Friday, January 27, 2017

Cruising the Web

The media are benefitting from all the leaks from within the Trump administration that have led to negative stories about President Trump. It's really rather remarkable that so many people are leaking to the media so soon into his presidency. New York Magazine looks at this phenomenon by analyzing all the leaks in a Washington Post story about Trump's first weekend as president.
This account of Trump’s tumultuous first days in office comes from interviews with nearly a dozen senior White House officials and other Trump advisers and confidants, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations and moments.
Nearly a dozen of Trump’s closest confidantes helped plant an embarrassing news story about how their boss can’t handle embarrassing news stories. Which is to say: A president who prizes loyalty in his subordinates has already been betrayed by a huge swath of his inner circle.

It isn’t hard to understand why Trump’s aides would want to distance themselves from the mogul’s decision to begin his presidency by shouting self-aggrandizing delusions at CIA employees, congressional leaders, and the Fourth Estate. But we aren’t in the late days of a losing campaign, when it’s normal for advisers to start leaking dirt on the boss to save their reputations. We’re less than four full days into the Trump presidency, with (barring death, impeachment, resignation, or coup) at least 1,461 to go.
Vox also notes that "the worst things you'll read about Trump come from his own aides."
In most administrations, senior White House aides save the most embarrassing stories about the presidents they served for their memoirs. That’s not the case with Trump, whose top aides are already giving reporters reams of damaging information about him.

It’s not entirely clear what those aides hope to gain by painting their boss as a conspiracy-minded, easily distracted, TV-obsessed bully prone to paranoia, feelings of inadequacy, and flashes of blind, irrational anger.

The generous reading is that they may be hoping that Trump, who is known to obsess over how he’s portrayed on television and the media more broadly, may see reports about his behavior and try to grow into the office. The less generous reading is that aides are already trying to distance themselves from a president they see as catastrophically unsuited to the job and to set the stage for other Trump confidants to take the blame for his failures.

Either way, we’re left with a president whose draft executive orders are being quickly leaked to the press and whose own West Wing staffers are openly deriding him. And that’s all happened within his first week.
I guess we'll learn to embrace the chaos.

Jim Geraghty sums
up what conservatives may regard as the "yin and yang of Trump."
So far, the new president has given us better policies and worse behavior.
That's about where I am. In the balance I like more rather than less of the policies he's enunciated since he became president. I like or am fine with most of his nominees. I am excited about his possible Supreme Court nominations. His behavior often appalls me. But we don't live in the world of the ideal so I have to judge against what the alternative might have been. Sure, I would have preferred a Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz in the Oval Office right now, but that wasn't my choice. Compared to Hillary Clinton and the policies she would have been pushing now and the nominations she would have wanted, I'm heaving a big sigh of relief. That doesn't mean that I won't keep criticizing when Trump's behavior appalls.

Jim Geraghty also writes about an effort to urge the media to be more accountable in their efforts to basically support liberal programs which are, according to the study "its core values."
The NPR piece does quote a health care policy expert from the Goldwater Institute, but otherwise it follows a really familiar narrative: the good and generous government is giving something to the deserving needy, and bad people want to take it away. Repealing a law that has been largely disliked since its inception is framed as cruel act to a mom who survived ovarian cancer in college.

Perhaps the potential repeal of Obamacare strikes many journalists as outrageous. It’s a free country, and they’re free to come to that conclusion. But what else outrages them?

Did the falsity of ‘if you like your plan, you can keep your plan’ outrage them? Did veterans dying while waiting for care from the VA outrage them? Did the administration’s actions before, during and after the Benghazi attack outrage them? This isn’t “whataboutism,” allegedly a disingenuous form of changing the subject. This is a challenge to political journalists, that if they saw these other Obama-era scandals as regrettable, but inconsequential snafus, with no larger lesson or meaning… why?

