Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Cruising the Web

Well, there is the first administration casualty - National security adviser Michael Flynn has resigned. I wasn't convinced that his talking to Russian officials before taking office was such a terrible thing, but you can't be lying to the vice president and sending him out to unknowingly tell lies on your behalf. Perhaps Trump will realize that he needs to pick someone who doesn't have such ties to Russia and disregard for how things need to be done when working for a president. Rumors are that David Petraeus might be called in for being Flynn's replacement. Since Trump and the Republicans made such a big deal about Hillary exposing national secrets with her private server, this might cause a few embarrassing moments to explain why he's picking someone who actually confessed guilt in sharing classified information with his mistress/biographer. But the National Security Adviser doesn't have to be confirmed by the Senate. Up to his spectacular fall from grace, everyone admired Petraeus. I'd trust his advice on national security more than Flynn's who seemed to play to the worst instincts of the President.
Flynn, long a controversial figure in the national security establishment, was widely disliked by Trump's more establishment aides, who said he fueled Trump's conspiracy theories and distrust of the intelligence community. But he had maintained Trump's support, as the president believed he was loyal and had insight into military affairs. He was also particularly close to Stephen Bannon, the president's top strategist and a philosophical and strategic adviser with a vast sway on the presidency.
Bringing in someone who is more independent and is not an ally of Stephen Bannon is all to the good.

Politico is reporting that there are other possible names in the mix.
For the moment, the job was in the hands of 72-year-old Joseph Keith Kellogg Jr., widely known as Keith Kellogg. The former general, a combat veteran of Vietnam and later a leading figure in the transition government of Iraq after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, had been appointed in December to his NSC position.

The most notable name in the mix was that of Petraeus, who was briefly considered for secretary of state during the transition but was passed over in part because of his 2015 conviction for mishandling classified information.

Trump has long admired Petraeus and sought his counsel. "Trump likes him, he respects him," said a person close to Trump.

Petraeus did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Earlier Monday, sources close to the White House said Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner was involved with the search, though a senior White House official disputed that. At that time, other names mentioned as possible replacements included: Stephen Hadley, who served as national security adviser under President George W. Bush; Tom Bossert, who also served as a national security aide under Bush and now oversees cybersecurity under Trump; Adm. James Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts; and Department of Homeland Security head John Kelly.

Hadley, who served in previous Republican administrations, also did not respond to a request for comment. During the campaign, he declined to sign letters issued by mainstream Republicans criticizing Trump’s most provocative stances. He said at the time that he felt that should Trump win it would be advisable that he feel comfortable turning to experienced members of the party’s foreign policy establishment for advice.

Stavridis, a former commander of NATO, emailed POLITICO that he has not heard anything from the White House. “All quiet in my nets,” the retired admiral said.

As the WSJ points out, there are a lot of questions about how the national security officials ended up eavesdropping on the conversation that Michael Flynn had with the Russian ambassador.
Mr. Flynn is a retired general who ran the Defense Intelligence Agency, so surely he knew that his Dec. 29 call to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak would be subject to electronic surveillance. U.S. intelligence services routinely get orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor foreign officials. But under U.S. law, when they get those orders they are supposed to use “minimization” procedures that don’t let them listen to the communications of Americans who may be caught in such eavesdropping. That is, they are supposed to protect the identity and speech of innocent Americans. Yet the Washington Post, which broke the story, says it spoke to multiple U.S. officials claiming to know what Mr. Flynn said on that call.

The questions someone in the White House should ask the National Security Agency is why it didn’t use minimization procedures to protect Mr. Flynn? Or did it also have a court order to listen to Mr. Flynn, and how did it justify that judicial request?

If Mr. Flynn was under U.S. intelligence surveillance, then Mr. Trump should know why, and at this point so should the American public. Maybe there’s an innocent explanation, but the Trump White House needs to know what’s going on with Mr. Flynn and U.S. spies.
A second question is why security officials were leaking the contents of this phone call to the media. Is that going to be a regular occurrence simply because Trump is the one who is president? The head of the House Intelligence Committee is now calling for an investigation of all the national security leaks about Trump and his administration.
The leaks include reported details from phone calls between President Donald Trump and the leaders of Australia and Mexico; from the intelligence community investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential campaign; and most recently from conversations between National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the U.S....

But the release of information from the Flynn phone calls also appears especially problematic, because when the intelligence community captures phone calls of an American inside the U.S., even if the discussion involves a foreign national (in this case an ambassador), steps must be taken to shield the American caller's identity.

