Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Cruising the Web

I hope everyone has a very happy Thanksgiving and enjoys time spent with family and friends. I've been covering the Industrial Revolution in my European History class and the students had read excerpts from the 1832 Sadler Commission on labor conditions in textile factories. It's very depressing stuff. I had them go around the room and each give something that they were thankful for after having read it. For example, not having to work 14 hours a day since the time they were six years old. By the time we were done, we all had a great appreciation for having been born where and when we were. It gave me a sense of proportion for when I'm feeling disgusted about our nation's most prominent people.

John Podhoretz laments the crazy times we're living in when partisans on both sides are excusing behavior they'd normally condemn simply because the perpetrator agrees with them on some issues. We're already seeing some on the left arguing that it would be wrong to chase Al Franken out of the Senate for behavior they dislike since he can stay there and vote for policies they do like. And we're hearing those on the right saying that it is worthwhile to vote Roy Moore into the Senate because of the way he'd vote on judges or taxes.
If you believe Franken is an example of toxic masculinity and that toxic masculinity is an evil that must be extirpated, there’s no intellectual or moral excuse for supporting his continued presence in American politics. Even the effort to make such an argument reveals the way in which the virus of naked partisanship has overcome you.

Similarly, if you believe America has rotted away morally, the idea you’d hand enormous political power to a morally rotted person like Roy Moore reveals your own spiritual and moral rot.

Note, please, that that isn’t happening with the showbiz and media scandals. The powers-that-be that cut Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. loose may have claimed the moral high ground, but these were actually appropriately ruthless commercial decisions about protecting their “brands” from contamination.

But there are no powers-that-be in politics, or there aren’t any longer. The party bosses are gone. Their places have been taken in part by ideologues, who now seem to exist to make the tough moral calls that just seem always to go one way — the party’s way.

Roger L. Simon also is pondering the willingness of those on the left to forgive or ignore the sins of liberal men who have treated individual women in predatory fashion.
The answer may be simply this. Liberalism does not exist. Not in a real way, anyway. There's no there there anymore. Or not much of a there. All that is left is identity politics.

And the greatest identity group of all is, of course, women.

But since women are defined as a group -- not individual human beings subject to assaults from rape to groping -- they only have to be addressed as a group. All that need to be made are "fervent" proclamations in favor of women's rights. Then you -- Ted Kennedy, Charlie Rose, etc. -- can do what you wish privately. You are entitled.

In essence, liberalism is a charade. Only the surface counts. The reality is immaterial. You are what you say you are, not what you do. Even if that reality turns out to be the reverse of what you said it would be, or even causes a catastrophe, personal or political, it doesn't matter. You already said the "right thing." You're one of the good guys.
That may well be an explanation. But then what explains the similar predatory behavior of a Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly, or Donald Trump? They seemed to think that they were entitled also.

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Ben Shapiro is contemplatin
g why, in a supposedly egalitarian society, we are experiencing this blizzard of accusations against so many prominent men.
When it comes to sexual exploitation of women in particular, we treat our new aristocracy in the same way peasants treated the old aristocracy: with deference. In America, three things confer aristocratic status: fame, money and power. Hollywood, politics and journalism are built on all three. And elite status in each of those industries bought not just a bevy of opportunities for brutality but also a silent knowledge that the consequences would be slight for engaging in that brutality.

First, the opportunities. Just as certain peasants of old sought to curry favor with lords, too many Americans seek to curry favor with the powerful. That's the story of the Hollywood casting couch. It's the story of the famed journalist and his nighttime corner booth at the local pub. It's the story of the politician and his late-night office meetings. Does anyone think women were dying to meet Harvey Weinstein or Charlie Rose or Glenn Thrush? Each story we hear tells the same tale: Women thought the only way they could get ahead was to treat these men with complaisance. They thought that they couldn't turn down dinner invites. And if they were abused, they thought they had to keep their mouths shut.

In many cases, they did. That's because the public offered no consequences to the elite. Perhaps we blamed the victims and were unwilling to blame the accusers. Perhaps the darkest side of humanity revels in the pain inflicted by others. Whatever the case, the aristocrats knew, and they acted accordingly.
Since this has been true for decades, why the reversal today with prominent men being fired from their jobs almost as soon as a few allegations are made? I would bet that this is a temporary spasm and, at some point, we'll return to the status quo ante scandal. As long as we regard some people as our cultural and political idols, immoral men will take advantage of their sense of power and immunity to abuse and dominate those in weaker positions.

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The NY Post reports on a speech that John Kerry, as Secretary of State, gave in Dubai last December in which he blames the failure of there to be an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is really Israel's fault. It is amazingly discouraging to think that this man was ever our chief diplomat and explains so much of the wrongheaded policies in the Middle East.
“The Palestinians have done an extraordinary job of remaining committed to nonviolence,” he said — ignoring that fact that the Palestinian Authority rewards terrorists (“martyrs”) and their survivors with cash stipends and has its schools teach Jew-hatred.

And Hamas, which rules Gaza and is now once again partnering with the PA’s Fatah leadership, doesn’t even pretend to believe in nonviolence: It’s dedicated to Israel’s destruction and to atrocities against Jews.

Kerry also complained that “the majority of the Cabinet currently in the Israeli government has publicly declared they are not ever for a Palestinian state.” Actually, most simply won’t support one as long as Palestinians refuse to accept Israel’s right to exist.

The secretary even managed to ignore his own experience: Kerry spent months wringing concessions out of Israel for a possible peace deal — only to have PA chief Mahmoud Abbas reject the draft out of hand, and refuse further negotiations.

Sadly, President Barack Obama fully shared Kerry’s “up is down” denial of reality. No wonder their leadership left the world in such a mess.

There is an astounding story out of Rutgers University as evidence has come out about the despicably postings from three Rutgers professors. The president is defending their freedom of speech to post repellent content.
Speaking in a town hall sponsored by the Rutgers student government on Thursday, President Robert Barchi noted ongoing media attention focused on Michael Chikindas, a microbiology professor who published multiple antisemitic, homophobic and misogynistic social media posts; Jasbir Puar, a women’s studies professor whose latest book accuses Israel of injuring Palestinians “in order to control them”; and Mazen Adi, an adjunct professor of international law who accused Israeli officials of trafficking children’s organs while serving as a spokesperson for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
You have to read some of these posts to understand how deeply hateful and ugly they are. For example, here are some screen captures from Michael Chikindas's social media accounts ranting against Jews.

Rutgers' president proceeded to blame the controversy onthe newspaper, The Algemeiner, that uncovered what these men were writing and saying.
He went on to address the ongoing controversies surrounding Chikindas, Puar, and Adi, noting that “the one thing that is common to all of these is that they were all brought forward by The Algemeiner.”

Barchi called The Algemeiner — a newspaper in circulation for over 40 years — “a blog out of New York, which is the follow-on to what was a Yiddish-language newspaper that folded 10 years ago. They are the ones that have researched each one of these stories that have been picked up elsewhere.”

The Algemeiner’s print edition — which features English and Yiddish-language articles — has never gone out of business. Moreover, while The Algemeiner was the first to interview Chikindas, his postings were initially exposed by the Israellycool blog.
I'm not sure why the source of the allegations matters if they're not denying the content of their speech. Is a Jewish newspaper unable to expose antisemitism.

While I fully support freedom of speech, that doesn't mean that a public university has to hire people who are engaging in the sort of speech that would make anyone who is Jewish or a supporter of Israel fear getting fair treatment in his class.
Barchi acknowledged that Chikindas — who described Judaism as “the most racist religion in the world” — made “crude jokes about Israel, Judaism, women, homosexuality, a whole lot of things which most of us would find repugnant.”

“On the other hand, they are also things that are covered by his First Amendment right to free speech,” the president argued. “You may not like what the guy says, but you have to like the fact that he can say it.”

Barchi said that his administration confirmed “with the state’s attorney and with our legal scholars” that Chikindas’ postings are constitutionally protected, “so there’s nothing there that is actionable.”

He added that the university was investigating whether Chikindas’ postings “create an environment in his work that would compromise his ability to teach or do research.”

“That investigation is done independently, it will conclude shortly and we’ll decide what if anything we need to do from there,” Barchi explained. “But I can tell you that up until this point, his teaching record is actually very strong.”

Barchi also defended Puar’s academic freedom, calling her “a well-respected scholar.”

At a 2016 talk, Puar expressed support for “armed resistance in Palestine” and repeated allegations that the bodies of “young Palestinian men … were mined for organs for scientific research,” according to a transcript provided by the alumni group Fairness To Israel.

In a 2015 essay, she also wrote that “Palestinian trauma is overshadowed” because “Israel in particular and Jewish populations in general have thoroughly hijacked the discourse of trauma through exceptionalizing Holocaust victimization.”

