Friday, April 15, 2016

Cruising the Web

Angelo M. Codevilla, who once worked as a security officer in the Navy and for the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating security breaches, has an interesting history of how the Espionage Act has been used in the past to protect national secrets. Despite the language of the law, officials have often leaked information to the media in order to enhance their own reputations or harm those whom they opposed.
But all administrations have pursued leaks that call into question their competence, judgment, or political priorities. As often as not, the initiative for criminalizing the disclosure of unfavorable information comes from the bureaucracy. The point is straightforward: there is nothing objective in the U.S. government’s attempt to stanch leaks. Nor is the Obama administration unique in protecting its own favorites.

The Espionage Act’s new currency in our time is due to the fact that 9/11 and terrorism have reinforced the government’s perennial argument that more power and secrecy for the security agencies will result in a greater degree of safety for Americans. But, whether in the case of the prosecution that the Bush administration initiated against Times reporter James Risen for reporting a failed CIA operation to thwart Iran’s uranium enrichment program or the Obama administration’s prosecution of Fox News reporter James Rosen for reporting its failure to thwart North Korea’s nuclear program, the reason for the anger had everything to do with the reputation of those in power.

Nor was Department of Defense employee Lawrence Franklin sentenced to 13 years in prison (reduced to ten months of house arrest) for giving verbal classified information to the Israeli lobby because of any argument that the substance of the information he passed had made the American people less secure. No.
But now Obama is suggesting that the law that he has been enforcing in his own administration should be ignored when Hillary Clinton is involved.
But even under the older, more permissive view of the Espionage Act, Hillary Clinton is in big trouble. It is not possible to argue that she maintained a private system of communication for public business in a fit of absentmindedness. Pleading ignorance or nonchalance about whether the information that crossed her inbox over four years as secretary of State was irrelevant to the safety of Americans is untenable prima face.

Nor can she take refuge in the fact that much classified information is classified improperly. Surely, secretaries of State get documents that come from communication intercepts, unmistakably. Mishandling those is supposed to get you ten years in the slammer plus a $10,000 fine for each count. Then there are the Special Access Programs, the very subject matter of which justifies the Codeword classification.

In short, her case cannot be laid in front of a jury, grand or petit, without a nasty outcome. That is why the Democratic Party cannot allow it to get there. Obama can attempt to minimize her predicament only so long as it is done by generalities.

But while Clinton’s confrontation with the Espionage Act can be solved by a presidential pardon, if not by election to the presidency, its contemporary usage well-nigh eliminates the element of reason and of the actual value of classified information from the law, thus transmuting it into something like an [British] Official Secrets Act. This poses a big problem for the rest of us.
Do we really want to make prosecution of American law contingent on the political desires of those in power? That is what President Obama is suggesting when he downplays the criminality of what Hillary Clinton has done.

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Slate looks at how Bernie Sanders could make the Democratic convention a bit more chaotic than Hillary could ever imagine by trying to sway superdelegates from states that voted for him to also vote for him. That is what Obama did and it worked in 2008 and Hillary eventually bowed out rather than taking the fight to the convention. What if Bernie didn't bow out? It would make a mess of what Hillary probably regards as her rightful coronation show and it might also spell the end of the superdelegates.
But Hillary Clinton in 2008 was a much different person than Bernie Sanders is in 2016. She was, and is, a party player, and taking her doomed fight to the convention in 2008 would have crippled her legacy within the party and her chances for running again in the future. Sanders, as the Clinton campaign likes to point out, is much less a party man, and he’s also in his mid-70s, meaning it’s highly unlikely that he would run for president again. What does he have to lose by contesting the convention other than the admiration of his peers, which he never had in the first place?

Good lord, would the people who run the Democratic Party loathe him if he did this. His challenge would obstruct Clinton’s four-day PR showcase. It would hamper her efforts to bring Sanders supporters into the fold before November. It would get in the way, basically, and draw media attention away from the Republicans’ own historically nightmarish spectacle.

