Monday, March 20, 2017

Cruising the Web

So will the Trumpians stop talking about this now?
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said Sunday there "never was" evidence that former President Barack Obama — or anyone else — wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign.

"If you take the president literally, it didn't happen," Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said on "Fox News Sunday." "Was there a physical wiretap of Trump Tower? No, there never was, and the information on Friday continues to lead us in that direction."
Or once the accusations get released into the political bloodstream, does it even matter that there is no evidence out there?

Michael Goodwin has a good recommendation of what Trump should be saying about wiretaps. It's what Trump should have been saying all along instead of making wild tweets and silly accusations in front of Angela Merkel.

As Neil Gorsuch begins his hearing today, it's remarkable how weak the Democrats' attacks against him have been.
Democrats cite Hwang v. Kansas State, in which Judge Gorsuch ruled that when a school declined to extend the length of a six-month leave of absence to a teacher who had cancer, the decision did not qualify her for a discrimination claim under the Rehabilitation Act. They also make much of Thompson R2-J School District v. Luke P., in which the court ruled against parents seeking reimbursement for the cost of a private program after they took their autistic son out of public school. But these were correct rulings based on statute and precedent, and they were unanimous rulings joined by liberal judges.

Mr. Schumer says that in employment-discrimination cases Mr. Gorsuch “sided with employers 60% of the time.” But judging isn’t a statistical exercise in which perfect impartiality is defined by a 50-50 divide between employers and employed. Among Judge Gorsuch’s 171 labor and employment cases, 89% were unanimous decisions.

Democrats want to ignore cases when Judge Gorsuch ruled against corporations and business interests. In 2015 in Cook v. Rockwell, the judge ruled in favor of allowing a decades-long class action over whether the Rocky Flats nuclear-weapons plant had contaminated land with leaked plutonium. In Energy and Environment Legal Institute v. Epel, Judge Gorsuch ruled to uphold the constitutionality of Colorado’s renewable-energy mandate.

Democrats are also trying to conjure something nefarious because Judge Gorsuch is friendly with billionaire businessman Philip Anschutz. Well, they do both live in Denver, Judge Gorsuch represented Mr. Anschutz while in private practice, and Mr. Anschutz later recommended him for a federal judgeship.

Again, so what? Mr. Anschutz has also been connected to Democratic Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, who was an executive at Anschutz Investment Co. The Denver Post reported in 2010 that family members and Anschutz executives were major patrons of Mr. Bennet. We presume Democrats don’t think that relationship compromised the integrity of Mr. Bennet.

If this is all they’ve come up with, Democrats might as well start counting the votes. Judge Gorsuch has been praised by President Obama’s former Solicitor General Neal Katyal, and the judge’s record of skepticism toward executive power is exactly what Democrats might hope for in a Donald Trump appointee. He also has a libertarian streak on criminal law.
Some Democrats are making noise about filibustering Gorsuch. That would be a gift to the Republicans. They could use the Democrats' intransigence as a good excuse for nuking the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations. With such a well-respected nominee, Democrats have a hard time being persuasive that he's so extreme that he should be filibustered. Much better for the Republicans to get rid of the filibuster for Gorsuch and then have it gone if there should be another opening.

Ilya Shapiro has some recommendations of serious questions that senators could ask Judge Gorsuch this week to get beyond the predicted Kabuki theater of asking questions that the nominee can just punt on.

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James Taranto ponders the argument that liberals make that "Jesus was a socialist." Nicholas Kristof recently wrote that, basically, Paul Ryan is a bad Catholic because he wants to end Obamacare.
Without wrestling with any difficult questions of faith or logic, Mr. Kristof simply casts the federal bureaucracy in the role of Jesus. Then the Timesman proceeds to suggest through satire that by seeking to reduce outlays and improve incentives in federal programs, Mr. Ryan is defying the will of his God. Of course if federal agencies were ever actually given the statutory mission to do as Jesus would do, Mr. Kristof would be as horrified as anyone. But this seems to be a political season when people who spend much of the year driving religion out of public life abruptly drag it back in as they attempt to justify big government. It’s not necessarily persuasive.

The ancient book has numerous admonitions to perform charity and various condemnations of greed, but it’s not easy to find a passage in which Jesus says that government is the best vehicle to provide aid, or that anyone should force others to donate.

Even casual readers of the Bible may notice that Jesus doesn’t get along all that well with the political authorities of his time and (spoiler alert!) his relationship with government ends rather badly. Back then, tax collectors were not presumed to be the dedicated public servants that we appreciate so much today. And in our own time, social conservatives who think the U.S. Government has become hostile to religion—Christianity in particular—should consider what Jesus had to put up with.

