Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Cruising the Web

Hmmmm. Who is the real stooge of Vladimir Putin? Rich Lowry makes a convincing argument that that title belongs to Barack Obama.
How else to explain a newly elected president looking the other way after an act of Russian aggression? Agreeing to a farcically one-sided nuclear deal? Mercilessly mocking the idea that Russia represents our foremost geo-political foe?

Accommodating the illicit nuclear ambitions of a Russian ally? Welcoming a Russian foothold in the Middle East? Refusing to provide arms to a sovereign country invaded by Russia? Diminishing our defenses and pursuing a Moscow-friendly policy of hostility to fossil fuels?

All of these items, of course, refer to things said or done by President Barack Obama.

To take them in order: He re-set with Russia shortly after its clash with Georgia in 2008. He concluded the New START agreement with Moscow that reduced our nuclear forces but not theirs. When candidate Mitt Romney warned about Russia in the 2012 campaign, Obama rejected him as a Cold War relic.

The president then went on to forge an agreement with Russia’s ally Iran to allow it to preserve its nuclear program. During the red-line fiasco, he eagerly grasped a lifeline from Russia at the price of accepting its intervention in Syria. He never budged on giving Ukraine “lethal” weapons to defend itself from Russian attack.

Finally, Obama cut US defense spending and cracked down on fossil fuels — a policy that Russia welcomes, since its economy is dependent on high oil prices.

Put all of this together, and it’s impossible to conclude anything other than that Obama was a Russian stooge — and not out of any nefarious dealings, but out of his own naïveté and weakness.
As Lowry goes on to add, Donald Trump has said a lot of stupid things about Russia and Putin. He chose people for his advisers who have been close to Putin's government. That is all dismayingly true. But comparing Trump's words to Obama's deeds, it's not hard to conclude that Obama was the one who allowed American foreign policy to be ultimately serve Putin's desired ends.

Jonathan Turley, no conservative ideologue for Trump, argues that the media's dive into the tank for Susan Rice has helped to further Trump's anti-media rants. He summarizes how the media downplayed the disclosure that Susan Rice repeatedly unmasked the names of Trump associates when their names popped up in intelligence surveillance. They neglected to ask her about her prior claim a month ago that she didn't know anything about what Nunes had been referring to.
Instead, the media actively sought to focus on aspects of Rice’s statement that could still be supported. Media insisted that that was no proof that Rice leaked the information. Indeed, Rice said that she has never — ever — leaked anything as a high-ranking government official. If so, she would be in one of the smallest groups of Washington (that could be a difficult question under oath in a future hearing). The threshold question is whether Trump aides were indeed subject to surveillance and were indeed unmasked. Alternatively, the media hit on the fact that such surveillance is legal. Of course, the use of lawful surveillance in an abusive way could still be abusive and, yes, newsworthy.

The media also did not pursue the question of how the unmasked transcripts might have been shared with officials like former National Intelligence chief James Clapper, who also said that he had no knowledge of such unmasking. Clapper and Rice would seem to warrant such added probing. After all, Clapper lied about his knowledge of one of the most massive secret surveillance programs in history and later explained that he simply chose “the least untruthful” answer to give the Senate.

For her part, Rice has been repeatedly criticized for past false statements. The most glaring was her repeated public statements in 2012, that the Benghazi terror attacks were spontaneous responses to a “hateful” Internet video. Later it was shown that the administration already knew the Benghazi attacks were the result of terrorism and unnamed administration officials criticized Rice for misrepresenting the facts. Rice later said that she did “regret that the information I was provided was wrong. That doesn’t make me a liar.” That is correct but it also does not make Rice the most reliable source. So why run a story and not lead (or even mention) a prior conflicting question?

A more serious question is raised by the other ignored aspect of this story. For years, many of us have criticized the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows surveillance without meeting the warrant requirements of the Fourth Amendment. The law is filled with nice sounding protections that are practically meaningless. That includes the rule that Americans incidentally intercepted on surveillance of foreign targets must have their identities “masked.”

U.S. Signals Intelligence Directive (Section 18) only allows unmasking of the identity of U.S persons when it is essential to national security. The question is why the identity of Trump aides satisfied this standard if there was no evidence (as has been reported) of collusion. Nevertheless, this intent standard is difficult to violate absent a confession or incriminating statement.

Objectively, a reporter might want to ask Rice how privacy is protected when she can just routinely unmask names without any serious review or need for explanation. That concern would seem particularly great when these are the names of Republican operatives on a campaign criticizing your administration. Indeed, Rice herself was a common target of such criticism by Trump aides.

