “probable cause” to believe that both the cash and the truck were being used for the purchase and transportation of drugs, and he’s seizing both. Come to think of it, he realizes that you probably used your cell phone to set up the alleged transaction, so he’s going to take that also. He lets you make a call to get a cab, and he gives you a few extra minutes to call me, to tell me that his cash and my beautiful full-size pickup are now in the hands of first the Smith County Sheriff’s office and then the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.

No problem, right? This is just an inconvenience, right? Neither of us did anything wrong, we committed no crimes, and there is no way that the prosecutor can possibly prove criminality beyond a reasonable doubt. In fact, neither my friend nor I is ever charged.

What happens next, however, is beyond strange. The government sues my truck, and in the case of United States vs. Cool, Slate-Gray Toyota Tundra, it only has to prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” that it was used in the commission of a criminal act. Oh, and did I mention that if the government can “prove” that my truck was used unlawfully, then the sheriff’s department (or whatever agency took the vehicle) can sell it and use the proceeds to pad their department’s budget?

That is civil asset forfeiture. It’s a gigantic law-enforcement scam (in 2014 the government took more money from citizens than burglars stole from crime victims), and it’s a constitutional atrocity. It’s a constitutional atrocity that Donald Trump’s Department of Justice just expanded.
This is a mind-boggling situation and it's hard to believe that this has been found constitutional by the Supreme Court. And Sessions just allowed a program allowing states to seize property and then transfer it to the federal government which shares the value of the objects with the state agency. Talk about perverted incentives for the government to infringe on citizens' rights. David French examines the constitutional history of civil-asset forfeiture which the Supreme Court has based on colonial law. He concludes,
A Department of Justice inspector general report found that “almost half of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s seizures in a random sample weren’t tied to any broader law-enforcement purpose.” That’s unacceptable, it’s unconstitutional, and it’s crying out for meaningful legal reform.

When I'm covering the American Revolution with my classes, I give them excerpts from the 1764 Sugar Act and we cover how the law allowed for an accused smuggler's ship to be seized and then brought to a vice admiralty court such as the one in Halifax where the accused had to pay for any witnesses brought up for his defense. The vice admiralty courts were military courts and so there was no jury trial. If the verdict went against the claimant, the value of the goods would be split by thirds with the royal governor, the commander of the vessel who seized the ship or property, and the person who laid information leiding the seizure. And, even if the accused won the trial, if there were probable cause to bring the accusations, the claimant would not be reimbursed for the costs of fighting his claim up in Halifax or the costs incurred while his shep was being held, or for the costs of any damages. I give my students excerpts of these provisions and have them count up all the due process violations that we're used to now which are being denied in this law so they can understand why, in addition to the principle of taxation, why this law so angered the colonists.

Now think of how civil forfeiture works today. We should be working to outlaw such behavior by the police and federal officials instead of expanding it. But of course, this is not what Donald Trump cares about. Instead, he's more focused on whether or not Sessions didn't do enough to stave off the independent prosecutor investigation of all the allegations concerning Russia. Because all Trump cares about is himself.

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In contrast to Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos in interested in protecting the civil rights of the accused as she seeks to ensure that those university students accused of sexual assault or rape still receive due-process rights. Obama's administration had basically pressured colleges and universities to limit those rights by threatening to deny them federal funds under a new definition of TItle IX.
Up to now, the OCR mandate that has attracted the most attention is the one letting colleges use the lowest standard of proof (preponderance of the evidence) in campus sexual-assault cases, even as the schools remain free to use a higher standard (beyond a reasonable doubt) for students accused of trivial offenses, such as petty vandalism. But other OCR stipulations, such as its 2014 assertion that allowing cross-examination of accusers “may perpetuate a hostile environment”—thereby violating Title IX protections—have had an even stronger negative effect. Fearful of negative media or OCR investigations, colleges have scrambled to create disciplinary systems in which students accused of sexual assault are presumed guilty and denied the tools to prove their innocence. As a California appellate judge remarked during oral argument in a due-process lawsuit: “When I . . . finished reading all the briefs in this case, my comment was, ‘Where’s the kangaroo?’”
George Mason University law professor David Bernstein recently noted that, despite the Obama administration’s reading of the statute, “Title IX itself doesn’t actually speak to specific procedural protections.” More broadly, according to Bernstein, it requires an “aggressive interpretation of Title IX to think it speaks to student-on-student sexual assault at all.” (The interpretation, which made sexual assaults the only felonies that colleges are legally required to adjudicate, dates from a Clinton-era OCR regulation.) But it has become an article of faith among accusers’-rights organizations—joined by Democratic and even some Republican legislators—that any shift in the Obama policies would suggest tolerance of campus rape.
OF course, there are those on left who are furious that DeVos wants to protect the due process rights of the accused.
In higher ed these days, it’s taboo to admit that current Title IX tribunals are tipped in favor of the accuser. A recent article in the Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities even argued that demanding due process for accused students is a form of rape-culture propaganda that “exclude[s] victims and their advocates from having a voice in the discussion.”

