Thursday, February 16, 2017

Cruising the Web

What is worse about this story - that intelligence officials are taking it upon themselves to not give information to the commander-in-chief or that they're now leaking about it to the media?
U.S. intelligence officials have withheld sensitive intelligence from President Donald Trump because they are concerned it could be leaked or compromised, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter.

The officials’ decision to keep information from Mr. Trump underscores the deep mistrust that has developed between the intelligence community and the president over his team’s contacts with the Russian government, as well as the enmity he has shown toward U.S. spy agencies. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump accused the agencies of leaking information to undermine him.
In some of these cases of withheld information, officials have decided not to show Mr. Trump the sources and methods that the intelligence agencies use to collect information, the current and former officials said. Those sources and methods could include, for instance, the means that an agency uses to spy on a foreign government.
I can't stand the way that Trump has blasted the intelligence services from the campaign through the post-election period to now as president. I can understand why they're wary of him. But I can also see why Trump is angry at all the leaks coming out the intelligence community. There is something so disturbing at how politicization has taken over everything, even agencies that should be totally nonpartisan. The story is chock full of anonymous sources. The only source named is Democratic Representative Adam Schiff who reports that anonymous sources have told him, as ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, about their concerns sharing information with the President.
“I’ve talked with people in the intelligence community that do have concerns about the White House, about the president, and I think those concerns take a number of forms,” Mr. Schiff said, without confirming any specific incidents. “What the intelligence community considers their most sacred obligation is to protect the very best intelligence and to protect the people that are producing it.”

“I’m sure there are people in the community who feel they don’t know where he’s coming from on Russia,” Mr. Schiff said.
So how are we to judge a story based on anonymous sourcing and a Democrat's observations? I have no idea.

William A. Jacobson points out at Legal Insurrection how little we actually know about connections between the Trump campaign/administration and Russia.
I don’t know whether Donald Trump or his aides had any improper contacts with Russian Intelligence officers.

Neither do you, or the media. The Intelligence Community might know, but they have provided zero facts either officially or through leaks to prove any improper, much less illegal, conduct took place.

Instead, we have trial by innuendo based on there being “contacts” between Trump campaign aides and Russian intelligence.

Here is what we don’t know even from the leaks as reported in The NY Times and CNN:

Who had the contacts? With whom were the contacts? When did they take place? Is there evidence the campaign aides knew they were talking to intelligence officers. Were they talking about the campaign or unrelated business?

And most important, What was said?

We do know from the NY Times and CNN leak reporting of the leaks is that there is no evidence so far of any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

In this fact-free environment, imaginations and malicious intentions can run wild. We have round-the-clock media and social media speculation and frenzy throwing around terms like impeachment, treason, and so on.

It is, in some ways, worse than harmful facts, because there is no clear accusation against which to defend, and no factual basis upon which the public can judge.

If Donald Trump didn’t do anything improper or illegal, I think this will ultimately backfire on the intelligence community. That community either is participating in or turning a blind eye towards those among it who are trying to sabotage the elected president.

If Trump is innocent, he has no choice but to go to political war with the intelligence community, because right now he is receiving political death by a thousand cuts. I think that the 60 million people who voted for him will stand by his side.

If Donald Trump did do something improper or illegal, then the intelligence community is doing the nation a disservice by leaking fact-free innuendo. There presumably are mechanisms whereby factual information could be provided to Congress or persons lawfully allowed to see such information so that we can judge based on facts. Or if you are going to illegally leak, then at least illegally leak facts.

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John Hinderaker contrasts all this speculation over whether or not the Trump team had contact with Russian government officials with the yawns over Obama contacting Iran's leaders during the 2008 campaign. To tell the truth, I'd missed that story and am amazed at how little coverage Obama received for contacting one of our nation's main enemies (whatever Obama believed) before Obama was even elected.
In 2008, the Bush administration, along with the “six powers,” was negotiating with Iran concerning that country’s nuclear arms program. The Bush administration’s objective was to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. On July 20, 2008, the New York Times headlined: “Nuclear Talks With Iran End in a Deadlock.” What caused the talks to founder? The Times explained:

Iran responded with a written document that failed to address the main issue: international demands that it stop enriching uranium. And Iranian diplomats reiterated before the talks that they considered the issue nonnegotiable.