Puar’s latest work — The Right to Maim — contends that the Israeli military rejects a shoot-to-kill policy not out of humanitarian concern, but a desire to keep “Palestinian populations as perpetually debilitated, and yet alive, in order to control them.”

The book, Barchi said, “was reviewed independently by scholars around the country. It was then accepted for publication by the Duke University Press, which is a very prominent scholarly press, and published. It’s a piece of scholarly work.”

“Once again, you may not like it, but it’s protected by academic freedom, absolutely, 100 percent,” he emphasized.

Barchi adopted a similar outlook when speaking of Adi, who joined Rutgers shortly after serving as a legal adviser and diplomat at the Syrian mission to the United Nations in New York between 2007 and 2014.

“Issues have been raised about the fact that he did, in the past, work for the [Syrian] government as a diplomat,” Barchi noted, adding that Adi’s history was “well-known to us and well-known to the people who employed him.”

Barchi said that Adi “changed his directions,” and “has not said or done anything in his academic life here that would be actionable.” He did not acknowledge reports by a former student of Adi’s who told The Algemeiner — on condition of anonymity — that Adi defended Palestinian terrorism in class as a legitimate form of “resistance” to Israeli “occupation.”

“We are faced with the difficult challenge to thread the needle on free speech and academic freedom,” Barchi observed. “I just ask you to keep in mind when you hear things and those things get picked up by another newspaper, there is very often a back-story to it.”

“Trace it back to where it’s coming from and ask why is it coming from there and what’s going on,” he claimed, “and you may often get a little different perspective on those happenings.”
I just wonder how protective of these men's freedom of speech Rutgers would be if they were writing racist rants.

Well, if they ever did lose their jobs at Rutgers, they could probably find work in whatever think tank or organization that John Kerry and his ilk have ended up working at.

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Well, this is certainly an alarming story.
Hackers stole the personal data of 57 million customers and drivers from Uber Technologies Inc., a massive breach that the company concealed for more than a year. This week, the ride-hailing firm ousted its chief security officer and one of his deputies for their roles in keeping the hack under wraps, which included a $100,000 payment to the attackers.

Compromised data from the October 2016 attack included names, email addresses and phone numbers of 50 million Uber riders around the world, the company told Bloomberg on Tuesday. The personal information of about 7 million drivers was accessed as well, including some 600,000 U.S. driver’s license numbers. No Social Security numbers, credit card information, trip location details or other data were taken, Uber said.

At the time of the incident, Uber was negotiating with U.S. regulators investigating separate claims of privacy violations. Uber now says it had a legal obligation to report the hack to regulators and to drivers whose license numbers were taken. Instead, the company paid hackers to delete the data and keep the breach quiet. Uber said it believes the information was never used but declined to disclose the identities of the attackers.
Yeah, do you believe Uber that no Social Security numbers or credit card information was involved? How much did the prior leadership of Uber let happen? I love the service, but they do seem to have been skirting all sorts of laws.
At the time of the incident, Uber was negotiating with U.S. regulators investigating separate claims of privacy violations. Uber now says it had a legal obligation to report the hack to regulators and to drivers whose license numbers were taken. Instead, the company paid hackers to delete the data and keep the breach quiet. Uber said it believes the information was never used but declined to disclose the identities of the attackers....

Kalanick, Uber’s co-founder and former CEO, learned of the hack in November 2016, a month after it took place, the company said. Uber had just settled a lawsuit with the New York attorney general over data security disclosures and was in the process of negotiating with the Federal Trade Commission over the handling of consumer data. Kalanick declined to comment on the hack.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Cruising the Web

Gosh, this era of accusations of sexual misconduct against prominent men continues at a furious pace. It's as if the Weinstein story opened wide the doors of sleaze and more and more women are coming forward with stories of distasteful and repellent behavior by powerful men. Yesterday the Washington Post reported that Charlie Rose had habits of harassing women by groping them and walking around naked as well as calling them and telling them how he was thinking about them naked.
The women were employees or aspired to work for Rose at the “Charlie Rose” show from the late 1990s to as recently as 2011. They ranged in age from 21 to 37 at the time of the alleged encounters. Rose, 75, whose show airs on PBS, also co-hosts “CBS This Morning” and is a contributing correspondent for “60 Minutes.”

There are striking commonalities in the accounts of the women, each of whom described their interactions with Rose in multiple interviews with The Post. For all of the women, reporters interviewed friends, colleagues or family members who said the women had confided in them about aspects of the incidents. Three of the eight spoke on the record....

Most of the women said Rose alternated between fury and flattery in his interactions with them. Five described Rose putting his hand on their legs, sometimes their upper thigh, in what they perceived as a test to gauge their reactions. Two said that while they were working for Rose at his residences or were traveling with him on business, he emerged from the shower and walked naked in front of them. One said he groped her buttocks at a staff party.
Ew. Just ew. But he's apologized and said that he's embarrassed.
“In my 45 years in journalism, I have prided myself on being an advocate for the careers of the women with whom I have worked,” Rose said in a statement provided to The Post. “Nevertheless, in the past few days, claims have been made about my behavior toward some former female colleagues.

“It is essential that these women know I hear them and that I deeply apologize for my inappropriate behavior. I am greatly embarrassed. I have behaved insensitively at times, and I accept responsibility for that, though I do not believe that all of these allegations are accurate. I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings, even though I now realize I was mistaken.

“I have learned a great deal as a result of these events, and I hope others will too. All of us, including me, are coming to a newer and deeper recognition of the pain caused by conduct in the past, and have come to a profound new respect for women and their lives.”
So he had to learn now that it was wrong to walk around naked in front of employees? And CBS seemed to just shrug off complaints.
Kyle Godfrey-Ryan, one of Rose’s assistants in the mid-2000s, recalled at least a dozen instances where Rose walked nude in front of her while she worked in one of his New York City homes. He also repeatedly called the then-21-year-old late at night or early in the morning to describe his fantasies of her swimming naked in the Bellport pool as he watched from his bedroom, she said.

“It feels branded into me, the details of it,” Godfrey-Ryan said.

She said she told Yvette Vega, Rose’s longtime executive producer, about the calls.

“I explained how he inappropriately spoke to me during those times,” Godfrey-Ryan said. “She would just shrug and just say, ‘That’s just Charlie being Charlie.’ ”

In a statement to The Post, Vega said she should have done more to protect the young women on the show.
Ya think? What is the point of having standards for how to treat employees if those responsible for keeping those rules ignore complaints and an employee is fired after telling a friend about Rose's gross behavior. Apparently, there have been rumors about Charlie Rose's behavior for years and the Post decided to research those rumors and get women to go on record. In a way, the Post followed the same pattern that they did with Roy Moore. They were made aware of rumors about a prominent man's behavior towards young women and, in Moore's case, girls, and then did their journalistic due diligence. They deserve credit for pursuing both a liberal icon and a Republican politician.

Add in another prominent media figure to these accusations of harassing behavior toward women. This time it's New York Times White House correspondent Glenn THrush. reports that, despite Thrush's virtue-signaling by expressing his disgust at Mark Halperin a few weeks ago, he has a record from his time at Politico of making unwelcome sexual advances toward young women while he was drunk. The author of the piece, Laura McGann, writes that she was one of the young colleagues that Thrush groped.
Three young women I interviewed, including the young woman who met Thrush in June, described to me a range of similar experiences, from unwanted groping and kissing to wet kisses out of nowhere to hazy sexual encounters that played out under the influence of alcohol. Each woman described feeling differently about these experiences: scared, violated, ashamed, weirded out. I was — and am — angry.

Details of their stories suggest a pattern. All of the women were in their 20s at the time. They were relatively early in their careers compared to Thrush, who was the kind of seasoned journalist who would be good to know. At an event with alcohol, he made advances. Afterward, they (as I did) thought it best to stay on good terms with Thrush, whatever their feelings.
He's apologized. McGann reports that, after he groped and kissed her, she was able to leave, but then she found out that he was telling other men at the office that she was the one who made advances to him thus laying her open to sexual approaches from other men.
The source said that Thrush frequently told versions of this story with different young women as the subject. He would talk up a night out drinking with a young attractive woman, usually a journalist. Then he’d claim that she came onto him. In his version of these stories, Thrush was the responsible grown-up who made sure nothing happened.
She reported what had happened to a colleague and a senior editor, but nothing was done. again, we have a prominent journalist about whom there were plenty of stories going around, but nothing was done.