Fortunately, in part because of the influence of the Bible on America’s founders, we enjoy a form of government that is much more humane than the one that Jesus encountered. This raises the interesting question of what Jesus would say about our contemporary political debates. Perhaps he would gaze approvingly upon the $4 trillion annual federal budget and intone, “Whatever you do to the least of my appropriations, you do to me.” But would he still say that after examining all the line items? Beyond questions of specific allocations for Planned Parenthood and the like, would Jesus see even a relatively benign government like ours as superior to individual acts of charity in comforting the afflicted?

Why is Chelsea Clinton someone that corporations are still wooing? Expedia just put her on their board of directors. And she's writing a children's book with the obvious ploy of trying to appeal to the Elizabeth Warren crowd by calling it "She Persisted." The Clinton machine is not going away.
This seemingly inexplicable media fascination with Clinton—who has not, as far as we can tell, shown any evidence of being a charismatic leader or innovative political thinker—makes more sense once you remember the reach and scope of the Clinton machine. The Clinton family has bestrode American politics for a generation on the power of its vast network of activists and apparatchiks and donors and loyalist nonprofits. Once political machines are set in motion—once checks are flowing, galas are scheduled, the loyalists are hired—they are hard to wind down. And that means that, as we have said before, “there has to be a Clinton in the political arena.”

What we are now seeing are the last gasps of a vast political machine trying to keep its gears spinning despite every indication that it is time for a new model. It may or may not be successful, but one thing is clear: The Clinton machine will not let itself be shut down without a fight.

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Alice B. Lloyd links to a study from Manhattan Institute's Max Eden looking at what has happened since schools started following "Dear Colleague" guidance from the Obama Education Department to schools to make sure that they don't suspend minority students in higher numbers than they suspend non-minorities. Eden's study contrasts the response in New York City's schools based on the surveys that students and teachers fill out about the learning conditions in their schools. At the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year Bloomberg had instituted reforms that prevented teachers from issuing suspensions for first-time, low-level offenses. Sounds like a common-sense reform, but Mayor de Blasio went further, and in 2014-2015, required principals to get permission from district administrators to suspend a student.
This report analyzes student and teacher surveys covering the five-year period of 2011–12 to 2015–16. The key findings: school climate remained relatively steady under Bloomberg’s discipline reform, but deteriorated rapidly under de Blasio’s. Specifically, teachers report less order and discipline, and students report less mutual respect among their peers, as well as more violence, drug and alcohol use, and gang activity. There was also a significant differential racial impact: nonelementary schools where more than 90% of students were minorities experienced the worst shift in school climate under the de Blasio reform.
Lloyd comments,
"School Discipline" zeroes in on data from New York City schools, but its broader implications are undeniable: At inner-city schools forced by federal guidance to cut back on suspensions, students struggle to succeed in increasingly chaotic classrooms. Ruling out a clear-cut consequence for disruptive misbehavior, even in the well-intended interest of keeping kids in school at whatever the cost, creates an unstable school climate—a disservice to all students. Tellingly, the data show that a declining number of suspensions does not correlate to a deteriorating school culture as neatly as the removal of suspension as a disciplinary tool does—but don't take it from me:
[I]n both [2012-2014] and [2014-2016], the distribution of differences between schools with neutral suspension rates and those with declining suspension rates was similar for all [climate survey] questions. The significant shift between the two periods and the lack of a significant differential between schools that saw neutral and lower suspension rates suggests that the number of suspensions may matter less for school climate than the dynamics fostered by a new set of disciplinary rules. (In other words, the mere possibility that disruptive students may not be suspended may contribute to a general increase in disorderly behavior.)
The fact that the mere existence of a dependable consequence for misbehavior would maintain order makes intuitive sense to all of us who've lived in a structured society. The federal guidance, a reinterpretation of existing law to promote the administration's goals, makes less sense.
Duncan's letter determined that a school would be guilty of "unlawful discrimination" if its disciplinary policy is "neutral on its face—meaning that the policy itself does not mention race—and is administered in an evenhanded manner but has a disparate impact, i.e., a disproportionate and unjustified effect on students of a particular race."

It arose from a stated departmental agenda to tackle the school-to-prison pipeline, couched in statistical proof that children who are suspended from school are more likely to drop out of school and land in prison—and this pipeline, Duncan posed, is rooted in teachers' racism. Black students were three times as likely to be suspended in 2011 because of, Duncan said, "differences in training, professional development, and discipline policies. It is adult behavior that needs to change."

