Friday, January 13, 2017

Cruising the Web

Kimberley Strassel has some information on the opposition research company that first created the dossier on Donald Trump. It's an organization called Fusion GPS that was hired by a Republican donor opposed to Trump during the primaries. Then when Trump won the nomination, Fusion offered their material to the Democrats and hired the former British spook who is now in hiding. So why should we care about Fusion GPS? Strassel points out that this group has a history of "dumpster diving" into personal backgrounds of targets for sleazy information.
This editorial page ran a series in 2012 about one such attack, on Frank VanderSloot. In 2011 the Idaho businessman gave $1 million to a super PAC supporting Mitt Romney. The following spring, the Obama re-election campaign publicly smeared Mr. VanderSloot (and seven other Romney donors) as “wealthy individuals with less-than-reputable records.”

This national shaming, by the president no less, painted a giant target on Mr. VanderSloot’s back. The liberal media slandered him daily on TV and in print. The federal bureaucracy went after him: He was ultimately audited by the IRS and the Labor Department. About a week after the Obama attack, an investigator contacted a courthouse in Idaho Falls demanding documents dealing with Mr. VanderSloot’s divorces, as well as any other litigation involving him. We traced this investigator to an opposition-research chop shop called Fusion GPS.
s this how politics should be conducted with an investigative group hired to look after the divorce records of someone who committed the egregious sin of donating money to Romney.
The point of the dossier—as with the dredging into Mr. VanderSloot’s personal life, or the smearing of the Koch brothers, or Harry Reid’s false accusation that Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes—was to gin up the ugliest, most scurrilous claims, and then trust the click-hungry media to disseminate them. No matter how false the allegations, the subject of the attack is required to respond, wasting precious time and losing credibility. Mr. Trump should be focused on his nominations, his policies, disentangling himself from his business. Instead his team is trying to disprove a negative and prevent the accusations, no matter how flimsy, from seeping into voters’ minds.

Opposition research and false claims are an equal opportunity game. But it says something about the brass-knuckle approach of the left that it would go so far as to write a dossier suggesting that Mr. Trump is a Manchurian candidate—and then to foist that report into the hands of intelligence officials.

Mr. Trump can expect plenty more of this to come. In winning the election, he blocked the left’s ability to use some of its favorite intimidation tactics. It no longer controls an accommodating federal bureaucracy. It no longer runs a Justice Department willing to threaten political opponents and turn a blind eye to liberal abuse.

So the left will increasingly rely on campaigns of delegitimization designed to force opponents onto a back foot, push them off task, or even bully them out of the public arena. In the absence of a winning policy argument, this is, in their minds, the best they’ve got. Republicans had better be ready for it.

Bret Stephens delivers a remedial lesson
on the history of efforts to create a Palestinian state and why Israelis today are so skeptical.
Would a Palestinian state serve the cause of Mideast peace? This used to be conventional wisdom, on the theory that a Palestinian state would lead to peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, easing the military burdens on the former and encouraging the latter to address their internal discontents.

Today the proposition is ridiculous. No deal between Jerusalem and Ramallah is going to lift the sights of those now fighting in Syria, Iraq or Yemen. Nor will a deal reconcile Tehran and its terrorist proxies in Lebanon and Gaza to the existence of a Jewish state. As for the rest of the neighborhood, Israel has diplomatic relations with Turkey, Jordan and Egypt, and has reached pragmatic accommodations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

What about the interests of Palestinians? Aren’t they entitled to a state?

Maybe. But are they more entitled to one than the Assamese, Basques, Baloch, Corsicans, Druze, Flemish, Kashmiris, Kurds, Moros, Native Hawaiians, Northern Cypriots, Rohingya, Tibetans, Uyghurs or West Papuans—all of whom have distinct national identities, legitimate historical grievances and plausible claims to statehood?

If so, what gives Palestinians the preferential claim? Have they waited longer than the Kurds? No: Kurdish national claims stretch for centuries, not decades. Have they experienced greater violations to their culture than Tibetans? No: Beijing has conducted a systematic policy of repression for 67 years, whereas Palestinians are nothing if not vocal in mosques, universities and the media. Have they been persecuted more harshly than the Rohingya? Not even close.

Set the comparisons aside. Would a Palestinian state be good for Palestinian people?

That’s a more subjective judgment. But a telling figure came in a June 2015 poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, which found that a majority of Arab residents in East Jerusalem would rather live as citizens with equal rights in Israel than in a Palestinian state. No doubt part of this owes to a desire to be connected to Israel’s thriving economy.

