Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Cruising the Web

It sounds like Trump's new budget plan really does involve some magic. He wants to increase defense spending which is truly needed. But somehow he has to find the cuts elsewhere in the budget to do so.
The Office of Management and Budget on Monday declined to say how precisely President Donald Trump intends to cut every other federal department to find $54 billion to increase military spending.

But one budget category is clearly in his sights, said one OMB official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity per White House policy: foreign aid.

“This budget expects the rest of the world to step up in some of the programs this country has been so generous in funding in the past,” the OMB official said.
It might make a popular sales pitch on the campaign trail to talk about cutting foreign aid, but that's actually a teeny, tiny part of the federal budget.
Foreign aid amounts to just roughly one percent of federal spending, and many of the programs the money funds arguably are considered important to U.S. national security. Considering the small amount involved, foreign policy experts questioned the wisdom of cutting such a small investment that pays so many dividends.
There is no way to fund the sorts of increases in defense spending he wants to make with cuts in foreign aid. In fact, there isn't enough in the sorts of discretionary spending cuts that are politically possible to make to balance the defense increases. The real place that cuts and reforms need to be made are in the mandatory spending. But Trump has pledged not to touch Social Security and Medicare. So his promises to balance the budget plus increase defense as well as have an infrastructure package plus tax cuts is just not possible. His new OMB director, Mick Mulvaney, is supposed to be a budget hawk. I wonder how he squares his beliefs with his boss's magical thinking.

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For those women thinking of attending the next women's march, the March 8 "Day without a Woman," it might be salutary to learn who is behind the idea. Kyle Smith reports,
In a manifesto published in The Guardian on Feb. 6, the brains behind the movement are calling for a “new wave of militant feminist struggle.” That’s right: militant, not peaceful.

The document was co-authored by, among others, Rasmea Yousef Odeh, a convicted terrorist. Odeh, a Palestinian, was convicted in Israel in 1970 for her part in two terrorist bombings, one of which killed two students while they were shopping for groceries. She spent 10 years in prison for her crimes. She then managed to become a US citizen in 2004 by lying about her past (great detective work, INS: Next time, use Google) but was subsequently convicted, in 2014, of immigration fraud for the falsehoods. However, she won the right to a new trial (set for this spring) by claiming she had been suffering from PTSD at the time she lied on her application. Oh, and in her time as a citizen, she worked for a while as an ObamaCare navigator.

You can see why she’s a hero to the left. Another co-author, Angela Davis, is a Stalinist professor and longtime supporter of the Black Panthers. Davis is best known for being acquitted in a 1972 trial after three guns she bought were used in a courtroom shootout that resulted in the death of a judge. She celebrated by going to Cuba.
Can you imagine if there were an organized march of conservatives the leaders of which had similar backgrounds? The media would have its hair on fire blasting the idea. Smith concludes with deep skepticism about the impact of such a march.
Anti-Trump activism seems to have little to do with the political arts required to win elections — finding common ground, forging alliances, making friends. Instead all of these demonstrations are about denouncing enemies, and making yourself feel better about the November defeat by gathering publicly with those who share your rage. This sort of thinking leads to such self-defeating acts as interrupting traffic in places like New York City (where Trump got 18 percent of the vote) or San Francisco (9 percent).

If you want to persuade working-class Trump voters in Wisconsin to join your cause, annoying rich liberal Democrats trying to get to work a thousand miles away is a strange way to go about it.

David Harsanyi reminds us of the difference between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
This week, an Israel military tribunal convicted 19-year-old Elor Azaria, an Israeli Defense Forces medic, of manslaughter. Azaria shot and killed a wounded Palestinian terrorist who had minutes earlier stabbed a fellow solider in Hebron. Azaria claimed self-defense, but a three-judge panel found his actions disproportionate and dangerous.

It’s a complicated case that’s aggravated many underlying tensions within Israeli society. Whether Azaria deserved his sentence or not, in Western societies even the shooting of a terrorist can be cause for a trial, debate, and national self-reflection. In this system, elected officials — even those who disagree strongly with the conviction — honor the courts. The guilty also have a right to appeal the verdict. These are basic standards of law in any liberal democracy.