I happen to share the anger in the media over the treatment of the press by this president. However, journalistic ethics require reporters to transcend such anger and maintain objectivity. It often means acknowledging facts that favor someone who has shown little respect for the press. That is the point of the joke. No matter how much we might prefer blissful ignorance, there are no facts too good to check.

Reporters are now so committed to refuting Trump that they are refuting actual stories. The loss of objectivity in the response to the Rice story reflects a broader problem of the press focusing so hard on Trump that it is losing sight of its own bearings. The irony is that Trump was wrong about the media but many in the media seem to be working hard to prove him right.

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The "binders full of women" have been found! The republica can rest. The Boston Globe reports that they tracked down the noteblooks that were put together when Romney became governor in 2002 and was trying to hire somen to serve in his administration.
They have their roots in the 2002 transition period after Romney beat state Treasurer Shannon P. O’Brien for the governorship. A coalition of women’s groups created the Massachusetts Government Appointments Project (MassGAP), cobbled together information on women interested in serving in government, and submitted them to Romney’s still-forming administration.

“It was a response to a desire on the part of the Romney administration to access a pool of talent,” said Linda Rossetti, who worked with the coalition, made phone calls to encourage job candidates to submit applications, and included her own. “They drummed up what was an inelegant way to get at this pool of talent.”

Romney ultimately received high marks for the number of women he appointed to high-level administration posts and state courts.
This became some sort of supposed gaffe for Romney in a 2012 debate when Romney said that he asked women's groups to help him appoint more women and said "they brought us whole binders full of women.” People made such a deal about this as if Romney had said something so sexist when all he said was that he tried to hire more women. As if a Democrat doesn't use such identity politics in order to hire more of a desired group. As Charles C. W. Cooke points out,
That, though, was inconvenient, because in 2012 it was vital that Mitt Romney be cast as an evil man who wanted to screw over everybody except for Mitt Romney. So we had to hear about the binders! And the women! And we had to be told that Romney hated women so much that he actively sought to promote them in exactly the same way as did President Obama.

I’m no fan of the reflexive way in which right-leaning journalists say, “that’s why you got Trump.” But in this case it applies. When Mitt Romney did what progressives say that politicians should do but was slammed anyway because he did it while wearing the wrong t-shirt, many Republican voters thought, “whatever our guy does, he’s going to be accused of perfidy.” And then they tuned out and elected Donald Trump.
Obama got lists of women to consider for positions in his administration and now we have seen that email because of WikiLeaks.
n the October 2008 email, Citibank executive and Obama transition team member Mike Froman sent the president-elect a “list of women” to consider for “Cabinet/Deputy and other senior level positions.” Hillary Clinton is on the list, with a note that she ought to be considered for either secretary of state or secretary of health and human services.

Froman also attached a “diversity” list of African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Arab/Muslim American and Disabled Americans. Both lists contain hundreds of names.
So it was despicable when Romney did it, but just a yawn when Obama did it. Typical.

The son of Robert Bork whose name became a verb suggests that Gorsush's name now becomes a new verb.
gorsuch, transitive verb; Gorsuched or gorsuched; US Politics, slang: to defeat a malicious political attack through an organized campaign of public information and education. "We gorsuched the effort to vilify the candidate for public office."

This might sound vaguely familiar because it is the antonym of another verb in the OED: "to bork."

The OED and other dictionaries included bork after Judge Robert H. Bork's nomination to the United States Supreme Court. OED defined bork as a verb meaning to "Obstruct (someone, especially a candidate for public office) by systematically, defaming or vilifying them.' 'We're going to bork him, said an opponent.'"
Robert H. Bork, Jr. points out that one big difference between his father's failed nomination and Gorsuch's successful one was that advocates of judicial restraint were able to put together an organized campaign to support the nominee.
In the three decades since the Bork defeat, the conservative legal establishment has grown in size, organization, and depth. It has also honed the street-smarts to fight and win. The Democrats cried foul this time, sore that their nominee, Merrick Garland, had not received a hearing. Republicans reminded them that Joe Biden, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1992, had set down the principle that justices should not be confirmed in election years. Deep down Democrats must know they are dining on what they have sowed.

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I hope that Trump will take the advice of Stuart Taylor to end the kangaroo courts established in response to the Obama Title IX order that ended due process rights for those accused of sex crimes on college campuses.
Under threat of losing federal funds, almost all schools have willingly complied with a procedural regime that effectively presumes the guilt of every accused student, 99% of whom are male. These procedures include a virtual ban on cross-examination of accusers, a rushed process making it hard for an accused student to prepare a defense, and a mandate that those found innocent be subjected to appeals by accusers—a form of double jeopardy. The OCR also demands that schools judge guilt on the “preponderance of the evidence,” not the more rigorous “clear and convincing evidence” standard that was often used before, or the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that prevails in criminal cases.