Sexual assault charges deserve to be investigated, but liberal academia is using Title IX to silence ideological opponents, often complaining that peaceful dissent constitutes actionable harassment on the basis of gender or sexual orientation. Mrs. DeVos is right to revisit the Obama-era guidance that has turned the law into an ideological weapon, and part of that is learning from its victims.
Why are college students accused of sexual assault the only accused who should be denied the rights of due process? WHy is this the only crime that university officials can investigate and prosecute instead of the police and district attorneys who investigate all other crimes? WHy don't liberals care about these young men's rights when they will rise in outrage for the rights of a suspected terrorist?

Ashe Schow writes
about how some on the left are trying to argue that anyone who cares about the due-process rights of the accused is actually in favor of rape or sexual assault. This is how bizarre things have become.
A good way to tell if the Left currently believes one of their beloved policies will disappear is how viciously they write about the potential change. In this case, they’re trying to smear people who believe those accused of heinous crimes should be able to defend themselves as somehow supporting the heinous crime. That is where we are in society.

On college campuses, students (mostly male, but sometimes female) can be accused of sexual assault and receive no effective due process, no promise of a fair trial in which they are allowed to defend themselves and present evidence to exonerate themselves. This is a basic tenet of a just society. Yet activists who support these policies insist America’s college campuses are more dangerous than war-torn countries in Africa regarding rape and sexual assault. They say this issue is so pervasive, we need to cut down on constitutional protections for those accused of these terrible crimes when the accusation happens on a college campus, because they’re most definitely guilty.

It’s an affront to our justice system, and bad for assault victims, who deserve their day in court and to not have the justice process politicized. Yet anyone who disagrees with campus activists and believes we should give the accused a chance to defend themselves rather than instantly labeling them a rapist for life get accused of being pro-rape.
Really? Does that argument mean that advocates who argued that Gitmo detainees should get due process rights are themselves in favor of terrorism?

Joy Pullman explains why the definition of rape counts and why it is so wrong for those on the left to expand the definition of sexual assault to any unwantewd sexual advance.

At the very least, university administrators should be concerned about the numbers of lawsuits that they've lost when students who were denied their rights sue for damages.
Let’s be very clear. Rape is a heinous crime. I would countenance the death penalty for convicted rapists, as well as castration. But forcible penetration is simply not the same thing as, say, “He kissed me and I didn’t want him to,” or “I thought I wanted to have sex at the time, but I was drunk then and after I was sober knew that had been a terrible decision.” Primarily, that’s because neither of these scenarios includes forced sex, which is the definition of rape. Secondarily, there are further reasons.

.... Every sane person realizes that an unwanted kiss, while unpleasant and objectionable, is simply not the same as a man holding you down while forcing himself inside you.

When both parties are drunk, it’s also unfair to blame either one for a sexual encounter that later one or both decide was a poor decision. At the time, they agreed, or thought they both agreed, and you simply can’t erase history. It’s not fair to consent to an interaction then, once that interaction is completed, attempt to change its terms. What’s done is done. The person who attempts to change the terms after the fact is attempting to cheat the other. “Please note that this makes anyone who’s ever had sex a potential rapist,” Kipnis also notes.

Definitions matter because a rapist deserves to face serious and lifelong consequences for his or her crime. But it is horribly unjust to give these same serious, lifelong consequences to someone who has not committed this crime. Expanding the definition necessarily dilutes the punishments applied to those who fit in this category, because it is obviously unjust (to all but moral knuckle-draggers) to apply the same punishment to a groper and to a rapist. The more people are called and judged as rapists whose offenses do not fit that term, the less rape victims will be able to secure justice.

This is precisely what we see in campus tribunals. The worst a college can do to an offending student is expel him with a black mark on his record. Is that really a just punishment for a rapist? Hell, no! What kind of misogynist thinks such a degrading, trivializing thing about a woman’s virtue? A rapist deserves far worse than having to now get through community college to move on with his life. Campus courts simply cannot provide justice for victims, and it’s utterly insulting to say that getting one’s attacker expelled is a fitting consequence for a crime of this magnitude.

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Mayor de Blasio continues his despicable governance of New York City. Roger Clegg reports on de Blasio's urging that museums have a quota in hiring minorities. Somehow, de Blasio doesn't know that numerical quotas are unconstitutional.
New York City mayor Bill de Blasio wants to coerce museums and arts groups that receive city money into using hiring quotas based on race and ethnicity, according to the New York Times. But it would be illegal for employers to give into this pressure, because Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act forbids such discrimination.

Federal statute aside, it is unconstitutional for the city to engage in such pressuring. Any use of racial and ethnic classifications is “presumptively invalid” and triggers “strict scrutiny,” which can be met only if, for starters, there is a “compelling” government interest. The courts have recognized no such interest in the context here.

And no such interest is cited in the news story, just a claim by an official that hiring by skin color and national origin will lead to a “cultural sector” that “is fairer, more equitable and looks like the city it serves.” That, Justice Powell wrote many years ago, is just “discrimination for its own sake. This the Constitution forbids.”