We have probably not heard the last of such accusations. And notice that we have heard such stories about men from both sides of the spectrum. Neither side can claim any purity. If you're a conservative privately chortling at these accusations against Rose and Thrush should remember the toxic sexual atmosphere at Fox News with Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly. And for all we are enjoying liberals finally admitting that Bill CLinton was a sleaze, don't forget all the believable accusations against Trump groping women and bragging about it.

As these stories keep coming out about prominent men in the media makes me wonder if another reason why the media were so happy to shrug off the accusations against Clinton was not only because he was a liberal, but because they were themselves guilty of similarly gross behavior.

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I've read several stories trying to trace our changing attitudes towards allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior including Clarence Thomas on the list. That always annoys me since these analysts ignore the major hole in Anita Hill's testimony against Thomas. Allegations of bad behavior from years ago are considered more credible if there were people that the supposed victim told at the time about what had happened. That is one reason why some of the accusations that have come out recently against Roy Moore, Charlie Rose, Glenn Thrush, and Al Franken have credibility for me. Anita Hill's accusations against Thomas, despite her having followed him from the Department of Education to the EEOC and kept friendly contact with him after she moved to Oklahoma was that she had told her friend, Susan Hoerchner, about her boss harassing her.

Jack Cashill reminds us that there was just one problem with this story. Hoerchner was very definite that Hill had told her this story in 1981 while she was living in Washington before she moved to California in September 1981. She was very definite in her testimony to the FBI and before the Senate Judiciary Committee that she and Hill had had that conversation about her boss's behavior before she moved to California because their regular communication died out after Hoerchner moved. The problem was that that timeline didn't match up with Hill's working with Thomas. When the problem with this timeline was pointed out to Hoerchner, she changed the story she'd originally told the FBI.
Hoerchner and her attorney, future DHS honcho Janet Napolitano, promptly asked for a recess. Hoerchner had just subverted the timeline on which the case against Thomas rested. "I began working with Clarence Thomas in the early fall of 1981," Hill told the Judiciary Committee. "Early on, our working relationship was positive." By Hill's account, Thomas did not begin to pester her for roughly three months. At the earliest, that would have been December 1981, three months after Hoerchner left for California, three months after she and Hoerchner stopped talking on any kind of regular basis. Hoerchner, in fact, described her communication with Hill after September 1981 as "sporadic." In her deposition, she described only one post-Washington contact: that of meeting with Hill at a professional seminar in 1984.

After conferring with Napolitano, Hoerchner had a convenient change of memory. Now it was time for the friendly Democratic counsel to ask, "When you had the initial phone conversation with Anita Hill and she spoke for the first time about sexual harassment, do you recall where you were living – what city?" Answered Hoerchner, "I don't know for sure."
Ironically, it was David Brock, who was then writing for the American Spectator, who pointed out this discrepancy.

Having read about that discrepancy in the supposed corroboration of Hill's story, I didn't believe the rest of the story. It's also notable that there have not been any other women making similar accusations against Thomas. Instead, many of his female employees spoke up in his defense. With all these men being accused these days, there is a pattern of behavior. If he had done as alleged toward Hill when he was a single man, chances are that he would have behaved that way to at least one other woman. Yet we've never heard any other woman make such an allegation.

What also struck me at the time and ever since then was that the allegations against Thomas now seem so mild by comparison to all the other allegations against powerful men that we're hearing these days. He was supposed to have asked her out and made a crude joke about a pubic hair on his coke and talked to her about a pornographic movie. Distasteful, but compare that to the groping and harassment stories that we're hearing now. And yet we were told that this was the most inexcusable behavior imaginable back during his hearings. But with Bill Clinton, we were treated to all sorts of excuse-making. Women told us that they didn't mind his behavior because he was pro-choice. Gloria Steinem granted men what came to be called the "one free grope" rule. But for a conservative black Republican, no grope was even required for feminists to condemn him.

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Politicians of both parties
are being brought low in Florida for sex scandals. Expect to hear similar stories from other states.

Ben Shapiro had an interesting take on why we should care that our elected representatives are awful people. He relates it back to the two different models of representation there are.
During America's founding era, a significant debate took place about the nature of representation in a democratically elected government. Were representatives supposed to act as simple proxies for their constituents? Or were they supposed to exercise independent judgment? Edmund Burke was a forceful advocate for the latter position: A representative, he said, was supposed to exercise his "mature judgment, his enlightened conscience. And "he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living." John Stuart Mill, too, believed that representatives ought to act independently; he said: "A person whose desires and impulses are his said to have a character. One whose desires and impulses are not his own, has no character, no more than a steam-engine has a character."

Then there were those who argued that to exercise independent judgment would be to betray voters, that they sent you there with a mission, and your job is to fulfill that mission. This so-called delegate view of representation is supremely transactional -- we only bother electing representatives in this view in order to do the work we're not willing to do. They aren't elected to spend time learning about the issues or broaden their perspective beyond the regional. They're there to do what you want them to do.
Discussing these two models is how I start off the unit on Congress. THey read Burke's famous 1774 speech to the Electors of Bristol in which he enunciated his position that what he owed his constituents was "his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience," and that he betrayed that judgment if he voted as they wanted and not as his judgment tells him to. When we discuss this in class, I ask the students which model they prefer. They usually decide that they like the trustee model of Burke if their representative agrees with them. If not, they prefer the delegate model - as long as their district agrees with them. They are purely transactional in their approach. That seems to be where many people are today.

Shapiro points out that we are seeing this debate play out today.
This debate has finally come to a head recently, not because sectional representatives have forgone their voters but because characterless people are running for office more and more. Those who believe in the Burkean model oppose such people -- we say that to put those without character in charge of policy is to leave our future in the hands of the untrustworthy. Those who believe in the delegate model can embrace such people -- they say that so long as the representative votes the right way on the issues, they can murder dogs in the backyard or allegedly molest young girls. Nina Burleigh's perspective on then-President Bill Clinton falls into this second camp. "I would be happy to give him a blowjob just to thank him for keeping abortion legal," she said. So does Rep. Mo Brooks' perspective on Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. He said: "Roy Moore will vote right ... That's why I'm voting for Roy Moore."

There's a certain freedom to this perspective. It allows us to forgo discussion about the nature of the people we support -- so long as they're not lying about how they vote, we can trust them in office. The founders, however, would have rejected this perspective. The Federalist Papers are replete with explanations of just why a good government would require good men. The Founders greatly feared the constraints of a parchment barrier against characterless men; they didn't trust human nature enough to believe that child molesters or puppy torturers would be bound by simple conformity with the public will.

And the Founders were right. History has shown that bad men in positions of power rarely get better; they often get worse. They tend to abuse power. They tend to exercise their judgment -- or lack thereof -- even when they pledge to do otherwise. That means that we must measure our candidates for character as well as position.

David French points out how people are tolerating behavior in politicians that they would never tolerate in their own workplace.
In most functioning corporations, if there’s pictorial evidence that a senior executive groped a woman, then that executive is forced to resign. If there are known, credible allegations that an applicant for a senior position has sexually assaulted teenage girls, then no sane employer gives him a job.

In fact, in the post-Weinstein era it’s remarkable to see how quickly corporate Hollywood and corporate media can move, even against some of the biggest names in news and show business. Credible claims have led to swift action. Men have been fired. Entire magazines have been canceled. Television shows have been shut down. All of this is evidence that maybe, just maybe, we’re on the cusp of a culture change.
But our politicians carry on.
And now we face the very real possibility that the world’s greatest deliberative body will feature a man who once abused teenage girls and who will be seated near a man who was caught on camera groping a sleeping model.

Why do politicians escape when private citizens face consequences? There are two main answers: an inflated sense of importance and the reality of the binary choice....

Are these men really so gifted and important that their survival should trump not just the ascension of their progressive peers but also their negative impact on our culture? Is Franken such a powerful champion of progressive causes that, say, Keith Ellison would be utterly inadequate to fill his progressive shoes?

Not really, but that brings us to the binary choice. In 1998 the Democrats couldn’t bear to give the Republicans a win. The very thought was repugnant to them, even if a Republican win would still have left the nation with a President Gore. How many Democrats are saying today — when pondering Al Franken — that there is no way they will force out one of their own when the Alabama GOP is rallying around a man credibly accused of terrible sex crimes?

In this environment, standing on principle isn’t seen as a vital act of cultural and moral leadership; it makes you a sucker, a rube who allows your party to be beaten by a more Machiavellian opponent.

Some of this is understandable. After all, in the private sector one rarely faces a situation where forcing out a sexual predator means “My enemies win.” Liberal filmmakers are crawling all over Hollywood. Getting rid of the likes of Harvey Weinstein is in a very real way an ideologically costless exercise — and even that small display of resolve took decades to happen.
As each side closes their eyes to politicians' sleazy actions, it just means that more politicians will get away with such behavior.