Maybe, then, the anger that Democratic Party leaders would feel would finally provide the impetus needed to kill off superdelegates. Sanders would show that superdelegates, instead of saving the party from electoral disaster, instead make it easier for an outsider candidate to cause problems.

Democrats created superdelegates to give party leaders a final check over nominations after the reforms of the 1970s, in their opinion, gave too much power to primary voters. But the superdelegate trigger has never been pulled. Voters have always chosen nominees that the party deems acceptable, and it would destroy the party if superdelegates ever did overturn the clear preference of the voters.

What superdelegates have done is dilute the pool of pledged delegates and make it that much harder for the leading candidate to compile a delegate majority solely from pledged delegates. That in turn gives someone like, say, Bernie Sanders a justification for extending his fight into the convention if he’s willing to shatter certain norms of intra-party etiquette. And as you’ve probably noticed, norms aren’t doing so hot in politics these days.
If only I weren't so depressed by the state of the Republican Party, I could be sitting back with a big tub of popcorn enjoying what is happening on the Democratic side.

This is why Donald Trump can't repeat Ronald Reagan's 1980 performance and overcome an original poll deficit to Jimmy Carter.
“[T]he favourability numbers for Trump are like super bad, like minus 30. So that means that something like 35% of Americans approve of him and 65% do not approve of him. And there has never been anybody in the history of that question being asked of voters — nobody with numbers that low has ever been elected president…
And Reagan was helped by a superior performance in a debate a week before the election. That was the "There you go again" and "Are you better off than you were four years ago" debate. It was a turning point in the election and late-deciding voters broke overwhelmingly for Reagan in the election that was just a week later. If I were a Trump supporter, I wouldn't count on such a performance from there guy during a debate to persuade late-deciders. I would imagine that a contest between two of the best-known people in the country, there might not even be that many late-deciders at that point.

As a side note, I was just covering the late 1970s and the 1980 election in my US History class yesterday and I had pictures of Carter and Reagan from 1980 up on the screen and one girl exclaimed, "You know, Reagan was a good-looking man for an old guy." There was a bit discussion among the students, but they basically agreed with her.

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Jim Geraghty casts some shade on the idea that Trump and Kasich could team up at the convention on a ticket that would combine their delegates and put Trump over the top. Of course, the Kasich folks insist that this is never, ever, ever going to happen and it would destroy whatever remains of Kasich's reputation. But the lure of The Donald could perhaps be too much for Kasich. He certainly has been blocking for Trump in several states against Cruz.
There’s a complication to this theory of two candidates attempting to merge their delegates together to reach the threshold: Most delegates are bound to vote for a particular candidate for a certain number of ballots under their respective state rules. In other words, even if, say, Marco Rubio wanted his delegates to vote for Cruz, they wouldn’t be able to do so until they were unbound — and even then, in most states, those delegates are free agents. They can follow instructions from the candidate or ignore them. Kasich’s Ohio delegates might be free to switch if the Ohio were to withdraw:
The Ohio Republican Party rules are mostly silent on the matter of the release and/or binding of delegates. Article X, Section 1(d), the special rule added to make the allocation winner-take-all for just 2016, awards all 66 delegates to the winner of the statewide Ohio primary. That is the extent of the binding. Not included is information on how delegates would be released in the event that the winner of the primary withdraws from the race in addition to any description of how long those delegates would be bound at the national convention. Unlike other states, the number of ballots bound is not specified in the Ohio Republican Party rules.

