Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Cruising the Web

As Byron York writes, contempt breeds contempt. President Obama is ostentatiously trying to ignore the Congress as he works to negotiate some sort of a deal with Iran and Senate Republicans are fighting back at Obama's attempt to ignore the Senate while he negotiates.
There's a war going on between the executive and legislative branches in which Obama has shown contempt for Congress' constitutional powers, and now, in response, Congress is showing contempt for the president's constitutional powers. It's an unfortunate situation, but it's what Obama has wrought.

The latest development is an open letter to Iranian leaders written by GOP Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and signed by 46 other Senate Republicans. Released Monday morning, the letter reminds Iran that Obama is negotiating with them on his own, without the formal approval or support of Congress. Obama is not pursuing a treaty, which would have to be agreed to by the Senate, or a joint executive-congressional agreement, which would also require Congress' approval.

"We will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei," the Republican senators write. "The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time."

Just in case there's any confusion, the Republicans remind Iran that the next U.S. president will be inaugurated in January 2017, about 22 months from now, while at least some of the GOP senators who signed the letter will remain in office for many years to come.
Predictably, the White House and Democrats are up in arms at this attempt by Republican senators to insert themselves into delicate negotiations. But all those senators are doing is informing Iran of the realities behind the U.S. Constitutional system, a system of checks and balances that Obama wishes to ignore.
Time after time, Obama has told Congress to go to hell. Now Congress is telling Obama to go to hell. It's an entirely predictable development.

Of course, it is still a bad thing. It is not good to invite a foreign leader to address Congress in a campaign against the U.S. president. It is not good to undermine the president's authority to conduct foreign policy. But it's not a good thing to undermine Congress' authority to make laws, either. And to threaten even more undermining in the future, as Obama has done.

It's too bad for Obama that he couldn't persuade Congress to do everything he wanted. That did not give him the right to encroach on Congress's constitutional authority.

Now Congress is pushing back. It's a shame it's come to this, but that's the way things work.

The Washington Post editorial board chastises Hillary Clinton for not answering questions about her use of a private server for her emails instead of the mandated State Department email system.
The tweet also does not address a number of questions that Ms. Clinton should answer: Why did she use a private account? What discussions did she have with advisers and other State Department or White House officials about it? How many messages, if any, have been omitted from those turned over to the department? Will she permit a neutral arbiter — say, from the National Archives — to examine any withheld messages?

Some have portrayed the e-mail story as a conflict between Ms. Clinton and members of Congress who are investigating the attack on a U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, while she was secretary. But this is not primarily about Benghazi. Instead, it is about how Ms. Clinton responds to legitimate questions about her judgment and her record; it is about how she would function as president. Dispatching friendly politicians and former aides to television news shows to dismiss the issue as just politics does not help her cause. If she is elected president, can Americans expect a similar response when she faces difficult questions — one 26-word tweet and a cloud of obfuscation from her friends?

If she wants to demonstrate the strength of character and judgment required to be president, Ms. Clinton should hold a news conference and answer all the unanswered questions about her e-mails.
Even the Post's liberal writer, Eugene Robinson, sounds rather disgusted with Hillary.
The Hillary Clinton e-mail controversy is a reminder of one inescapable fact: She comes with baggage. Not the kind that fits in the overhead bin, either. I’m talking steamer trunks.

How could anyone serve four years as secretary of state with no official e-mail account, instead conducting business from a private address with its own domain and server? The answer is: Deliberately.
Robinson goes on to say that the best case for Hillary is that the email scandal gets lost in disgust at Republican overreach on Benghazi and people don't pay attention to the corruption of her family's foundation accepting money from foreign countries while she was Secretary of State.

Perhaps she'll be successful in muffling the criticism that she's been receiving from the media and fellow Democrats by another "pretty in pink" press conference. After all, those are the people who want to close their eyes to the sleaze that has perpetually clung to the Clintons.

Noemie Emery ponders the bad choices that the Clintons have made.
Politicians do the darnedest things. Every so often a top politician — and often one described by his fans as a really great intellect — will blow up his career with an unforced error so egregiously stupid that your houseplant would dismiss it as completely moronic, if only your houseplant could think.

