Friday, February 17, 2017

Cruising the Web

Gosh, has it only only been one month since Trump was inaugurated? Doesn't it feel like it's been months? It seems like every day there are several massive news stories, kerfuffles, scandals, outrages to get everyone all worked up. It's exhausting to try to keep up. Imagine how the politicians on Capitol Hill or the members of Trump's staff must feel.

His press conference yesterday continued that pattern and condensed it all into 77 minutes. Fortunately, I was at work so I didn't have to watch it - just listen to excerpts on the news. It was entertaining and interesting - that's for sure. For anyone who thought or predicted that Trump would change once he became president, can now admit that the man will never change. What we saw in the campaign is the person we're seeing today. He had some news that he could have let be the major story and perhaps change the storyline from controversies surrounding his administration. Instead he ranted about the media over and over. Perhaps that appeals to his supporters. I know that I have no ability to predict accurately how people will react to Trump since I was wrong over and over again since he came down that escalator. A lot of those who voted for him hate the media so they'll be thrilled to listen to his attacks. However, if Trump wants to get reelected, he has to win over some of the people who didn't vote for him. He can't depend on running against such a damaged candidate as Hillary Clinton again. Remember that only a few thousand votes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania moving the other way would have lost the election for Trump. He has to appeal to those voters with accomplishments, not rants about the media. Trump would do better to have more focus to talk about what he's trying to accomplish instead of distracting everyone with talking about the media. He should know that journalists can't resist talking about whatever he says about them and all other news will be lost amidst all the brouhaha over his words about the media. They're eternally solipsistic so they have trouble focusing on anything else if Trump says anything about them.

Allahpundit borrows a metaphor to describe what Trump's press conference is like.
I’ve mentioned it before but one of the best descriptions of a Trump presser I’ve read came early on in the campaign from Leon Wolf, who compared it to a military jet firing off “chaff” to divert heat-seeking missiles. There were so many colorful, noteworthy, ill-informed, sometimes flatly mendacious bits of news emanating from Trump every few minutes, Wolf noted, that when it was over commentators frequently wouldn’t know what to focus on. There were too many lights in the sky to find the most newsworthy targets. Today’s hour-plus presser was that all over again, except it was a presidential news conference and Trump was hitting on all cylinders, across an array of topics so wide that it felt like he touched on every major news story of the past three weeks. CNN was reduced to gawking that it was “a stunning moment in modern American political history.” Watching it and trying to pick out the newsiest stuff felt like playing an extremely advanced level of “Missile Command,” with stuff raining down faster than your eyes can follow. How do you make sense of Trump riffing on Flynn and Russia and the media and whether the people at Republican townhalls are “not the Republican people that our representatives represent” and about 15 other topics for 77 minutes? The only safe thing you can say about today’s spectacle, I think, is that it confirmed your view of Trump, whatever that view may be. If, like Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, you’re a diehard Trumpist, it was Trump Woodstock. If you’re not, it was Altamont.

Michael Goodwin in the New York Post thought that Trump's press conference will play wonderfully with his supporters.
The president proved once again that he is the greatest show on earth. Lions and tigers and elephants are kids’ stuff next to his high wire act.

Next time, the White House ought to sell popcorn.

Amid feverish reports of chaos on his team and with Democrats fantasizing that Russia-gate is another Watergate, Trump took center stage to declare that reports of his demise are just more fake news.

Far from dead, he was positively exuberant. His performance at a marathon press conference was a must-see-tv spectacle as he mixed serious policy talk with stand-up comedy and took repeated pleasure in whacking his favorite pinata, the “dishonest media.”

“Russia is a ruse,” he insisted, before finally saying under questioning he was not aware of anyone on his campaign having contact with Russian officials.

Trump’s detractors immediately panned the show as madness, but they missed the method behind it and proved they still don’t understand his appeal. Facing his first crisis in the Oval Office, he was unbowed in demonstrating his bare-knuckled intention to fight back.