If you see certain other stories of scandal and incompetence as deeply meaningful, and national “teachable moments”, why is that? Hopefully your sense of a meaningful and consequential cause for outrage doesn’t align perfectly with one party’s interests. Ideally, the course of human events will periodically bring you to offer a critical assessment of someone you previously liked or agreed with. (Ahem. Bob McDonnell. Ben Carson. Mike Huckabee.)

There is desire among President’s most high-profile critics to build a broad bipartisan coalition of permanent opposition to Trump, to minimize his ability to change national policies, and to leave him a legacy as one of America’s least consequential presidents. But is the motivation for that opposition Trump’s deviation from traditional Republicanism, or because of his partial alignment with it?

Trump critics catch my attention when their argument is that he is uniquely troubling in the Oval Office because of his lack of impulse control, his belief in implausible theories, his petty vindictiveness, his crude comments and language, his contradictory statements and persistently ameliorating perspective on Russia. These critics lose me when they suggest Trump is dangerous because he wants abortion restrictions, border security, Obamacare’s repeal, to cut particular government spending, and for sanctuary cities to start cooperating with federal immigration authorities. Trump is a controversial personality, but that doesn’t mean that everything he does is automatically controversial.

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Kimberley Strassel writes about the legal basis the GOP would have to overrule most of Obama's regulations. She's been listening to guy who crafted the Congressional Review Act and how it can be used.
Everyone right now is talking about the CRA, which gives Congress the ability, with simple majorities, to overrule regulations from the executive branch. Republicans are eager to use the law, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy this week unveiled the first five Obama rules that his chamber intends to nix.

The accepted wisdom in Washington is that the CRA can be used only against new regulations, those finalized in the past 60 legislative days. That gets Republicans back to June, teeing up 180 rules or so for override. Included are biggies like the Interior Department’s “streams” rule, the Labor Department’s overtime-pay rule, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s methane rule.
But that's not what the law actually says. And the Obama regulations might be a victim of administrative arrogance in ignoring the requirements to report to Congress.
But what Mr. Gaziano told Republicans on Wednesday was that the CRA grants them far greater powers, including the extraordinary ability to overrule regulations even back to the start of the Obama administration. The CRA also would allow the GOP to dismantle these regulations quickly, and to ensure those rules can’t come back, even under a future Democratic president. No kidding.

Here’s how it works: It turns out that the first line of the CRA requires any federal agency promulgating a rule to submit a “report” on it to the House and Senate. The 60-day clock starts either when the rule is published or when Congress receives the report—whichever comes later.

“There was always intended to be consequences if agencies didn’t deliver these reports,” Mr. Gaziano tells me. “And while some Obama agencies may have been better at sending reports, others, through incompetence or spite, likely didn’t.” Bottom line: There are rules for which there are no reports. And if the Trump administration were now to submit those reports—for rules implemented long ago—Congress would be free to vote the regulations down.

There’s more. It turns out the CRA has a expansive definition of what counts as a “rule”—and it isn’t limited to those published in the Federal Register. The CRA also applies to “guidance” that agencies issue. Think the Obama administration’s controversial guidance on transgender bathrooms in schools or on Title IX and campus sexual assault. It is highly unlikely agencies submitted reports to lawmakers on these actions.

“If they haven’t reported it to Congress, it can now be challenged,” says Paul Larkin, a senior legal research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
And here's the kicker.
The best part? Once Congress overrides a rule, agencies cannot reissue it in “substantially the same form” unless specifically authorized by future legislation. The CRA can keep bad regs and guidance off the books even in future Democratic administrations—a far safer approach than if the Mr. Trump simply rescinded them.

Republicans in both chambers—particularly in the Senate—worry that a great use of the CRA could eat up valuable floor time, as Democrats drag out the review process. But Mr. Gaziano points out another hidden gem: The law allows a simple majority to limit debate time. Republicans could easily whip through a regulation an hour.
The heads of the Washington establishment would collectively explode if the Republicans started doing this to one after another of Obama's regulations. The Trump administration, when it's finally in place, should start making a list of the most egregious Obama regulations for which they never submitted a report and then submit those reports to Congress which can then get busy repealing them. Democrats and the media would freak out. Let them. As Strassel concludes,
The entire point of the CRA was to help legislators rein in administrations that ignored statutes and the will of Congress. Few White House occupants ever showed more contempt for the law and lawmakers than Mr. Obama. Republicans if anything should take pride in using a duly passed statue to dispose of his wayward regulatory regime. It’d be a fitting and just end to Mr. Obama’s abuse of authority—and one of the better investments of time this Congress could ever make.