The Iranians held firm to their position, perhaps because they knew that help was on the way, in the form of a new president. Barack Obama had clinched the Democratic nomination on June 3. At some point either before or after that date, but prior to the election, he secretly let the Iranians know that he would be much easier to bargain with than President Bush. Michael Ledeen reported the story last year:

During his first presidential campaign in 2008, Mr. Obama used a secret back channel to Tehran to assure the mullahs that he was a friend of the Islamic Republic, and that they would be very happy with his policies. The secret channel was Ambassador William G. Miller, who served in Iran during the shah’s rule, as chief of staff for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and as ambassador to Ukraine. Ambassador Miller has confirmed to me his conversations with Iranian leaders during the 2008 campaign.

So Obama secretly told the mullahs not to make a deal until he assumed the presidency, when they would be able to make a better agreement. Which is exactly what happened: Obama abandoned the requirement that Iran stop enriching uranium, so that Iran’s nuclear program has sped ahead over the months and years that negotiations have dragged on.
And, as president, Obama delivered on his promise to negotiate a deal that would make Iran happy. Shouldn't that be a big scandal? Of course not, because it concerned Obama. If the Trump campaign was collaborating any way with Putin's government, that's a true scandal, but so was Obama undermining the sitting president's negotiations with Iran to promise them a better deal if he got elected.

ABC's Matthew Dowd has access to a clause in the Constitution that I've never heard of. According to him, Trump is violating a section of the First Amendment that mandates that a president take questions from the mainstream media.
Following today’s presidential press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ABC News chief political analyst Matthew Dowd took note of the outlets that President Trump called on today and in his past few press conferences.

Today Trump called on Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody and Townhall editor Katie Pavlich, which kicked off more criticism of the White House for their choice of outlets to call on at these press conferences.

Dowd added this afternoon that Trump is “shutting down part of the First Amendment by not taking questions that are going to be any way antagonistic in this.”
I guess that is the Call on ABC at Press Conferences Clause. So was the New York Times' JEff Zeleny violating the Ask Tough Questions Clause when he asked Obama at a news conference what had most surprised, enchanted, humbled and troubled him as president?

As Benjamin Freed argues in The Washingtonian, it doesn't amount to a hill of beans which reporter gets the first question.
Like the best stories about any presidency, stories like the Post‘s came from deeply established sources, document sleuthing, and careful analysis. So who really cares who gets first dibs on questions?

Was the media so outraged when a top Obama aide, Ben Rhodes, bragged about manipulating the media about the Iran deal?
In the spring of last year, legions of arms-control experts began popping up at think tanks and on social media, and then became key sources for hundreds of often-clueless reporters. “We created an echo chamber,” he admitted, when I asked him to explain the onslaught of freshly minted experts cheerleading for the deal. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”

When I suggested that all this dark metafictional play seemed a bit removed from rational debate over America’s future role in the world, Rhodes nodded. “In the absence of rational discourse, we are going to discourse the [expletive] out of this,” he said. “We had test drives to know who was going to be able to carry our message effectively, and how to use outside groups like Ploughshares, the Iran Project and whomever else. So we knew the tactics that worked.” He is proud of the way he sold the Iran deal. “We drove them crazy,” he said of the deal’s opponents.
The Washington Post reported on Rhodes' methods in manipulating a media that he has such contempt for, but without this sense of outrage that we're seeing over whom Trump and Sean Spicer call on in press conferences and briefings.
Rhodes, 38, said in the article that it was easy to shape a favorable impression of the proposed agreement because of the inexperience of many of those covering the issue.

“All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” he said. “Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”

.....Rhodes’s assistant, Ned Price, told the newspaper that the administration would feed “color” — background details — to their “compadres” in the press corps, “and the next thing I know, lots of these guys are in the dot-com publishing space, and have huge Twitter followings, and they’ll be putting this message out on their own.”