The WSJ explains
how California's Medicaid's program, Medi-Cal, shows us what dangers the federal government risks in expanding Medicaid. Despite expanding the numbers of of able-bodied adults of working age, the state's program hasn't achieved its goals.
If ObamaCare’s expansion of Medicaid were measured merely by growth in enrollment and spending, California’s Medi-Cal program would rank as a huge success. Since 2012, Medi-Cal has added six million beneficiaries, primarily able-bodied adults of working age. Covering them last year brought California nearly $20 billion in additional federal funds. If Medi-Cal were a state, its population of 14 million would make it the fifth-largest in the U.S. The program’s $103 billion budget is about three times the size of Illinois’s general fund.

But despite the surge in enrollment and spending—or perhaps because of it—Medi-Cal has failed to fulfill its stated goal of improving health-care access for the indigent and disabled. A recent report from the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury highlighted the conundrum many of the state’s Medicaid enrollees face: “You’ve Got Medi-Cal, but Can You Get Medical Care?”

By extending Medi-Cal to younger, healthier people—many of whom could be better served by the kind of bare-bones private insurance that ObamaCare outlawed—California has made it harder for those who most need low-cost care to get it.

Medicaid operates as an open-ended entitlement, meaning the federal government covers a predetermined share of state spending, regardless of the total cost. Traditionally, the feds have matched California’s outlays dollar for dollar. States where the per capita income is lower receive a more generous match. Nevada, for example, receives about two federal dollars for each one it spends.

ObamaCare encouraged states to expand Medicaid so that it covers people with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty line—in other words, up to $16,400 for an individual. After the Supreme Court struck down ObamaCare’s mandated expansion, the federal government induced states to sign up by initially assuming 100% of the cost for these people. That will slip to 90% in 2020, though it’s still a bargain for most states.

Imagine if Amazon gave you money back whenever you bought things on its site—and you got more money back the more you spent: You’d buy things you don’t need, and things that might be purchased for less elsewhere. That’s what has happened, in effect, with Medi-Cal, which covers everything from acupuncture to chiropractic care to vision.

But good luck getting a doctor’s appointment. Last week a group of Medi-Cal beneficiaries sued the state for creating “a separate and unequal system of healthcare, one for the insurance program with the largest proportion of Latinos (Medi-Cal), and one for the other principal insurance plans, whose recipients are disproportionately white.” One plaintiff had her gallbladder removed in Mexico after she spent more than a year trying to find a surgeon who would treat her. The doctor in Mexico had warned she was at risk of death if she put off the surgery, so her family paid for it out of pocket.

The problem is that Medi-Cal reimburses providers at between a third to half of the rate that private insurers pay. Doctors complain they lose money on each Medi-Cal patient they see. That’s why only 55% of primary-care physicians accept new Medi-Cal patients, according to a recent study from the California Health Care Foundation. When physicians were asked why they cap the number of Medi-Cal patients they see, 78% cited the program’s low payments.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Cruising the Web

Sorry for not getting to blogging yesterday. I was traveling back from the workshop I'd been taking sponsored by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. THe most valuable part of the seminars were having the opportunity to meet people who told us their stories of growing up under communism. I linked the other day to the story of the young man who escaped from North Korea as a teenager. On Monday we heard from a woman who grew up in communist Albania. Her grandfather had opposed the communists when they took power. As a result, he was labeled an opponent of the state and all his property was confiscated; he and his family were sent away to a small village to work as farmers. She and her siblings were not allowed to have an education beyond the eighth grade because the penalty for being labeled was that three generations of his family wouldn't be allowed further education. Imagine yearning for an education and being denied one because of your grandfather's political opinions.

On Tuesday, we were privileged to hear from Enrique Altimari, a former student leader of pro-democracy movements opposed to Maduro's government. He has had to leave Venezuela out of fear of arrest and is now studying at Oxford while working to gain support for opposing Maduro's efforts to outlaw opposition parties and checks and balances within the government. He talked to us about the conditions approaching famine that exist in Venezuela today as the government has ground the economy into the dust and can't compensate in bribing citizens for their support due to the falling prices of oil. He talked about the bravery of the seven million people who came out to vote in a plebiscite of opposition to the Maduro government despite the government's threat to arrest those who turned out to vote their opposition to Maduro's plans to rewrite their constitution.
The symbolic plebiscite was aimed at denting Maduro's legitimacy further amid a crippling economic crisis that has left millions struggling to eat and months of anti-government unrest that has killed nearly 100 people.

Opposition leaders hailed it as a success, while also mourning the death of one woman killed by gunmen in Caracas during the voting.

"Today, July 16, dignity won and tyranny lost," said opposition leader Maria Corina Machado. "We have given an indisputable mandate for a new Venezuela starting tomorrow."

Maduro, 54, dismissed Sunday's poll as unconstitutional and is campaigning instead for a July 30 vote to create a legislative superbody that would have the power to rewrite the constitution and dissolve state institutions.
Consider the bravery of citizens willing to risk prison or violence in order to register a purely symbolic vote.

Mary Anastasia O'Grady explains
how, despite overwhelming opposition to Maduro's government, he still maintains power. He is being propped up by the Cubans.
To keep its hold on Venezuela, Cuba has embedded a Soviet-style security apparatus. In a July 13 column, titled “Cubazuela” for the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba website, Roberto Álvarez Quiñones reported that in Venezuela today there are almost 50 high-ranking Cuban military officers, 4,500 Cuban soldiers in nine battalions, and “34,000 doctors and health professionals with orders to defend the tyranny with arms.” Cuba’s interior ministry provides Mr. Maduro’s personal security ligence and counterintelligence services.”