But it’s also a function of politics. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas just entered the 13th year of his four-year term. Fatah rules the West Bank through corruption; Hamas rules Gaza through fear. Humanitarian aid is routinely diverted for terrorist purposes: One terror tunnel stretching from Gaza to Israel consumed an estimated 800 tons of concrete and cost $10 million to build. Every three years or so, Hamas starts firing missiles at Israel, and hundreds of Palestinian civilians get killed in the crossfire. How does any of this augur well for what a future Palestinian state might bring?
But shouldn't Israel just want to have a Palestinian state as a neighbor instead of a supposedly impressed people filled with resentment against Israel? Isn't that a nice theory?
But Israelis don’t live in theory. They live in a world where mistakes are mortal. In 2000 and 2007 Israeli prime ministers made good-faith offers of Palestinian statehood. They were met on both occasions with rejection, then violence. In 2005 Israel vacated the Gaza Strip. It became an enclave of terror. On Sunday, four young Israelis were run over in yet another terror attack. The ideal of a Jewish and faultlessly democratic state is a noble one. Not at the risk of the existence of the state itself.

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Jason Riley laments
the media's misplaced focus when it comes to crime. Instead of focusing on the truly rare episodes of police violence, there should be more focus on what victims are really enduring.
Most violent crimes involve a perpetrator and victim of the same race. But when they don’t, incidents of black-on-white crimes far exceed the reverse scenario. “In 2012, blacks committed 560,600 acts of violence against whites (excluding homicide), and whites committed 99,403 acts of violence (excluding homicide) against blacks,” writes the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald, citing federal Bureau of Justice Statistics data. “Blacks, in other words, committed 85 percent of the non-homicide interracial crimes of violence between blacks and whites, even though they are less than 13 percent of the population.”

When the mainstream media discuss relations between poor black communities and law enforcement without including data on black crime rates, readers and viewers aren’t getting the full picture. Racially motivated attacks on blacks shouldn’t be ignored or played down, but neither should racially motivated attacks perpetrated by blacks.

Nationwide, crime is down from where it was in the 1990s, but it has ticked up in recent years in some major cities. Chicago’s murder rate in 2016 was the highest in two decades. Violent crime in Los Angeles has increased for three straight years. Liberals are quick to blame poverty or economic downturns or racial bias in policing, but those explanations can’t withstand scrutiny.

Crime began spiking in the 1960s, when the U.S. economy was strong and jobs were plentiful. The economic boom of the 1980s coincided with a steady increase in crime. Police officials in Los Angeles have attributed the higher crime rate to increased homelessness, among other factors, but homelessness has also risen in New York City, where violent crime has fallen.
As Riley points out, there is plenty of evidence that increasing the number of police officers in the most dangerous areas decreases crime. On the other hand, authorities need to recognize that the so-called "Ferguson effect" actually exists. Here are results from a recent Pew poll:
A poll taken by Pew Research Center shows that 76% of law enforcement officers in the United States are reluctant to use force even when necessary and 72% are less likely to stop suspicious looking individuals.

The poll comes on the heels of an FBI report that reveals a spike of 6% in violent crime over the first 6 months of 2016 with the murder rate increasing 5.2%.

Taken together, the poll and the FBI report strongly suggest that despite protestations to the contrary from the left. the "Ferguson Effect" is real and is having an impact on the violent crime rate and on quality of life in America.
Unless cities and police departments acknowledge what is happening, they won't be able to address the problem. As Rick Moran writes,
The left will continue to insist there's no such thing as a Ferguson Effect even while police continue to retreat and crime goes up. They can't afford to admit that Black Lives Matter is getting people killed and whose protests have forced the police into a far more defensive posture. The narrative that police are out to kill black men and use excessive force far too often cannot be challenged nor can the idea that an increase in crime is a coincidence, not indicative of a trend resulting from attempts to intimidate law enforcement.

The Pew survey shows that the police feel otherwise.
But why let facts get in the way of ideology?

Democrats disliked the Betsy DeVos nomination for Education Secretary from the beginning because she has dared to fund movements in several states to implement school reform including support for charter schools and school vouchers. And now they've dug up a new complaint about her - she contributed money to the Foundation for Individual Rights which has funded suits challenging the Obama administration's actions to use Tile IX lower the standard of proof and deny due process rights to those in universities accused of sexual assault. Liberals are painting this as the actions of a woman who will not fight against sexual assault on college campuses. That is utterly ridiculous. What is appalling is how the Obama Education Department has used its power to decrease the rights of the accused. Apparently, if one is male and accused of sexual assault, all the usual support for civil liberties for the accused flies out the window. Michael Barone writes about the history of the Obama administration's interference and flagrant abuse of power. Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania has started attacking DeVos for her contributions to FIRE.
Casey charged that FIRE seeks to make it "more difficult for campus sexual assault victims to receive justice." That's a reference to the "guidance" delivered by the Obama Education Department in 2011 which, as my then-Washington Examiner colleague Ashe Schow had written, "broadened the definition of harassment, required schools to use a lower standard of proof when determining the credibility of sexual assault accusations and backed it all up with the threat of investigations and a loss of federal funding. It placed a significant burden on schools to use their funds to set up pseudo-court systems to try accused students (and find them responsible or else face an investigation)."