Many universities have adopted other rules that compound the unfairness OCR explicitly demands. These rules redefine rape and sexual assault so broadly as to include almost all alcohol-fueled sex and many other commonplace, consensual sexual practices. Administrators have empowered campus sex bureaucrats—whose main mission is to please OCR—to decide accused students’ fates and “trained” them to view accused males as almost always guilty. Lawyers for the accused are barred from speaking in campus proceedings. The accused are often denied the right to see specific allegations or evidence against them.

OCR-mandated procedures have largely demolished due-process protections for many innocent (as well as guilty) accused males. Hundreds if not thousands have been falsely branded as rapists and expelled or suspended, with life-changing consequence
Though much has been written about the injustices of the Obama policies, nothing has been done so far. It's time to reverse those policies.
The longer the status quo continues, the harder it will be to dislodge. Mr. Trump and Mrs. DeVos should require that schools either provide due process to accused students or leave alleged sex crimes to law enforcement.

The easiest and most obvious step toward reforming this wrongheaded system would be to revoke the OCR mandates. They came in the form of “guidance” for interpreting Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination, not as a formal, legally binding regulation. That means they could be revoked by the stroke of a pen.

But that step alone will not suffice. Nor can the courts undo much of the damage, although they have ruled in favor of many of the more than 100 accused males who have sued their schools. Guilt-presuming rules will remain in force at most federally funded colleges and universities unless the Trump administration requires them to respect due process, as well as the Title IX rights of both sexesto be free from sex discrimination.

Specifically, the administration should undertake the kind of rule-making its predecessor avoided by issuing guidance. It should gather evidence showing that many schools have systematically discriminated against accused students, which violates Title IX because those students are overwhelmingly male. And it should require universities that choose to adjudicate alleged sex crimes to adopt rules that protect the rights of accused students as well as accusers.

Those rules should, at a minimum, include rights to notice of the allegations and evidence, adequate time to prepare a defense, a fair hearing before an impartial panel, instructions that panelists presume accused students innocent until proven guilty, legal representation in campus proceedings, cross-examination (by a lawyer or other advocate) of all witnesses including the accuser, and a meaningful appeal of any adverse finding.

While such forceful regulatory action may at first blush make conservatives uneasy, it is the only way to counteract the vast damage done by the previous administration on this issue.

Sexual assault is a grave crime. Alleged victims should be treated with great kindness and respect, and violent criminals brought to justice according to the law. But there is no evidence that OCR’s commands have reduced the number of sexual assaults. By steering real victims away from police, OCR might well have kept some dangerous rapists out of prison, where they belong.
Republicans shouldn't fear being painted as pro-sexual assault by such actions. The answer to such baseless accusations is easy - they care enough about the victims of true sexual assault to consider those guilty of such accusations to be criminals subject to criminal procedures. Liberals used to care about due process rights for the accused. It's time to remind them of those concerns.

For a guy who advertised himself as being able to use his business background to organize the government to achieve great things for the country, Trump has so far botched organizing the federal government.
Hundreds of key jobs across the federal government remain vacant as a result of an overworked White House personnel office that is frustrating Cabinet secretaries and hampering President Donald Trump’s ability to carry out his ambitious legislative agenda.

The process is bogged down as a result of micromanaging by the president and senior staff, turf wars between the West Wing and Cabinet secretaries and a largely inexperienced and overworked staff, say more than a dozen sources including administration insiders, lobbyists, lawyers and Republican strategists.

Trump personally oversees the hiring process for agency staff by insisting on combing through a binder full of names each week and likes to sign off on each one, according to two people with knowledge of the administration’s hiring process. Also weighing in on the names — and not always agreeing on final picks — are leaders of sometimes warring factions, including chief of staff Reince Priebus, senior strategist Steve Bannon, Cabinet secretaries and, sometimes, the White House’s top lawyer, Don McGahn.
If the Trump people are so annoyed at having leaks from Obama leftovers or from battling bureaucrats who oppose the Trump agenda, they need to speed up the process. And they need to get over themselves. Too much of the problem is that Trump vetoes anyone who said ever anything bad about him. And that really narrows the pool.
The only uniformity is that potential hires must show fealty to the president. One person close to the White House said a sense of “paranoia” has taken over amid fears that disloyal hires might undercut Trump’s agenda or leak to the press.
In some cases, he's shown that he can get beyond previous criticism such as picking Nikki Haley for UN ambassador. He needs to get cracking.
The top-heavy decision-making has put the Trump White House behind other West Wings in filling out the ranks of the federal government. Of the 553 key appointments that require Senate approval, the White House has formally nominated 24 people and 22 have been confirmed, according to data from the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service — to say nothing of the thousands of slots that don't require confirmation.