Every Venezuelan armed-forces commander has at least one Cuban minder, if not more, a source close to the military told me. Soldiers complain that if they so much as mention regime shortcomings over a beer at a bar, their superiors know about it the next day. On July 6 Reuters reported that since the beginning of April “nearly 30 members of the military have been detained for deserting or abandoning their post and almost 40 for rebellion, treason, or insubordination.”

The idea of using civilian thugs to beat up Venezuelan protesters comes from Havana, as Cuban-born author Carlos Alberto Montaner explained in a recent El Nuevo Herald column, “Venezuela at the Edge of the Abyss.” Castro used them in the 1950s, when he was opposing Batista, to intimidate his allies who didn’t agree with his strategy. Today in Cuba they remain standard far e to carry out “acts of repudiation” against dissidents.
Our speaker referred to his country not as version 2.0 of communist government, but as version 98.0, and challenged us to ask when the world will recognize how each version of communist government always descends into violent denials of human rights. I wonder how those celebrities who flocked to Caracas to express their admiration and friendship for Hugo Chavez such as Sean Penn, Oliver Stone, Danny Glover, Susan Sarandon, Benicio del Toro, and Kevin Spacey defend the situation in Venezuela today. And why are they never asked to defend their cozying up to the dictator whose policies led to the impoverishment of what used to be one of the wealthiest countries in Latin America.

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Somehow, western supporters of socialism never seem to answer for what socialist governments have wrought throughout the world. Even today, Manchester is erecting a Soviet-era monument to Friedrich Engels.
ince 2015, the signs and symbols of the former communist era have been outlawed in Ukraine. Statues and murals are supposed to be removed and destroyed, and streets renamed. “But a lot of towns don’t know what to do with the sculptures. There’s no rationale for what to do with these icons or monuments, or what method of destruction to use,” says Collins. Sometimes the statues are left in a strange limbo – removed from their old spots, but left to moulder quietly out of the public gaze – for who knows whether one day they will be needed again?
Sounds rather like the "ash heap of history," eh?
Andrew Stuttaford posts some Engels quotes that Giles Udy, author of
Labour And The Gulag: Russia and the Seduction of the British Left, about how Britain's Labour Party has ignored and excused the violence and horrors of communism governments as if such results are totally unrelated to the ideology of socialism, has been tweeting.
[S]uch offensive, vulgar, democratic arguments! To denigrate violence as something to be rejected, when we all know that in the end nothing can be achieved without violence!”

This is our calling, that we shall become the templars of this Grail, gird the sword round our loins for its sake and stake our lives joyfully in the last, holy war which will be followed by the thousand-year reign of freedom.

We discovered that in connection with these figures the German national simpletons and money-grubbers of the Frankfurt parliamentary swamp always counted as Germans the Polish Jews as well, although this dirtiest of all races, neither by its jargon nor by its descent, but at most only through its lust for profit, could have any relation of kinship with Frankfurt.

We have no compassion and we ask no compassion from you. When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror.

[General war will] wipe out all these trash nations [a harsh, but reasonably accurate translation of Völkerabfälle, the term Engels used] down to their very names. The next world war will result in the disappearance from the face of the earth not only of reactionary classes and dynasties, but also of entire reactionary peoples. And that, too, is a step forward.”
Yup, that's the sort of man that Manchester should want honored in their city.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Cruising the Web

Today is the two-hundred year anniversary of Jane Austen's death. She's enjoyed such a resurgence in popularity in our lifetimes that it's hard to remember how she lived and died in obscurity. Her life was a simple one with her friends and family. But, unfortunately, modern biographers are determined to turn her into a modern radical women's activist, as sort of literary Mary Wollstonecraft, even though she was nothing of the sort. Robert Garnett writes about this recent tendency among critics and biographers to create an entirely new Austen more to their political liking despite a total lack of evidence for their arguments.
Rather than betray alienation, her surviving correspondence—mostly to Cassandra—talks of fabrics, caps and pelisses (a type of woman’s cloak); social calls, dinners, and balls; the weather; her mother’s health; and people—often dozens of names. In her 30s, she remarked of a ball: “It was the same room in which we danced 15 years ago!—I thought it all over—& inspite of the shame of being so much older, felt with Thankfulness that I was quite as happy now as then.”

Austen’s assumptions were old-fashioned Tory, her political interests slight. Her novels dramatize not social ills, but individual failings: vanity, greed, pride, selfishness, arrogance, folly. For all her humor and wit, she was a rigorous moralist. Adult life demanded adult behavior: self-awareness, propriety, kindness, good sense. The admirable Colonel Brandon of “Sense and Sensibility” is described as “undoubtedly a sensible man, and in his manners perfectly the gentleman.” Listening to the chatter of a fatuous fop, the heroine Elinor “agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.”

Though making extended visits to London and living for several years in Bath and Southhampton, Austen, like her character Marianne Dashwood, “sighed for the air, the liberty, the quiet of the country.” Yet the world she knew—“three or four Families in a Country Village,” as she puts it in one letter—offered more than enough of human character, high and low, to constitute a moral microcosm. Urged to aim higher, to write a serious historical romance, she replied firmly: “No—I must keep to my own style & go on in my own way.”

