Monday, July 04, 2016

Cruising the Web

Happy Fourth of July! It's fitting that we remember what historian Richard Samuelson calls the "fighting spirit" of the Founders.
On July 4, 1826, as Jefferson lay dying, Americans listened to his "last letter." Jefferson reminded Americans to honor that "host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword." The "host of worthies" put their necks on the line for our liberty. By honoring them on this day, we show our own worthiness as inheritors of the cause for which they risked all.
I always remind my students when we're studying this period not to forget that no one knew how this fight for independence would turn out. Those 13 colonies with barely an established or trained military force were going up against what was thought to be the one of the strongest military forces of all time, one that had won four major wars against France in the past century. They truly were risking their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. This moment in history, our country's founding moment, is truly worth honoring.

Yale history professor Steve Pincus writes in the Washington Post that the signers of the Declaration of Independence would have been more likely to oppose the arguments of the Brexit supporters. In his view, Brexit was the dead opposite of the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. Pincus is an expert on British political history, I have read his history of the Glorious Revolution, 1688: The First Modern Revolution and really enjoyed it so I was interested in his view, but I find myself unconvinced. His point is that George III had worked to block immigration to the colonies because he feared expanding a population that was making trouble for the British government thus creating another complaint that the signers of the Declaration of Independence had against the King in stark contrast to supporters of Brexit who oppose immigration.
The architects of American independence favored strong pro-immigrant policies for the colonies. King George III’s abandonment of those policies (he had stopped the flow of people to North America) was one of the Declaration of Independence’s major complaints. The founders called for a government that would allow for free movement of goods and peoples.

In the declaration, the founders denounced George III for endeavoring “to prevent the population of these states.” They blamed him for “obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners” and lamented that he had reversed decades of British laws that “encourage … migrations hither.” Like Britain’s pro-“remain” politicians today, America’s founders valued the skills that foreign workers could bring and understood that immigrants purchase manufactured goods, helping to drive economic growth. “New settlers to America,” Benjamin Franklin said, would quickly add their skills to the pool while also providing “a growing demand for our merchandise to the greater employment of our manufacturers.”
First of all, I have never seen an argument that resentment of the King's opposition to immigration was one of the "major complaints" for the revolution. Even if it was, there seems to be a major difference between objecting to a king an ocean away deciding to limit immigration and objecting to bureaucrats and leaders of other countries determining what the immigration policy would be to the UK. And just because the population in 1776 welcomed more immigration and wanted to spread across the Appalachian Mountains into what seemed to them a boundless frontier does not mean that British citizens today are going to have the same attitude toward immigration. The comparison seems strained to argue that the Founders would support open immigration today to the UK and would support having the decisions on immigration taken out of the hands of the British government. If anything, the Founders were all about having decisions made by those closest to the people. At the time that was their colonial legislatures. They felt that that was the best way to to maintain citizens' control over a government that would otherwise try to aggrandize its own power.

Pincus has a book coming out in a couple of months, The Heart of the Declaration: The Founders’ Case for an Activist Government, in which he plans to argue against the standard interpretation of the ideology underlying the Declaration of Independence. Amazon promotes the book by writing,
The Declaration of Independence has long been invoked as a philosophical treatise in favor of limited government. Yet the bulk of the document is a discussion of policy, in which the Founders outlined the failures of the British imperial government. Above all, they declared, the British state since 1760 had done too little to promote the prosperity of its American subjects. Looking beyond the Declaration’s frequently cited opening paragraphs, Steve Pincus reveals how the document is actually a blueprint for a government with extensive powers to promote and protect the people’s welfare. By examining the Declaration in the context of British imperial debates, Pincus offers a nuanced portrait of the Founders’ intentions with profound political implications for today.
In Pincus's essay in the Washington Post, he makes his argument that the Founders supported an activist government.
Brexit supporters and the declaration’s authors also part company on the role of government. Many in the pro-“leave” camp are suspicious of government and complain about “a growing E.U. bureaucracy” as a “bland leviathan.” But America’s founders celebrated the creative potential of the state to promote the general welfare and happiness of the people; they wanted an activist government – one that would intervene in the economy to promote growth. “Government,” the Second Continental Congress declared in 1775, “was instituted to promote the welfare of mankind, and ought to be administered for the attainment of that end.” John Adams, one of the Committee of Five who drew up America’s declaration, thought that the new document would encourage the development of state-sponsored industries. In addition to subsidizing agricultural products, he thought the states needed to sponsor societies that would encourage “arts, manufactures, and commerce.”