But, per Eden's analysis, where teachers' practices have changed, student behavior has worsened. In absence of a disciplinary tool, a consistent consequence to discourage disruptive behavior, chaos reportedly consumes increasingly many classrooms. Other students' unchecked disruptive behavior, meanwhile, proves to be a foremost detractor from classroom learning and daily progress. Hardworking and well-behaved students suffer for the administration's overcorrection.

Kevin Drum, no conservative, weighs in on "The Great Meals on Wheels Debacle." Trump's OMB director is getting blasted for supposedly cutting funding to Meals on Wheels and saying that “we're not going to spend [money] on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.” How can he be so cruel as cutting off funding for delivering meals to the elderly? The Trump proposed budget is cutting funding for the Community Development Block Grant program which delivers funding to various community programs.
Some bright bulb noticed that a few states use a small portion of their HUD CDBG money to fund Meals on Wheels. Actually, small isn't the right word. Microscopic is the the right word. Elderly nutrition programs like Meals on Wheels receive about $700 million from other government sources—most of which aren't targeted one way or the other in the Trump budget—but hardly anything from CDBG grants.
The block grants go to states and the states choose whether to spend the money on Meals on Wheels or some other program. As Drum points out, the media was misleading in how they pulled out one part of Mulvaney's press conference and then put it together with another part to make it seem that he was being hard-hearted and claiming that Meals on Wheels is a program that doesn't work.
Mulvaney, obviously, wasn't saying that Meals on Wheels doesn't work. He was saying that CDBGs don't work. Meals on Wheels might be great, but community grants aren't, and he wants to eliminate them. But by smushing together three quotes delivered at three different points, it sounds like Mulvaney was gleefully killing off food for the elderly.

I'm no expert on community block grants. I don't know if they're a good idea or not. And God knows the Trump "skinny budget" is a disgraceful piece of work for the richest country on the planet. But spinning this as "Mulvaney guts Meals on Wheels" is pretty ridiculous. The vast majority of federal funding for Meals on Wheels—which comes via HHS's Administration on Aging, not HUD's CDBGs—remains intact. Someone managed to plant this idea with reporters, and more power to them. Good job! But reporters ought to be smart enough not to fall for it.
When Kevin Drum is defending a Trump official from the media, the media should take note.

Scott Shackford at Reason explains why outrage over cuts on the Community Development BLock Grant is misplaced.
The big problem here is that "We help fund Meals on Wheels" is how the government sells the CDBG program, but how it actually operates in the cities and communities that get the money is far different. The CDBG program is chock full of cronyism and corruption and should be eliminated. Much like the corrupt city redevelopment agencies, what actually ends up happening is that this money gets funneled by politicians to friends with connections for various projects that aren't really about helping the poor at all....

The money often is not going to Meals on Wheels or even to the neediest communities. As a Reason Foundation analysis also from 2013 shows, wealthier communities get the larger chunks of the money, particularly counties that—what a coincidence!—are in proximity to Washington, D.C.

Here's an example of how this grant money is actually used:
In 2011, Comstock Township, Michigan decided to grant Bell's Brewery $220,000 in CDBG funds to help pay for a two-year expansion project. This is an even more blatant crony capitalist use of community development subsidies. The brewery benefits from the government subsidies at taxpayers' expense, but it also benefits from a financial advantage over competing breweries—such as the Arcadia Brewing Company one town over in Battle Creek and even alternative products such as liquor made by Big Cedar Distilling Inc. down the road in Sturgis, neither of which are receiving any block grant money. Other small craft breweries may struggle to compete with a brewery like Bell's when the government is subsidizing its expansion.

Tad DeHaven has a list of some of the projects that have snagged CDBG funds instead of things that actually help the poor:

$588,000 for a marina in Alexandria, Lousiana
$245,000 for the expansion of an art museum in Allentown, Pennsylvania
$147,000 for a canopy walk at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens in Georgia
$196,000 for expanding the Calvin Coolidge State historic site in Vermont
$294,000 for a community recreational facility in New Haven, Connecticut
$196,000 for the construction of an auditorium in Casper, Wyoming
$441,000 to replace a county exposition center in Umatilla, Oregon
$98,000 for the Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts in Spring, Texas
$245,000 for renovations to awnings at a historical market in Roanoke, Virginia
$294,000 for the development of an educational program at the Houston Zoo in Texas