Well, of course, this is Donald Trump's favorite Bible verse.
“Is there a favorite Bible verse or Bible story that has informed your thinking or your character through life, sir?” asked host Bob Lonsberry on WHAM 1180 AM.
Trump responded, “Well, I think many. I mean, when we get into the Bible, I think many, so many. And some people, look, an eye for an eye, you can almost say that. That’s not a particularly nice thing. But you know, if you look at what’s happening to our country, I mean, when you see what’s going on with our country, how people are taking advantage of us, and how they scoff at us and laugh at us. And they laugh at our face, and they’re taking our jobs, they’re taking our money, they’re taking the health of our country. And we have to be firm and have to be very strong. And we can learn a lot from the Bible, that I can tell you.”
Allahpundit thinks this is the quintessential Donald Trump.
I’m going to be bold and pronounce this the single Trumpiest thing he’s said since the campaign began. Really! Trumpier than him goofing on McCain for being taken prisoner in Vietnam, Trumpier than him goofing on his fans by claiming they’d stick with him even if he shot someone in broad daylight. I’m a lapsed Catholic turned nonbeliever so I’ll let the faithful among our readers correct me, but isn’t this … one of the worst possible answers that a Christian could give to this question? An “eye for an eye” does appear in the Bible, true, but it’s Old Testament; it was specifically repudiated by Jesus himself in the gospel of Matthew in favor of “turn the other cheek,” as John McCormack notes. The whole point of Christianity, I thought, is to resist vengeance and embrace forgiveness, and it’s captured nowhere more succinctly than in the rejection of “an eye for an eye.” So here’s Trump, who’s been half-heartedly pandering to evangelicals since last summer, deciding that the lesson from the Bible that sticks with him is the one about, um, revanchism, which Jesus instructed his disciplines to ignore. It’s like naming Baal your favorite member of the holy trinity.

Joe Biden's response
when asked about Hillary and Bernie's qualifications to be president will not please the Hillary campaign.
On Wednesday, Sean Hannity asked Trump about his upcoming series of speeches on policy.

Trump's response included his views on policy and intelligence. "Look, I believe strongly in policy, I believe strongly in being smart."
Well, that sure clarifies things.

I guess this is what we can expect from Donald Trump's supposed pivot to talking about public policy.

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The EU was created by elites without input from the citizens of the respective countries. And now those elites can't stand the fact that citizens might reject the wisdom that their leaders are signing countries up to endure. So some leaders are suggesting that countries should not be able to hold referenda voting on EU decisions now that Dutch voters have voted down allowing Ukrainians, who aren't members of the EU, to settle in the Netherlands. Of course, the EU has ignored referenda in the past. Why should the votes of the little people stop them from doing what they wanted?
The EU has ignored a number of votes in the past. The implementation of the European Constitution was rejected by both French and Dutch voters in 2005. Despite the ‘no’ vote the the EU pushed ahead with the constitution anyway in the form of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty.

At the time the UK had wanted a referendum, but under pressure from Brussels the Labour Party government signed the treaty without consulting the public. All the polling suggested the British would have rejected the Lisbon Treaty had they been given the chance to vote on it.

Irish voters did defeat the Lisbon Treaty but the EU insisted they have a second referendum. That gave them the opportunity to campaign and push the proposal through.
And now the EU's leaders are waiting nervously for the results of the UK's June referendum on whether they should stay in the EU.
This week the government broke its pledge not to campaign and spent around $12m sending pro-EU literature to every household in the country. The move was widely seen as evidence that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, feared the country may vote out.

The UK referendum was scheduled for June because of fears the Syrian migrant crisis will get worse over the summer. Pollsters believe the government would have no prospect of holding the UK in the EU if the referendum was held after the next influx.
Yeah, they can't have people voting based on the results of their policies, can they?

Michael McConnell, one of the country's most foremost experts on the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses, writes to explain how baseless the administration's argument is in the case Zubik v. Burwell, the Little Sisters of the Poor case.
Shortly after oral argument, in an unusual move, the Supreme Court ordered both sides to submit supplemental briefs addressing a less restrictive alternative to the contraception mandate. The question put the government in a bind. If it answered “yes,” it would effectively be admitting to a RFRA violation. But if the government said “no,” it would be appearing unwilling to work with the Court on a solution that will satisfy both sides.

What did the government do in its supplemental brief? It hemmed and it hawed. It complained about the question, then it said no, then it said yes, then it spent pages asking the Court to do certain things if it lost.