In the article, Rhodes speaks contemptuously of the Washington policy and media establishment, including The Washington Post and the New York Times, referring to them as “the blob” that was subject to conventional thinking about foreign policy.

“We had test-drives to know who was going to be able to carry our message effectively, and how to use outside groups like [the anti-nuclear group] Ploughshares, the Iran Project and whomever else. So we knew the tactics that worked,” Rhodes says.

Did Matthew Dowd think that that violated the Do Not Manipulate the Media Clause of the First Amendment?

Allahpundit points to Purple Strategies' Rory Coopers Twitter feed for some more examples of MSM softballs lobbed at Obama.

I would prefer that Trump and Spicer took questions from a wide range of media outlets instead of trying to call on only journalists from conservative outlets. But I'm also happy that he's not doing interviews with a youtube blogger whose specialty is blogging from her bathtub where she eats Fruit Loops.

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Eric Felton warns against individuals in the FBI following the extremely distasteful path of J. Edgar Hoover.
To hear New York Times correspondent Eric Schmitt tell it, his FBI sources are dishing confidential information from their investigations of Donald Trump's team out of selfless concern for the country. "Many of them are taking risks in order to confirm information that they feel is important for the American public to know," Schmitt told BBC Newshour host Julian Marshall this morning.

"Are they alarmed, the intelligence agencies," Marshall asked in response, "because they believe that Mr. Trump is possibly putting the security of the United States at risk?"

"To be blunt," Schmitt said ominously, "yes."

There are other possibilities, among them to be blunt) that intelligence bureaucrats are looking out for their own interests against a president who has not only announced his opposition to all Washington bureaucrats, but has something of a row going with the intelligence agencies. Could it be their motives are less selfless than self-serving?

We seem to have forgotten the bad old days when J. Edgar Hoover's FBI was untouchable because of the threat the Bureau posed to politicos who fell afoul of the director. There were the many filing cabinets—no one quite knows how many (one moving man who had to lug them down stairs later testified they were some three dozen cabinets stuffed with file-foldered documents)—full of material of a compromising nature about politicians and political leaders.
Felten reminds us of Hoover's habit of blackmailing politicians with the information that the FBI had collected on them. We thought that such sleazy use of FBI investigations was behind us, but now we have the media cheering on the leakers because they're attacking the Trump administration.
Such things could never happen again, of course. It's quite inconceivable that domestic intelligence agencies would ever seek to protect their prerogatives by leaking against politicians deemed unfriendly to the security bureaucracy. It's quite inconceivable that modern politicos would be put on notice that they might be the objects of surveillance—and that the surveillance could be used against them by the agencies they supposedly oversee. It's quite inconceivable that the FBI would ever again have anyone in their pocket.

Yes, inconceivable—in the Princess Bride usage.

Those now so eager to use, and be used by, the FBI against President Trump might want to consider the damage done to democratic institutions when domestic intelligence agencies start to freelance.

But then the DNC has figured out the real problem with today's FBI - how the TV show "Designated Survivor" portrays the FBI. They're irritated that the show isn't going far enough to criticize James Comey.
The Democratic National Committee is expected to vote next week on a resolution that condemns the ABC drama "Designated Survivor" in an apparent effort to mock and criticize FBI Director James Comey.

The party's resolution committee will consider the motion during its annual gathering in Atlanta next week.

"Whereas, the ABC TV show 'Designated Survivor' portrays a fictional FBI Director as being blackmailed into confessing to a crime he did not commit, and ... Whereas, the portrayal of this situation is unbelievable and could result in the undermining of faith in the FBI..." the resolution states.

"Whereas, Director Comey demonstrated in the recent 2016 election that he does not need to be blackmailed to engage in illegal partisan actions, and ... Whereas Director Comey's infamous, partisan, and illegal letters resulted in the election of the man some refer to as 'not my president," the resolution continues....

herefore, be it resolved, that all US citizens are encouraged to have the same respect for the FBI as Director Comey demonstrated with his illegal actions.
Oooh, dang! That will show Comey!