He did it his way. Certainly no other president, and few politicians at any level in any time, would dare put on a show like that.

In front of cameras, and using the assembled press corps as props, he conducted a televised revival meeting to remind his supporters that he is still the man they elected. Ticking off a lengthy list of executive orders and other actions he has taken, he displayed serious fealty to his campaign promises.

Sure, sentences didn’t always end on the same topic they started with, and his claim to have won the election by the largest electoral college margin since Ronald Reagan wasn’t close to true.

Fair points, but so what? Fact-checkers didn’t elect him, nor did voters who were happy with the status quo.

Trump, first, last and always, matches the mood of the discontented. Like them, he is a bull looking for a china shop. That’s his ace in the hole and he played it almost to perfection.
Perhaps. I just keep thinking about his need to expand his support beyond those people who voted for him enthusiastically. And he won't win them over just by attacking the media.

Ben Shapiro comments,
The right celebrates that Trump keeps hitting the media with a hammer. The left is shocked that Trump has a hammer. Given today’s press conference, neither is completely wrong....

Trump led off with a recitation of all the wonderful things he’s done so far. “I’m here today to update the American people on the incredible progress that has been made in the last four weeks since my inauguration. We have made incredible progress. I don’t think there’s ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we’ve done,” Trump explained. He then cited polls showing his popularity. He got defensive, of course, because Trump hates criticism – he ripped on the media, as per his usual arrangement, and said that “many of our nation’s reporters and folks will not tell you the truth” (Fact check: true); he also stated that the rollout of his immigration and refugee executive order was “very smooth” (Fact check: false), and that his administration was running “like a fine-tune machine” (Fact check: he just fired his National Security Advisor three weeks in).
As Shapiro summarizes, Trump then proceeded to blame Obama and the media for any perception that things aren't going well. After all, why should anyone believe the media when they messed up predicting the election. Then he went on to complain about their attacks and leaks about Mike Flynn which leaves the mystery as to why he fired him. And he obfuscated about whether his aides had talked to Russia during the campaign and continued to refuse to say anything bad about Putin. And the bizarreness of his answers continued.
To really experience the full glory of the Trump presser, it has to be watched. Trump certainly isn’t going to lack for ratings. And him doing the same routine that got him here won’t alienate his base of support – and him hammering the media into oblivion will help him greatly. But Trump’s wildly varying tone, his defensiveness, his lack of grasp of the issues, his confusing answers about the Flynn firing – none of it is likely to reassure voters who feel confused by the chaos of the last two weeks.
The WSJ is actually rather sanguine about Trump's performance yesterday.
He said he was “making this presentation directly to the American people, with the media present, which is an honor to have you”—before he went on to call the media “dishonest,” “false, horrible, fake” and filled with “such hatred” for him.

One reporter went as far as to accuse Mr. Trump of “undermining confidence in our news media,” and, duh, his goal was to use an East Roomful of journalists as his foil. They seemed to recoil aesthetically from how he communicates—with his exaggerations, unrehearsed digressions and streams-of-consciousness, or unconsciousness as the case may be.

But Mr. Trump’s larger message is reasonably clear and coherent. He exposed himself to press scrutiny and answered multiple pointed questions on Russia and other controversies. President Obama tended to filibuster at his press events, and he’d have reached perhaps the third question by the 60-minute mark.
At some point, he needs to do more than just take on the right enemies within our political system in attacking the media and Democrats. He has to demonstrate actual competence in accomplishing worthwhile goals.

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Jonah Goldberg rejects the commonly-held misconception that "Middle East conflict" refers only to Israel and the Palestinians.
The term has always been a misnomer, making it sound like were it not for the Israeli–Palestinian dispute, the Middle East would be all peace and harmony. The Economist once ran “A Chronology of the Middle East Conflict” that was all about Israel and Palestine. It began in 1917 with the Balfour Declaration and ended with the election — apparently for life — of Mahmoud Abbas to the presidency of the Palestinian Authority in 2005. During that time there were dozens of conflicts in the region — cross-border wars, civil wars, rebellions, revolutions, massacres, etc. — that had nothing to do with Israel.