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BuzzFeed has obtained documents
from the settlement of claims against Representative John Conyers. These documents reveal how Congress keeps such allegations secret.
Michigan Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat and the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with a former employee who alleged she was fired because she would not “succumb to [his] sexual advances.”

Documents from the complaint obtained by BuzzFeed News include four signed affidavits, three of which are notarized, from former staff members who allege that Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, repeatedly made sexual advances to female staff that included requests for sexual favors, contacting and transporting other women with whom they believed Conyers was having affairs, caressing their hands sexually, and rubbing their legs and backs in public. Four people involved with the case verified the documents are authentic.

And the documents also reveal the secret mechanism by which Congress has kept an unknown number of sexual harassment allegations secret: A grinding, closely held process that left the alleged victim feeling, she told BuzzFeed News, that she had no option other than to stay quiet and accept a settlement offered to her.

“I was basically blackballed. There was nowhere I could go,” she said in a phone interview. BuzzFeed News is withholding the woman’s name at her request, because she said she fears retribution.

Last week the Washington Post reported that the office paid out $17 million for 264 settlements with federal employees over 20 years for various violations, including sexual harassment. The Conyers documents, however, give a glimpse into the inner workings of the Office of Compliance, which has for decades concealed episodes of sexual abuse by powerful political figures.
At least the money came from Conyers' office budget rather than the Office of Compliance funds. But still, those are taxpayer funds provided to members of Congress for running their offices, not paying off the women they tried to force to have sex with them.
Congress has no human resources department. Instead, congressional employees have 180 days to report a sexual harassment incident to the Office of Compliance, which then leads to a lengthy process involves counseling, mediation, and requires the signing of a confidentiality agreement before a complaint can go forward.

After this, an employee can choose to take the matter to federal district court, but another avenue is available: an administrative hearing, after which a negotiation and settlement may follow.

Some members of Congress have raised major concerns with the current system over the years, but the calls for an overhaul have grown louder in the post-Weinstein era. Members have argued that 90 days is too long to make a person continue working in the same environment with their harasser; that interns and fellows should be eligible to pursue complaints through this process; and that it is unfair for a victim to have to pay for legal representation while the office of the harasser is represented for free by the House's counsel.
By all means, let's cover up predatory behavior so voters and future staffers have no idea what went on.
The process was “disgusting,” said Matthew Peterson, who worked as a law clerk representing the complainant, and who listed as a signatory to some of the documents.

“It is a designed cover-up,” said Peterson, who declined to discuss details of the case but agreed to characterize it in general terms. “You feel like they were betrayed by their government just for coming forward. It’s like being abused twice.”

Dan McLaughlin tweets,

Here's another former Democratic congressman whose harassment of women was covered up.
Do you remember San Diego Mayor Bob Filner? He became known as “filthy Filner” back in 2013 after more than a dozen women came forward claiming he had sexually harassed them. Filner denied it at the time but later resigned from his position. But before Filner was the Mayor of San Diego he served as a Democratic congressman from 1993 until 2012. Today, Rep. Diana DeGette said on MSNBC that, Rep. Filner tried to kiss her in an elevator during his tenure in Congress.

....The interview with Rep. DeGette began with her saying, “I think that many members of Congress, certainly professional women have been harassed over the years and I’m certainly no different.” She added, “What strikes me in this conversation is that a lot of my colleagues and others have said this is going on but they seem somehow so reluctant to say who did it. I don’t really understand that cause it seems to me, particularly if those people are still in Congress or whatever the profession is then they’re still getting away with it.”
Cristina Marcos writing for The Hill makes this point about some of the Congresswomen who have come forward to saying that there is sexual harassment going on in Congress, but won't name the culprits.
Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), the vice chairwoman of the House Democratic Caucus, told The Associated Press that a male colleague, who is no longer in Congress, repeatedly ogled her and touched her inappropriately on the House floor. She added that another current male lawmaker, who she has since learned to avoid, tried to proposition her.

She did not name either men, telling The Associated Press that “I just don’t think it would be helpful” to name the harasser who still serves in Congress.

Speier testified before the House Administration Committee that two current lawmakers of both parties have been accused of sexual harassment.

She similarly declined to name either lawmaker, citing one victim bound by a nondisclosure agreement and another who does not want to go public — an echo of the agreements used by Weinstein to hide his behavior.

Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) told the House Administration Committee of a young female staffer who quit her job because a male lawmaker exposed himself to her. Comstock said she heard the story secondhand and did not know the lawmaker’s identity, only that he is still in Congress.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) also said that she had been sexually harassed as a Capitol Hill intern in 1974, but declined to say if it was from a staffer or lawmaker.

“I'm not going to comment as to details of it, but suffice it to say that it happened more than once from more than one person,” McCaskill said, according to the Washington Examiner.

The very nature of Capitol Hill staffers’ jobs makes it hard to come forward with allegations against powerful lawmakers or top aides. They’re expected to cater to their bosses’ every need and put the team over themselves, whether that team is their employing office, political party or the institution itself.
Jazz Shaw comments,
Pardon me for being a bit harsh toward someone who has allegedly been a victim of such abuse, but why did you bother coming forward? If you won’t name your tormenter we are left to come up with our own explanations, such as assuming that he must have been a member of your own party. And by failing to call him out – no matter what letter he has after his name – aren’t you simply enabling his behavior? What of the other women he’s probably treated (and may still be treating) the same way?

The failure to name names is not only failing to help anyone, but it’s actually continuing the precise problem which allowed Weinstein and others to continue their predatory behavior for so long. If the victims are afraid of the repercussions from naming their attackers, nothing changes and the perpetrators have no incentive to stop. If our elected officials are really concerned about this crisis and want to be part of the solution it’s time for them to name names and let the chips fall where they may. Nobody is going to come after you for speaking up at this point with the eyes of the entire world on them.
If it is the Congresswomen themselves who experienced the harassment, they should come forward. But if all they have is second- or third-hand reports with no witness willing to talk on record, we shouldn't have a new sort of witch trials where people's careers are ruined by anonymous allegations that can't be responded to because the guy doesn't know when or to whom the events took place. We also need some sort of limiting principle where actual assault and true harassment charges aren't lumped together with a couple inappropriate jokes or a pass that was turned down and never repeated with no repercussions. I do worry that everything is going to be lumped together and considered equivalent.

Meanwhile, enjoy this thread.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Cruising the Web

Ross Douthat has a confessional column in the NYT about Bill Clinton. He admits that he was never a Clinton-hater and never understood why Republicans disliked him so much. He writes that he's spent the past week reading about Clinton and his scandals.
But a moment of reassessment is a good time to reassess things for yourself, so I spent this week reading about the lost world of the 1990s. I skimmed the Starr Report. I leafed through books by George Stephanopoulos and Joe Klein and Michael Isikoff. I dug into Troopergate and Whitewater and other first-term scandals. I reacquainted myself with Gennifer Flowers and Webb Hubbell, James Riady and Marc Rich.

After doing all this reading, I’m not sure my reasonable middle ground is actually reasonable. It may be that the conservatives of the 1990s were simply right about Clinton, that once he failed to resign he really deserved to be impeached.
He still doesn't like the Republicans of the 1990s or Ken Starr, but he's more disgusted about Clinton's behavior and how defending him twisted the Democratic Party.
The sexual misconduct was the heart of things, but everything connected to Clinton’s priapism was bad: the use of the perks of office to procure women, willing and unwilling; the frequent use of that same power to buy silence and bully victims; and yes, the brazen public lies and perjury.

Something like Troopergate, for instance, in which Arkansas state troopers claimed to have served as Clinton’s panderers and been offered jobs to buy their silence, is often recalled as just a right-wing hit job. But if you read The Los Angeles Times’s reporting on the allegations (which included phone records confirming the troopers’ account of a mistress Clinton was seeing during his presidential transition) and Stephanopoulos’s portrayal of Clinton’s behavior in the White House when the story broke, the story seems like it was probably mostly true.

I have less confidence about what was real in the miasma of Whitewater. But with Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky, we know what happened: A president being sued for sexual harassment tried to buy off a mistress-turned-potential-witness with White House favors, and then committed perjury serious enough to merit disbarment. Which also brought forward a compelling allegation from Juanita Broaddrick that the president had raped her.

The longer I spent with these old stories, the more I came back to a question: If exploiting a willing intern is a serious enough abuse of power to warrant resignation, why is obstructing justice in a sexual harassment case not serious enough to warrant impeachment? Especially when the behavior is part of a longstanding pattern that also may extend to rape? Would any feminist today hesitate to take a similar opportunity to remove a predatory studio head or C.E.O.?