Can you imagine if a Republican talked this way about the Democrats and God?
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi declared that her party, the Democratic Party, does the will of God while Republicans dishonor their Creator.

Of Republicans, the Democrat congresswoman from California declared, "They pray in church on Sunday and they prey on people the rest of the week. And while we're doing the Lord's work, ministering to the needs of God's creation, they are ignoring those needs which is to dishonor the God who made them."
Apparently, since Republicans resist the preferred policies of Democrats on the environment, they are dishonoring God.

Clayton Felts links to this study on President Obama's record before the Supreme Court. It's not a good record.
According to a recent study by Washington University professor Lee Epstein and University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner, Obama had the “worst record of any President” since the 1930s and 1940s.

“To assess presidential performance in the U.S. Supreme Court, we created a dataset of cases of concern to the president,” Epstein and Posner commented. “The dataset covers Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt through Barack Obama (1932-2015 terms), which amounts to 84 Court terms and 13 presidents.”

During his eight years in office, the Supreme Court ruled on 186 cases in which either the Attorney General, Solicitor General, or the Obama Administration were directly part of. President Obama’s success rate was much lower at just 50.5 percent, the lowest of the study.

“On the one hand, the data seem to confirm a story that scholars have long told: When the president goes to Court, he wins. According to Posner and Epstein, “Presidents prevailed in nearly two-thirds of their cases and captured 60 percent of all votes.”
How ironic that the president who taught constitutional law had such a lousy record compared to other presidents.

Politico reports that Trump's sister who serves on a federal appeals court with Judge Thomas Hardiman is lobbying her younger brother to appoint Hardiman. I can see Trump being influenced by his sister's recommendation. However, despite the positive evaluations of Hardiman by conservatives, some conservatives feel a little bit squeamish about her having a say in the process.
The idea that Trump’s sister — who was attacked by Sen. Ted Cruz during the 2016 primaries as “a radical pro-abortion extremist” — is among the president’s judicial counselors makes some Republicans nervous. Even if they’re happy with the finalists he is currently considering, they don’t view her as a reliably conservative judge.

“I’m hoping she’s not part of the team making the decision,” said Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network, a group that plans to spend millions of dollars getting Trump’s choice confirmed.

Yet Severino said she’d be satisfied if Hardiman is Trump’s pick. “There are no wrong answers among the people he’s choosing between,” she said. “If she wants to throw in ‘Tom Hardiman is a wonderful colleague,’ fine.”

Roger Simon is not impressed with the breathless reporting from the media that four State Department officials resigned yesterday.
Four, count 'em four, members of the State Department's senior management resigned Thursday less than a week into the Trump administration -- all this while Secretary of State designate Rex Tillerson was in their Foggy Bottom headquarters looking for his number two. To make matters worse...

The resignations, reported by the The Washington Post, included Patrick Kennedy the agency's undersecretary for management who had served in the role for nine years. [itals. mine],

“It’s the single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory that anyone can remember, and that’s incredibly difficult to replicate,” David Wade, who served as State Department chief of staff under Secretary of State John Kerry, told The Post.

Four members makes the "single biggest simultaneous departure" that anyone can remember from the State Department and it will be "incredibly difficult to replicate"? Does Mr. Wade exaggerate un peu? His claim looks mighty silly when shown against this organizational chart.