Also this week, Israel appointed George Kara, an Arab-Israeli, to the Supreme Court. Kara is best known for convicting then-president of Israel Moshe Katsav of rape and sentencing him to seven years in prison.

Now, it would take a sturdy imagination to visualize a Jew (or Christian, for that matter) holding a top government position in the West Bank, Gaza, or any Islamic-majority nation, much less imprisoning an official of the state. In Arab-controlled areas, a Jew won’t survive without military protection for long. Among the Palestinians, the shooting of an Israeli child (forget terrorist) would undoubtedly provoke celebration. Unlike Azaria, they would not find themselves in court, although they might find their name celebrated on a street sign.

When five Israelis (three of them American citizens and one a Druze) were murdered a couple of years back, Palestinians in Gaza fired celebratory gunshots in the air, “and praise for God and the attackers poured from mosque loudspeakers soon after the synagogue attack,” reported The New York Times. Fatah officials in Lebanon (the moderates) explained that “Jerusalem needs blood in order to purify itself of Jews.” I’ll spare the readers paragraphs of polls and incidents substantiating widespread Palestinian anti-Semitism.
So in what rose-colored glasses are necessary to think that Israel should be negotiating some sort of two-state solution with a people who celebrating killing Israeli children.
When we act like both sides are equally culpable, the longstanding position of the United States — which is better than the longstanding position of most European nations, which place the entire culpability on Israel — we feed the problem. For one thing, we pervert our own ideals when supporting “peace deals” predicated on one side’s demand that their new state be cleared of Jews. It’s certainly what we do when we allow the United Nations to pass resolutions that maintain the presence of Jews in the Old City of Jerusalem is an “occupation.”

....Many of the intractable disagreements that exist between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are driven by the inability of one side to come to terms with history. Palestinians will not have control over Jerusalem proper. There will be no “right of return.” Palestinians will not control their borders as France controls its borders — at least not any time soon. That’s because, in the end, no sane, civilized nation would help create a dangerous illberal state next door. Two events this week remind us how premature it is to .

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Tevi Troy
has an interesting look at the three groups within conservatism with regards to Trump. There are the "Ever-Trumpers" who have supported him from the beginning and are thrilled with him so far. They despise those conservatives who criticize Trump and see them as traitors who are aiding the leftist critics of Obama. Next, are the conservative Trump critics who are harshly criticizing Trump's character, behavior, and actions so far. And finally there are those conservatives who are on record for having criticized Trump through the primary fight, but now are more resigned. They're willing to still criticize him when necessary, but are also happy for some of the moves Trump has made, primarily his nomination of Neil Gorsuch and some of the others in his cabinet. They find it easier to fight back against the media for its bias against Trump.
Jonah Goldberg has observed that some conservatives are trying to find a “safe space” by focusing their attention on media bias against Trump and the excesses of anti-Trump protesters, both in the streets and in the Senate. As Goldberg put it, “When conservatives –– I'm not referring to Republican political hacks, that's their job; I'm referring to actual conservative writers –– go out and respond to the negative coverage solely by attacking the MSM messengers, they are in effect condoning –– or at least providing cover for –– Trump's behavior and feeding the idea that he's a victim whenever anyone does anything other than applaud.” Given this tendency, we may be seeing the emergence of a new and distinct group: the Safe Space Conservatives. The Safe Spacers are not comfortable with everything Trump does, but are choosing to direct their fire at the media and the left, with whom they are even less comfortable. One reason why Trump attacks the media so frequently is that anti-media sentiment may be one of the few remaining unifying tendencies across all of conservatism. The liberal writer and frequent conservatism critic Peter Beinart sees something similar, calling these people the anti-anti-Trump right.