That was enough for Austen, and for 200 years it has been enough for readers. But a book out this past May, “Jane Austen, the Secret Radical” reveals that her novels “deal with slavery, sexual abuse, land enclosure, evolution, and women’s rights.” The evidence? “I offer flashes of an imaginary Jane Austen,” the critic admits, “glimpses of what the authoress might have been thinking.”

What might she be thinking today of her rebirth as a discontented oracle bristling with progressive opinions? Out of politeness to the literary theorists, she might adapt a line she used on her sister. “I will not say that your Mulberry trees are dead,” she once told Cassandra, “but I am afraid they are not alive.”
The idea that a literary critic would brag about discussing "an imaginary Jane Austen" indicates how baseless her theory is. But why should that matter. She likes Austen's novels; she's a radical; ergo Austen must have been one also. Evidence can be imaginary since the theory itself is what matters. It resembles a lot of liberal policy proposals - the intent is good, therefore the policy is admirable - forget the unintended consequences of a hiked minimum wage, universal healthcare, or peace with Iran.

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It is so very disappointing that the GOP Senate couldn't come to a compromise on repealing and replacing Obamacare. It's just as we suspected when it was first passed - that it would be close to impossible to repeal an entitlement once people adapted to it. I just wish that these politicians would realize that the choice wasn't between the Senate bill and some Platonic ideal of a health reform package, but between the bill and maintaining the mess that Obamacare has made of our system. Too often people seem to make the perfect the enemy of the good. These senators voted in December 2015 to repeal and replace Obamacare when they knew it was a meaningless vote and Obama would veto it. Now that it is meaningful, they suddenly don't care as much. They had seven years to come up with a bill. Now they have to face voters and go all Emily Litella on their constituents.

Jim Geraghty covers
how predictable politics are these days. He really nails it.
At some point, either today or in the coming days, President Trump will tweet something that will shock and appall his critics, delight his fan base, and get re-tweeted tens of thousands of times. Trump will probably tweet out something is “sad!” or “Fake News” or “the lying media” or a particular media figure. Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski and their roundtable will shake their heads in consternation and stern disapproval. Scarborough will ask what happened to his party — er, his former party.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Sean Spicer will stand behind the lectern at the White House and repeat, over and over again, that she or he has not discussed that topic with the president yet. He or she will insist that the president’s tweet speaks for itself. White House correspondents will complain that they’re getting nothing useful or newsworthy out of these briefings. Then they will flip out at the suggestion that the briefings be ended or no longer be on camera....

House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) will declare that the latest revelation is “deeply troubling,” “extremely important,” “very significant,” and “profoundly disturbing,” and that he will want that person — whoever is in the news — to testify before the committee.

There will be a rumor that Senate Republicans will be close to a deal on health care. And then there will be rumors that they don’t have the votes. And then there will be talk that with just a few more tweaks, they could reach 51 votes, and that it should be done before the shortened August recess. Or right after.

At some point, liberals will gather in large numbers to protest the president, the administration, congressional Republicans, and the existence of the Right in general. They will give heated, angry speeches about how all of this must end. They will cheer and chant. And then they will go home, and someone else will pick up the litter they leave behind.

Some liberal pundit you’ve either never heard of or barely ever heard of before will write something that appears to endorse violence against Trump, his family, GOP congressional leaders, or conservatives in general. The liberal pundit will insist they never meant that, and that it was only a joke or only sarcasm. Conservatives will scream for that person’s firing; liberals will insist that a controversial political statement should not cost someone their job. Then a few weeks later, a conservative figure will do the same and most people will instantly reverse their positions.

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A new report makes
the future of Social Security looks even worse than thought.
The new report projects the same bleak future for Social Security as last year's report did. As of 2034, Social Security's trust fund, which is already full only of IOUs, will even run out of theoretical money. At that point, under current law, benefits would be scaled back to match whatever annual amount is being paid in through Social Security payroll taxes. And that amount will be significantly less than what today's taxpayers are expecting for tomorrow. Over a longer time frame of 75 years, the program is on pace to come up $12.5 trillion short of what beneficiaries expect to be paid.

The 2034 deadline might seem far away, but it isn't. The longer Congress waits to act on this, the more painful the eventual fix, or the wrenching failure will be. If Congress were to act immediately to cover the gap, it would either have to increase the rate of the regressive payroll tax by 22 percent, or reduce everyone's benefits by 17 percent. Either way, the heaviest relative burdens would fall on the poor. In the case of an employment tax hike, it would also sharply reduce low-wage employment opportunities, given that the tax makes up a larger share of the employer's labor cost.

Meanwhile, each year that passes, tax hikes or benefit cuts needed to put the program on stable long-term footing become more and more harsh.
George W. Bush tried to do something about Social Security after he won in 2004, but he was shot down by both parties. Paul Ryan is willing to tackle it, but there isn't enough support across the board, including from Trump, do tackle this. We can have blue ribbon commission after commission make recommendations, but there aren't enough politicians with the moral courage to bite the bullet and do what needs to be done.