"If [the conversation] was picked up inadvertently, then that would have had to been approved by someone in the last administration to actually unmask his name so that the FBI or intelligence officials knew who it was on the other end of the phone talking to the Russian ambassador," Nunes explained. "If in fact the press reports are right, someone made the decision to deliberately listen to General Flynn's phone calls and that is, I think, unprecedented, unwarranted, and flat-out wrong."

Former NSA analyst and whistleblower Bill Binney confirmed to Fox News that surveillance programs that touch on leadership are highly restricted.

"I think it is compartmentalized, meaning a small circle, less than 100 [people would have access to the intelligence]," Binney said. "They are supposed to minimize the American side. ... All presumed U.S. citizens have rights under the Fourth Amendment."

Nunes said the timing may be significant because the authorization to unmask Flynn was likely taken under the Obama administration, as the phone calls occurred in December. The committee chairman said the issue goes beyond politics because it is also undermining the relationship between a president and world leaders.

"I think all foreign leaders now are going to be worried that this is going to somehow leak out. I think it has done tremendous damage to [America's] reputation around the world, and no one's talking about it -- and this is because someone in the national security apparatus decided to leak this out. It's very, very serious," he said.

Simply revealing the contents of the calls can have the effect of what the intelligence community calls "burning the source," because the parties involved know beyond a doubt the U.S. government has the ability to track the conversations. The leaking of information about the investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. race points to the possible compromise of even more sensitive collection sources.

"If the shoe was on the other foot here and this was a Democrat, you can imagine Democrats in the House and the Senate would be going crazy - if this happened to someone within the Obama administration from one of our national security agencies," Nunes said.
That's exactly right and it shouldn't continue. Leaking about fights among Trump's advisers is one thing, but using the power of the intelligence community to eavesdrop on a member of the incoming administration's conversation with the Russian ambassador and then leaking it to the media is something else altogether.

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Kyle Smith explains why boycotts for political purposes seldom work.
With few exceptions, boycotts don’t work. There are too many of them, they’re too broadly targeted, our attention span is too short to remember what we were supposed to be outraged about months ago, and most people don’t drag their politics into the store with them when they’re looking for beer, duck boots or a blender.

Today Trump haters are trying to convince you to boycott products from L.L. Bean, KitchenAid, Gucci, Nike, Uber and many other corporate mainstays including Trident (for advertising on “Celebrity Apprentice”), Amazon (for selling Trump brand products) and Starbucks (for renting space inside some of Trump’s buildings). Targeting the progressive-minded Starbucks — whose CEO Howard Schultz was dubbed “the liberal Donald Trump” by The Atlantic — for being too Trump-friendly sounds like the kind of insane micro-distinction you’d encounter in 1937 Madrid, when hundreds of people were killed as one far-left group attacked another far-left group in the middle of a war against fascists.

Right-wing boycotters, of course, have also been busy. They staged a Twitter war against “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” after one of its writers blasted Trump on social media and pointedly said the Empire was “a white supremacist (human) organization.” (The movie only went on to gross a billion dollars.) They tried to take down Kellogg’s (whose stock price is higher than it was when it ran afoul of Trump fan site Breitbart.com) and Budweiser (over their multicultural Trump-trolling in a Super Bowl ad).

Some Trumpsters even started a #BoycottStarbucks movement of their own, inspired by the company’s promise it would hire 10,000 refugees in solidarity against Trump. Trump fans also agree that Amazon should be boycotted, because Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, which has been mean to Trump. “You mess with Trump, your [sic] messing with the silent majority!” reads a petition calling for the boycott on Change.org.
That's a lot to keep up with. I know that I use Amazon way too much to boycott it over anything political. I'm not going to inconvenience myself just because someone associated with a company said something that I disagree with.
The value of boycotts is, like the value of anything else, linked to scarcity. If the millions of Americans who hate Trump could focus their anger on one target, they might be effective. But when new boycotts and anti-boycotts are starting up every day, in the name of every cause, who can keep track of them all? The boycotters wind up limiting their influence to a handful of political monomaniacs, the kind of people who put up seven Facebook posts a day on the same topic.

Boycotters are fighting against a tide of human desire for products that are convenient, well-made or just simply delicious. At lunchtime every weekday in Midtown, you can see the lines out the door for Chick-fil-A, a fast-food chain whose CEO opposes gay marriage and which just last year earned a public denunciation from Mayor de Blasio, who said, “I’m certainly not going to patronize them, and I wouldn’t urge any other New Yorker to patronize them.” The franchise will soon open its fourth location in town, so even in this bastion of liberalism, mouth-watering poultry beats politics. Chickmate!