....America’s founders, unlike today’s Brexiters, wanted a government that supported open lanes for both trade and migration. They understood the economic value to be gained from these things. They lamented that George III had cut “off our trade with all parts of the world,” in much the same way that supporters of “remain” lament loss of access to European markets. It is those who want Britain to remain within the E.U., not their opponents, who share the spirit of the American founders.
Such arguments over the role of the federal government were indeed at the heart of the arguments in the early years of the republic. We see the split between what Hamilton was arguing for in his economic plans for the federal government for a national bank, the assumption of state debts, a tariff to promote infant industries, as well as federal assistance to such industries. However, this wasn't the view of all the Founders. An entire political party, the Jeffersonian Republicans, grew up in opposition to such views.

And arguments over the role of the federal government in the national economy continued up into the 20th century. Also, there is a wide gulf between advocating a role in government to promote the general welfare of the people and support for bureaucrats in Brussels to try to do the same for an entire continent made up of differing economies and histories. And lamenting that Britain had cut off the trade of the colonies with Britain's economic enemies of the time, the French and Dutch, through mercantilist policies does not translate to saying that Brexiters who want out of the EU are making arguments that the Founders would have derided.

First of all, I would guess that many who voted for Leave would also support some sort of agreement to remain in the free-trade sphere of the EU rather like Norway has. They're not necessarily against free trade. Secondly, 18th century Americans were not content to remain within thetrade area of the British mercantile system; they also wanted free trade outside that system, particularly with the Dutch and French West Indies. And the Navigation Acts, by denying the Americans the ability to build up their own manufacturing base, were not truly a free trade zone. Many in Britain today regard the regulations emanating out of Brussels as efforts to limit their own freedom to build businesses.

I would have to read Pincus's book when it comes out, but his arguments trying to use the Founders' supposed support for an activist government as a cudgel against Brexit seems quite strained to me. One could just as easily make the argument that the Founders would have agreed with those who voted for Leave. I'm doubtful of the idea that support for an activist government was a founding principle for this country. There were too many who opposed that idea in the early decades of our country from the Anti-Federalists to the Jeffersonians to Jacksonian Democrats. And to jump from that tendentious position to analogizing to today's situation in the EU seems a leap too far for me.

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Ah, a recurring question: why do so many people distrust and dislike Hillary Clinton? Jeff Greenfield takes a stab at answering it. He goes through a long list of lies that she's uttered such as claiming that she and Bill were "dead broke" when his presidency was over or that she was paid $675,000 for three speeches for Goldman Sachs because "that's what they offered." And then there is her claim that those women who claim that they were victims of sexual assault should always be believed, except for those women, apparently, who made claims against her husband. There are so many lies, some that I hadn't even heard of such as Bill claiming during the Lewinsky scandal that he felt like a character in Darkness at Noon.
He’s talking about Rubashov—the loyal Bolshevik purged by the Stalinists in Arthur Koestler’s classic novel. That comparison would have been apt—if Monica Lewinsky had been making up a phony story designed to damage his presidency. (That’s the story, by the way, the White House was preparing to tell until that blue dress turned up.) How is it possible for Bill Clinton to have thought himself such a victim unless he saw himself as a force for good, fighting against forces of evil? (In his memoir, My Life, Clinton says at one point that the forces trying to remove him from office were the enemies of civil rights and other worthy causes.)
Right. Because disliking having a president who admittedly perjured himself means that one hates civil rights. And that's what turns so many people off about the Clintons. They think that they are above ordinary ethical standards and only someone with partisan and despicable motives would doubt them.
And that’s the problem; not just with this incident [Bill meeting Loretta Lynch on her plane], but with a decades-long pattern of behavior by both Bill and Hillary Clinton that goes a long way toward explaining why a hefty majority of Americans do not regard the likely next president of the United States as honest or trustworthy. It really does appear that both Clintons regard themselves as so removed from the grubby motives that tempt lesser mortals that they are to be judged by a wholly different set of standards.

Consider how just about anyone else might have thought about this latest dust-up. Hey, Loretta Lynch will be here in a few minutes. I’d love to catch up with her. But hold on—she’s the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, whose Justice Department is charged with deciding whether or not to charge my wife with a crime for her use of emails. I can’t sit down with her for a private chat; that’d be like the spouse of a litigant meeting with the judge in the case! I’ll catch up with her another time.
The most likely explanation for Bill Clinton’s behavior is his conviction that no one but a right-wing extremist could possibly see anything squicky about this chat because… he’s Bill Clinton.

