Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Cruising the Web

If Trump hadn't recklessly tweeted an accusation that Obama had his campaign wiretapped, think of what the focus would have been after yesterday's Intelligence Committee hearing would have been. Trey Gowdy's interrogation about leaks about Michael Flynn's conversation with the Russian ambassador would have had more prominent billing. With all the speculation about connections between Trump's campaign and Russia, those leaks are the only law broken that we know about at this moment. We'd hear from Comey that they are investigating connections between the campaign and Russia, but that is mostly old news. And we'd also hear from Comey that Russia's meddling in the election actually had more to do with hurting Hillary's reputation because they thought she was going to win.
FBI Director James Comey repeatedly referred to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s personal animus to Hillary Clinton as one of the major motivations in Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election during congressional testimony Tuesday.

Comey described how Putin “hated Hillary Clinton so much” he developed a preference for President Donald Trump. Comey deployed a sports metaphor, saying, “I hate the New England Patriots, and no matter who they play, I’d like them to lose.”

His statements echo the main findings of the Jan. 6 U.S. intelligence community’s report on Russian attempts to undermine the 2016 election. “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” the report’s key judgement found.

Comey’s statement and the report’s key judgement contradict major media reports that Putin’s primary aim was to help the Trump campaign, and discount the role of Putin’s feelings regarding Clinton. The FBI director in part deployed his New England Patriots analogy to walk back such accusations.

Comey described how Putin’s campaign to denigrate Clinton accelerated after Trump won the Republican presidential nomination, an assertion which is also found in the Jan. 6 report, “Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”

Former President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Russia Michael McCaul confirmed he shared this feeling to NBCNews in December, saying that Putin “has had a vendetta against Hillary Clinton, that has been known for a long time because of what she said about his elections back in the parliamentary elections of 2011.”

Russia’s government did not even believe Trump would win the election, by the intelligence community’s own admission, and focused the latter part of its influence campaign towards undermining Clinton’s future presidency.
So, to sum up, we learned that the FBI is investigating links between some people connected to the Trump campaign and Russia and that someone illegally leaked that news to the media. We learned that Putin's interest in the campaign wasn't to help Trump but to damage a future President Clinton. That is the story, but it got sidetracked into the cul-de-sac of Trump's tweets.

Instead we heard over and over again about how there was no evidence for Trump's stupid tweets about Obama taping Trump Towers. And since Trump will never, ever back down and admit he made a mistake, this story will go on and on. How many news cycles have been lost for Trump due to baseless accusations on Twitter? We're now over two weeks after Trump's first early-morning tweet and there has been absolutely no evidence to support his accusation. The most Trump had was a public reference to Andrew Napolitano's speculation that British intelligence was involved in spying on Trump. So the Trump administration repeated that speculation even though there was no evidence to back up the allegation. But Trump didn't seem to think that there is any problem making baseless charges against an ally's intelligence agency.

As Jim Geraghty writes, this was a "self-inflicted wound."
By refusing, over and over again, to back down from Trump’s original, farfetched charge, his administration has inflicted a lot of completely unnecessary damage upon itself, and even upon the so-called special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. This is what happens when the White House prioritizes winning the daily news cycle above all else. This is the natural result of an amazingly shortsighted approach to governing.
Of course, if Trump really thought this was true, there are things he could do since he is, you know, the President of the United States.
At any moment he can call the FBI Director, the NSA director, or anyone else into his office and ask, “What is the meaning of this?” He can declassify anything he likes — logs, records, transcripts — particularly if it exposes criminal behavior by government officials. When he made his shocking charge, he was in the best possible position to back it up.
Geraghty is rightly appalled that Trump doesn't seem to realize that the president of the United States can't just go making unfounded allegations against a former president and another country's intelligence agencies.
Maybe during his decades as a star of the New York tabloids, Trump came to believe that he could get out of trouble by making outrageous counter-accusations against his tormentors. Maybe in that realm, his belief was well founded. But the rules are different when you’re president. The commander in chief cannot publicly accuse anyone, much less his predecessor, of criminal wrongdoing and expect that the accusation won’t be investigated. The White House press secretary cannot suggest that an allied intelligence agency spied on American citizens for political reasons and expect that the rest of the world won’t sit up, take notice, and demand proof.

With every such unsubstantiated accusation, the administration loses a bit of credibility that it will need when it makes an accurate charge. Unless it wants to spend the next four years perceived as the boy who cried wolf, the White House should show more regard for the truth going forward.