SNL took a break from bashing Trump to ridicule the virtue signaling going on in the Super Bowl ads. And they really caught the self-congratulatory mood among these companies that figured that trumpeting their support for immigration or equal pay will somehow translate into more sales for their products. Just as I won't boycott a company if I disagree with them, I'm not going to purchase something that I wasn't planning to purchase just because they pretend to really care about some public issue.

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Columnist Christian Schneider scorns Senator Tim Kaine for connecting school voucher programs to Virginia's appalling history of massive resistance to school desegregation by allowing white students to go to segregated private schools. Kaine is ignoring the history of the modern school choice movement had at its foundation efforts to help minority and at-risk students.
Perhaps Kaine inhaled too many jet fumes on his campaign trips around the country last year, but his attempt to equate school choice with segregation is appalling. When African-American leaders like Howard Fuller and Wisconsin state Rep. Annette "Polly" Williams pushed for Milwaukee school choice in the late 1980s, they weren't white supremacists; they were trying to figure out how to deliver the best possible education to Milwaukee's black children.

Fuller told me that prior to passage of the choice program in 1989, Milwaukee's black leaders had been through a series of struggles to try to improve the education of poor black children in Milwaukee. He and other reformers had tried to get MPS to address the issue of why poor black children were not being educated, including creating a completely separate school district. "For us, the move to vouchers was the continuation of that struggle," Fuller said. "It was always about trying to educate kids."

n fact, the primary reason school choice programs exist is to give minority children access to the same private schools that wealthier white kids have always been able to attend. Multiple studies in the early 2000s concluded that public school children in choice-friendly cities like Milwaukee and Cleveland were more likely to attend racially monolithic schools than children in those cities' private, religious schools. Educational choice is a tool of integration, not the other way around.
So Democrats who need to oppose school choice efforts because they're the tools of the teachers' unions who are going to the mattresses to block any efforts to give parents the choice to pull their students out of regular public schools. So they have to demagogue the issue instead of confronting the real issues plaguing public school.
In fact, the primary reason school choice programs exist is to give minority children access to the same private schools that wealthier white kids have always been able to attend. Multiple studies in the early 2000s concluded that public school children in choice-friendly cities like Milwaukee and Cleveland were more likely to attend racially monolithic schools than children in those cities' private, religious schools. Educational choice is a tool of integration, not the other way around....

With DeVos, Democrats finally found their mustache-twirling villain — a wealthy woman willing to spend money on causes meant to help poor children get better educations. Over a decade ago, DeVos helped fund the Black Alliance for Educational Opportunities, a pro-school choice group made up of African-American activists. At the time, Democrats (many of whom send their own children to private school) lined up to support the group; future New Jersey senator Cory Booker, then the mayor of Newark, even served on BAEO's board. Yet with the bright lights shining last week, Booker voted against DeVos' confirmation.

On the very day that the Senate confirmed DeVos by a slim one-vote margin, news broke that the Chicago Public School district had sent all 381,000 of its students home with a letter blaming Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and state Republicans for the district's woes. It is these union-dominated districts that Democrats are so desperate to protect, and which DeVos' activism threatens. (On the day of the Senate vote, liberals circulated lists of senators who had received campaign contributions from DeVos, well before she ever knew she would be a candidate for Education secretary; they seemed less interested in Democrats who received millions of dollars from teachers' unions and voted against DeVos.)

"People just lie," Fuller told me when I asked him about Kaine's attempt to tie voucher schools to segregation.

Buzzfeed, no liberal mouthpiece, reports on the worries of Democrats that they don't know how to talk to the sorts of voters who voted for Trump and Republicans for Congress in November.
Democrats have historically said their economic platform should be able to bridge rural and progressive voters, but the last three elections have shown that they’re still struggling. The party hasn’t held control of the House in six years and since Nancy Pelosi gave up her gavel, they’ve lost the Senate and the White House as well. Once again, members are thinking about how they can communicate more effectively, but they’re coming up with few answers.

The question was at the top of many members’ minds as more than 130 House Democrats, roughly two-third of their membership, came to Baltimore for a three-day “issues conference” this week, the theme of which was “Fighting For All Americans.”

But some Democrats say that while the party wants to fight for every American, they’re still not reaching a lot of them. Rural voters, in particular, are fleeing the party and tough losses in 2016 have some members urging the party to rethink its strategy.
“This is exactly why we lost,” one frustrated Democratic member told BuzzFeed News in a text message during a presentation at the retreat in which the member said people were clearly bored. “Trump thinks in visuals and what sells. We’re listening to an MIT prof give a dissertation with graphs on rumors that has no bearing in reality!”