Richard M. Nixon taped himself planning a cover-up; Gary Hart posed with a blonde in his lap; and Hillary Clinton decided to accept donations to her private foundation-cum-personal-piggy-bank while serving as the country's first diplomat, after having set up a private email account that is not only unaccountable to outside authorities but also easy to hack.

It is not the Clintons' first scandal, but it is by far their least timely, and their most dangerous. For the first time, they lack the protections that managed to save them before. It is exceedingly hard to remove or to sanction a president, and traditions restrict what you can do to a first lady. Whatever she did in New York, that very blue state would not turn against a Democrat who had also been a wronged woman.

But this time, Hillary Clinton is not in office, and not running for office just in New York. In the 2012 election, the vote was exceedingly close in the swing states that decided the outcome, where the voters are less likely than her fans in her base to discount these transgressions. And with a campaign in progress from now through November in the year following, don't look for the issue to fade away soon.

In these conditions, the prudent thing would be to look for Plan B, or an alternative candidate. But if Bill Clinton gave his party a badly flawed candidate, Barack Obama has left it so badly depleted that it has hardly any options.

As historian Julian Zelizer reminds us, the Clintons have three lines of defense when they've been attacked. They attack the accuser and the whole investigation. They try to ride it out and hope it all goes away. Or they rally the party base to support them against those stinky Republicans. If, as rumored, Hillary plans to speak out about her scandals, we'll see which playbook she's going to use.

Michael Barone notes an amazing aspect of the situation that led to King v. Burwell - the fact that so many states turned down the expansion of Medicaid in Obamacare.
But beyond the legal issues, the very existence of King v. Burwell is remarkable politically. For the framers of Obamacare certainly did not expect 36 states to reject the blandishment of federal subsidies and refuse to set up state exchanges.

MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber explained why, in a now-famous videotaped talk back in 2012. "If you're a state and you don't set up an exchange, that means your citizens don't get their tax credits," he said. "If your governor doesn't set up an exchange, you're losing hundreds of millions of dollars of tax credits to be delivered to your citizens."

When the videotapes surfaced last year, Gruber said that he had misspoken, "like a typo." But obviously he was just reading the statute as written, and obviously he expected that the states would find federal money too tempting to resist.

That expectation was based on some knowledge of history. Over the last half-century, states have usually been willing to jump through Congress's hoops in order to receive supposedly "free" federal money.

For example, after Medicaid was passed in 1965, 37 states joined the program within two years and by January 1970 only two held out—Alaska, which joined in 1972, and Arizona, which held out until 1982. In the 1980s, as Congress (largely through the backroom work of Henry Waxman) increased the states' required Medicaid spending, many governors grumbled but no state dropped out of the program.

In contrast, after the Supreme Court let states reject Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, 22 states did so. And 36 states refused to set up state health insurance exchanges, despite Obamacare's "established by the state" language.

Governors and legislators are responsive to public opinion, and their increased willingness to forego federal dollars shows an increasing mistrust of centralized command-and-control government. That's going to be a continuing factor in politics and government, whichever way King v. Burwell goes.

Bret Stephens looks at the lies that have been underlying the whole tragedy of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
Yet if anyone was openly and shamelessly mocking the criminal-justice system, it was so much of the media itself, credulously accepting or sanctimoniously promoting the double fable of Ferguson: that a “gentle giant” had been capriciously slain by a trigger-happy cop; and that a racist justice system stood behind that cop.

At least half that fable was put to rest last week by an exhaustive Justice Department report. It demolishes the lie that Brown was shot in the back, along with the lie that he was surrendering to Mr. Wilson, hands in the air, when he was shot. It confirms that Brown physically assaulted the officer, who had good grounds to fear for his life.

And it confirms that eyewitnesses either lied to investigators or refused to be interviewed out of fear of local vigilantes.

“Witness 109 claimed to have witnessed the shooting, stated that it was justified, and repeatedly refused to give formal statements to law enforcement for fear of reprisal should the Canfield Drive neighborhood find out that his account corroborated Wilson.”