The Democrats did a lot of grandstanding at the opening of Neil Gorsuch's confirmation hearing yesterday. It was clear that they had nothing against him specifically. They're angry about the treatment that Merrick Garland received. But that's not Gorsuch's fault. And Dianne Feinstein made a statement about how troubled she is about "originalist judicial philosophy," which she doesn't seem to understand and thinks it's about evaluating "our constitutional rights and privileges as they were understood in 1789." Well, there have been amendments added to the Constitution since then. We didn't have the Fourteenth Amendment in 1789 or even the entire Bill of Rights. She's all about the Living Constitution.
At no point did Feinstein articulate constitutionally codified rights as timeless. Also ignored were legal options for change via constitutional amendment or the passage of constitutionally-compatible legislation.

Feinstein implied that slavery was abolished as a result of judicial perceptions of the Constitution as a “living document." She made no mention of the Civil War, preceding and subsequent abolitionist movements or the Reconstruction Amendments. The Supreme Court, she continued, should engage in ongoing constitutional reinterpretation in accordance with contemporary perceptions of Supreme Court justices.

Governmentally sanctioned and enforced racial discrimination (i.e. Jim Crow), and the burning of women accused of witchcraft (i.e. Salem witch trials) would still be ongoing, suggested Feinstein, in the absence of fluid constitutional reinterpretation (emphases added):

I firmly believe the American Constitution is a living document intended to evolve as our country evolves. In 1789, the population of the United States was under four million. Today, we're 325 million and growing. At the time of our founding, African-Americans were enslaved. It was not so long after women had been burned at the stake for witchcraft, and the idea of an automobile, let alone the internet, was unfathomable. In fact, if we were to dogmatically adhere to originalist interpretations, then we would still have segregated schools, and bans on interracial marriage. Women wouldn’t be entitled to equal protection under the law, and government discrimination against LGBT Americans would be permitted.

So I am concerned when I hear that Judge Gorsuch is an originalist and a strict constructionist.”
And this woman is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She's apparently clueless about Constitutional history and hasn't heard of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment or the Thirteenth Amendment ending slavery. She is unaware of how the First Amendment has been used in cases involving the internet. Of course, this is a woman who thinks that Roe v. Wade is some sort of "super precedent."

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There is a long tradition in Senate judicial confirmation hearings, going back at least to Turgood Marshall, that nominees will not answer questions based on specific issues that might come before them on the Court. But the Democrats seem to want Judge Gorsuch to ignore such impartiality in order to agree to vote as they would like.
Vermont Senator Pat Leahy said last week he would “insist on real answers from Judge Gorsuch.” At Monday’s opening day of Senate hearings, Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal told Judge Gorsuch that while the committee might ordinarily respect a nominee’s reticence on cases, ordinary rules don’t apply for President Trump’s nominee. “If you fail to be explicit and forthcoming,” he said, the committee would have to assume his views were in line with Mr. Trump’s.

That’s wildly inappropriate since Judge Gorsuch can’t know the facts or the law of future cases that would come before the Court. If he were to speak out extensively on any case at the confirmation hearing, his comments could require his recusal.

Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor didn’t have to meet this open-kimono standard. Neither did Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who said at the time of her confirmation hearings in 1993 that “[a] judge sworn to decide impartially can offer no forecasts, no hints; for that would show not only disregard for the specifics of the particular case, it would display disdain for the entire judicial process.”

Mr. Leahy told nominee Ginsburg at the time that he “certainly” did not want her “to have to lay out a test here in the abstract which might determine what your vote or your test would be in a case you have yet to see that may well come before the Supreme Court.” At the 1967 hearings for Thurgood Marshall, then Senator Edward Kennedy called it a “sound legal precedent” that “any nominee to the Supreme Court would have to defer any comments on any matters which are either before the court or very likely to appear before the court.”
But such traditions don't mean anything when there is political posturing to be done.
If Democrats want genuine insight into how Judge Gorsuch would rule, they can always look at his extensive record on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Of the 789 opinions he wrote, only 15 had dissents from other judges. Progressive groups claim Judge Gorsuch will rule against women but that doesn’t hold with his record on gender discrimination. According to Harvard Law and Policy Review, employees win fewer than 11% of gender discrimination cases. Judge Gorsuch was more likely to rule in favor of the employees—in some 25% of cases.

The Democrats’ Trump disavowal standard is especially disingenuous. They want him to declare his independence from the executive, but in doing so he would be making himself more dependent on Congress for the sake of confirmation. As a judge under Article III of the Constitution, he owes Congress and the White House only such deference as the Constitution dictates, no more or less.