The Islamic State is still in Syria, Libya, and Iraq. The president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, is finishing off the rebellion against his regime with the help of the Russians and Iranians. Amnesty International released a report last week accusing the Assad regime of executing some 13,000 people in a single prison. Approximately 4.8 million civilians have fled Syria and an estimated 400,000 have been killed. The Syrian-refugee crisis in Jordan and Lebanon is straining those relatively moderate states beyond their capacities.

The latest news in the Iran–Saudi Arabia proxy war in Yemen: The Saudis say Iran supplied the missiles Houthi rebels have been firing deep into Saudi territory.

Turkey is rapidly transforming itself into an authoritarian state, and Egypt isn’t far behind. The Kurds in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere always seem moments away from asserting their independence. And then, of course, there’s al-Qaeda and all the other terrorist groups — which hate Israel, to be sure, but don’t really focus on it.

The Middle East has always had much bigger problems and, often, much bigger conflicts than those having to do with “the Zionist entity.” Indeed, it is precisely because of those problems and conflicts that rulers in the region chose to magnify the Israel–Palestinian conflict into the Middle East conflict in the first place. Demonizing the Jews is always a useful distraction from domestic dysfunction and oppression.

Noah Rothman reports on a very intriguing initiative by the Trump administration.
The Wall Street Journal’s Maria Abi-Habib reported on Tuesday that administration officials are in talks with at least five Arab nations to form a mutual defense alliance. It would include an intelligence-sharing regime with the Israeli government.

“The alliance would include countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that are avowed enemies of Israel as well as Egypt and Jordan, which have long-standing peace treaties with Israel,” Abi-Habib reported. The alliance’s core objective would be to formalize and expand upon the Saudi-led coalition currently executing strikes on the Houthi militia in Yemen. In broader terms, the founding of a majority Sunni alliance with the operational assistance of Israel that has one core mission: Contain a resurgent Iran.

This kind of informal military alliance between Arab nations and the state of Israel would have been inconceivable prior to the Obama administration. The Obama presidency’s pursuit of a nuclear accord with Iran and its reliance upon Tehran-backed militias in Iraq catalyzed a sea change in Middle Eastern politics. Bilateral diplomatic and commercial relations between Israel and states like Saudi Arabia, which refuses to acknowledge the Jewish state’s existence, have unfrozen with remarkable alacrity. This kind of once unthinkable cooperation is directly attributable to the acute threat posed to the Sunni Arab states by Iran. More important, new Israeli-Arab collaboration has exploded a myth that still pervades the global diplomatic community: The idea that peace in the Middle East cannot be achieved without first resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It would certainly be a new moment in the Middle East.

It woulds like Trump's first choice to be his national security adviser, Admiral Robert Harward, doesn't want any part of joining the Trump administration. It's a real shame. The guy sounded like he had a wonderful background from having lived as a child in pre-Revolutionary Iran to his service as a Navy SEAL and retired three-star admiral in the Middle East. Since so much of our military efforts against terrorism these days is based on the special forces, it would be good to have someone with that background. I liked that he was close to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, one of Trump's best picks in his cabinet. A pairing of Mattis and Harward would have added some more stability to Trump's administration. And face it, someone who parachuted in to his own retirement party just sounds sorta cool. But it's also reasonable that someone with such a background just might not want to serve in the Trump White House which hasn't been so far a model of organizational impressiveness. And I can well understand why he might not want to take a job unless he was given complete control over his own staff.

But Mr Harward is said to have turned Mr Trump down. “Harward is conflicted between the call of duty and the obvious dysfunctionality,” said one person with first hand knowledge of the discussions between Mr Trump and Mr Harward. The second person said Mr Trump had asked M r Harward to return to the White House for another meeting to try to change his mind....