By comparison, Obama had 54 people confirmed by April 7; Bush, 32; and Bill Clinton, 44.

“Not having the people in the agency offices means it’s harder to do different or new things,” said Clay Johnson, who ran the personnel office under Bush. “If you want to keep on keeping on, the career staff can do that.”

Ed Whelan annihilates Dana Millbank's attack column on Mitch McConnell as "the man who broke America." Millbank relies on phoney statistics that his own paper has debunked. Millbank counts as a filibuster every cluture movement that Harry Reid filed. Thus Millbank gets a total of 79 Obama nominees whom the Republicans supposedly filibustered. Errrr, no. Reid regularly filed cloture on multiple nominations and bills even though there was no attempted filibuster. Perhaps, Millbank could pay attention to the Pinnochios that the Washington Posts' Glenn Kessler has awarded for such claims.
It’s bad enough that anyone might confuse cloture motions with filibuster efforts, as Milbank has done in the past. But Milbank now somehow imagines that all nominations on which cloture motions were ever filed were “blocked by filibusters.”

By my quick count, the cloture motions that Reid filed on some 39 of the 79 nominees were withdrawn or mooted, and the motions on 28 others were successful, many with strong Republican support. (Only twelve of the 28 received more than 30 negative votes, and eleven of them had fewer than twenty negative votes.) All of those nominees were confirmed.

Of the eleven cloture motions that were defeated, three of the nominations were confirmed after some delay, and four others were confirmed after Democrats abolished the filibuster. In sum, even under a very liberal account of what “blocked by filibusters” might plausibly mean, it is difficult to see how anyone could contend that more than eleven of Obama’s nominees were “blocked by filibusters.”
So Millbank based a whole column on faulty data in order to mislead readers about what really has been going on in the Senate over the past decade. Remember that sort of dishonesty every time you see Millbank's byline.

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Bethany Mandel details
how Politico Magazine published an ignorant, anti-Semitic story accusing Orthodox Jews in the Chabad movement of serving as a link between the alt-right and Putin. Yes, because the alt-right is well known for their deep Jewish connections. Politico ignored how members of the movement have been persecuted and thrown out of Russia
Imagine for a moment the outrage that would (rightfully) erupt if a mainstream publication wrote an indictment of an entire sect of Islam, while getting basic facts like the name of the sect wrong, and hit publish the night before Ramadan began. Or the outrage that would (rightfully) erupt if Breitbart or an alt-right site published the same about Jews. The latter did happen over the weekend, only it wasn’t Breitbart writing a diatribe against a secret web of shadowy Jews, but instead, Politico Magazine.

This is, unfortunately, becoming a bit of a tradition at the publication. On the eve of another major Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah, Politico published a piece accusing politically conservative Jews of remaining silent on Donald Trump’s ascension. Because of the rules regarding work and technology on major Jewish holidays, many Jewish writers and publications were unable to respond to the smear in a timely manner, although Tablet Magazine’s Yair Rosenberg took the time to do so, pointing out for both the writer and editor of the publication just how Jew-y the anti-Trump camp of the conservative movement was and is.

Now Politico is accusing Jews of the opposite: working in a secretive, highly-funded conspiracy to put Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin in power, and keep them there. Or something. Truthfully, I didn’t really understand the crux of the piece, despite reading it several times.

Where You See Conspiracy, We See Charity

Politico took great pains to tie the Chabad movement to Putin, and in so doing, omits a few fairly crucial points that could have been fleshed out by actually speaking with a representative of the movement (this guy might have been a good person to start with). While there are outposts of the movement in Russia, there also exist outposts everywhere else in the world. Their emissaries, called schulchim, are technically titled “messengers” because they talk to anyone, anywhere, in an attempt to spread Judaism to Jews in far-flung corners of the Earth.

Chabad’s history in the former USSR is filled with persecution, arrest, and exile. To survive anywhere, but especially in a land as hostile to Jews as Russia is, it’s no wonder the group has worked hard to remain in the government’s good graces.