What’s really going on here is that Democrats are grasping for a reason, any reason, to justify a vote against Judge Gorsuch. Their liberal supporters are demanding opposition—you know, “the resistance”—and if they can’t find something on the record they’ll invent something that isn’t on the record.

Carrie Severino has listened
to statements by Democratic senators about Judge Gorsuch and notes how many times there were references to Donald Trump rather than to anything Gorsuch has said or done. She contrasts the attitude that Gorsuch should have a higher bar to jump over because of the president who nominated him with questions that weren't asked of previous nominees.
“Judge Ginsburg, the president who nominated you has been accused of carrying on a 12-year affair with Gennifer Flowers and in an 60-minutes interview admitted he had caused ‘pain in his marriage.’ How do you square your role as a defender of women’s rights with the many reports of his infidelity?”

“Judge Breyer, earlier this year President Clinton was sued for sexual harassment by Paula Jones and has been engaged in a smear campaign against his accuser. I want to give you the opportunity to distance yourself from this scandal-ridden administration – would you like to comment?”

“General Kagan, President Obama ignited controversy at this year’s State of the Union address by publicly taking the Supreme Court to task for a decision he disagreed with. Do you feel it’s appropriate for a sitting President to use the authority of his office to criticize decisions with which he disagrees?”

If you don’t have a vivid recollection of any of those questions, it’s no surprise. Those types of explorations of a Supreme Court nominee’s commentary on political questions and debates have never actually come up because they are entirely inappropriate during the confirmation process. Many presidents have said and done controversial things in the past, but never have their judicial nominees been called to account for them.

Until now.
Such questions of Gorsuch would be an inappropriate politicization of the confirmation hearing. And it is especially ironic that Neil Gorsuch is the vehicle for those attacks since he has a history of opposing overbroad deference to the executive branch and desiring limits on government's power.
But even if these attacks were not so silly in light of Gorsuch’s own record, they should be universally rejected as inappropriate for a judicial hearing. A sitting judge should not be asked to wade into the political swamp. The focus of this week’s hearings should be his record, and he shouldn’t be asked to weigh in on criticism of President Trump any more than he should be asked his opinion of Obama’s thinly-veiled threats against the Court or Bill Clinton’s sexual exploitation of Monica Lewinsky and his subsequent character assassination of the intern he seduced.

Cheers to Nikki Haley for her speech as to why the U.S. is going to boycott the noxious UN Human Rights Council.
America is boycotting a weeklong session at the UN Human Rights Council that started Monday, and is pressuring others to oppose five related resolutions expected to be raised on Friday, at the end of that session.

As US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley pointed out Monday, only one country is subjected to regular scrutiny and condemnation in each of the three annual sessions of the 47-member Geneva-based human-rights body.

Guess which one.

“It’s not Syria, where the regime has systematically slaughtered and tortured its own people,” Haley said.

“It’s not Iran, where public hangings are a regular occurrence. It’s not North Korea, where the regime uses forced labor camps to crush its people into submission.

“It’s Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.”

The council was established in 2006 to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission. It was widely hailed by UN supporters as major “reform,” but it turned out that this rose by another name smelled just as rotten.

The George W. Bush administration didn’t buy it and refused to join in.

Then President Barack Obama’s State Department, while admitting the council was still obsessed with Israel, argued that by joining, America could effect change from the inside.

Team Obama forced the adoption of resolutions about North Korea, Syria and other areas of concern. But the fundamental nature of the council remained.

According to the group UN Watch, in the decade since its inception, the council condemned Israel 68 times, compared to 67 condemnations of all other countries combined.

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Jim Geraghty wonders if Republicans are now feeling a bit of what Democrats felt through Clinton's presidency.
It’s easy to think of the 1990s as just a rollicking good time, a roaring dot-com economy, salacious sex scandals and a comforting if illusory sense that the world was at peace. Certainly, our recent experience with the Obama presidency probably persuaded some Republicans that Bill Clinton was not the worst Democratic president of our lifetime and in fact there’s a good chance he was the best, depending on how long your life has been. Welfare reform, a budgetary surplus, crime dropping – in a lot of ways, times were good.

But there was this nagging problem of Bill Clinton lying habitually and breaking the law pretty regularly. The Lewinsky scandal is remembered the most, but there were plenty: firing the White House travel-office staffers, the “accidental” access to the FBI files of prominent Republicans, the suspicion of financial misdeeds and fraud in the Whitewater Development Corporation, Paula Jones, the Chinese money in the 1996 campaign, the de facto renting out of the Lincoln Bedroom, the bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan . . .

Even when there was no crime proven, things looked odd and troubling and highly unusual for the White House. Vince Foster was the highest-level government official to commit suicide since Secretary of Defense James Forrestal in 1949. (And as with Foster, there was a lot of speculation that Forrestal’s death wasn’t a suicide.)

During all this time, when Republicans objected to the behavior ranging from tawdry to illegal, most Democrats and plenty of apolitical Americans would just shake their heads with a smile and sigh, “Oh, that rascal! Our president is just incorrigible!” It’s not that they applauded much of that behavior; they just didn’t think it was worth getting upset about. If the economy was rocking and rolling, and everything else seemed to be going well, then we could all “compartmentalize” the way the president did and disapprove of him as a man but approve of the job he was doing.

There aren’t a lot of conservatives who like Trump making a shocking claim of illegal wiretapping and offering no supporting evidence. They just don’t see it as something worth getting that upset about. Trump is a vessel to enact their goals, and everybody knows this is the way he operates. The Red Sox used to say, “That’s just Manny being Manny.” This is just Trump being Trump. He’s karma for all the times figures on the Left told lies and the fact-checkers were asleep at the switch.

Is this a good way to think of our leaders? Back in the 1990s, we were told that sophisticated Europeans didn’t worry about the character of their leaders; they simply focused upon results. At this moment, Democrats will scoff that character is destiny (let’s all pause to let Bill Bennett wipe the coffee from his screen) and there’s no comparison between the Clinton economy and the Trump economy.
Republicans claimed that Clinton's character was important and his performance as president shouldn't be separated from his character flaws. They shouldn't now decide all of a sudden that character doesn't matter.

A man wears a "Make America Great Again" hat to walk around New York City and reports on the reactions he received. It reminds me of the video of ten hours of a woman walking around New York City and the catcalls she received. This guy should have taped his experience. It would have had more impact than just writing an article about it.

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Who knew that our world maps were promoting social inequality all these years? It's all due to the Mercator projection maps.
For almost 500 years, the Mercator projection has been the norm for maps of the world, ubiquitous in atlases, pinned on peeling school walls.

Gerardus Mercator, a renowned Flemish cartographer, devised his map in 1569, principally to aid navigation along colonial trade routes by drawing straight lines across the oceans. An exaggeration of the whole northern hemisphere, his depiction made North America and Europe bigger than South America and Africa. He also placed western Europe in the middle of his map.

Mercator’s distortions affect continents as well as nations. For example, South America is made to look about the same size as Europe, when in fact it is almost twice as large, and Greenland looks roughly the size of Africa when it is actually about 14 times smaller. Alaska looks bigger than Mexico and Germany is in the middle of the picture, not to the north – because Mercator moved the equator.

Three days ago, Boston’s public schools began phasing in the lesser-known Peters projection, which cuts the US, Britain and the rest of Europe down to size.

The newest outrage du jour comes from feminists who are upset that Wonder Woman shaves her armpits. Seriously.
The newest trailer for Wonder Woman just came out last weekend and was met with mostly positive reception, but now there is another controversy surrounding the titular hero. Fans of the iconic Amazon Princess have noticed a particularly strange moment in the trailer, which is at the 1:41 mark. Here Gal Gadot raises up her arms and it appears that she does not have any armpit hair at all. This is making lots of fans upset. Here are some notable criticisms:

"Is this seriously still happening in 2017," stated Slate Magazine.

Refinery29 called for a time where Wonder Woman could "prove that women - even those who are superheroes - don't have to cater to beauty standards that are meant to make them more attractive to men."

....Critics of Wonder Woman's lack of armpit hair say that it would only make sense for an Amazonian to have lots of body hair, including armpit hair. These critics are also saying that Gadot's armpits were digitally altered in post-production, and they blame the studio for being afraid of showing women with armpit hair. Gal Gadot has yet to comment on this #Armpitgate controversy.
I guess that is yet another indication that feminism has achieved all its goals if people are now being outraged over a comic book movie heroine's pits.

Well, our long national mystery is over. We now apparently know who stole Tom Brady's Super Bowl jersey. And it was a member of the Mexican media. And the guy also had Brady's 2015 jersey and Von Miller's helmet. It's amazing that he wasn't found until now considering that there are video cameras in these locker rooms. I guess that Roger Goodell is glad that this is one attack on Brady of which he's innocent.