More importantly, though not surprisingly, his biased assessment also ignores Kennedy's recent history, as does the WaPo's Josh Rogin, who broke the story as if a tragedy had just occurred and American interests were about to unravel across the globe, undermining the very fabric of Western civilization. Mr. Rogin may have his tragedies mixed up. From International Business Times of only last October:

Patrick Kennedy, U.S. State Department's Under Secretary of State for Management, apparently pressured officials to change a "classified" Hillary Clinton email to "unclassified," according FBI documents released Monday, which included the account told by an official in the FBI records department. The official, whose identity was redacted in the documents, alleged Kennedy proposed a "quid pro quo" deal to a colleague in the FBI's International Operations Division that would allow the bureau to place more agents in countries where it was currently forbidden in exchange for the shift in classification.
According to Rogin, Kennedy was working hard to keep his job. No wonder he was having difficulties.

Another absurd euphemism -- or should I say plain nonsense -- in Rogin's piece is that these people "resigned." (In today's Washington Post, reporters seem to be writing to obtain extra Amazon credits from their ultra-liberal boss, rather than doing elementary research.) Meanwhile, from reporting that came out just a few hours later:
“Any implication that that these four people quit is wrong,” a senior State Department official said.... "This is the White House cleaning house.”
Check out that organization chart that he linked to and see if you're worried about the State Department collapsing. As Simon writes, there is a lot of swamp to clean up at Foggy Bottom.
The degree to which State and Mrs. Clinton colluded with the White House on that one is not yet fully known, despite the hours of testimony. Kennedy was involved in that too, as was Victoria Nuland, who was also let go.

And speaking of dirty hands, the State Department is way past mere fingernail problems, but up to its elbows and neck in the shameful (and still opaque) Iran nuclear deal that bypassed Congress, not to mention the American people, to shovel boatloads of cash to the mullahs who are now busy spending them on such humanitarian enterprises as providing advanced munitions for Hezbollah, the Houthis, Hamas, various homicidal Syrian thugs, and who knows what other crazed Islamist terrorists who are about to drone a shopping mall near you.

No, of all the swamps in D.C. that need draining perhaps the most fetid is the Department of State. It's been that way for a long time, but has grown even more insular and less transparent, if that were possible, under the leadership of Hillary Clinton and John "Jhen-jhis Khan" Kerry. Listening to their spokespeople is like putting your brain into a cryogenic freezer without hope of ever seeing it again. The White House has a lot more of this housecleaning to do. In the words of the immortal Michael Ledeen, "Faster, please."

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John Fund refutes President Obama's claim that the U.S. is:
“the only country among advanced democracies that makes it harder to vote,” he claimed. “It traces directly back to Jim Crow and the legacy of slavery, and it became sort of acceptable to restrict the franchise. . . . This whole notion of election-voting fraud, this is something that has constantly been disproved. This is fake news.”
Actually, that's not true.
All industrialized democracies — and most that are not — require voters to prove their identity before voting. Britain was a holdout, but last month it announced that persistent examples of voter fraud will require officials to see passports or other documentation from voters in areas prone to corruption.

In 2012, I attended a conference in Washington, D.C., of election officials from more than 60 countries; they convened there to observe the U.S. presidential election. Most were astonished that so many U.S. states don’t require voter ID. Lawyers with whom I spoke are also astonished to see Obama link voter ID with the Jim Crow era. As John Hinderaker of the Powerline blog wrote:
President Obama says the effort to ensure ballot integrity “traces directly back to Jim Crow and the legacy of slavery.” This is idiotic. When Democrats imposed Jim Crow laws across the South in the wake of Reconstruction, they relied on poll taxes and ridiculously difficult or ambiguous tests — administered only, apparently, to African Americans who hadn’t finished a certain grade level — to maintain Democratic Party control. Voter ID had nothing to do with it. But no one ever said that Barack Obama knows anything about history

A Minnesota state representative is proposing that the state allocate its electoral college votes by district rather than on a winner-take-all basis. This would follow the model of Maine and Nebraska. Such a change would benefit Republicans since the state usually goes Democratic, but the GOP could pick up a few votes if this were passed. If the law had been in effect in 2016, Trump would have won five of Minnesota's electoral votes and Clinton would have also won five. The Republicans won control of both houses of the Minnesota state legislature in November so they might be able to pass this bill. However, the DFL governor, Mark Dayton, might well want to veto that bill. We'll have to see how this plays out.