Does this sound flip? I think it helps explain how both he and Hillary Clinton have justified decades of questionable words and deeds.
And now we're likely to get at least four more years of such sanctimonious corruption. Geesh!

As Dan Balz points out, if we're going to find the meeting between Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton violates prosecutorial ethics, how about the fact that her boss has endorsed Hillary and is campaigning with her.
Lynch isn’t the only one whose actions raise questions. Think of this: The president has endorsed and is actively campaigning for Clinton at a time when his Justice Department is still in the process of deciding whether she should be prosecuted. Although that has drawn little comment, it shocks some who have been in senior positions in previous governments and who believe that no White House can be truly indifferent or disinterested in such an important case.

Obama has made mistakes on this before. He seemingly sided with Clinton earlier, saying she was careless but that he didn’t think she had intentionally put national security in jeopardy. Does the fact of his endorsement mean that he thinks, as do any number of legal experts, that she will be in some way exonerated by the Justice Department?
Allahpundit comments,
If Obama were a Republican, the media would be rending its garments in grief at such a brazen attempt by the president to influence a criminal investigation into his party’s nominee. It’s an even more malignant example of the attitude that drove the Clinton/Lynch meeting, that because everyone assumes and has always assumed that Hillary will walk due to her political influence, there’s no point in keeping up pretenses that the investigation’s outcome is in doubt. There’s no sense sweating over an appearance of impropriety when there is impropriety and everyone knows it, right? That’s the state of Hopenchange circa 2016.

And while we're talking about Clinton family sleaze, it now appears that Hillary shared "protected" State Department information about Greek bonds with her husband right at the time that her son-in-law was setting up a hedge fund company based on his faulty prediction that Greece's banking system would be secured by bailouts.
Hedge fund manager Marc Mezvinsky had friends in high places when he bet big on a Greek economic recovery, but even the keen interest of his mother-in-law, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, wasn't enough to spare him and his investors from financial tragedy.

In 2012, Mezvinski, the husband of Chelsea Clinton, created a $325 million basket of offshore funds under the Eaglevale Partners banner through a special arrangement with investment bank Goldman Sachs. The funds have lost tens of millions of dollars predicting that bailouts of the Greek banking system would pump up the value of the country’s distressed bonds. One fund, exclusively dedicated to Greek debt, suffered near-total losses.

Clinton stepped down as secretary of state in 2013 to run for president. But newly released emails from 2012 show that she and Clinton Foundation consultant, Sidney Blumenthal, shared classified information about how German leadership viewed the prospects for a Greek bailout. Clinton also shared “protected” State Department information about Greek bonds with her husband at the same time that her son-in-law aimed his hedge fund at Greece.

That America’s top diplomat kept a sharp eye on intelligence assessing the chances of a bailout of the Greek central bank is not a problem. However, sharing such sensitive information with friends and family would have been highly improper. Federal regulations prohibit the use of nonpublic information to further private interests or the interests of others. The mere perception of a conflict of interest is unacceptable.
I'm just a high school teacher in North Carolina, but I could have predicted that betting on the solvency of the Greek economy was a very bad idea. Mezvinsky's fund went on to lose millions including California's pension fund, CalPERS, which reportedly lost $13 million in the fund. Why the public pension fund was betting on hedge funds that were betting on Greece's economy is another mystery that, if I were a California public employee, I would like to have answers to. Did they just want to buy influence with the Clintons through their son-in-law and that trumped their fiduciary responsibility? Or is that just too cynical?

What is clear, however, is that we have another very questionable conflict of interest involving Hillary's time at the State Department. She might not have had many accomplishments there, but she still managed to rack up an impressive number of scandals to add to her sleazy record. I wonder how many times she doesn't wish she'd stayed in the Senate. She wouldn't have the prestigious line on her resume, but she would have avoided a whole lot of scandal tainting her name. But at least there are all those millions that she and Bill managed to rack up while she was there.

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Jonathan Last tries to comfort himself that Hillary isn't as bad as some of the other Democrats might have been.
Do you believe Clinton would be a worse president that Obama has been? I don't. Clinton is venal and pliable and eager to follow paths of political opportunism, which suggests that she never would have pushed through unpopular measures such as Obamacare or mass amnesty. Further, whatever her faults in the realm of foreign policy, there is nothing in her history to suggest that she is in favor of the decline of American influence abroad, as Obama clearly is. This isn't even a close call.