DeHaven also noted how a good chunk of the funds of the program get siphoned out due to administrative costs. A good quarter of the funding goes to the various multi-level government bureaucracies to actually operate the grant process. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the CDBG program are the people who operate the program.
But as long the media assists by portraying this as a tender-hearted program to help the elderly, out, the grant program will be protected. It's not that the Trump budget is ideal.
It's truly a shame that Trump's suggestion to cut the program entirely isn't tied to a commitment to push that revenue back to the states to handle. The budget proposal says that these community activities should be handled by states and local governments, which is true, but given that Trump isn't actually cutting the budget at all and merely shifting spending around, they're not getting the funds to do so. That means even the parts of the program that aren't corrupt get hosed because the states won't be getting to keep that revenue to deploy to help the poor.

Noah Rothman pays tribute
to the job that Nikki Haley is doing at the United Nations exposing the bigotry of that organization against Israel. She's already been quite outspoken calling out the hypocrisy of the UN. It's such a contrast to the attitude of the Obama administration.
Perhaps the most promising display of righteousness occurred this week when Ambassador Haley condemned the repulsive report issued by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). The report, issued by a group based in Beirut comprising 18 Arab nations—including the non-existent “state of Palestine”—accused Israel of imposing apartheid on the Arabs in Judea and Samaria. Among the report’s authors was former special UN rapporteur Richard Falk, whose anti-Israel prejudice is matched by few. Falk has praised terrorist organizations like Hamas, likening them to the French resistance, excused the targeting of Israeli Jews in attacks, and claimed that U.S. officials have given rise to “conspiratorial explanations” for the 9/11 attacks. The report is so obviously detached from reality that even the United Nations Secretary-General’s office refused to endorse its findings.

“The United States is outraged by the report,” read a statement from Haley. “The United Nations Secretariat was right to distance itself from this report, but it must go further and withdraw the report altogether.”

She added: “That anti-Israel propaganda would come from a body whose membership nearly universally does not recognize Israel is unsurprising.” It is a sad commentary on the recent history of the United Nations that displays of basic morality are in such short supply. That’s in part why Haley’s defenses of Israel from a depraved institution like the United Nations are so refreshing.

Two Democrats, Andrew Stein and Douglas Schoen, bemoan how their party has become the anti-Israel party.
How did this happen? There was once an inexorable link between support for Israel and for the civil-rights movement. Both were responses to invidious discrimination—anti-Semitism and racism. Starting in the mid-1960s, however, an anti-Israel minority emerged in the form of the New Left. These groups—such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Black Panthers—saw Israelis as oppressors and Palestinians as engaged in a “just struggle for liberation” as Panthers founder Huey P. Newton put it.

In the 1970s elements of the left became steadily more hostile to Israel. A turning point came in 1975, when the U.N. passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism. That provided an intellectual and political opening for those who wanted to drive a wedge between supporters of Israel and of civil rights.

An organization called Basic—Black Americans to Support Israel Committee—was formed to condemn the resolution. “We seek to defend democracy in the Mideast, and therefore we support Israel,” the civil-rights leader Bayard Rustin declared. Unfortunately, that was the last time the organized Jewish and black communities worked together.

In 1979 President Carter fired U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, the first African-American to hold that position, for violating U.S. policy by meeting with a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Mr. Young’s dismissal led several black leaders to break with their Jewish allies on Israel.

In 1984 Jesse Jackson, who’d publicly embraced PLO head Yasser Arafat five years earlier, ran for the Democratic presidential nomination. A Washington Post story about his difficult relationship with Jews quoted him as using the slur “Hymie” and calling New York City “Hymietown.” Mr. Jackson won 3.3 million votes in the primaries. He ran again in 1988 and more than doubled the total, to 6.9 million—another sign of the party’s slow shift.

There are still pro-Israel Democrats, but they are beleaguered and equivocal. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, now the minority leader, described himself in 2010 as the Senate’s protector of Israel: “My name . . . comes from a Hebrew word. It comes from the word shomer, which mean guardian.” But how effectively has he played that role?

In 2015 Mr. Schumer was one of four Senate Democrats to vote against Mr. Obama’s Iran deal. But killing it would have taken 13 Democrats, and Politico reported Mr. Schumer phoned Democratic colleagues to “assure them he would not be whipping opposition to the deal.” Mr. Schumer—whose Brooklyn apartment building has been protested by leftist opponents of President Trump—was also an early backer of Mr. Ellison for the party chairmanship.

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Here's a great listing of well-worn sports clich├ęs . I've heard a lot of them this weekend while watching March Madness.