One of the people familiar with Mr Harward’s decision said he was concerned about whether the top advisers around Mr Trump would allow him to install his own staff on the NSC — particularly after suggestions that KT McFarland, Mr Flynn’s deputy, had been asked to remain.
And this is a less polite description of why he's turned down the job.
A friend of Harward's said he was reluctant to take the job because the White House seems so chaotic. Harward called the offer a "s*** sandwich," the friend said....

A senior Republican familiar with the process said "a question of clarity regarding the lines of authority" was central in Harward's decision.
It's so typical that we're getting all these leaks about who was being considered for the job and what that person's reaction is. I can understand why someone of Harward's reputation doesn't want his last act to being part of whatever seems to be going on in the Trump White House. I just regret that someone of his caliber isn't going to be there to help right the ship.

And stories like this don't help the matter.
Several White House staffers were dismissed Thursday morning after failing FBI background checks, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Some of the aides were "walked out of the building by security" on Wednesday after not passing the SF86, a Questionnaire for National Security Positions for security clearance.

Among those who won't be working at the White House was President Donald Trump’s director of scheduling, Caroline Wiles, the daughter of Susan Wiles, Trump’s Florida campaign director and former chief of staff to Governor Rick Scott. Wiles, who resigned Friday before the background check was completed, was appointed deputy assistant secretary before the inauguration in January. Two sources close to Wiles said she will get another job in Treasury.

She's among others who failed to pass the intensive background check, which includes questions on the applicant's credit score, substance use and other personal subjects.

We're seeing part of the problem of an administration that probably didn't expect to win the election and had a lot of turmoil in its transition team as they started out with Chris Christie and then got rid of him. That's one of the reasons why they had this debacle with Andrew Puzder and the stories that came out about his having an illegal immigrant working for him whom he paid under the table and whatever went on in his divorce. If they had performed the sort of "extreme vetting" that they want for people looking for visas to come here on their own nominations, they would have uncovered some of these red flags. And there that story she told on Opray of his having abused her and then later claimed that she made up while they were in the midst of an ugly divorce and custody battle. There was a somewhat similar story that Ivana Trump told when she and Donald were getting divorced - that he had forcibly raped her. Later, she retracted the charge and has supported his run for the presidency. I'm just wondering how many women make up such stories while in the midst of acrimonious divorces. I know a man whose wife also claimed sexual abuse charges of their small daughter while they were getting divorced and arguing over custody. Having known this man all my life and knowing what a delusional woman his wife was, I have no doubt that she made that up. I just wonder how often women do that in divorce proceedings and what defense the men have over such horrid allegations. Of course, there are many men who do abuse their families, but these women who do lie or who told the truth and then retracted the story perhaps being paid off make it so hard for judges to determine what really happens in families and harm the women who actually were abused if judges start to think that a not insignificant number of women are just making up stories of abuse.

That's just something I was thinking about when I read Puzder's of wife's allegations and then her retractions. It's similar to how the lies told by the young woman behind the Rolling Stone rape allegations at the University of Virginia and other college students who make false claims of being raped because they are upset that they had drunken hook-ups make life and justice so much harder for the real victims of abuse and rape.

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Historian Gene Kopelson, author of Reagan's 1968 Dress Rehearsal: Ike, RFK, and Reagan's Emergence as a World Statesman, tells the story of how Ronald Reagan confronted student opposition when he visited Yale University while governor of California. There was a lot of hostility from professors and students.
Reagan took it all in stride. He viewed the controversy as an opportunity to inject traditional American values into young minds. Reagan taught a number of classes during the week and met with several hundred students.