Sohrab Ahmari, an Iranian-American writer for the WSJ, writes about how liberals' choices have led to the backlash we're seeing today in the U.S. and Europe against freedom of movement.
Liberals also largely “won” the debate over Muslim integration.

For too many liberals, every Islamist atrocity was cause to fret about the “Islamophobic” backlash it was sure to trigger. This had become an almost an automatic reflex: When a jihadist would go boom somewhere, liberal hashtags expressing solidarity with threatened Muslim minorities were never far behind.

But liberals didn’t bother nearly as much about the pathologies in Muslim communities, and in Islamic civilization itself, that were producing so much carnage. Some liberals would sooner abandon their own feminist and gay-rights orthodoxies than criticize what imams in certain suburbs of Paris and London were telling their congregations about Afghanistan and defending the honor of the ummah.

Amnesty International cozied up to the British-Pakistani radical Islamist Moazzam Begg despite his fawning interviews with the al Qaeda preacher Anwar al-Awlaki. When an Amnesty staffer named Gita Sahgal went public with her objections in 2010, the organization suspended her and argued in a press release that “jihad in self-defense” wasn’t “antithetical to human rights.”

Likewise, the Islamist philosopher Tariq Ramadan became the toast of New York intellectuals—though he refused to call for an outright end to the Islamic practice of stoning adulterers.

By contrast, liberal writers sneered at the Somali-born human-rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali as an “Enlightenment fundamentalist.” Brandeis University withdrew an invitation to Ms. Hirsi Ali to speak on campus in 2014. The Southern Poverty Law Center branded her an “extremist” along with the counterterror campaigner Maajid Nawaz in a report last year.

Liberals thus empowered the most aggressive elements of Muslim communities while marginalizing reformers. Mr. Ramadan became the tribune of Western Islam, while Ms. Hirsi Ali and Mr. Nawaz were branded inauthentic and bigoted. Is it any wonder that many voters came to see all Western Muslims as sources of danger and social incohesion?

Liberals, finally, “won” the debate over nationalism.

In Europe especially and the U.S. to a lesser extent, liberals treated nationalism and the West’s Judeo-Christian heritage as relics of a dark past. For European Union leaders, the ideal political community was an ever-expanding set of legal procedures, commercial links and PC norms. Citizens could fill in the blanks with whatever cultural content they preferred—preferably “Europe” itself.

But norms and law didn’t inspire political attachment. The hunger for authentic identity drove young European Muslims to the Islamist underground. Meanwhile, among native Europeans, the far right came to own nationalism and nationhood. The divergence proved poisonous.

Judging by their breathless editorials and social-media outbursts, leading liberals still blame this reversal in political fortunes on a paroxysm of collective fear and hatred, the forces they’ve always sought to banish. Yet the main culprits for the popular revolt against liberalism are liberals themselves. If liberal ideals are to survive the current backlash, the West needs sharper, more hard-headed liberals.

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A reader sent me this column by Karol Markowicz looking at why schools have stopped teaching American history. She finds various explanations. One big reason that I have seen is that it's not a priority because there are no standardized tests on it. I saw this when I taught middle school. The more high-stakes testing that was instituted in North Carolina schools, the more time was taken from the social studies and science classes to have us teach reading and math. Another explanation is that the teachers don't know enough history to teach it. I saw this when I was a student lo these many years ago. In those days, coaches and drivers ed teachers also had to teach classes so they were always given the history classes because the thinking went that that was the curriculum that someone could teach without actually knowing anything about the subject. Another reason cited is that teachers are afraid of offending someone when teaching certain subjects.
The Brooklyn teacher I spoke with says instructors balk when it comes to history: They don’t want to offend anyone. “The more vocal and involved the parents are, the more likely the teacher will feel uncomfortable to teach certain things or say something that might create a problem.” Which leaves . . . Martin Luther King.