What a way to run a school district! New York City is requiring principals hire teachers who have been placed in the Absent Teacher Reserve or, as it's commonly called, the "rubber rooms," for teachers who have been put on leave, but couldn't be fired because of their union contracts.
Some teachers are there because their last school closed. But trained, licensed teachers in ATR can apply for vacant positions in 1,700 other public schools. If a teacher can’t find another job in such a large system, there’s probably a good reason principals don’t want him.

Three years ago schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña vowed “there will be no forced placement of staff.” But now she would effectively mandate that schools take teachers they initially rejected. This includes teachers who end up in ATR because they drink too much, have abused students, or for some other misconduct that renders them unfit for the classroom.

The underlying problem is a tenure system that makes it all but impossible to fire teachers after they’ve spent four years on the job. Those suspended for misconduct continue to receive pay, pension contributions and benefits as disciplinary hearings stretch on and on, sometimes for years. Unions have the power each year to approve or reject the arbitrators who decide misconduct cases.

Under this rigged system, New York fired a mere 61 of its 78,000 teachers over a decade, the American Enterprise Institute found in 2014. Each teacher in ATR costs taxpayers about $100,000 a year, so no wonder many have declined the city’s $50,000 buyout offers.

The logical solution would be to make it easier to fire bad teachers, but Mayor Bill de Blasio is a wholly owned union subsidiary. Poor students will bear the real cost of his rubber-room rebound as their education suffers with a subpar teacher—or worse. No wonder tens of thousands of parents have put their children on waiting lists for charter schools that are free to hire and fire teachers on the merits, not by union diktat.
This is what happens when the teachers' unions have more sway in a school district than common sense or the good of the students. Forcing administrators to hire rejected teachers is more important than ensuring teacher quality in the classroom. I gave up tenure to teach at the charter school where I teach now. But one benefit of not having tenure is that, if a poor teacher is hired at my school, that teacher doesn't have tenure either and can be let go. Regular public schools don't have that flexibility.

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This is interesting. Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations has been looking into newly classified CIA documents to refute the commonly-held belief that the CIA during Eisenhower's administration were behind the coup that overthrew Iran's Mossadeq and stalled the shah. I know that that is what I had learned and what the textbooks all say. As Takeyh points out, modern Americans, particularly Democrats, have been apologizing for our role in the coup. The documents were just released and it seems that the US had a much more passive role than usually depicted.
Even before Western intelligence services devised plots against Mossadeq, his party the National Front started to crumble. The middle-class elements of the coalition, anxious about their declining economic fortunes, gradually looked for an alternative to the premier. The once-reliable intelligentsia and the professional classes were chafing under Mossadeq’s authoritarianism. A number of smaller political parties that had been associated with his movement were also contemplating their exit. Even more ominous, the armed forces, which had stayed quiet despite Mossadeq’s purges, grew vocal and began to participate in political intrigues.

Among Iran’s factions, the clergy would play the most curious role. As it has with most historical events, the Islamic Republic has whitewashed the role that the mullahs played in Mossadeq’s downfall....

As large landowners, the mullahs distrusted governments prone to carving out their property. As reactionaries, they disdained female equality in all its forms. And as guardians of tradition, they were averse to modernization of Iran’s educational sector.

Still, it was the mayhem on the streets rather than the National Front’s legislative goals that most disturbed the clerical class in the summer of 1953. They feared that continuing disorder would empower the Communist Tudeh party and might even lead to displacement of the monarchy by a radical leftist regime. The clerical oligarchs were comfortable with the deferential shah and soon began to shift their allegiances.
The new documents show that the clergy played a much bigger role than usually thought and the CIA only got involved once the anti-Mossadeq forces had already plotted a coup. The first attempt failed and a subsequent coup succeeded. Theodore Roosevelt's grandson Kermit Roosevelt was in Iran to oversee the plot and then wrote his memoirs and, apparently, exaggerated his own role.
That is the origin of the story that the CIA was responsible for overthrowing Mossadeq.
The purveyors of the traditional narrative of the coup chose to ignore all this and insist that despite the sour mood in Washington, Kermit Roosevelt persisted and eventually succeeded in overthrowing Mossadeq. This account is based largely on Roosevelt’s sensationalist book, Countercoup: The Struggle for Control of Iran. But the book is the product of Roosevelt’s exaggerated imagination and does much to embellish his role at the expense of describing the actual course of events. The fact is that the second—successful—coup was largely an Iranian initiative. The CIA station in Iran continued its reporting activities and was involved in disseminating the shah’s decree dismissing Mossadeq. But it is hardly a nefarious act to publicize a legal ruling by a monarch discharging his prime minister.
The released documents undermine a lot of Roosevelt's characterization of the coup. Read the whole story since you probably won't be seeing it in future histories of this period.