How about John Kerry? Again, I'd prefer Clinton. She lies habitually, but at least her ambition has never led her to impugn the honor of American soldiers. Also, she's a good deal tougher than Secretary Windsurfer.

Al Gore? I'll take Clinton again. Gore was once a serious man; after the 2000 election his entire life spun out of control and he became a crazy person.
Don't you feel better about having Madam President in office next year?

Ah, the true priorities for the Democrats.
The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there are now over 2,600 cases of the Zika virus confirmed in the United States and its territories. Most cases are occurring in Puerto Rico, but there are at least 162 cases in Florida and 198 in New York. And scariest of all is that over 450 of the reported cases are pregnant women. It is their unborn children for which the disease poses the greatest harm.

Despite the fact there is plenty of money scattered across the federal government that could be used without Congress adding another dime to the debt, Democrats have made the decision to hold hostage the health of the American people until they get more money and until some of those dollars are given to Planned Parenthood.

Proof of that is the decision by Senate Democrats this week to block funding of $1.1 billion to fight the Zika virus. These are the same Senate Democrats, by the way, who voted for $1.1 billion of funding just last month....

So, if you’re a Republican, spending money you weren’t going to spend is now considered “savings.” If you’re a Democrat, spending money you weren’t going to spend is now considered a “cut.”
Hypocrisy on all sides, but when you hear people bemoaning the lack of compromise in Washington, remember this example and who was really blocking a reasonable deal on Zika.

Christiane Amanpour defends herself from all the derision she's received for her attacks disguised as an interview on Daniel Hannan, a pro-Brexit MP. She still brags about speaking truth to power even though what she was really doing was making accusations without letting him answer. In her view, as she says right up front was that the referendum was about truth and myths with the pro-Leave supporters taking the role of "myths. In her post, she says of the Remain side "never has there been a case so one-sided." So, holding those views doesn't indict her objectivity, but support her self-praise as someone who supports truth over myths. And how can she brag about speaking "truth to power" when she is on the side of all the leaders in power in Europe? As James Taranto writes,
Here she is not digging for facts but bowing to authority. And note that in the course of what she herself describes as “this screed,” through this trick of equivocation she manages to perform a full Orwellian inversion: She makes appeals to authority while claiming to “speak truth to power.”

In claiming “real objectivity” while rejecting neutrality, Amanpour recasts the journalist’s role as that of publicist for expert opinion. She quotes Justice Minister Michael Gove, who during the Brexit campaign told Sky News, “People in this country have had enough of experts.” She answers with a sneer: “Say what again?”

To be sure, expertise has its value. By definition an expert has superior knowledge in his particular field. But an expert opinion is still an opinion, and experts are no less prone than laymen to prejudice, motivated reasoning, groupthink and other forms of cognitive bias.

The role Amanpour envisions for journalists is a subservient one with respect to the experts whose opinions she wishes to promulgate. But it is one that puts journalists in a position of authority over their readers and viewers. In reality, however, the consumer of news, as with any other product in a competitive marketplace, is sovereign. He has the power to change the channel or read something else.

A better ethos for journalists can be found in that 1960s bumper sticker, “Question authority”—a sentiment that reflects the thinking of Socrates and Benjamin Franklin. Don’t accept expert opinion as infallible or merely “factual”; see if it withstands the test of a deeper inquiry. And let experts who dissent from the consensus have their say, too—as Daniel Hannan managed to do despite Amanpour’s effort to brand him a heretic.

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The NYT revisits
Trump's obsession with birtherism back in 2011.
Mr. Trump’s eagerness to embrace the so-called birther idea — long debunked, and until then confined to right-wing conspiracy theorists — foreshadowed how, just five years later, Mr. Trump would bedevil his rivals in the Republican presidential primary race and upend the political system.

In the birther movement, Mr. Trump recognized an opportunity to connect with the electorate over an issue many considered taboo: the discomfort, in some quarters of American society, with the election of the nation’s first black president. He harnessed it for political gain, beginning his connection with the largely white Republican base that, in his 2016 campaign, helped clinch his party’s nomination.

“The appeal of the birther issue was, ‘I’m going to take this guy on, and I’m going to beat him,’” said Sam Nunberg, who was one of Mr. Trump’s advisers during that period but was fired from his current campaign. “It was a great niche and wedge issue.”
The whole episode exposed Trump's desire to remain in the public eye while making baseless allegations that linked him with some of the wackier people in public life out there and then how he dropped the issue once Obama released his birth certificate. It is rather revealing that it was his ability to dominate the media over that issue that led him to think more seriously about running for the presidency. Other candidates base their decision on real accomplishments in policy or governance. And then there is this typical detail.
But for all of his fascination with the president’s birth certificate, Mr. Trump apparently never dispatched investigators or made much of an effort to find the documents.