Witness 113 “gave an account that generally corroborated Wilson, but only after she was confronted with statements she initially made in an effort to avoid neighborhood backlash. . . . She explained to the FBI that ‘You’ve gotta live the life to know it,’ and stated that she feared offering an account contrary to the narrative reported by the media that Brown held his hands up in surrender.”

Now there’s a story for the media: A community in which honest people can’t tell the truth for fear of running afoul local thugs enforcing “the narrative reported by the media.” Or is that more of a story about the media?
John Lott also takes on the purported takeaway from the Justice Department report on racism in Ferguson.
Racism is serious, and those engaging in it should be shamed — but we should have real evidence before accusing others of it. And every one of the Justice report’s main claims of evidence of discrimination falls short.

Starting with the primary numerical claim. The report notes on page 4: “Ferguson’s law-enforcement practices overwhelmingly impact African-Americans.

Data collected by the Ferguson Police Department from 2012 to 2014 shows that African-Americans account for 85 percent of vehicle stops, 90 percent of citations, and 93 percent of arrests made by FPD officers, despite comprising only 67 percent of Ferguson’s population.”

Those statistics don’t prove racism, because blacks don’t commit traffic offenses at the same rate as other population groups.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 2011 Police-Public Contact Survey indicate that, nationwide, blacks were 31 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over for a traffic stop.

Ferguson is a black-majority town. If its blacks were pulled over at the same rate as blacks nationally, they’d account for 87.5 percent of traffic stops.
In other words, the numbers actually suggest that Ferguson police may be slightly less likely to pull over black drivers than are their national counterparts. They certainly don’t show that Ferguson is a hotbed of racism.

Critics may assert that that “31 percent more likely” figure simply shows that racism is endemic to police forces nationwide.

Hmm: The survey also reveals that men are 42 percent more likely than women to be pulled over for traffic stops. Should we conclude that police are biased against men, or that men drive more recklessly?
Read the rest of Stephens' and Lott's analysis of the bogosity of the Justice Department's findings about systemic racism in Ferguson. As Lott concludes,
The Justice Department’s report reads as a prosecutor’s brief, not an unbiased attempt to get at the truth, with evidence carefully selected and portrayed in the strongest possible light.

Differences don’t necessarily imply racism, but the Obama Justice Department doesn’t seem to care.

Daily Caller has discovered this chart from the Barrons test book for AP European History that purports to map political divisions from the French Revolution to today's political spectrum in the United States. (Click this link to see the chart.) Amazingly, the chart exemplifies Reactionary/Fascist with "Those who want things like they used to be: Clarence Thomas and the KKK" along with "Emigrees were wealthy people who fled France." The Right Wing is exemplified today by the Tea Party and matched up with Monarchists from the era of the Revolution. Conservatives are "Those against change..Most Republicans" to match up with the Girondists. The Jacobins, authors of the Terror, are mapped onto Leftists and Moderate/centrists or "Those who want to regulate banks and corporations." No mention of executing anyone suspected of not supporting the Revolution.

This is all kinds of stupid. Of course, the linking of Clarence Thomas to the KKK is both offensive and ignorant. The authors, apparently, aren't familiar with the dissent that Clarence Thomas made in Virginia v. Black in which he argued that cross-burning should be unconstitutional because of its history of terrorizing black. And, of course, the Tea Party arose as a response to what they regarded as an usurpation of liberties by the Obama administration. They are against big government. We could go one by one through the comparisons set up in the chart and refute every single one. The Girondists were not conservatives in the French Revolution. They were radicals in their opposition to the monarchy, just not as radical as the Jacobins. They were willing to accept a constitutional monarchy and argued that the Revolution should be spread to other countries.

The whole exercise is ridiculous. I teach A.P. European History. There is never any need to compare the French Revolution to today's politics. A review book is supposed to condense the material into a more digestible format for students preparing for the A.P. test. So any extraneous material should be excised, not inserted randomly just to give the authors a cheap partisan thrill. There is no way to map the politics of France in the 1790s on to today's partisan divisions. The idea is ridiculous and betrays an ignorance about both eras. Students don't need such a comparison and it is a distraction for the purpose of such a review book. The only reason to take a page of space to make such a chart is to provide the authors with a partisan giggle. I haven't seen the rest of this book, but I would not recommend it to any of my students.