She cited issues around Thanksgiving, like teaching the story of pilgrims and the Native Americans breaking bread together as one that teachers might sideline for fear of parents complaining. Instead of addressing sticky subjects, we skip them altogether.

As colleges around the country see protests to remove Thomas Jefferson’s statues from their campuses, it’s becoming the norm to erase the parts of history that we find uncomfortable. It’s not difficult to teach children that the pilgrims or Thomas Jefferson were imperfect yet still responsible for so much that is good in America.
Most states have retained the requirement that high school students still take classes in both American history and American government or civics. So students will get those subjects at some point. I would prefer that students get some level of history in elementary and middle school. I'm old-fashioned enough to find something valuable in children learning about our country's history so that there is a common history being shared by the country.

Melissa MacKenzie reports on the horrifying background of one of the speakers at the Women's March in Washington, Donna Hylton.
Donna Hylton, a woman who spent time in prison for participating in the kidnapping, rape, murder, and ransoming of a gay man, spoke at the Women’s March as an advocate for women of color.
She links to the story at Psychology Today about her participation in a truly horrifying crime in which a man was kidnapped and she and her accomplices then tortured him for over two weeks until he died and then asked a ransom of $400,000 from his friend. Hylton was the one who delivered the ransom demand. MacKenzie comments,
She is a hypnotic beauty who also participated in the 20-day torture of a man and was an accessory to murder. She drove the ransom note. She never called police. She didn’t attempt to stop the inhumanity of what was happening.

And then, when interviewed about it, she lied.

At the Women’s March, there was no mention of the man who lost his life because of her actions. There was no humility–only defiance. Donna Hylton presented herself as a victim but did not mention her role as victimizer.
Can you imagine if a large gathering of conservatives had a speaker with that background as an honored speaker? Aren't there enough women's advocates without spotlighting someone with that background?

So does the size of a crowd matter in the long run when it comes to affecting policy? Both Donald Trump and the organizers of the Women's March might be surprised and/or disappointed at the answer.
Protesters are saying, in effect, “If we can pull this off, imagine what else we can do.”

But it is much easier to pull off a large protest than it used to be. In the past, a big demonstration required months, if not years, of preparation. The planning for the March on Washington in August 1963, for example, started nine months earlier, in December 1962. The march drew a quarter of a million people, but it represented much more effort, commitment and preparation than would a protest of similar size today. Without Facebook, without Twitter, without email, without cellphones, without crowdfunding, the ability to organize such a march was a fair proxy for the strength and sophistication of the civil rights movement.

Continue reading the main story
The Women’s March, on the other hand, started with a few Facebook posts and came together in a relatively short amount of time. The organizers no doubt did a lot of work, and the size and the energy of the gathering reflected a remarkable depth of dissent. However, as with all protests today, the march required fewer resources and less time spent on coordination than a comparable protest once did.

This is one reason that recent large protests have had less effect on policy than many were led to expect....

This doesn’t mean that protests no longer matter — they do. Nowadays, however, protests should be seen not as the culmination of an organizing effort, but as a first, potential step. A large protest today is less like the March on Washington in 1963 and more like Rosa Parks’s refusal to move to the back of the bus. What used to be an endpoint is now an initial spark.

More than ever before, the significance of a protest depends on what happens afterward.

Consider the Tea Party protests of 2009, which also brought out hundreds of thousands of people in cities throughout the United States, and which also were organized with the help of digital communication. Like any other protest, including the Women’s March, these were symbolic expressions of support, and they also functioned as events where like-minded individuals could find one another. But the Tea Party protesters then got to work on a ferociously focused agenda: identifying and supporting primary candidates to challenge Republicans who did not agree with their demands, keeping close tabs on legislation and pressuring politicians who deviated from a Tea Party platform.

Last Saturday, as I participated in the Women’s March in North Carolina, I marveled at the large turnout and the passion of those who marched. But if those protesters are not exchanging contact information and setting up local strategy meetings, their large numbers are unlikely to translate into the kind of effectiveness the Tea Party supporters had after their protests in 2009.