Dr. Alvin Onaka, the Hawaii state registrar who handled queries about Mr. Obama, said recently through a spokeswoman that he had no evidence or recollection of Mr. Trump or any of his representatives ever requesting the records from the Hawaii State Department of Health.
It's the same lack of follow-through that typifies his whole presidential campaign.

Reality hits politicians
enamored of over-regulation.
The D.C. Council delayed its workplace scheduling regulations Tuesday in response to outcry from the business community, but now some are calling for the rule to be abandoned completely.

Business owners denounced the proposed rule for putting unfair burden on industries that need flexible schedules. The proposed rule would require employers to post schedules 14 days in advance and offer part-time employees more work before hiring anyone new....

Several businesses citywide warned the rule will impose unnecessary burdens, and employers thinking of expanding operations into the city could be dissuaded. Workplace regulations like minimum wages are often a huge factor for business owners when considering where to operate.

Restaurants, retailer and others within the service industry rely on flexible work schedules. Employers cannot predict exactly how many workers they need at any particular time, which is why they utilize part-time and standby workers. They might need to send some workers home when demand is slow or call standby workers if demand is high.

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Eugene Volokh has an interesting history of libel laws and how Alexander Hamilton played a role leading toward our modern standard that truth should always be a defense against charges of libel.

Perhaps one of my readers is a lawyer and can explain this trademark case to me. Phyllis Schlafly and her son are fighting to block her nephew's brewing company, Schlafly which is seeking a trademark for the name "Schlafly" for the beer that Tom Schlafly has been brewing for years. She thinks that people will associate the name with her and conservatism and it will give them a bad name. The case will be going to trial. I just don't get how man who has been brewing the beer since 1991 and now sells it in 14 states under that name, which is also his name, can be barred from getting a trademark for his beer. It's not as if he's someone else trying to cash in on the irony of using Schlafly for a beer; it's his last name also. If one of my readers know about trademark law and have an opinion of why he should lose this case, let me know.

I would suspect that most of his customers have never heard of Phyllis Schlafly and are more likely to think of the beer when they hear that name than the conservative activist who led the effort to defeat the ERA and has been active ever since in conservative circles. Go to your average bar in one of those states and see what the name Schlafly evokes for them. I know that my history students, who learn about Phyllis Schlafly when we cover the women's movement in the 1970s, can never remember her name and just refer to her as Phyllis or "that woman with too many consonants in her name." And these are students who have been explicitly taught about her, seen a powerpoint with her picture on it, and know they might need to know her name on a test. Outside of the conservative movement, how many people under age 40 know who she is?

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Sweden has really found a fool-proof way to protect women against sexual assault.
Sweden’s police chief unveiled the force’s latest weapon in the fight against sexual assault: wristbands reading “Don’t touch me”.

A recent Swedish press release warns that groping is a crime. In it, the country’s national police chief Dan Eliasson said: “No one should have to accept sexual molestation. So do not grope. And if you are groped, report it to the police.”

....The press release announced that police intend to equip young women with wristbands with the slogan “don’t touch me”. This will happen over the summer, at festivals and other events for young people. “By wearing these wristbands,” Sweden’s police chief said, “young women will be able to make a stand”.

It is unclear how effective the wristbands, which read “don’t touch me” in Swedish, will be in preventing attacks, as the majority of sex attack perpetrators are thought to be recent migrants who are unlikely to be able to read them. (Link via Ed Driscoll)
Gee, thinking like that will really turn around the situation in Sweden which now has the highest rate of sexual violence against women and which, the report acknowledges, is mostly being committed by migrants to Sweden. Instead, this police report blames "Nordic alcohol culture" and "masculinity" for all the assaults.

We learned earlier this year that the Stockholm Council and organizers of music festivals where there have been outbreaks of such sexual assaults as well as the Swedish media have been covering up the violence against women.
It has also emerged that Stockholm Council and the festival organisers identified the sex mob phenomenon two years ago, but claimed it would have been “irresponsible” to have spoken out.

Furthermore, the Swedish paper which broke the story yesterday is alleged to have been tipped off six months ago, and may never have published the information were it not for the Cologne sex attack cover-up scandal.