While playing billiards with a small group of students, Reagan discussed minorities, small government, and how to win in Vietnam. Reagan succeeded in opening the minds of some of them to other points of view: When the all-white male students in the billiards room complained to Reagan about how society was treating blacks, Reagan pointed out that in California, there was a different minority group, Americans of Mexican descent, that had far worse problems; he said that he was trying to help them. When the students wondered where Reagan was getting his Vietnam advice and why had he not sought out elite thinkers from the Ivy League, Reagan answered that he had been discussing the war — with leaders from Cal Tech, California’s aerospace and defense leaders, and Stanford. The students seemed shocked that there might be other points of view besides those originating from within liberal eastern academia.

The high point of Reagan’s weeklong visit was his final speech, at the Yale Political Union, where there was an overflow crowd. Reagan did not deliver his usual campaign and fundraising speech about bringing small government to Washington, D.C. Instead, he analyzed the entire controversy of his visit and the intolerance of the Left. Reagan addressed the issue head-on. He looked directly at the few professors in the audience and forcefully told them and all the students that their job was not to indoctrinate. Their job, and the mission of the university, was to expose their students to many different points of view and to let the students decide for themselves.

Reagan clearly saw that if conservatism were allowed the chance to compete freely in the arena of ideas, its major tenets of individual freedom and small government would almost always win. But if young minds were exposed only to leftist ideology, then conservatism wouldn’t have much chance. At the end of his speech, Ronald Reagan indeed had succeeded in changing minds: He received a standing ovation.
Who would think that we'd look back to the 1960s for civility on college campuses?

Chinese students at the University of California, San Diego have figured out how to use Americans rhetoric to try to get their way.
Chinese students are joining their peers on American campuses in getting woke. Their cause? Defending the official line of the Communist Party.

On Feb. 2, the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) formally announced that the Dalai Lama would make a keynote speech at the June commencement ceremony.

The announcement triggered outrage among Chinese students who view the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader as an oppressive figure threatening to divide a unified China. A group of them now plans to meet with the university chancellor to discuss the content of the upcoming speech.

The awkwardness doesn’t end there. As the aggrieved students have trumpeted their opposition, their rhetoric has borrowed elements from larger campus activist movements across the United States. The upshot: What Westerners might perceive as Communist Party orthodoxy is mingling weirdly with academia’s commitment to diversity, political correctness, and other championed ideals....

Comments from Chinese students on Facebook were also couched in rhetoric commonly used to rally for inclusivity on campus. One simply read #ChineseStudentsMatter. Some argued that the invitation goes against “diversity” and “political correctness.” Others contended the university was acting hypocritically by inviting an “oppressive” figure like the Dalai Lama while fostering a climate of anti-racism and anti-sexism.
Well, at least they've learned something here in the U.S. - how to play the victim card to try to silence those with whom they disagree.

And here is another example of what some foreign students think they can accomplish at an American university - silence those with whom they disagree.
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, spoke at Columbia University on Tuesday and was met with waves of student protestors who silenced him seven times.
Even before the event began dozens of pro-Palestinian protestors stood outside chanting, “Danny Danon you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.”

Once inside things didn’t calm down, more pro-Palestinian students interrupted Danon screaming, “We’ll be free from the river to the sea, Palestine!”
Ryan Girdusky notes this contrast.
It’s worth noting that former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of the world’s leading Holocaust deniers, spoke at Columbia in 2007 and was not interrupted once.

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Kid Rock as a Senate candidate?
Really? The Michigan GOP doesn't have anyone else to put up against Debbie Stabenow? Though, I guess if Al Franken could be in the Senate, I guess a Senator Rock (or Senator Ritchie) could be possible.

Charles Krauthammer is mystified
why Mike Flynn lied about talking to Russia about sanctions before he was actually in office. If that was all it was, it wasn't such a big deal and he could have told the truth and it would have blown over.
The harm was not the calls but Flynn’s lying about them. And most especially lying to the vice president who then went out and told the world Flynn had never discussed sanctions. You can’t leave your vice president undercut and exposed. Flynn had to go.