Governor Jerry Brown is going to have to answer some questions on why his administration didn't do much to help repair the Oroville Dam, despite warnings, that has now developed a giant sinkhole in its spillway and is threatening the nearly 190,000 residents and all the farmland it feeds.
In 2005, advocacy groups led by Friends of the River urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to order the state to reinforce the dam’s earthen walls with concrete, citing the erosion risk, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

The agency rejected the request on the recommendation of the state Department of Water Resources and local water agencies, which would have been on the hook for improvements that could have cost as much as $100 million.

Reinforcing the Oroville Dam was not included on Mr. Brown’s $100 billion wish list of projects prepared last month at the request of the National Governors Association in response to Mr. Trump’s call for $1 trillion in infrastructure improvements, CNBC reported.

One project that did make the list: California high-speed rail, a pet project of Mr. Brown’s with an estimated price tag of $100 billion that has become for state Republicans a symbol of out-of-control government spending.
Governing is about making choices among varying needs. Governor Brown has prioritized his own spending sinkhole of high-speed rail which even Slate has ridiculed.John Fund wrote last year about how Claifornia's high speed rail is "a fast train to fiscal ruin."
Voters in 2008 narrowly approved initial bonds to finance the project, but that was when it was projected to cost $33 billion and travel 220 miles per hour. Now it has lost the support of key figures such as Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, a likely successor to Governor Jerry Brown in 2018, and Quentin Kopp, former head of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Kopp says the current plan is a betrayal of what was approved by voters. He says it has morphed into a “slow-speed” project that is likely to cost upwards of $80 billion, or 40 times the federal government’s annual subsidy for all of Amtrak.

But train supporters refuse to give up. Last year, they broke ground on an initial 119-mile segment of the train’s route in the state’s sparsely settled Central Valley. The main reason they forged ahead with the ground-breaking was to avoid having to return Obama stimulus money, which the state had pledged to do if nothing was built. The first segment of track will run from Madera to Bakersfield, a stretch that fewer than 3 percent of the line’s potential ridership can use. It is essentially a train from nowhere to nowhere, ridden by almost no one.

Just last week, the Obama administration quietly approved a four-year “adjustment” in the initial segment’s construction schedule, admitting that it won’t be finished until 2022 at the earliest, rather than 2018 as originally planned.

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Some opponents of Trump hate him so much that they're now spreading their animus to his four-year-old grandson. Seriously.
Upper East Side moms are having a spirited online debate over whether to boycott a school where a grandchild of President Trump is a student.

One of the anonymous contributors to UrbanBaby.com said her son had gotten into Buckley [School], but she didn’t want to send him there because a son of Donald Trump Jr.’s (likely 4-year-old Spencer Frederick) is said to be going to kindergarten there in the fall.

“They will be in the same classroom and I don’t think I can deal with this. Birthday parties, etc.,” the mother wrote.
Another mom replied: “It’s an innocent kid. It’s not like he can help the family he was born into. The hate must run really deep with you.”

A third mother wrote: “You almost have to decline. It sounds like it will drive you crazy . . . You want to spend nine years worried that DS [darling son] is getting infected with Trumpism?”
How demented is that? Sure, it's just a few people online, but the fact that people are even thinking this way betrays an obsession with politics that is spreading even to Kindergartners is really rather sick.

My students are turning in the rough drafts of their history research papers this week and I was just giving them a lecture on plagiarism and how seriously we teachers take plagiarism. So it's demoralizing to see professionals get away with what should be considered academic sinss such as plagiarism and making up data.
A federal agency that funds scientific research nixed punishments recommended by its own ethics watchdog for some academics who plagiarized and manipulated data in grant proposals and taxpayer-funded research, public records show.

The inspector general for the National Science Foundation identified at least 23 instances of plagiarism in proposals, NSF-funded research, and agency publications in 2015 and 2016. It found at least eight instances of data manipulation and fabrication in those years. NSF officials disregarded recommended sanctions against some of the scientists and academics implicated in those findings. Though many were temporarily barred from receiving additional federal funding, nearly all will be eligible for taxpayer support and official roles in NSF-funded research in the future.
How lame is this?
One researcher found to have plagiarized from five sources in an NSF grant proposal told investigators that she "was never instructed regarding use of quotation marks while a graduate student in the U.S."
Who gets through graduate school without learning about not plagiarizing? Come to my school and we'll help you out.