Ultimately, it is this group that may offer us the best barometer of how things are going. They may decisively break for Trump if he's succeeding, but should they peel away, it might be a sign that his movement is losing traction. A related phenomenon is that of conservatives who are rooting for Trump to be successful as a conservative. This group is willing to criticize Trump when he’s wrong yet praise him when he’s right. This tendency, seen in places like National Review, makes NR’s reportage interesting to watch, not just to gauge how Trump is doing, but also to get a clearer take on matters—somewhere between the largely hostile mainstream media and liberal press, and the overtly pro-Trump and Trump-boosting organs such as Breitbart.
I tend to see myself as the last segment of the last group. There is plenty that Trump has done that I don't like. I don't care for him personally at all. But I'm also willing to defend him from unfair attacks and praise what I like. That seems to me to be the most honest approach for me to take.
Tevi Troy is a historian and a health policy analyst. His most recent book is Shall We Wake the President: Two Centuries of Disaster Management from the Oval Office. I haven't read it, but I listened to a podcast interview with him and it sounded really interesting. Troy explains why these divisions in the conservative movement are important.
Whichever group wins over conservatism will likely dominate the Republican party for the foreseeable future. With that party controlling the White House, Congress, and a majority of state houses and governors’ mansions, the direction of the GOP will also help determine the policy direction of the country. What seems like an intramural squabble among talking heads and scribblers could emerge as the start of a defining moment in 21st century political history.

In alignment with media criticism, Lee Smith has a behind-the-scene explanation for the two White House staffers who have ostentatiously resigned from their jobs in the Trump administration because they despised his policies.
What a strange coincidence that Price and Ahmed worked for the same person in the Obama White House, national security adviser for strategic communications, Ben Rhodes. In fact, they worked in the same room, outside of Rhodes' office, as the 2016 New York Times Magazine profile of Rhodes showed: "In the front office, [Rhodes'] assistant, Rumana Ahmed, and his deputy, Ned Price, are squeezed behind desks, which face a large television screen, from which CNN blares nonstop."

Among their other duties, Price and Ahmed helped manage Rhodes' "echo chamber" to market Obama's policies. Former CIA analyst Price explained to the Times magazine how he manipulated American public opinion from his desk in the White House. The Obama NSC relied on "compadres" in the media to proliferate its message, Price said. "I will reach out to a couple people, and you know I wouldn't want to name them — "

.... Ahmed was a political appointee in the Obama White House. According to Trump White House officials, it was very late in her tenure in the Obama administration when she applied for a civil service position with administrative duties. "Burrowing," as it's commonly called, is the process through which political appointees move into career government status. She was granted her new status at the end of January, just as the Trump team was moving into the White House. That is, Ahmed took the highly unusual step for a White House staffer of choosing a considerably less ambitious career path in government, as she went from a junior policy position to a secretarial post.

Why? Because as a political appointee from the Obama administration she was inevitably going to be replaced by a Trump appointee and she wanted to stay on. And yet in only four days—not eight, because, say sources, she took several days off—she came to the conclusion that she had failed in her attempt to influence the Trump team, which in fact "was attacking the basic tenets of democracy."
So what was going on?
Right, it was a set-up. The article is part of an information operation. Paired with that of her former officemate, Ned Price, Ahmed's story pushes the message that Trump is so bad that gifted public servants are resigning from their positions. The Washington Post story from late January incorrectly reporting that the mass exodus of senior officials from the State Department was unique to the Trump White House, rather than the normal bureaucratic turnover that greets every new administration, touched on the same narrative. In this case, it seems that Ahmed applied for a post only in order to resign from it, after collecting a paycheck for four days. Thus, U.S. taxpayers covered research expenses for an Atlantic story.
I don't think one has to be extraordinarily cynical to see what was going on here. And the media is quite happy to peddle this made-up story.

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The least surprising and least interesting story this week is that Donald Trump is not going to attend the Washington Correspondents Dinner. Does anyone at all besides Washington correspondents care? Why would anyone expect him to go, especially after his angry attacks on them as the "enemy of the people"? If he truly thought that, why would he want to eat dinner with them? I think it's a silly statement and wish that he'd get over his mania about the media and instead focus on selling his policies. But this whole story provided Karen Tumulty the opportunity to tweet out this memo by President Nixon about going to the dinner.

And Nixon wasn't the only one who didn't like going to the dinner. Jimmy Carter also was not a fan.
As it happened, Nixon skipped three correspondents' dinners in his six years, meaning he endured one more than Jimmy Carter—who skipped two of the four he might have emcee'd while in office. Rather than play the good sport, Carter followed Nixon's example; he declined to attend every other opportunity, as if he'd been burned too badly to return without an extra year off.