There is a common liberal argument that our present polarization is the result of constant partisan escalations on the right — the rise of Newt Gingrich, the steady Hannitization of right-wing media.

Some of this is true. But returning to the impeachment imbroglio made me think that in that case the most important escalators were the Democrats. They had an opportunity, with Al Gore waiting in the wings, to show a predator the door and establish some moral common ground for a polarizing country.

And what they did instead — turning their party into an accessory to Clinton’s appetites, shamelessly abandoning feminist principle, smearing victims and blithely ignoring his most credible accuser, all because Republicans funded the investigations and they’re prudes and it’s all just Sexual McCarthyism — feels in the cold clarity of hindsight like a great act of partisan deformation.

For which, it’s safe to say, we have all been amply punished since.
I've always thought that the Democrats made a mistake by sacrificing the high ground on such charges by lining up behind Bill Clinton even when it became clear that he had lied to the country and his cabinet. They could have voted to remove him and replaced him with Al Gore. Gore would probably have had a much easier time in 2000 running as the incumbent and the history of this century would have been quite different. Hillary wouldn't have been elected to the Senate (unless she left Bill) and without Bush, would there have been the backlash that led to Obama? Without Hillary, we wouldn't have had Trump since I think she was the only Democrat who could have lost to Trump. It's all rather amusing to ponder how history would have been different.

Jonah Goldberg objects to the revisionism o
f those on the left who pretend that they didn't really know what a cad Bill Clinton was. They knew and they celebrated his behavior. He was just mischievous, fun-loving ol' Bill going against the "sexual McCarthyites" on the right.
In the 1990s, liberals knew about Bill Clinton’s cheating ways. Bill and Hillary basically conceded the truth of it in a 60 Minutes interview in the wake of the Gennifer Flowers story. Oh, they denied her specific allegation in Clintonian fashion. Bill was a genius at sounding like he was telling the whole truth when he was really telling a mincing, legalistic lie. (Bill later admitted, under oath in 1998, that he had been knocking boots with Flowers). Regardless, Bill and Hillary spoke in obvious code that their marriage was . . . flawed. And all of the commentary at the time was, “We get it. That’s good enough.”

Joe Klein’s Primary Colors, a thinly veiled novel about Clinton, was a sensation with liberals, none of whom objected to, or questioned, the premise that the Bill Clinton character had an affair.

After the Lewinsky scandal broke, very few liberals not in the employ of the Clintons — or otherwise dependent on, or fearful of, them — acted as if they didn’t believe the allegation. They celebrated it! There were exceptions; I remember Cokie Roberts and David Broder being horrified. But among cultural liberals — writers, Hollywood types (particularly the Weinstein crowd), etc. — the motivating passion was celebration, not denial. Jack Nicholson cheered Clinton: “What would be the alternative leadership — should it be somebody who doesn’t want to f**k?” Nicholson added, “Bill, you’re great. Keep on!”

Read this article from the New York Observer — if you can stomach it — titled, “New York Supergals Love That Naughty Prez.” They covered all the weighty issues, e.g., is oral sex cheating? And would you do him? “The consensus, as [Erica] Jong expressed it, was that a Presidential ‘f*ckabout’ was far better than a ‘fascist pig’ like Kenneth Starr.” The “only person who minds that Bill Clinton’s having sex without being in love,” said Elizabeth Benedict, “is Ken Starr.” Susan Shellogg, a former dominatrix, offered the only substantive criticism: “I think the President is reckless for not practicing safe sex if she has stains on her dress. She was not using a condom. That’s a big story.”

....Now, not all of these people excused, say, Juanita Broaddrick’s utterly plausible claim that Bill Clinton raped her. But one reason they didn’t was that NBC News kept that allegation secret throughout the impeachment hearings because they believed it was true.
Goldberg goes on to detail how the left threw away their record on fighting sexual harassment in order to protect their Bill.
During the latter half of the 1980s and the tail end of the Bush presidency, feminists and their liberal allies had worked tireless — and sometimes fanatically — to fight sexual harassment, very broadly defined. They pelted — rightly — Senator Bob Packwood from the public stage. They derailed Senator John Tower’s nomination to be secretary of defense on the grounds that he was a “womanizer.” Even entirely consensual sexual relationships between powerful male superiors and subordinates were inherently exploitative, they argued. Hence, Clarence Thomas’s alleged overtures were out-frick’n-rageous according to liberals.

And then they threw it all away to defend Bill Clinton. His “affair” with Lewinsky — hardly his only extramarital affair, according to 8 katrillion rumors spread off-camera by liberal journalists — was suddenly just an attempt to “connect” with another person. Never mind that he couldn’t remember her name and led on a naïve intern. The Big He was a lovable dog, and anyone who had a problem with that was the problem. Ronald Reagan wouldn’t take off his jacket in the Oval Office. Bill Clinton literally took off his pants in it.

As John Podhoretz notes on the Commentary podcast, Maureen Dowd raked the Clintons over the coals for their shabby dealings and scandals for years. But when the issue turned to Bill’s “sex life,” suddenly she mounted the parapets to defend him against the Comstock Ken Starr.

Why? Well, part of it was simply the corrupting nature of power. Donald Trump is not the first president to benefit from a standard-bending cult of personality. In fact, they all have benefitted from this dynamic to one extent or another.

But there’s another factor that hasn’t gotten any attention these days as far as I can tell. American liberalism in the 1990s was shot through with a kind of anti-Christian panic. They didn’t put it in those terms, of course, but it poured out between the lines even when phrased differently. All of the tedious op-eds about Salem and The Crucible, the snide references to Ken Starr’s faith, the lazy dot-connecting between the Christian Right and the “persecution” of Bill Clinton: It was everywhere.

The rising obsession with sexual liberation married to hatred of “scolds” and judgmental traditionalists simply swamped everything else. Gloria Steinem set fire to her integrity and minted the “one free grope rule” in the New York Times. Katie Roiphe, also in the Times, celebrated Monica as a go-getter who used her sexuality to her advantage.

Anyone who objected to this garbage was a “sexual McCarthyite,” as Alan Dershowitz put it in his book Sexual McCarthyism. Indeed, as I noted at the time, the corruption didn’t just rot the present, it poisoned the past.
And now some Republicans have absorbed the same who-cares attitude when accusations appear about one of their heroes. Donald Trump was elected despite very credible accusations of his groping women and he was caught on tape bragging about it. Yet the same sorts of people who were shocked and disgusted by Clinton's behavior decided to turn a blind eye to his immorality. And quite a few Alabamians have adopted the same attitude toward Roy Moore. We've become an ugly place when political advantage trumps principle. Principled consistency has truly become the hobgoblin of little minds.

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As Michael Graham writes for CBS News, Bill Clinton set the predicate for Donald Trump.
Imagine Judge Roy Moore's campaign using the phrase "bimbo eruptions" to describe his accusers.

Imagine his top adviser saying of one of the women he allegedly groped, "Drag a hundred dollars through a trailer park and there's no telling what you'll find."

Imagine a journalist saying she'd allow Judge Moore to fondle her "just to thank him for being pro-life." And keeping her job. (Ironically, in the 1998 Mirabella magazine essay by the Time correspondent who fantasized about Bill Clinton, there was also this: "The richer and more famous they are, the less appealing. Donald Trump? Ugh.")

Imagine prominent feminists suggesting that the girls he allegedly groped were asking for it -- "it sounds to me like she put the moves on him," Susan Faludi conjectured. Betty Friedan declared, "Whether it's fantasy, a set-up or true, I simply don't care."

Well, for those of us old enough to remember the Clinton presidency, we don't have to imagine it. We lived it.

In many ways, Bill Clinton was the Donald Trump of his era. Trump is accused of coarsening our political discourse. Bill Clinton was accused of the same. He pushed cultural boundaries by admitting he smoked pot (with the notoriously weaselly claim: "I didn't inhale") and answering the question "Boxers or briefs?"

....Twenty-four years after Clinton's first election, America elected another president who faced sex scandals many believed would doom his campaign: Multiple women accused Donald Trump of inappropriate contact, and the infamous tape of his locker-room talk with Billy Bush caught him talking about it. And like Clinton before him, Mr. Trump dismissed, denied and obfuscated…and got away with it. How?

In part, that's because so many of his supporters still remember the pass Bill Clinton was given in the 1990s. They remember how Hillary Clinton, who was part of the "bimbo eruption" war room, was declared a feminist hero at the same time she was disparaging powerless women who'd been victimized by her husband. She dismissed Monica Lewinsky as "a narcissistic loony tune."