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I have been attending a workshop sponsored by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. It's been a very moving and depressing experience to learn about the tens of millions of people who suffered and died under communist regimes. The most moving moment was when they brought in Joseph Kim, a defector from North Korea to speak to us about his life. His TED talk about his experiences is below. His father died of starvation and his mother and sister had escaped into China where his mother had to sell his sister to a Chinese farmer to be married so she could survive. She came back to North Korea but was killed trying to cross the border again. That left Joseph as a 12-year old to live on the streets in North Korea begging and stealing food for four years. Then he decided to try to escape and succeeded in getting to China where he had to hide out for several months because China would send North Korean refugees back where they would assuredly be killed or sentence to a labor camp. But he found American missionaries in China who arranged for him to become a refugee to America where he was taken in by a foster family. He didn't know English and had only had a few years of elementary education in North Korea. But he worked hard to learn and went to college and is now in graduate school studying ethics and philosophy.

We hear about the conditions in North Korea, but hearing Joseph's experiences really personalized the everything and brought home what it means for children and families. It really made us all sense how extremely lucky we are here in this country.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Cruising the Web

What an amazing idea - letting Congress decide what a piece of legislation means. Betsy DeVos is going to ask Congress to clarify what Title IX means.
“There has been a lack of clarity,” DeVos told reporters Thursday afternoon. “This department is not going to make laws. It’s high time for Congress to look at a law that law that was passed in 1972 and address these issues and finally speak to them and clarify them."

This means she will defer to Congress to interpret and implement Title IX, an anti-sex discrimination statute passed by Congress in the 1970s—but reinterpreted by the Obama administration in repeated circumventions of Congress’s authority.

Title IX reads: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
The Obama Education Department used Title IX to say that "sex" in the statute included gender identity and so meant that schools had to allow students to use the bathrooms for the gender they identified with. The Obama administration also twisted the meaning of Title IX in order to back up their "Dear Colleague" letter on sexual assault.

What a charming change for a bureaucrat leader to defer to Congress to figure out what the words of a law mean instead of twisting the meaning to mean whatever the secretary would like it to mean.
But Secretary DeVos’s call on Congress to rein in interpretations of Title IX’s essential noun would deliver more meaningful results. Guidance documents enforced by former OCR head Catherine Lhamon and her predecessor under President Obama claimed to “clarify” Title IX’s true intent. But because they sidestepped the legislative process, and even the notice-and-comment required for agency rules, OCR’s old guidances aren’t law at all. They might have been politically motivated, ill-considered in the absence of a legislative process that would have scrutinized their effects; and counterproductive in practice. Fortunately, they’re also impermanent. DeVos’s call for Congress to assert its authority—over a law passed by Congress in 1972—shows she’s more serious about Title IX than her predecessor. She’s asking for a lasting solution to its abuses.

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John Hinderaker has a post
of recommendations from policy think tanks on how the President and Secretary of Health and Human Services, without Congress, could take executive actions to improve health care. Since so much of the Obamacare law gave discretion to the executive branch to determine how the law would be implemented, it just takes administrative action to improve it. For example,
Section 1332 of the ACA allows states to apply to the Secretary of HHS for a State Innovation Waiver from several of the law’s health coverage requirements. With so many state insurance markets imploding as a result of the ACA’s requirements, the ability to waive at least some of the requirements is a critical tool states need to save their markets. Unfortunately, guidance issued in December 2015, contrary to the text and intent of the ACA, severely curtails what states can waive. This guidance should be rescinded and replaced with new guidance that gives states meaningful tools to strengthen their crumbling health insurance markets.

Mexico is finding out the benefits of allowing more of a free market.
When Mexico gambled on ending decades of state control of its energy industry, officials said they hoped the move would promote investment and give the country access to technical expertise. That wager now appears to be paying off.

The government began auctioning off rights two years ago to drill in parts of the Gulf of Mexico. On Tuesday, an international consortium of energy companies said they had discovered a large oil field, and another firm said it had discovered more oil than expected in a separate area.

The overhaul of the Mexican oil and gas sector in recent years eventually ended the state energy company’s seven-decade domestic monopoly on exploration and production. The aim was to arrest years of declining oil output, blamed on a slow-moving public sector that lacked the technology to exploit opportunities in deep-sea drilling, or shale oil and gas.

The two announcements on Tuesday appeared to suggest that Mexico’s strategy, which was met with criticism when it was first pushed through, was succeeding.

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Kay S. Hymowitz writes about
efforts by liberals to help Democrats get beyond their problems dealing with "deplorables." It's a tough sell.
These writers are engaging in healthy critical self-reflection, but in the course of describing the Democrats’ class dilemma, the liberal truth-tellers unwittingly show why a solution lies out of reach. They understate Democrats’ entanglement with the identity-politics Left, a group devoted to a narrative of American iniquity. Identity politics appeals to its core constituents through grievance and resentment, particularly toward white men. Consider some reactions to centrist Democrat John Osoff’s defeat in Georgia’s sixth district. “Maybe instead of trying to convince hateful white people, Dems should convince our base—ppl of color, women—to turn out,” feminist writer and Cosmopolitan political columnist Jill Filopovic tweeted afterward. “At some point we have to be willing to say that yes, lots of conservative voters are hateful and willing to embrace bigots.” Insightful as she is, even Williams assumes that all criticisms of the immigration status quo can be chalked up to “fear of brown people.”