I have found that Barron's is one of the worst of the publishers for AP prep books for the other AP courses I teach: AP U.S. History and AP U.S. Government and Politics. Their reviews often seem disengaged from the actual test for which they are preparing the students. The fact that this chart got through the editing process says a lot about the whole Barron's organization. I've been hired to comment on the A.P. Government prep book for another publisher. When I reviewed the book and wrote up all the ways that the book did a terrible job of preparing students for the exam, the comment I received back from the publisher's rep was that they couldn't afford to change the entire book so could I suggest three short changes that could be made. Since then I've also recommended to my students that they avoid that publisher's prep book for AP Government.

Ed Morrissey links to this tidbit, found by Justin Green, from New York Magazine's saga of the time of Brian Williams at the head of NBC News.
The Nightly News crisis exposed deep-rooted anger among many NBC journalists, who felt frustrated that Williams had been allowed to gain so much power. In recent years, the anchor had churned through executive producers who challenged him.

Others complained about Williams’s unwillingness to go after hard-hitting stories. Multiple sources told me that former NBC investigative reporters Michael Isikoff and Lisa Myers battled with Williams over stories. In February 2013, Isikoff failed to interest Williams in a piece about a confidential Justice Department memo that justified killing American citizens with drones. He instead broke the story on Rachel Maddow. That October, Myers couldn’t get Williams to air a segment about how the White House knew as far back as 2010 that some people would lose their insurance policies under Obama­care. Frustrated, Myers posted the article on NBC’s website, where it immediately went viral. Williams relented and ran it the next night. “He didn’t want to put stories on the air that would be divisive,” a senior NBC journalist told me. According to a source, Myers wrote a series of scathing memos to then–NBC senior vice-president Antoine Sanfuentes documenting how Williams suppressed her stories. ­Myers and Isikoff eventually left the network (and both declined to comment).
Oh, is anyone surprised that Williams would smother stories critical of the Obama administration? Even Rachel Maddow was willing to air a story about the Obama policy of killing people with drones. And note the defense that Williams didn't want to air stories that were "divisive." Of course, it wouldn't be divisive to air stories that made Republicans look bad. That would just be reporting, not divisiveness. As Morrissey writes,
Williams didn’t want to be “divisive”? Let’s put it another way — two other ways, actually, in which people in the industry define their mission. Aren’t journalists supposed to speak truth to power, and to afflict the comfortable while comforting the afflicted? That’s how media outlets commonly define the mission of journalism. In what ways do Barack Obama not qualify as power and “the comfortable”?

Even at the core of news reporting, the audience reaction should not enter into the equation. Isn’t it the purpose of news organizations to report the news and let everyone else decide what is “divisive”? Reporting the news means giving viewers the facts in order to have a more informed citizenry. This kind of thinking — if sincere, which seems doubtful — represents the worst kind of condescension and patronization. Williams didn’t trust his audience long before his audience found reason to lose their trust in him. Even Rachel Maddow trusted her own highly partisan audience more than Williams trusted his.

Sherman’s report here echoes the most pervasive and insidious kind of media bias, as described by Bernard Goldberg in his seminal book Bias. Most problems of media bias come less from the reporting and more from editorial control of the content. What we call “media bias” is largely “editorial bias” — choosing which news stories to cover, and which to bury. The impact of that reaches into the reporting, not just because of hiring practices but by the incentive structures that get built up with editorial bias.

New York Magazine may have inadvertently provided an example of this here, too. Why did this get buried near the bottom of a long analysis? Has anyone thought to ask Lisa Myers of other stories she had that Williams buried, and whether they had any similarities with the two listed — especially in regard to whether they were critical of the Obama administration? Sharyl Attkisson found herself on the outs at CBS in a very similar scenario.

Seems like there’s a story there, for those who aren’t worried about divisiveness or afflicting the comfortable.

This is cute. Zagsblog gathers together the tanking mottos for NBA teams that are out there fighting for the lowest spot in the lottery and the possible top picks. For the teams trying to get the opportunity to draft Duke's Jahlil Okafor, I like "Choke for Ok" and "Lose some more for Okafor." For Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein, teams can "Forget you have a spine for Willie Cauley-Stein."