This guidance was based on a fraudulent study which claimed, preposterously, that one in four college women is sexually assaulted, and the kangaroo courts set up do not give accused students rights to legal representation, knowledge of the charges against them or confrontation of witnesses. They specifically rule out requiring, as criminal trials for sexual assault do, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but only a preponderance of evidence. Schow has relentlessly documented the work of these kangaroo courts — and the lawsuits that aggrieved students have brought against the colleges and universities involved.
Barone points to the mission of FIRE from its website.
Its mission, proclaimed on its website's home page, is to "defend and sustain individual rights at America's colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty and sanctity of conscience."

Which of these does Senator Casey want to see not defended?
David French who was once the president of FIRE also writes to explode these Democratic attacks.
Some people, however, don’t much care for due process — especially when young men are accused of serious offenses like rape or sexual assault. FIRE opposes lawless Obama administration guidelines that mandate low burdens of proof for campus sexual-assault tribunals without also mandating proper due-process protections for the accused. In other words, it opposes the amateurish kangaroo courts that pass for “campus justice” in the age of Obama.
Why should students on college campuses be denied due process rights such as questioning witnesses against them? If the accusations are as serious as sexual assault or rape, why are they being investigated by college administrators and not the police. Why is there a lower standard of proof to punish the accused than there would be in a court of law.
The true radicals are those who believe that college women get special protections available to no other group of women in the United States — the right to hearings where the deck is stacked against the accused, and the “judges” are steeped in the #BelieveAllWomen nonsense of radical campus feminism. These same radicals believe that the Department of Education can mandate this justice system without bothering to pass a new law or even go through notice-and-comment rulemaking.
And it's not clear why she gave to FIRE in the first place.
Additionally, it’s far from clear that DeVos gave to FIRE because of its advocacy for due process. The group is also the unquestioned leader in defending free speech on campus and has been a trailblazer in defending religious freedom at colleges and universities. Perhaps DeVos liked the fact that FIRE believes universities shouldn’t toss Christian groups from campus simply because Christian groups want Christian leadership. Perhaps she liked the fact that FIRE believes free speech on campus shouldn’t be confined to tiny free-speech “zones.” Or perhaps she liked the fact that FIRE is one of the last truly nonpartisan organizations left in the United States.
I truly hope that the Democrats launch this attack at her hearing and allow her to defend FIRE and attack Democrats for their desire to limit due process, free speech, and freedom of religion on college campuses. It would be a lovely thing to hear in a Senate hearing room. And I hope that, when she is confirmed, that she reverses the
Obama administration's pressure on colleges to deny the accused their rights. True liberals used to want to protect the rights of the accused. They certainly want to do that for all other criminal accusations. Why should sexual assault privilege the victim to an extent no other victims of crime are privileged? Why is protecting the rights of students now a partisan issue anyway?

Heather MacDonald has read over Cory Booker's announcement of why he's voting against Jeff Sessions. Apparently, Booker has some "novel job requirements for attorney general." He wants someone who will "defend the rights of immigrants and affirm their human dignity.” As MacDonald comments, Booker is clearly talking about illegal immigrants and is advising that the attorney general ignore the laws that have passed Congress.
Nothing in Sessions’s record suggests that he would not defend the duly acquired rights of legal immigrants. Booker, of course, has a completely different take on what it means to “affirm the human dignity” of immigrants. Booker is concerned with illegal immigrants, and his notion of “affirming their human dignity” consists of exempting them from the legal consequences of their actions. The U.S. Congress has enacted deportation as the remedy for illegal entry or visa overstay. Though the illegal-alien lobby has conducted a breathtakingly successful campaign to delegitimate deportation, including for convicted criminals, Sessions has been fearless in defending deportation as a morally just and legally authorized response to illegal presence. If the American people or Congress agrees with the illegal-alien lobby that deportation is morally abhorrent, the immigration laws should be changed. But as long as they remain in effect, the attorney general should be expected to enforce them. Doing so respects the moral agency both of immigrants who came here legally and of those who did not.
Booker seems to be making a push to be seen as the heir to President Obama in ignoring the laws on immigration and have the executive branch just go its own way doing what Booker considers to affirm "human dignity."

But that wasn't all that Booker said.
Booker ended his testimony against Sessions with another unfamiliar job spec for attorney general: a “more courageous empathy than Senator Sessions’ record demonstrates.” Booker’s invocation of “empathy” as a job qualification for attorney general is only slightly less inappropriate than President Barack Obama’s declaration that empathy was “an essential ingredient” of “just” Supreme Court decisions. (Obama announced his new jurisprudential ingredient in nominating U.S. Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the High Court in 2009.) An attorney general, no less than a judge, is obligated to be impartial and unswayed by personal attributes or considerations.
Once again Booker is overtly trying to connect his own approach to that of Obama.