No Democrat on the scene today possesses the Lincolnesque political skills to persuade liberal voters to give up their assumptions of white deplorability, endorse assimilation, or back traditional civics education. In the current environment, a Democratic civics curriculum would teach that American institutions are vehicles for the transmission of white supremacy and sexism, hardly a route to social cohesion. As for assimilation, Hispanic and bilingual-education advocacy organizations would threaten a revolt—and they’d only be the first to sound the alarm.
This might not matter for the Democrats. They may well ride an anti-Trump wave in 2018 and 2020. But eventually, the political pendulum will swing back and the Democrats might regret having written off the "deplorables."

If you hear screeching about cuts to the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts and how they endanger the arts in America, remember this story about the organization that gives out their money.
The National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities is giving millions of taxpayer dollars to nonprofits with assets of over $1 billion., a transparency watchdog group, released a report this week highlighting egregious examples of arts funding going towards museums, universities, and nonprofit organizations that hardly need federal funding.

The National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities issued $20.5 million in grants to "asset-rich" nonprofit groups with assets of $1 billion or more in 2016 alone....

The report highlighted numerous examples of arts funding that went to questionable projects.

The Borderlands Theater, which received $10,000 from the NEA in December for a play about going back in time to kill Christopher Columbus, also received funding for dance performances with a cactus.

"First, attendees stand or sit with a saguaro cactus for an hour in the middle of the desert," said. "Participants are encouraged to see what the cactus can teach them during this hour and share their experience on social media using the hashtag #IStandWithSaguaros."

The funding also went to a podcast on the cactus and a "cactus celebration" involving story, song, poem, and dance.

The Borderlands Theater's annual revenue is $228,461, and received $90,000 from the federal government since 2009.

The richest organization to receive taxpayer funding is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The museum has $4 billion in assets.

"Yet, the Met received $1.22 million in grants and contracts from the NFA-H (FY2009-FY2016). Calendar year 2016 was the biggest year of NFA-H grants to the Met, which received $551,028," said.

The Sundance Institute, Robert Redford's host organization for the Sundance Film Festival, has received $3.3 million in arts grants from the government since 2009. Sundance has annual revenues of $37.1 million.
If the people who attend such events really like them, they can donate the money to make up for cutting out federal grants. Or the organizations can use their own funds. If the federal money were unlimited, we could consider such grants, but it isn't. If we can't cut giving grants to million-dollar organizations, what can we cut?

Huffington Post has decided to go visit the heartland on a 23-city "road trip through middle America in a "Listen to America" tour. Having criticized the left for their unfamiliarity with the people who live in middle America so I applaud any efforts by those on the left to hear from the sorts of people they seem to usually regard as anthropological oddities. I'm not sure how much can be learned from driving a bus from city to city, but perhaps the HuffPo journalists will discover that people who live in red states are not as deplorable as leftists seem to think they are. Politico notes, however, that the journey isn't necessarily going to visit places that voted for Trump in any effort to figure out what those people think. THey seem to be forcusing on the parts of red states that voted for Hillary.
Though many of the cities the group is visiting voted for Hillary Clinton in last year’s election, all but two of the states went to Trump. But Polgreen says they’re not visiting “Trump country,” pointing to a reason for each city or state on the tour like an interesting community college system in Fort Wayne or Detroit’s large Arab-American population. Hillary Frey, HuffPost’s director of editorial strategy who came up with the bus tour idea, also pointed out that logistically it didn’t make sense to go to the corners of the country where the distance from one city to the next would be too far.

“We were basically looking at a pretty eclectic mix of communities that represent a lot of different facets of American life,” Polgreen said. "All of these ideological divisions [in the media] are confusing right now and for me it’s less about left or right — it’s who are you more oriented toward, more oriented to the interest of the wealthy and powerful or are you orientated toward the people who are not in the top 20 percent."
Salena Zito expresses what I was thinking as I read this - the media would do better to hire journalists from such areas so they get the benefit of insights from people who actually live in these areas rather than just motoring in for a day or two.
Salena Zito, a columnist for the New York Post and Washington Examiner who lives near Pittsburgh and rose to prominence last year through her reporting showing a clear path for Trump to win the presidency, said that real investment in local media by hiring reporters has the better payoff, though a listening tour can be an important step in understanding local issues and problems.

“The attempt is important. It’s a recognition that there needs to be a better understanding of different cultures in the country,” Zito said. “It depends on their approach. If it’s a lot of grandstanding associated with it, that might take away what their ultimate goal is, which is to have a better understanding of the people and culture outside of Washington and New York.”
It sounds like it's an expensive venture for HuffPo.
Two sources with knowledge of the tour said its total price tag could be near $1 million, which will come just weeks after the HuffPost newsroom was hit with some 39 layoffs as part of parent company Verizon Communications Inc.’s acquisition of Yahoo. A HuffPost spokesperson declined to comment on the cost of the tour, but Polgreen rejected the notion that the bus tour will suck up money that could be used for hiring more journalists.
Meanwhile, conservatives on Twitter are having a lot of fun making fun imagining the reports from Huffpo's journalists. Check out this thread #HuffPoInTheHeartland Some examples:

I was just working on my first unit for AP Government in which we'll be discussing the divisions within the country along partisan and ideological lines. The fact that conservatives imagine that this is how liberal journalists think is an example of how divided we are. But it's also funny.