"I don't see how the White House press could be any more neg­at­ive un­der any cir­cum­stances," he wrote in 1978, "and I'd rather show a sign of strength."

....Carter was the last Democratic president to cower thusly from the popular press. When he skipped the banquet in 1978, Powell filled in. But when he did attend the following year, it was right around the time—spring of '79—that he had to fend off a hissing swamp rabbit as it swam toward his fishing boat. Powell relayed the story to a reporter, and a few months later the Washington Post ran it under the headline, "Bunny Goes Bugs, Rabbit Attacks President," hardening an image of Carter's comically ineffective leadership. Which just goes to show, Nixon was probably right about the risks of playing along. Perhaps "treating them with considerably more contempt is in the long run a more productive policy."

Jay Cost looks at the history of presidents who disliked the media.
Without excusing the president's choice of words, it is important to understand the larger historical and political context. As uncouth as Trump's rhetoric was, the fact remains that the government and journalists have long had an uneasy relationship, and prior presidents have, unlike Trump to date, used the power of the state to censor the press and even criminalize free speech.
Cost goes on to review the history of the Sedition Act which the Federalists passed under John Adams and then used to jail their political opponents who were criticizing them. During World War I, the Wilson administration used the Espionage Acts to punish the media for reports criticizing their conduct of the war. And that is not all.

Presidents have also been prone to use "rough elbows" against the press—hardball tactics that fall short of systematic suppression, but nevertheless have a chilling effect. In 1908, the New York World accused President Theodore Roosevelt of "deliberate misstatements of facts" regarding the purchase of the Panama Canal, based on reports from the Indianapolis News. Roosevelt responded by accusing the papers of "a string of infamous libels," and the World was charged in a New York district court in 1909, though the indictment was eventually quashed.

Lyndon Johnson's administration lied to the press so often about the progress in Vietnam that the phrase "credibility gap" was coined to characterize the disconnect between what the White House said and what really was happening. Richard Nixon confided privately to Henry Kissinger that journalists "are the enemy, and we're just gonna continue to use them, and never let them think that we think they're the enemy." His administration famously sought a court injunction to stop the release of the Pentagon Papers; it got one, but the Supreme Court eventually overturned the decision. More recently, Barack Obama's Justice Department investigated Fox News's James Rosen as a potential criminal co-conspirator for seeking classified information. In December 2016, James Risen of the New York Times blasted the administration for its "criminalization of the press" and said that Obama's was "the most anti-press administration since the Nixon administration."
I find Obama's actions against James Rosen plus going through the phone records of almost 100 Associated Press reporters and editors much more chilling than Trump's blather about the media being #fakenews or the "enemy of the people." In the end, it's just words, not using the power of the presidency to try to criminalize reporting that they don't like. As Cost writes,
Trump's "war" on the media is substantially different from all these examples, at least so far. No news outlet has been prosecuted. No journalistic endeavor has been enjoined. Nobody has been put in jail. Trump's assaults have been strictly rhetorical in nature and political in purpose. The president is calling the press the enemy in the same sense that Barack Obama encouraged liberals to "punish" their "enemies" at the ballot box and Hillary Clinton called Republicans her "enemies." This is American factionalism at work—the difference being that rather than calling out the other party, Trump has turned his voting coalition's ire against the press.

Or to be more precise, Trump is exploiting the ire that already exists. A September 2016 Gallup poll found that just 30 percent of independents and 14 percent of Republicans trust the mass media. During the election, Gallup determined that 80 percent of Republicans thought the media was biased in favor of Hillary Clinton, while most Democrats perceived no bias at all. By extending partisan warfare to the press, Trump is taking advantage of the fact that most Republicans, and many independents, seem to agree with University of Tennessee professor Glenn Reynolds that mainstream journalists are "Democratic operatives with bylines."

....[T]hese are hardly dark days for American journalism. It is incumbent upon the president to be more considered in his rhetoric, but presidential rhetoric is only fearsome when it is supported by the heavy hand of the state. That is not hitherto the case with the Trump administration.