Ah, the wages of economic ignorance. Ramesh Ponnuru links to a story about how the mayor of Philadelphia is surprised and outraged the businesses have raised prices after the city imposed a new tax of one-and-a-half cents per ounce in sugar-sweetened drinks.
"They're gouging their own customers," Kenney said, KYW News reports.

To understand Kenney's reasoning, you have to know that the new tax technically is applied at the wholesale level. That is, the city is charging a tax on the transaction that takes place when a business, like a sandwich shop or grocery store, purchases soda (or the syrup used to make soda in a fountain) from a distributor. In the mayor's mind, it seems, distributors and retailers are supposed to eat the cost of the tax and continue selling their products at the same price as before the tax went into effect.

In the real world, those sandwich shops and grocery stores, of course, are adjusting the retail price of sugary drinks to make up for the added cost imposed by the tax. Some of them have posted signs to inform customers why drink prices have skyrocketed.
As a result of this tax, buying such sweetened drinks is more expensive than buying beer.
A 12-pack of sports drinks is now more expensive than beer. Here’s a 12-pack of Propel energy water versus a 12-pack of Icehouse beer. Before sales taxes, 12 Propels is $5.99 plus $3.04 in soda taxes for a total of $9.03 (and that's when it's on sale for $1 less than the $6.99 standard). The 12 Icehouses are $7.99, beer tax included.
The statute was so poorly written that it encompasses drinks that you might not expect.
The “soda” tax is capturing a lot more drinks than just soda. Because of the overly broad statute language, the tax captures zero-calorie diet beverages, juice, and even milk substitutes for lactose-intolerant people.
It's no surprise that some Philadelphians are planning to buy their drinks outside the city limits. Perhaps this tax will be a bonanza for stores right outside the city limits.
The city hopes to garner tens of millions of dollars in taxes for which they have all sorts of plans. The mayor just wants to cover his rear for the anger of Philadelphians who are having to pay this tax by pretending that he never realized that such a tax would increase the cost of drinks. Hopefully, Philadelphia voters will not be fooled by the mayor's ignorance.

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This sounds like a great idea. The new Congress has brought back a rule from the 19th century called the Holman Rule which allows Congress to introduce amendments to spending bills that reassign or eliminate either individual or groups of jobs of federal employees. They can also affect salaries of individual federal workers or the number of people employed in an office. Why should federal bureaucrats have sacrosanct tenure that prevents them from losing their jobs because of gross negligence, corruption, or ineptitude?
The restoration of the Holman Rule means merely that when it comes to firing a federal employee, the president's signature on an act of Congress can do it. It doesn't seem extraordinary that the heads of the federal government should be able to dismiss their staff. Up to now, firing even the worst federal bureaucrat has been very, very difficult, so difficult that voters no longer control the agencies they employ and that govern their lives.

Given that the rule requires an act of Congress, it will be invoked only to deal with the most egregious cases. But there is an abundance of cases in which the bureaucracy and arbitrators cover up for their colleagues.

Take Elizabeth Rivera of Puerto Rico, for example, who was restored to her job at the Department of Veterans Affairs after pleading guilty to involvement in an armed robbery. Her union not only thwarted managers' attempts to fire her, but even successfully won back pay for the period when she had been off the job. As part of its argument for her reinstatement, officials of the American Federation of Government Employees pointed out that her manager at the agency is also a convicted sex offender.

Of course, federal employees don't have to go so far as to participate in violent or sexual crimes to diminish the reputation of the government. Internal Revenue Service employees who deleted Lois Lerner's emails when they were under congressional subpoena were not fired. Aside from a few scapegoats, the VA employees who systematically manipulated the agency's computer system at more than 100 facilities, harming veterans to win themselves performance bonuses, were not fired. Two VA managers who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from their agency could not be fired. Nor could many of those implicated in the notorious scandal involving a General Services Administration conference in Las Vegas in 2010.
Originally, the supposedly merit-based civil service was only a fraction of the bureaucracy since the passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883. Since then it's grown to be almost all of the bureaucracy except a top layer of political appointees. Those federal employees are entrenched in their jobs secure from any consequences from their performance. It's time that they face what ordinary citizens face in their own jobs.

Let the schadenfreude begin.
George Soros, the billionaire hedge-fund manager and liberal financier, lost nearly $1 billion after becoming bearish after Donald Trump’s election victory, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The 86-year-old was cautious about the market prior to November’s election became more bearish after Trump’s win. So far, the bet was a mistake, and the stock market has risen about 9 percent over the past two months, the report said.