They remember the press defending Clinton and ignoring his victims. The Washington Post, for example, declared "By just about any standard but, apparently, his own, the President pretty plainly lied under oath in a court proceeding and repeatedly in public and private thereafter." But they also supported Clinton, despite the fact that his lying was part of an effort to deny a female victim of sexual harassment, Paula Jones, her day in court.

And so some Alabama voters ask: Why should we care more about the behavior of Donald Trump—or Roy Moore—than feminists, liberals and the media cared about the behavior of Bill Clinton?
And the next time there is a sex scandal about a Democratic politician, that politician's supporters can ask the same question of Republicans - why should they care when they didn't care about Trump or Moore? This is the road we've all headed down.

While what Al Franken is accused of doing doesn't rise to the level of what Bill Clinton did, he is still accused of forcing a kiss on a woman and then joking about groping her while she was asleep. And there is a photo to prove what he did. He could have laughed off the story as a simple misunderstanding about what he meant with the kiss, the more serious accusation, but the photo makes the story both more believable and more odious. But the Democrats are already rounding the wagons to prepare to accept Franken back in their good graces after he abases himself a bit more. But, as Kyle Smith writes, they'd be much better off letting him go just as they would have been better off cutting loose from Bill Clinton.
Should Moore make it to the Senate, Democrats will be able to cast Republicans as the party of sex creeps only if they expel Franken. Every time Moore’s name is mentioned, the response will be, “What about Al Franken? And by the way, what about Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy?”

True, in a certain sense this isn’t fair. What Moore probably did is worse than what Franken admitted doing. But politics isn’t fair. Whataboutism and crying hypocrisy aren’t very strong moral arguments, but they’re easy to make and they’re emotionally satisfying. And a photograph of obvious wrongdoing simply carries more salience than a verbal allegation — even if the allegation is credible and even if the behavior alleged is worse than that seen in the photo.

Democrats who just this week were saying they would no longer tolerate Bill Clinton–type behavior can prove it. They can make a clear break with the past by saying no more sexual misbehavior will be tolerated, even by beloved party members. They could then leverage that moral clarity in 2018 to seek the votes of the married women who are wary about the liberal agenda but might be persuadable. Instead, they’re protecting their own. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand either can position herself as America’s leading tribune for women victimized by sexual assault or she can support keeping Franken in the Senate, but not both. Her initial gambit — his apology isn’t enough but “I expect to hear more” from Franken — is insufficient. What more is there for Franken to say now that he has admitted guilt and apologized? The Democrats are creating a three-word weapon with which the GOP will never stop beating them over the head: What. About. Franken.

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Diversity has a very specific politically-correct meaning at Apple where they just fired their diversity chief for speaking out about a different kind of diversity that they're definitely not interested in.
Apple’s diversity chief is stepping down after only six months on the job — after causing an outcry by saying that being a minority or a woman are not the only criteria for diversity, according to reports.

Denise Young Smith, who was named vice president of diversity and inclusion in May, made controversial comments last month during a One Young World Summit in Bogotá, Colombia.

“There can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blond men in a room and they’re going to be diverse too because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation,” the inaugural diversity chief said.

“Diversity is the human experience,” she said, according to Quartz. “I get a little bit frustrated when diversity or the term diversity is tagged to the people of color, or the women, or the LGBT.”
She was forced to apologize and lost her job. Of course. Diversity of thought is meaningless for those who see diversity only in terms of race, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.

The WSJ notes
that the GOP's efforts to trim or eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes is making New Jersey's governor-elect rethink his campaign promise of increasing the tax on millionaires that he campaigned on.
The Republican tax reform must still pass the Senate, but already it’s having a political impact in at least one high-tax, ill-governed state. Democrat Steve Sweeney, president of the New Jersey Senate, said last week that the GOP decision to eliminate the state and local tax deduction could throw a new tax increase on millionaires into doubt.

The surcharge on millionaires is a hardy perennial in Trenton, and Governor Chris Christie vetoed it multiple times. But Governor-elect Phil Murphy, who is already rich from his Goldman Sachs days, campaigned on a special tax rate of 10.75% above the state’s already high top income-tax rate of 8.97%.

“I’ve voted for it seven times. I’ve said it’s a top priority,” Mr. Sweeney said, according to the Observer Online. “But I’m actually getting very, very nervous now with what’s happening in Washington.”

Excellent news. Making politicians in Trenton, Albany, Sacramento and Springfield nervous about raising taxes is one desirable outcome of tax reform. These politicians have been passing the burden of their tax-and-spend policies onto taxpayers in other states via the state and local deduction. If that goes away, Democrats will have to rethink their policies lest they drive from their states the affluent taxpayers who finance most of state government....

Here’s a radical idea: Cut taxes and make New Jersey more desirable for people to work and invest. Tax reform in Washington could also spur reform in the states.

I knew that the overlap of Donald Trump and LaVar Ball in one story could mean nothing good. Trump wanted the UCLA players to thank him for his efforts to get them out of China. They obediently did so. But LaVar isn't having anything to do with giving Trump credit. In fact, he rejects the idea that LiAngelo did anything bad by shoplifting in China. Now Trump is ticked off that LaVar isn't sufficiently grateful, writing on Twitter,
“Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail!”
Apparently, Trump thinks that his job is to garner praise for doing what is really his job - to help protect American citizens overseas. Apparently, he thinks that only if one expresses gratitude to him personally are you worthy of his help. He clearly wasn't taught the lesson that most children are taught - that you do something because it's the right thing to do, not for any extrinsic reward. Dang, he's immature.

THough, as Mary Katharine Ham points out, the three UCLA players are not unique in having been helped by Trump. She reminds us of Americans who were being held in places such as Egypt, China, and Venezuela and who hadn't been helped by Obama, but whom Trump was able to help.
By contrast, the more clinical and professorial Obama took the opposite approach, and in his most high-profile deals to get Americans back, got completely hosed in the trades. For all the complaining about Trump’s symbolic giveaways of American approval to unsavory regimes, which is a real concern, no deal for American prisoners he’s made has required the material giveaways Obama allowed.

For the return of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, praised by the Obama administration as serving with “honor and distinction,” Obama released five Taliban operatives, all considered high-risk for return to terror activities. Bergdahl has since been dishonorably discharged after being courtmartialed on charges of desertion and endangering troops.

Americans held in Iran, a pastor and journalist among them, were famously not part of the official deal-making with Iran on its nuclear program, subordinated as so many American priorities were to keep the regime at the negotiating table. Instead, the administration did a secret deal with Iran to release Americans, which ended with the administration unloading pallets of cash for the Iranians at the precise moment Americans were released and laughably claiming it was not a ransom.

The administration also released seven Iranian-Americans and dropped charges against 21 other fugitives as part of the prisoner swap that accompanied the cash payment, kneecapping its own Department of Justice’s National Counterproliferation Initiative by hampering and slow-walking ongoing investigations without informing those in charge of the investigations.

The Washington Posts has interviewed some escapees from North Korea about what life is like there under Kim Jong Un. It's just heart-rending. For example,
here is what one doctor said.
The salary for doctors was about 3,500 won a month. That was less than it cost to buy one kilogram of rice. So of course, being a doctor was not my main job. My main job was smuggling at night. I would send herbal medicine from North Korea into China, and with the money, I would import home appliances back into North Korea. Rice cookers, notels, LCD monitors, that kind of thing.
Here are what some schoolchildren remembered about school in North Korea....

It’s like a religion. From birth, you learn about the Kim family, learn that they are gods, that you must be absolutely obedient to the Kim family. The elites are treated nicely, and because of that they make sure that the system stays stable. But for everyone else, it’s a reign of terror. The Kim family uses terror to keep people scared, and that makes it impossible to stage any kind of social gathering, let alone an uprising.
A seven-year old: I learned songs about the general and about the Kim family and how great Kim Il Sung was.

Another seven-year-old: We got gifts on Kim Jong Un’s birthday: candy and cookies and gum and puffed rice. I was so grateful to him for giving me all these sweets. We would stand up in class and say, “Thank you, General Kim Jong Un.”

A university student: We had ideological education for 90 minutes every day. There was revolutionary history, lessons about Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un. Of course, they taught us about why we needed nuclear weapons, and they would tell us that we needed to make sacrifices in our daily lives so they could build these weapons and protect our country, keep the nation safe. I was so sick and tired of hearing about all this revolutionary history, I was so sick of calling everyone “comrade.” I didn’t care about any of that stuff....

The secret to North Korea’s survival is the reign of terror. Why do you think North Korea has public executions? Why do you think they block all communications? Why do you think North Koreans leave, knowing that they will never see their families again? It shows how bad things are. All our rights as people have been stripped away.
Read the rest of the piece. It's a whole nation of prisoners.