Blind to the blatant anti-Semitic tropes it trotted out, Politico then paints the movement as a large, rich, tightly woven organization, a depiction straight out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In reality, individual Chabad houses, which start with seed money from headquarters, are soon expected to be self-sufficient through fundraising and operate as franchises, not as branches of the Brooklyn headquarter
But, but Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have contributed to the movement and they joined a Chabad synagogue! That must mean that they are puppets of Putin. And the media don't need to do anything responsible like actually fact-checking their story when the more important goal of smearing Trump, Jews, and Putin is at hand.
Several hours after the piece was published, the attached text header and photo were quietly edited to seem just a tad less anti-Semitic, replacing a photo of Jews in the shadows with that of Putin. Considering the hypersensitivity of the media to anti-Semitism in the age of Trump, it’s remarkable just how much they are willing to dabble in it themselves to form a connection, no matter how tenuous, between Trump and Putin. Simple fact-checking like the name of the movement itself was omitted, with tweets and the first published drafts of the piece referring to the group as “The Chabad” (which would be as ridiculous as saying The Catholic or The Protestant).

We’ve spent the better part of the last year being warned about the dangers of the rise of the alt-right. Even I doubted the power the alt-right apparently wields, which apparently includes the ability to convince a mainstream American publication to publish 4,000 words of anti-Semitic garbage on the eve of a major Jewish holiday. Can they silence the rest of the mainstream media, which reports breathlessly on every headline related to Jews at Breitbart?

Gosh, how inept can Sean Spicer be? Now he's claiming that attacking Assad was the right thing to do because even Hitler didn't use chemical weapons.
Spicer stumbled while trying to make a point about Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is accused of employing chemical weapons against his citizens. Russia's government has backed Assad.

"We did not use chemical weapons in World War II. You had someone as despicable as Hitler who did not even sink to using chemical weapons," Spicer said. "If you are Russia, ask yourself, is this a country and regime that you want to align yourself with?"

Given that opportunity to clarify his comments, Spicer misspoke again by trying once more to draw a distinction between Assad and Hitler, whom the press secretary said did not gas "his own people."

“When it comes to Sarin gas, [Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” Spicer said to audible groans from some reporters. He also appeared to refer to concentration camps as "Holocaust centers."

“I understand your point. Thank you. I appreciate that. He brought them into the Holocaust centers, I understand that. I was saying in the way that Assad used them where he went into town, dropped them into the middle of town. I appreciate the clarification. That was not the intent.”
Sheesh! Why does this guy have a job? How about learning that you should never compare anyone favorably to Hitler. In fact, stay away from Hitler comparisons altogether.

Of course, that same advice applies to all those people calling either Bush or Trump Hitler.

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Philadelphia has passed an ordinance making it illegal for an employer to ask prospective employees how much they are earning in their present jobs. The thinking is that asking such questions might further pay disparities for women and minorities. The WSJ explains how insidious this law is.
One problem is that discussions about compensation are a normal part of the give-and-take between employers and prospective hires. Employers might ask about an applicant’s wages to screen out the overqualified or to know the compensation it will take to lure new talent. Headhunters use salary histories to recruit executives and high-level professionals from other firms.

Yet the Philadelphia law abridges the speech of only one party at the negotiating table—the employer. Job applicants are free to ask how much the employer typically pays its workers. Research indicates that men are more likely than women to initiate negotiations about compensation, so the Philadelphia law could even have the perverse effect of increasing gender wage disparities.

A bigger legal issue is that government restrictions on speech must be narrowly tailored to meet a compelling interest. But as the Chamber’s lawsuit brought by attorney Miguel Estrada notes, the Philadelphia ordinance targets speech that is “only tenuously and indirectly related to perpetuating possible effects of past discrimination.” The city could have taken a narrower approach—for example, by barring employers from basing compensation solely on prior wages.

Philadelphia’s ordinance also applies broadly to any employer that “does business” or “employs one or more employees” in the city. So Amazon could conceivably be prohibited from inquiring about a Seattle computer programmer’s wage history because the company delivers items in Philadelphia....

The Philadelphia fight is part of a larger trend by state and local governments to restrict speech in pursuit of political goals. Similar laws are under consideration in New Jersey, Virginia, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Washington, D.C., among other places. If the courts bless Philadelphia’s ordinance, employers around the country may soon have one more barrier to hiring the best workers for the job.

Speaking of the purported discrimination against women that has created a pay gap, I've been discussing this issue with one of my colleagues who had no idea that the data on the supposed pay gap compared the aggregate earnings of men versus that of women without controlling for certain attributes as education or job choice. He recently posted this article, "8 Wage Gap Statistics To Shut Down Any Haters" which tries to refute the arguments of those who criticize the gender pay gap. I showed it to my husband and he put up on his blog his point-by-point refutation of this article. See which you find more convincing.