Up to this point, the story makes sense. Except for one thing: Why the cover-up if there is no crime? Why lie about talking about sanctions? It’s inexplicable. Did Flynn want to head off lines of inquiry about other contacts with Russians that might not have been so innocent? Massive new leaks suggest numerous contacts during the campaign between Trump associates and Russian officials, some of whom were intelligence agents. Up til now, however, reports The New York Times, there is “no evidence” of any Trump campaign collusion or cooperation with Russian hacking and other interference in the U.S. election.

Thus far. Which is why there will be investigations. Speculation ranges from the wildly malevolent to the rather loopily innocent.

At one end of the spectrum is the scenario wherein these campaign officials — including perhaps Flynn, perhaps even Trump — are compromised because of tainted business or political activities known to the Russians, to whom they are now captive. A fevered conspiracy in my view, but there are non-certifiable people who consider it possible.

At the benign end of the spectrum is that the easily flattered Trump imagines himself the great dealmaker who overnight becomes a great statesman by charming Vladimir Putin into a Nixon-to-China grand bargain — we jointly call off the new Cold War, join forces to destroy the Islamic State and reach a new accommodation for Europe that relieves us of some of the burden of parasitic allies.

To me, the idea is nuts, a narcissistic fantasy grounded in neither strategy nor history. But that doesn’t mean Trump might not imagine it — after all, he maintains that if we had only stayed in Iraq to steal its oil, we wouldn’t have the Islamic State. And if this has indeed been his thinking about Russia, it would make sense to surround himself with advisers who had extensive dealings there.

I believe neither of these scenarios but I’m hard put to come up with alternatives. The puzzle remains. Why did Flynn lie? Until we answer that, the case of the cover-up in search of a crime remains unsolved.

Dag. Fourteen medial of honor recipients are publicly taking Senator Richard Blumenthal to task for his hypocrisy over Judge Gorsuch. They remember, if the media don't, that Blumenthal lied about serving in Vietnam when he actually spent the war off the battlefield.
You recently called upon your Senate colleagues to subject Judge Neil Gorsuch's record to "extreme vetting," questioning both his qualification and biography. The Senate certainly has the right and obligation to closely review any nominee for the United States Supreme Court. Conversely, it is our right as Americans and veterans to scrutinize your hypocrisy in doing so.

We are veterans of the Vietnam War. We fought alongside our brothers in arms, many of whom died or were gravely injured there. We saw the treatment meted out on us and our fellow military personnel upon our return, yet we never questioned our commitment to our nation's freedom. But perhaps more relevant to this discussion is that we know you were not there with us.

The fact you repeatedly and consistently claimed to have served in Vietnam is a gross case of stolen valor in our opinion. You obtained at least five military deferments between 1965 and 1970, at least two of which were seemingly political favors to you so that you could avoid joining us in a war zone.
They provide several examples of his having said, while campaigning for the Senate, that he served in Vietnam and what he faced coming home from the battlefield when he actually never served overseas as finally he had to admit.
We recognize that military service of any kind is valuable to the protection of our nation's freedom. There is no shame in engaging in "Toys for Tots" campaigns, recycling efforts, or assisting in the improvement or construction of various facilities, which appears to be a fair description of the bulk of your duties during the Vietnam War.

What is offensive to those who fought in a most brutal conflict, some of us who were captured and tortured by our enemy, is any comparison of those most brutal experiences to the ones of people like you who never even sniffed the air in Vietnam.

You should be proud that you shared a uniform with so many brave souls who endured the hardships of war, but instead you chose to attempt to deceitfully and craftily join their ranks with your intentionally vague statements and false claims. Quite simply, it is impossible to "misspeak" about having seen a war.

Valor is too uncommon a commodity, and too precious a virtue, to be stolen by those who have not paid the high price for freedom. We recognize that some concerns over any appointee, especially the Supreme Court, are honest and legitimate.

You, sir, are neither.