Meanwhile, the petitioners responded in their first paragraph: “The answer to that question is clear and simple: Yes.”

Not a good day for the government.
McConnell guesses that the Justices are trying to work out a decision that would accept an accommodation that would take away the mandate that such religious organizations have to supply free contraceptives.
Something must be going on behind the maroon curtains. A 4-4 split would be a victory for the government in almost all the cases. Why explore alternatives unless there are doubts among the pro-government ranks on the Court? And why worry about alternatives unless the Justices are unpersuaded by the government’s argument that the mandate imposed no substantial burden on religious exercise to begin with? (That was the basis on which the government won most of the cases in the courts of appeals.)

Most significantly, the order suggests that the Justices are delving into the weeds of regulatory detail. I have always thought that the more you get into the regulatory details, the weaker the government’s case begins to look. The Administration’s supporters have gotten by on sloppy mischaracterizations of the proposed accommodation — my favorite is that the accommodation only asks the petitioners to “raise their hands” to say they need to be exempted from the mandate. If only it were that simple.

In truth, the conflict is over whether the petitioners can be forced to file forms that the government deems to be authorizations to use their health plan as the infrastructure for the provision of contraceptive coverage. Now, the Court has asked a logical question: Why is it necessary for the petitioners to sign such a thing? Aren’t there straightforward ways to provide contraceptive coverage to petitioners’ employers (if that is what the government wants) without petitioners’ written authorization and without using the infrastructure of their plans?
McConnell then goes through the administration's brief and how they answer "no" to the Court's question about accepting a less restrictive alternative to the contraception mandate and then turned around and answered "yes." And then asked the Court not to really hurt the mandate if it ruled against the administration. McConnell, after reading the briefs, suggests that the Court might come up with a way to rule in favor of the petitioners and against the administration.
On a highly polarized issue, the Supreme Court deserves credit for seeking a solution that protects the rights of religious parties under RFRA while still accomplishing the government’s goal of free access to contraception. The Little Sisters have always said they simply want to be left alone to carry out their good works without violating their religious beliefs. Their supplemental brief proves the point, showing that there is no inherent conflict between their religious beliefs and the government’s goals. The government’s brief seems to acknowledge the handwriting on the wall. Because it can use a less restrictive means to accomplish its interests, it must.
After the death of Justice Scalia, there was a lot of analysis supposing that this would mean a 4-4 split ruling going against the nuns. McConnell's analysis and the incoherent brief from the administration suggests otherwise.

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Some common sense from a court decision.
A federal judge in Nebraska has ruled that the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is not a real religion. In the case Cavanaugh-v-Bartelt, the justice found that Stephen Cavanaugh, a prisoner in Nebraska, could not use his belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster as a legitimate claim for religious accommodations....

Cavanaugh tried to claim that his status as a "Pastafarian" entitled him to the rights to wear religious clothing (which the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster describes as a pirate outfit) and to partake in communion (spaghetti and meatballs). A judge rejected these claims as well as his claims that he faced significant burden in practicing his religious beliefs.

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was founded in 2005 as a mockery to attempts to put intelligent design theories in school curriculum. Membership is acquired through the church website.

Other states, however, have ruled in favor of other Pastafarians, and allowed them to wear colanders (which FSMism describes as "religious headgear") in driver's license pictures.
There's a legitimate question as to whether a judge should be able to decide that a religion is legitimate, but when a religion plays itself for satire, it would seem to be the obvious conclusion that it is not a legitimate religion.

I might be cheering a freedom-seeking creature, but I'm just icked out.
An enterprising octopus spotted his chance to escape from a New Zealand aquarium -- and took it.

Squeezing out from a gap at the top of his tank, the "inquisitive" octopus, Inky, slithered across the floor of the aquarium and down a seawater runoff pipe to Hawke's Bay, and freedom.

Check out how liberal or conservative a given university is based on the political donations of its professors.