Two clerks for Neil Gorsuch who say they are from opposite sides of the political spectrum write to say what they learned from working for Gorsuch. One important lesson was the importance of writing clearly.
Judge Gorsuch reinforced the importance of accessible and clear writing, devoid of legalese. His opinions are analytically rigorous and enjoyable to read. “Writing takes work,” he taught us, but we should never aim to “write like a lawyer.”
I give my students each year a research assignment to write about a Supreme Court case from the past 50 years that they think was decided incorrectly and argue why the justices made a mistake. As part of their research, they have to read majority opinion and dissent(s). This can be tough task for 10th graders. Through the years, quite a few have commented on how they enjoyed reading Scalia's opinions because he wrote clearly and they could understand his points and enjoyed the little jokes he would sprinkle throughout his writing. They might not agree with his position, but they appreciated being able to understand his points. Adding another justice to the Court who will write clearly is certainly a plus.

The two clerks point to some other lessons they learned. THey praise Gorsuch's efforts to see both sides of an argument, something that, apparently, some lawyers don't do.

South Carolina workers at Boeing
just don't want to be unionized.
After a day of voting by thousands of Boeing workers and tallying by national labor officials, officials announced Wednesday night that Boeing workers would not be joining the International Association of Machinists union.

Boeing officials issued a statement Wednesday night saying of the 3,000 people who could vote, 2,828 voted. Of those, 74 percent voted against joining the union.

“We will continue to move forward as one team,” said Joan Robinson-Berry, vice president and general manager of BSC. “We have a bright future ahead of us and are eager to focus on the accomplishments of this great team and to developing new opportunities.

IAM leaders expressed their disappointment at the result.

“We’re disappointed the workers at Boeing South Carolina will not yet have the opportunity to see all the benefits that come with union representation” said IAM lead organizer Mike Evans. “But more than anything, we are disheartened they will have to continue to work under a system that suppresses wages, fosters inconsistency and awards only a chosen few.”

Months of heated debate and constant advertisements for and against the union came down to Wednesday night's results.

North Charleston ✔ @NorthCharleston
Results of the union vote at Boeing South Carolina. Workers vote NO to union representation. …
8:45 PM - 15 Feb 2017 · North Charleston, SC
3 3 Retweets 11 11 likes

Boeing has been outspoken about its opposition, saying the union does not have workers' best interests in mind. The aerospace giant says expensive union dues will do more harm than good for North Charleston workers.

The arguments appeared to have worked. IAM officials commented on the flood of ads on radio and TV in a statement Thursday night.

“Boeing management spent a lot of money to make sure power and profits remained concentrated at the very top. The company’s anti-union conduct reached new lows,” said Evans. “The IAM remains committed to getting Boeing South Carolina workers the respect, wages and consistency they deserve.”

Union officials argued that employees deserve better pay, more benefits, and secure contracts from Boeing.

The decision by Boeing's workers precedes President Donald Trump's first visit to South Carolina on Friday. During the campaign, Trump warned workers at the Boeing facility that without him as president, Boeing would be closing up shop and moving to China within five years.

The White House has not released a statement on the vote.

“Friday we will mark the most recent incredible accomplishment in the proud history of the BSC team with the rollout of the first 787-10,” said Robinson-Berry. “It is great to have this vote behind us as we come together to celebrate that event.”

South Carolina has the lowest percentage of union members in the United States.

According to NLRB rules, workers must wait at least one year before they can hold another vote. IAM officials say they plan on staying close with Boeing South Carolina workers during that time and see what they can do to help them moving forward.

“Ultimately it will be the workers who dictate what happens next,” said Evans. “We’ve been fortunate enough to talk with hundreds of Boeing workers over the past few years. Nearly every one of them, whether they support the union or not, have improvements they want to see at Boeing. Frankly, they deserve better.”

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The preoccupation of California politicians with future climate change doesn't seem to have done much to help them face the effects of the climate today.
When it rains in California, it pours. Five years of drought have given way to floods, mudslides and now a massive failure at the state’s second biggest reservoir. While spending billions annually to fight climate change, Democrats in Sacramento have left the state ill-prepared for local weather fluctuations.