One such prisoner recently escaped to South Korea. A soldier guarding the North Korean side of the DMZ broke across the line and was shot up by North Korean soldiers as he raced through the DMZ. When South Korean doctors treated him, they discovered dozens of parasites in his intestines including a foot-long roundworm.
“I spent more than 20 years of experience as a surgeon, but I have not found parasites this big in the intestines of South Koreans,” Lee Cook-jong, who leads the team treating the soldier, told the Associated Press....

But the worms pulled from his intestines tell a story of the humanitarian and health crisis gripping North Korea even as it expends significant resources in its effort to become a global nuclear power.

According to, North Korea spends 22 percent of its gross domestic product on the military. Other public spending priorities have suffered, as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has built and tested his nuclear arsenal while also trading radioactive barbs with Western leaders.

A Newsweek headline put it more succinctly — and brutally: “North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is starving his people to pay for nuclear weapons.”

According to a report by the United Nations, 2 in 5 people in North Korea are undernourished. Seventy percent of people require food assistance to survive, including 1.3 million children below the age of 5.

And the food they have access to can sicken or kill them. According to the New York Times, many North Korean defectors to the South have shown up infected with parasites.

That’s partially because North Korea lacks chemical fertilizer, and many farmers rely on human excrement to fertilize fields. As a fertilizer, “night soil” is free and abundant — and even made a cameo appearance in “The Martian.”

But it’s notorious for transmitting parasites like the ones inside the North Korean defector’s stomach.

In a 2014 study, South Korean doctors checked a sample of 17 female defectors from North Korea and found seven of them infected with parasitic worms, according to the BBC. They also had higher rates of other diseases, including hepatitis B and tuberculosis.

Finding worms inside a soldier who once guarded one of the most scrutinized borders in the world is especially telling, a sign that North Korea’s food woes affect military members, who typically have a higher ranking on the food-rationing list. There are even reports that North Korean soldiers have been ordered to steal corn from farmers to stave off hunger.

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Deals in Home and Kitchen writes up one of the insidious ways that governments have found to make money.
A couple of cities in the California desert have found a novel and remarkably cruel way to make money—force citizens to pay for the privilege of being prosecuted by the attorneys contracting with these cities.

We've seen cities across the country abuse their own citizens—particularly its poorest residents and visitors—with vicious enforcement of petty laws designed to create a revenue stream via a cascade of fines and fees.

But I don't think we've seen an enforcement mechanism as nasty and cruel as the one the Desert Sun has uncovered out in California's Inland Empire. The cities of Indio and Coachella partnered up with a private law firm, Silver & Wright, to prosecute citizens in criminal court for violations of city ordinances that call for nothing more than small fines—things like having a mess in your yard or selling food without a business license.

Those cited for these violations fix the problems and pay the fines, a typical code enforcement story. The kicker comes a few weeks or months later when citizens get a bill in the mail for thousands of dollars from the law firm that prosecuted them. They are forcing citizens to pay for the private lawyers used to take them to court in the first place. So a fine for a couple of hundred dollars suddenly becomes a bill for $3,000 or $20,000 or even more.

In Coachella, a man was fined $900 for expanding his living room without getting a permit. He paid his fine. Then more than a year later he got a bill in the mail from Silver & Wright for $26,000. They told him that he had to pay the cost of prosecuting him, and if he didn't, they could put a lien on his house and the city could sell it against his will. When he appealed the bill they charged him even more for the cost of defending against the appeal. The bill went from $26,000 to $31,000.
It's just despicable. And it all comes about from a very suspicious coordination between the city government and the law firms tasked with recovering the money. Cheers to the Desert Sun for researching this story and reporting on it. This is what good journalism is.

Here's another stupid state action to recoup money from student loans.
Fall behind on your student loan payments, lose your job.

Few people realize that the loans they take out to pay for their education could eventually derail their careers. But in 19 states, government agencies can seize state-issued professional licenses from residents who default on their educational debts. Another state, South Dakota, suspends driver’s licenses, making it nearly impossible for people to get to work.

As debt levels rise, creditors are taking increasingly tough actions to chase people who fall behind on student loans. Going after professional licenses stands out as especially punitive.

Firefighters, nurses, teachers, lawyers, massage therapists, barbers, psychologists and real estate brokers have all had their credentials suspended or revoked.
How are they supposed to pay back their loans if they've lost their ability to make a living. It would be better to garnish their wages for a monthly sum then to throw them out of their jobs. It sounds like the modern version of sending people who couldn't pay their creditors to debtors' prison where they had no hope at all of repaying their loans.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Cruising the Web

The allegations against Al Sharpton Franken (Ugh! what a Freudian slip!) are quite gross and there is a high level of schadenfreude that the guy who was chastising Justice Don Willett for how unfunny his joke about A-Rod playing for a girl's softball team was is now having to abase himself after a California news anchor told the story about his forcing his tongue down her throat and then posing for a picture of his groping her while she was asleep while they were on a USO Tour. There is also a picture of him from 2000 groping Joy Behar's breast in a photo. She doesn't look upset about it, but perhaps it demonstrates that, back when he was just a comedian, he thought that was a fun thing to do. His apology today is that he realizes that his joke wasn't funny. Yeah, now that it has been made public, he's suddenly ashamed of his behavior.

Of course, what is alleged in this one story and one inappropriate picture doesn't measure up to allegations of sexual assault on minors as is alleged against Roy Moore.

But the really disturbing story is that the House has paid out $15 million in harassment settlements.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that the House has paid out $15 million in harassment settlements over more than a decade, though a spokesperson later clarified that figure does not only account for sexual harassment claims.

“One member of Congress has settled a claim and there has been a taxpayer settlement,” Speier told Chuck Todd on MSNBC's "MTP Daily."

“We do know that there’s about $15 million that has been paid out by the House on behalf of harassers in the last 10 to 15 years," she added.

A spokesperson for Speier later clarified to The Hill that the $15 million figure provided by the Office of Compliance (OOC) applied to all types of complaints handled by the office in the fiscal period between 1997 and 2016. These include not just complaints relating to sexual harassment, but also to complaints regarding racial and religious discrimination, as well as discrimination against people with disabilities, according to the spokesperson.

"The OOC does not currently provide any breakdown for the type of discrimination payments made, the amounts of individual payments, or even the offices that the complaints generate from," the spokesperson said in a statement.
Why is the House using taxpayer money to pay off claims of harassment and keeping secret the names of the members who are having to pay out settlements for any type of harassment? And now both Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi claim to not know about the settlements.
A source in House Speaker Paul Ryan's office told CNN that Ryan is not made aware of the details of harassment settlements. That source also said that the top Democrat and Republican on the House administration committee review proposed settlements and both must approve the payments.

Similarly, a source in Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's office told CNN that Pelosi also is not made aware of those details, and that they are confined to the parties of the settlement and the leaders of the administration committee.
It's disturbing and shameful that they're shelling out money in settlements and keeping it all secret from voters whose tax money is being used to hide the allegations.

The timing of all this makes things difficult for Democrats. They want to have the high moral ground against Trump and Roy Moore over allegations of sexual misconduct, but they have to account for how they closed their eyes to serious allegations against Bill Clinton and now there are these stories about Al Franken. It's easy for them to call for an Ethics Committee investigation since that is where allegations go to die. As Allahpundit writes,
What is there for the Ethics Committee to investigate in Franken’s case, exactly? The photo is what it is. Tweeden’s allegation of aggressive kissing and groping is straightforward he said/she said. Unless the idea is to open a file on Franken in the expectation that other accusers will come forward, there’s really nothing to “investigate.” And even if other accusers do come forward, there’s a jurisdictional question at stake that’s relevant to both Franken and, potentially, Roy Moore. Namely, should the Ethics Committee be in the habit of investigating behavior that happened before the senator became a senator? Why not let voters deal with that?
The Atlantic reports on how toothless the Senate Ethics Committee is.
The Ethics Committee, made up of three Republicans and three Democrats, is responsible for investigating any violations of the body’s ethics rules, but it rarely issues sanctions. In 2016, it received 63 allegations of violations, none of which resulted in disciplinary action. According to its own annual reports, the panel has not issued disciplinary sanctions against anyone in nine years.
I'd always heard that the Ethics Committee was just about the least desirable committee for a senator to be on. There is nothing they can brag to their constituents about doing on the committee and they risk ticking off their colleagues if they do take any action against a colleague. So, it's just a dodge to call for an investigation by the Ethics Committee except for setting the precedent for the committee to have the responsibility for ruling on behavior that happened before a senator took office.

But if Moore were to actually win his election, it may come down to the Senate to hold hearings to expel him. There would certainly be questions about why Moore's behavior rates expulsion but Franken should suffer no penalty.