Nearly 200,000 people in Northern California were urged to evacuate their homes this weekend after Oroville Dam’s main and emergency spillways caved amid a storm surge. The emergency spillway, which hasn’t been used since the dam was finished in 1968, was needed to prevent flooding after a football-field-sized crater developed in the main spillway.

It’s unclear why the spillways eroded. Both were designed to handle flows 20 to 40 times stronger than those which occurred when they started to crumble. Green groups are blaming the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for re-licensing the dam in 2005 without requiring fortifications, which regulators said were unnecessary. So much for progressives’ belief in regulatory infallibility.

The storms pummeling the state this year also contradict forecasts of a new climate normal of persistent drought. California is on track for its wettest winter on record. Snowpack is running about 180% of the statewide average and more than double the norm in the Southern Sierras. Rainfall around Los Angeles is twice the historical average, and groundwater basins in the Central Valley are beginning to refill. This sudden turn of climate events is consistent with California’s cyclical weather patterns.

Yet the state lacks sufficient infrastructure to store the excess precipitation....

Yet plans for additional surface storage—Temperance Flat Dam, Sites Reservoir and Shasta Dam expansion—have been at a standstill for years. The projects would cost about as much as the high-speed rail from Shafter to Madera and about half as much as California’s Medicaid expansion on an annual basis.

The real impediment is green folly. Soon after California voters approved a water bond in 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dashed raising the Shasta Dam, claiming it would harm endangered species’ habitat. Yet the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says more water storage could restore threatened salmon downstream.

President Trump on Tuesday approved Governor Jerry Brown’s request for emergency aid, but he ought to finance Oroville Dam repairs in part from the state’s $8 billion rainy day fund. California’s politicians should worry less about the uncertain temperatures in 2100 than its water needs in the here and now.
It's a shame that ordinary California citizens have to pay now for their politicians' monomania on climate change and high-speed rail to the detriment of infrastructure needed for today. And since California really has nearly $8 billion sitting in a rainy day fund, why should federal taxpayers have to bail them out when it actually, you know, rains?
Even as his state budget plan detailed the reemergence of a potential deficit in the near future, Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday presented lawmakers with a fiscal blueprint that projects the state's cash reserve will grow to $7.9 billion.

The passage of Proposition 2 in 2014 strengthened the state's existing rainy-day budget reserve, a savings account first created by voters in 2004. In essence, the new law requires both a larger amount to be set aside each year and the paying of a portion of the state's long-term debts.
Well, that's fiscally responsible after years of being so irresponsible in the promises of government pensions and other spending. But now it seems we're going to pay to bail them out for their bad planning.

This is one precedent
I'm glad to see broken.
President Donald Trump will not pick brackets for the 2017 men's and women's tournaments. The White House has notified ESPN that the president will pass on making the picks this year.

The network said in a statement Wednesday: "We expressed our interest to the White House in continuing the presidential bracket. They have respectfully declined."
Good. Keep Trump and all politicians far away from all sports. I know how it irritated me to see ESPN fawn over Obama when he made his picks as if that was something of import. I can imagine how Trump foes would hate to see him on ESPN explaining why he doesn't think Gonzaga can win it all.

Ah, just what parents pay to send their children to college to learn.
Students at a predominantly white small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania will wear white pins shaped like puzzle pieces for one month to remind themselves of their white privilege.

The Elizabethtown College Democrats launched the campaign over the weekend in order to remind white people who don’t experience racism that it still exists, the local CBS News affiliate reported.

“People of color every day have to wake up and think about race,” Aileen Ida, president of the College Democrats, told the TV station. “They have to think about how it affects their life, what they have to do for it to not negatively affect their life. And as a white person, you don’t even have to think about it.”
She said notion that we live in a post-racial world is a “misconception.”

It turns out that the Trump administration is not the only group to inflate crowd-size numbers. The Democrats leading "Moral March" gatherings in North Carolina seem to have quadrupled the actual size of the crowd showing up for a #moralresistance march in Raleigh a week ago.