And, of course, Trump can't keep his tweeting thumbs out of this. He refuses to say anything against Roy Moore even though Trump is probably the one person who could help in Alabama either by persuading Moore to back away from the race or to endorse some write-in candidate in place of Moore. But Trump couldn't resist tweeting an unfunny remark about Franken. He never learned to stay out of things when your enemy is destroying himself. And doesn't Trump remember that there were credible accusations against him for misconduct with women? And is Franken's joking about groping a woman wearing a Kevlar vest really worse than being caught on tape bragging about grabbing women by their private parts? Of course not! But Trump doesn't seem to have any sense of his own vulnerabilities.

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If the standard is that we shouldn't allow a man to serve in the Senate because of allegations of what he did 40 years ago, then should we close our eyes to what Franken is accused of. And President Trump doesn't want to speak out against Moore because of all the sexual allegations against him. Liberals who have two decades later decided that they are disgusted about Bill Clinton's behavior are now caught in a trap. Jonathan S. Tobin writes that this Franken story gives them an opportunity demonstrate that they mean about what they say.
In the last week, some liberals have been having public second thoughts about their defenses of Bill Clinton. In the wake of the #metoo movement and the avalanche of accusations of sexual harassment and assault being made against prominent figures such as movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, and now Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, the memory of the way liberals disbelieved, dismissed, and often heaped abuse on the women who made the same sort of charges about the 42nd president grates on their consciences. Writers including the New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg and Vox’s Matthew Yglesias have admitted they and their allies on the left were wrong to back Clinton.

Though both sought to excuse and rationalize the way Democrats and especially liberal feminists dismissed the accounts of women who had been victimized, the upshot was that if they had to do it over again, they wouldn’t allow partisanship to influence their approach to such accusations. (In fairness, Yglesias himself was in high school at the time, though he seems to want to speak for a generation that was prepared to ignore Clinton’s failings.) Moreover, the way Breitbart and many Alabama conservatives tried to discredit Moore’s growing list of accusers should remind liberals of what not to do if the tables turn once again. That ought to mean that if a Democrat is convincingly accused of harassment, his fellow liberals will issue condemnations and demands for resignation just as they have been expecting Republicans to do regarding Moore.

Now, thanks to Al Franken, they’ve got their chance.

What must be scary to everyone on Capitol Hill is that they're all waiting to see what other accusations of sexual misconduct against members of Congress are going to come out. Does anyone think that Al Franken is the only guy with a record of gross behavior toward women? And there is also the concern of a witch hunt ensuing with accusations flying and no way for anyone to determine what the truth is. Liberals tell us to always believe the victim, but can we? The reason I believe the accusations against Moore is because there were so many women with very similar stories and some of them had told friends or relatives about their experiences before this year's campaign. And Moore's fumbling responses on Hannity were much less than credible. He said it wouldn't have been characteristic of him to behave that way or date teenagers when he was in his 30s - at least not without the mother's permission. What adult male asks the mother of his dates for permission to date?

Tobin also points out that there are Republicans who are guilty of their own hypocrisy.
But Franken’s example doesn’t merely show that sleaze can be a bipartisan failing. It provides those on the left with a chance to prove that their outrage over Moore isn’t mere partisanship.

This is a test that all too many on the right have failed. Many of those who waxed self-righteous about Clinton’s appalling conduct and expressed sympathy for his victims were not willing to apply the same standard to Moore and his victims. Nor were they interested in applying the same rhetoric about the importance of virtue we heard in the late ’90s when candidate Donald Trump was called to account for the Access Hollywood tape in which he boasted of treating women abusively.
Republicans are subject to allegations of hypocrisy for not living up to their religious beliefs and moral principles in these stories. But Democrats are also bound by their fervent proclamations of being so sensitive to women's rights if they continue to close their eyes to similar allegations against those on their own side.

And who knows which other politicians will be on the hot seat in the future?

And here is a very good point about Franken's hypocrisy.

Remember in 2012 how Democrats were outraged that Mitt Romney had "binders full of women" with their resumes so he could appoint more women to his administration? Times do change, don't they?

If you're thinking that Capitol Hill is full of flawed politicians who have let power go to their heads, perhaps you might question why we have given Washington so much power in the first place?

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John Daniel Davidson argues that we could avoid the quandary afflicting Republicans as to what to do now about Roy Moore if we didn't have the 17th Amendment which changed how we elect senators. Before 1913, state legislatures chose senators. The Seventeenth Amendment changed all that to having a popular election.
The idea that state legislatures would elect senators might seem odd nowadays, but creating some distance between the popular vote and the election of senators was crucial to the Founders’ grand design for the republic. The original idea, spelled out in The Federalist Papers, was that the people would be represented in the House of Representatives and the states would be represented in the Senate. Seats in the House were therefore apportioned according to population while every state, no matter how large its populace, got two seats in the Senate.

The larger concept behind this difference was that Congress needed to be both national and federal in order to reflect not just the sovereignty of the people but also the sovereignty of the states against the federal government. In Federalist No. 62, James Madison explained that Congress shouldn’t pass laws “without the concurrence, first, of a majority of the people, and then of a majority of the states.”

Besides tempering the passions of the electorate, empowering state legislatures to elect senators was meant to protect the states from the encroachments of the federal government. The tension was (and still is) between the dual sovereignty of the national government and the states. Writing in Federalist No. 39, Madison explains that while the House of Representatives is national because it “will derive its powers from the people of America,” the Senate “will derive its powers from the States, as political and coequal societies.” We’ve lost much of this today, but the jurisdiction of the federal government, wrote Madison, “extends to certain enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects.”
He details the Gilded Age corruption that led to the calls to change the procedures for choosing senators to a popular vote. But we no longer have state legislatures under the control of huge corporations. But it would be hard to argue that the popular vote has resulted in a completely inspiring group of politicians.

This is all well and good, but it's never going to happen. Republicans might support such a move now given how, after 2016, they won total control of 32 states while the Democrats have total control of just 13. And Nebraska's unicameral legislature would probably lean conservative. That's why Democrats would never support a repeal of the 17th Amendment. And it would be hard to argue to constituents that they voted to deprive voters of a direct vote for senators. So it's all a nice pipe dream.

And this is why so many people rolled their eyes when they heard that Gloria Allred was representing a new accuser against Roy Moore. Red State points to the "bizarre" responses she's given to questions about her client's allegations.
Among the several allegations made by women against Roy Moore, one characteristic that seemed to give Beverly Nelson‘s extra credibility was the physical proof she offered: a high school yearbook signed by Moore himself while Nelson was a student, the same day he allegedly assaulted her. Comparisons to more recent Moore signatures show a striking similarity, yet the Moore camp is claiming that it’s a fake. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer addressed this issue with Nelson’s attorney, Gloria Allred, on Wednesday, but Allred didn’t appear to want to talk about it.

“Can you say flatly that was not a forgery?” Blitzer asked.

Allred did not directly address the question, only saying that questions about the signature would be welcome at a Senate hearing.

“That is not a flat denial,” Blitzer pressed.

“All I’m saying is, we’re not denying, we’re not admitting, we’re not addressing, we will not be distracted,” Allred countered.
With Moore's lawyer alleging that the yearbook is forged, it seems a bit suspect not to be willing to turn it over to a neutral judge. Why won't she speak up for her client and answer the question? Her answers are just as weasley as Moore's were with Hannity. She is saying that she's waiting for the Senate to hold hearings and she'll testify there. But if she really cares about keeping Moore out of the Senate then she shouldn't be waiting for him to get into the Senate for a hearing. And if he's defeated, the Senate would have no reason to hold a hearing.
It’s not within the Senate’s normal purview to look into this at the committee level. Especially since there’d be no legal outcome for the Senate to recommend because of the statute of limitations. It just doesn’t make sense.
So what Allred is really saying is “we aren’t going to answer any questions or have any evidence examined unless we have this thing that is not going to happen and has no reason to happen.” Well, that’s convenient.

Who here thinks it’s a coincidence that her demands center around a Senate hearing, which would be like catnip for a media hound such as Allred? Show of hands?

Nate Silver writes about how the "Democrats missed a chance to draw a line in the sand on sexual misconduct." He goes through all the reasons why the timing and context were right for the Democrats to abandon Franken. But instead they decided to circle the wagons around burying the whole thing in the Ethics Committee.
When we were thinking through the Franken story in FiveThrityEight’s internal Slack channel today, most of the men in our office thought that Franken was in deep trouble (“I think he’s toast,” I wrote at 11:07 this morning). Most of the women thought he’d hang in and survive. We’re less than a day into the story, but no surprise — it looks like the women will be right.

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All this has inspired some really great satire from The Onion. Much funnier than anything Al Franken has written.